A three-way contest is underway for the two Senate seats that represent Bennington County and the Windham County town of Wilmington. Two Democrats – a longtime senate incumbent and a current house member – are running as a team. They face a relative political newcomer who’s running as a Republican.
Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears has represented Bennington in the senate for 22 years. He says he and two-term Bennington Rep. Brian Campion share many of the same values and positions. When Bennington’s other senate seat opened up, Sears says he urged Campion to run for it. He says he and Campion have saved money by running as a team.
Campion says he admires the way that Sears has confronted tough issues like civil unions and equal pay for women. He sees a need for a similar approach to what both candidates say is a broken health care system.
"Tackling it head on and saying, ‘All right, we’ve got to revamp this system,'" Campion says. "I think it’s admirable and brave and it’s certainly something that I’m interested in doing."
Campion says he’s optimistic that Gov. Shumlin’s plan for universal, publicly funded health care will succeed, despite the widespread criticism that plans for financing the system have yet to be revealed. Sears says he’s not bothered by the uncertainty. He’d rather see a careful study than a rush job.
"The real goal here is to get universal coverage," he says. "But also to try to move into a position where we’re not paying so much for administration and we’re paying to keep people healthy rather than only when they get really ill."
Republican candidate Warren Roaf is bothered by the lack of information. He says people want to know how the state plans to pay for the new health care system. Roaf, a former Democrat, is a retired social studies teacher and middle school principal. He says he stands for fair taxation, government transparency and quality education.
"I don’t want to sound like I’m against health care for all, because I’m not," Roaf says. "What I want is some honesty in government about where they’re thinking the money will come from."
Roaf says the $80 million Vermont spent on its failed online health exchange would have been better spent on property tax relief. He says the current system of funding education through property taxes is unfair.
"I’d rather see a mix of taxes," he says. "I would be looking at a graduated income tax. And I would take special care not to put an unfair burden on the people who are the lowest tax bracket."
Sears sees an opportunity for tax relief in making the one-percent local option sales tax available to all towns. It’s only an option now for towns that send more money to the state education fund than they get back to run their schools.
Campion, who served on the House Education Committee, says reform should start with a comprehensive education plan.
"Something where we bring to the table everyone," he says. "Teachers, principals, parents, union representatives, students, people in the legislature. And [we would] start with this question: how can we improve educational outcomes and opportunities for young people?"
Sears says he’s glad House Speaker Shap Smith wants to make education reform a top priority in the coming legislative session. But with a projected $80 to $100 million gap between revenues and expenses, Sears expects the budget itself will be the big issue in 2015.