House candidates outline positions10/16/08

Palmer critiques business as usual

Oct. 16, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Shelley Palmer is running as a Republican, but critic of the status quo might be a better label.

Palmer seeks to represent Williston in the Vermont House. The four-candidate race in the two-seat district also includes Republican Brennan Duffy, Democrat Terry Macaig and three-term incumbent Democrat Jim McCullough.

The current race marks Palmer’s second try for a major elected office. He ran for the House in 2004 but finished behind McCullough and Mary Peterson.

Palmer, 51, is an equipment operator for AC Paving, a division of Williston-based Engineers Construction. With a limited background in government but a wealth of private-sector work experience, Palmer has positions on issues that don’t always toe the party line.

For example, he thinks a proposal supported by Republican leaders that would impose a mandatory minimum sentence on sex offenders is misguided because it would require the state to release other serious offenders due to a lack of prison space.

In a lengthy interview, Palmer expressed strong opinions on a wide range of subjects. He said his work experience gives him a perspective the other House candidates lack.

“I’m the only candidate who supports himself in private sector jobs,” he said. “One works for the town, one is a (state) representative and one works for the state.”

Given his previous work as a bail bondsman, Palmer is, not surprisingly, most passionate about law enforcement issues.

He said the current proposals for longer sentences for sex offenders ignore the reality of overcrowded prisons and the fact that most criminals don’t serve their entire sentences behind bars.

He said the Vermont Department of Corrections needs to be fixed before the state puts more people in jail. Otherwise, the state will release other serious offenders to make space for those convicted of sex crimes.

“The system we have now we don’t incarcerate the people we convict,” he said. “So ad hoc saying we are going to put a certain class of offender in jail for a longer period of time — it doesn’t get done now. So why would I be in favor of saying I want to tap a law that doesn’t get enforced?”

Palmer said the state could save tens of millions of dollars by requiring inmates to work and mandating that they pay some of the costs of incarceration.

On the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, Palmer said he favors delaying a proposed decommissioning in 2012 if both state and federal regulators agree it will remain safe.

“I’m not going to say keep it open because the feds say keep it open,” he said. “I’m going to say keep it open if it is safe to continue to operate.”

Energy and the economy are the top two issues the Legislature should confront in the next session, Palmer said. He thinks permit reform and reduced government spending are the keys to bringing jobs to Vermont.

“Our economy and our energy (policy) in the state needs some serious fixing,” he said. “If we continue doing what we’re doing in Montpelier, talking about programs we cannot continue or afford, we’re not going to have a state government.”

On education, he said taxpayers cannot afford the escalating per-pupil spending seen in recent years. But he wants the state to first look at efficiencies and effectiveness before cutting education spending or any other program.

“The state government is an institution that is very resistant to change,” he said. “I don’t want to use an Obama platitude and say change, but anything would be better than what they are doing now.”

Palmer blames Vermont’s crumbling roads and bridges on poor transportation planning and the diversion of gasoline taxes for other uses. He said that diversion should immediately stop.

Palmer was born in Rochester, N.Y. But with a father who was a linguistics professor, his family moved frequently, living in Egypt, Somalia, Thailand and Canada. Palmer, who attended college in Quebec, has worked as a truck driver, a school bus driver, a law enforcement officer and a bail bondsman.

It was in the latter position that Palmer ran into legal trouble. In 1998, he was convicted of misdemeanor simple assault after he was charged with pointing a gun at a customer who showed up at his house at night, according to court documents.

Palmer was given a four-to-12 month sentence, which was suspended. He was required to perform community service and was put on probation, requirements he successfully completed.

Palmer pleaded not guilty to the charge and continued to maintain his innocence when asked about the incident in a 2004 story in the Observer. He said he had a gun in his hand but never pointed it at the man.

Palmer and his wife, Dianna, have three children. He has lived in Williston since 1995.

He said his limited background in politics would not stop him from being an effective legislator. Palmer pointed to the years he spent lobbying lawmakers on issues related to the bail bond business. And he said his other experience gives him first-hand knowledge of a range of issues facing the state.

“I’d be the only school bus driver working on school bus legislation,” Palmer said. “I’d be the only guy who has actually fixed bridges and roads talking about bridges and roads ….

“Experience comes in many different colors. I would not be a newcomer to Montpelier by any means.”


