Republican candidates for Senate in Chittenden County say they are focused on getting Vermont back to work and they support police. However, they oppose expanded mail-in voting and the newly passed Global Warming Solutions Act.
While many Democrats and Progressives continue to support coronavirus lockdowns, defunding police and vote-by-mail schemes, Republicans generally take the opposite view.
True North sent a series of questions to Republicans in the state’s largest county, and heard back from Dean Rolland, of Hinesburg, and Milton residents Tom Chastenay, Kylie Hollingsworth and Kumulia Long. Ericka Redic, of Burlington, answered questions from TNR in August.
TNR asked candidates the following questions, and their responses appear below.
Question 1: On the shutdown response to COVID-19, TNR asked if Vermont’s approach has been necessary or a significant overreaction.
Chastenay said he does not think the data relating to COVID-19 justify the suspension of civil liberties and business freedom.
“What is it, like five people since the first of the year under the age of 50 died from the coronavirus in Vermont? You’ve got a better chance of getting hit by lightning, I think. I read somewhere that you have a better chance of dying from food poisoning than you do of dying from the coronavirus in Vermont,” he said.
He added that if he was in charge, he would not have taken many of the actions chosen by Gov. Phil Scott.
“There wouldn’t be any shutdown, there wouldn’t be any social distancing, there wouldn’t be any mask-wearing, period. That would be a matter of personal preference,” Chastenay said. “Obviously, if you have a condition you should stay home, and if you are elderly, don’t go out. Follow those guidelines.”
Rolland said 58 deaths, and the data about those deaths, don’t point to an urgent emergency.
“Health Department Director Mark Levine shared that for 40 people who have died, the average age was 80, many were in long term care, and all had some form of prior conditions, such as lung disease, kidney disease, or a condition that suppressed their immune system,” he said.
Rolland noted that for the Vermont flu data, there were 87 deaths in 2018 and 2019, with seniors and young children affected most.
“In effect, COVID and the flu have the same effect on the same demographic resulting in loss of life,” he said.
Rolland also recalled that the original intent of the shutdown order was to keep health facilities from getting overwhelmed. That’s been achieved, he said.
“Michael Pieciak, Vermont state commissioner of Finance, in April stated that the slowdown indicates Vermont is unlikely to run out of important health care needs like hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators,” he said. “With what the data suggests and comparing it to the extreme loss of economic output, the response appears to be an overreaction, as COVID acts like the flu, yet we never shut down the economy for the flu.”
Hollingsworth took a different stance, however, saying the state’s actions under Gov. Scott have been appropriate.
“It is my opinion that due to all of the unknown factual evidence of what this virus entailed at the beginning, our governor, Phil Scott, took the appropriate action on how he felt best to react,” she said. “We as a state elected him to make these decisions and I believe he had Vermont’s best interest at hand. In my opinion there is nothing more important than one’s life.”
Hollingsworth added: “But I also feel that in the loss of jobs, routine and the loss of basic civil liberties, more lives were at stake — when we take a closer look at the volume of depression, suicide, and childhood hunger. … I know that one of the best things about Vermont are the people who live here. They have resilience to go out of their way to help a neighbor. From making meals to masks, I believe that in time our society will come back together stronger than ever.”
Long generally supports the governor’s approach.
“If we could go back, I would think that the governor would have made a different decision in regards to the hospitality business and the restaurant industry in allowing them to open up a little bit earlier and maintain the social distancing,” he said. “But again, with the information that he had, I feel like it was being done in the best interest of Vermonters.”
Question 2: On defunding the police, TNR asked candidates if they are for or against it.
Chastenay said he opposes defunding police.
“I think that’s atrocious what they are doing to the police, to demonize them and victimize them like that,” he said. “I think President Trump had it right: anybody who shoots a cop should get the death penalty. When I was a kid we used to have the bop-the-cop law — if you punched an officer there was a mandatory sentence just for that by itself. And I think if ripping down a Black Lives Matter flag is a hate crime, I think interfering with an officer in the performance of his duty or screaming in his face should be the equivalent.”
Rolland also opposes defunding the police.
“Defunding does nothing to solve the problem and, in reality, further weakens public safety. Funding is not the cause of the problem,” he said. “The defund movement offers no solutions that promote safety and security, and in fact promote the opposite.”
