There might be plenty of people who immediately think one thing when they hear about the local logger running for the Legislature. But no, not that one.
Jed Lipsky, a Stowe logger, is running as an independent to replace Republican Heidi Scheuermann, who decided to step down after 16 years in the House.
Without any declared Republicans in the race, unless another independent emerges, the race to replace Scheuermann is between Lipsky and Democrat Scott Weathers, who declared his candidacy a month ago.
Lipsky sat down with the Stowe Reporter last Thursday afternoon, after getting out of the woods and changing his shirt.
Life in the woods
Lipsky moved to Stowe in 2000, but has been coming here since the early 1950s, pretty much every winter since he was 4 years old until his early teens, spending six weeks at a time.
“They were the happiest years of my childhood, and I had a very happy childhood,” he said.
Before Lipsky moved to Stowe and built a house, he’d lived most of his life in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. Much of that existence was like his current one — a lot of time in the woods, wrangling cut trees.
Now, Lipsky has been an independent logger for 59 years — “although I did a few other things,” he said.
One of those other things was finding himself the zoning administrator for the town of Winhall, where he moved for a few years when he was 21 — technically the town’s village, known as Bondville.
Lipsky said it was at that time, in the late 1960s, that the state of Vermont passed what was then known as the Interim Planning and Development Act. He knew a bit about land use, as a nascent logger with more than half a century of experience ahead of him, so the town appointed him to help it navigate this new law, which he said opened opportunities for rural communities to create zoning ordinances.
“Why this is relevant to politics is during that first year, the Legislature passed a revolutionary, or radical, environmental law called Act 250,” he said. “I kind of had a baptism by fire, being a little woodchuck and not knowing much, and getting up to speed, working with legislators.”
Ideals or ideas?
Lipsky doesn’t articulate solutions to “fix” Act 250, as many Vermonters want to do to the 50-year-old law, but he knows it gets in the way of solving the state’s housing crisis, which is one of his biggest priorities when it comes to lawmaking. Namely, he said, it just takes too long to get a land use permit.
“One of the most pressing problems in our state and in our communities is the need for workforce housing, affordable housing, housing, period,” he said. “Act 250 is supposed to efficient, but the reality is, it isn’t. It’s go time for us to deal with all the social problems that revolve around housing.”
Aside from things like safety and security, he said — like many have intoned in recent years — a paucity of housing is hurting the state’s demographics, where the population is either getting older or getting richer, squeezing out the young working class.
He'd like to see lending institutions take more risks on young people without as much collateral as people who are gobbling up houses because they can afford to pay cash and pay two, three or more times what the house is worth, especially in Stowe.
“Homeownership creates a lifetime of security because it appreciates and you build equity,” he said. “The opposite is a lifetime of tenancy where you build no equity, but your costs increase.” He pauses a beat and adds, almost as an afterthought, as if he’s thinking how much it’s going to cost him to fill up his log truck tomorrow, “As does fuel oil.”
On education, Lipsky said while he agrees “in spirit” with Act 60 and subsequent school funding laws, he worries about a loss of local control, first by losing spending power by sending disproportionate amounts of tax money to the state education fund, then by the state-forced merger with Morristown and Elmore that seems unbreakable, even though a large percentage of Stoweites voted last year to leave the merged school district.
He worries this lack of control means parents aren’t sending their kids to local schools.
“When I was raising my kids here, very few people thought about sending their kids away,” he said. “But I would say that's not the case today. I hear a lot of young parents telling me their kids are going elsewhere, either private schools or day schools.”
Perhaps obviously, Lipsky is keen on environmental stewardship, referring to himself as a “renewable natural resource manager.”
“But in this case, I'm not managing from behind the desk. I'm out on the side of a mountain harvesting timber, problem solving, from pre-dawn until way into the dark,” he said. “Every second a logger is in the woods is trying to figure out how to extract timber from the side of a mountain in a way that's environmentally responsible, that increases forest productivity and sustainability.”
He said he doesn’t have a college degree, but he’s got plenty of credentials from his experience, including his proudest, being officially recognized as a certified master logger last year.
Even though running as an independent deprives him of an official affiliation with either major party, Lipksy thinks he will draw support equally from Republicans and Democrats, even though his opponent was until recently the head of the county Democratic committee.
He said he knows there are Democrats in town who may have been automatically inclined to support Weathers when Weathers got his name out there a month ago who will see Lipsky’s name in the mix and reconsider.
He cites his commitment to the community, whether it’s his six years on the school board, or his time with the Stowe Land Trust, or as a founding member of Friends of Jackson Arena — being a septuagenarian hasn’t stopped Lipsky from lacing up from regular hockey skates any more than age has kept him out of the woods.
Lipsky said he knows he also has current Rep. Scheuermann in his corner, and the admiration is mutual. He touted her work on tourism in the state and disapproved of with the “broad brush” that people left of Trump were painting her and all Republicans with.
“I would hope to be more than a meager shadow of Heidi, but that’s hard to compete with,” he said. “Heidi is probably the hardest working, most dedicated to all the citizenry in our community.”
While Lipksy doesn’t come to his interview armed with policy points or specifics on legislation he wants to tackle, he comes instead with his heart bared. He tears up during the interview, his voice catching, as he talks about how much the town has given to his family.
His oldest son, Lincoln, is a career Army officer, and has been overseas more during the past 18 years than he’s been home. At one point, Lincoln was serving as a Green Beret in the Sunni Triangle during the hardest years of the War on Terror.
It was easy to assume that Stowe people just cared about how much it snowed that day on Mansfield, or where the burger and beer special was, he said. But when Lincoln came home, he said it was like the whole town was there to greet him.
“There was a lot of community support and that meant a lot to me and my family,” he said. “The town stood up for my family.”