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On being a Democrat, and serving his district

Rep. Matt Trieber responds to Moore’s comments

BELLOWS FALLS—There’s no doubt in Rep. Matt Trieber’s mind that he is a Democrat.

Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, is running along with fellow incumbent Rep. Carolyn Partridge. D-Windham, and Bellows Falls attorney Chris Moore, for one of two House seats in the Windham-3 district — Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, a portion of Westminster, and Windham — in the Aug. 28 primary.

Moore has attempted to raise questions about Trieber’s standing as a Democrat.

In an Aug. 8 article, Moore told The Commons that Trieber, before moving to Vermont, had registered as a Republican in New York. Trieber also took out a Republican ballot, said Moore, in the March presidential primary, which excluded him from attending the State Democratic convention.

Moore, an independent candidate in 2010 who switched party affiliation to Democrat for the 2012 race, said he confronted Trieber with this information at the Windham County Democratic meeting in June.

Trieber said he is the only Democrat in his family, which is “an interesting family joke.”

“We all have family, and my family is a very Republican family,” he said.

Trieber regards the right to vote as a “huge privilege and honor.” Registering to vote was one of the first things he did when he turned 18.

Trieber said that when he registered to vote in his home state of New York, which holds closed primaries, he had to choose a party. The young Trieber had not yet “figured out” his political philosophy.

By age 22, however, Trieber said he had realized that his personal beliefs lined up with the Democratic Party. Trieber changed his party affiliation and became involved with the party, he said.

“You grow up hearing something, and that’s what you say,” the 32-year-old Trieber said about his early status as a Republican. But, he added, as he grew older, he realized, “These aren’t really my beliefs.”

For Trieber, one of the core issues that played a part in his transition was personal freedom. Much of the Republican philosophy dealt with “telling people what they could and couldn’t do” like with the issue of women’s reproductive health.

To Moore’s comment that Trieber took a Republican ballot in the March presidential primary, Trieber responded saying “there was a race on the Republican side” that he, like many voters in states with open primaries, wanted to influence. He also added it was the first time he pulled a Republican ballot.

“I honestly didn’t expect this type of campaign,” said Trieber of Moore’s comments. Instead, Trieber said, he had hoped for an issues-based contest.

“I’m really saddened and disappointed,” he said. “Mr. Moore went the route of negative and personal attacks.”

Fellow Democrats rallied around Trieber.

In an email to The Commons, Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, wrote, “Matt has been a good legislator first and foremost, and he’s been a stalwart Democrat.”

“If Mr. Moore thinks the kind of vitriol he has been using in regards to Matt will build relationships with anyone [in Montpelier], he’s mistaken,” continued Mrowicki, who has worked with Trieber on the House Human Services Committee.

Rep. Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick), the house majority leader, volunteered to speak on Trieber’s behalf.

She said she sees Trieber “as a solid Democrat who shares core Democratic values.”

The core values Leriche gave as examples included economic justice and equality for all people. Also, she said, Democrats tend to feel that government can serve the people as a force for good and a tool to improve people’s lives.

Leriche added that Trieber does not always walk “lockstep” with the party, which she points to as a good thing. Instead, Trieber “always votes his district.”

“He’s a solid Democrat, but first and foremost a representative for his constituents,” she said.

Door to door

Moore’s comments aside, Trieber continues with his campaign, walking door-to-door in Windham-3.

Speaking to constituents is the only way to take the district’s pulse, believes Trieber. Most voters won’t contact their representatives directly, but will share their stories while the legislator stands on their doorsteps, he said.

Voters express unexpected concerns sometimes, Trieber said. Some voters quizzed the candidate and freshman Representative about his voting record. Trieber doesn’t shy from the questions.

He said he’s impressed with how much people in his district pay attention to activities in Montpelier.

According to Trieber, voters spoke about Irene recovery and health-care reform, while seniors on fixed incomes asked about available state resources.

People need help with questions about state services, he said, adding: “I can serve as a conduit.”

People want to know what their representative is thinking, Trieber said; they’re not interested in someone who follows the crowd.

Trieber said he always tries to vote in line with what’s best for the district.

He cited his “yes” vote on the National Popular Vote bill aimed at reforming the Electoral College process so the presidential election would go to the candidate receiving the highest number of popular votes in all 50 states.

Personally, Trieber disagreed, but constituents contacted him advocating that he vote in the affirmative, he said.

Trieber started his first term in January 2011, when Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed him to fill the seat of Rep. Michael “Obie” Obuchowski, who resigned after 39 years of service to become the commissioner of Buildings and General Services.

This week, Obuchowski endorsed Trieber and Partridge. Of Trieber, Obuchowski wrote, “I miss representing to my former constituents; however, the interests of the district are in Matt’s experienced hands.”

When he stepped into Obuchowski’s shoes, Trieber found many new representatives sitting quietly through their first term.

“That was never my goal,” Trieber said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #166 (Wednesday, August 22, 2012).

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