Duffy seeks first-ever elected office
Oct. 23, 2008
By Greg Elias
Brennan Duffy has seen firsthand the challenges facing Vermont’s economy. Now he hopes to use that experience in the state Legislature.
Duffy, who is director of recruitment for the Vermont Department of Economic Development, is one of four candidates seeking the two seats representing Williston in the Vermont House. The other candidates are Republican Shelley Palmer and Democrats Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough.
It is Duffy’s first run for elected office. He said he was motivated by the problems he sees in his job of attracting employers to Vermont.
A self-described moderate Republican, Duffy’s views echo those of Gov. Jim Douglas. He wants to create a more welcoming business climate, supports stricter penalties for sex offenders and believes the state government should consider cuts to deal with the economic downturn and budget shortfalls.
“In these tough economic times that we are facing right now, I think we really do need to tighten our belts across the board and prioritize projects and programs that are of key importance,” he said.
But Duffy then softened that stance, adding the cuts should be carefully targeted so programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable residents or those that produce revenue are spared.
Duffy, 36, was born in Bethesda, Md. but moved to Vermont when he was just 1. He grew up in Hinesburg and attended Champlain Valley Union High School.
He majored in political science at the University of Vermont and later received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island.
Duffy lived in California for several years, working as an insurance salesman and in other jobs. After moving back to Vermont, he and his father, Leonard, founded a company called Over the Edge Products LLC. The company’s flagship product is a cookbook holder that hooks over the edge of kitchen cabinets.
Duffy and his wife, Brooke, have a 2-year-old daughter. They have lived in Williston since 2002.
Given his background, Duffy not surprisingly sees economic development as the key issue facing Vermont. He said the first thing the Legislature should do next session is address the economy.
“I really think growing Vermont’s economy right now is the most important to the state, both short and long term,” he said. “Trying to create better jobs in the state, trying to keep our employers here in the state and trying to make Vermont more business friendly so that we can attract new companies and so we can help our companies grow.”
On the much-debated topic of penalties for sex offenders, Duffy supports the mandatory minimum sentences proposed by Douglas and other Republicans.
“I don’t know if 25 years is the magic number or not,” he said. “But I certainly support a very stiff mandatory sentence. Especially if there was a repeat offender situation.”
On problems with the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Duffy said the facility should continue to operate as long as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deems it safe. If so, he said the plant should not be decommissioned in 2012.
“Our employers like IBM rely on that energy, so we need to do everything we can to keep a source of clean, reliable energy in the state,” he said.
Duffy thinks limits on school spending are needed, although he is unsure on specifics.
“I think we really need to take a hard look at the education system as a whole in the state of Vermont,” he said. “With enrollment declining, there has to at least be a hard look at containing costs.”
Duffy said one way to reduce education expenses is to consolidate school districts, but acknowledged that proposal may be unpopular. He also suggested teacher contracts are too generous given the sagging economy.
“I have utmost respect for teachers, but I think at some point they have to be, like the rest of us as private citizens, dependent on the economic climate we are in,” he said.
Duffy said he is a “fan of limited government” and so wishes the state would return some control over budgets to local school boards. But on the other hand he likes the new, state-mandated two-vote rule that requires separate votes for school budgets that increase more than a preset amount.
On transportation, Duffy wants the state to spend wisely and fix the roads and bridges in poorest shape.
“I would first prioritize the infrastructure needs we have,” he said. “What are the most pressing? If we have bridges that are falling into rivers that would probably be important.”
Duffy is unsure if issuing long-term bonds is the solution to the overwhelming number of overdue road and bridge repairs.
“I do think by perhaps being a little more frugal there is a way to get by with the money we have now,” he said, adding that spending a little on ongoing maintenance now could produce big savings in the future.
Duffy said his education and employment background give him insight into economic issues often lacking in what he calls an “out of touch” Legislature.
“I am positive we can do better here in Vermont,” he said. “I’m going to be the voice for the Williston worker. I understand the issue of economic development and I want to continue to grow the state’s economy.”