ST. ALBANS CITY — Candidates for House districts Franklin 3-1 and 3-2, which respectively focus on St. Albans City and Town, dissented on several issues at a public forum Monday night.
Kate Larose and Mike McCarthy are running to represent Franklin 3-1 as Democrats. Larose directs a financial planning program for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. McCarthy is a solar project consultant for SunCommon. He represented Franklin 3-1 for one term in 2013-2014.
Jim Fitzgerald and Casey Toof are running to represent Franklin 3-1 as Republicans. Fitzgerald represented Franklin 3-1 as a Democrat from 2006-2008. Toof operates a private consulting firm, Toof Consulting, and is a former member of the Messenger’s sales staff.
Lynn Dickinson currently represents Franklin 3-2 as a Republican, and is running for re-election in the district. David McWilliams is running as an independent in the same district.
Each candidate was supposed to receive the night’s questions ahead of time. McWilliams said he did not, that the forum’s moderators didn’t know he was running until he called them himself, and Fitzgerald said he mistakenly received the Senate candidates’ questions.
The candidates mainly disagreed about Vermont’s recent gun legislation.
McWilliams seemed entirely against the new laws. He said he has “at least three or four guns,” and “if we’re going to take away the guns in the State of Vermont, there’s going to be a revolution.” He attributed gun violence to failures in the court system.
Toof said he agreed and disagreed with components of the legislation, but said that with two small children of his own, he has a “real concern” for school safety.
Dickinson said she felt S.221, the law allowing the removal of firearms from alleged domestic abusers or suicidal individuals, with court approval, was one of the most important bills the legislature passed last session.
Fitzgerald, on the other hand, said gun laws don’t work. He cited Chicago, Ill., which he said has some of the country’s most stringent firearm laws, but still sees dozens of homicides every week. Fitzgerald suggested improving school security measures instead. He did say he felt Gov. Phil Scott and the legislature “thought they were doing the right thing, and, in some cases, maybe they were.”
Larose criticized Fitzgerald’s Chicago example. She said she imagined the Chicago police arrested as many drunk drivers for DUI as there were homicides. Drinking and driving is illegal, she said, and people still do it, but its illegality is a strong deterrent.
McCarthy said the idea that responsible gun owners in Vermont are the norm is mostly true. But he said firearms play a role in increasing instances of domestic violence. McCarthy described hearing one St. Albans resident shoot himself after a domestic argument while McCarthy watched TV down the street.
A tiff over TIFs
One question quoted State Auditor Doug Hoffer as saying that St. Albans City’s economic growth would have happened without tax increment financing (TIF) from the state government. Each and every candidate disagreed with that assertion.
But Larose actually called Hoffer upon receiving the question. Hoffer told her he was misquoted — that he was actually saying that his job is to look at returns on investment, and that the structure of TIFs prevents him from doing so.
The candidates were in more enthusiastic agreement over the value of St. Albans’ TIF than any other topic.
But their agreement on fighting the opiate epidemic was a close second. Dickinson noted she sponsored a bill allowing independently licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors to participate in Medicaid, and said she also supported a bill outlining roadside saliva tests for marijuana intoxication.
Fitzgerald said the issue boils down to education, specifically at home, while Larose spoke in favor of expanding recovery options. She said another question about how to pay for recovery methods was misguided, because “we’re already paying for it” — it being the consequences of addiction.
McCarthy said he’s lost three friends to opiate overdoses. He said he’s proud of T.J. Donovan, Vermont’s attorney general, for joining in a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company behind OxyContin. He also suggested shifting spending from prisons to treatment.
McCarthy said a friend in recovery told him “there’s no opiate use crisis. There’s an opiate death crisis.”
McWilliams said doctors overprescribing medication is an issue. Toof asked if the legal system is holding drug dealers accountable.
The candidates also agreed on transportation issues, mainly that expanding rail transit is a solution.
Fitzgerald, the former general manager of Charlotte-Brighton Commuter Rail and a self-proclaimed “train-type guy,” said he favors train transport over buses because trains fit more passengers per vehicle.
Larose cited a recently passed stricter state vehicle inspection law as a complication for struggling workers, while McCarthy suggested using technology to design community rideshares, for medical appointments, for example.
McWilliams criticized a focus on public busing. He said there are “not enough bus companies going around.”
Toof said job creation is the real issue. To some degree, Dickinson agreed. She said rural areas need more economic development, that residents in those areas can’t get jobs close enough to home.
The forum closed with 30 seconds for each candidate to describe themselves.
Toof said he ran for office in 2012, and that political shifts since then are “disappointing.” He said Montpelier has been subject to a “single-party rule” for years, urging more Republican votes.
Dickinson cited her experience, 10 years in the legislature.
Fitzgerald began his response by recognizing Kathleen Keenan, who is retiring from the legislature after representing St. Albans for 29 years. Keenan served as a timer at last night’s event. The audience, and the candidates, gave her a round of applause.
Fitzgerald said he has loyalty, common sense and skills as a communicator.
Larose said she is someone who will build consensus and find remedies for St. Albans.
McCarthy said he will identify priorities and implement them for a healthy, prosperous Vermont.
Finally, McWilliams said, “Well, if you like me, at least I ain’t going to be a person who’s afraid to speak up” — specifically, he said, about taxes, permitting and livable wages.
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