Palmer critiques business as usual
Oct. 16, 2008
By Greg Elias
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.”