—While the five-way race for governor has gotten all the attention in the Aug. 24 Democratic primary, perhaps the most complex race is the three-way contest for the two State Senate seats from Windham County.With the decision by current Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin of Putney to run for governor, his seat became open and created a lively scramble with three well-qualified candidates for the two seats.There’s the incumbent, Jeanette White of Putney, the current chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee and who is running for her fifth term as senator.There’s the local political veteran, Toby Young of Westminster West, who has served in the Vermont House and then worked as a lobbyist and advocate for several nonprofits.And then there is former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith of Townshend, who has served as a diplomat in the Balkans, East Timor and Afghanistan, and as a staffer for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.The top two vote-getters will face Republican political newcomer Hilary Cooke, a Brattleboro health insurance executive, and Liberty Union candidate Aaron Diamondstone, in November.
—Young, who serves on the Westminster Selectboard, is no stranger to Montpelier. She served five terms in the House from 1981 to 1991 and was chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee for six years.After leaving the House, she worked as executive director for Common Cause and as a legislative advocate for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. She has also served with a variety of local nonprofits and town boards.“My experience has been lengthy, local and consistent,” said the 73-year-old Young. “I’m definitely not new to the process.”Health care has long been one of Young’s signature issues. When she was in the House, she sponsored the legislation that created what is now Dr. Dynasaur, the program that brought near-universal health care coverage for Vermont’s children. She said she will work to expand and improve health care coverage for Vermonters.“The time has come for single-payer health care,” she said. “Businesses are for it. The medical community is for it. The people are for it. There’s no reason why we cannot do it.”On fiscal issues, Young says she wants to make sure that the state can balance its budget “while being mindful of the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.”“It’s just bizarre that the poorest people are paying the most for the deficit,” she continued. “I don’t think that ‘taxes’ is a dirty word. It’s what we pay to live in a civilized society. I don’t understand how or why our state is trying to mirror Washington in cutting services while giving tax breaks to the well-off.”Another idea Young supports is establishing a state-owned bank, similar to the Bank of North Dakota, that would hold state funds and spur development. North Dakota is the only state that owns and runs a bank, which some say is a big factor to that state being the only one to have a budget surplus since the start of the current recession.“The economic benefits of reinvesting state revenues into the state with our own bank is a no-brainer,” she said.
—White, 67, served on the Putney Selectboard from 1989 to 1998, and is a trustee of the University of Vermont. She has done part-time work in recent years for the towns of Brattleboro and Rockingham with grant writing and development.She was elected to the Senate in 2002. In addition to her chairmanship of Government Operations Committee, she also serves on the Committee on Institutions and the Mental Health Oversight Committee.White said she believes she had accomplished a lot in the eight years she has been in Montpelier. “You build up political capital by being there and getting to know everyone,” she said. “I’ve had eight years of building those relationships and I think the knowledge and the connections I’ve build up are useful to Windham County.”Like Young and Galbraith, White is opposed to relicensing Vermont Yankee past its scheduled 2012 shutdown date and wants to see that Entergy is held fully accountable for all decommissioning costs of closing the plant and cleaning up the site.Unlike Young and Galbraith, White believes that even though the Senate voted against supporting relicensing the Vernon nuclear plant this year, the fight is not over.“I’m not entirely convinced that VY is a done deal,” White said. “I think Entergy is going to spend a lot of money and put a lot of pressure on the Legislature for a revote. I want very much to be there next year to make sure our vote holds up.”She also wants to make sure that the Brattleboro Retreat is included in the discussion as the Legislature debates how to replace the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.“It’s a crucial issue,” said White. “That the Douglas adminstration left the Retreat out of the original plan made absolutely no sense.”White hopes to continue her work to expand health care options for Vermonters. “A lot is going to depend on who is the next governor. A single-payer plan makes sense, it is just going to be a matter of political will to get it accomplished.”She admits that this race is different from the previous campaigns she has been in.“Not everybody pays attention to the political process, so not everybody knows that there’s three candidates running for two seats,” she said. “There’s no ‘White‘ seat and Toby and Peter aren’t running for the ‘Shumlin’ seat. We’re all in the running for the same two seats, and I’m not taking anything for granted.”
—As a best-selling author, academic, policy advisor and diplomat, Galbraith, 59, offers a wide range of international experience. He sees this as an important asset in this race.“This corner of the state has a strong international orientation,” said Galbraith, who runs an international consulting firm in Townshend. “In the 21st century, we are connected to the world. I want to use my experience and connections to help bring more opportunities to Vermont and Windham County.”He said he has often fielded questions about why he is running for the Vermont Senate, rather than working in Washington.“I have no interest in being in politics anywhere else but here, and I have no desire to be in Washington right now,” Galbraith said. “Most of what happens there is posturing and politics. I’m running for this position because I think this is a place I can make things happen.”One of those things he hopes to make happen is expanded broadband and cell phone coverage. He said some of his business clients in East Timor have better cell service than he does in Townshend.“Why do people come here to do business? Because they want to live here and enjoy our quality of life,” said Galbraith. “But it’s difficult to run a business without 21st-century communications, and investing in 21st century communications will undoubtedly help our state’s economy.”Galbraith said that the first bill he would introduce if elected would create a public health insurance plan that all Vermonters could access — “a realistically-priced, catastrophic health insurance policy is something that can be relatively easy for the state to provide,” he said. “The bargaining power of the state would keep costs down, especially if you can bring all the state’s health care programs together.”Over the course of the campaign, Galbraith said he had been gratified by “the consistent and high level of people engaged in public issues.”“It’s a reminder of how we do things in Vermont and the volunteer, citizen government we have,” he said.