Patricia Blair, of Pownal, and Gerald Woodard, of Arlington, will challenge incumbent Democratic senators Dick Sears, of Bennington, and Bob Hartwell, of Dorset, to represent Bennington County and Wilmington.
This will mark Woodard’s second run at the Senate position, and in the past he has also campaigned to represent his district in the House. Woodard is a local business owner and has served on his town’s school board and selectboard, and has held leadership positions in a number of local civic organizations. He says that serving in the Legislature is a goal that he has set for himself. “I’ve been in community service all my life,” he says. “I was born and raised in Arlington, and I have a feel for the community.”
Blair is a relative newcomer to politics, and says she decided to run for office after witnessing the legislative process as she lobbied for the passage of a “fetal protection” bill that would allow the prosecution of crimes in which a fetus is the victim.
In 2009, Blair was pregnant with twins when she and her husband were struck head-on by a driver who was under the influence of prescription drugs. Both Blair and her husband, Randy Blair, were severely injured in the crash, and their unborn twins were killed. “After spending last session at the Statehouse, and personally seeing how the people of Vermont are treated by some of the legislators there, I felt strongly pulled to run for office,” she says. “I feel that legislators who have served for too long lose touch with the reason they are there, to be the voice for their constituents.”
Woodard echoes Blair’s concerns about incumbency. He says one of his top priorities would be to push for reasonable term limits for politicians in the state. “It’s not necessarily the money,” he says, acknowledging that Vermont politicians aren’t highly paid. “But politicians serve for a few years and get some power, and they don’t even think of their constituents anymore.”
Blair says her experience at the Statehouse during the last session has prepared her for her work as a senator, and as an effective representative for her constituents. “I feel strongly that my compassion for life and people, and the desire to see people be allowed to go through our legislative process without being bullied by special interest groups and legislators who cater to those groups, makes me an excellent choice,” Blair says. “After experiencing such treatment firsthand, I think I’d fight harder for my constituents.”
Woodard, who owns J&N Excavating, says the economy – jobs and job creation – is the top issue facing the next Legislature. He says putting money back into Vermonters’ pockets is the best way to stimulate job growth. While most Vermonters are still employed, Woodard says many are afraid to invest in home improvement projects or other expenditures in an uncertain economy. “We’re going to have to have tax breaks for individuals and businesses,” Woodard says. “This winter coming up is going to be a tough nut to crack, especially here in Bennington. We’re a long way from where the majority (of Vermonters live) and I’m not asking them to give us anything, just be fair with us down here.”
Blair agrees that the biggest challenge facing the Legislature is the state’s economic situation. She says the solution is to treat the state budget like family finances. “You’ve got to look at how much you have before you plan for where it’s going to go,” she says, “then you have to look at your spending habits and quit spending where you really don’t need to, and put into practice other options that would help eliminate some of the cost.”
Woodard would seek to reduce government spending and waste. He says the state can make cuts in government now and, if necessary, resume programs when the economy improves. “I’d like to ask the people in the education department and agency of natural resources where they’re cutting in their departments,” he said. “I think there are still a few extra people around here and there. There are still cases where we can afford to do without some stuff. Maybe we can learn to live within our means.”
Blair also calls for tax reform to put some money back into the people’s pockets. “We have literally crippled our business owners and homeowners and individuals with taxes,” she says. “To be frank, we have basically taxed them out of Vermont. I think if we want to open the flow to the economy, we have to remove the roadblocks we have put up. I don’t think it will be easy, but I think it has to get done.”
Woodard says the current education funding system isn’t sustainable. “What I struggle with is that we have fewer kids and higher budgets,” he says. “How long can we sustain it, especially with the way we pay our taxes in this state? You don’t have to take money away from too many people in these small towns before you hurt your local budgets.”
But, Woodard says, the economy must take top priority over other issues. He notes that when he first ran for state office 12 years ago, the issues were the same as they are today – health care, education, affordable housing, energy, and others.
“There’s not one that you can look at and throw out because we’ve solved the problem,” he said. “They don’t change, they’re always going to be issues. The economy has to come first, putting more money out there, making people feel better. The other issues, health care, they’re all hooked to the economy.”
Blair says taxes are a core issue affecting both the Vermont economy and school funding. She says tax reform would actually increase tax revenue by bringing in more families and more businesses. “Businesses invite families that settle here, buy houses, and put their children in school,” she says. “They go to work at the business, their children grow and go to work and buy more houses. It’s a bountiful cycle when it’s a healthy cycle.”
Blair says energy is another top issue, and Vermont shouldn’t make any hasty decisions. “We could end up paying for it in the long run,” she says. “We really need to educate ourselves to the choices out there, and give some serious thought as to what is going to work, and where. There’s not going to be one solution for Vermont. It can’t be just wind, or just hydro, or just nuclear. We must keep Vermont independent for its energy.”