Last Friday the Community of Vermont Elders and the Addison County Retired Teachers held a gubernatorial candidates' forum in Middlebury to hear what those who want to be Governor have to say about elder issues. COVE is one of the most active organizations in the state, advocating for senior issues. That is why I decided to join their board recently. The fact that former local state rep Gini Milkey is the executive director also had something to do with my decision.
It was a forum designed to hear candidates' priorities for senior issues. Unfortunately, only three of the five candidates for Governor were able to attend. Democrat House Speaker Shap Smith had a family emergency and Republican Lt. Governor Phil Scott had a schedule conflict.
Although the three candidates, Democrats Matt Dunne and Sue Minter and Republican Bruce Lisman had done some preparation for the event, I was disappointed that none of them had solid ideas about how to better support Vermont's aging population.
They told the obligatory personal stories about their families to prove how much they understood elder issues and they rolled off the names of programs that currently serve seniors. The candidates seemed primarily interested in selling themselves to a room full of seniors and that blurred the focus of the forum.
The least compelling of the three was Lisman. He kept repeating well-crafted campaign phrases and he took every opportunity he had to trash the current state administration. Everything he said was veiled in a cloak of fiscal restraint and, because of his campaign single-mindedness, he did not address senior issues with any depth.
Sue Minter has served as Secretary of Transportation and was the tropical storm Irene recovery director. One has to accept her sincerity and depth of understanding about how important she believes transportation is in relation to senior issues.
She spoke of senior programs, but it seemed that her focus has been so narrow over the past few years that she has little to offer in the way of improving life for Vermont seniors. She is certainly a competent administrator and would do well as Governor, but I got the sense that once she is in office that senior issues will not be near the top of her priority list.
Matt Dunne is a former legislator and now works for Google. He is a smart, innovative guy who has no lack of ideas about how to make change. Dunne and Minter talked about a unique program to provide transportation to rural areas and that was one of the few truly new ideas presented. But Dunne is relatively young and I am not sure if senior issues will make it to the top of his list as Governor.
I had a chance to ask the last question of the forum and the response would have been rated a D minus by any teacher. I asked how they would pay for senior programs that they, as a new Governor, would support.
Lisman didn't even come close to answering the question. He talked in veiled phrases that sounded like he felt that it would be impossible to find new money in his budget because of his intention to inflict fiscal belt-tightening on state government. A non-answer at best.
Minter talked around the question and she also did not really offer an answer. She spoke of rearranging priorities and she was not able to provide any details of a new approach to a state budget with seniors near the top.
Dunne offered one way to raise more money for a budget with senior priorities. He did talk of his transportation idea but he, as well as the other two candidates, were short on revenue generating ideas that could support seniors. As expected, the dreaded "T" word, taxes, was not even whispered.
This forum made it clear that politicians need more education about senior issues and that they need to hear from more seniors during and after the tedious campaign season. Supporting COVE is one of the best ways to make sure the message gets delivered. Consider joining COVE or donating to their efforts. Their mailing address is P.O. Box 1276, Montpelier, VT 05601. Check out their web site: www.vermontelders.org or call them at 802-229-4731.