Candidates bring heat at Evening Star

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DUMMERSTON CENTER — The Evening Star Grange was a sauna Thursday night, as the three Democrats vying for the two seats in the Vermont House answered questions about the legalization of marijuana, whether they supported a carbon tax, education funding and school consolidation and gun 'safety' - not control.

With the retirement of longtime Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, and the plan by Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, to seek another term, newcomers Cindy Jerome and Nader Hashim, both of Dummerston, also announced their candidacies for the Windham-4 seat. There are no known Republicans or independents seeking the seats.

Mrowicki, Jerome and Hashim will face off on Aug. 14 during the statewide primary, and then run unopposed in the Nov. 6 General Election. The district includes the towns of Westminster, Putney and Dummerston.

Many of the questions submitted by the audience dealt with school funding and governance issues.

"We have a great school. Why would we want to change it?" said Jerome to applause.

Mrowicki said that Dummerston school had "some of the best outcomes in our state."

And Hashim, who said he had a young daughter in the school, said he had no difficulty making the same pledge and would follow the public vote.

When it came to the issue of gun safety, Hashim, who is a Vermont State Police trooper, said he favored a more extensive background check requirement, and waiting periods.

He said gun safety would help prevent suicides as well.

"I've seen a lot of gun violations in Vermont," he said, with some experiences "burned in my memory."

Safety in the schools should be increased, he said.

Jerome said from 2011 to 2016, there were 400 gun deaths in Vermont -- with 89 percent of the deaths from suicide.

Increased gun safety measures could help attack that problem, she said.

Mrowicki said the recent death of a Vermont Department of Public Safety employee, at the hands of her former boyfriend, had struck a deep nerve with legislators, who knew the Barre woman from her work in the Legislature on the marijuana registry.

Gun violence, he said, "is becoming very personal."

Jerome, one of the challengers, has a long history of service to Dummerston. She is currently the town moderator and previously served on the select board, including time as the chairman. She is the executive director of the Holton Home and Bradley House, both extended care facilities in Brattleboro.

Hashim moved to Vermont seven years ago to join the state police, and he's patrolled the Windham County region ever since.

Hashim said he had been in love with politics ever since he was a kid.

He told the 60-plus people on hand at the grange hall that his job could have made him pessimistic about the current state of Vermont.

"Hope is very much alive, thank you," he said. If elected, he said, his plan is to help the most vulnerable.

His regular job, he said, is devoted to "helping to keep all of us safe."

Jerome described herself as a progressive Democrat, and she said her priorities are investing in people.

She said she oversaw a $3 million budget running the two homes for the elderly, while also managing a large construction company to boot.

She said she believes in "fiscal common sense." She also said that the current minimum wage of $10.50 is inadequate. "That's poverty wages," she said.

The candidates said they would support taxing and regulating marijuana. As of July 1, it is legal to possess one ounce of marijuana, two mature plants and four immature plants.

"I think we're moving toward tax and regulate," said Mrowicki, who said the House didn't have the votes to override a veto by Gov. Phil Scott on the issue.

Hashim said he supported the concept of people's privacy of their own homes, "as long as they don't get behind the wheel."

He said the state should tax marijuana sales, but keep large corporations selling marijuana out of the state.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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