Newfane woman announces run for governor

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BRATTLEBORO — Brenda Siegel, executive director and founder of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival and a long-time political activist, recently announced she was throwing her hat in the ring as a Democratic candidate to replace the current governor, Republican Phil Scott.

Siegel said she was inspired to run after conducting research on how well low-income single moms are reflected in the Vermont Legislature and around the country.

"I realized that I am not reflected anywhere in our legislative body and I want to change that. People in my position don't run for office because they don't have resources and supports that others have," said Siegel, a Newfane resident. She believes that Vermont can be a strong leader in the nation on racial, economic and environmental justice, as well as education, while also growing its downtowns, farms and industries.

A formal kick-off event will be announced in the coming weeks.

Siegel joins environmental activist James Ehlers of Winooski, former utility executive Christine Hallquist of Hyde Park, and 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Petitions with the signatures of 500 registered Vermont voters are due by May 31 for "major party" candidates, and the Democratic primary is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Siegel believes that the way we look at the economy is deeply flawed.

"We know that wealth does not trickle down and in fact, poverty trickles up, yet we keep making policies that support the top while leaving behind those who struggle and the middle class," she said. "We need to rethink our outdated beliefs about what makes a thriving economy. We know that poverty creates a drain on our state, so it is in our best interest to make sure we build the economy from the bottom up instead of the top down. We don't have to choose between supporting business and employees, we can do both."

Siegel's work with the Southern Vermont Dance Festival has given her a unique economic perspective. The festival was built as a long-term economic driver for the Brattleboro area in response to Tropical Storm Irene, in which she and her son lost all of their belongings.

She wanted to make a difference and bring people from around the world and every corner of this country to discover Brattleboro and be inspired to shop, eat, stay and visit throughout the year.

In doing this, Siegel said, she has seen the research of the economic impact of events of all kinds in our state. With a little vision and innovation, she said, Vermont can build a much stronger economy that supports small businesses and residents.

Education is also going to be a focus of her campaign.

"We want to improve upon our already strong education system," she said. "The current administration's constant attack on our teachers and thus on our children is not only disturbing, but, also short sighted as to what will be best for our state in the long term. Our children are an investment in our future"

Siegel's decision to run for governor was also sparked by a recent tragedy in her life, when a nephew died of a heroin overdose just eight weeks ago.

"We have good evidence that what we are doing is not working," she wrote, in a recent column in the Commons. "The old way isn't working. It is time to change it."

If elected, Siegel promises to prioritize a plan that includes harm reduction, treatment, dual diagnosis support and prevention.

Siegel also hopes to prompt a re-evaluation of the state's transportation system. "A strong transportation system is what we need for the environment and would better support our families and the aging population that can become isolated in rural communities," she said.

Siegel said all of the issues she is focused on are deeply connected to racial justice, the criminal justice system, wage growth, health care and paid family and medical leave.

"In order to create a strong economy that works for all of us, we have to fight issues of inequality within our system and create supports that allow Vermonters to spend money within our communities. Our residents and our businesses can work together to do this. One will never be strong without the other, we need both to have thriving communities."

Siegel is the vice chairwoman of the Newfane Democratic Committee and a delegate to the Windham County Democratic Committee. She has long been involved in politics and activist work, locally, statewide and nationally. In the past two years, she has been committed to the Raise the Wage coalition and supporting efforts by Rights and Democracy as their goals heavily align with her own. Siegel is also a member of The Women's Action Team in Brattleboro and The Putney Huddle.

"This race is not about any one individual or candidate, it is about all of us," she said. "I need to hear the voice of people around the state so that as governor I can support the will of the people. It is my desire that every person in Vermont stands up, knocks on doors, talks to their legislators, makes calls, fights for issues and takes part in our communities. That is what I love about Vermont, that we are in it together. Every voice counts and it is the job of elected officials to amplify those voices. I am excited to be a part of a national movement of non-traditional candidates and women running for office. The more we are all represented the stronger our state and country will be. If I am fortunate enough to serve Vermont, I look forward to working with our residents to create a Vermont for all of us."

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