DUMMERSTON—Cindy Jerome is one of three candidates running for a seat in the Vermont Legislature in the Windham-4 district towns of Dummerston, Putney, and Westminster.
Jerome, 58, lives in West Dummerston and has been a resident since the mid-1980s. She has been Town Moderator for the last eight years and she has served on the Dummerston Selectboard, including two years as Chair.
For 19 years, she has been the executive director of Holton Home, a residential-care home for elders in Brattleboro. She resigned from that post so she could run for office.
But while she’s a believer in the effectiveness of local government, Jerome said she had her eyes on the golden dome of the Statehouse in Montpelier.
“I had been dreaming of running for the Legislature for a very long time. Windham-4 has a tradition of effective Democratic representation and leadership, and while I know it’s good to have contested races, I wasn’t interested in running against [the incumbents].”
David Deen’s decision to retire from the Legistature changed that, Jerome said.
Combined with her unhappiness with the Trump administration, her firm belief in building community at the local level, and her recent graduation from the Emerge Vermont training program for Democratic women, she said the timing was right this year.
In a conversation with The Commons, Jerome discussed her career in public service in Dummerston and the issues behind her campaign.
Health care for all
For Jerome, the health care issue is deeply personal.
Three years ago, her oldest son, Ben, was teaching English in Thailand, and was critically injured when he was hit by a truck. He suffered numerous broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act [a.k.a Obamacare], he still had good health insurance through me,” she said. “He was 23 years old, and he worked really hard and had a lot of support.
“But if he had not had that excellent health insurance, and not been able to go to Mass General and Spaulding Rehab [hospitals in Boston], and not been able to get long-term speech and language therapy and occupational therapy at Grace Cottage, he would not have graduated [last month] from the University of Vermont with a master’s degree in teaching. He’s going to be a high school social studies teacher.
“I don’t think my kid should be the lucky one. I think everyone ought to have access to quality health care. I think it should be a human right.”
Jerome also thinks health insurance shouldn’t be dependent on your employment status and again used her eldest son as an example.
“Ben has just graduated and he is doing some traveling this summer and working here and there, but nowhere that will give him health insurance,” she said. “If this happened to him now, what would we do?”
The ACA requires that insurers that offer dependent coverage must offer coverage to enrollees’ adult children until age 26, even if the young adult no longer lives with his or her parents, isn’t a dependent on a parent’s tax return, or is no longer a student.
It is one of the most widely supported elements of the ACA, and one that has resisted attempts by Republicans in Congress to repeal it.
She says the “Medicare for All” model proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other Democrats in Congress — which would open up Medicare and Medicaid to all Americans — “is an excellent first step” toward a single-payer health care system that supporters say would deliver more care for less money.
“The Affordable Care Act was an excellent first step, but it didn’t go anywhere near far enough,” she said. “Medicare for All would be a great next step.”
For those who feel that real health care reform is a non-starter as long as Republicans are in charge in Montpelier and Washington, Jerome said finding common ground with conservatives on Medicare for All is easy.
She said that, as a fiscal conservative, “I really hate spending money unnecessarily. I’m looking at ways we can save money while improving lives.”
Medicare for All is one way to save money, she said. Another way to spend a little now to save a lot later is investing in early education and programs that support children’s well-being in the first five years of their lives.
This is an issue, she said, where social responsibility can work hand-in-hand with fiscal responsibility.
Jerome said she supports the work that has been done so far in the Legislature to address what’s known as ACE, or adverse childhood experiences. ACEs are stressful or traumatic events, including neglect and abuse, that often have lasting negative effects on a person’s future health and well-being as they grow up and become adults.
“Making kids’ lives better now so that we not paying to treat chronic conditions as adults or putting them in jail ... if we can change that trajectory in a child’s life, we save a lot of money,” Jerome said.
Another example she gave of spending a little now to save a lot later is using the money the Scott administration has earmarked for temporary education property tax relief to pay down debts in the state’s teacher pension fund.
“The pension fund liabilities are costing us a ton in interest,” Jerome said, “Let’s pay that down and save so much more money in the long run.”
It’s not particularly sexy politically, but Jerome says her political beliefs are built upon the principle that it is possible “to improve lives and save money in the long run.”
Jerome said she is proud of her record in public service as well as her work in a successful nonprofit business.
In her conversations with Deen before she made the decision to run, she said she asked what were the things that a prospective candidate needed to be successful.
“David said a candidate needed to be humanitarian, and someone who has run a successful business,” Jerome said. “That’s me.”
Besides her experience in town government and running Holton Home, Jerome believes she can bring a logical approach to government.
“I believe that data, not drama, should drive public policy decisions,” she said.
She cited the debate over a $15-per-hour minimum wage as an example.
Personally, she believes that “someone who works full-time should be able to afford a decent place to live, a car, and be able to go out for pizza and a movie once in a while. That is not happening on $10.50 an hour.”
Professionally, she said she is proud that Holton Home has a long history paying its workers a living wage, which has helped maintain stability in staffing.
And, analytically, she said the data shows that some jobs could be lost with a higher minimum wage, but that would be offset by “people who have gotten that wage increase that are more inclined to spend their dollars locally, which improves the local economy.”
But, in the end, “it’s just the right thing to do to raise the minimum wage. It’s the right thing to do to take care of people and invest in our communities.”
In addition to Jerome, the other two candidates for the two seats in Windham-4 are Democrat Nader Hashim, a 29-year-old Vermont State Trooper, and incumbent Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney.