Durfee seeks Shaftsbury House seat, faces primary challenge
Durfee, who serves on the Shaftsbury and Mount Anthony Union school boards, and Shaftsbury Select Board Chairman Tim Scoggins are competing in the Aug. 14 Democratic Primary. No Republicans or independent candidates have entered the race.
"In general why I am running," Durfee said, "is that I've got a strong interest in public service, and I feel there is a role for government, a role that government can play in improving people's lives."
He added, "There is an expression that gets tossed around that this area is the Forgotten Kingdom, as opposed to the Northeast Kingdom. We are two and a half hours away from Montpelier and obviously don't have the same population and don't have the same legislative impact. I think that calls for somebody who has a strong grasp of policies and initiatives and can be a strong advocate for the region."
To effectively represent the southwestern region — also sometimes referred to in the state capital as the Banana Belt, Durfee said "that partly requires good people skills, communication, listening — an ability to understand what other people are looking for."
In addition to his experience serving on school boards, Durfee has been general manager of the Wild Oats market and co-op in Williamstown, Mass., for the past six years.
He previously worked in a series of positions in medium-size family owned businesses, "primarily in a marketing analyst capacity," he said.
Durfee, 56, who grew up in New Lebanon N.Y., received a bachelor's degree from Williams College and later a master of business administration degree from Cornell University. He moved to Shaftsbury in 2000.
He said he began serving on local school boards in 2012, adding, "I ran the year after a strike closed school several weeks, and that is what spurred my original involvement."
Durfee has served on both the MAU district and Shaftsbury boards, and at times as a representative from one of those boards to the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board.
He has served in leadership posts with each board and on various board committees, including work on teams negotiating with all three bargaining units — teachers, support staff and administration employees.
"As an employer," he said, "I would bring the experience that comes with running a business, having to meet a payroll, make sure vendors are paid on time, stay solvent, and still provide service and products that customers are looking for and meet the mission that the owners have."
Concerning issues before the Legislature, Durfee said, "I think everybody wants to have good education, and I think that is under attack right now I think the governor's insistence on vetoing the current budget really undermines the local control piece that [districts] have with the state."
He added, "The environment, for me personally, is a big issue. Obviously, clean water is key to those of us who live in this part of the state, clean air; but also policies that recognize climate change as real."
Durfee said he supports solar and wind generating projects but understands that they have to be located in "sites that are environmentally appropriate and will work."
He would oppose wind facilities that produce noise that impacts neighbors and says, "solar that take potential agricultural lands out of production I think is not the way to go."
Durfee said he believes Bennington "has done an excellent job of working within the new guidelines in determining where you would like to have solar," referring to the recently adopted Bennington Energy Plan, one of the first municipal energy plans in the state.
Speaking of his younger days, the candidate said his first summer job was at Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y.
"And both my parents were teachers (math and science), so education was important, and facts mattered," he said.
After Durfee completed business school, he worked for Rodale Inc., which helped launch the organic movement in the U.S. He was employed in Pennsylvania in Rodale's magazine division.
"When our kids were still young, we decided to freelance and move back to this area," he said. "We could have lived anywhere but chose Shaftsbury — and even after later finding work that required a commute, decided we wanted to stay here to raise our family."
"I'm a recreational runner and part of Batten Kill Valley Runners, which organizes road races to raise money for non-profits in the community," Durfee continued. "I've personally directed several races, and organized the inaugural Shires of Vermont Marathon in 2011 to mark the 250th anniversary of the settlement of Bennington and the chartering of Shaftsbury, Sunderland, Arlington and Manchester, and which raised money for United Counseling Services."
He said he's also been a youth soccer coach, organized the JISP skating program at Shaftsbury Elementary School, and served on the ancient Roads and town budget committees.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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