It won’t be the first time Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has faced a challenger for the Senate seat he has held since 1974, but this time the challenge comes from the left. Freilich, who is running against Leahy for the Democratic nomination, calls himself a progressive Democrat. He says he’s running for office to restore fairness to the political system. “Our system has become unfair and unreasonable to most Americans,” Freilich says. “It’s so important to me, that I decided that I’m not going to complain, I’m going to use the experience I have to bring a different approach.”
Freilich recently returned to Vermont after 13 years on active duty in the Navy. After he left active duty for the Navy Reserves, he and his partner Donna Wilder searched Vermont looking for a place to relocate from Washington, DC, where they live now. “We found Wilmington and just fell in love with the area,” he says. “We liked the people we met and the area is just physically beautiful.”
Freilich is renting a house in Wilmington while looking for a place to buy, and splitting his time between Wilmington and Washington, DC, where Wilder is still employed as a medical researcher.
Originally from New York, Freilich first moved to Vermont in 1992 for his medical residency at the University of Vermont. He has also served as an emergency room doctor in St. Albans and opened a private practice in Jeffersonville. As a Navy doctor, Freilich worked on a research program for the treatment of malaria and, later, on the development of blood products that have been used on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan to save thousands of lives.
Freilich’s campaign slogan is the “equitable pursuit of happiness,” and his platform boils down to what he calls the four E’s. “Equity in economic policy, equity in environmental and energy policy, equity in terms of the American effort to address poverty in the undeveloped world, and enlightened security.”
Freilich says he’s an advocate of a progressive system of taxation and a single-payer health care system. Freilich says the goal of health care reform should be universal access, cost-effectiveness, quality, and choice.
He says the current multipayer system is not cost-effective thanks to high administrative costs and high profits, and incremental changes aren’t appropriate given the health care crisis at hand. “The public option is better than the current system, but you still have the cost of the multipayer system,” he says. “Why not make it easy and have one medical system for all of us. Medicare for all.”
Freilich says American citizens could save more than $300 billion in administrative costs, another $100 billion in savings through price bargaining with pharmaceutical companies, and another $50 billion in costs associated with hospital treatment for the uninsured.
Freilich says a progressive tax code isn’t a radical idea. “It’s actually conservative,” he says. “Democrats and Republicans for a good part of recent history believed in a progressive tax system. The progressive tax code of the latter 40 years of the 20th century brought about a vibrant middle class.”
Freilich says the current tax code, which taxes the wealthiest Americans at a much lower rate than in the period between World War II and the beginning of the 21st century, puts Vermont at a disadvantage. In fact, Freilich says it’s the reason Vermonters have one of the highest tax burdens in the country. “The amount coming into Vermont from the federal government is not our fair share,” he says. “We’re subsidizing the luxurious lives of high income individuals in other states.”
Freilich advocates an incremental increase in the tax rate for those earning over $350,000, topping out at a rate of 50% for the highest income bracket. He says the rates would be more in line with tax brackets before the Reagan tax cuts.
On the environment and energy, Freilich says the country needs a “green revolution” as a matter of economic and physical security. “We need a revolution akin to the information revolution at the end of the last century,” he says. “Not only is our security threatened, but so is our quality of life.”
Freilich advocates dramatic increases in federal fuel mileage standards for automobiles, as well as the creation of safe and modern mass transit systems around the country.
Freilich says the elimination of poverty in the undeveloped world will enhance America’s security. “I believe the U.S. can do more to eliminate poverty,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do, and doing the right thing makes us stronger as a nation. But if poverty is diminished, it also reduces the likelihood of war and terrorism.”
Although Freilich offers little criticism of Leahy, he says the Senate is an institution that needs to be changed. Freilich says he’s well aware that challenging an incumbent with 30 years experience will be an uphill battle. “But incumbents don’t always win, even good incumbents like Patrick Leahy don’t always win,” He says. “I’m not sure 30 years in the Senate gives you the background to make the changes we need.”