The Windham-4 district, which encompasses Dummerston, Putney, and Westminster, has the most crowded slate of candidates for its two seats.
Incumbent Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, is seeking his seventh term. With the seat held by Nadir Hashim, D-Dummerston, open after his decision not to run for a second term, four candidates entered the Democratic primary — Michelle Bos-Lun of Westminter, Robert Depino of Westminster, Mathew Ingram of Putney, and David Ramos of Putney.
All the candidates except for DiPino participated in a July 15 forum. DiPino ran as a Republican for the Windham-4 seats in 2016 and was defeated. He is a former vice-president of Gun Owners of Vermont, which describes itself as “a non-partisan pro-gun organization, committed to a no-compromise position on firearms ownership rights.”
Bos-Lun said she came to Vermont in 2003 to pursue a master’s degree at World Learning/SIT in Brattleboro. She said most of her professional experience has been as an educator, and she has worked at Youth Services in Brattleboro and the Brattleboro Community Justice Center.
“I’ve become really familiar with what is working in Vermont, and I’ve become really aware of what isn’t working in Vermont,” Bos-Lun said. She wants to take her “wide range of experiences I’ve had in restorative justice, in social services, in education, and mental health and bring that to meet the needs of the people of Vermont.”
A Pennsylvania native, Ingram, at 25 the youngest candidate in the race, said he came to Vermont two years ago. He is a residential dean and adjunct professor at Landmark College in Putney and serves as a firefighter and EMT on the Putney Fire Department.
He said one of the reasons he is running is that while Vermont is a great state to live in, it “struggles at times to keep our younger generation in the state” due to a lack of employment opportunities combined with the high price and scarcity of housing.
Ramos, 67, is a Navy veteran and a native of Texas who came to Vermont after his naval service. He says he had an intimate familiarity with COVID-19, both in preventing its spread from his part-time work at Pine Heights nursing home in Brattleboro and from the recent death from the virus of his 49-year-old nephew in California.
Besides putting in a plug for wearing masks, Ramos said the pandemic showed Vermonters two things they lack: quality, affordable child care for working families, and access to high-speed internet service.
Mrowicki, the incumbent, focused on the “kind, caring community” of his adopted home — he has lived in Putney for close to 40 years — and how he has tried to return the favor through his many years of community service.
“When [people] need help, they’ll find it,” he said. “That’s what makes Vermont much more than just pretty green hills. We value each other, we care about each other, and we act on that. But as good as Vermont is, we want to make it better, and that what I pledge do to, but it has to be progress with justice.”
Addressing systemic racism
At both forums, Hagen asked candidates a question that the County Democratic Committee voted to be included in every candidate forum this year — what would they do, if elected, to address systemic racism in Vermont.
Mrowicki said the Legislature created the Racial Equity Advisory Panel last year, led by director Xusana Davis, to help identify and address systemic racism in state government. She is also leading the Racial Equity Task Force that was created by Gov. Phil Scott in June in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police.
“What we do [in the House] is pass laws, but laws are only as good as the individuals,” said Mrowicki. “Our laws and our lives have to align.”
Ingram said he supported the state forming a task force, but that “mutual accountability among all of us as citizens and community members alike” is also important and that people “need to stand up and say something while it’s happening.”
As a person of Mexican descent, Ramos said he has plenty of experience with racial discrimination from growing up in Texas and as a migrant farm worker in California, and is happy to tell his story so others may learn from his experiences.
Bos-Lun said racism affects so many areas of life, but she said she would focus on education, on making schools more inclusive, and on the prison system, where she would address the considerable racial disparities that exist in Vermont.
“The rate of incarceration for people of color is about 10 times higher than it is for people who are white,” she said. “It’s not an accident. That has do with disparities in the justice system and with economic access.”
All the candidates were in favor of the state doing more to address climate change and make a transition away from fossil fuels.
“Climate change is the cloud that is hanging over our heads, and it will be there when we get past COVID-19,” said Mrowicki.
As for dealing with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the candidates agreed that the state has a big role to play in helping with economic recovery.
“This is an issue we’re going be dealing with for the next decade,” said Ingram. He and Ramos both advocated for Vermonters to shop locally and support local businesses.
Morwicki said that the inadequate response on both climate change and COVID-19 “is why we need to change who is the White House.”
Bos-Lun said the federal government needs to make a serious commitment to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, similar to what the Roosevelt administration did in the 1930s during the Great Depression.
“Between the collective wisdom of the Legislature and talking with small-business owners about what they need, I believe we can recover and make Vermont strong again.”
Bos-Lun said another way to boost Vermont’s economy is to welcome immigrants and asylum seekers to the state. She called it “extremely important,” not just to offer a safe haven, but to also benefit the communities in which they are resettled.
Act 46, the school district consolidation law, came under fire from all the candidates as Mrowicki and Bos-Lun lamented the lack of an “exit ramp” for towns that don’t want their schools closed or consolidated.
The reason why
In her closing statement, Bos-Lun spoke of an encounter she had last summer with a student at the Governor’s Institute. When she spoke of how much hope for the future she drew from the student and how confident she was that would fix the messes her generation created, the student replied, “Thanks, but why don’t you do something?”
That, she said, inspired her to get into politics. She restarted the dormant Westminster Democratic Committee and got more involved with the party at the county level. That, in turn, inspired her to get more deeply involved in politics and to work toward putting her expertise to work in Montpelier.
“I want us to be an example for the world that this is what good governance looks like,” she said. “We can make a good quality of life for our people, and I want to be part of that.”
Ingram said one of the first things he noticed when he came to Vermont was that it was “a very inclusive, very welcoming area.” He finds his big motivations for running for public office are a desire to give back to the community and to bring to the Legislature “a new perspective, a younger perspective” on the issues.
Ramos said that he “was not afraid to fight the fight,” when it came to dealing with social injustice, and he said his candidacy gave him a chance to share his life story and how things can eventually change for the better.
Mrowicki had the last word, and he spoke of the value of having experience in Montpelier.
“This is a time when Vermonters are asking more from their government, and it is a time when experience matters,” he said. “To get things done in the Legislature, two things are vital — relationships with legislators and the trust of your colleagues. Those things don’t happen overnight. I’ve worked long and hard to build up that human capital with my colleagues.”