SWANTON — Candidates to represent the Franklin-4 district, Swanton and Sheldon, in the Vermont House came together for their sole public forum of the election season on Oct. 23.
Missisquoi Valley Union Middle/High School (MVU), in Swanton, hosted the forum. MVU social studies teacher Jason Barney moderated the forum, with about a dozen MVU students attending.
Up for election in the Franklin-4 district are incumbents Marianna Gamache and Brian Savage, respectively running as a Republican and Republican/Democratic candidate, and newcomers Nicholas Brosseau, running as a Democrat, and Tammie Consejo, running as an independent.
Consejo was the last to join the race. She announced her write-in candidacy just weeks ago, saying she wanted to give Franklin-4 voters diverse options come election day.
But the MVU forum suggested Franklin-4’s options are only so diverse. The candidates seemed generally in agreement.
Brosseau was the sole candidate to say he entirely supported three recent state gun laws, including a ban on magazines with a higher capacity than 15 rounds for handguns or 10 rounds for rifles, which Savage criticized minutes earlier in the forum. Brosseau said the “two seconds” it takes a homicidal shooter to change a magazine may give law officers a window to stop the shooting. Savage, on the other hand, said legislators arbitrarily concocted the magazine size restriction, and that several of those legislators didn’t seem to know what a magazine is.
“That’s the truth,” Savage said, raising his eyebrows.
Brosseau’s fellow candidates took issue with several components of the gun laws, though none criticized new laws allowing law officers to seize guns in domestic violence and mental health crises.
Consejo criticized a new age restriction, upping the legal firearm purchase age from 18 to 21. The law allows those 18 and older to purchase firearms if they have completed a hunter’s safety course or equivalent gun safety course.
“So why can’t you have a gun if you’re deemed a legal adult?” Consejo asked.
She said any gun restrictions provide a “false sense of safety.”
“There are a lot of reasons why we’re unsafe,” Consejo said. “We all know that if you want to hurt somebody, you don’t just do it with a gun. You’re going to find other ways to do it.”
She told attending MVU students that their advocacy is the only direct measure to improve school safety. Savage told the students something similar, using the “See something, say something” approach: he urged them to report any concerning behavior to administrators, and not to tolerate bullying of any kind.
Savage also criticized the law’s age provision, remembering aloud that he shot his first deer at age 15, and that while he never thought of bringing a gun to school, several of his friends did, solely so they could launch right into the hunt afterwards.
Gamache said the issue is societal.
“It’s not only gun violence,” she said. “It’s violence with any kind of weapon. Including cars.”
Barney asked the candidates if they felt state or federal governments should act against farms employing illegal workers. Consejo alone gave an outright no, but the candidates agreed that the central issue seems to be the federal immigration system and its extravagant wait time. Consejo said her French husband’s son is trying to legally move to the U.S., but is on an 11-year waitlist. Savage said Congress should have fixed the system years ago, and instituted a 3-5-year visa.
This was one of several federal issues on which candidates gave their opinions, but stressed only so much can be done locally. The state of the farming industry was another. The candidates agreed the best action legislators can take is to advocate for the farmers to Vermont’s federal delegation.
Brosseau said the legislation should incentivize farmers to sell their milk locally and remove online barriers allowing them to globally sell their products.
Consejo, a mental health counselor who described herself as “someone who organizes people to speak up and use your voice,” said she would focus on coordinating advocacy between farmers, distributors, and co-ops as a legislator.
Gamache said excess federal regulation is a problem, and Savage said he feels the country should stop importing international dairy products.
“I think that farmers in this country should be able to meet the dairy needs of the population,” Savage said.
All the candidates raised concerns about marijuana legislation going forward. Savage said he voted against legalizing recreational marijuana use because “we still have no readily available source with which to test somebody who might be under the influence while driving.”
Gamache agreed. She called for more governmental research into the effects of marijuana use, but said that was one reason she voted against the legalization: it’s still federally illegal.
“We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way,” she said.
Brosseau said he was concerned about high-potency black market marijuana, potentially laced with more dangerous drugs. He called for a regulated marijuana sale system.
“I would rather have people purchasing marijuana in a government-regulated store than off the black market,” Brosseau said.
Consejo said she was also concerned about how marijuana DUI, and the danger of different strains. “That’s where I do like the idea of regulating marijuana,” she said, “so that you know what you’re getting.”
For the full story pick up a copy of Thursday’s Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.