Rutland County Democrats hopeful for change on local level

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(Keck) Rutland County hasn’t elected a Democratic state senator in ten years. But party organizers are hopeful that may change next week.

They say anger over the war in Iraq and disappointment with the President could help Democratic candidates at the local level.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) Sandy Russell of Rutland is the kind of voter Republicans are worried about this year.

(Russell) “Usually I just kind of vote for whoever I think is the best candidate and I’ve definitely decided to vote for a particular party. I think we need some change.”

(Keck) Cheryl Hooker, the last Democratic state senator from Rutland County, says Democrats have a good chance of picking up one or two seats this year.

(Hooker) “I think it takes a long time for Rutland County people to get angry. But I think that they’re beginning to understand that what’s been happening in the country, because of the present administration, is taking us in the wrong direction. And it seems that anybody who’s a Republican is taking some of the heat for that.”

(Keck) The three Democratic challengers running for office are: West Rutland businessman Bill Carris, attorney Hope Blucher of Danby and retired teacher and Rutland City Alderman, Joe Tilden. They’re up against long time incumbent Hull Maynard of Shrewsbury, Kevin Mullin of Rutland Town, who’s served four years in the senate, and freshman senator Wendy Wilton. Wilton says she thinks the anti-Republican backlash has been overplayed by the media.

(Wilton) “I think the voters can see that the three of us have been great representation for Rutland County and that we’re very moderate in our viewpoint and I’m certainly hoping that folks can determine the difference between what happens at the state level and what happens at the national level.”

(Keck) Wilton and fellow incumbent Kevin Mullin say Rutland voters have been very clear – they want lawmakers to do more to make the state affordable and business friendly.

(Mullin) “We do have to protect our environment. What we need to do is try to make sure that nothing is done to hamper the environment. But at the same time we should not be creating a system that is cumbersome, difficult and the worst part is its unpredictable.”

(Keck) Wilton, who counsels small businesses for a living, says redesigning the state’s permit process would help encourage job growth.

(Wilton) “And really have an applicant look at the rules and regs, create a plan that meets them. Get preliminary approval and put our money – instead of in this hateful process, up front that’s capricious that people don’t get permits. Actually give people permits based on regulations and put our money into enforcement. And make sure that things are being built as they were supposed to through the plan.”

(Keck) Democratic challenger Bill Carris agrees Vermont’s permitting process needs work. Carris ran one of Rutland County’s largest companies for years and says he understands first hand what businesses are up against. He says one of the biggest challenges right now, is the skyrocketing cost of health care. That’s why, unlike the Republicans, Carris is pushing for a single payer system to cover everyone.

(Carris) “I believe if we had a non-employer-based universal health care system, the people who would be coming to Vermont would be ones who wanted to start businesses – people wanting to do their own thing who are already here – but who are scared to death to hire anybody or quit their job. So I think it would be extremely positive.”

(Keck) But Republican incumbent, Kevin Mullin, who helped draft the legislature’s Catamount Health plan, says calling for universal health care is easy. The tough part, he says, is figuring out who’s going to pay for it.

(Mullin) “When government is the only payer it’s got to pay the actual cost or the costs have to be cut down and you may get into rationing.”

(Keck) But Democratic challenger Hope Blucher disagrees. She says universal health care would save money by reducing paperwork and duplication, by improving preventative care and by allowing more aggressive negotiations with drug companies. And she says bringing down the cost of health care would help reduce education costs and property taxes in Vermont. Her frustration over how those issues are being handled is partly what pushed her to run for the senate.

The other reason she says is more personal. Her son is serving his second tour in Iraq – a war she opposes. While some may argue that issues like the Iraq war won’t trickle down to affect local politics. Blucher disagrees.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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