Q&A with Susan Minter
MANCHESTER >> Susan Minter, 54, one of the two announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor, made a swing through southern Vermont last week which included several stops in Manchester.
Minter successfully ran for the Vermont House of Representatives in 2004 for her home district of Waterbury and 3 surrounding communities (Duxbury, Huntington and Buel's Gore). She won and was reelected three times after that, serving a total of six years. Her last term was interrupted when Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed her as Deputy Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation in January 2011. Shumlin also appointed her to lead the recovery effort following Tropical Storm Irene later that year after the devastating storm struck Vermont and required much rebuilding of washed-out roads and bridges. She became Secretary of the transportation agency on Jan. 1, 2015, following the retirement of Brian Searles. In September 2015, she resigned from the position to run for Governor in the 2016 gubernatorial election.
Minter lives in Waterbury, with her husband, David Goodman. They have two children.
One of her stops while in the area last Thursday, Dec. 17, was at the studios of GNAT-TV, where she was interviewed for "The Front Page," a collaborative effort between The Journal and GNAT-TV. The following is an edited excerpt from that interview, which can be seen in its entirety on GNAT-TV or by visiting gnat-tv.org. A link is also provided in the web version of this story which can be found at manchesterjournal.com.
JOURNAL: What prompted you to run for the governorship?
MINTER: I am really driven to serve. It is public service I believe in — I believe in our state deeply and this opportunity to serve. We are at a pivotal time in our nation, and also here in Vermont. I believe I have unique qualifications — of serving in the Legislature and the executive branch, and running the second largest agency in the state government. These skills will help me be a governor ready to go on day one and lead our state forward.
JOURNAL: What is your view on the state budget and the projected deficit, much of which is connected to larger than expected Medicaid payments?
MINTER: Part of what's driving the Medicaid budget challenge is that we now have 95 percent of Vermonters now having access to medical care. Many are in the Medicaid program (a state/federal program designed to assist low income individuals afford medical care and treatment), more than was projected. Whatever they (the Legislature) do this year, those pressures will continue. So I think it's a question of what are we going to do about health care reform going forward and what's critical is to continue to bend the cost of care.
Right now we have a system which depends on getting people through the doctor's office, prescribing more drugs and procedures, all of which drive costs. The idea is to move away from that and towards an integrated system of care that can actually focus on prevention and an integrated delivery of care.
JOURNAL: What is your view of the state's economy in general and the southern Vermont economy in particular?
MINTER: When you look at the state as a whole, the number of people employed in the workforce, the GDP (gross domestic product) as a whole, it has come back almost to pre-recession levels. But it's not happening equally around the state. When we come to the southern counties, it really has been stagnant and this is a critical issue for our future.
Infrastructure (like Manchester's Roundabout) can be a stimulus and a driver of private sector growth. As I've been visiting employers around the state, especially manufacturers, they have many jobs available in Vermont — but they can't find workers qualified to fill them. At the same time, we don't have enough Vermonters continuing their education or training beyond high school. We do a good job of graduating kids from high school, but when it comes to continuation of education, we're at the bottom of the pack.
Connecting our tech centers and higher education centers with our employers is very critical to the future of our economy to break the cycle of poverty.
JOURNAL: What is your view on the legalization of marijuana?
MINTER: If the Legislature legalizes marijuana next spring, I will support it. But for the governor, it's about how we implement it and for me there will be a high bar of implementation.
I'm concerned about three things: (1) how will we regulate and distribute it, (2) it should be accompanied by education and prevention programs and (3) I'm also quite concerned about finding a way of enforcing impaired driver laws.
JOURNAL: Heroin and abuse of other opiates continues to seem like a growing problem in Vermont. What would you do to turn that around?
MINTER: It's one of the top challenges confronting the state. It impacts our criminal justice system and healthcare providers. Project Vision in Rutland is an example of an integrated approach to combatting heroin — a broad array of service providers working as a team. We have a hub-and-spoke treatment system that is very quickly getting up and running. It's trying to keep up with the escalating problem. We have to continue that and (also look) at prescribing habits. That's where it begins, where people are coming out of a hospital with some kind of pain and the over-medication they are getting to treat that pain. I know doctors are really beginning to collaborate on what are the right and wrong prescription habits — and then how not to allow patients to go from doctor to doctor to get those kinds of medicines.
JOURNAL: What is your view on Act 46, the education governance overhaul legislation passed last spring?
MINTER: I think Act 46 is moving us in the right direction and I support the goals — quality, equity and efficiency. We have to come to terms with the fact that student enrollment is declining precipitously and will continue to decline and that the number of school buildings we have cannot be afforded in the same way they are today. It is a future-looking bill.
I am opposed to the (spending) caps that were provided — which I think will have a detrimental effect on many schools ... particularly at a time when we're trying to have what are very difficult conversations about the future. I also think the time line is too tight.
I think it makes sense to regionalize — to look regionally with one budget, one lens, about how we can best utilize the assets of all the schools. There could be an opportunity to think differently about how some of the school buildings are used. There are many different community needs that could possibly be utilized by a school with a declining enrollment, which doesn't mean give up the building, but think differently about the future, because the needs of our community are changing with our aging demographics. These are not easy conversations to have but I think they do have to happen.
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