Manchester woman challenges for House seat

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MANCHESTER — Local business owner

Jamie Dufour thinks she has a unique perspective that would serve voters well in the House of Representatives.

Dufour has launched her bid for election to the House Bennington-4 District saying that her first-hand knowledge of the business environment in Vermont is exactly what voters need to help move the state in the right direction.

Dufour, 54, has owned Dufour Design and has operated Bath Tile & Carpet in Manchester for 15 years at the corner of Depot Street and Richville Road.

"The experience of being a small

business owner is beneficial in being a candidate," Dufour said.

In addition to running her business, she was active with the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce and

"I've done a lot with the chamber of commerce, and when the chamber fell apart, I tried to get it back together," Dufour said.

She is active in philanthropic efforts supporting entities in town she supports and people in need.

"I've never looked for fanfare," Dufour said. "My heart simply goes out to people in need and I want to offer a hand where I can."

Running a business

Dufour moved to Manchester 15 years ago.

"I came to Vermont to get away from it all," Dufour said. "I wanted to get away from the rat race."

She said she came to the area with an idea and willingness to work hard to make it happen.

She started her business with the bath and tile showroom, but soon found that her customers couldn't find skilled people to install her new kitchens or bathrooms.

"There wasn't anybody to do the installations," Dufour said. "So I started going out there and doing it. I hired a couple of people and went for it."

But times are changing for businesses these days. Dufour has worked out of her home for her kitchen and bath design business.

She recently closed the showroom on Depot Street and plans to relaunch it in a large barn at her home on the east side of Manchester.

"We're competing with the fact that more things are done online," Dufour said. "We'll be more competitive price-wise," she said. "I'll be losing face presence in town, but now I'll have everything in one location. It will be a lot easier."

This experience has taught her a lot about what businesses owners are

facing.

The Issues

Dufour said business owners in the Manchester and Arlington areas are struggling to find employees, which is part of what led her to decide to close her showroom.

"We don't have enough people for our service positions," she said. "Almost every restaurant is looking for people to work. I struggle to find people to work for me all the time."

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Another part of the equation, which she said is related, is the affordability problem.

"Most of the people that are working in the industries that we need, like restaurants, building construction, they can't afford to be here," Dufour said. "So affordability would be key."

Central to the affordability problem is lack of affordable housing.

"That's a huge problem," she said. "People can't afford to live here because we don't have places they can afford. And it's going to get worse."

She said a recent study conducted by the Manchester's Business Association said workers in the Manchester area are coming from as much as 40 minutes away.

"We need to solve that problem," Dufour said. "It comes down to affordability."

She said the prediction is that the current pandemic will bring more people from big cities to Vermont.

"More homes are being bought up by people from downstate," she said. "It's going to get more expensive. I'm going to focus on that."

She said she intends to learn more about the education funding system to better understand the issues, but knows that it's key to attracting and retaining families.

Politics

Dufour is vying for one of the two seats currently held by Kathleen James and Cynthia Browning. Seth Bongartz has also announced his candidacy.

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Dufour said the idea of running for office wasn't hers.

"I was encouraged by others who are already holding office," Dufour said. "They recognized something in me that I had a voice and I would be a good fit."

Dufour is running as a Democrat, along with James and Bongartz. Browning is running for reelection as an independent.

She said she is definitely a Democrat and always has been, but her positions are probably more toward the middle and she believes that will attract voters who recognize Vermont's traditional conservative roots.

"I was brought up conservative," Dufour said. "But, I could not possibly have wanted to run as a Republican. That totally is not the climate I want to be associated with. I think the Republican Party's been greatly damaged."

She said she sees herself in the lines of a conservative Democrat — conservative fiscally but socially liberal.

What she wants to do is bring people together and remove some of the harsh politics that divides people.

"One of the things that's wrong in the world, is we need to unify people," Dufour said. "What I'm seeing in party politics is most are not getting along."

Getting Here

Dufour has worked for everything she's achieved over the years, she said. She started life in an orphanage in Montreal and was adopted and then ended up in foster care.

She graduated from high school early and put herself through college where she earned two bachelor's degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering from Temple University.

Coming out of college, she realized she was just a kid still, so she joined the military.

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"I was awful young," she said. "I needed to do something to grow up."

She lived in Europe for about 20 years including 16 in the Netherlands, before moving back to the states and Vermont.

About 14 years ago, Dufour said she found her birth mother and lost her six months later.

Her birth mother was 60 years old and dying of multiple sclerosis.

She also found she had a half brother.

Dufour made regular trips to Montreal to see her mother and spent as much time with her as possible.

"I was sitting on a chairlift at Bromley when she called me up and said, 'I just wanted to tell you I loved you,'" Dufour said. "A week later she passed away."

At the funeral, she met nine aunts and uncles she had never known.

"Now I have something I had always wanted, a family," Dufour said.

Today, Dufour is in a committed relationship.

Dufour's girlfriend splits time between Vermont and Massachusetts.

The Transition

The fact that Dufour is a transgender woman isn't much of a secret around Manchester and she doesn't expect it to be an issue in the campaign.

"I haven't tried to hide the fact because I think everybody in town knows me," Dufour said. "I transitioned over 10 years ago. This is not about me being trans. It won't be an issue."

Dufour said some will make a big deal about her being a transgender woman, but it won't be her.

VtDigger published a story about Dufour and two others being the first transgender women to run for the House of Representatives on the heels of former gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist's run for the state's top job.

Dufour said she think's Hallquists campaign will help.

"I think it's going to make it easier," Dufour said. "It will make it less of a battleground."

Dufour said Hallquist said there were people who voted for her and against because she was transgender.

"You have to kind of be open," Dufour said. "Let people know who you are."

Making her case

Dufour said she hopes people know she's not perfect and hasn't always had things easy.

"I'm a fighter," she said. "You can knock me down, but I'll get back up. It's important to me that people know I'm real. I've had some pitfalls in life. I can identify with a lot of people who are struggling right now. Manchester has been good to me. I want to do what's right to help the town prosper."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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