The Windham-3 district, which encompasses Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, Windham, and a sliver of North Westminster, has three candidates running for its two seats.
Incumbent Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, is running for her 12th term in the House. Kelley Tully of Rockingham, who was appointed in April to fill the seat vacated in February by Matt Trieber, D-Rockingham, is running for her first full two-year term. Leslie Goldman of Rockingham is making her first run for public office.
Tully said she was born in Rockingham Memorial Hospital, where her mother was a nurse, and followed in her footsteps as a nurse at Springfield Hospital for 25 years.
She admitted that being thrust into the legislative process as part of the Judiciary Committee in mid-session during a pandemic was difficult but credited Partridge for being “a big help.”
“It's really impressive to see how people in the Legislature have pulled together,” Tully said.
Goldman serves as chair of the Rockingham Town Democratic Committee and vice-chair of the Windham County Democrats. A resident of Rockingham and a nurse practitioner since 1982, she said the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency pushed her into taking a more active role in politics.
Partridge, the chair of the Agriculture Committee for the past 12 years, has served in a variety of leadership positions during her tenure in the House. She said she offers her constituents “experience, and my ability to listen.”
When debate moderator John Hagen asked the Windham-3 trio about systemic racism and what they'd do about it, Tully talked about working with the state's Racial Equity Committee and called it “powerful and overwhelming.”
“We all need to listen, take it step-by-step, and support each other and understand how we can help each other,” Tully said.
Partridge agreed about the need to listen, saying that Vermonters “need to change some fundamentals in terms of our thought process. We all need to think about it.”
Goldman said she thought that change in thinking needed to begin in the schools, as anti-racism classes should be part of the curriculum.
When asked about the current funding crisis facing the Vermont state colleges, both Tully and Goldman said they see the opportunity to retool the system and make it more responsive to Vermont's workforce needs.
Tully said the people at Vermont Technical College “have been the real stars” in addressing the problem, but Partridge asked a deeper question about the crisis: “If we place a value on our colleges, how are we going to fund them?”
All three candidates expressed their support for climate change legislation that calls for cutting the state's carbon footprint by transitioning to renewable energy.
“We have to maintain our leadership as a state,” Tully said, adding that policymakers also need to be aware of the economic costs of the transition.
“Unless you set a strong goal, you're not going to achieve it,” said Partridge.
Act 46 in the spotlight
Act 46 also got a thumbs-down from all three candidates.
“It's no secret that I really hate Act 46,” said Partridge, who also serves on the Windham School Board and has vigorously fought to preserve her town's elementary school.
Partridge said she was disappointed with the Vermont Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold Act 46, a bill she now sees as “something I wish I never voted for” after watching the state Agency of Education ignore the concerns of small districts like Windham after the bill was passed.
Unfortunately, she said, “there is not the political will to make changes.”
As for setting the state back on the road to recovery post-COVID, Goldman said investing in the creative economy will be important, while Tully would prioritize preservation of village centers and downtowns around the state.
While the aid money that the state and federal governments are providing to farmers and small businesses is helpful, Partridge said it's not enough, especially since the current crisis remains open-ended.
A difficult time
Being a lawmaker in a pandemic isn't easy, and both Partridge and Tully said they were ready for the long haul if elected.
“When we talk about Post-COVID, when is that exactly? Is it this winter? Is it next year? Is that two years from now?” Partridge asked. “I'm kind of worried about it, to be honest, and we're all going to need to work together to pull out of this.”
“It's been a wild ride and I'd like to get back to Montpelier and, someday, actually do it in-person,” Tully said of her instant immersion to being a rookie legislator during this crisis.
She said she was proud about how the Legislature put together a relief plan for Vermonters struggling with the fallout from COVID-19.
“We're off to a great start and we need to get back to continue to do our best to support the most vulnerable folks in our state,” she said. “We've got work to do.”
Goldman took the long view and said that the Windham-3 district “has the good fortune of having three capable women to choose from” for the two seats.
She asked voters to consider her because, in her many years of experience as a nurse “to help people solve problems across the human spectrum,” she believes nothing can happen unless you first “ask questions and listen to the answers.”