BENNINGTON — Just two weeks after holding a landmark leadership summit for public health and safety attended by Gov. Phil Scott, Bennington College will host U.S. Sen. Peter Welch in the very same building for a town hall-style meeting on April 4.
Welch, D-Vt., will be at the college’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action at 6 p.m. “to build consensus and trust among people with different political perspectives,” according to a statement from the college.
State Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, will moderate the event.
“Senator Welch is so great about taking people’s questions and hearing directly from Vermonters, so I’m really looking forward to moderating it and having some questions answered,” Campion said. “But really, I want to facilitate the questions of other people.”
Campion said this is a great opportunity for Bennington-area residents to have their voice heard by a federal legislator who appreciates some of the local challenges.
“This is a time of enormous political division and partisanship. But the best way to make progress is to focus on what we share, not what divides us,” Welch said in the statement. “I’m excited for this town hall to discuss how fighting for rural communities can help bring Americans together and safeguard our democracy for generations to come.”
As chair of the state’s Senate Education Committee, Campion spoke to a few of the issues he’d like to have the senator address in relation to area schools. Campion said the Committee on Education recently sent a letter to Welch and the rest of the federal delegation on that very issue.
“Our schools in this state need to be not only updated, but we do need new schools, and we need money for school construction,” Campion said, citing the public health concern of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as just one of the factors that should be a catalyst for funding schools.
“Senator Welch is great with being bipartisan, working across the aisle,” Campion later added. “One of the things I’m hoping he can talk with us about is working with his colleagues in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, to hopefully bring us some federal funds, so that we can bring our schools into the 21st century.”
Campion said he did not expect much conversation around the hot button school-choice issue, as it is not a federal matter — more in the hands of the Vermont Legislature.
Campion did say that the conversation might build upon the positive development of opening the Bennington Community Market to address a food desert, something Campion said Welch was instrumental in making a reality.
“That was a Welch earmark that really helped with that building of a food hub,” Campion said. “So what else can we continue to do to support our farmers and support our agriculture industry?”
Campion also mentioned the universal school meals bill that just passed in the Vermont House and is now on to the Senate. Not only is it a benefit to kids in need, but aids local agriculture by providing business and predictability of demand for Vermont farms.
The challenge of being a mostly rural state was also a theme Campion saw as likely to be discussed, not only in the domain of education, but also in terms of drug rehabilitation, mental health and medical care.
“All of this, frankly, is connected to the fact that we are a rural state, and we know more highly populated states with urban areas have more resources, they’re able to do more,” Campion said. “These (issues) are things that we have in common with not only New Hampshire and Maine, but I think the Dakotas and other rural states, where I think we have a real possibility in Senator Welch, given his bipartisan success in the past, to really get resources to rural states.”
“We are delighted to welcome Senator Welch to Bennington College for this important consensus-building conversation,” said Bennington College President Laura Walker in the statement. “We look forward to robust and constructive public discourse, which is at the core of a civil and vibrant democracy.”
All are welcome, and no registration is required. Directions and parking information are available on the Bennington College website, bennington.edu.