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Candidates give positive responses to health care, early childhood education questions at ‘People’s Forum’

BRATTLEBORO—Windham County legislative candidates answered questions on universal health care coverage, early childhood education and the economy at a forum last Thursday hosted by the Vermont Workers’ Center, Vermont Citizen Campaign for Health, Early Educators United, and the Vermont Center for Independent Living.

“We expect our elected representatives to overcome obstacles, not use obstacles as excuses,” said moderator Shela Linton.

Linton works with the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity and the Vermont Workers’ Center’s “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign.

The candidates’ responses overwhelmingly curved toward the positive, supporting the hosts’ causes and concerns.

Area residents turned out to hear 12 candidates respond to questions prepared by the hosts and to ask their own questions, directed to specific candidates, near the end of the evening held at Brattleboro Union High School.

In the hot seats were Senate candidates Hilary Cooke, Peter Galbraith and Sen. Jeanette White; state Reps. Mollie Burke, Sarah Edwards, Richard Marek, John Moran, Mike Mrowicki, Mike “Obie” Obuchowski and Carolyn Partridge; and House candidates Richard Davis and Valerie Stewart.

Not attending were Senate candidate Lynn Corum; state Reps. David Deen, Ann Manwaring and Oliver Olsen; and House candidates Mike Hebert, Geralyn Sniatkowski, Richard Morton, Christopher Moore, Gaila Gulack and Claire Trask.

Cooke was the only Republican candidate in attendance.

Cleo Rohn, a Brattleboro Union High School senior and volunteer with Healthcare is a Human Right, sent a rallying call to the candidates in her opening statements.

“Vermonters understand that once again it’s up to us to lead the nation,” she said.

Obuchowski lobbed back a call to action highlighting the election countdown.

“We need you to give us the courage to vote the right way,” he said.

Obuchowski said elected representatives, who love their jobs, need to know they’ll have the votes for another term in office if they take on a potentially controversial issue.

The candidates answered two questions posed to them on health care. Would the candidates commit to working for health care and to eliminate any tiers of access for Vermonters?

The candidates answered “yes.”

Edwards, who “gratefully” receives health insurance through VHAP, said there was “no question” that health care is a human right.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that change takes a really long time,” said Edwards.

Marek and Galbraith stood up and said they supported, specifically, single-payer health care.

Mrowicki and Partridge said they would like to find a way to open health-care access as soon as possible for early educators and farmers.

Davis said he thought paying into a universal health-care system should be tiered — people who make more should pay more — but that access should be equal.

Cooke said he would have voted for Act 128, which relates to health care financing and universal access, last year but said funding the new system needs to be worked out.

“The cost of delivery is where the rubber meets the road,” he said.

All the candidates stood in support of day-care workers in the process of forming a union called Vermont Early Educators United (VEEU).

According to representatives of VEEU, because small independent businesses would comprise the VEEU membership, the Legislature will need to approve the union’s formation.

“[Early education is] the gateway to children’s education and brain development. I will work to support the work of all who support our children,” Mrowicki said.

Missy Boothroyd from the Vermont Center for Independent Living questioned recent cuts to public services made under the state’s Challenges for Change budgeting process. She said that under the pretext of greater efficiency, cuts were made at a time when people need services the most.

“[Services are] not a matter of efficiently. They’re a matter of needs,” she told the candidates.

Boothroyd is a peer advocacy counseling specialist with the Vermont Center for Independent Living’s Deaf Independence Program and addressed the candidates using American Sign Language through interpreters.

Boothroyd asked the candidates if they would support public policy that would help people meet their basic needs and ensure public programs were adequately staffed and funded.

Edwards said Boothroyd’s speech represented her own values. Edwards does not believe in the effectiveness of trickle down economics, saying, “We should not put profits before people.”

People before profits became the touchstone for many of the candidates’ responses.

Partridge urged the audience to a different administration with a different course, a stance echoed by Mrowicki and Marek.

Davis agreed, saying a lot depends on the voters’ choice of governor, whose appointees carry out the legislation.

“Cuts in human services have gone as far as they will go,” said Moran.

Cooke said “people first sounds good” and that pleasing shareholders does not need to be a corporation’s only purpose.

But, he added, regarding efficiencies, “costs have to be contained” for there to be successful systems, like in health care.

“Give it up for the only Republican in the room,” he joked.

White said the administration has mismanaged Challenges for Change, which was intended as a redesign and not an excuse to cut programs. But she said a new administration could help get the program “back on track.”

Linton thought that the evening went well overall, but expressed disappointment that more voters hadn’t attended the forum.

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

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