Candidates exchange views in 'Mountain Towns' forum
LONDONDERRY -- The pair of Independent candidates running to replace outgoing state representative Oliver Olsen met at the Flood Brook Union School Wednesday, each attempting to make their case for election before an audience of about 60 voters.
Both Charles "Tim" Goodwin and Emmett Dunbar led off the forum by stressing their backgrounds and experience as qualifying them for the office. The district includes the five towns of Jamaica, Stratton, Weston, Winhall and Londonderry.
"I want to take 15 years of farming, hard work, patience and teaching to be your next leader, " Dunbar said in his opening statement. "That will hold me in good stead for representing you with a clear mind, a fresh mind, lots of energy and strength and I look forward to that. I know I can do it."
Goodwin countered with an explanation of why he was running as an independent.
None of the state's major parties had a lock on all the "good" ideas, he said.
"I'm running because I want want to help build a better life for the people of our district and Vermont as a whole," he said, adding there were three central concerns that were key -- taxes, economic growth and education.
Dunbar, 40, is the owner of Anjali Farms, an organic farm based in Londonderry. According to his campaign's Web site, he is the founder and co-director of the Vermont Farm Trail, an agri-tourism and food product marketing cooperative. He has also been active in helping develop area farmers markets, his web site states.
Goodwin, 65, lives in Weston and is a certified public accountant who has served on several local boards, including the Weston Planning Commission, the Flood Brook school board, and the Windham Regional Commission. He is also currently a lister with the town of Weston. He has been endorsed by Olsen, the Republican outgoing state representative.
Early in the debate, which was moderated by Jamaica's town moderator, Ralph Coleman, and who directed the questions to the candidates, Dunbar and Goodwin were asked what they would do, if elected, to create new jobs in the district and provide incentives for younger Vermonters to remain in the state.
That was an involved and complicated question, Dunbar said in the course of his answer.
A good education system and sturdy broadband coverage were two essential components of that, he said.
He also emphasized the importance of the tourism as a revenue generator to the district, as well as the state.
"It's key that our region focuses on increasing its tourist economy," he said. Bridging the gap between the seasonality of events would help greatly, he added.
He also saw potential for future growth in agriculture, noting later on in the forum that the average age of farmers was getting younger and the sector was growing strongly.
"If we can continue to enhance the working landscape, that will help, and I am a part of that," he said.
But the underlying challenge was to try to promote economic development that provided jobs that would give opportunities for younger residents, while at the same time recognizing there were also many who were reluctant to embrace the sort of economic development that brought large numbers of jobs, if that would disrupt the classic, traditional landscape of the state, he said.
Goodwin said it would be helpful if there was more "connectivity" to post-secondary education, when it came to providing jobs for younger residents and keeping them from moving away.
Expansion of high speed Internet broadband services would also be a benefit, but he doubted that agriculture was likely to provide the kind of growth that Dunbar seemed to be counting on, he said in his answer.
"I grew up on a farm in Weston," he said. "I have a soft spot in my heart for agriculture, but I don't think we'll retain a lot of young people that way."
When it came to health insurance and the possible expansion of both the state and federal roles in ensuring adequate coverage and benefits, the two diverged somewhat in their assessments.
Through the Affordable Care Act, which passed Congress in 2010 and was upheld in principle by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, the issue of universal health care has advanced far enough for now, and further action by the Vermont Legislature, in the form of creating a so-called "single payer" program, was unnecessary, Goodwin said.
"I'm wary of that," Goodwin said, referring to the single payer idea. " We haven't done enough into looking how it will be paid for."
An employment tax would be the wrong way toward financing such a program, he said.
Dunbar said health insurance right now was too much of an "unknown" in terms of financing, and would remain there until a legislative study would be released in 2014.
He also said that a review if the patients in the Springfield hospital showed that 80 percent of them were covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and the rest by private insurance plans or fell into an "unknown" category. The entire debate about health insurance ultimately came down to a question of how to pay for 10 percent of the state's population, he said.
"This argument, this conversation, this distraction, this frustration, this stress is about 10 percent of the population," Dunbar said. "It's an important issue to discuss, but it's not the majority of the people."
The more important question was creating services here in the legislative district's immediate area, which was currently under-served in the healthcare arena, he said.
Other questions covered expansion of the sales tax into services, education funding and energy. Questions were not asked from the floor, but written questions were picked up by members of an eighth grade social studies class and asked by the debate's moderator.
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