Fitzhugh for Vermont State Senate

On The Issues

Post election comment

 

For those of you who may not have learned the outcome of my Senate race…we lost. Although I received 8,233 votes according to the unofficial tally on the elections page of the Vermont secretary of state, www.sec.state.vt.us/elections, that was approximately 5,000 votes short of what it would have taken to be among the top three. After all the work, it was disappointing not to have finished higher.

 

I want to thank all my supporters who put out lawn signs, contributed financially, handed out campaign literature, participated in sign waves, offered campaign advice, and helped in other innumerable ways. It was certainly more fun to have your help in this endeavor, even if the results were not as good as I hoped.

 

Three people in particular I want to thank: my son Nick and his film crew, for the wonderful and unique video; Judi Wernecke, for serving as the treasurer of the campaign; and my wife Wibs, for her advice, assistance and incredible stamina.

 

People asked throughout the campaign as to how it was going. I said honestly I had no idea. Local races do not have the benefit of polls. As this was a short 2 1/2 month campaign, I had to rely largely on advertising – online, in newsprint and on radio. I had good reactions to the radio ads. We did some target mailings but no every-voter postcards or letters, and this might have been a mistake.

 

I was pleased, as were my friends and supporters, with the issues I articulated. The summation on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/fitzuvts,  posted a few days before the election was an accurate view of me and my positions on the issues. I think in that regard I was more forthright than any other Senate candidate, though in defense of incumbents, their positions are pretty well known by now.

 

The bottom line, I guess, is that it is very hard to enter elective office late in life, after a career in the private sector, particularly as a Republican in a very Democratic county and state. (In case you didn’t know, Vermont was the first state to be called for Clinton in the Presidential election, and although we elected a centrist Republican as governor, the legislature became more Democratic/Progressive.)

 

Needless to say, I am pleased that Phil Scott was elected governor of our state and I hope that despite the Democratic/Progressive majority in the legislature, he will be successful in carrying out an agenda very much like the one I ran on.

 

November 11, 2016

 

On the issues    

Peopleask me all the time: what is your position on [fill in the blank]. It’s a fair question, and I’ll try to provide my answers to some of Vermont’s and Washington County’s hot button issues, BUT with two BIG caveats.

First, these are my positions NOW. I may change my position if upon learning new facts I think I should. This I think is particularly relevant to a person like me running for state office for the first time. There is a tremendous amount about the state and its operations that I do not know. Obviously the closer the issue touches upon my experience the less likely I am to change how I feel about it.

Second, the legislative process entails compromise. It is unusual to get everything you want. So sometimes, if elected, I may need to vote for something I don't like to get something I do, or to improve a bad bill. 

Fiscal health of the state

I am a fiscal conservative, that is, I believe the state should operate under a budget and that expenses should not exceed revenues. Now Vermont does not have a balanced budget requirement under its constitution because historically we have been very good in not spending ourselves into poverty. I would like to continue that tradition. I am very concerned, as is GOP gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott, that in recent years the state has been increasing its spending at twice the rate our population’s personal income has risen. This has to stop.

Related to this is an imperative need to spend tax dollars wisely. The money the state spends is not the state’s money; it is yours and mine, and every person on a public payroll should be prepared to answer for their fiscal decision making.

We live in a small state, and at times (in fact many times) a decision to cut spending will affect a neighbor, or a friend, or a business associate. Yet at the same time maintaining that program or line item or expense just does not make sense any more and is a waste of the taxpayers’ hard earned dollars. We must be willing to sacrifice our own benefit for the good of the whole if we want to operate an efficient government.

Drugs

We have a serious substance abuse problem in this state that frankly goes back generations. Through a strong social program (think Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) we have done a pretty good job in reducing public intoxication. We have done an amazing job in reducing smoking amongst the general population.  But we are doing a very bad job in handling opiate distribution and addiction.

The causes are multifold. Doctors have been too willing to prescribe painkillers to address the apparent needs of their patients. Insurance companies have been too willing to pay these bills after the therapeutic time for the drug has passed. People have been too willing to take pills to attempt to cure what ails them. Parents are not being strict enough with their children. Young people are being foolish (or can I say crazy?) to ingest something that they have no idea what is in the stuff and what it will do to them.

When 10 people overdose in Barre over a weekend you know there is a very serious problem in our midst.  So what to do about it?

