Three Democrats face off in House District 2-1 primary
BENNINGTON -- Three people are running as Democrats in the Bennington 2-1 primary next week: One an incumbent, the other a local school board member, and the third a nurse. Only two can get the party nomination. They are Rachael Fields, Jackie Kelly, and Timothy R. Corcoran II.
Fields, an LNA at the Vermont Veterans' Home and on the Board of Trustees for the Vermont State Employees Association. She was born in Arizona and came to Bennington when she was young, going through the local school system.
"I come from a family that struggled financially -- the working poor, basically," she said.
She has worked at the veterans home for nearly 10 years.
"I feel like I've spent my whole life around advocating for people who don't always have a voice, it's why I'm in the field I'm in, and why I want to run for public office," she said.
Health care will be one of the biggest issues the legislature takes up this session, and Fields supports a single-payer system. While details of the proposed single-payer system have not been released, Fields said she would favor a system in which people with lower incomes would pay less for health care.
She said her experience as a health care worker gives her some insight on how the current system works and what needs to change.
"I've got over a decade of experience being on the front line," she said. "I'm a strong advocate for people who are struggling. I'm not afraid to stand up against the grain for people whose needs are not being met."
Fields said more drug treatment options need to be looked at for this area, as there is a clear need. Offering those options will require collaboration.
"We can't cut back continually in mental health, it just turns around and becomes a more expensive problem in the long run," she said. "We shouldn't be spending millions of dollars incarcerating people when they could be successfully treated."
Fields said she is in favor of keeping control of the schools in local hands. "I really believe the local people know what's best for their children, and they should retain that control and have a say," she said.
According to Fields, the state should also provide more support for local businesses and work to draw in available federal money towards those ends.
Kelly sits on the boards of Bennington School District board and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center. She's a member of the Vermont Veterans' Home Board of Trustees, is chairwoman of the Bennington Arts Guild, and is involved with the Arts Development Council and the Bennington Recreation Center committee.
Originally from the Bronx, N.Y., she left home at 18, worked as a secretary, attended college for two years before going to work as a teacher in Chicago, where she finished her education. She taught in New Jersey for a number of years then went to work as a reading specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, teaching at the Navaho Indian Reservation in Arizona, 40 miles north of Winslow.
At the suggestion of a friend, she went to work for the Department of Defense, ultimately teaching a total of 33 years overseas -- 20 of those years in Europe and the rest in Okinawa, Japan. Kelly has a degree in technology and curriculum.
When she retired, Kelly came to Bennington because her relatives live nearby.
"The military kind of drives you to serve, it's kind of the social milieu; what board are you on? How are you helping the community? As a teacher in the military community, you want to match their values," she said.
Kelly was part of many groups and boards doing things like raising money for scholarships.
Local control of schools is an issue she is concerned about and plans to take with her to Montpelier.
"When they want to amalgamate the schools and usher them into 30 districts, I'm kind of like, whoa, hold on, how is that more efficient? Aren't there more efficient ways to run schools without leaving local control out of the picture?"
There are, according to Kelly's experience, and she would like to work with people to establish a consensus on how to proceed. Her background as an educator makes her suited to addressing school issues.
"It's all about the kids, it's what can we give them to make them better students," she said.
Kelly's experience teaching history has also given her skills with working together with others who may have opposing ideas.
"One of the thing you learn when teaching a class is it's not your voice only, you have to let your adult students come up with their voice, find some type of middle ground," she said.
Many people right now are saying what their opinions are, but what needs to happen is a solution needs to be agreed upon.
Kelly said the implementation of the Vermont Health Exchange did not go well, even if the problems will be fixed. She questions why Vermont feels the need to be in the lead when it comes to health care, and said it's not wise to debut large systems all at once, but rather to roll them out slowly so problems can be worked out before they affect everyone.
Whatever is done with health care, she said, has to be good for small business otherwise it's not good for the state. Kelly said she liked the idea of health care navigators, as many find the health exchange to not be very flexible.
TIMOTHY CORCORAN II
Corcoran was born and raised in Bennington, and graduated from Mount Anthony Union High School in 1992, then from Johnson State College in 1996 where he majored in political science.
He worked at Chemfab for two years, when it was bought by another company which shut it down after two years and moved to New Hampshire.
"At that time, I decided to run for the legislature," he said. Elected in 2003, he had no prior experience with politics, but his father, Bennington Town Clerk Tim Corcoran, has had a long political career and Corcoran II was familiar with the process.
Corcoran said the economy was the main reason he ran, and he sought to work on ways for Vermont to retain businesses through incentives and make it a more business friendly state.
Corcoran is now a Realtor at Hoisington Realty, a job that lets him go to Montpelier when the House is in session.
"Everybody gets assigned to a committee, and I've been lucky to serve on the transportation committee all my 12 years, so my world revolves around transportation issues," he said.
He said he would like to see Amtrak come to this side of the state and run a line from Burlington, to Rutland, to Bennington, then to Albany, N.Y.
"One of the things we were able to put in this year's budget, and I would want to make sure it continues, is bus service from Burlington down over to Albany," Corcoran said. "That was like pulling teeth, trying to figure out where they were going to go."
He said the bus leaves Bennington once a day and he hopes number of riders will grow and another run can be added.
Transportation is not typically political, Corcoran said, and he would work to make sure infrastructure is kept up.
Corcoran said he has been a proponent of the "Bennington Bypass" and said it's not to blame for the town's economic woes.
"We went through a major recession, it wasn't just Bennington, it was the whole country," he said. "People have to realize that, they can't point and say it was the bypass, I just don't buy into that. I think ultimately it was the right decision."
Funding for the final leg of the project to the south may be many years in coming, he said.
"Outside of that realm, it's going to be a big year," said Corcoran.
He said the notion of a single-payer health care system will come up, but how to fund it is the question.
"I would love to have a system where people have access to affordable health care, but the problem is that, is Vermont big enough to sustain the money needed to operate that?" he said.
Corcoran said the health exchange was a much smaller endeavor than a single payer system would be, and its problematic rollout was not a good sign.
"We're just talking about the market place where people can buy the health care package, it's going to be a lot more strenuous with single-payer," he said, noting that more details are needed.
"It's something I would like to support, but the devil is in the details. I'd need to see what it's going to cost and who's going to pay for it," he said. "People associate single-payer with free health care, but it's not free, somebody ends up paying for it, and is Vermont big enough to support that? I'm not quite sure."
As for drugs, Corcoran said the possibility of a treatment center needs to be looked at. If done wrong it could lead to problems, but the problems that exist now cannot be ignored.
Primary elections are on Aug. 26. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bennington Fire Facility on River Street.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.
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