Lamoille-Washington House Candidates Respond to Questions

by Doug McClure

WOODBURY – Four candidates are running for election for the Lamoille-Washington District House’s two seats. The incumbent candidates are Democrats Avram Patt and David Yacovone.

Gazette towns represented: Woodbury.

Running: Democrats Avram Patt and David Yacovone, incumbents; Republicans Shannara Johnson and Tyler Machia; Independent Frank Huard.

David Yacovone, Tyler Machia, and Frank Huard did not respond to the questions.

Profiles:

Avram Patt

“I am completing my second term as a state representative for the communities in the Lamoille-Washington district and all Vermonters. I was raised to believe in the democratic process, voting, and working for a better and more just world. Prior to serving in the Vermont House, I was involved in many issues at the statehouse and elsewhere related to my jobs. I was general manager of Washington Electric Co-op for over 16 years. Before that, I was director of The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, an appointed position under three governors dealing with a number of anti-poverty programs (weatherization, anti-hunger, housing and homelessness and microbusiness development) run by community action agencies and other non-profits.

“My energy and utility background will likely continue to allow me to play a role in energy issues such as clean energy, energy efficiency, climate change and bringing high speed broadband to unserved and underserved areas, especially rural ones.

“I will continue to support efforts to assure that working Vermonters can make a living and that we begin to reverse the enormous income disparity that continues to widen in Vermont and nationally.”

Shannara Johnson

“I’m a native German and proud new American. I’ve lived in the US for 21 years and in Vermont for 18 of them. I work as a copywriter for a publisher of investment newsletters, so I’m naturally interested in economic and financial matters.

“The reason I am running for office is that I’ve watched the Democratic Party shift farther and farther to the left. I used to be a liberal, but walked away due to the increasing radicalization of the Left. I find it scary how pervasive the idea has become that government should rule every aspect of our lives and decide what we can/cannot do, say, and think.

“Many hard-working Vermonters feel they aren’t really represented in Montpelier anymore. Those are the patriots who love their country and their family, and who want to keep their constitutional rights, their guns, and most of their hard-earned money… and otherwise just want to be left alone.

“This year, I just knew it was time for me to stand up and speak up and be a voice for those people.

“I think the most important task is to recover from the COVID lockdown. I must emphasize that most of the economic trouble Vermont is in now is not due to COVID itself, but to the lockdown. States like South Dakota that never locked down are doing just fine. Recently, South Dakota’s governor even turned down federal assistance because she said they don’t need it.

“We must end the lockdown immediately and fully reopen the economy; otherwise there won’t be an economy left to reopen. You can’t indefinitely shut down businesses and assume they can be revived whenever you feel like it. We’ve already lost many businesses here in Vermont that will never come back.

“When I mention this, people say, “You don’t care about our lives.” They don’t understand that the economy is our lives. How are we going to survive without jobs and businesses? Is everyone going to grow their own food and start foraging and hunting? What about your shelter? You’ll get evicted if you don’t pay your mortgage or rent.

“COVID is very survivable at this point. Being infected is not the same as being sick or even dying. In early October, 38 top epidemiologists, immunologists, and microbiologists from around the globe published the Great Barrington Declaration, which says, we need to open everything back up and go about our lives to acquire herd immunity, which will help us protect the most vulnerable. They call it ‘Focused Protection.’

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ is considered problematic by a large consensus of scientists. It depends on isolating the vulnerable populations from possible infection, which the CDC estimates is roughly 40% of the American population, and which has failed in practice in nursing homes across the country. Herd immunity depends on enough of the population being exposed to a virus to acquire antibodies — which experts put at 50-70% of the population, or 165-230 million Americans, 20-30 times the number currently infected. There is no consensus herd immunity would work for COVID-19 due to its ability to re-infect patients. In its research, The Guardian also noted this declaration “lists a number of apparently fake names among its expert signatories, including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’ and ‘Professor Cominic Dummings.'”]

“And for the long run, to create a vibrant economy, we need to lower taxes and loosen regulations to attract more people and businesses to Vermont and make it easier for them to prosper here.”

