ENOSBURG FALLS — Ever wondered what it’s like to knock on every door in a town, sometimes twice?
Franklin District 7 candidates, Republican challenger Larry Fiske and Democratic/Progressive incumbent Cindy Weed, both residents of Enosburg Falls, allowed this reporter to tag along as they campaigned recently.
In doing so they provided insight into the process, which seems to be: a lot of long days, planning car-ride snacks, sometimes not-so-friendly interactions with Enosburgh and Montgomery residents, and finally, a passion for making Vermont a better place.
Before Weed heads out for a four- or five-hour trip, she makes sure she has what she needs: jacket, water bottle, apple, and her trusty snack of blue corn tortilla chips. On rainy days, Weed also pulls on her lime green rubber boots.
Maps and GPS aren’t required, Weed pretty much knows where everyone is in her district towns of Enosburgh and Montgomery. This, after all, is her fourth campaign.
Over the past five months, Weed has knocked on the 2,500 or so doors in the district – some of them more than once if residents weren’t home the first time. “You get used to it,” she said.
She’s racked up about 70 days campaigning. “It’s a process,” said Weed. “It’s timing.”
She has a friendly conversation. “You go and meet people and listen to their concerns, educate them on what’s really going on,” she said. This, said Weed, is right up her alley.
“I’m an extrovert,” she said. “I like meeting people. I like helping people.” As Weed turned her car – a green sedan – sharply around a corner, she added jokingly, “Not so good at driving, maybe.”
At the first apartment door Weed knocked on in Enosburg Falls this day, she came face-to-face with 86-year-old Stuart Gleason. Weed had already met Gleason and talked with him, but she stuck around to chat a little more. Talk of property taxes, education, GMOs and minimum wage intersect with news of grandchildren.
As she left, Weed encouraged Gleason to go to the polls. “Call me if you have any questions,” she added.
No answer at the next door, so Weed left her campaigning postcard wedged above the doorknob. Mark Duso, 51, answered at the next door. Weed talked of her environmental voting record– 100 percent – and asked Duso about his biggest concerns and how his kids were.
Walking away from the apartment, Weed pointed out that campaigning is made a little easier by knowing her neighbors. “I’ve been here 40 years,” she said. “I know a lot of people.”
She doesn’t know everyone, however. Said she has had two bad door-to-door experiences in this campaign. “I got told off good this year,” Weed said.
“You’re going to get that,” she added. “That’s to be expected. Other than that, people are great.”
There were a few more doors without answers, when Weed noticed a young woman and her child just getting home. She turned around.
“You do what you have to do, right?” she said.
As it turned out, Weed had already met Danielle Smith and her two children at their former apartment. “You found me,” Smith said as she saw Weed.
Weed chatted with Smith, checked out her constituent’s new living arrangements, and then headed home. On the drive, she explained why she was running for a second term as state representative.
“I love my community and I love Montgomery,” Weed said. She added that education property taxes, healthcare, and local water quality issues involving this year’s blue green algae blooms are the concerns she’s hearing, and all items she’d like to work on if re-elected.
“It’s an honor to have their faith and trust and turn around and help them,” Weed said of her constituents.
By around 10 a.m. each day, Fiske is out the door with no plans of returning until 6 or 7 that night. One could say that Fiske – a veteran with 20 years of service in the Navy – is a campaign soldier.
“I’m out almost everyday,” he said. “I know what commitment is.” With the help of friend Alan Demar, his wife, and phone bank volunteers, Fiske said he’s putting himself out there as much as possible.
“I’ve got a really great group of supporting Republicans,” he added.
Fiske has gotten around to a lot of voters. “I’ve been to every single household – twice,” he said. “Very, very active.”
Because he had already been to every house, Fiske decided to go to Hannaford’s to chat with shoppers. Wearing a camouflage coat and hat to keep the rain off, Fiske pulled up to the store in his gray truck with its identifying campaign sticker on the side.
Standing near the grocery carts, Fiske asked passerby if they had a couple of minutes to share their concerns and offered campaign cards. The first woman told Fiske she didn’t vote. Fiske just smiled and let them keep going. “I don’t force myself on anybody,” he said.
Some people, even those from outside the district, were happy to share their views. Fiske asked shoppers what they thought about things like healthcare, about IBM being bought out, and about business in Vermont – and just listened.
“I listen to them,” Fiske said. “That’s what you gotta do.”
Anelba Robtoy, 67, of Berkshire, told Fiske she wanted to see more jobs, lower taxes, and less college debt for her grandchildren.
Samara Jacobs, a 24, and a new Enosburgh resident, said she’d like to see a higher minimum wage and lower taxes. She also shared the amount she and her husband pay in college loans per month – $900 – between the two of them.
At the end of each chat, Fiske told the shopper he understood his or her concerns, and hoped they would vote for him so he could try and make a difference.
Between conversations, Fiske waved to neighbors, chatted and joked with old friends and was friendly with everyone.
When asked why Fiske – who’s previous political experience is limited to the local selectboard – decided to run, he said it was because of all the issues facing Vermonters: property taxes, affordability, healthcare and education.
“There are all those things – we’ve been just pounded and pounded on,” he said. “The more people I talked to,” Fiske added, “I just decided to go ahead and jump in and see if I could make a difference.”
Fiske said he knows the struggles people go through since he himself has been through them, and that for local voters, it’s about being able to afford groceries, firewood, and fuel for the car. “What [people] want is someone to represent them the way they want to be represented,” he said.
Because of the competitive race between Weed and Fiske, Enosburgh and Montgomery have seen an uptick of absentee ballots this election season. As of last week, over 500 absentee ballots requests were filed in Enosburgh.