During each legislative session, there are some in Montpelier getting their first taste of statewide politics. That's the case for two new lawmakers from Brookfield this year: Democrat Rep. Jay Hooper and independent Rep. Ben Jickling.
Jickling is 22 years old, and Hooper is 23. Both are now in their first terms representing the two-seat Orange-Washington-Addison district in the Vermont House. That district encompasses Brookfield, Randolph, Braintree, Granville and Roxbury.
Jickling and Hooper spoke to Vermont Edition on Tuesday about why they chose to run and what their priorities are now that they are in the Legislature.
What motivated them to run for the House
Jickling: "I grew up in Vermont [and] went to public school in Randolph. It's a place I love. You know, a place I want to live for a long time. So I'd been interested in Vermont politics for a couple years. I thought, 'Why not get involved? You know, bring a fresh perspective – something a little bit different – to the conversation here in Montpelier?'"
Hooper: "The way I put it to the voters throughout the campaign was that I see government as something that needs to be part of the solution to the greatest issues of today and tomorrow. Government's not going away. So we need people to trust government and for the past several years, I've seen ... people think of government as corruption. And I think [Sen.] Bernie Sanders was tremendously successful in galvanizing support amongst people our age. And I said, 'I can continue that narrative, so I'm going to pursue it.'"
Communicating their platforms
Hooper: "The question would often be, when I got to someone's door, 'Aren't you a little young for this?' And I would look up to them and smile and say, 'Well sure, maybe I'm young, but I don't think too young. And we'll find out. So how about a vote?'"
In response, "Sometimes it would be, 'Oh, well, give me an idea of where you stand on the issues.' And then I'd say, 'Well, of course. I'm a liberal Democrat for the most part, so I'm loosely based off of the Democratic platform, but you know, for me it's about the principles of representation. So let's ask you: What are your issues? What do you care about?'"
Jickling: "It's a little bit more challenging as an independent just because, you know, I get to develop my own platform and it takes some work to communicate that to the voters that are voting for me in November ... I said, 'Yes, there are benefits to experience. But, you know, a breadth of voices in Montpelier is important. People with all sorts of life experiences and all sorts of backgrounds can only help to make a more diverse and vibrant discussion in the Legislature.' And I think people respected that and saw the need to make a change."
The campaign season
Hooper: "[Jickling] was light years ahead of me on the campaign trail the whole way through, and ... that displayed on the voting numbers on the day after the election. Yeah, I think it was important for us to both understand that the consensus in the district was that Patsy French – the incumbent who was running for re-election, largely as my teammate – she would be in first place. She was going to win, and then it would be between the two of us. So that was difficult for me to swallow sometimes, but it kept me honest, it kept me working hard. And we certainly had a visible presence around the district. We were covering ground quickly. ...
"I think the thing to keep clear is that Patsy is still probably even more popular than the both of us. Everybody loved her. They just, I think, were ready and willing to give us both a shot. And I guess enough people decided that, 'Well, geez, probably only one of them will win, so I might as well throw the other vote to the other one.'"
Jickling: "Well, I think that the voting results really validated the work we put in and the campaigns we ran. And I think voters appreciated that and supported that, and I think that came true on Election Day."
Jickling: "Obviously we are individual legislators and I think that's important. But, you know ... I played Little League baseball with Jay ... So we're friends. You know, we're going to work together for the best of our district. I don't think we're necessarily a team, but we've already been working together before and look forward to doing so."
Hooper: "I think that we are competitive with one another. We were rivals during the campaign for sure. You know, when you're talking about one of us you're implicitly talking about the other one in terms of 'the two young guys.' And we validated each other's candidacies, which I think was beneficial to the both of us. But I do see us cooperating already. And you know, I told him, 'I'm going to be looking out for you and ... I hope you do the same for me.'"
Hopes for the upcoming session
Jickling: "I really enjoy policy, so this is the place to be if you enjoy that. So I'm looking forward to talking about a whole host of issues, whether it's attracting and retaining young families in Vermont, bringing some reliable high-speed internet, making sure we have affordable child care."
Hooper: "I'm passionate about climate issues. My older brother Miles has a son who's ... just over a year old, so I really think that climate change is going to be important to his future and mine."
Listen to the full interview from Vermont Edition above.