By Stephen Seitz
PLYMOUTH— At a gathering in Plymouth, Sunday, Aug. 21, Vermont Republicans make it clear the economy is their top priority.
A number of Republican candidates, including Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (governor), former state auditor Randy Brock (lieutenant governor), and Scott Milne (U.S. Senate), gathered at Camp Plymouth State Park this past Sunday for a barbecued chicken fundraiser.
“We usually come to these picnics,” said Carol Balch, who lives in Gassetts (just south of Ludlow). “I’m chairman of the Republican committee in Chester, and I try to stay involved.”
“I’m just here for the food,” said her husband, Frank.
Candidates spake about many issues, but the economy remained the focus. Scott said he’s hearing people complain about jobs and the cost of living.
“We have not prioritized the economy enough,” Scott said. “We need to get back to the basics of budgeting and focus on the economy. Two years ago, out of 1,211 bills introduced in the Legislature, only three or four affected the economy, and in this session, I can’t point to one bill which would have affected the economy.”
Scott said Vermont needs to be more friendly to businesses and do more to keep young people from leaving the state.
“Our low unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story,” he said. “The cost of living affects everyone. People are working two or three jobs just to survive.”
As lieutenant governor, Brock said jobs and the economy would be his top priority as well.
“A lot of my focus is to make Vermont economically vibrant not just for now, but five, 10, 15 years into the future,” he said. “We have a crisis of affordability. We need to get beyond people living from paycheck to paycheck. We have to do more to keep our youth here. Vermont is 49th in the nation when it comes to population growth.”
Brock noted that employers are having a difficult time finding qualified employees. Asked about the large number of older workers who have difficulty finding jobs (there are more than 20,000 men between the ages of 45 and 65 in Vermont who are either unemployed or not in the work force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), Brock said, “Employers should be looking in that group, but we have to match the skills with the workers. It’s tough for employers to find anyone with the skills they need. We need to close that gap.”
Milne is challenging longtime incumbent U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. He said that big money politics has ruined Washington.
“Washington is a dysfunctional mess,” Milne said. “It’s a different place than it was when Leahy first went there 42 years ago. Leahy either has to defend the system, or admit it’s gone the wrong way. I intend to lead by example. I’m not taking PAC money and I’m not taking rich people’s money.”
Milne’s mother, Marion, was a state legislator. Milne said that in the 1990s, she crafted and got passed one of the strongest campaign finance laws in the U.S. However, much of the law was changed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled part of it unconstitutional.
In his speech, Milne said, “Leahy stands for big money and career politicians. At the end of the last cycle, he’d spent $3 million and I had $83. But I think I can win without very much money.”
The candidates said the controversial campaign of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump doesn’t come up very often.
“Reporters are the the only ones who ask about Trump,” Milne said. “A lot of people think the system is rigged, and Trump is a harbinger of that. He should stay on message.”
Scott said, “He is our party’s nominee, and I hope he’ll continue to evolve.”
Local candidates attended as well. Rep. Dennis J. Devereux, who represents Ludlow, Mt. Holly and Shrewsbury, He said he’s hearing a lot of concern over taxes from his local constituents.
“They just can’t take the taxes and fees,” he said. “They’re considering not sticking around. The economy is the main thing.”
For more information on upcoming Republican events, visit the Vermont GOP calendar at http://vtgop.org/calendar.