FAIRFAX – Rep. Barbara Murphy (I – Fairfax) defended her credentials as an independent during a Lake Champlain Access Television (LCATV) candidate forum for the Franklin – 2 district that pitted Murphy against her challenger, Republican Mary Beerworth.
Murphy’s status as an independent provided the steepest contrast between her and Beerworth, with the incumbent arguing that running as an independent “allows me to always consider how any issue will affect Fairfax, without the pressure of any other interest.”
Beerworth, meanwhile, expressed that she was running to play a role in a larger Republican team that, according to Beerworth, would be needed should the state’s House of Representatives desire to maintain any budget vetoes by the governor.
“The shrinking number of Republicans is now becoming serious… After this year, we may barely have 51 Republicans in the house to sustain the veto of a budget that is too bloated,” Beerworth said. “I want to be one of the ones who are counted on in the team.”
She emphasized that her partisanship began and ended with the question of affordability, stating that she’d more personally tailor her response to legislation involving either “conscience issues” or issues that directly impact the Town of Fairfax.
A second point of contention in an otherwise amicable forum rose when the candidates discussed a series of gun laws passed by the legislature earlier this year.
While Murphy voted against the most controversial of those laws – S.55, a law that banned bumpstocks, required background checks on most firearm sales and set limits on magazine sizes – Beerworth contested Murphy’s support for allowing the bill to pass without a public hearing.
“The biggest thing about the gun rights bill is that there was a plea from the floor to slow it down and have a public hearing so that the anger that was being felt by gun rights supporters and owners could have a valve release,” Beerworth said. “I would have voted for the public hearing and I would have voted against S.55.”
Murphy noted that there was a public hearing held ahead of the legislature drafting S.55.
“I did vote for the go ahead of S.55 to respect the fact that there had been a brilliant public hearing,” Murphy said. “Gun rights supporters and those who had concerns showed up and showed a great ability to speak their peace without it turning into any kind of circus.
“I felt that, at the point the call was made to go ahead with a vote, it was time to cast that vote and people had been heard.”
She also explained her opposition to the bill, which stemmed mainly from the limits S.55 set on magazine sizes. According to Murphy, the fact that magazines are rarely marked with serial numbers means they are impossible to track, making S.55’s magazine limits “unenforceable.”
“This piece that was going to be restricted for sale had no date or serial number inscription on them, so there’s no means of defining and enforcing a law that says you can’t have this item if it’s purchased after a certain date,” Murphy said. “Putting into place a law that from the beginning is unenforceable just wastes our law enforcement’s talents”
S.55 outlaws the sale and purchase of rifle magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition and handgun magazines holding more than 15 rounds.
Beerworth criticized the law as “poorly done,” arguing that it was rushed through the legislature when emotions were high over press coverage o
f the Parkland shooting in Florida and a thwarted shooting in Fair Haven.
She also clarified that the hearing Murphy referenced was a general hearing on gun legislation, rather than a specific hearing for S.55.
Both Beerworth and Murphy agreed that they wouldn’t take the state’s recent decriminalization of recreational marijuana any further, with Beerworth stating she was also “100 percent opposed” to state’s most recent legislation related to marijuana use.
“I was witness to the physicians, the nurses, the law enforcement, parents from all over the state testifying day after day with impassioned pleas to stop the passage of the bill,” Beerworth said. “Now when you legalize it, you’re promoting use… and it scares me.”
Murphy, who voted in favor of 2017 legislation that legalized recreational use, said that she wouldn’t support any other legislation related to marijuana legalization, as such legislation would “open us up to going directly into the face of our federal government’s position.”
Instead, Murphy said that, should the state seek to go further with marijuana legislation, she’d like to see the state work with the federal government to equate marijuana with alcohol and tobacco, two other “horrific substances that people consume for pleasure, leisure and other reasons.”
She and Beerworth both agreed that there’s need to focus on policing drivers that might be operating vehicles while under the influence of marijuana, with Beerworth also arguing in favor of educating mothers against using marijuana while pregnant.
Beerworth also argued that marijuana was addictive, something that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is only conditionally true.
According to the NIDA, marijuana use can lead to marijuana use disorder, “which takes the form of addiction in sever cases.” NIDA estimates that 30 percent of marijuana users develop marijuana use disorder.
During the forum, Beerworth approached economics as a fiscal conservative, praising Gov. Phil Scott for “setting a line in the sand” when it came to additional taxes and fees. She promised that, if elected, she’d team up with other Republicans to continue that resistance to increasing taxes.
Beerworth also suggested that Act 250, the state’s law regarding land use, would need to be revisited for Vermont to encourage development.
Murphy also praised Scott for being assertive on taxes, as she “felt his request had allowed the legislative body to truly work towards that goal to maintain the services that our constituents deserve and respect but also respect the monies they have to contribute to that and not ask for more than what was needed.”
Murphy, meanwhile, said that the state would have to invest in an extension of broadband and cellular services to Vermont’s rural areas if it wanted to promote economic development. While the state already invested time and money in broadband infrastructure, Murphy insisted it would take more top-down investment for broadband extension to occur.
“I don’t know how to make that happen, I know people are hopeful,” Murphy said. “I just believe it’s an investment that has to occur from the state level with towns buying in to, like with electrification, truly get internet service and cellular service to our communities.”
Both Murphy and Beerworth argued in favor of extending public transportation options to Fairfax, a so-called “bedroom community” whose population largely commutes to work in Chittenden County every day.
Public transportation, both argued, was a policy goal either candidate could support that could be hugely beneficial for Fairfax’s residents.