Kelly Cummings
Democrat

I am running for State Representative because I believe the time has come to start thinking in new ways that are inclusive and provide all Vermonters the opportunity to succeed. For example: I support economic growth that can sustain both business AND working families. It is important there is a balance so both can prosper.

We are living in a time of great imbalance and inequality that is creating undue burden and stress upon the working families of our communities. When you have to struggle everyday just to keep your head above water you know it’s time for new ideas.

I will be a good legislator because first off, I’m a mom. Moms are well qualified to do many different jobs and all at the same time! I’ve been involved in politics for fifteen years as a citizen advocate, spending countless hours in committee rooms and talking with legislators.

James Gregoire
Republican

I am running for the legislature because we need common sense representation in Montpelier that is responsive to citizens and local officials. Economic development, job creation, infrastructure modernization and repair, education spending and governance, and the opioid crisis are just a few of the big issues facing our communities.

I have been serving our state and nation for over 26 years. I am a veteran of the US Army and VT National Guard. I have served in local government, on state committees and on nonprofit boards for the past 20 years. I am a small business owner. I hold three undergraduate degrees in business, accounting and secondary education/history as well an M Ed in Curriculum & Instruction and another in Educational Leadership.

My experience and education in business and education, as well as my experience in government and nonprofits, have prepared me to continue serving our community in the House of Representatives.
I believe we deserve a responsive, effective and efficient government built on commonsense and integrity.

State officials have put the cost for cleaning up Lake Champlain at $1.2 billion over 20 years. There is still no agreed upon funding source for this work. How do you think the state should fund its clean water efforts?

Cummings:

Several funding sources have been identified such as, recapturing bottle deposit money and a slight raise in the Rooms and Meals tax rate.

These sources have been rejected by Scott because of his no taxes, no fees policy. He would prefer we use the “credit card” approach to pay for the clean up, which in turn leads to greater debt down the road for our future generations. This is not a solution.

As my children were growing up I taught them that two negatives don’t make a positive. With Scott’s inability to choose an effective funding source he will inevitably, create another problem.

I would say the best funding source would be for Scott to actually sign on to an effective funding source! One that deals with the original problem, cleaning up our waters, instead of creating another, adding more debt for Vermonters to have to pay down the road.

Gregoire:

Lake cleanup is federally mandated. I will work toward sensible and sustainable long-term funding solutions that don’t add to the already heavy burden felt by Vermonters. Municipalities should be fined for discharges of untreated wastewater. A stand-alone hotel fee of $2 or less wouldn’t negatively impact tourism. I oppose an increase to the 9 percent rooms and meals tax which negatively impact us all on a daily basis.

We cannot raise the cost of living for Vermonters or negatively impact tourism which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year. Divisive rhetoric will not solve this crisis. The willingness to openly and honestly work with all parties once elected is the only way toward resolution.
I seek out knowledgeable people and I research thoroughly; I won’t support half-cocked plans. As a working-class small business owner, I understand the financial burden felt by my community members. I will not gleefully support increasing that burden.

The state has run a budget surplus, we can redirect existing funds.

Possession of a small amount of marijuana in Vermont is now legal. In your view, should the state move forward with a regulated market for marijuana or leave things as they are now?

Cummings:

I do think the time has come to move forward on taxing and regulating the market for marijuana. Here are some reasons why:

With regulation we have the opportunity to control what is in marijuana.

Taxing marijuana will bring in additional dollars to Vermont.

This could possibly be a new agricultural opportunity for our farmers if they so choose it.

Now with that said, I would like to see some of the revenue generated from the legal sale of marijuana put into a fund for training, education and prevention of abuse. This is an important part of the legal marijuana picture. Responsible use.

Gregoire:

Marijuana is illegal at the national level. The federal government has taken a hands off approach with states so far but that can change. If we make retail marijuana legal, we need to clearly separate it from medical use. This should protect the medical market in case the feds cracks down on recreational marijuana.

We’d need better treatment options to deal with addiction as well as an accurate method to conduct roadside impairment tests. I also think advocates need to concede some basic truths: marijuana is addictive, does cause impairment and does negatively affect developing brains.

The push for legal retail marijuana is strong. We must ensure that any legalization efforts are done thoughtfully. Enforcement, tax collection and education mechanisms must be carefully designed and codified.

We must also be prepared for the massive amount of energy growers utilize as well. Not to mention the green house gases growers emit.

This past session the legislature approved a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, which was then vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour?

Cummings:

I do believe in raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour by 2024.

I believe an honest days work deserves an honest days pay. It is just unthinkable to me that so many Vermonters are working so hard and are still unable to afford even the basics of a regular life.

