By John Flowers
FAIR HAVEN —Twenty-seven years ago, Chuck Laramie had reached his personal abyss.
A slave to alcohol and recreational drugs, he was so intoxicated one night that a police officer insisted on driving him home.
“He asked me what I was going to do when I got home, and I told him I had a loaded .38 [handgun] in my drawer and I was going to stick it in my mouth and get it all over with,” Laramie recalled. “That was my plan if it got real bad — that’s how I was going to end my addiction.”
The officer slammed on his brakes and gave him a heartfelt lecture.
“He said ‘That stuff you’re putting into your body is going to kill you,’” Laramie recalled.
With the help of friends and professional help, Laramie, a Fair Haven resident, climbed out of the abyss and is now shooting for the top — of state government, that is. The former Addison County educator is running as an independent candidate for governor, on a platform that includes adopting universal health care, reducing public education bureaucracy, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and streamlining Vermont’s permitting processes.
His positions largely borrow from each of the two major political parties. And that’s fine with him, as he enjoys being free from having to sit on a specific side of the political aisle.
“I’ve always tried to look at what the person was saying [rather than his or her party].” Laramie said.
He’s part of a race that includes incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democrat Christine Hallquist, Liberty Union candidate Emily Peyton and fellow independents Trevor Barlow and Stephen Marx.
Laramie, 60, was born in Fair Haven. His dad worked for General Electric; his mom was a teachers’ assistant. After high school, he thought he’d follow in his mother’s footsteps. He attended Castleton State College, earning a bachelor of science in communications journalism, followed by a masters in education.
He took a circuitous route to the education profession. After college, he spent 10 years as a roofer before embarking on a teaching career in 1992 that began with a 16-year gig at the Vermont Achievement Center. In 2008, he began a series of teaching jobs in Proctor and Manchester before moving on to Middlebury, Fair Haven and Otter Valley union high schools.
Laramie said one of the highlights of his teaching career was his two years with the Diversified Occupations program at MUHS. The DO program caters to students with specific academic, vocational and behavioral needs, serving them in small classes focusing on basic subject areas and vocational training.
“It was wonderful,” he said of the program. “That’s the type of program that schools need today.”
It fits with Laramie’s philosophy that public schools should tailor programming to meet each student’s individual academic needs and career goals.
He also believes schools should ban cell phones in the classroom — for both students and teachers. Laramie said the learning process is now constantly disrupted by students fiddling with their smart phones during class time.
“We’d be doing [students] a favor, though they wouldn’t realize it in the beginning,” Laramie said of a cell phone ban. “I bet within a month of getting rid of the cell phones, the students would thank us.
“We’re the adults, and we need to be able to take control,” he added. “It’s OK to be adults and enforce the rules.”
It was students’ use of cell phones and foul language in the schools that prompted Laramie to quit teaching last spring. In addition to campaigning, he runs his own monument/headstone cleaning service.
“I served four years on a U.S. Navy ship and my shipmates would be embarrassed in the schools today with the language,” Laramie said. “I respect myself too much to be subjected to that type of behavior, and nobody does anything about it.”
Laramie believes Vermont spends enough on its schools right now, but he wants the state to use its education dollars more wisely. If elected, he said he’d advocate for cutting the total number of supervisory unions by more than half, to a total of 50. In so doing, Laramie claims the state could save around $100 million in administrative expenses by cutting a variety of central office workers.
“For example, you could lose all the curriculum coordinators tomorrow and the teachers wouldn’t notice,” he said.
As governor, Laramie would call for the repeal of Act 46, the state’s school governance consolidation law. He believes Act 46 has reduced local control over community schools and education budgeting, and has transferred much of that authority to state government.
“It’s the [community’s] school, and it should be their say,” Laramie said.
Low- and middle-income Vermonters, according to Laramie, can’t afford higher taxes and are in desperate need of more household income to be able to handle the comparatively high cost of living in the Green Mountain State. He said he’d advocate for streamlining the state’s permitting process to encourage business growth, and call for an immediate bump in Vermont’s minimum wage rate from the current $10.50 per hour, to $15.
He acknowledged a $15 minimum wage would still fall short of a “livable” wage, but he called it “a start.”
“You can’t live on $25 an hour in Vermont, in reality, and raise a family,” Laramie said, referring to the cost of housing, fuel oil, food and other essentials.
He conceded the idea of a $15 minimum wage isn’t popular among many employers, but said businesses should sacrifice some of their profits for the benefit of their workers — especially those entrepreneurs who have benefitted greatly from the recent federal income tax cuts.
“I understand where the employers are coming from, but they come from this idea that if there’s enough workers out there and they’re skilled, that wages will go up,” Laramie said. “Consumer prices have gone up, and businesses are making more money. And if they are, why aren’t they giving some of it to the worker?”
Those same workers, Laramie noted, are having a tough time affording quality health insurance. He believes Vermont should adopt a universal health care system, though he’s not pitching (at this point) a specific way to pay for it. Laramie said state officials need to quickly come to consensus on a funding mechanism.
“Health care is as important as reading and writing,” Laramie said, adding he believes people need to take more responsibility for their physical wellbeing. Laramie dove into hiking and running after becoming clean and sober almost three decades ago. He’s completed several marathons and has hiked all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks.
Exercise and a good diet were a big part of Laramie’s recovery from addiction. As governor, he said he’d promote a policy of educating children early about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, while getting treatment as soon as possible for those who are addicted.
He’s not a big fan of methadone, a drug used to wean addicts from stronger opioids. He believes methadone prolongs addiction.
“Tough love” is one of the best prescriptions, Laramie said.
“You can’t enable a drug addict,” he said.
Without a big campaign war chest nor major party support, Laramie has been getting his message out at fairs, suppers and other events where people gather. He’s upset he’s been excluded from the major gubernatorial debates during the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election.
“When I ran for governor, I assumed I would be in all of the debates,” said Laramie, arguing that debate organizers aren’t willing to deal with fringe party and independent candidates. “Vermonters have a right to know who their candidates are, and what their views are.”