Crowded Field in Race for Rutland County Senate Seat

Crowded Field in Race for Rutland County Senate Seat

RUTLAND HERALD 09/11/20
By Gordon Dritschilo 

It is a crowded field in the race for Rutland County’s three State Senate seats. Here is a breakdown of the candidates appearing on this year’s ballot:

RepublicansRutland County’s senior senator is leading the Republican ticket as he seeks a fourth term.

Brian Collamore, 69, has retired from radio broadcasting but still referees hockey games. He said the pandemic will dominate the next Legislative session, with the main subtopics being the economy and running schools safely.

“I think everything else flows from that in many ways,” he said. “There’s an intersection to people being able to get their kids back in school and then work without worrying about childcare.”

Noting that Vermont has the lowest infection rate in the country, Collamore said he wants to reopen the state as quickly as possible, and that while he thinks the governor made sound decisions, he had hoped the state would have moved more quickly earlier than it did. While the economy is better than it was in early April, Collamore said it still needs to improve.

Collamore said it was hard to discuss what he thinks the Legislature should do next session because it is hard to predict what the situation will be in January. Assuming little has changed, he said, the first order of business will be where and how the Legislature meets.

“I favor strongly that we get back and start to meet again in person,” he said. “The Zoom procedure is working but it leaves a lot to be desired.”

Collamore said revisions to Act 250 would give the state a chance to ease local business’ pain by removing some restrictions and making it easier for them to develop faster.

“I’m a big believer that a tide floats all boats,” he said. “If we can get the economy perking again the way it was, that’ll be great for everyone.”

Josh Terenzini’s political career began in 2004, when he was elected the senior class representative to the Rutland City School Board. He served on the Select Board from 2008-12 and returned to the board in 2015.

“I took some time off – we were starting our family and buying our first house,” he said.

When he returned to the board, he was also elected chairman, a position he has held since.

“I want to take my years of municipal experience to help solve our state’s biggest challenges – the financial gap and the economic upheaval we’ve experienced because of COVID-19.”

One of the ways Terenzini said he hopes to use that experience is in finding ways to reduce the state budget.

“At the town level, we debate and wrestle with spending $500 or $1,000,” he said. “At the state level, finances are much different, but it’s nothing to the state Legislature to spend $1 million here and $1 million there and after a while it adds up. … I don’t have the pleasure of being elected yet and I’m not going to pretend I know every place we can save, but they must be out there.”

Terenzini said governmental costs to Vermonters come from more than just a budget, pointing to a provision in the climate change bill he said would effectively make it impossible to maintain oil or propane boilers.

“Not everyone can afford heat pumps,” he said. “Not everyone can afford alternative energy sources. … We see this far too often in Vermont, that there are lasting effects that they don’t take into account that trickle down to you and I as average, middle-class Vermonters.”

Depending on how the election goes, the Legislature could be a family affair for Terenzini. His father, Rep. Tom Terenzini, R-Rutland Town, is running for re-election.

“We’re two different people,” Terenzini said of his father. “We agree on many things and there’s things we don’t agree on. That’s the beauty of a democracy. We have different styles, different approaches that serve both of us.”

Terry Williams, 68, is a farmer and a member of the Poultney Select Board. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 State Senate race, narrowly missing a spot on the ticket.

“I’ve got a lot of supporters who encouraged me to do it, run again,” he said. “I got on the regional planning committee, so I’ve got a bit more knowledge of things that need to be done on the local level.”

One of those things, he said, is statewide broadband. Williams said that while he sees a lot of new poles going up, he also still finds a lot of coverage gaps.

“There’s a tower in Poultney that carries Verizon,” he said. “I get to my house in Poultney and I have no cell service. … As soon as I drive in my garage, it’s gone.”

Williams said he would like to see a comprehensive plan in cooperation with carriers to improve coverage.

Williams said he has training in organization leadership and strategic planning he would like to bring to the State House, which he sees as a mess.