First, we should prosecute any person who is dealing illegal drugs, with enhanced penalties to anyone who sells to, or has a reason to believe the drug will go to, a minor. A dealer should tremble with fear at the thought of selling drugs in Vermont.

Second, we should have a very pro-active program in our schools, churches, and other organizations catering to young people, informing them of the risks of taking unregulated, illegal drugs.

Third, we need better treatment for addicts.  And while it is good to save a life by administering Narcan to an overdosed person, if that is all we do we have not treated that person but in fact may have become a contributor to his or her addiction.

Fourth, we need to ask what is the reason for the rise in drug usage? Is it our culture, the easy availability, the lack of ambition, poverty, the lack of parental involvement, or a combination of these and other causes? We need to try and address those problems if we can.

This also brings me to pot, ie, marijuana. There is a serious effort in the Vermont legislature to legalize the production, sale and consumption of pot, as has been done in Colorado. I am against this, and here is why.

Pot is illegal under federal law. States like Colorado are doing what they are doing only because the current administration in our nation’s capital has decided not to enforce the law. So what does that mean for Vermont? Well, any efforts we take could be undone by a change in administration in Washington. And if the federal government does decide to do something, the issue will be federalized and Vermont’s efforts will be wasted.

I am also concerned about the message that pot consumption sends to our youth. “Oh, it’s okay to do something illegal.” In my book that is never a good answer, with the possible exception of civil disobedience to protest a morally repugnant law which does not personally benefit the protester. And I believe that promotion of pot is in fact contributing to the opiate crisis.

But if the majority of our legislature wants to legalize the sale of marijuana, then I’d prefer a low-cost, Vermont solution than a multimillion dollar pot infrastructure with taxes and heavy enforcement (like the liquor business). Let’s authorize farms to sell raw pot at farmer’s markets in limited quantities with appropriate restrictions and disclosure requirements. This would be something along the lines and not altogether different than our rules for selling unpasteurized cider.

Business regulation

I have spent most of my life in the private sector, as a journalist, then a lawyer, an insurance executive and now a farmer. I love business for its creativity, its enterprising spirit, its competition. If people make money in business it is because they have provided a product that people want and a price they are willing to pay. If they make a profit that is to compensate them for the risks they take. 

So what can the state do to improve the business climate, allow our companies to prosper and to increase the wages paid to employees?

Run an efficient government. Enact laws that are straightforward and certain, so that businesses can better calculate the cost of doing business here. Support and not demonize people who work hard to provide jobs for others. Leave them alone to follow their dreams and to create enterprises that will benefit the state for generations (National Life, Rock of Ages, Sugarbush Ski area, Cabot Creamery come to mind here in Washington County).

Last year in the legislature there was an effort to clarify the rules regarding who is an independent contractor. When I practiced law, the issue frequently came up, and the rules seemed pretty simple. Who controlled the work?  And in answering that you looked at things like who set the hours of work; who provided the tools; who determined when the work was done. Now the state has attempted to dictate new elements of this relationship and to force businesses to treat some independent contractors as employees, which raises a host of cost implications.

An effort is now underway, led by the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, to bring back this bill, which was yanked out of committee last winter by House Speaker Shap Smith. I support that effort because certainty is needed in this area.

 

Education

 

            Education is one of the state’s largest expenses. I don’t pretend to be an expert on our educational finance system but do have general opinions about what works and what doesn’t work.

 

            First, I will point out that my wife and I have five grown children, and all of them attended public schools in Vermont through high school. My wife Wibs was a public school teacher for many years.

 

            Second, I believe that while schools are important, their impact pales in comparison to the influence of family (parents in particular) and peers on a child’s desire to learn and to succeed. Put another way, schools succeed almost in direct proportion to the energy that parents and students put into them and not based on the money spent.

 

            We have a serious financial problem in our educational system in Vermont. In short, we are spending too much per pupil and not getting the educational result to justify that expense. Some of the high cost is due to our rural geography and some to high administrative costs. Efforts are underway to consolidate school districts (Act 46) with mixed results. A bad result would be consolidation which may look good on paper but which leaves parents disengaged.

