State Rep. Carolyn Partridge.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
State Rep. Carolyn Partridge. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

WINDHAM -- State Rep. Carolyn Partridge has served as House Minority Leader and House Majority Leader, and she currently is chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee.

The Windham resident played a key role in Vermont's new GMO-labeling law, and she was honored in 2013 as "legislator of the year" by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

But Partridge, in explaining why she is seeking a ninth term in the Vermont House of Representatives, points to a basic function of her job.

"I really still enjoy taking care of my own constituents," she said.

Partridge and Rep. Matt Trieber, D-Rockingham, represent the Windham 3 District that consists of Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, Windham and part of Westminster.

Both are running as Democrats in the Aug. 26 primary and are the only Windham 3 candidates in that election. Independent candidate Deborah Wright of Rockingham has qualified to run for a Windham 3 seat in the November general election.

Now in her eighth term, Partridge is the second-most-senior member of the Windham County delegation in Montpelier: Only Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster and a 24-year member of the House, has served longer.

Partridge first was elected in 1998 and took her seat in 1999. Her time in the House has included service on the Commerce and Government Operations committees, and she served six years in House leadership -- Assistant House Minority Leader from 2003-04 and House Majority Leader from 2005-08.

More recently, she has served as Agriculture chairwoman, a role that is close to her heart and to her home: In Windham, Partridge is a small farmer raising sheep and producing hand-dyed yarn and products for spinners as well as lamb sold directly to consumers.

She is proud of the success of the state's Farm to Plate initiative and of the Legislature's 2012 approval of the Working Lands Enterprise Act, which spurred a popular grant program that already has invested millions of dollars into the state's agricultural and forestry sectors.

"It just shows how potentially meaningful and important these kinds of investments can be -- how people are hungry for these opportunities," Partridge said.

Given that requests for Working Lands money have far outpaced available funding, Partridge wants to work to ensure the program's long-term viability.

"I'd like to find some kind of reliable source of revenue to support the Working Lands (grants), so it's not just a line item in the governor's budget," she said.

Partridge also worked hard to get a GMO-labeling mandate through the Legislature -- an effort that paid off this year as Vermont became the first state to require labeling of genetically modified foods.

The state, as expected, is facing a lawsuit from several food-industry groups seeking to block the new law. But Partridge noted that lawmakers worked for years to refine the GMO bill.

The House initially approved the bill in 2013, and in 2014, "the Senate made some good changes to it," Partridge said. "Every time we worked on it, we kept in mind the defensibility of it."

Partridge also has an interest in educational issues: She is chairwoman of Windham School Board, and she was not pleased with a controversial House bill that would have eventually mandated consolidation of many of Vermont's small school districts.

The bill did not pass before the 2014 session ended in May, and Partridge believes a "better process" is needed before attempting further, large-scale reforms.

"I feel like there's work that still needs to be done -- in particular, the whole education-reform piece. I have some differences with my own party leadership on that," she said.

"I feel we need to have a conversation that includes a wide spectrum of topics," Partridge said, including "what we're doing well, who's doing it well, where we find gaps -- where are the problems -- and what do we need to do to fix them."

Partridge also is eager to take part in Vermont's continuing transition to a universal, publicly financed health-care system.

"I've always been very committed to making sure all Vermonters have high-quality health care," she said. "We're embarking on single-payer, and I'd like to be a part of that, too."

In addition to her community service on the Windham School Board, Partridge also is a member of Windham Community Organization; a deacon in Windham Congregational Church; a Windham Regional Commissioner and a member of that organization's executive board; and a member of the Neighborhood Connections board in Londonderry.

Her website is www.carolynpartridge.com.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.