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Olsen, Trask compete for Windham-Bennington-Windsor-1 seat

—Like chalk and cheese, incumbent Rep. Oliver Olsen and hopeful Claire Trask vie for the Windham-Bennington-Windsor-1 District seat, each saying they’ve listened to the people and know what they really want. Olsen, a Republican from Jamaica who was appointed in January by Gov. Jim Douglas to fill out the remainder of the late Rick Hube’s term, describes himself as a “glass-half-full person” who believes people want good things and move instinctively toward success and what works.“I care deeply about the future of this state,” says Olsen.Trask, a Democrat and farmer from Londonderry, describes herself as the reluctant candidate turned committed candidate.She says people have asked her for years to run for state office but she always dreaded the campaign part. And, someone else always stepped in to run. This time around, however, there was only her, so she reluctantly agreed to run.Trask’s feelings changed when she had to fill out a “palm card” listing the issues she cared about.“As soon as I started to write down what I cared about, I wanted it [the House seat],” she says.Olsen says he wants to create a Vermont where his kids can grow up and not have to leave to find work like he did.Olsen says his campaign has been going well and he’s been out talking to local leaders and small business owners in the district’s towns of Londonderry, Jamaica, Stratton, Weston and Winhall.“Taking time to learn their concerns and issues” has been helpful, he says.

Education issues

—Olsen lists property tax reform, financing Vermont’s education system, school choice and jobs as the common issues bubbling to the surface of his conversations with constituents.He has spoken with people in the process of moving out of state because they can’t afford the property taxes. Two people on the same road in Winhall told him in “very explicit terms” what they thought of the current situation, he says.But, says Olsen, the property tax issue ties in with how Vermont finances education. He wants to put together a new way of looking at the whole school finance system.To him, the emphasis of equality has been placed on funding when it should fall on “how we ensure equality of the [educational] outcomes.”If re-elected, Olsen wants to start a dialogue about how best to fund the state’s education system. He stresses starting conversations over his coming up with a plan.“It’s like building a house,” he says.People need a vision of their future house before hiring an architect or contractors, and “any complex issue needs a similar process and consensus,” he says.Olsen breaks the education funding issue into three components: funding, spending and governance structure.He feels to increase the effectiveness of spending, the state should identify school districts where teachers are doing great things and adopt these best practices statewide.According to his website, Olsen previously served on the board of directors for the Vermont Coalition of Municipalities, which advocates for reform of the state’s property tax and Act 60.Olsen calls the state budget a core issue no one talks about, one he also wants to focus on.“It’s a huge, huge challenge that will involve difficult decisions,” he says.This year, says Olsen, the state is facing a projected $112 million gap.Olsen wants to streamline how the state delivers its services, like social services through the state’s Agency of Human Services, and slice out “siloed bureaucracy” or redundancy.Since taking office in January, Olsen says he has worked to improve broadband access in his district and will continue to support local initiatives to reinforce and expand service.He said he worked to convince Great Auk Wireless to remain in the area when the firm had planned to end service to Londonderry, Stratton, Peru and Landgrov. Great Auk will come up with an interim structure until another solution could be found.

A political comeback

—Trask served on the Londonderry Selectboard for 12 years. She credits her favorable view toward a proposed wind farm project on Glebe Mountain as the reason she was not re-elected four years ago.She considers windmills “moving sculptures” and thought the board should re-examine the wind issue, but opponents were so hurt and angry the issue created a rift.“It tore the town apart. It’s not worth it,” she says.Trask expresses disappointment regarding her opponent’s responses in a recent candidate forum to questions regarding health care and Vermont Yankee.She says Olsen did not adequately answer why he voted against the state’s health-care reform study. She asks why he describes VY as a non-issue for their section of Windham County when, she says, he lobbied to keep the aging nuclear plant open before he replaced Hube.“I’m totally excited by health care,” says Trask.Trask supports single-payer health care, but is also happy the state will present two other options to the Legislature in January. She referred to a World Health Organization study ranking France as No. 1 in health care, Canada in 13th place, Great Britain in 16th, and the U.S. in 37th. France, Canada and Great Britain all have single payer, so, she asks, what is France doing differently?“Making sure the right differences are picked up [is key to health care reform],” Trask says.Trask says she doesn’t trust VY’s owners, Entergy, or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate the company. According to Trask, the NRC’s whole purpose is to advocate for nuclear power, not control it.Trask wants to see VY decommissioned and Entergy pay for the whole process.“It’s an old plant that’s falling apart. The time to start thinking about [decommissioning] is now,” she says.Trask also feels the property tax issue needs addressing but says fixing Vermont’s health care system would help with residents’ bottom line. She says many residents pay between $10,000 and $12,000 a year in health care and have nothing left over for other expenses like property taxes.She agrees with Olsen that school costs are “sky high,” but says focusing on equalizing outcomes may not work because dollars are easier to define.“We can’t ignore the dollars,” she says.Trask also agrees with Olsen on providing for school choice. But, she cautions, “school choice” needs definition because right now it means different structures to different people. Towns need to move forward cautiously with school choice, being careful “we do not gut our public schools,” she says.The state of Vermont’s corrections system was a cause she thought only she cared about until an attorney asked her what she would do about the current prison system.Trask wants to see stronger restorative justice and prisoner re-entry programs which “treat people like human beings” while saving the state a lot of money.If elected, Trask also wants to help create more livable-wage jobs. She says when people in her area are working two to three jobs just to get by, there’s a problem.“It doesn’t leave you with much of a life,” she says.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #72 (Wednesday, October 20, 2010).

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