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‘Montpelier works on relationships. Period.’

Matt Trieber, appointed to House seat, seeks election to represent Windham-3

Rep. Matt Trieber made it through his first biennium in the Vermont House.

Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, was appointed in January 2011 by Gov. Peter Shumlin to fill Rep. Michael “Obie” Obuchowski’s seat after the long-term representative became Commissioner of Buildings and General Services.

Now, the appointee has set his sights on his first House race.

Trieber admits to not having the same stature as “Obie,” whom he describes as “a legend to follow” and who served the district for 38 years.

Still, said Trieber, he feels he has been effective for his district.

This election, Trieber is running against Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, and challenger Chris Moore, for one of two House seats in the newly-redistricted Windham-3 district — now Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, Windham, and part of Westminster — in the Aug. 28 Democratic Primary.

Trieber said he spent his first session figuring out the legislative process, Montpelier decorum, and the process of forging relationships.

“The whole thing is a learning curve,” he said.

After his appointment to the House, Trieber said, he “dove in headfirst” into the unfamiliar situation. He said he put his relationship-building skills to work, building consensus and achieving a few unanimous votes while in the House.

“Having good relationships with people, you get more done,” he said.

Trieber said he works well with other legislators and can build coalitions across party lines.

“Montpelier works on relationships,” he said. “Period.”

As an example, Trieber highlighted his work with Senators Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, and Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, to bring $500,000 in economic development funds to Windham County. The Legislature generally finds earmarking funds for one county over others controversial.

Although the final awarded amount decreased by the end of the session, Trieber said he spent hours on the phone with legislators making a case for the county and collecting letters of support from municipal officials.

He also held the House’s position on maintaining, in his opinion, Vermonters’ right to privacy regarding the prescription database debates.

Single-payer health care could also serve as an economic development driver, he said.

Even while he worries about Bellows Falls’ proximity to sales-and-income-tax-free New Hampshire, Trieber said the state has to be careful about “a race to the bottom” in cutting taxes and the social programs that make Vermont special.

He sees health insurance for employees as a “huge cost to employers.” Health-care reform could shift those costs away from those employers, consequently turning Vermont into a potential business destination.

Challenges ahead in Montpelier also include responding to the ongoing fallout from Tropical Storm Irene, he said.

Trieber said the House will also have to address the issue of prescription-drug abuse that the prescription-drug database ignored. The House might have helped protect Vermonters’ privacy, but the state still needs to develop drug-abuse treatment options.

According to Trieber, merchants have said to him to think of unintended consequences of decisions made in Montpelier.

Trieber said he often hears the refrain, “We’re here. Don’t make it worse for us.”

Trieber, 32, said he belongs to an “under 40” group in Montpelier which keeps an eye on the issues faced by younger Vermonters. In his opinion, the state needs to find incentives to draw young people to Vermont and hold onto the ones already here.

While Vermonters in that demographic need jobs, he said, they also need social connections and activities.

When not in Montpelier, Trieber works as an environmental consultant with Atkinson Street Environmental in Bellows Falls. A geologist by education, he said, “I write a lot of reports.”

Trieber, who also serves on the Rockingham Selectboard, is a member of the Bellows Falls Rotary Club, the Rockingham Certified Local Government Board, and the Bellows Falls Young Professionals, of which he is a founding member.

Next session, if elected, Trieber hopes to further press his district’s concerns.

“This district has particular issues,” he said. “Border communities need a strong advocate to fight for their unique issues.”

The rest of the state does not take into account the difficulting of competing with businesses near New Hampshire, which does not charge sales tax or income tax, he said.

But Bellows Falls, where Trieber lives, is one bridge from New Hampshire.

Last session, he said, he spent considerable time making other legislators aware of the financial ramifications of decisions made in Montpelier. Trieber invited legislators to Bellows Falls to show them how people walk across the bridge to New Hampshire.

Trieber wants to continue working in Montpelier to make things easier for merchants in his district.

Still, while Trieber doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, he enjoys helping constituents.

“It makes you feel good to do that for the people you represent,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #164 (Wednesday, August 8, 2012).

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