1. What steps would you take to quickly address the immediate emergency need facing households without sufficient internet access, while also planning for a future that will require increasingly faster internet speeds?
We need broadband for all. At the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC), where I serve as Vice-Chair, this is front and center for us as we help build out the newly formed Otter Creek Communications Union District (CUD). The Town of Brandon, where I serve as the chair of the town’s Planning Commission, is leading on this. Now we need more towns and cities to join the Otter Creek CUD, which I’m committed to helping with in my RRPC Vice-Chair role. We’re building out a communication plan this week to spread the word and publicize the opportunity. The message is an obvious one and every political candidate is rightly prioritizing it. We need more competition, we need more providers, and we need this to be a priority for anyone who cares about the future viability of Vermont businesses, educators and innovators. In this digital economy, it’s as essential as any other utility. And the more customers that band together as part of the Otter Creek CUD, the more leverage and power we’ll have to negotiate our high-speed future.
2. What is your vision for Vermont's early care and education system, and how would you propose funding this system?
As an educator who teaches graduate school, as someone who worked for educators in the U.S. Congress, and as someone born and raised by high school teachers, I strongly believe in a high-quality, well-funded, early care and educational system. We know that free pre-K (starting at age three), as just one example, sets up our students for success. We also know that educational equity early in the classroom – something my former boss U.S. Congressman Michael Honda helped the federal government prioritize in the creation of the Equity and Excellence Commission – is critical in order to provide equitable access and opportunity for each and every child early in their education. We also know that employers that provide child care for employees, as part of their benefits package, save money in the long run due to worker retention and productivity. The funding model, then, is a mix of private sector support, adding child care to employee benefits, a more equitable school finance structure that relies on income taxes versus property taxes, and state assistance so that under-resourced communities have affordable access to quality child care.
3. Considering Vermont has a well documented shortage of homes affordable to many Vermonters, the question now is: what's next for these individuals? How would you address the public health risks facing people without homes and how would you address their ongoing needs?
Let’s pursue a housing first model. By getting people into their own homes versus building shelters, we set up our communities for success and send the message that they’re worth it (because they are). Let’s invest in permanently supported housing with wraparound services, rental assistance, incentives for landlords to retrofit old housing stock, and health and safety and energy improvements. It’s the most economically efficient path forward. Comprehensive approaches that provide accessible, preventive healthcare to everyone in the community also come with the highest return on investment by keeping everyone safe. It’s ultimately the most effective preventive approach. The fact that 14% of adults in my Rutland District, for example, don’t have a personal doctor for healthcare, and that 11% of Rutland adults didn’t visit a doctor due to cost is unacceptable. We will only be resilient to health shocks and future pandemics if we prioritize affordable and accessible healthcare for every member of the community, especially those experiencing homelessness. That’s how we build a more resilient community, one that’s able to withstand the next shock.
4. What potential policy changes or initiatives would you advocate for that would encourage investment and further infrastructure in outdoor recreation, creative arts, and food to continue sustainable economic growth in rural regions of Vermont?
My background and my professional work are in communications and marketing. Every day, I work with major cities around the world that are trying to market their city as the most socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, safe and successful. This is right up my alley, then. This is my professional wheelhouse and I’m keen to use that expertise to position the beauty and the benefits of Vermont living to outsiders. Not only do we have to ensure that the assets mentioned above are well funded and supported internally, we must do better at marketing and packaging these assets externally. There are a few good examples of how cities and towns have marketed Vermont to the world but overall this agenda is underfunded and under-resourced. If we want to make sure we’re staying ahead of the Covid migration northward, we will harness all internal and external marketing prowess and professionalism to ensure the long-term viability and success of these recreational, artistic and culinary assets. This is a powerful component of Vermont’s brand and we need to make sure the integrity of that brand is bolstered and boosted with better funding and more formidable marketing.