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Galbraith returns focus to international stage

The two-term State Senator will not seek re-election

BRATTLEBORO—Two-term State Sen. Peter Galbraith announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in November.

The Townshend resident said that he will devote more time to his international work, specifically an informal effort aimed at finding a political solution to Syria’s civil war.

In a statement, Galbraith wrote he will work with Syria’s Kurdish and Christian minorities “to help them develop strategies to best protect their communities.

“Reluctantly, I have concluded I cannot do this and still devote the necessary time to my work in Montpelier,” he continued.

Galbraith, who served as America’s first ambassador to Croatia, also thanked the people of Windham County for trusting him to serve on their behalf in Montpelier, saying, “I have tried to be an independent and common sense voice on your behalf.”

In a separate phone interview from his home in Townshend, Galbraith explained one of the aspects of Vermont’s citizen Legislature is that representatives serve Vermonters and then move on.

Galbraith also said he plans to devote more time to writing. He’s penned two books on the consequences of the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. He was a contributor, with Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam” (2011, University of Pennsylvania Press).

His next two books: a focus on the process of negotiation and a memoir.

As a senator, Galbraith repeatedly said he served his constituents rather than a political party or special interests. He developed a reputation as a lone wolf who didn’t toe the Democratic Party line. At times, this led to tensions between him and his fellow county delegates.

Reminded of his willingness to go rogue, Galbraith laughed. No, his forthcoming book on negotiation would not be about the Vermont Senate, he acknowledged.

On a serious note, then, he said he is proud of what he accomplished for Windham County in Montpelier: Through his efforts, Brattleboro gained eligibility to build a 5 megawatt net-metered solar facility atop its closed landfill.

Galbraith also helped Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, secure an additional year of reduced property taxes for Vernon taxpayers as the town transitions to the post-Vermont Yankee reality of higher residential property tax payments.

On the state level, he introduced the only two health care financing plans presented to date. Although the plans have not passed into law, they have sparked a conversation about how the state might fund a single-payer health care system it has labored decades over and has yet to realize.

In 2012, Vermont became the first state in the nation to ban fracking. Galbraith introduced the first bill to ban the drilling practice many, including himself, view as environmentally destructive.

When asked if he fostered disappointments about legislation he backed that lacked the time or political support to pass, Galbraith answered, “The list is long.” There was plenty of time, he said. There was not plenty of political will.

Galbraith said he doubts the state will carry through on the intentions in Act 48 to create a true, taxpayer-funded health care system.

Instead, he said, the governor and Legislature have simply moved from a premium-based system — where buyers pay monthly for insurance bought either through on the open market or through an employer — to a mandated premium insurance system such that Vermonters must buy insurance likely from a sole provider.

That wasn’t the progress Galbraith said he had hoped for.

Another major disappointment for Galbraith: the increasing pressure from special interests on decision making in Montpelier. “That part of the process in not that attractive,” he said.

In Galbraith’s view, if a part of legislation comes down between benefiting a special interest or the general public interest, special intrests win.

“I tried to represent the general public, not lobbyists,” he said of his voting record.

Galbraith said he expects his fellow Windham County delegates will see their voting records called into question during the runup to elections.

Galbraith also takes issue with Montpelier’s decision to create the $4.5 million Vermont Enterprise Incentive Fund, which could be used if IBM sells its chip manufacturing operation, including its plant in Essex Junction.

He also claims to have opposed every tax break that came before the Senate Finance Committee, on which he served.

One tax break Galbraith took umbrage with was an estate tax that hit small estates at 33 percent while taxing large estates at 10 percent.

According to Galbraith, when the Legislature was considering making this tax more equitable for small estates, a wealthy family hired a lobbyist.

“The power of one person,” said Galbraith.

Campaign financing and getting special interest money out of elections has been a big concern for Galbraith. During the last big campaign finance debate, he said the Senate banned corporate contributions one day and then reversed its decision the next day.

Lawmakers will say they want to rid politics of special interests until their special interests are on the chopping block, he said.

In the last biennium, Galbraith also served on the Natural Resources Committee. On the international stage, he served as cabinet minister in East Timor’s first transitional government and as an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations in Afghanistan.

“I intend to remain engaged in the affairs of the community and state that has always been my home, but, for the time being, I will do so under the title of citizen,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #258 (Wednesday, June 11, 2014). This story appeared on page A7.

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