“I’ve talked to Legislators about different bills that are going to be on the floor the next day and they don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said, arguing that the leadership should cut down on the number of bills. “Last year, I think it was 1,284 bills. How do you expect all of those to get through to law?”

DemocratsCheryl Hooker is hoping to return to the Vermont Senate and two of her fellow Democrats are hoping to come with her.

Larry Courcelle, 70, was the chief estimator for Vermont Roofing Company for 45 years before he retired. He served two terms on the Mendon Select Board, and was a new member when the town was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.

“That was an adventure I never want to repeat,” he said.

Courcelle also serves on a variety of volunteer boards and he said it was his experience on one of them – the Castleton University Alumni Board of Directors, where he is vice president – that drove him to run for state senate. He said he worries about the financial situation of Vermont colleges, and worries declining enrollment and Vermont’s youth retention problem are combining to create a death spiral.

“What’s it say to youth retention when we’re closing down universities,” he said. “I think we rank 47th in higher ed (funding) in the country. The money always comes from somewhere and that’s taxes and I don’t see any way around it. … I can’t see any other funding source.”

Courcelle said youth retention has been a topic in the state for years but that he has not seen any credible solutions, and that he suspects the issue hasn’t been effectively studied. He said the state needs to talk directly to students about why they are leaving the state and where they are going.

“Then you’ve got a base to work on,” he said. “Once you’ve got those answers and that data collected, then you can start to work on it.”

Courcelle said his longtime service on the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and extensive work on numerous other boards, from the library trustees to the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, have given him a deep understanding of the local landscape. He also said that adding more Democrats to the Rutland delegation would help the region due to the Democrat – and Progressive – domination of the Legislature.

“We always hear how Chittenden county runs things up there,” he said. “Of course, they’re the ones with the Democrats and Progressives. I think if we get more Democrats for Rutland County, we’d be able to work with those Democrats and get more recognition for Rutland County.”

Greg Cox, 69, is owner of Boardman Hill Farm and the founder of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. He made an unsuccessful run for State Senate in 2018.

“There is an opportunity for change and I think Rutland County needs change,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunities right now. I am a person of vision. I recognize opportunities, but recognizing opportunity isn’t enough. You have to act on it and make it a reality. I have a history of doing that.”

Cox said the challenges of the pandemic have been exacerbated by Rutland County being essentially forgotten in Montpelier.

“I really believe that can be changed,” he said. “A perfect example is one-time funding. Rutland County never gets one-time funding because our delegation never asks for it. That needs to change.”

Many businesses are “beyond financial stress,” Cox said, and he fears a collapse in the restaurant industry similar to what happened to small dairy farms.

“We need to make sure they keep running,” he said. “There is nobody running who is a bigger advocate for small, community-based businesses. I don’t believe all businesses are created equal. Small, community-based businesses are the backbone of our culture in Vermont.”

One solution he plans to push for is a Rutland County creamery, buying from small local dairy farms and selling to higher-end food markets in New York City.

“It’s an absolutely viable solution,” he said. “It’ll take a lot of money and we’ll need help from the state.”

Hooker, 70, was elected to the Senate in 2018 following several years away from the Legislature. Her previous stint included two years in the Senate and six in the House. In her most recent term, she said she was instrumental in getting funding for a housing project on Woodstock Avenue and getting Rutland’s courthouse named for Judge Frank McCaffrey. She said she also made sure the essential worker hazard pay bill was more robust than the version that came out of the House.

“I’ve got a lot of things that have been in the works, but this has been a difficult session to get things through because we stopped working on anything that wasn’t COVID-related,” she said.

Hooker said she did secure some funding to get more broadband equipment installed, but it never panned out because of maintenance issues. She said one of her goals for next session is to work on finding ways to cover the state as a whole. She also plans to resume work on a bill capping the amount people have to pay for insulin.

