Our opinion: The good fortune of a difficult choice

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If we had our way, the third-place finisher in next week's election for the Bennington-4 district in the Vermont House of Representatives would get a second-chance runoff against another House member — sort of like a wild-card playoff berth in professional sports. (The Red Sox won a World Series title that way in 2004, back when that only happened once every 86 years.) But the rules say the top two vote-getters win, and the third-place finisher stays home. And that means one of three excellent candidates for the Bennington-4 district — Democrats Cynthia Browning of Arlington and Kathleen James of Manchester and Republican Brian Keefe of Manchester — won't be going to Montpelier in January to serve Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland in the House. Browning and Keefe are incumbents; James is running in her first foray into politics.Browning has years of experience, a strong independent streak and an appetite for the granular details of how legislation and policy work. Keefe, completing his first term, has already guided three bills into law, including one addressing the "benefits cliff," and worked to support film and TV production in Vermont. And James, a community organizer and journalist, has made a strong first impression, voicing her commitment to equality and to addressing climate change, and showing the willingness to work and learn. Northshire voters are quite fortunate to have such a difficult choice. Rather than issue a recommendation in this race that will only serve second-guessing, we have something different in mind. We've asked the candidates to make one last statement of why they think they should be your state Representative. You'll find their cases made below.However, we do have recommendations in this race, for voters and candidates alike. First and foremost, as servants of the First Amendment, we value transparency above all else. Vermont still has too many exceptions to its public records law, and building a culture of the public's right to know is crucial to establishing greater trust in government. For example, it should not be possible for the state to pay a private business such as Keurig Dr Pepper millions of dollars without the taxpayers knowing exactly how much money was spent, as well as some reasonable explanation of how it was spent. So we ask that the Northshire's representatives in Montpelier should push relentlessly on improved openness, and work to greatly reduce the public records exceptions written into law and into state policy. Second only to transparency among our priorities is independence. Partisanship is an inevitable product of politics, both medium and message. But we saw party allegiances become more important than compromise during this past summer's budget battle. That trend needs to be nipped in the bud — on all sides. It starts with lawmakers being able to stand up and vote their conscience and work across the aisle to solve problems, rather than serve the dictates of party leadership first and constituents second. Vermont has but 625,000 people and a lot of work to do to address climate change, economic opportunity, affordability, and an opiate epidemic. We can agree to disagree on solutions, but we don't have time for reindeer games. Third and finally, to the third-place finisher in this race, we offer the following encouragement: You might wake up disappointed on Wednesday morning, but please don't make this your last involvement in government or public service. You have a lot to give, and this state still needs you. With that, and with our strongest possible urging that you vote on Tuesday, here are responses to our last question to the candidates, listed in alphabetical order. Our question to the candidates: "Make your last pitch in a few sentences. Why should folks vote for you?" Cynthia Browning: "I am a candidate with a proven record in all of these areas; expertise, experience, accountability, and independence. I have developed and supported reality based policies that can actually work, and I have new proposals for the future. I have the necessary skills to tackle the issues that face us, and to work with other legislators in Montpelier. I offer my energy and ability in service to this district, and to the fulfillment of the vision of a better and stronger Vermont that I believe that we all share."Kathleen James: "As your representative in Montpelier, I'll make three important promises.I will listen: I have spent much of my career working as a professional journalist. I listen carefully to people's stories and points of view. I conduct extensive research, I explore all sides of an issue, and I know how to discern fact from opinion. I will work toward tripartisan solutions: Though I'm a Democrat, I grew up in a moderate Republican family in a rural "red state." I respect people and ideas from all parties and I believe that tripartisan solutions, forged from conversation and reasonable compromise, are the most powerful and enduring path to lasting progress.I will keep you informed: If elected, I commit to holding regular constituent meetings in every community across our district, sending an online newsletter to anyone interested in receiving it, and publishing regular updates on social media and in the local papers. You will not have to dig into a database to understand my voting record, or wonder what I believe. You'll know."Brian Keefe: "If you want to maintain the balance that brought us two years of balanced budgets without raising taxes and fees, and while funding Vermont's priorities, then you should vote for me. Moreover, as a member of the House Human Services Committee for the past two years, I've gained a lot of knowledge of our support systems and how we can take care of those who need help while also improving efficiency and oversight in the largest budget area of state government."



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