Hat in the ring

To the Editor:

I am excited to formally announce that I will be a candidate for the Windham - Bennington-Windsor House seat this year, which includes the towns of Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Weston, and Winhall. I would like to take a moment to thank Rep. Tim Goodwin for his service to our district. Over these past few years in the House, Tim has put a tremendous amount of effort into solutions to address Vermont's opiate problem, preserving the availability of school choice, and protecting small school districts from unintended consequences of Vermont's complex education funding formula.

Following Tim's decision not to seek re-election this year, I have spoken with many of you about the prospect of running again. I am encouraged by the outpouring of support I have received from a number of Democrats and Republicans within our district, and endorsements from many legislators on both sides of the aisle. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing my thoughts on the big issues facing Vermont and some of the initiatives that I will be advancing.

But as I begin this campaign, I think it is important to set expectations about the balancing act that I need to manage, should I be elected to be your next representative in Montpelier.

Many people don't realize, but Vermont's citizen legislature is a part-time one - meeting four days a week (arguably really only three and a half days) from January through the first or second week of May each year. This creates something of a quandary. In theory, a part-time legislature should draw everyday Vermonters from all walks of life into legislative service - in contrast to "professional," full-time legislatures in larger states like California or New York. This worked reasonably well in the days of yesteryear, when we had more of an agrarian society. But as times have changed, the structure of our legislature has become a barrier that keeps many qualified people from seeking office. After all, apart from retirees or those living off a family allowance, how many people can afford (financially and professionally) to step away from full time employment four months a year? The answer, of course, is not many.

I am fortunate to have a career in the technology industry, which allows for a fair amount of flexibility with my work schedule and location (I work from home and run an organization that spans many time zones). That said, I still need to earn a living and manage a full time career, so there are inevitable conflicts between professional and legislative schedules. During my three years in office, this was a juggling act that I did my best to manage, but it was never perfect. Although I always made sure that my constituents received the assistance they needed, and focused on the legislative issues that mattered most to our district, there were votes I missed and meetings I couldn't attend due to conflicts.

The democratic process wouldn't be alive and well without some amount of disagreement and debate in political discourse, so I'm sure there are those who will point to my absences and missed votes and argue that these failings made me an ineffective legislator. Personally, with the focus I had on a number of big issues, I'm quite proud of what I was able to accomplish during my last tenure in the House. For me, it was a matter of prioritizing the issues that counted and making efficient use of time. Ultimately, I'll let the voters judge me on my accomplishments.

The challenge of balancing work, family, and legislative life was a major factor behind my decision not to run in 2012. So while I hope to have the opportunity to represent you again, I want to be very upfront and remind everyone of my limitations that I had in my last term, and set the expectation that I will face the same set of constraints, should I be elected again. We have an opportunity to improve the legislative process and make it more accessible to a more diverse talent pool, and I will be putting forward some proposals to help address this issue. With greater flexibility, we can bring more working professionals into the process, and leverage their ideas and expertise to bring about new and innovative legislative solutions that result in better policy outcomes.

It was an honor and a privilege to represent our community in the Vermont House from 2010 through 2012, and I hope to earn the privilege of representing you again. As we move forward, please don't hesitate to reach out with your questions, your concerns, and your ideas. At a minimum, I hope you will reply to this email with any quick thoughts you have about my candidacy and/or any issues that are important to you.

You can reach me by phone at 444-9004 or email at oliver@oliverolsen.com.


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