I spoke to someone the other day that didn’t like those people on “welfare.” I asked them if they supported a livable wage. They said no.

This makes no sense to me. And we must do better. We can find solutions that help both the business owner AND the worker succeed. It simply cannot be true that in order for Vermont businesses to succeed, Vermont working families must fail.

My goal is to work on policies that create opportunity and a path forward for both. There is not one without the other.

Gregoire:

Wages cannot be artificially and arbitrarily increased. Not all jobs can support higher wages. Entry level positions are just that, entry level. Most economists agree that arbitrary increases lead to reduced job opportunities for entry level workers. We need to focus on attracting jobs that can sustain higher wages providing. Preparing a skilled workforce and fostering a more business friendly environment must be priorities.

Wages need to be tied to the job. Some jobs require higher skill and/or education. $15/hr may be easily sustained in a high profit margin business but not in lower margin businesses. As a convenience store owner with seven workers, I know firsthand how tight margins can be.

Arbitrarily raising the minimum wage sounds great but defies the principles of economics. The sustainable solution, which takes willpower rather than class warfare politics, is to attract jobs that can naturally sustain higher wages.

With both dairy farmers and their vendors struggling after four years of low milk prices, what action, if any, do you think the state should do to assist farmers and other agricultural businesses?

Cummings:

The price of milk is set at the national and global level. So there is not much I can do at the state level to change that. I am continually hearing, “It’s complicated.” What I know I can do is work with and support Congressman Welch, Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders as they strive to change things for the positive for Vermont’s farmers.

Some other ways I can help Vermont’s farmers is to work for affordable and accessible healthcare. I know this is a huge cost for farmers, sometimes causing family members to leave the farm in order to obtain health insurance. Sustainable water quality funding can contribute to lowering costs, too. There are grants available to help but they don’t cover it all.

At the dairy summit in Albany, 19 Dairy Farm Income Enhancement Proposals were presented. I am interested to hear which proposals Vermont dairy farmers like the best.

Gregoire:

As a small business owner, half my revenue is tied to agriculture. An agriculture dollar circulates through the community about seven times. The negative impact of below cost milk prices can be felt throughout our communities. We have certainly felt the impact, we see our dairy customers struggling first-hand.

Having spoken to dairy farmers and vendors about this issue. The consensus is that pricing will take more than just Vermont to fix. The Dairy Compact was the only program that really helped over the past several decades.

At the state level we can provide low interest loans, hold off on new regulations, and help fund activities required by current regulations. The impact of farms is significant on Franklin County’s economy. Losing farms on a large scale would be like an industrial city losing factories. It won’t just impact the farmer but rather the entire region. We are in this together.

Do you believe the gun laws passed by the legislature this past session need to be reversed, will work just as they are, or that additional measures are required?

Cummings:

Will work just as they are.

Gregoire:

S.55 was not a well thought out bill. It is riddled with unenforceable mandates and it simply will not make anyone safer. When lawmakers get wrapped up in the emotion it does not result in good law. We entrust lawmakers to be thoughtful and thorough when enacting public policy.

The 30 round magazine provision is unenforceable. The law allows current magazines to be kept. They can be legally purchased in other states and brought home without the state’s knowledge. Private sale background checks are impossible to enforce. Owners can transfer possession claiming it was done prior to the law with ease.

We need to focus our attention on the human elements that are manifesting into such anger, hurt, isolation and helplessness. They are much more challenging issues to tackle but nothing will improve until we do. Taking the easy route has never solved a problem and it never will.

Last session, the General Assembly approved a bill which would have used a payroll tax to create a paid family leave system. Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill. Should Vermont offer paid family leave? If so, how should we pay for it?

Cummings:

We should have paid family leave because sometimes you do need to be in two important places at once. This will prevent the devastation of working families from lost wages and lost jobs. No one wins when this happens.

We can and should invest in the protection of ourselves. For a tiny amount, we will be investing in a future of security and stability we can count on. Sometimes life can hit us with a pretty stressful blow. With paid family leave, it might knock us down, but it won’t knock us out.

This is a smart investment.

Gregoire:

The Paid Family Leave bill is another tax on hard hit working Vermonters. The goal is noble but is not sustainable without high level taxation of working Vermonters. The bill exempts workplaces under 10 employees. You would pay the tax but would not be eligible for the benefit – hardly fair.

The Departments of Taxes and Labor testified that the $16.3 million raised through payroll taxes wouldn’t be enough to sustain the program. The sales pitch is that it’s inexpensive but the reality is that once implemented, another tax hike will soon follow.