Affordability:

Patt: “There are two sides to ‘affordability.’ How much things cost is one. We also must do something about Vermonters’ incomes. A just-released report from the RAND Corporation shows that had we just maintained the more modest income disparity that existed in the three decades following WWII, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP — enough to more than double median income — enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. This is a national issue but I will support Vermont doing what we can to change this. We will not have a strong economy unless everyone benefits from it in meaningful ways.”

Johnson: “I would say “affordability” means a mix of how much you pay in taxes, the cost of housing, and the cost of living. Vermont has the third-highest overall taxes in the United States and, as I said above, the second-highest property tax rate. And the Democrats keep piling on more taxes, even though our population is taxed out. You can’t empty a naked man’s pocket, as the Germans say.

“Next on the Democrat wish list is a carbon tax on gasoline and potentially carbon fees on oil furnaces, as Burlington Mayor Weinberger has already announced. If he gets what he wants, that would add on average $700 per year onto our home heating bills. And if it can be done in Burlington, it can be done anywhere in Vermont.

“We need to lower, not increase, taxes for our population and businesses. You’ve got to see that we are already in a recession, some economists even say we’re in a depression or about to enter one. The Vermont legislature needs to give Vermonters the chance to survive this, not pile on ever more things to pay.”

Retail Market for Marijuana:

Patt: “I supported and voted for S.54. It’s a complex bill with many different parts affecting agriculture, retail and other business, taxes, substance abuse prevention, law enforcement and much more. It involved compromise, and calls for further study, and I am sure some things will get revisited and new measures will be added in the two years before a market actually starts.”

Johnson: “I’m for legalizing marijuana because I don’t think it’s any more harmful than alcohol, probably less, and legalization will curb related criminal activity. Hopefully, this legislation will also add some much-needed funds to the state’s coffers.”

Police Use of Force Bill:

Patt: “I supported and voted for S.119. It’s a start, and I’m sure this issue will be revisited and refined further going forward. It deals specifically with use of force by law enforcement and recognizes that training and consistency is needed among law enforcement agencies and departments statewide in use of force, and to assure that it is appropriate, not excessive, and that racism, biases and prejudices play no role in its application.”

Johnson: “I’m all for better training — specifically de-escalation training — for police officers, and I’m all for adding social workers to police departments as additional staff. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to replace police officers with social workers. Defunding and abolishing police departments is a singularly bad idea. And the protesters who demand this and believe they’re acting in the best interest of black Americans are sorely mistaken. According to a recent Gallup poll, 81% of the black community wants the same or higher level of police protection than they have now.”

Act 46:

Patt: “The four towns in the Lamoille-Washington District were part of three separate forced mergers, so I’ve certainly been aware of the issues, as well as whether other options were fully considered before the state board forced these mergers. While cost savings were never expected to be huge or immediate, I think the bigger issue is the tax structure and how we pay for education. Our over-reliance on the property tax, even with income-sensitivity adjusters, needs to change and move towards a system that is based more on ability to pay.”

Johnson: “I believe towns should have the right to repeal Act 46 if they feel it’s in their best interest. Economically, I’m in favor of every town having a school because it attracts young families. If you had little kids, would you move to a town that doesn’t even have a school and where your kids might spend an hour a day on the school bus to be shipped back and forth? I don’t think so.

“The other part of the question is the education tax that comes out of our property taxes (which, by the way, are already the second-highest in the US and rising every year). I believe we need to take a good, hard look at our K-12 public school system and trim the fat off it.

“For example, why do we need 53 superintendents in Vermont? Just for their salaries, we spend $8.5 million per year. We spend a lot more money on education than other states — $19,000 per year per student, vs. about $12,000 for the average US state. And that doesn’t translate to a better education: Vermont students don’t outperform students of other states. We need to look where money can be saved and maybe transferred to our woefully underfunded state colleges.”

Broadband:

Patt: “As a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, I need to clarify that CARES funding was never seen as something that would significantly increase true high-speed broadband (i.e. fiber) to the last mile. As with all federal COVID-19 relief programs, projects had to be specifically related to the impact of COVID-19 and had to be fully spent by the end of 2020. So while some of the funds are in fact connecting some people, much of it is for stopgap measures to get Vermonters working or learning remotely or needing telehealth services connected at sufficient speeds to get by. With that said, some of the funding, especially those supporting the development of the new or recently formed Communication Union Districts is laying the groundwork for what I believe is the best way to eventually get everyone connected. As a legislator, continued support of the CUDs will be one of my top priorities.”