Hollingsworth opposes defunding police.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “And as I say that, I encourage anyone who thinks otherwise to take a look around the country outside of Vermont. As a lifelong Vermonter, one of the reasons I stayed here despite the level of taxation is this is where I wanted to raise my family. Like many other Vermonters and people who move here, we stay because it is one of the safest places in the country. After seeing the continued destruction in other cities that have enacted defunding of police, crime rates have increased significantly.”
Long also opposes defunding police.
“I don’t think that defunding the police is the answer. During these times the safety of our community is truly of the utmost importance,” he said.
Long added that he’s seen some troubling events recently in Burlington.
“Some of the things that are going on in downtown Burlington are of some concern,” he said. “I think we need to make sure that we are addressing the actual problem and not looking at some of the symptoms. In Burlington, they were running around saying ‘no cops, no KKK’ — police officers aren’t pulling people of color out of their vehicles, out of their homes, off the streets for no reason, arresting them and beating them down. Those aren’t the times. In the U.S. there was a time when it was like that and that’s not what’s going on here. We need to look at reform and truly build trust between the police and the communities that they serve.”
Question 3: On big climate action, TNR asked the candidates about the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Chastenay is not for such climate legislation.
“They are taking advantage of the situation so they can moral-posture,” he said. “They call it the global warming initiative; nobody calls it global warming anymore, it’s climate change because the temperature hasn’t gone up in the last 10 years. You can go down in Burlington here and spit off the bridge into the Winooski River and you just did Vermont’s contribution to climate change.”
Rolland also opposes the GWSA.
“Vermont has much larger issues and bigger priorities than the GSWA,” he said. “We should be focusing on the budget and getting all our businesses back online and not passing legislation that further constrains businesses, taxpayers and the state’s liabilities.”
Hollingsworth said she is very much against the legislation.
“[We’ve had] 80,000 jobs lost!” she said. “Why would we want to burden our Vermonters with more tax increases and the potential of being sued by outside private organizations? I strongly feel we need to do something environmentally friendly to save our Lake Champlain, as it is our state’s treasure. We need to consider the livelihood of Vermonters at this current time.
Hollingsworth added there are better places that the money can be spent: “With growth and success of our economy, we can look at a possible redistribution of funds to better support the environment, but raising taxes is completely unacceptable — this isn’t helping anyone.”
Long is strongly against the GWSA.
“Climate change, global warming, they are all real issues. However, Vermont currently is a carbon-neutral state. So while these things are important, I think the more important thing is Vermonters and how we are going to transition through the next six months through the winter with everything that’s going on with the pandemic. I kind of circle back around to the hospitality industry and you know opening some of these things up,” he said.
“[There are] 140 or 150 businesses that we’ve lost and then another 20 percent are looking to shut down over the next six months. I think that again while environmental issues are important, we believe that the lives and livelihood of Vermonters is more important at this moment,” Long said.
Question 4: On mail-in ballots, TNR asked if candidates support or oppose Vermont’s expanded vote-by-mail system.
Chastenay said he opposes expanded mail-in voting.
“I don’t even understand why that ever came up. Anybody who wants to get a mail-in ballot can request an absentee ballot,” he said. “So this is just an invitation for massive voter fraud.”
Rolland also opposes expanded mail-in voting.
“First, the government should not mandate mail. This is more government intrusion, complicating a process that has worked for many, many years and erodes freedom,” he said. “Second, the state has not set up processes to eliminate voter and mail fraud. Third, it sends ballots to addresses and voters that have moved — which makes no sense. It is another waste of more taxpayer money to mail and handle ballots when the voting process at a booth can provide a legitimate election. If people can still go out of their home and to stores, restaurants and travel, voting at a polling place is no different”
Hollingsworth also opposed expanded mail-in balloting.
“I believe there is a reason we pay extra at the post office for certified mail, there is a reason we are all advised to never send money in the mail, there is a reason we have tracking on packages,” she said.
Long also opposes expanded mail-in voting.
“Our voter rolls are not accurate, on top of the fact that we don’t have a way to verify identification,” he said. “If we had some kind of voter-ID system where they can verify who is actually casting votes, I think that might mitigate some of the concerns I have about voter-fraud. However, the way that it currently stands, if five ballots go to one address, someone could potentially cast five votes, and I don’t think that’s right, that’s not democracy, and that’s not the way we do business.”