by Doug McClure
MONTPELIER – On Election Day 2020, the entire Vermont General Assembly is up for re-election. Many new faces have also decided to run for a seat. Whether incumbent or not, this new crop of legislators will face complex and difficult challenges unprecedented in Vermont history. COVID-19 will have a significant impact on the state’s finances, and many underlying issues still exist that this new General Assembly will need to take up. Few of these challenges were simple even before the pandemic.
One question posed to candidates was what their take on what “affordability” specifically meant to them, and what in their view could be done to improve.
Candidates were also asked about their opinions on a retail market for marijuana and more stringent standards for police use of force, paid family leave, and the minimum wage.
The forced mergers of schools in Vermont, including the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union’s elementary schools, was the subject of another question. While Act 46’s stated goals were to reduce the expense of small schools, every person paying property tax still saw an increase in their education tax on the most recent bill. Residents continue to worry about the future of small schools as the state seeks to combine districts as much as physically possible. Some candidates have proposed funding the state’s education system through means other than a property tax.
One issue COVID-19 has thrust into the spotlight is the lack of reliable and affordable broadband that is especially prevalent in the Northeask Kingdom. For over a decade, lawmakers and Governors have made expensive efforts to provide broadband to all of Vermont with mixed results. Recently, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Secure (CARES) Act funding was posited as an avenue for relieving the dearth of broadband, however much of that funding has proved too specific in scope and restricted by time to deploy. Respondents were asked about their view of the state of broadband in Vermont, and if they had any new ideas.
Another law-enforcement related topic was about the opioid crisis. With local law enforcement such as the Hardwick Police Department describing themselves as “stretched thin” and stating an inability to devote commensurate time for regular enforcement owing to the opioid crisis, respondents were asked about their opinion of what more could be done to give law enforcement tools to deal with the problem. Candidates were also quizzed about their opinion of the criminal justice system’s effectiveness considering as an example that just recently all those arrested for a major drug bust in the area were released immediately from court, most without bail.
Finally, with a lot of uncertainties about what the upcoming election might mean for minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ citizens, respondents were asked if there were anything further Vermont could do to protect these residents within its borders.