BRATTLEBORO—Only one of Brattleboro’s three House seats is being contested in this year’s election.
Incumbent state Reps. Valerie A. Stuart (District 1) and Tristan Toleno (District 3), both Democrats, are running unopposed.
Three-term state Rep. Mollie Burke, a Progressive/Democrat, is running against newcomer and independent candidate Adam Salviani to represent District 2.
All four broke muffins and drank coffee with constituents at the Sept. 16 Citizens’ Breakfast at the Gibson-Aiken Center.
Candidates made opening statements and took questions from the audience.
In her opening statement, Burke listed her multiple community ties, including teaching art and iceskating and raising a family with husband Peter Gould.
Burke noted that she grew up in a “progressive Catholic family” who taught her social responsibility, integrity, and honesty.
“I believe government exists to serve the common good,” she said.
She co-chairs the Women’s Caucus which has worked on issues such as equal pay and affordable childcare.
Burke also serves on the House Committee on Transportation. She described Vermont as “an auto-dependent society.”
Burke sees transportation challenges as connected to many challenges facing Vermonters, such as economic development, the struggles of working families, and climate change.
Burke grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. She studied political science at Marymount College and the London School of Economics. In 2007, Burke earned a master of fine arts from Goddard College. The mother and grandmother has also served as a Representative Town Meeting Member since 1990.
Salviani is making his first foray into state politics.
He told the audience that he had considered running for the Selectboard but decided to run for the House.
“Problems in Brattleboro start with Montpelier,” he said.
He added that Burke has served her community wonderfully, but now is the time for change.
Salviani chairs the Town Arts Committee and serves on the board of directors of Brattleboro’s community radio station WVEW 107.7.
According to Salviani, the state is unfriendly to small businesses and finds itself constantly raising taxes to balance its budget.
He also took issue with the amount of money the state put toward funding the arts. If Vermont wants to call itself an arts state, it should fund the arts better, Salviani said in a separate interview.
Salviani later supplied articles from Forbes, CNBC, and The Economist that he said highlighted sad prospects for Vermont’s economy.
As a small business owner and a 32-year-old, Salviani said he leaned toward the Democratic end of the political spectrum, but was running as an independent because he “wasn’t impressed” by Montpelier.
“My generation is leaving the state in inordinately high numbers,” he said.
State Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, also attended the Citizens’ Breakfast as an audience member. Throughout much of Salviani’s opening statement taking aim at the Legislature’s efforts, she wrote questions to the moderator, and at one point she whispered to her tablemates, “That’s not right.”
According to White, Vermont has balanced its budget every year, it has a AAA bond rating, and despite coming into last year’s budget process facing a projected deficit, legislators “closed it” and passed a balanced budget.
In response to one audience’s question about what programs would be affected if Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott was elected, Burke said she was concerned about Scott’s proposed spending cap.
Burke said Scott has proposed holding the state budget to a 2 percent increase in spending and overall spending to no more than a 3 percent increase over the previous year.
But, Burke argued, the Senate and House appropriation committees already struggle to manage spending. Meanwhile, the federal government is pulling back on its money to the states.
“It could be disastrous if we put a limit on what we can spend,” she said.
Salviani said he generally didn’t agree with Scott. That said, he felt the state has overburdened the tax base yet keeps raising property taxes. Salviani added that Vermont isn’t favorable to small businesses.
When asked later about what taxes Salviani was referring to, he supplied a webpage from the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont-based conservative think tank. The page listed how Burke had voted on legislation, from approving the fiscal year 2017 budget to increasing motor vehicle fees.
Agreement on green energy
Both Burke and Salviani came down in favor of green energy.
Burke called solar power “a boon to the economy.” Regarding, wind towers, she said, “My thinking is evolving on this.”
Salviani said he once lived in Wales, where communities have built a lot of wind farms. He hopes Vermont might catch up and be a leader in green energy.
“My preference is solar, but I’m not against wind at all,” he said.
Salviani was also asked if the many allegations from writers involved with him through his company, Raider Publishing International, would hurt or help his efforts in Montpelier if elected.
The question referred to an article published Sept. 2 in the Brattleboro Reformer. The article chronicled allegations of fraud from authors who had worked with Raider.
Salviani said he had expected such a question at the breakfast, and that no, the allegations wouldn’t impact how he represented Brattleboro if elected.
“I was very disappointed by the article,” he said.
Salviani contended that most of the negative comments in the article came from critics who make money off of criticizing publishing houses like his.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishments I’ve had,” he said. He then outlined how he had started his first business with $200 and sold it for $1 million before he turned 30.
“I publish my own books through my company too,” Salviani added.
After the breakfast, Burke added that last session the legislature asked the Joint Fiscal Office to explore moving from a property tax system to one based on income tax.
Under Vermont’s current system, she said, middle-income earners pay a greater proportion of their income in taxes than wealthy Vermonters. Moving to a tax based on income could raise an additional $80 million, she said.
“I’m hopeful that could be an exciting development,” she said.
After the breakfast, Salviani reiterated Vermont’s economic problems and disputed the Reformer article.
In Salviani’s opinion, the state doesn’t serve its residents well, especially the under-40 crowd.
“It’s not a priority of the Legislature to keep young people here,” he said.
Salviani added that unless someone challenges the current leadership in Montpelier, nothing will change.
“I’m proud to stand up as the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter,” he said.
Reaction to Reformer article
When asked which parts of the recent Reformer article, if any, were incorrect, Salviani said, “Very little of it, in my opinion, was true.”
Adding that he’s “not really involved with the company,” Salviani said that self-publishing companies tend to get a lot of complaints.
“It’s all hearsay,” Salviani said. “The article made me look like a criminal. Why wouldn’t I be in jail if it was all true?”
Salviani said he provided the Reformer with 20 positive testimonials that the paper didn’t use.
“They have to do what they have to do to sell papers,” he said.
“I will stand by my record as a small business owner,” he added.
Kevin Moran, Vice President of News for New England Newspapers, Inc., said via email that the Reformer stands by its reporting.
Salviani urged voters to get to know him through his current work in the town.
For example, as a member of the town arts committee, Salviani said he “totally revived what seemed like a basket-case committee.”
“I want to be an advocate for my generation and the future of Vermont,” he said.