Newport House district race draws three public servants
copyright the Chronicle 10-24-12
by Joseph Gresser
DERBY — It is unusual for challengers in an election to be as well known to voters as the incumbents. But, in the case of the race to represent Newport, Newport Center and Coventry in the state House of Representatives, each of the four candidates has a high public profile.
Representatives Duncan Kilmartin and Michael Marcotte seek re-election from the two-member Orleans-2 district. They are opposed by Newport Mayor Paul Monette and Newport Alderman Timothy de la Bruere.
The candidates met Monday night at IROC for a forum sponsored by local newspapers and broadcasters. Differences between the candidates could be found more in tone than in substance and the discussion was courteous despite the competitive nature of the event.
“I voted for Mayor Monette every time I went to the polls, I will not vote for him this time,” Mr. Kilmartin said with a smile, in what could have been the most contentious moment of the evening.
This was in the context of his introduction, in which he described himself as a retiring criminal lawyer. Mr. Kilmartin said he hopes to have his final cases done by May.
Mr. Kilmartin said that during his 12 years in the Legislature he has gained a reputation for solid research on issues. “I like to get down in the weeds,” he said.
“I don’t trade in sound bites, I trade in conclusions based on facts,” Mr. Kilmartin later declared.
Like Mr. Marcotte, Mr. Kilmartin is a Republican. Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere are running as independents, but each said they would likely caucus with House Democrats in order to get committee assignments.
Mr. Kilmartin described himself as being “one generation off the farm.” His grandfather, he said, was a dairy farmer. His father was a pipefitter and Mr. Kilmartin said that he pursued that trade as he worked his way through college and law school.
He has two daughters and three grandchildren, “who can’t afford to live in Vermont,” Mr. Kilmartin said. Mr. Kilmartin told the forum audience he was at the event at the urging of his wife, even though she was ill and in the intensive care unit of North Country Hospital in Newport.
Mike Marcotte, like Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere, is a Newport native. A graduate of Sacred Heart High School, Mr. Marcotte now lives in Coventry where he is chairman of the town selectmen.
He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 and serves as vice chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
Mr. Marcotte is married and has two sons and one daughter. He has owned the Jimmy Kwik store in Newport for the past 29 years.
Mayor Monette, a product of Newport’s public schools and a graduate of North Country Union High School, attended Lyndon State College where he studied meteorology.
After graduation he moved to Boston where he worked for Weather Services International, travelling the country setting up weather stations around the country.
Mr. Monette said he became homesick for Newport and moved back. He took a job with a software company in Richford and, after the company laid him and other employees off, started his own computer business.
Today he works as technology coordinator for Newport City Elementary School and is a partner in Baan Thai Cuisine, a restaurant on Newport’s Main Street.
Mr. Monette is in his second term as mayor, and served on the city council for 12 years before that.
Mr. de la Bruere said that he has been involved in public service for a third of his 30 years. He dated his interest in working for the community even earlier, to his days as a Boy Scout.
He graduated from Sacred Heart High School and attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he majored in history and Native American affairs.
Mr. de la Bruere has worked as an electrician, as have many of his family. He currently is employed as a 911 dispatcher.
At the forum he recalled being hoisted atop the shoulders of Governor Howard Dean when he went to Montpelier to be honored for becoming an Eagle Scout at age 14.
He was appointed by Governor Jim Douglas to serve on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs in 2006 and credited both Mr. Kilmartin and Mr. Marcotte with working with him during that time.
He was elected to the North Country Union High School board in 2007 and to the Newport City Council the next year. He is currently serving his second term as alderman.
The forum, which was moderated by Tod Pronto of NEKTV and WMOO radio, produced little in the way of major differences between the candidates.
All four candidates said they would be able to work with people of all political persuasions should they be sent to Montpelier.
Mr. Marcotte cited his experience on the economic development committee. After the crash of 2008, he said, the state unemployment fund appeared to be in danger of bankruptcy. Attempts in the Legislature to craft a remedy went nowhere and a summer study committee was appointed.
When it appeared that nothing was being accomplished Mr. Marcotte said he called then-Representative Michael Obuchowski, a democrat. Together they worked to develop the outlines of a plan that was made law, Mr. Marcotte said.
