WINDHAM COUNTY — Two Republicans and one independent are challenging Windham County’s incumbent senators for their seats in the Vermont State House.
Republicans John Lyddy, of Whitingham, and Marcus Parish, of Rockingham, and independent Tyler Colford, also of Whitingham, hope to unseat Becca Balint, of Brattleboro, and Jeanette White, of Putney, who have been in the Senate for three and nine terms, respectively.
Becca Balint, who has been the Senate Majority Leader since her second term, was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where her dad was stationed in the U.S. Army. She went to public school in Peekskill, N.Y. She has BA from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., a masters in education from Harvard and a masters in history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She permanently relocated to Vermont in 1997 and lives in Brattleboro with her spouse and two children. As a teacher, she has taught in public and private schools in New England, as well as at the Community College of Vermont.
Balint said first and foremost, the new Legislature in January will have to keep its focus on COVID-19 and recovering from the pandemic.
“We had to essentially stop the economy for a few months,” she said. “We are going to have a shortfall in revenue in both the general fund and school funding. We’re not really clear what that will look like, but it will be significant.”
Balint acknowledged that Vermont, like other states, can’t do it alone and needs more federal funds to prop up certain sectors, such as the hospitality industry, until the pandemic is declared officially over.
“We desperately need that,” she said. “Restaurants are barely holding on now, and that’s only because they can seat people outside. In another month, they won’t be able to do that.”
But Balint, who calls herself an optimist, said she is hopeful this winter will be a good one for Vermont’s economy, with people up and down the East Coast needing to get out and take part in some winter activities such as skiing or snowboarding.
“People need to forget about this global emergency for a while,” she said. “And because our numbers continue to be low, people do see Vermont as an oasis. I do think we are going to get a bump when the ski season comes.”
To get through the crisis successfully, said Balint, requires people with the institutional knowledge necessary to write a state budget.
“I am so grateful that the experienced senators, some of whom were thinking about retiring, have decided to stick it out for one more term,” she said. “They have the know-how to weather us through this crisis.”
But, she added, “We also need new blood,” Millennials and Gen Xers who can talk about the challenges facing their generations and offer solutions unique to their understanding.
“One of my goals is to prepare the Senate for what comes next. How can experienced legislators pass along their knowledge and skill set to the next generation?”
For Vermont to remain vital, she said, younger people might need some assistance to stay in or come to the Green Mountain State.
“We need people with different experiences in Vermont,” said Balint, who, if reelected, expects to be the next Senate pro tempore. The pro tem serves as a member of the Committee on Committees, which is responsible for making committee assignments and designating committee chairpersons, vice chairpersons and clerks.
“I’m really thinking about who can learn the ropes so we are not in a bind a couple of years down the road,” she said.
Other items she would like to continue to work on if reelected include Medicaid, housing, child care and rural broadband.
One thing the state has learned during the pandemic, she said, is how important it is to expand broadband.
“The pandemic has forced us to acknowledge we can truly work remotely,” said Balint.
Not only can expanding broadband bring new people to Vermont, it can also help to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by eliminating commutes for some people. The creation of communications districts, which were authorized in 2018, will help communities build their own infrastructure and extend broadband to the “last mile” of homes.
“Another thing I would like to see us do,” said Balint,” is we have a huge number of people between 60 and 70. I’d really like to see us provide incentives to businesses to hire more seniors as part-time workers and urge Vermont companies to offer more substantial retirement plans.”
Balint noted that Vermont is first in the nation for economic insecurity for elderly couples.
Another thing the state can do to help seniors is to eliminate its income tax on social security.
“We are one of only four states that tax these benefits,” said Balint, who acknowledged some hard decisions are going to need to be made due to the effect the pandemic has had on the state’s budget.
Tyler Colford, a machinist at G.S. Precision in Brattleboro, was born in Brattleboro and went to Twin Valley High School and the Windham County Career Center. Colford is also half of JynxINC, a rap group that has, according to his website, “evolved from shock rap and horrorcore to hardcore, story driven raps with a political/economic tinge.”
This is Colford’s second attempt at gaining a seat in the Senate. He said he decided to run because the only solutions he has heard are more government spending, a more centralized government, government enforced monopolization of markets, and the infringing of “actual human rights.”
He believes that government agencies or programs should not get increased funding when they show dismal results.
On his Facebook Page, Colford wrote “I decided to run for State Senate because of state and federal overreach. I vow to nullify as many unconstitutional federal acts and protect individuals.”
Colford told the Reformer he is an independent because he doesn’t fall in line with either the Democrats or Republicans and because he doesn’t want to have to follow a party line.
“The public can gripe all day about certain policies such as Act 60 and Act 46, but Vermonters aren’t being listened to,” he said.
Colford said the main thing he would bring to Montpelier is his willingness to listen to his constituents. He also feels because he is independent, he can work with both parties.
Colford said his candidacy is also informed by viewpoints expressed at the Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
He would like to see Vermont refuse to deploy its National Guard troops to conflict areas unless the federal government has actually declared war.
