BRATTLEBORO -- Five towns, three counties, two independents and no incumbent.
That's the makeup of the only truly competitive state House campaign in the area as Emmett Dunbar of South Londonderry and Tim Goodwin of Weston vie to represent the Windham-Bennington-Windsor district.
Both men are making their first run for state office and acknowledge that they stepped into the fray only because Rep. Oliver Olsen, a Jamaica Republican, decided to not seek another term.
But both also say they've been contemplating a political run for some time.
"I've always been interested in getting involved," Dunbar said.
The district covers the towns of Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Weston and Winhall, and the two candidates' lack of political affiliation makes the campaign unique.
Dunbar said he never has been involved with the Republican or Democratic parties and does not identify with either organization on the national level.
"I'm not sure who they are or what they're all about entirely," he said, adding that he believes many Vermonters would identify themselves as independents.
Goodwin said he has a "history" with the Republican Party, but he believes his centrist views justify an "independent" label for this campaign.
"Obviously, I want to represent the district. It seems the most up-front way to do that is as an independent," he said.
On the campaign trail, Goodwin added, it's an advantage to not be forced to justify affiliation with either party's often-polarizing national platforms.
"A lot of people just say ‘good' when they hear ‘independent,'" he said.
Both men claim bipartisan backing. But Olsen has endorsed and campaigned for Goodwin, who welcomes the assistance.
"He's certainly helped me by introducing people who he knows and I don't," Goodwin said. "He's very highly regarded."
Goodwin is a Vietnam veteran and retired federal employee who is a certified public accountant. He is no stranger to public service, having held multiple positions at the local level including 12 years on the Weston School Board and six years on the Flood Brook School Board.
Currently, he is a justice of the peace and a lister and holds positions with the Windham Regional Commission, Weston Fire Department and Weston Community Association.
Goodwin's experience with school issues leads him to list preserving school choice among his top priorities. He contends "various politicians, political action committees and lobbyists in Montpelier have been working hard to undermine our local decision-making authority" on where children can go to school.
Four of the five towns in the House district have school choice, he noted.
Economic development is another big issue for Goodwin. He acknowledges that there are a large number of service-industry jobs affiliated with recreation and tourism in the district.
"I'll do what I can to assure that we get our share of marketing dollars in this part of the state to keep those jobs," Goodwin said.
However, he also is concerned that there are "two economies" in Vermont. This part of the state, Goodwin said, lacks career-oriented jobs found more prevalently in more populous areas.
While there is no easy way to attract those types of jobs, Goodwin said tax incentives and college affordability are two paths toward economic development.
Economics also are on Dunbar's mind. He talks about the importance of agriculture in the state and local economy, and Dunbar has firsthand knowledge of that fact: He owns Anjali Farm in South Londonderry.
He also has been deeply involved in farming-related organizations. For example, Dunbar said he served as president of and helped expand the West River Farmers' Market in Londonderry, and he is a founder and a current director of Vermont Farm Trail, a marketing cooperative.
Additionally, Dunbar has served on the West River Montessori School board and has taught at Stratton Mountain School and at Four Winds Nature Institute.
"I certainly have done a lot regionally and locally," he said.
Dunbar said it is important to increase the district's population to address a lack of "human capital" in the area.
"I want to make sure we bring more young people here and young families here," he said.
Taxes can be an obstacle to that goal, he said. While the state's education funding system is not likely to change, Dunbar said legislators can address "fiscal accountability" and put a stop to the use of the education fund for other, unrelated expenses.
"I can focus on where and how the money right now is being spent," he said.
Beyond lower tax bills, Dunbar wants to provide incentives to bring more residents to the area. Increasing broadband and cell phone access is critical, he said.
He also floats the idea of providing tax holidays or tax breaks for first-time homeowners.
"It's a really complicated thing, and it's not going to happen overnight, but I think we really need to address it," he said. "And I think we need to address it because we are an aging population and we have a lot of challenges economically."
Neither candidate, however, sees much of a challenge in campaigning in or representing a district that touches three counties. Goodwin said those boundaries don't matter, and Dunbar sees the possibility of a political advantage for the district's representative.
"I feel that it's great, because I can bring together seven different senators," Dunbar said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.