By Luke Baynes
Just hours before President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney met onstage at the University of Denver on Oct. 3 for the first of three presidential debates, Williston candidates for the Vermont House of Representatives convened at Channel 17 studios in Burlington for a televised debate of their own.
Two Democrats, Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough, and two Republicans, Jay Michaud and Tom Nelson, are vying for Williston’s two seats in the House.
Fittingly, Macaig and McCullough sat on the left for the debate, with Michaud and Nelson positioned to the right of Channel 17 moderator Rob Reiber.
Reiber opened the debate by asking each candidate to briefly state why they are qualified for the job.
First up was Macaig, a two-term incumbent who has also served on the Williston Selectboard for the past 10 years. He cited his work on the Corrections and Institutions Committee of the House as an example of his past success.
“I’d like to continue to work on that committee if I’m re-appointed, to look at continuing the corrections re-investment policy that’s been instituted over the last six or eight years to lower the corrections budget and lower the rate of recidivism,” Macaig said.
McCullough, a five-term House veteran, pointed to his work on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.
“I (have been) in House leadership as vice chair of Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources now for the better part of two biennia, and we’re, I feel, a very, very important part of the natural resources environment for the state of Vermont for our animals and for our wildlife quality,” McCullough said.
Nelson, a retired Vermont State Police captain, said his background in public safety informs his desire to support the state’s working families.
“I am not a politician. I am new to this, and I’m very interested in supporting our town and supporting our state,” Nelson said. “I’d like to bring some common sense and some balance to Montpelier.”
Michaud, an independent service provider for FedEx who also owns a restaurant in Milton and serves on the Williston Selectboard, agreed with Nelson that the state legislature lacks balance.
“I’m running because I think we need to have a little more balance in Montpelier,” Michaud said. “I’m concerned about Vermont’s affordability and the direction that the state is going, so I’m asking the folks of Williston to give me the opportunity to represent them.”
While Reiber quizzed the candidates on a host of topics, the question that received the widest range of responses was the simplest: “What are you hearing from (community members) as far as the issues that are of concern?”
McCullough went first, noting that the issue that has come up most on the campaign trail is the controversy over the Vermont Air National Guard’s potential hosting of the Air Force’s next generation of F-35 fighter jets. Opponents are concerned that local quality of life will be adversely impacted by noise from the jets. McCullough said he’s in favor of bringing the F-35s to Vermont.
“I believe that we should be embracing (the F-35s) as an economic and important military aspect of not just our lives in Chittenden County, but for the nation,” McCullough said.
Nelson observed that the financial impact of health care reform is a hot-button topic among community members.
“A big issue that I’m hearing when I’m out on the street is affordability,” Nelson said. “We’re starting to embark on health care reform, which is a good thing, but we’re starting to embark on taking over the entire system without a plan that’s going to spell out how much it’s going to cost us.”
Michaud elaborated on Nelson’s statement about affordability, adding concerns about the burden of personal and business taxes to the equation.
“Everything is on the line right now because of affordability,” Michaud said.
Macaig singled out the cost of public education as a topic of concern for constituents.
“I remember voting at least three times in the last year at the State House to use some of the surplus that may occur at the end of each of the fiscal years … for the Education Fund, which would lower the tax rate,” Macaig said.
The full debate between the Williston candidates for the Vermont House can be viewed at CCTV.org. Channel 17 will re-air the broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 9:55 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 22 at 2:55 a.m., 8:55 a.m. and 2:55 p.m.