Put into real terms, at the bill’s stated tax rate it would take just under 50 years for a worker making $50k/year to pay for their 6 weeks of leave. As legislators it is our job to evaluate bills in a thoughtful, thorough and honest manner to determine the real costs and impacts. It simply is not sustainable.

The period for voluntary mergers under Act 46 is coming to a close, and some communities facing a mandated merger of their school district are deeply unhappy. Should the state continue on the course it set when Act 46 passed, particularly since districts across the state merged voluntarily under the rules established with Act 46, or should changes be made to accommodate those who are unhappy over potential district mergers?

Cummings:

I don’t really think it would be necessarily fair to change the rules for certain districts that are unhappy over potential district mergers. At this point, many districts have already merged voluntarily and I’m sure some would feel slighted.

Perhaps what we could do is take a new look at Act 46 and come up with adjustments that might benefit all. There are just so many variables because it’s not a one-size fits all proposition.  This is a tough one but I hope we can put our heads together and figure out a better solution to this problem.

Gregoire:

The promised savings for districts that merged hasn’t materialized at the level stated. Every positive of Act 46 could be achieved through other initiatives. School choice would allow Vermont parents the flexibility to enroll their children in the right school for them. In Fairfield we have seen the positive and negative effects of merging. All the positives could be achieved in a different, less intrusive manner.

We should focus on reducing the top-heavy administrative system while incentivizing efficiency through resource sharing and pooling of purchasing activities. Vermont shouldn’t have more than a handful of superintendents. We should cut bureaucracy before we stifle voices of local citizens.

Ultimately these decisions should be up to local communities. They are our schools and our children. The state should incentivize efficiency and effectiveness. The state should provide the mechanism to achieve those goals. Once merged, many small communities lose their voices to larger ones.

Last year, Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care found that almost half of Vermont’s infants and toddlers with working parents are not in a regulated child care program either in a center or at home. What, if anything, should the state do to address the gap between available child care slots and need?

Cummings:
The whole focus of my campaign is to build a strong, practical and functioning foundation that creates opportunity for all and can carry us far into the future. High quality affordable (HQA) childcare is an important piece of this foundation.

Some Vermont families are spending up to 40% of their income on childcare, even with the Child Care Financial Assistance Program help; it’s pretty easy to see how this is not practical or functioning. We need to fully fund CCFAP so working families have a fighting chance to succeed in the state of Vermont.

Also, if Vermont wants to attract new and younger families to the state, as the Republican Party always says we should, then we must have HQA childcare available to them. It is an integral factor when young working families choose to relocate. So let’s fully fund CCFAP and make HQA childcare a reason to move to Vermont instead of stay away.

Gregoire:

We need to address the fact that childcare costs have skyrocketed because of state regulation. I have a strong background in education and value it. An important piece of my background is keeping up on studies that inform policy. Studies show that not all children benefit from what the state considers high quality 5 STAR rated programs. At risk children absolutely receive a benefit. Allowing parents the option of placing their child in a less regulated facility, like we always used to, saves money and has no negative effects on the average child.

Working Vermonters should not be penalized with higher childcare costs due to government overregulation. We should continue subsidy programs for working families who need assistance. The modern stigma against stay at home parents does not help either. There is no greater duty than that of raising our children. The answer is not more taxes, fees or mandates.

Connectivity — access to high speed internet and cell phone service — is limited in many parts of the state and efforts to provide that access have, thus far, not been entirely successful. What do you think the state should do to bring internet and cell phone access to rural areas?

Cummings:

In our rural towns the lack of cellphone service is a big problem. I have driven all over Fletcher, Bakersfield and Fairfield and have observed a large chunk of our district has no cellphone service or at best, bad cellphone service. Some still have their landlines but let’s be honest, you can’t always count on those either. As far as internet service, it is slow and undependable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue and have already started inquiring as to how we can address it and get good coverage to all our towns. At the state level we regulate landline telephone service but do not regulate cell and internet service, this is done at the federal level, and of course makes it more challenging right out of the gate. I am intrigued by Christine’s idea to “connect every home and business in Vermont with fiber optic cable utilizing proven rural cooperative models.”

Gregoire:

I will work with other legislators, cell and internet providers, regulators and others to figure out a way to best get coverage to as many Vermonters as possible. This is an important issue that directly impacts the majority of my district and one I am dedicated to resolving.

Because of our low population, sparse density and mountainous terrain, it is difficult for companies to rationalize investing in infrastructure that won’t have a significant return on investment. At the state level we can try to make it more cost effective for communications companies to reach less densely populated areas. One idea that has been suggest and is worth looking at, is allowing electric companies to run fiber optic on their poles and lease them to communication companies.

