Vermont Voices: State Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan
"I'm very community oriented, I like to be involved and I like to figure out how I can help and give back," said Sullivan. "Being involved here in Vermont, this was the ideal time [to run for office]." Sullivan announced her candidacy in the spring of 2016, and in November was elected to represent Dorset, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Langrove, and Peru in the Bennington-Rutland district. Prior to her career in politics, Sullivan saw success in her own public auditing and forensic accounting firm, and as a Vermont licensed CPA. "It's very important for me to do something 100 percent, and I wanted to be sure I had the time," said Sullivan.
Once elected, the legislator developed an appreciation for the unique culture within Vermont's government.
"What I have found is a true commitment from everyone up there, even across the aisle. They really believe that they are going to help the people of Vermont," said Sullivan. "No matter how they go about it, that's their driving force. To me, that's very important."
Among this year's successes, Sullivan cites the ethics bill that passed through the legislature in May.
"Transparency in government is very important to me, and being connected to my constituents is very important," said Sullivan. "The ethics bill was a brave step for Vermont, being one of the few states that didn't have one." The bill, which passed 120 to 24, paves the way for a 2018 commission to review ethical complaints and create a state code of ethics. Vermont, unlike many other states, lacks any government office devoted to ethics and in 2015 was given an "F" rating from the Center for Public Integrity on executive, legislative, and judicial accountability.
For Sullivan, transparency and accountability are two driving forces behind her role in Montpelier.
"For me, being approachable is what makes a good legislator," said Sullivan. "If you feel you can't approach me, and I'm not out there and participating in your community, that's a problem."
The legislator has embodied these values personally, frequently sharing her location on social media and inviting constituents to communicate with her.
"I want you to speak to me. When I'm up in Montpelier I'm distanced, and it's easy to lose connection with your constituents," said Sullivan. "I don't want that to happen. I really don't want to be drawn into top-down style issues only."
While these informal meetings are unusual for politicians and constituents alike, the practice has become more normalized over the past year according to Sullivan. "At first I think it was strange and people were not used to it, but now they're welcoming it; people are showing up more," said Sullivan, who worked to schedule meetings evenly across the five towns she represents. "I actually take two full weekends of my month back here, and I am there meeting with my constituents. I try my best to address their issues and so far we've had success."
That dedication to serving others is rooted in Sullivan's varied community work through both business and philanthropy. Perhaps one of the earliest iterations of this drive came when Sullivan was in college, and became aware of the pervasive issue of human trafficking.
While still in school, Sullivan co-founded the nonprofit organization Building Empowerment by Stopping Trafficking (B.E.S.T.) which has since assisted over 3,000 victims of human trafficking across 24 states and over eight countries.
"The organization that I co-founded was designed specifically to provide pro-bono attorneys to victims of human trafficking and certified life coaches to act as expert witnesses for them so that they would not be re-traumatized through the court system," said Sullivan. "I wanted them to be represented so that they would not be speaking inappropriately without having proper representation, and being further trafficked and bullied through the legal system."
Though Vermont is largely rural with a sparse population, human trafficking remains a concern.
"It happens here [in the U.S.], it's not only across the borders. We have victims here in Vermont," said Sullivan. "I'd like to see some policy written where we can get not just awareness, but action."
Alongside her work with B.E.S.T., Sullivan's role in the legislature provides a new way for the representative to serve her community.
"I've always been involved in advocacy and trying to be a champion for those who needed a voice," said Sullivan. "I thought this was ideal."
Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.
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