BRANDON REPORTER 08/19/20
By Lee J Kahrs
BRANDON — A well-known Brandon activist, educator and volunteer has announced his run for Rutland County Senator as an Independent.
Michael Shank made the announcement Aug. 16 on Facebook.
“Hi friends – Taking a leap here. Feeling like now more than ever before I need to do everything I can to make a change. Appreciate any/all support. Check me out at voteshank.com.”
Shank joins a rather crowded field of candidates and incumbents. Sen. Cheryl Hooker (D) and Sen. Brian Collamore (R) are seeking re-election to two-year terms. Democratic challengers include Greg Cox, owner of Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland, Christopher Hoyt of West Haven and Larry Courcelle of Mendon. Republican challengers are Terry Williams of Poultney and Joshua C. Terenzini of Rutland Town. Brittany Cavacas of Rutland City is also running as an Independent.
Getting to know you
Shank, 46, lives on a small animal sanctuary in Brandon populated with rescue animals, including sheep, goats, and horses.
He is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a group of cities that works toward achieving long-term carbon reduction goals. Michael’s professional career includes leading press and/or policy shops at the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Climate Nexus, the U.S. Congress, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Institute for Economics and Peace, Biodiversity Northwest, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and more.
Shank holds a Ph.D. from George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and is focused on climate conflict. He is an adjunct faculty member at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches graduate courses on Sustainable Development, Power and Politics and Climate and Security. Shank also serves as adjunct faculty and advisory board member at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, where he teaches graduate courses on communicating conflict.
Shank is a contributor to USA Today, CNN, The Guardian, TIME, Fast Company, and Newsweek. He is also a former opinion columnist for the Washington Post and US News & World Report.
Shank chairs the Brandon Planning Commission and the Energy Committee, and serves on the board of the Safer Society Foundation and the Compass Music and Arts Foundation. He also founded Brandon Environmental Film Competition, the Brandon Writes Essay Contest for students on conflict resolution, and Brandon Serves, a volunteer service opportunity for Brandon youth.
Policy, not party
So, given the crowded field of candidates, Shank was asked why he chose to run now. Raised in a Mennonite community in Ohio, Shank said his roots define his sense of service.
“I feel some urgency in terms of service,” Shank said in an interview Monday. “Service is everything I think about. Being born and raised in a Mennonite community, anyone who knows Mennonites knows it’s all about service: service to each other, and service to the broader community.”
Shank spoke of volunteer trips with his community to help hurricane victims or flood victims in other states rebuild and recover.
“Service is one of the principles that has guided me,” he said. “I’ve gone through a checklist of how I can serve my community.”
Shank added that his day job also informs his goal of teaching resiliency.
“I work with cities to build resilience to whatever shock is coming, whether it’s a pandemic, worsening weather due to climate change or economic shock,” Shank said. “I hope to apply my expertise in creating resiliency. Vermont has been hit hard by COVID-19. Unemployment is high, food bank lines are long… How can I apply the knowledge I’ve gained to Rutland County so we are even more resilient before we go into the next shock? How do we make sure we plan for success?”
Shank lists a number of issues he is passionate about, including a living wage, housing, energy development, animal welfare, downtown development, health care and a higher education investment plan.
Shank praised Gov. Phil Scott’s leadership during the pandemic in Vermont, saying investments in public health are critical.
“We have to keep making sure Vermonters are well-housed, well-fed, and paid a living wage,” he said. “If we make those investments, how will they serve us later so we’re stronger?”
Shank said he counts Republicans and Democrats among his friends, and that if elected to the State Senate, he would keep working toward community within the walls of the State House.
“We share a lot of the same values,” he said. “I feel I can represent regardless of party. That’s the kind of resilience you want to create, and it comes from strong community bonds. I’m really attracted to the volunteerism in Brandon and that’s the kind of atmosphere I want to create in the county.”
Shank said he wanted to return to the farm and moved to Brandon in 2017 from Peekskill, N.Y. Here he found a small farm on High Pond Road, and he found a community.
“I just got lucky that Brandon is such a great town and has been so welcoming,” he said. “So, when I think of ways to serve people, I’m guided by feedback from people in the community. Anytime I can amplify voice in a community for the common good, I will do that.”
But Shank is also living proof of the “It takes a village” mentality to raising children, and he says that is impossible without community. His father died when he was young, leaving his mother to raise her children and run the farm alone.
“My mom got food stamps,” he said. “The community totally rallied to support us. I have people who helped raise me and are cheering me on to this day. That’s the kind of community I want to live in and the kind of community I want to create.”
In the end, Shank said his decision to run is the result of a lifelong, familiar whisper.
“All my life, people have been telling me to run for office,” the candidate said. “It’s never been clear to me until now.”