By Luke Baynes
Three Willistonians are among the 17 Chittenden District residents who have declared their candidacy for Vermont Senate.
Joining incumbent Democrat Ginny Lyons in the Chittenden District race are Williston residents Debbie Ingram, a Democrat, and Shelley Palmer, who filed two petitions: one as a Republican and another as a Tea Party Independent.
The Chittenden District, which is apportioned six senators, includes all of Chittenden County except Colchester, which is in the Grand Isle District.
Lyons, chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, is seeking her seventh consecutive term in office.
Palmer came up short in a 2010 Senate bid, following two unsuccessful runs for the Vermont House of Representatives.
Ingram, who defeated Palmer in the 2011 Williston Selectboard race, is making her first bid for state office.
The Observer recently spoke separately to the three Williston candidates for state Senate about their backgrounds, qualifications and visions for the future of Chittenden County and the state of Vermont.
DEBBIE INGRAM (DEMOCRAT)
Ingram, a Georgia native, has lived in Vermont since 2002. A partner in a local film production company, Ingram also serves as executive director of the Burlington-based Vermont Interfaith Action, a community organizing project.
“I think I have a unique mix of having worked in Burlington for the past five years as a community organizer, working on issues that have come up from the grassroots with the ordinary citizens that I work with,” said Ingram. “I feel like I know the Burlington issues really well, and also having been on first the Planning Commission in Williston for five years and now the Selectboard … I feel like I also know the issues that face people in the rest of the county.”
Ingram said one of the major reasons she decided to run for senator is to work on bringing health care reform to fruition.
“I’m completely supportive of the governor’s plans and really excited about the Green Mountain Care program and the whole idea of universal care paid for through a single channel,” she said. “I think that really is the best way to try to reform our obviously broken health care system, and I think that Vermont can really lead the way for our whole country and demonstrate how well that kind of system can work.”
Ingram said that if she is elected she will also focus on improving affordable housing options, which will have the likely effect of reducing commuter traffic.
“Continuing to work with our Land Trust and with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board is a way that the state can provide the funding that’s necessary for increasing the supply of affordable housing,” said Ingram. “We focused for a long time at trying to keep people’s housing costs at 30 percent or less of their income, but there’s also a measure of trying to keep your transportation and housing together below 30 percent of your income, because sometimes people have to move farther outside the communities in which they work in order to find more affordable housing—but then their transportation costs rise.”
GINNY LYONS (DEMOCRAT)
Lyons was born in the Finger Lakes region of New York and has lived in Vermont for more than 40 years. A longtime biology professor at Trinity College, Lyons also served on the Williston Selectboard from 1990-2000.
Looking back on her past term, Lyons said she’s most proud of her work in developing sustainable energy sources for the state.
“I think the biggest accomplishment that I’ve had over the past couple of sessions is moving us forward on a comprehensive energy plan and really getting the dialogue going at the local level as well as at the state level,” said Lyons.
While Lyons said Vermont needs to reduce its carbon footprint and overreliance on fossil fuels, she also argued that the state should temper its ridgeline development for wind power.
“My position is that we need to establish a set number of those large wind projects,” she said. “I frankly think we have enough in the state right now. I think that we ought to start looking at other options, and solar is not a bad option for our state.”
Lyons’ Senate campaign will also focus on health care reform. While she supports Gov. Shumlin’s plan for a single-payer health care system, she also sees room for compromise.
“The most important part of (the proposed single-payer system) is when small businesses start looking at the exchange and purchasing those policies, or their employees purchase those policies separately, that will bring back a huge tax credit benefit to those companies and those individuals,” said Lyons. “But I am not convinced that when this is all said and done that this will be what we would call a single-payer system. I think that there will be significant choices within the system, and I think that there will still be a place for private, corporate companies to be competitive in the new health care environment.”
SHELLEY PALMER (REPUBLICAN & TEA PARTY INDEPENDENT)
Palmer, whose last Senate run cost just $350, said his campaign is centered on the fact that he is a normal guy who understands the needs of the average Vermonter.
“My campaign isn’t based on money. I work for Engineers Construction. I earn a little less than what would be considered the livable wage in Vermont,” Palmer said. “I’m an average guy. I’m a guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time.”
Palmer said that if he is elected he will seek to curb the expansion of state government spending.
“My biggest thing is finances in Vermont. I think the state is going in the wrong direction. It’s the expansion of government, the nationalization of the health care system, onerous rules and regulations—and it’s getting bigger,” he said. “The biggest concern is the ever-expanding state government, which makes the private sector shrink. And what Vermonters are really concerned about is they would like to earn a better living.”
Palmer disagrees with Lyons and Ingram about the viability of a single-payer health care system.
“Look at the (U.S.) Supreme Court case coming up in June,” Palmer said. “If they throw out the Obamacare bill in its entirety, Vermont’s going to wind up with a $500 million bill that Medicare and Medicaid are not going to reimburse. Then what are we going to do?”
He also has concerns about the increasing number of state energy subsidies.
“If you want to have solar panels, I’m all for it. But I’m not for someone else having me subsidize their solar panels,” said Palmer. “It’s not sustainable. Everyone talks about sustainability, but if we go in the direction we’re going, economically we’re going to have a much harder time and it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Palmer said that while he usually disagrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., he respects the fact that Sanders means what he says and sticks to his convictions. He said he would bring the same kind of straight talking approach to the state Senate.
“I’m not a politician,” Palmer said. “I’m going to tell you what I think. You may agree with it, or you may disagree with it, but you know exactly what you’re getting.”