Hooker said she has never had as many constituents contact her as have during the pandemic, and that it has impressed on her how a wide variety of people, from business-owners afraid of losing everything to laid-off workers trying to access programs, are struggling.

“We have the opportunity, with the federal money, to jump-start our economy again,” she said. “If we do it wisely, this can have a lasting effect.”

IndependentsBrittany Cavacas was the chairwoman of the Rutland City Democrats, so it raised some eyebrows when her name appeared on the ballot as an independent candidate for State Senate.

“I am a moderate,” she said. “I also was the youngest, so that was an issue. Everyone was really nice, really kind, but I didn’t want to be defined by an extreme party side.”

A total of four independent candidates signed up to run for Rutland County’s trio of seats in the Vermont Senate, and a dislike of political parties appeared to be a common thread among them.

“I see a world of grays,” Cavacas said. “I’m a new generation, a new face, a new voice. … I am a young Vermonter who decided to stay in the community but I’m one of very few students in my class who decided to stay.”

Cavacas, a program director for the Vermont Department of Health, also serves on the Rutland City School Board. She said she hopes she can get elected as an independent and “heal the divisions” in the region. On a more direct scale, she hopes to help get the area’s small businesses the relief they need during the pandemic.

“If you look at downtown Rutland, or Brandon, or Fair Haven, we do have a lot of small businesses and we need to make sure they can stand through it,” she said. “The money we’ve been given, we need to make sure that goes to small businesses without all the bureaucracy.”

Cavacas said she also intended to push for a complete overhaul of the care facilities are reimbursed in an effort to bring reimbursement rates to a level that allows facilities to remain sustainable.

Richard Lenchus, 80, of Benson, works as an architect but describes a long and varied career that includes work as an auxilliary police officer and running the inspiration for the Cobra Kai karate dojo in the “Karate Kid” movies. He said he was talked out of a run for assemblyman in Brooklyn “many many many years ago” and made an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2016.

He said in the Senate, he hopes to take work he did as an architect on accessibility for people with disabilities to a new arena.

“I want to work with vets,” he said. “I want to work with wounded warriors. I want to work with the disabled. I want to work with the elderly. … I want to work with people with dementia and people like that. … I’ve been trying to look in the Google and see what the Legislature has been doing, if anything, to put Braille in the schools here.”

Lenchus said he would work to bring jobs and farming back to Vermont and use his skills to solve a variety of conflicts.

“If I’m elected, I’m going to go talk to all these gangbangers and straighten them out,” he said. “I could teach the cops how to use other things than shooting people. I could teach them martial arts.”

Michael Shank, 46, lives in Brandon and is communications director for the Carbon-Neutral Cities Alliance. He said he has never run for public office, but has experience in government as a congressional staffer, interning for Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Maryland and then working for Rep. Michael Honda, D-California.

“I find myself aligning with values and principles on both sides,” he said. “I wanted to apply my day job experience and expertise to Rutland County – specifically, how can we build a Rutland County that’s sustainable in all ways?”

Shank said his experience includes working in conflict resolution in war zones like Afghanistan, and that he wants to keep the intensifying conflict locally from disrupting the community.

“I’m seeing a lot of unhealthy conflict management happen,” he said. “Conflict can be healthy if handled constructively. … I’m a strong believer in everyone being at the table. I’ve seen this in war zones — when someone’s not at the table, they will make a fuss and do it loud.”

Shank said he would like to emphasize workforce development, pushing for closer collaboration between Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont, advocate for innovation centers and get the state to look at creating a body modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“I talk to so many contractors who don’t have the trained employees available to them to do what they need to do,” he said.

Shank said he sees the Senate race as a chance to take his work to “the next level.”

“I’m so enjoying this process because I’m meeting so many interesting people, people who are committed to Rutland County,” he said. “That’s inspiring to me.”

The fourth candidate, Casey Jennings, of Rutland, did not respond to phone calls seeking and interview.

Follow our election coverage online at www.rutlandherald.com

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