Johnson: “I think we need to take a close look at the Vermont state budget and really trim the fat, as I said, so we have money to spend on broadband, which as we’ve seen during the COVID lockdown, is essential for Vermonters.

“In the current economic crisis, we should cut all nonessential spending. Nonessential meaning anything that isn’t necessary for the actual survival of Vermont families and retirees. That includes spending on climate bills and review boards and committees, and state employees in general. Vermont has 146 state employees per 10,000 residents; other states only have 97. Back in the day, legislators met every other year and passed two to three bills. In the last legislative session that just ended, 1,331 bills were introduced: that’s just ridiculous. We need to shrink the public sector and grow the private sector because the latter creates all the wealth.”

Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave:

Patt: “The minimum wage and family leave issues are central to the income disparity question and must be addressed if we are going to really do something about affordability.”

Johnson: “I’m for some minimum wage level. I think where it stands right now at $10.96 is a pretty good number. I’m against an automatic rise of the minimum wage every year, though, because it squeezes small business owners and makes them more likely to have to lay off employees because they can’t afford to pay them anymore. So it’s kind of the choice between a lower-paid job and no job at all.

“I’m against paid family leave as it was proposed because it adds a payroll tax (more taxes!) for every Vermont employee. I think we should give people a choice whether or not they want to pay into a ‘paid family leave’ pool or not. If I’m 20 and single, why should I be forced to pay into this pool?”

The Opioid Crisis and Criminal Justice:

Patt: “While we may do better than some other places, the answer is nevertheless increased focus and support for prevention, education and treatment. We should not look to police for that responsibility, although they should have the training and contacts to connect with and work with those services.”

Johnson: “I think our problem is that we tend to cover up the symptoms with a band-aid instead of focusing on the root causes of opioid addiction. I see two root causes: First, the over-prescription of opioid painkillers by doctors. They get patients addicted, and then when their prescriptions can’t be refilled, people turn to the black market.

“I once had a PCP remove a mole from my face, and he said I might experience some pain afterwards, and he wrote me a prescription for Oxycontin, which I refused. I was just fine taking a few Advil for a day or two. This behavior by doctors needs to stop.

“The other root cause is even deeper: hopelessness. This circles back to the economy — if people don’t feel they have any real prospects for a good future, they either leave the state or try to numb themselves. We must provide more and better jobs for Vermonters, and that means rolling back some of the most onerous regulations, like at least part of Act 250.

“I would immediately repeal bail reform. It’s very rare that someone who has done absolutely nothing will end up in jail to be bailed out. Bail is a way to keep offenders behind bars. It seems that recently in our society, it has become more important to protect and defend the criminals than to protect and defend law-abiding citizens. We pay taxes for the government—via police and laws—to keep us safe, but that sentiment is now being sneered at.”

Protecting the Rights of Women, Minorities, and LGBTQ+ Citizens:

Patt: “We must do whatever we can. I am not a lawyer, so I’ll pay attention to any proposals coming from our Judiciary Committee and other relevant committees to the House, as well as the testimony of legal and Constitutional experts and others. If there is legislation Vermont can pass to protect these rights, I will support it.”

Johnson: “I don’t think anything more needs to be done. I am strongly against enshrining reproductive rights in the Vermont Constitution, as is planned for the next legislative session. I am pro-life, but even for those who are not, we already have an abortion law on the books. And even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, that doesn’t mean a federal abortion ban. The decision would just fall back to the individual states.

“As for the right or wrong of abortion: There is a tendency these days to march in the streets for animal rights but be totally fine with a human baby being torn to shreds, potentially up to the moment of birth. Did you know that a 12-week-old fetus starts sucking its thumb in the womb, a self-soothing mechanism? By about week 25, it responds to hearing its mother’s voice. That is not a clump of cells we’re talking about here.”