WILMINGTON — John Gannon says he decided to run for state representative after learning Ann Manwaring would not be seeking re-election this year.
"She called me and told me that she was not running and asked me if I'd be interested in running," Gannon told the Reformer. "She's been very helpful."
Gannon will be running as a Democrat for the Windham-5 district, which covers Halifax, Whitingham and Wilmington, where he is currently sitting on the Select Board. Manwaring, also a Democrat, said she supports him and thinks he would make a very good legislator for the district.
Gannon said he worked for his local state representative in Massachusetts during two summer breaks while attending Middlebury College in Vermont. That got the ball rolling.
"It started me being interested in state politics but also national politics," Gannon said. "Ever since, I've been interested in both. I try to keep up on issues in Vermont since I moved here."
Since 1978, Gannon has visited the Deerfield Valley. His wife Crista's family owned a ski chalet there when he was in high school. They would stay regularly.
Loving Vermont then and what it had to offer, Gannon decided to attend Middlebury College. And after practicing law in Burlington, then moving onto to Washington, D.C., where he said he helped fight Wall Street and protect investors' "hard-earned money" at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, he returned to the Green Mountain State.
A second home in the valley was held onto until Gannon could live in Vermont full-time. He has lived there since June 2011.
Gannon helped found the downtown organization Wilmington Works. He is co-chairman on the group's board and sits on the board for the Wilmington Fund, which raises money to assist projects in town and was instrumental in recovery after Tropical Storm Irene. He's also a member of the Deerfield Valley Rotary and was its previous president.
Gannon's involvement in town government "absolutely" influenced his decision to run for the state position, he said.
"After I won a seat on the Select Board I had a much better understanding of how state political issues interface with municipal issues. There are many things that impact the municipalities that happen at the state level," Gannon said. "Probably the most important thing the Select Board doesn't have much say about is the Education Fund, how money is sent to Montpelier and comes back to schools. That's an issue I know Ann (Manwaring) cared about and worked on a lot."
Education, Gannon admits, is a very complex topic. He said the funding mechanism, the statewide property tax, needs to be fixed and that it's affecting the ability of residents to buy homes.
"I think that causes a lot of people to struggle. I think it's an impediment to having younger families move to Vermont," he said. "The property tax is likely the highest tax they'll pay."
Manwaring called property taxes "the number one concern" of voters in the district. As a citizen, she plans to continue advocating for changes to the state's education funding model and the governing structure. She said she was just not sure how yet.
"I have learned a lot about how the buckets, called funds, into which the revenues generated from us as individuals and from the functioning of our economy are structured, and that they are different in a very important way," she wrote in a letter to the editor. "The discipline around spending of public dollars is inherent in the rules shaping the use of General Fund dollars — we simply do not spend beyond revenues, regardless of the politics driving the spending. The management of that spending is highly centralized at the State level in the Legislature and the Administration. The Education Fund, by contrast, has no such centralized discipline around spending either by our schools or by the Legislature's actions impacting that spending."
One potential change, according to Gannon, could see Vermont moving to an income-based taxing system.
Another area Gannon would like to see changes is in higher education. The state has one of the best rates in the county when it comes to high school graduates, he said.
"We aren't so good at getting people enrolled and graduated in college," he continued. "One in two go on to college. That's it. I'm not even talking about graduating. The next step is ensuring they graduate. If you look, most of the jobs coming on line today require at least a college degree or something similar."
Gannon is also about making Vermont more affordable.
"I think it's important to not keep raising taxes year after year," he said. "Yes, Montpelier balances the budget every year but they do so by raising taxes and fees. I don't think you can tax your way into a good economy."
His previous employment saw him running a foundation. The money he managed came from fines paid out by money security firms. It was not his money, he said, but other people's, and keeping that in mind while serving in an elected capacity is important.
In his first year on Select Board, Gannon took an aggressive approach when tackling the town's budget. He asked many questions along the way, even if they were not popular, and he plans on continuing that if elected as a representative.
"Working on a budget isn't sexy, it isn't exciting. It can be tedious," he said. "But probably one of the most important functions an elected official serves is being a good steward of taxpayers' money."
While passing legislation that can be beneficial will no doubt take up some of Gannon's time if he gets the job, he said he wants to ensure lawmakers know how it will be paid for before doing so. He pointed at Act 46, the education law mandating district consolidation, as an example of where that should have been considered more beforehand.
The current recreational marijuana-legalization bill being looked at by the House of Representatives concerns Gannon. Unlike other states such as Colorado and Washington, he said it does not provide any funds to municipalities. He sees the drug having an impact mostly in the area of public safety.
But his other issue has to do with protecting teenagers from being able to purchase it.
"I think you have to acknowledge if it's legalized, accessibility by teens will increase," he said. "I think more thinking has to go into that."
And with the current opiate crisis, Gannon is even more unsure of the legislation.
It isn't all negatives, he told the Reformer, noting that the taxing of marijuana would no doubt raise revenues and it's an agricultural business that in many ways ties "very much into Vermont."
"I'm not totally opposed," he said. "I don't think we have the right bill and it's not the right time."
An ongoing issue Gannon would like to address is broadband. He says there isn't sufficient access in all areas of the district he would represent and in the valley in general. He sees expansion of broadband services as low-hanging fruit for economic development: improving it would give second homeowners the opportunity to stay longer and might inspire them to move to the area.
Gannon said he will not accept campaign contributions from Political Action Committees, out-of-state organizations or any political party.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.