3 run for 2 seats in Vt. House

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MANCHESTER — Three candidates will compete in the race for the Bennington-4 District of the Vermont Legislature — representing the towns of Manchester, Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate — though only two will be elected to office.

Manchester resident Kathleen James officially announced her candidacy for one of the two seats this month, running against incumbents Cynthia Browning and Brian Keefe. Though all three candidates emphasize their commitment to the Northshire community, each brings their own histories and convictions to the election.

Cynthia Browning, Incumbent Democrat

Rep. Cynthia Browning is the longest-standing incumbent in the race, serving in the Vermont House since 2007 and on the Arlington Select Board since 2002. Outside the realm of politics, Browning serves as executive director of the

Batten Kill Watershed Alliance.

"[Serving in the Legislature] has been both the most satisfying and the most difficult work of my life," Browning said. "I hope that I have made a contribution to the welfare of all of the communities in the district through my work."

The legislator, who boasts a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan, notes that her "expertise and experience" provide her with a unique capability to analyze policy documents independently. That expertise is most often used in Browning's work with the House Ways and Means Committee, where she says that she has pushed for a simpler, more effective and more equitable tax code for Vermonters.

Since her re-election in 2016 Browning says that she has focused on controlling rising property tax rates, lowering the taxation of Social Security Benefits, and working to reform Vermont's tax code. The legislator has also played a role in collaborative efforts to improve internet service to rural areas, moderate the growth of electric bills, and ease requirements for school district consolidations mandated by Act 46.

"I work hard to analyze issues independently in developing and evaluating such policies and deciding how to vote on bills," Browning explained. "I know that everyone will not agree with my decisions, but I hope that they know that I always have reasons for my votes and I always need to hear criticisms, comments, and suggestions."

Going into the 2018 election Browning identifies tax reform, economic development, energy efficiency, and environmental protection as her top issues — emphasizing the need for effective policy over persuasive rhetoric.

"The most effective policies are based on economic and social realities, not ideology, wishful thinking, and special interest politics," Browning said. "I work to create and support policies that will make progress towards those goals in the most effective way."

Browning will once again be running as a Democrat, although her campaign will not officially begin until the Legislative Session has concluded. She does not plan to "raise and spend a lot of money," she said, noting that face-to-face contact with voters and mailings will play a large role in the effort. Throughout the year, Browning holds legislative 'office hours' on Saturday mornings at Arlington's Chauncey's Restaurant.

"I share the overall goals of the party for a strong and sustainable economy that benefits Vermonters at all income levels," Browning said, emphasizing the need for investments in health care, public safety, telecommunications, and environmental protection. "I have always put what I thought was best for our district above any considerations of politics, and if re-elected I will continue to speak the truth as I see it to those in positions of power, regardless of party."

Kathleen James, Democrat


Candidate Kathleen James officially kicked off her campaign on April 8, but she is no stranger to public service. James served as a board member for Zion Preschool, Northshire Community Foundation, Friends of MEMS and the Manchester School Fund. She was elected to the Manchester-Elementary School Board of Directors and committed many hours to MEMS and BBA as an involved parent.
Invigorated by the 2016 Presidential Election, James has since led a group of over 100 locals to the Women's March on Washington while also working with local organizations like MoveOn Manchester and Earth Matters. This Fall, the candidate was elected as Chair of the Manchester Democrats and participated in Emerge Vermont — a program designed to support and educate future female candidates. 
"My campaign is based on the premise that the Northshire is filled with talented, smart, interesting people who have innovative ideas and solutions," James explained. "My role is to connect with these people and bring their ideas to the table as an elected legislator in Montpelier. With that goal in mind, I'm building my campaign around small issue-focused teams and advisors."

James, who currently serves as executive director of the International Skiing History Association and editor of its bimonthly journal Skiing History, notes that communication with constituents will be a top priority if she's elected.

"I will commit to holding regular and well-publicized constituent meetings in every community in our district, open for all to attend, and I will also publish a regular e-newsletter," James said, committing to regular social media posts and columns in local publications. "Communication is my profession, and I think it's a very important part of being an elected representative."

Among her top issues James identifies increased economic opportunity — including "affordable healthcare as a right," housing, a "livable wage," and "outstanding education from pre-K through grade 16," — as well as expanded access to mental-health services and addiction prevention, treatment, and long-term recovery. Environmental conservation and climate action are also high on James' list of priorities.

"Vermont can and should lead the nation in tackling climate change while building the economy of the future," James said. "If we are proactive and creative about dealing with climate change, we can create new jobs, attract new residents, and provide far better options for young people to stay in Vermont and build a life here."

James notes that while she was raised in a Republican household — a background that she says will enhance her capacity for bipartisanship — she will be running as a Democrat in the coming election, in line with the basic tenants of the Vermont Democratic Party. As her campaign continues, connecting with the community — and hearing their feedback — will play a large role.

"It's important to me that the VDP emphasizes "empathy" within the first few sentences of its platform. If you check out my website, you'll see that I place an extremely high priority on these deep human values - the things I value most highly - of compassion, tolerance and inclusion, caring for others, caring for our friends and neighbors and communities," James said. "Those are my core values, and my stance on political issues flows from those values."


Brian Keefe, Republican


Representative Brian Keefe's political career began long before his election to the Vermont Legislature in 2016. The Manchester resident boasts 15 years of experience as a legislative assistant to Senator Jim Jeffords, 6 years as Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, and a 10-year tenure on the Manchester Planning Commission (having served as Chair for several of those years).

"I decided to run two years ago because I wanted to break the legislature's six year habit of raising taxes, fees and spending," Keefe explained. "We've been successful so far these first two years, and I want Montpelier to continue to improve its ways of managing our tax dollars."

Keefe, born in Montpelier, has lived in Manchester for 26 years alongside his wife Leslie — a native of Rutland. The legislator emphasizes his strong ties to the Manchester community, where both of his children grew up and attended school, while noting that his time in both Washington D.C. and Montpelier has informed his work in the Vermont Legislature.

Though he is only in the midst of his second Legislative Session, Keefe notes that he has enjoyed a number of successes in his first term. Keefe has been appointed to multiple committees in Montpelier, including the House Committee on Human Services, the Minimum Wage Study Committee, and the Canvassing Committee.

"In addition to being part of the larger legislative success of balancing the state budget without raising taxes or fees, I've introduced three bills that have become law — one to enhance child care benefit opportunities, one to streamline the administrative efficiency of our primary social safety net system and one to establish a Child Fatality Review Commission," Keefe explained. "As a member of the Human Services Committee, we've made strides in improving support systems in general."

Keefe identified taxes and spending as his top issues, with a broader focus on making Vermont a more accessible place to live for individuals and families.

"The opioid problem is also wreaking havoc on Vermont families and communities, and needs continued focus," Keefe said. "In addition, education policies from Montpelier present different challenges to each of the four towns in this district."

Running as a Republican once again, Keefe notes that his views and priorities align closely with those of Vermont's executive leadership.

"I am a supporter of Governor Phil Scott and generally agree with his focus on fiscal accountability, protecting those in need and promoting measures that grow our economy," Keefe said. "I will continue to listen to people and try to represent their priorities in Montpelier. I plan to reach out to as many people as I can between now and November in order to be as informed as possible."

Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018.

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