By Lee J. Kahrs
MENDON — If Larry Courcelle is elected to one of three senate seats representing Rutland County next month, he’ll happily cut back on his board and committee memberships.
Courcelle, 70, is from Mendon and one of nine candidates in a crowded field vying for three Rutland County Senate seats. Two incumbents, Democrat Cheryl Hooker and Republican Brian Collamore, are running for re-election, and challengers for the remaining open seat include Brittany Cavacas (I) Greg Cox (D), Casey Jennings (I), Richard “Sensei” Lenchus (I), Michael Shank (I) ),Josh Terenzini (R), and Terry Williams (R).
Courcelle is also the kind of guy people seek out to serve on boards and commissions. He has been a member of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) for 20 years, and in that time served as the executive finance commissioner for 10 years, and chaired the RRPC for three years. He currently serves on the RRPC Community Committee, which reviews the town plans of all the member towns.
He has also served on the George Aiken Resource and Development Council representing the RRPC. In addition, he spent a year on the Vermont Envirothon as a team guide counseling high school students taking environmental studies.
Currently, Courcelle is vice-president of the Castleton University Alumni Board of Directors, which he has been on since 2016. He has served on the Mendon Recreation Committee for the last 38 years. He also serves on the Rutland Free Library Board of Trustees and is a past president. He currently serves the board as a consultant.
Lastly, Courcelle is chair of Mendon’s Tropical Storm Irene Anniversary Committee. He is also a former Mendon Selectman.
“Every board I’ve been on, I end being the chair or the
president,” he said. “My goal was to step down, but that doesn’t work.”
He recounted one instance when he became a write-in candidate for selectman, winning the seat without ever having filed a petition.
“The people decided they wanted me on the board and I had very little to do with it,” he said.
Courcelle is originally from Rutland City, but built his house in Mendon in 1981 and had been there ever since. He and his wife, Wanda, have been married for 47 years and have an adult son and daughter, and four grandchildren.
Courcelle spent 45 years working for the Vermont Roofing Company in Rutland as an account executive and chief estimator. He retired in 2017.
The first thing Courcelle mentioned among his priorities should he be elected is the state’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I want to make sure there are funding sources for individuals and small businesses,” he said.
His next highest priority would be what he called, “The financial debacle of the Vermont State College system and Northern Vermont University.”
Declining enrollment and then the pandemic led to a $25 million shortfall that was revealed in April. Former VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding proposed closing Northern Vermont University, which is comprised of the former Lyndon and Johnson State campuses, and the Vermont Technical College Randolph campus, but that idea was met with backlash and led to Spaulding’s resignation. The VSC system has since received $65 million from the state to continue operations. VSC includes the Community College of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, Northern Vermont University and Castleton University. Each year, more than 9,142 Vermonters and 1,918 out-of-state students attend the schools.
Courcelle’s focus is the future of his alma mater, Castleton University. He graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor’s degree in business education.
“Whatever decisions are made, I want to see how it affects Castleton,” he said. “There are no real, concrete ideas about how financially we will [solve the VSC funding problem]. I support the VSC system and they’re working on it now.”
Courcelle proposes that the college presidents sit down with legislators and community members to work on a plan to save the college system. One idea he’s heard is combining all of the colleges into Vermont State University, an idea he does not support.
“Castleton is the 18th oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S.,” he said. “The chances of them changing the name are slim.”
Courcelle’s third top issue is getting young Vermonters to stay in Vermont, which he said clearly ties into the Vermont State College issue.
“When you talk about closing campuses, what does that say to our youth?” he asked. “It has to be a factor.”
While working with high school seniors on the Envirothon, he always asks them three questions: Where are you going to college; Why are you going out of state or in-state; and do you want to come back to Vermont when you graduate?
“The answers are always wide-ranging,” Courcelle said. “I propose we come up with a survey to give to all high school seniors in Vermont and ask the students a list of questions and collect data. It would give our legislators ideas of how to keep our youth here. It’s critical.”
If elected, Courcelle said he would prefer a something related to finance, transportation, or climate change.
“I’m a numbers guy so especially anything to do with finance,” he said. “And any steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, we have to look at the affordability of it. With our aging population, any decision made in Montpelier has to take into account affordability.”
Party and partisanship
Courcelle said he is a lifelong Independent who was urged to run for the Rutland Senate seat as a Democrat by Sen. Cheryl Hooker. They have been friends since freshman year of high school in Rutland.
That said, Courcelle indicated he would use a strategy of listening and compromise, should he be elected to the State House, the same approach that has served his board and committee tenures.
“I like to listen to everyone’s concerns,” he said. “When they get to a point where they’re on the fence, I like to guide them and see where it goes, and if it helps, make a decision. I hold my opinion until they need my guidance and that’s always worked.”
In the end, Courcelle said he aspires to be a statesman, not a politician.
“The statesman is someone who listens to both sides, representing all the people in their district,” he said. “It’s hard for me to come up with someone I would call a statesman. George Aiken was the last great statesman in Vermont.”
Aiken was a Republican and the 64th governor of Vermont from 1937-1941. He went on to become a U.S. senator, serving 34 years.
Courcelle said there is a need to work together and a need to add another Democrat to the Rutland County delegation in order to represent Rutland County effectively in the Democratically-controlled House.
“There are 32 House members and 24 of them are Democrats, Independents or Progressives,” he said. “We need to work with the other 24. I’m thinking that getting another Democrat in there would certainly help Rutland County when you can work with the other 24. It’s hard to get money for the county… I think a Democrat could help out Rutland County more than a Republican could.”
Courcelle said he offers the county’s conservative voters his listening skills, and the assurance that he will not vote along party lines.
“I use common sense and find common ground and that’s how I would vote,” he said.