By Christopher Biddle
CASTLETON — Matt Dunne met with about a dozen Castleton University students on Tuesday, Nov. 9, as a guest of Castleton’s Democratic Leadership Club. Dunne is one of three Democratic nominee hopefuls for the Vermont governor’s seat, a former state congressman, and current head of community affairs for Google. Castleton DLC President Joshua Lake introduced Dunne, who shared an economy-based platform and details on a debt-free state college education plan.
“Vermont is in a transitional economy,” Dunne told the students.
A native of Hartland, Dunne says he wants to make Vermont an attractive place for young entrepreneurs by addressing student-loan debt, incentivising Vermont based companies, and creating more downtown loft-spaces in walkable distance to employment and entertainment. He stressed the importance of high speed Internet, stating plainly, “Vermont should be the telecommunications capital of the world.”
Dunne shared a plan to guarantee a debt-free state college education to any Vermont resident who completes two years of service with Americorps VISTA, an organization that Dunne ran under both Presidents Clinton and Bush. Under his proposal, the state would pay off any remaining debt not covered by Americorps.
Rich Clark, professor of political science and director of the Castleton Polling Institute, said students respond well to Dunne. “My students are interested in getting jobs when they get out of here, in seeing that Vermont is a place where they might be able to stay, to find decent jobs with decent wages, and not be crushed by student debt,” Clark told The Mountain Times after the event. “Don’t forget that the majority of my students are from Vermont. We are a state university… and a lot of the students who wanted to leave the state already did when they chose an out-of-state school.”
The audience of students was made up of all Vermont natives. Some voiced concerns of Vermont’s opiate-related crime, high property taxes, and senior citizen care.
As the only faculty member in attendance, Clark was surprised that he was the first to ask about Dunne’s position on the legalization of marijuana. Dunne stated plainly that he supported the idea, but insisted on it being done in a “Vermont way, not a Colorado way.”
Dustin Lewis, secretary of the Castleton DLC, mentioned the story of George Bell, an NYC resident whose isolated life and death were recently profiled in the New York Times, when he asked Dunne how he proposed to assist Vermont’s aging population. Dunne shared a proposed mentoring program that would connect youth with the elderly, a program he also highlighted at a Nov. 9 gubernatorial event in Middlebury.
Vanessa Robertson, the club’s VP, asked Dunne how he planned to address Vermont’s property taxes. Dunne refocused the question to the cost of childhood education in Vermont. He said that instead of consolidating schools, he wants to focus on early-childhood education as a solution to special education costs.
“Talking about the education system and building up our economy is great, but that takes a while and we want to keep the few Vermonters we have left,” Robertson said, adding that she’d vote for Dunne because of his focus on the economy.
According to DLC Treasurer Alex Adams, a Rutland native and Castleton University senior, his peer group’s overwhelming attitude is: “My vote doesn’t matter.” This was a motivating factor in both of the political groups formation and they plan to work together on upcoming events to get more students involved and engaged in the political process.
The Castleton DLC was formed only about a month ago. Castleton’s GOP Club has already hosted Bruce Lisman and Phil Scott, the two announced candidates for the republican nominee. Both clubs were founded with the encouragement of Clark, who came to the University in 2011 to found the Castleton Polling Institute.
“As a Vermont state school, we have a public service debt. We have to give back to the state and give some value, and we think that this has value,” Clark said of the university and its students’ effort to include the public in informed political conversations.