By Dr. Michael Shank
The Rutland Herald is publishing a General Election Guide later this month. This questionnaire below is what was distributed to candidates. The answers, written by Michael Shank, will appear in the Rutland Herald’s guide.
Why are you running this year?
I love this community and I want to give back and serve the community in every way I can. I see a need to strengthen our ties and bonds so that we’re more resilient and more protected from future shocks that could divide us or hurt us. Whether it’s more divisive politics, another pandemic, another recession, or another hurricane, I want us to be stronger than ever before. I see the fractures widening and our foundation eroding. In response, I want to build a resilient Rutland County that makes certain our physical infrastructure, as well as our economic and social infrastructure, is immune to further attack. My hope is that my day job, working with counties and cities throughout the world that are prioritizing resilience, as well as my previous work experience in conflict zones globally, will be helpful here in Rutland.
What’s the biggest challenge facing Vermonters?
Too many people are being left behind. Too many people are struggling to make ends meet. Too many people are barely surviving. I want to prioritize these challenges. I want to do everything in my power as state senator to address the real and urgent needs facing our community. I want to make sure that the basics for a happy and healthy life – housing, health insurance, healthy food, heat, public transit options, clean energy – are affordable and accessible to everyone. No one left behind. That’s the only way. If we do that, then we ensure everyone is set up for success, that we’re resilient when the next shock comes – whether political, economic or environmental – and that we’re building a stronger Vermont community every single day with every single policy. That’s the lens I’ll use in Montpelier.
What steps need to be taken as Vermont’s economy recovers from the effects of COVID-19?
There’s the obvious short-term grants and loan assistance that are essential, which the state has been good about supporting, as well as help for those newly unemployed because of COVID-19. Additionally, the all-hands-on-deck approach by Vermont agencies and community organizations to make sure every resident and every household in our community is fed, housed, and heated as we approach the winter is critical. But it’s the long-term agenda that we need to lock in place now as well. Do we have the support mechanisms in place for the leaders and businesses of tomorrow to be sustainable through the next shock? That means that the skills-building, new workforce training, mentorships and apprenticeships, collaboration across educational institutions, and innovation hub opportunities are established now for Rutland residents. That means we’re marketing and packaging the beauty of Rutland County in new ways to new homeowners, new investments, and new businesses for soon-to-be Rutland residents. That means we’re staying ahead of the migration trends coming out of the big cities, in response to COVID-19, and we’re capitalizing on these moves by not only welcoming the change but intentionally directing those new investments and newcomers to constructively engage in the new Rutland economy.
What are your top priorities?
First and foremost, my main priority is to explore and exploit every opportunity – through state, federal and private support – to make sure Rutland residents are getting everything they need to recover from COVID-19. All the aspects of the American dream need to be affordable and accessible to all of us, whether it’s rental housing or homeownership, healthy food, heating, health insurance or how we get to and from school and work. Currently, that’s out of reach for many in Rutland County and I’m committed to making sure it’s within reach.
Second, I’m going to focus on ensuring that our physical infrastructure, as well as our economic and social infrastructure, can withstand the next shock. There are plenty of shocks coming our way – economic, political, social, and environmental. Recessions, pandemics, partisan politics, extreme weather, and more. Our buildings, bridges and roads need to be able to withstand these shocks. Our businesses and schools need to withstand these shocks. Our community organizations, volunteer groups, and social networks need to withstand these shocks.
Third, I’m going to harness my global and national networks to market the beauty and bounty of Rutland County so that we all benefit from new investment, new opportunity, new business and new renters and homeowners. That’s how we lower taxes for every household and provide new resources to benefit every household. Rutland County is gorgeous and people understandably want to move here. But let’s control that process. Let’s attract people who want to move here and be ahead of that curve, not behind it, involving them immediately upon arrival in the recovery and rebuild that’ll make Rutland more resilient.
What distinguishes you from other candidates?
I was born and raised in an Amish-Mennonite community that was committed to a strong service ethic and to serving all members of the community. That was our social safety net. We took care of each other. When times were tough, the community was there for us. I think about service every day. How can I help my neighbors, my town, my community, my county, and my country? What can I do today to help someone?
I’ve got policymaking experience in the U.S. Congress, conflict experience in war zones, diplomatic experience at the United Nations, teaching experience in graduate schools across this country, farming experience on my animal sanctuary, and planning experience on the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and Brandon’s Planning Commission, where I serve as vice-chair and chair, respectively.
I’m 100% committed to engaging civilly and diplomatically throughout my entire senate service. We need more civility and more compassion in our conversations, communication, and handling of conflicts. I’m 100% committed to listening to everyone who wants to talk about the future of Rutland County. We need more involvement by all stakeholders, not just those with the most money or the loudest bullhorns. I’m 100% committed to bettering all lives, not just some, and making sure everyone is thriving in Rutland County. That’s my commitment.