In the month of July, the Reporter will be featuring candidates for the contested primary races for seats in the Vermont House of Representatives. The candidates were asked to provide an introductory statement about themselves, and then they were asked the same five questions; all responses were collected before any were published.
All introductions and answers are authored by the candidates themselves and are only edited to comply with Associated Press style formatting along with minor spelling and grammar corrections. Candidates were asked to keep their responses within specific word limits.
Lori Houghton is one of three Democrats running for the two seats in the Chittenden-8-2 district.
I’m honored to represent Essex Junction. Over the past two terms, I’ve focused efforts on ensuring Vermonters can take care of their families by supporting paid family leave and increasing minimum wage, ensuring strong schools and childcare, addressing climate change, protecting women's reproductive health, and protecting youth by raising the smoking age to 21. As ranking member of the health care committee, I led and helped pass legislation expanding telehealth, codifying into state law consumer protections found in the Affordable Care Act including pre-existing conditions bans, the pandemic emergency health care legislation and ensured the coronavirus relief funds were allocated strategically and equitably.
As a community volunteer for many years, I’ve worked to foster a foundation to ensure Essex Junction is a vibrant, healthy place to live and do business. As a Village Trustee, I helped ensure the safety of our residents while focusing on the policy and infrastructure that allows our community to prosper. I was instrumental in creating the Village Bike Walk committee, am a member of the Gather At The Table committee and a Heart and Soul of Essex Board Member. I live with my husband, my school-aged child and our dog, Biscuit.
What inspired you to run for the House or to seek re-election? What was your primary motivation to represent your district in Montpelier?
As a mother, I want a village and a state that is thriving – where my son and all children have opportunities for bright futures. As a member of a family-owned 77-year-old business, I want a village and state where all businesses and employees have the opportunity to flourish. As a future senior, I want a village and state I can afford to retire in.This was my 2016 campaign statement that still holds true, only with more urgency.
2020 will go into the books as a memorable year. The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives and brought to the surface the many inequities in our communities and support systems. I am running for re-election because I care deeply about the well-being and the future of Vermonters. I am working for a Vermont that works for everyone. We need voices in our legislature that represent our communities – as a working mom and small business owner, I am that voice. I have a proven track record of leadership in the Village and a commitment to our community.
What do you see as top priorities for the General Assembly in the next session?
Financial and economic stability for residents and businesses, protecting the health of Vermonters and ensuring equity in all systems for all Vermonters. These are broad and difficult issues that must be the focus of our state over the next few years. Our health crisis has affected every aspect of our lives – education, access to work, food security, social isolation, housing, health care, childcare, daily living, senior living, and business ownership, and there are more.
Coronavirus has laid bare the inequities and racism in our communities, our social safety nets and in the policies we pass. We must actively and thoughtfully make these issues our focus. As ranking member in the House Health Care Committee, I will continue focusing on affordable and accessible health care, parity with physical and mental health and health disparities in our communities and policies. Although new or expanded programs requiring fiscal appropriations will be hard to win in the near term, I will continue advocating for strengthening our food systems including universal breakfast and lunch in our schools.
How do you believe the state should respond to revenue shortfalls in the General and Education Funds?
We know the revenue shortfall will be significantly reduced but are awaiting July 2020 tax receipts to understand the full impact with the expectation of returning to work in late August to pass the remaining FY21 budget. There are several options before us – using any available federal funds to the greatest extent offered by federal guidelines, applying reversions, using rainy day funds, raise other sources of revenue, reducing costs or borrowing – there may be more I haven’t listed.
Without having all the numbers and data, I cannot commit to what I would support. I do believe we need to continue funding and advancing our social safety nets – allowing our most vulnerable to fall further behind is not an option. I also know many of us cannot afford to pay additional taxes so we must remain cognizant of this fact. Difficult decisions will be required in the years ahead. I will continue to seek the input of Village residents on the values you support when making fiscal decisions.
What do you see as being the most important issues facing Essex, and how would you use your seat to deal with those?
I worked with many Village residents this spring to help them with unemployment benefits, food resources, childcare issues, mental health concerns and basic necessities. Unfortunately, our health crisis is continuing into the foreseeable future as are the economic needs of our neighbors and businesses. I will continue advocating for the resources we need to ensure our residents and businesses have their basic needs met and have opportunities to prosper.
Our community is embarking on an important policing conversation. As your state representative, I will join those conversations with intention to listen, learn and reflect on my own implicit biases so I can become a more fair and just leader.
What support, if any, do you plan to give to the Vermont State Colleges System?
Our Vermont State College System is vital for rural access to public higher education and to the economic vitality of the surrounding communities. Through several pieces of legislation passed this spring, we allocated over $42M to the VSC system from general fund and coronavirus relief funds and appropriated 25 percent of its FY20 base appropriations in our first quarter transitional budget. The legislature also created a Select Committee on the future of public higher education in Vermont to help the state address the urgent needs of our college system. This group will develop an integrated vision and action plan for a high-quality, affordable and workforce-connected future for public higher education in Vermont. This committee will provide two interim reports with a final report and action plan by Dec. 15, 2021.
I will actively advocate for the future of our state college system and the surrounding communities while awaiting the action plan from this committee.
Learn more about Lori Houghton at lorihoughton.com.