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Cooke, Corum are GOPs tag team in state senate race

BRATTLEBORO—Lynn Corum believes that there’s safety in numbers.

While Hillary Cooke, a Brattleboro insurance consultant, was an early entrant into the Aug. 24 Republican primary for state senate, Corum hadn’t planned on running.

But as the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant became more and more of a campaign issue, Corum was concerned that the Democratic candidates for state senate — incumbent Jeanette White of Putney and former Ambassador Peter Galbraith of Townshend — were controlling the debate.

“It’s easier to ignore just one of us,” said Corum. “It’s harder to ignore two of us.”

So the longtime member of the Brattleboro Union High School Board ran as a write-in candidate in the Republican primary, and got three times the votes she needed to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot.

Vermont Yankee, and what they believe is a looming economic disaster if the plant is shut down in 2012, is one of the main issues driving Cooke and Corum’s campaigns for Windham County’s two seats in the state senate.

Inspiration from an interview

For Corum, it was an interview with Galbraith for her “Neighbor to Neighbor” program on Brattleboro Community Television that galvanized her decision to run.

“He feels the Senate voted decisively to close VY and that there is nothing more to do about it,” said Corum. “I think Galbraith is wrong and believe that another vote is possible next year.”

Both Corum and Cooke say the Senate’s 26-4 vote in February was a politically motivated act to help the gubernatorial campaign of Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

“It was knee-jerk legislation with a side order of gubernatorial politics,” said Cooke. “It came at a time when people were afraid and worried about the tritium leak. I thought it was the wrong time to play politics with the issue.”

Corum called it “an opportunistic vote that came at the expense of about 1,000 of our neighbors’ jobs.” She believes if VY closes in 2012, housing values will plummet, unemployment will skyrocket and the county’s economy will be devastated.

“Economists say that the loss of one job influences the safety of five other jobs,” said Corum. “There are 400 people who work at VY who live in Vermont. What’s going to happen to the housing market when all these people leave the area?”

Cooke shares Corum’s view that the Senate overstepped its expertise on VY, and that the Vermont Public Service Board ought to have the final say on whether the plant should be allowed to operate another 20 years.

“I’m not a nuclear engineer and it concerns me that there are 26 people in the Senate who think they are,” said Cooke. “We need to trust the regulatory process and know that the process is working.”

Health care

Given Cooke’s background with designing health insurance plans for local businesses, he has a keen interest in the issue.

He supports the Legislature’s decision to study the state’s health care system, but believes that lawmakers needs “to face the reality of what a Vermont public option means.”

“The savings in providing universal access isn’t in the way it is funded, but in the way care is delivered,” said Cooke. “That’s the difference between health insurance reform and health care reform. Hopefully, Act 128 will create a viable, workable and sustainable model we can all agree on.”

Education funding

Like Cooke, Corum believes that Act 60 and 68, the statewide school funding system, needs to be overhauled.

“Vermont’s tax structure is designed to preserve wealth, which is why there are so many trust funders who live here,” said Corum. “The income sensitivity provision of Act 60 looks only at income, not wealth, so you end up with millionaire retirees getting prebates while young families pay more. That’s why Act 60 is economically unsustainable: eventually you’re going to run out of young people to feed off of. The state needs to look at assets, not income.”

Cooke believes the answer to the rising cost of education is expanded school choice options and a more rigorous focus on how education is delivered.

“Like health care, the work on a solution is wrapped up in the funding part, and not the delivery part,” said Cooke. “We’ve gotten so far away from the original intent of the Brigham decision that we need to go back and take another look.”

The future

Corum and Cooke are not all doom and gloom. Corum believes that Vermont has unique advantages — a good education system and a hard-working and resourceful people — that make it a good place to start a business.

“But to take advantage of that, we need to create an economy that generates jobs,” she said. “Windham County has the oldest population, the weakest economy and the slowest rate of economic growth. We have to stop demonizing businesses and promote policies that give incentives for companies to come here.”

“This is a big and a diverse county,” said Cooke, who lived in Dover and Williamsville before moving to Brattleboro in 1999. “There are a lot of different people with different ideas and the issues are so complex, the solutions don’t fit neatly into one camp.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #73 (Wednesday, October 27, 2010).

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