MANCHESTER >> A Manchester resident has thrown his hat into the political ring in hopes of representing voters in the Bennington-4 district following the general election in November. The district includes the towns of Manchester, Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate,
Brian Keefe, 58, a resident of Manchester, announced Wednesday that he will be a candidate for one of the two seats in the district and on the ballot in the primary election scheduled for Aug. 9. The two incumbent officeholders are Cynthia Browning and Steven Berry, both Democrats. Keefe is running as a Republican.
"My focus will be on improving the economy of Vermont and keeping spending in line with the growth of the state revenues," Keefe said in a press statement. "We can't keep increasing spending beyond our means and raising taxes to make up the difference, which has been the pattern for the past several years."
Keefe underscored his interest in keeping the state's overall budget growth more in line with the growth in state revenues in a phone interview Wednesday.
"As a state government, we've gotten used to, it seems, spending more money than we take in and that's unsustainable," he said. "It ends up hurting the programs we all value, including the important safety net programs."
Some of the proposals that surfaced recently in Montpelier, such as one for a tax on carbon-based products like gasoline, propane, and heating oil, and Governor Shumlin's call for divesting the state's investment portfolio away from fossil fuel-related holdings were "distractions" from the bread-and-butter economic issues, Keefe said.
"The focus is on the wrong things," Keefe said. "We have to get our house in order first, and then we can have some of these other discussions."
Keefe brings an extensive background in government to his candidacy, his first try for elected public office. From 1988 to 1991, he served as a legislative assistant to former Vermont Senator James Jeffords in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Leslie Keefe, moved to Manchester in 1991 and with the exception of a gap of three years when he worked as a consultant, he was a member of Jeffords' Rutland staff until 2006, serving as legislative liaison between the Vermont and Washington offices maintained by Jeffords.
He followed that with six years as the vice president for government and public affairs with the Central Vermont Public Service Corp., before it merged with Green Mountain Power to form the state's largest electric utility in 2012. In his role at CVPS, he was a frequent visitor to the statehouse when legislation on energy issues or other matters concerning the former Rutland-based utility arose.
Keefe also served on the Manchester Planning Commission for a total of 11 years from the 1990s and early 2000s, and included a turn as the commission's chairman. He also was a chairman of the Manchester 2020 initiative, held in 2013, which attempted to explore coming issues of importance to the community and to plan for them.
This experience and relationships with other lawmakers and state officials would be of great value to the district if his candidacy is successful, said Rep. Patti Komline, (R-Dorset, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Peru and Landgrove), calling him "grounded in reality."
"He has real-life family experience and understands the value of school choice," Komline said, referring to a program where towns who don't operate their own school can tuition students to other districts. "His background in responsible energy programs make him a great candidate."
Komline herself recently announced she will not be running for re-election from her neighboring district, after serving for 12 years in the statehouse.
With a lot of turnover occurring this year in both the legislative and executive branches — the positions of Governor, Lt. Governor, Hose speaker and President pro tempore of the state Senate all slated to change hands by next January, this seemed like a good time to make a try for the two-member House district, Keefe said.
Keefe is a Vermont native and 25-year resident of Manchester Center. He and his wife, Leslie, have a son in college, as well as a daughter in high school.