BRATTLEBORO—The crowd grew quickly.
Gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter disappeared into the crowd as she circled the small Catherine Dianich Gallery. Minter shook hands and chatted with audience members. At her elbow, Sarah McCall, Minter’s campaign manager and former director of Emerge Vermont.
Emerge Vermont seeks to increase the number of Democratic women elected to public office.
Many people who attended the Oct. 20 meet and greet already knew Minter. They’d worked with her as a member of the Vermont House, or in her role as Chief Recovery Officer after Tropical Storm Irene, or in her most recent position as state Transportation Secretary.
Minter stepped down as the Agency of Transportation’s (AOT) leader in order to run for governor. AOT is the second largest state agency with a budget of $600 million and 1,300 employees.
According to Minter’s campaign site, Colorado solicited Minter’s help with its disaster recovery when severe flooding hit the state in September 2013. The following year, she represented Governor Shumlin on the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, where she co-chaired the Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Resilience.
“I actually believe that government matters,” Minter said to the audience at the Catherine Dianich Gallery. Government must invest in public infrastructure and foster public-private partnerships, she said, pointing to the rehabilitation of the Brooks House as an example of such a partnership.
The candidate said that her executive experience differentiates her from other candidates like Democrats Matt Dunne and Shap Smith or new GOP candidate Bruce Lisman.
Minter said she’s “hearing the voices of ‘no’ getting louder.”
No, society can’t afford to care for its elders.
No, it can’t support education.
“I would say we can’t afford not to,” Minter countered.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, spoke with a sense of gratitude for what he described as Minter’s effectiveness and intelligence.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “reneged” on funding repairs to a Westminster bridge damaged by Irene, Mrowicki said. Minter found the $200,000 through the state to reimburse Westminster for the bridge repairs.
The state repaired many of its roads and bridges with an eye towards resiliency: bigger culverts, higher bridges, better infrastructure, Minter said. Climate science tells us that the country will see more storms and stronger storms.
The Federal Highway Administration accepted the state’s above-the-standard improvements and provided some funding, Minter said. FEMA was not as inclined to accept the state’s decisions.
While Minter said she’s grateful for where FEMA was supportive, she did not take no for an answer. Vermont appealed many of FEMA’s “no” decisions up the chain of command all the way to Washington, D.C.
“We can’t let the voice of ‘no,’ say ‘no’,” she added.
Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, introduced Minter, praising Minter’s ability to find out what needs to get done and finding a way to make it happen.
Minter has an “eye for accountability,” Balint said, adding she put those skills to work to benefit the AOT.
“[Minter will] bring careful accounting to the rest of state government,” Balint continued.
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, who also works for the Brattleboro Housing Partnership (BHP), praised Minter’s work as “Queen Irene.” She credited Minter with helping broker a strategy with FEMA, the state, and BHP to rehouse elders at Melrose Terrace until the organization built new housing on higher ground.
White also praised Minter’s efforts to “change the culture” of the AOT from male-dominated to one of diversity and a welcoming place for female employees.
Visitors new to Minter said they wanted to learn more about the first-time gubernatorial candidate.
Guilford Selectboard chair Anne Rider said she heard about Minter through a friend, a staunch Republican. According to Rider, her friend told her Minter has a reputation of working across the political aisle.
In her comments to the audience, Minter said during Irene, she saw Vermont at its worst. But, she also had the honor of witnessing Vermonters at their best.
People came together, she said. They mucked out basements and volunteered their time.
After Irene, Vermont rebuilt more than 700 homes, more than 500 miles of roads, and hundreds of bridges, she said.
“I think the best of Vermont is when we’re in it together. When we’re all in,” she said.
“We have rebounded,” she said. “I carry that optimism with me.”
“I have a deep awareness of the challenges facing us in our state,” said Minter who is also a wife and mother of two.
She said many Vermonters are experiencing “economic anxiety.” The state too is facing “tough budgets and tough times.”
According to her, approximately 20,000 Vermont children live in poverty. A third of households headed by women live in poverty.
Minter is undaunted, “Where I see problems, I also see potential.”
In her speech to the crowd, Minter talked about:
• Early childhood education: It’s critical especially for helping to break the cycle of poverty, she said. The state also needs to focus on higher education as a pathway to a career, according to Minter.
• Health care: Health care is a right, adding it is crucial Vermonters have access to care. Minter said she will focus on health care reform and better preventative and primary care. She said she wants to move away from the fee-for-service model. But, she said she would not be the governor who will enact a single payer system. The state on its own can’t afford it. “It’s a problem of an island. We are not an island.” Minter said she also supports women’s health care: Planned Parenthood, a woman’s right to choose, and creating safe work places for female employees.
• Gun safety: Minter said she recognizes the Second Amendment and Vermont’s gun heritage. She also intends to focus on preventing gun violence.
• Criminal justice reform: She said she’s not happy Vermont exports some of its prisoners and said she wants people who need treatment to receive it. Minter said she feels the state needs to focus on reducing Vermont’s high rate of recidivism.
• Public transportation: The state spends approximately $27 million annually on services. Using technology and innovation creatively can push the state forward, she said. But, she added, the state is unlikely to achieve more with the money it has now.
• Women in the work place: At the AOT, Minter focused on diversity training, creating lactation facilities, and customer service. She said she also wants to improve access to childcare statewide.
Minter said she is excited to run for Vermont’s top spot and that she intends to bring her years of experience across multiple levels of government to Montpelier.
The Waterbury Center resident has a B.A. from Harvard University and a master’s in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
Minter’s father, Bob, managed Minter’s Candies. He sold the family business and relocated to New England to manage another candy factory. Her mother, Evelyn, was a figure skater in the Ice Follies.
“I’m not running because I’m a woman,” Minter said.
Nor does she expect people to vote for her because of gender.
“I’m the most qualified person for the job,” she said.