Four candidates running for two seats in the Vermont House of Representatives met for a debate over Zoom last Wednesday, where they discussed COVID-19, the opioid epidemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the upcoming presidential election.

The four each seek to represent the Lamoille-2 District.

Democratic incumbent Dan Noyes is seeking re-election, while Republicans Shayne Spence and Richard Bailey and Democrat Kate Donnally fight for one of the two open seats.

Noyes serves on the House human services and canvassing committees, and he promises to strengthen Vermont communities through service and provide protective care for elders.

A Vermont native, Spence is running as a “progressive Republican” and has worked for the conservative Ethan Allen Institute. He has a background in graphic design and video editing. He is also a certified recovery coach and is a recovered addict. Paramount to his campaign are calls for preservation of rural Vermont, criminal justice reform and tax cuts.

With a background in social work and therapy, Donnally seeks to provide accessible educational opportunities and to prioritize the needs of vulnerable community members. Additionally, she seeks to ensure universal access to high-speed internet, as well as affordable housing, childcare and healthcare. She believes what the state needs is strong leadership.

“More than opinionated leadership, what we need right now is really effective leadership and I believe I have that skill set,” Donnally told the debate audience.

Bailey, a Republican, said the Legislature needs more balance, and he will prioritize growing the economy.

Here’s how the candidates responded to some major questions.

How did the Legislature do handling COVID-19?

Donnally said lawmakers in Montpelier have done well overall, she says she would have directed more financial support to a subset of working families who lacked child-care.

Noyes said lawmakers did a good job managing federal funds, but wishes there had been more communication to the public regarding the actions of different committees.

“One of the things I would have done differently is get the word out about what we were doing and the processes,” said Noyes.

Spence said lawmakers did a commendable job in the face of a tremendous task, but worries that funding changes may muddy things in the future when federal funding stops.

Bailey believes there will be issues in the next budget year due to the end to federal funding, but says he would not have done anything differently. He said that this opinion will change should taxes increase.

What are your thoughts on voting by mail? Should this become an option for voters in future elections?

Noyes says he supports the idea and trusts the system.

While Spence supports the mail-in option, he believes voters should have to request mail ballots to inhibit voter fraud. He hopes for an online voting system eventually.

Like Spence, Bailey supports the online voting system but believes voters should request ballots.

Donnally has no objections and believes officials must do everything in their power to make sure people have access to the ballot box.

How important is the state college system to you and what is the state Legislature’s role in its future?

Bailey believes the Legislature must focus on maintaining small town colleges, without increasing taxes. He hopes to allocate some of UVM’s funding to other state colleges.

Donnally said the college system is important to the community as a conduit through which community members can engage. She believes that in periods of recession, state college systems take great hits, which she hopes to prevent while re-establishing trust. “We need people in our communities with skills,” she said.

The state college system is important, Noyes said, particularly NVU Johnson, which he believes brings young people and diversity. He foresees financial struggles and hopes to match the Americorps service award, which would bring in federal dollars to the state college system. He also believes they should apply for Northern Border grants.

Spence believes funding to UVM agricultural and medical programs should be redistributed to agricultural and medical institutions around the state. He also hopes to use the existing footprint more efficiently.

What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and how do you see your role in the race mattering in VT?

Donnally said both young and old Vermonters are victims of racism. She believes the state needs to acknowledge and address racial issues in a knowledgable way that works toward an anti-racist future, which she does not believe exits now.

Noyes said he supports the movement and believes local and state government have much work to do.

Spence said he supports criminal justice and police reform, both in Vermont and at the federal level. He does not support abolition or defunding of the police, and said “abolishing or defending the police is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.”

Bailey said he does not support the philosophy of Black Lives Matter and thinks a capitalist society offers opportunity for upward mobility.

There have been increased calls for reallocation of funds for law enforcement agencies in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Police departments are being asked to respond to social service called dealing with mental health addiction and homelessness.

All agencies or organizations that are best equipped to handle those things are underfunded. If there’s a limited amount of money to go around, how would it be allocated?

Spence said progress has been made in strengthening relationships between mental health officials and police officers. He believes mental health workers must be housed within the police force.

Bailey does not believe police budgets should be cut and that mental health funding should be folded into those budgets. “Putting these folks in with the police department could be a pretty good idea.”

Donnally said that while law enforcement plays an essential role in local communities, she doesn’t think they should be hired into the force if their roles are changing toward case-management like positions. That job would be better done by actual mental health professionals, she said.

There should be increased collaboration between law enforcement and the Yellow House, Noyes said, a residential community in Middlebury. He believes DAs are underfunded and that needs to change.

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