SUNDERLAND — Republican state House candidate Joe Gervais, during the taping of a debate on Wednesday, said he was in attendance at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
During the debate between Gervais and incumbent state Reps. Kathleen James and Seth Bongartz, both Democrats, James asked Gervais if he was there. She said she’d been told by a constituent that Gervais, of Arlington, has said as much.
The three candidates are seeking election to the Bennington-4 district’s two seats.
James said Gervais had earlier told her that he believed Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and that it was stolen through a massive conspiracy. And she noted that Gervais’ Facebook page includes no entries between August 2020 and February 2021.
“You’re campaigning on honesty and transparency. And I want to know if you were in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, the day a violent mob attacked it,” James said.
“I’m not sure of the relevance of that question for a state office,” Gervais, who was sitting across the table from James, replied.
“I think voters will definitely want to know the answer to that question,” James replied. ”I know if you won [the election], I’d be your constituent, and I would definitely want to know if you were in Washington, D.C., with the people who [were] trying to overthrow the results of a free and fair election on January 6. It matters a great deal to me, and I promise you I’m not the only person that it matters to.”
“There were several million people in D.C. on January 6th. And there were many of us there to pray for this issue, not to overthrow and to storm the Capitol. I was in D.C.; I was not in the Capitol,” Gervais said. “I was not near the Capitol. I was on the other end of the [National] Mall.”
Gervais, a former high tech executive, has also worked as a missionary in the South Pacific and wrote a book about that work.
Asked by James if the presidential election should have been decertified, Gervais noted the recent arrest of Eugene Yu, an executive for a company that manages poll workers, on charges that he stole personal data; he claimed the Wisconsin Supreme Court had “recognized there was harvesting of ballots from nursing homes;” and he cited “numerous evidential data that the election was not free and fair.”
“All of which has been debunked,” James replied.
“No,” he answered back.
James went on to note that in Vermont, after the 2020 election, there were seven ballots challenged out of more than 350,000 — and that only one had been found to be fraudulent.
“You know, this is really scary,” Bongartz said. “When I saw January 6th happening, I was sick to my stomach. … We have always had a free and fair transfer of power after every election. And to see thugs in the Capitol breaking down the doors, threatening to hang people, trying to make it impossible to have a transfer of power after a free and fair election, is one of the most sickening things I’ve ever seen.”
A number of Republican candidates in Vermont attended the Jan. 6 rally or publicly expressed doubt that the election — the results of which were upheld in numerous lawsuits between the 2020 election and President Joe Biden’s inaugural — was contested fairly.
Earlier in the debate, moderated by GNAT news director Andrew McKeever, Bongartz and James outlined their work on behalf of the district in addressing needs for housing, child care access and affordability, crime and the environment. Gervais said his business and high-tech experience have made him adept at problem-solving, and he said he would promote legislation that “address the root causes of problems and not just the symptoms.”
On housing, Bongartz and James, who are running a joint campaign, pointed to a housing summit they held in Arlington last year, and how their findings from that work led to a massive housing bill that streamlined downtown-area housing development. James said the state has reflected national trends in not building adequate housing, and that $340 million pumped into housing programs throughout the state will result in 4,000 additional units.
“We have inventory in the state. Why isn’t it available?” Gervais asked. “Are we providing public assistance that’s chewing up inventory that would otherwise be available for working families?”
Saying $9 million was spent on emergency services in Bennington County, Gervais said he’d heard concerns from constituents “that we brought homeless [people] into communities without dealing with the root cause of their homelessness,” such as substance use and mental illness.
“If we’re not holistically working on the problems causing homelessness, providing the housing doesn’t change anything,” he said.
On climate change, James and Bongartz reiterated their support for the Clean Heat Standard bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott and fell one vote short of an override.
James said the economy is shifting to renewable energy, and that it’s important to provide a “glide path” to that transition rather than ride the wild swings of global oil prices that consumers can’t control.
“It was designed specifically to help low- and moderate-income homeowners have more choices, not mandates,” she said. “Fossil fuel prices are volatile, they’re expensive, and we need to help people transition away so that we can take advantage. It doesn’t benefit us to drag our heels. It benefits us to get on board so we can get on board and get those practical solutions in place.”
Bongartz said climate change is “an existential threat, and we need to be prepared in Vermont.”
“But we need to look at systematic solutions that work,” Gervais said.
He warned that “there seem to be significant gaps” in the plan for power generation and transmission that would meet increased demand.
“Yes, climate change is happening, but we need solutions that don’t leave us in the situation that California’s in,” he said, noting that state’s rolling blackouts. ”I don’t know about rolling blackouts in winter when we’ve created dependency on electric heat for residents.”