 

            Following the Brigham court case of two decades ago mandating equal educational opportunity throughout Vermont, the state developed a complicated financing system. In a nutshell it makes the state responsible for financing education but leaves to the school districts a decision on how much to spend. As a result of income sensitivity adjustments, many voters are “without stake” in decisions to increase taxes for schools. A separation of decision making from responsibility is never prudent in my opinion, and somehow we need to change that in Vermont with regard to education (as well as elsewhere!).  Also, while the Brigham philosophy was admirable, I don’t believe the district-by-district disparity in educational test scores has changed much in 20 years.

 

            While the “devil is in the details,” I support school choice in Vermont, in large part because of my philosophy that competition for services tends to increase commitment of the customer, keep those offering the services on their toes, and insulate the state from making bad choices that can negatively impact its finances for years or decades to come.  (As a general rule, faced with a choice between possibly hitting a home run or getting a walk, governments like ball players should gladly accept the walk. Sadly, many power intoxicated politicians do not agree.)

 

Energy

 

            We have high energy costs in Vermont, so clearly an objective will be to control those costs or even lower them. At the same time many in this state desire a “greener” mix of our energy supplies, and that can mean higher costs for new technology as well as a fundamental change in our vision of Vermont. We read every day of the conflict these two goals present.  I don’t have a prescription one way or the other but would tend to look at each project individually for the best outcome.

 

            I am not a climate change denier, but neither am I a 100% convert to the philosophy that man is responsible for it.  (Climate has always, and will always, change on earth, and weather casters are better than they were but they are still not infallible.) I do accept the likelihood that we will have heavier rainfalls, rising seas, stronger storms, and increased carbon dioxide in our air over the coming years.

 

            When I consider the downside risk of climate change with the higher cost of adopting new technology and techniques to combat climate change, it is clear to me that we should move to the new technology and away from a carbon based energy future. What that means in practice is more electric cars; more solar power; more hydroelectric power; and other technologies we haven’t even dreamed of.

 

            As a young Associated Press reporter in my twenties I interviewed the president of Exxon in New York City. I recall him saying that petroleum was way too valuable (as a source for plastic and other commodities) to burn. He was right then but we have continued to burn it ever since. (He was wrong in saying that the world would run out of oil in his lifetime.)

 

            My preference is to let the energy picture evolve through market forces rather than by government dictate.

 

Check back later for more comments about hot button issues. 

 

 

 

             

 

           

 

           

 

               

Statement Regarding Donald J Trump

              I am running for the Vermont state senate. My campaign is focused on local issues, especially those concerning Washington County. Yet inevitably I am asked about the Republican nominee for President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Do I support him? The short answer is no. The more nuanced answer follows.

 

            When I became a candidate for the senate, I was chair of the Washington County Republican committee. Our job is to get Republicans elected. In the primary I supported John Kasich of Ohio for President. When I was nominated, I stepped aside from my role as chair of the party in our county.

 

            As a candidate I have been reluctant to “dump Trump,” partly out of deference to the party which nominated him in Cleveland and the many millions of people who voted for him, partly because of my belief in the issues which party has historically stood for (especially limited government) and the stakes in the election at the federal level, and partly in the hope that Trump, like me a newbie to electoral politics, might learn from his mistakes and become a better candidate.

 

            But it has become abundantly clear that I cannot “stand with Trump” and will not vote for him in November.

 

            The Presidential campaign has derailed into the gutter. No self respecting parent could let his child watch last night’s debate. Though Clinton is partly responsible for this (she has not taken the “high road” suggested by Michelle Obama as demonstrated in her attacks last night and her continuing TV commercials), the person most responsible is Trump. Ever since the primaries he has engaged in a demeaning, personal style campaign which has corroded the political process and in so doing endangered the American experiment. His threat to jail Clinton if he becomes President bespeaks of South American politics. If we continue down this road a military coup is not beyond question.

 

            As a government major at Dartmouth College 50 years ago we discussed the issue of ends versus means, that is, did the goal of achieving a particular end justify any means. Trump believes it does, which is why many of his supporters love him. (Incidentally, I think Hillary Clinton does as well.) While I think the problems of our nation and state are great, winning at any cost is in the end no victory at all. 

            One further comment. Republican office holders in Vermont, such as George Aiken, Dick Snelling, Jim Douglas and Phil Scott, have always been a breed apart from the national party. That has led to their election in this state. For me,  being at odds with the national party is not comfortable but sometimes it is necessary. Most of the elected leadership in our state party now does not support Trump for President. Count me among that group.

Oct 11, 2016