In Vermont, he said, “I’m all for overturning the unconstitutional magazine and bump stock bans and I’m not too thrilled about the red flag laws that were passed.”
For criminal justice reform, Colford suggests the decriminalization of all drugs that are unrefined substances that haven’t been adulterated.
“There are people in prison who are able to get contraband,” said Colford. “If inmates can get drugs, there are no amount of drug laws that are going to stop the sale and use of drugs.”
He believes getting off the books non-violent, victimless crimes means police agencies can devote more resources to more serious crimes.
Another issue he would like the state to consider is issuing its own currency.
John Lyddy, who moved to Vermont 20 years ago from Washington, D.C., has a Bachelor’s in business from Georgetown University. He came to Whitingham because his family has owned a home in Wilmington since 1962. He has worked as a consultant in internal marketing and in direct marketing. He believes the Vermont Legislature needs more businesspeople like him in its ranks.
He said his skill set working with companies large and small means he is aptly suited for looking for the unintended consequences of legislation.
“I don’t think the Legislature looks at the laws they pass and how they affect certain groups of people,” said Lyddy. This includes seniors and low-income Vermonters who are adversely affected by the increased costs associated with vehicle emissions requirements and with a new law that mandates all heating oil tanks be reviewed.
The practical implications, he said, is in older people giving up there cars or others driving uninspected cars, leading to fees and fines they can’t pay or fuel tank replacements that are too expensive.
“That’s very wrong and very shortsighted,” said Lyddy. “There are very practical things that need to be examined when you pass this kind of legislation.”
Lyddy said global warming legislation is needed, but it needs to be “within bonds” and its effect on the elderly and the poor need to be mitigated.
“The elderly and the lower income are being affected by much higher taxes when it comes to real estate taxes,” he said. “Where do they go when all of sudden those taxes are flat out too much for them.”
If elected, Lyddy said he would work on abatement programs to help keep people in their homes.
“We really have to examine all of these pieces of legislation,” he said. “They have the right idea, but the method is wrong.”
He also said that ultimately, the state needs to reopen to get the economy moving for everyone. But that doesn’t mean he’s downplaying the COVID-19 virus. The state needs its sales tax and room and meals tax revenues, he said. Until there is a vaccine, people still need to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash their hands, said Lyddy.
The Legislature also needs to think about how businesses that have spent all their capital surviving the last few months can be helped back on their feet. He proposes a committee of business people to determine what they need and a grant program to make funds available.
Lyddy said the state still has federal COVID money it can use to help those businesses, and he believes another COVID relief package will happen on or around Nov. 3, election day.
“We have to get back to work,” said Lyddy, who added that with all the new treatments available since the pandemic started, COVID-19 is just “a bad flu.”
Jeanette White has lived in Vermont since 1972. She has a Bachelor’s in political science and sociology from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a Master’s in community development and community education from Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale. She is married and has two grown children.
Most recently, she has served as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and as a member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
Last year, the committee approved S.338, known as Justice Reinvestment II, which was signed into law in June by Gov. Phil Scott.
White said the intent of the legislation is to continue to improve the state’s criminal justice system, keeping people in jail who really need to be there while keeping people out who shouldn’t be there.
Ten years ago, the Legislature passed Justice Reinvestment One and since then, Vermont had reduced prior to COVID-19 its number of jailed citizens down to 1,700. Since then, the number has dropped to 1,400 due to people being released for health concerns. But this still leaves 350 people in jail awaiting some sort of judicial process. She said that has to change, too.
“What we need to do is look at the beginning to find out why are there so many people in prison,” she said. “What are the laws we have that don’t need to be there. We don’t need to create a law for every situation.”
S.388 calls for reviews of systems around furlough, parole and probation, she said. It also calls for alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice.
Keeping people out of jail who don’t need to be there means the state can focus on the real criminals who need to be locked up, she said.
In Government Operations there is more work that needs to be done on election security and accessibility, she said, as well as making changes to open meeting law from lessons learned from the pandemic.
She also wants to continue her work with Xusana Davis, Vermont’s first racial equity executive director, and the state’s Racial Equity Advisory Panel.
Another thing that White is concerned about is how revenues are going to flow back to towns that allow for marijuana growth or sales within their borders.
“No bill is ever perfect,” she said. “This all doesn’t happen overnight.”
She said this is why it’s important that people like her can continue the work that was started years ago.
“For instance, Sen. [Jane] Kitchel [of Danville] has been chair of appropriations for a long time. She remembers the issues and why we did things the way we did them. And Sen. [Dick] Sears [of Bennington] the chairman of judiciary remembers things like Justice Reinvestment I and why it was passed. Without the memory of these actions we would be going blind.”
White is also proud of how people came together to craft the state’s extreme risk, or red flag, law, which allows for, after an expedient court hearing, the temporary confiscation of firearms from people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. While crafting this legislation, White said legislators took testimony from gun rights groups, gun dealers, mental health advocates and victim advocates, all of whom had a voice in the creation of the law.
Marc Parish did not respond to request for information. However, he has an extensive website where voters can learn about him.
For more on the candidates, visit BCTV for its series of interviews.