House candidates outline positions10/16/08

Macaig tries again for state office

Oct. 16, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

For Terry Macaig, it has been a long and sometimes halting climb up the political ladder.

Macaig had served as Williston’s health officer for a decade when he ran unsuccessfully for the Vermont House of Representatives in 2000. He narrowly lost a race for Williston Selectboard in 2001. He was finally elected to the board in 2002.

Now he’s again running for the House, one of four candidates vying for Williston’s two seats. A Democrat, Macaig squares off against three-term incumbent Jim McCullough, also a Democrat, and Republicans Shelley Palmer and Brennan Duffy.

Macaig detailed his views during a lengthy interview last week. He is leery of mandatory minimum penalties for sex offenders, favors borrowing money to catch up on road repairs and is willing to consider changes to the state’s education funding system.

Macaig, 70, seems an unlikely politician. He listens a lot and talks little during debates on the Williston Selectboard, which he chairs. It’s hard to imagine his voice rising above the din in a room full of garrulous politicians.

But he has a lengthy record of public service. He logged decades as an employee of the Vermont Health Department before retiring. He has been Williston’s representative on the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission since 2000.

On the emotional issue of punishment for sex offenses, Macaig is lukewarm on the mandatory minimum sentences proposed by Gov. Jim Douglas after the sexual assault and slaying of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett in Randolph earlier his year.

“The horror in Randolph probably wouldn’t have been solved by anything that’s on the books now or perhaps anything that is being contemplated,” Macaig said.

He wants to wait until the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently studying the issue, makes its recommendations before taking a definite position.

He acknowledged that some changes may be needed but he’s wary of mandatory minimum sentences because victims advocates say they reduce the chances of a plea bargain and hence convictions in many cases. He also wonders how the state will pay for an increase in the prison population if mandatory sentences are imposed.

Macaig said absent a plan to replace its output, he opposes the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee in 2012.

“If we don’t come up with a plan or the administration doesn’t come up with a plan to replace the energy, I don’t see how it can be closed by 2012,” he said.

A recent poll showed a majority of Vermonters favored closing Vermont Yankee, Macaig noted. But when the question was conditioned on a big increase in energy costs, support for the closure evaporated.

Macaig readily admits he does not know what can be done about a state economy that has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs in recent years. But he doesn’t think the Douglas administration has found the answer.

“Jim Douglas talks about how Jim equals jobs, and we’ve got 1,000 more jobs then we had six years ago. Yes we have them, but then ‘do you want fries with that?’ is the answer, low-paying jobs and no benefits.

“It would be great to say yes, we are going to bring in all sorts of wonderful jobs that are clean and green. That’s a long-term solution. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

On education funding, Macaig said there’s also no easy solution.

“I’ve lived in Williston 42 years, and there’s never been a system that anybody liked,” he said.

The Vermont Supreme Court mandated education funding be equalized from town to town, Macaig said, and there is no perfect way to accomplish that goal.

“Do we create a new system? Maybe. I don’t know what people want except lower taxes,” he said.

Macaig said he might support funding education through the state income tax — “It’s a more progressive way to deal with things certainly.”

The Douglas administration’s “Road to Affordability” initiative does not provide enough funding to catch up on a huge backlog of road and bridge repairs, Macaig said. He thinks the state should consider additional bond debt, which could be done without a downgrade in Vermont’s credit rating.

Macaig acknowledged that accomplishing anything substantial in the next session likely will be hindered by the state’s fiscal problems. Absent an uptick in the economy, he said lawmakers may be stuck with trying to simply maintain existing programs.

Macaig grew up in upstate New York and attended the University of Vermont. He is a widower with three grown children and three grandsons.

Macaig’s current term on the Selectboard expires in March. He is unsure if he will seek another term on the board if elected to the House.

In recent years, Macaig has worked as a part-time lobbyist and administrator with the Vermont State Employees Association. He promised to step away from his lobbying duties if elected.

The state is in the process of eliminating 400 jobs, and more cuts could be in the offing. Despite his position with the union, Macaig said as a legislator he would represent only the general public’s interests.

“If you look at the Legislature, everybody has some conflict of interest,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of trust that representatives have to develop with their constituents … You have to be able to trust me to represent you in the best manner that I can.”


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