MANCHESTER >> Matt Dunne, at 46, is the youngest of the four major party candidates who have announced their interest in seeking their political party's nomination for governor. But being the youngest person in the room isn't anything new for him; when he was 22, he was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives from his home district of Hartland and West Windsor. In 1998, when he was 28, he was selected as the House Democratic Party's whip, becoming the youngest majority whip in the nation at that time.
He served four terms, then went on to direct AmericCorpsVISTA, a federal antipoverty program. After returning to Vermont, he ran for the state Senate from Windsor County in 2002, and won re-election in 2004, before running for and winning his party's nomination for Lt. Governor in 2006. In the general election, however, he was defeated by the incumbent officeholder, Brian Dubie. In 2010 he made his first bid for Governor, running in a crowded five-way Democratic primary, which was eventually won by Peter Shumlin. Now that Shumlin has announced he will not run for a fourth term and the governor's office is an open seat again, Dunne is back for a second try.
For the past eight years, he's also worked for Google, the Internet search engine giant, as their head of community affairs. Which was where, during a recent campaign swing through Manchester, a conversation started about his campaign and the issues he is stressing.
During his 2010 campaign for governor, he talked a great deal about high speed broadband and improving Vermont's telecommunications infrastructure — and still does — but the job at Google, based out of White River Junction, gave him an even deeper insight into that, along with a number of other issues related to economic growth and the collaboration between the state, federal and local governments needed to move things forward, he said.
"I couldn't have gotten a better graduate school program in seeing which cities did did that kind of partnership well, and which ones struggled, and why," he said. "It's that kind of first-hand experience that will aloow me to take a look at the state government enterprise and think about how we can do things differently."
Public service runs in his family — both his parents were politically active. His father helped found the Vermont Land Trust. His mother was the first woman to earn a tenured spot at Dartmouth University and was chairwoman of their English Department.
He was drawn back into the political arena because he believes the state is struggling, with poverty level risings and younger families leaving.
One remedy he has proposed is a $100 million energy efficiency bond, to upgrade the exisitng housing stock and build more of it, creating jobs for the builders and contractors, and creating the multi-family housing that is more economically viable for younger Vermonters.
To encourage those whose income is determined to a degree by investment income, the tax rate on capital gains from stocks, equities, bonds and other financial instruments could be adjusted so that the taxes on those gains from investments could be deferred if individuals invested them in an early stage startup company, he added.
When it comes to education and the burning issue of the moment, Act 46, Dunne is in favor of eliminating the controversial spending caps provision which was the subject of much legislative manuvering last week before the legislture settled on a compromise that tweaked the penalty threshold school districts would have to face to bring their education spending underneath it.
"It's pretty clear that the law (on the spending caps) is unfair if not unconstitutional and they need to repeal it," he said.
That said, he also agrees that a significant decline in the number of students attending public schools means the state shouldn't be spending the same amount of money as in earlier time. School districts and supervisory unions should be able to consolidate around one standard system when it comes to payroll and bookkeeeping. And true to his tech roots, he thinks expanding things like videoconferencing and distance learning should be explored.
On the issue of leglaizing marijuana, Dunne said he would sign such a bill if elected governor, but only with careful regulations in place around driving and giving law enforcement officers the tools they need to control it. Educating youngsters to the fact that just because it's legal it may not always be safe, especially when consumed by those whose brains and thinking skills are still developing.
"The question is whether Vermont wants to do it in a safe, Vermont way," he said. "Regulated, legalized marijuana can make it safer, (and) can reduce the number of young people for whom it can affect brain development for those actually using it."
On the broader healthcare insurance front, Dunne favors a payment system that rewards doctors and medical providers for prevention and wellness, rather than the "fee for service" model which provides an incentive to run more tests and perform more services, something akin to the "all-payer" model Gov. Shumlin recently endorsed in place of the "single payer" model which he backed away from last year when studies showed how expensive that could be. In an all-payer system, all those using hospital services or paying for it — the government, private insurers, individuals — pay the same rate for the same service. Under the "fee for service," hospitals can charge wildly different rates for the same services, depending on who is paying. Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements typically don't cover a hospital's full cost, so those deficits are made up by charging those with private insurance more, to cite one common example.
The full interview The Journal conducted with Matt Dunne can be found on GNAT-TV's website — gnat-tv.org. More information about Dunne's platform and positions may be found on his campaign's website; mattdunne.com