Mr. Kilmartin said his reputation in the Legislature is that he works to make bills he favors, better.
Those bills he feels neutral about, Mr. Kilmartin said, he tries to make better crafted. And with bills he dislikes mildly, he works to make sure they achieve their stated objectives.
Mr. Monette said he has worked with a city council that embraces varying shades of political opinion and helps work as effective force for the public good.
An unsuccessful attempt to see a ban on disturbing unmarked graves enacted into law, was recounted by Mr. de la Bruere. He said that he expected that a bill granting respect to all cultural and religious traditions would be embraced by all sides, but was disappointed.
“I may not have won the battle,” Mr. de la Bruere said of his efforts to bring Legislators together, “but, at least I tried.”
The most startling information that came out was the in that while all oppose industrial wind projects, three of the four would favor siting a nuclear power plant in the Northeast Kingdom.
Mr. Kilmartin, and Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Monette each expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but acknowledged that practical considerations make the construction of such a plant impossible.
Only Mr. de la Bruere said he would not support a nuclear reactor.
Mr. Kilmartin said that an engineer working for General Electric told him there is not enough water available in the Kingdom to cool such a plant.
Mr. Marcotte said that if such a plant were to be built he would like to see it use a European design to minimize the amount of radioactive waste produced.
Mr. Monette said he initially supported large-scale wind power, but after seeing projects built on local ridgelines has changed his mind. He said that he has solar panels mounted on the roof of his house and supports all sorts of small-scale renewable energy.
Addressing an issue that has been in the news lately the four men applauded Bill Stenger of Jay Peak for his proposal to spend more than $500-million in projects intended to bring 10,000 jobs to the area.
Mr. Kilmartin, though, expressed concern about possible negative effects on Newport residents. About 30 percent of the city’s Grand List is non-taxable properties, he said.
He noted that more than 500 drivers could be commuting each day to and from a biotechnology plant planned for the former Bogner building.
How, he asked, will these workers navigate the three-way stop at the intersection of Main Street and the Lake Road? Mr. Kilmartin suggested that the resolution of the problem may be up to the federal government because Main Street is also Route 5, a federal highway.
Mr. Monette responded, saying that Newport has plenty of capacity for growth. He pointed out that the city has, in the past, boasted a population 2,000 souls greater than today’s number.
He said that transportation issues will be important in Newport’s ability to deal with the new jobs as will affordable housing and good child care for workers.
The addition of between $100-million and $300-million in new investment, is likely to bring new tax income to Newport, Mr. Monette said, which may lower the tax burden on property owners.
Mr. Marcotte said that while development in Newport is important “we can’t forget outlying communities.”
Newport Center, Coventry, Barton and Charleston will all feel the effects of the new investment, he said.
“We have to make sure everybody is at the table,” he said.
On the issue of plans to reform the state’s health care system the four men’s opinions ranged from highly skeptical to strongly opposed.
Mr. de la Bruere said he had spent time while a fellow of the Snelling Center studying the plan with one of its architect and said “I came away more confused than ever.”
He said he would have preferred it if state officials had tried to mend the current system rather than tear it down to build a new one.
Mr. Monette said he has spoken with Claudio Fort, chief executive officer of North Country Hospital, who says he fears the new system will force his organization to cut services.
The state ought to open the health insurance market to all comers, as is done with car coverage, Mr. Monette said. He suggested the result would be lower rates.
Mr. Marcotte asked if large corporations and state workers will be included in the pool for an eventual single-payer system. If not, he said costs will be much higher for everyone else.
Saying that he has been further in the weeds than ever before on the issue due to his wife’s health problems, Mr. Kilmartin said Vermont’s claim that it can improve health outcomes for its citizens while reducing costs, makes no sense on its face.
He said everyone ought to be charged something for the medical care they get “because people don’t value what they don’t have to pay for.”
The forum was one of a series sponsored by the Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, the Orleans County Record, the Newport Daily Express, WMOO, NEK TV, IROC and the East Side Restaurant. The full forum will air on NEK TV, which is channel 15 on Comcast cable.
Both the House district forums will air on Wednesday, October 24, at 9 a.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m. They will be rebroadcast at other times as well. For more information, see www.nektvonline.com.
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]