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Eight months ago, I attended Town Meeting in all four communities I represent. I stood before voters in Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and Sunderland and urged you to join the new Southern Vermont Communications Union District, an organization I’d help to found at a public forum in November 2019. Since then, thanks to the hard work of volunteers, the SoVT CUD has been named one of 12 Vital Economic Projects for its work to expand broadband across Bennington County.

I described the work I was accomplishing in Montpelier as a co-founder of the bipartisan Tourism Caucus, an active member of the Rural Economic Development Working Group, an original member of the Social Equity Caucus, and House co-vice-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus. In all of these groups, I explained, I was working hard for our towns in two ways. First, I was advancing policies that I believe help people, help the economy and help Vermont. Second, I was forging strong relationships with legislators from across the state, from all parties, who share common interests.

That’s critical in the professional workplace of the statehouse, where collaboration and teamwork are key to getting things done, and where the loudest voices are not always the most influential.

I also handed out my mid-session report, which included an overview of the 2020 session, how I’d voted on key bills, and how to follow my work. In 2018, I campaigned on a promise to communicate with voters. I think I’ve delivered. I post frequently on my legislative Facebook page, I publish a regular e-newsletter, my website is packed with information, and I’m easy to reach by email.

Less than two weeks later, I stood in the House chamber with my colleagues, somber and a bit scared, as Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19. As I drove home to Manchester that dark night, I had no idea I’d spend the rest of the year working from home — logging into live-streamed House meetings via Zoom — in extended legislative sessions that lasted, on and off, until late September. The focus of our work shifted abruptly. In the Education Committee, we set aside our literacy and pre-K bills and took testimony on the allocation of federal relief funds and the tremendous challenges facing school leaders, teachers, staff and families during the pandemic.

I also dove into a stack of reports as an appointee to the Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont, tasked with helping solve the financial crisis facing the Vermont State Colleges. Meanwhile, the legislature was debating an array of bills to help Vermont cope with COVID — from vote-by-mail to hazard pay — while distributing $1.2 billion in CRF money and passing a balanced FY21 budget.

I’ve also been intensely focused on helping constituents, especially those whose small businesses are struggling or folks stuck in the unemployment SNAFU cycle. I’ve posted every scrap of information I could find about grants and technical support. I’ve worked one-on-one to refer people to the right program, and politely but stubbornly “escalated” a dozen people all the way to Department of Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington for UI resolution. (I’m grateful for his help.)

I’ve also tried to answer every constituent email ASAP, because one of the most powerful things about serving in the legislature is that when I don’t know the answer, I can often find it, and find it fast.

Why am I writing about March in November? Because during two very different weeks, eight months ago, I believe I demonstrated leadership and a deep commitment to our communities when times were calm and during a crisis.

I vote for bills that I believe will help people, and I work hard in Montpelier and here at home because I want to help people. This work motivates and inspires me, and it’s why I’m running for re-election.

The next two years will be tough. Faced with revenue shortfalls and competing priorities, the legislature will need to make hard choices. At the same time, my running mate Seth Bongartz and I believe our region is uniquely positioned to not only recover from the pandemic, but to thrive in the years ahead. You can read our shared vision and priorities at our websites.

I’m running with Seth because I think he’s a visionary leader and a problem-solver, and because I believe our district needs two effective, respected reps who can work together — and with other legislators and community leaders across our county — to get things done.

Serving in the legislature is among the greatest honors of my life. In words and actions, I’ve tried to live up to the title of State Representative. If elected again, that will always be my goal.

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Kathleen James is running for the Bennington-4 seat in the Vermont House of Representatives.


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