Vermonters deserve access to high speed internet and stable cell phone coverage. The lack of coverage puts Vermonters at a competitive disadvantage.

Affordability has become a buzz word in Vermont politics, with a suggestion that either a high cost of living, high taxes or both make Vermont unaffordable, driving out young families and those on fixed incomes. Do you think this is an accurate view? Would you define affordability differently?

Cummings:

Affordability is important to all of us.

A livable wage will help improve the lives of so many and put money back into our economy.  We must make sure to tax equitably, so everyone is paying his or her fair share and the middle and lower income brackets do not carry most of the burden.

We can further reduce our cost of living by investing in a healthcare system that is affordable and accessible for all.  We spend a tremendous amount of wasted dollars on a healthcare system that is failing us.  We can invest in our education system vs. our incredibly expensive prison system.

Thinking smarter without losing sight of what matters is important.

In the last legislative session the taxing of social security benefits was eliminated for 37,000 seniors and disabled helping them to keep more of the money they need to live on.

Working together we can find helpful solutions for all.

Gregoire:

That fact that so many Vermonters of all ages struggle to afford to live here tells me that there is a crisis. Vermont routinely ranks among the most expensive states to live due to unwise tax and spend policies.

High taxes and fees are significant factors. There is a lot of waste that if reduced would result in more and better services. Health care premiums and deductibles skyrocketed due to the Shumlin administration forcing all but two insurers out of the state. We must allow competition into the state to bring these costs back down.

Working class and retired Vermonters are holding on by a thread. Small businesses which are the backbone of Vermont’s economy cannot sustain more taxes, fees and mandates that drive up the cost of doing business. Consumers cannot afford to pay more for their basic needs. Our dairy farmers are struggling to survive as well.

Every candidate agrees there’s a need for rural development in their communities. How specifically would you facilitate rural development in your community?

Cummings:

I have been driving around Fletcher, Bakersfield and Fairfield meeting people for months now. Something I have become very clear on, I want to get cell and internet service to all our communities. I’ve already been doing some research and talking with legislators, Democratic candidate for Governor, Christine Hallquist, and Democratic candidate for Senate, Pam McCarthy, about just that. I told them, “I really want it for my communities, and I want you both to help me get it.” We all agreed on the importance of cell and Internet service to our modern world. Not only are there safety issues but also we cannot expect to attract new families or new businesses to our rural areas unless we can offer them connectivity. I will work very hard to bring attention to the needs of our rural communities and know good cell and Internet service is an important step to future growth, development and opportunity.

Gregoire:

We need to focus on upgrading communication and transportation infrastructure. Those of us in rural communities do not want to live in cities. However, we do want to be able to drive on roads that are safe and we want to be able to communicate with the world for high-speed Internet. We want to be able to use our cell phones.

Agriculture is our culture and we want to preserve it. We recognize that dairy dollars circulate in the community roughly seven times.

We want our small businesses that provide great community service to survive. We cannot impose more taxes, fees and mandates on workers or businesses if we are going to succeed.

Candidates were asked to make their final, brief pitch to voters

Cummings:

For the last six months it has been my great pleasure to drive around our district, meet you at your doors and talk about the issues that are important to you. I’ve come away from this experience with the clear belief it is stability and possibility that most people are seeking.

Many are feeling concern for a livable wage, affordable and accessible healthcare, input into the education of their children, paid family leave, looking after our environment, supporting farmers, improving cell and internet service to improve economic growth and protecting Social Security and Medicare. All of these issues impact the quality of life for our townspeople.

We are at a crossroads with this election. The differences between my Republican opponent and myself are clear and the choice is yours; you get to vote for your future. If it’s me you want, with your blessing I will gladly go, giving to you my best efforts.

Gregoire:

It’s been an honor to get out and visit people from across Fairfield, Fletcher and Bakersfield at least once, and many cases a second or third time. People are concerned about the lack of affordability. The message is clear, people want a representative who will listen.

I’m proud of the support I’ve received from across the political spectrum. The people of Fairfield, Fletcher and Bakersfield know that I will prioritize solutions over partisanship.

People are feeling the pressure from high taxation and cost of living. Small businesses are struggling to survive under ever growing mandates, fees and taxes. Dairy farmers are holding on by a thread. Most of us work for small businesses, agricultural-related businesses or on farms.

We must support policies that promote a strong, vibrant economy. We can improve the economic situation by working together toward fiscally responsible solutions.

I ask for your vote on Nov. 6.