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New rep plans focus on education, economy

Wilmington Democrat John Gannon ran unopposed for seat held by retiring Rep. Ann Manwaring

WILMINGTON—John Gannon had no opponent in this year’s campaign for the Windham 6 House District.

Nevertheless, the Wilmington Democrat estimates that he knocked on more than 2,000 doors and talked to more than 700 people throughout the summer and fall. He says the issues he heard about repeatedly — including education and affordability — will be priorities when he starts work as a freshman legislator in January.

In a year when national politics have dominated the headlines, Gannon is making sure to maintain an emphasis on the local.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in the national political agenda that we lose sight of what’s happening in our communities,” he said.

Windham 6 encompasses Wilmington and Halifax as well as a portion of Whitingham. For the past decade, it has been served by Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington.

’A very smart guy’

Manwaring, who has served on the Appropriations and Education committees, announced earlier this year that she would not seek a sixth term. She said she knew Gannon well and immediately thought he’d make a strong state representative — not because of his political affiliation, but because of his work in the community.

“He’s a very smart guy,” Manwaring said of her successor. “He cares about issues. He’s skilled at financial issues and understanding them.”

Gannon’s financial background is just one part of a diverse resume he’ll bring to the Statehouse.

He’s a longtime attorney who spent more than two decades in Washington, D.C., including stints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Gannon practiced law in Vermont early in his career and, following his work in Washington, he moved back to the Green Mountain State in 2011.

These days, he’s a Selectboard member in Wilmington; a small business and downtown booster via Wilmington Works and The Wilmington Fund VT; and past president of Deerfield Valley Rotary.

Also, Gannon and his wife Crista are co-owners of Happy Dog Farm, a small poultry operation in Wilmington.

Setting priorities

Gannon expects to draw on all of those perspectives as he tackles issues he’s been hearing about in his travels around the district. Those include:

• Affordability.

Gannon said he has fielded many complaints about the state’s taxes and fees, and he wants state government to “live within its means.”

“There’s a lot of wonderful ideas that come out of the Legislature, but many of them cost a lot of money, and we need to ensure we can afford those things and not put more of a burden on local taxpayers,” Gannon said.

• Education funding and governance.

Gannon said there’s long-standing frustration in Windham 6 with the state’s school-funding system. And he doesn’t believe Act 46 — the controversial 2015 education-governance law — will significantly decrease property taxes.

Gannon said he believes Act 46 must be revised to give school boards and voters more time to carefully consider mergers. He pointed to the fact that state officials recently sent Windham Southwest Supervisory Union back to the drawing board to revise its Act 46 merger plan.

“I think, at a minimum, we need to push back the [merger] deadline,” Gannon said. “Just seeing how hard the local school boards are working on this issue — there’s a crisis mentality, and it’s overwhelming our local school boards.”

• Economic development and broadband.

On the latter issue, Gannon said he wants to work with cellular and broadband providers to get more service in the Deerfield Valley. “I think there has been progress made, but we still need to make more progress,” he said.

He has some experience working on connectivity issues: Gannon is co-chair of the downtown organization Wilmington Works, and he said the organization currently is working with the town to try to improve wireless internet service there.

• Energy.

Though Windham 6 hasn’t experienced the same renewable-energy siting battles that have plagued other parts of Windham County, Gannon said that in the course of his work as a Selectboard member he has heard from residents who are opposed to large wind turbines.

Gannon said he supports renewable energy but isn’t quite sure yet how to resolve the siting controversy. “That’s such a difficult issue, politically, to deal with,” he said.

While Gannon will have a learning curve as he starts work in the Statehouse, he expects to bring his analytical skills to thorny issues like education funding and energy siting. He jokes that, “once a lawyer, you’re always a lawyer.”

He sees it as a positive that he’s taking the Windham 6 seat during a time of transition for state government: Gannon will be working alongside a new administration and new legislative leadership in 2017.

“I think it’s exciting, because it’s an opportunity for new people to work together,” he said. “I think, in this state, there’s significantly more bipartisanship than there is in the federal government.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #385 (Wednesday, November 30, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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