Vermont governor's race: Brock slams Shumlin on health care

Saturday October 27, 2012

BETHEL -- Randy Brock knows he's way behind Gov. Peter Shumlin in fundraising and that early polls show the Democratic incumbent with a big lead.

But the Republican challenger insists "there's a real chance for an upset" that would make him the next governor of Vermont. In an interview with The Associated Press, Brock, a state senator representing Franklin and part of Grand Isle counties, said he'll be working long days in the next week and a half trying to get his message out about shrinking government and making the state more business friendly.

The 69-year-old is no stranger to long days. During a 14-year career at Boston-based Fidelity Investments, in which Brock rose to executive vice president, he tacked onto that very fulltime job a daily commute in which he drove 38 miles from his home in Swanton to the Burlington International Airport, took a 45-minute flight to Boston and a one-hour subway ride from the airport to downtown, a trip he reversed in the evening.

Brock, originally from Philadelphia, came to Vermont to attend Middlebury College, did a stint in the U.S. Army including a year in Vietnam, and received a master's degree in history from Yale University before returning to Vermont and applying his military police training to found a security company. The company's client list grew to include corporate and government installations, including U.S. nuclear facilities. Brock sold it in 1983 and went into consulting.

Among his consulting clients was Fidelity, whose staff he joined in 1989. In the mid-1990s, he traveled internationally, with duties that included scoping out new locations for Fidelity to expand its operations - experience he says would help a governor attract new business to the state.

During a recent campaign stop in Bethel, where Brock addressed about two dozen people gathered for coffee, doughnuts and political talk, he spoke of traveling to Ireland, where government officials worked hard at being flexible and welcoming an American executive who might bring jobs. "Then they said, 'Let's go have a Guinness,'" he said, to a chuckle from the crowd.

"Attitude is so important," he said. "Every time an organization rates the business friendliness of the states, Vermont gets ranked 46th, 47th or 48th in the nation. Let's fix it."

One impediment to business growth, as Brock sees it, is a push by Shumlin and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to move Vermont to a universal, publicly financed health care system.

Shumlin maintains that replacing employer-provided health insurance with a public system will be a boon to business, but Brock says uncertainty about how the governor's plan will be paid for is scaring off many businesses.

Brock believes the solution to rising health care costs is to bring more choice and competition into the marketplace. He said he would try to encourage more private insurers to do business in Vermont in hopes that that would drive down premiums.

He offered two techniques to pursue that agenda: He said he would sharply curtail "community rating," a requirement in Vermont that insurers offer coverage to people of different ages, genders and other demographic categories at the same premium rate. And he said he would call for "performance audits" on the mandates imposed by the state that insurers cover certain types of service, "so we can determine objectively are they doing what's intended and are they adding to cost."

On the size of government, Brock said 29 percent of state employees are projected to reach retirement age in the next five years, creating an opportunity to rethink some government functions. Some might be streamlined through better organization and use of technology, he said.

Brock also faulted the administration's energy policy, particularly its support for subsidies for renewable energy. For poor and working Vermont residents to pay higher electric bills to support well-off renewable energy developers is "Robin Hood in reverse," Brock said. And he has criticized Shumlin for planning a retooled mental health system after the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene, without creating an adequate contingency plan in case funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not come as soon or as fully as expected.

As for his own contingency plans in case he fails to pull off an upset on Nov. 6, Brock pointed out he serves on a number of college and nonprofit boards. "I'll be plenty busy," he said.


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