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Moore challenges Obuchowski, Partridge in Windham-4

BELLOWS FALLS—Michael Obuchowski of Bellows Falls won his first election to the Vermont House in 1972.

Carolyn Partridge of Windham won her first House election in 1998.

Together, they have operated as a team representing the Windham-4 district towns of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Rockingham, Grafton, Athens, Brookline, Windham and a portion of Westminster.

But neither Democratic candidate takes the power of incumbency for granted, and both Obuchowski and Partridge have both been vigorously campaigning for their respective seats from Windham-4.

“I get up at 3 in the morning some days to start work on my campaign,” said Obuchowski. “My human composition doesn’t allow me not to.”

This year, Obuchowski and Partridge face a challenge from independent candidate Christopher S. Moore, an attorney with an office in Bellows Falls.

This three-way race hasn’t received a great deal of attention, said Partridge.

“I think with so much attention on the governor’s race and all the negativity in it, no one’s paying attention to the House races,” she said.

An aging Vermont?

Moore said the No. 1 problem facing Vermont is that “the state’s population is getting older” and that young Vermonters are leaving the state. “You can’t have vibrant communities with those demographics,” he said.

He supports creating an “enterprise zone” for Bellows Falls and other communities that immediately border New Hampshire. Businesses would get tax breaks for starting and maintaining businesses. He also supports offering tax incentives to Vermonters who graduate college and commit to working in the state after graduation.

As the mother of three sons who have left Vermont to pursue their education, Partridge said young people leaving the state “is something that’s not new. Kids have always left home to find themselves, and most of them end up coming back when they’re ready to settle down.”

Dealing with the deficit

The deficit for fiscal year 2012 is projected at $112 million, but Obuchowski predicts that if lawmakers come up with sustainable solutions to deal with the deficit in the coming biennium, the state will be in much better shape.

“The recession is still going on, but we have a lot of things to be proud of,” he said. “We have a balanced budget. We haven’t had to borrow money for short-term expenses, or deferred necessary expenditures. And everyone who works in state government has contributed to finding a solution. If we stay on a sustainable course, we’ll start seeing surpluses again by FY 2013 and 2014.”

Vermont’s financial stability and the lack of gimmickry in the state budget, he said, makes for a climate that will attract new businesses to the state.

Health and education

Both Partridge and Obuchowski support a single-payer health care system for Vermont.

“Next year, the budget deficit overshadows everything,” said Partridge. “but I’m very interested in seeing what recommendations will be in the health care study report. I hope Vermont can get a waiver from the federal government to do our own health care system.”

Partridge said she has heard plenty from people in her district about education funding. “For me, the criteria for change is that we first do a serious analysis of what needs to be done before we make changes, and that any changes do no harm to our children and the quality of education they receive.”

Moore believes that any discussions about changes in health care delivery or education funding must begin with changing the state’s tax structure and changing what he believes is the adversarial relationship between state government and the business community.

“More and more of my clients are moving to the South, where the cost of living and taxes are lower,” he said. “That’s why school enrollments are dropping in Vermont and the state’s population is growing older — the high cost of living in Vermont is driving people away.”

A question of tenure

Moore has made an issue out of the length of time that Obuchowski and Partridge have spent in Montpelier, and how being an independent will be a plus.

“As a voter, you have to decide what ideas you want represented in Montpelier,” Moore said. “I believe I have ideas that people in this district want to see represented there. And I’ve found that saying you’re an independent is a great conversation starter. People are willing to listen to you and not have their minds already made up.”

Partridge and Obuchowski say the value of their tenure at the Statehouse speaks for itself.

“Our opponent says it’s time for a new face, but I think there’s no substitute for experience,” said Partridge.

“People talk about the need for term limits, but every two years, every candidate for statewide office goes before the voters,” said Obuchowski. “The experience we have and the relationships we have at the Statehouse are important and valuable to our district.”

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

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