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Two Vie for Senate Seat From Orange District

  • Bill Huff

  • Mark MacDonald (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Thetford — A retired airline pilot and financial planner from Thetford is challenging longtime state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, for the seat representing most of Orange County in the state Senate.

Bill Huff, a former Thetford Selectboard member, is running as a Republican to unseat MacDonald, a retired teacher who has represented the 11-town district for eight terms.

“I’m concerned about the direction of Vermont and where the politicians in Montpelier seem to be headed,” the 60-year-old Huff said in a phone interview on Monday.

“Being a certified financial planner, the (state’s) economics are one thing that stands out,” he said. “We’re beginning to lose our credit rating based on our continual shortfalls in budgets every year.”

There are too many unfunded pension liabilities for teachers and state workers that, when combined with debt, are a recipe for financial headache, Huff cautioned.

Huff also said he wants to help lawmakers craft a deal to finish cleanup of Lake Champlain, and work to better retain young people. Too many residents can no longer afford to live in Vermont, and something needs to be done to keep taxes low and affordable, he said.

“I am certainly for an affordable Vermont,” Huff said.

MacDonald, 75, said he’s focused on completing this year’s legislative session, which now is gridlocked as lawmakers attempt to negotiate a budget deal with Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

The Legislature is in its fourth week of a special session called when Scott vetoed its initial budget bill. Scott has promised that Vermonters will not see a tax rate increase next year.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement by the end of the month, state government could shut down on July 1.

“The main contention seems to be around local school spending,” MacDonald said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Town Meeting traditionally determines how much each school district spends in the coming year, but the Scott administration appears to want to control and direct costs instead, he said.

MacDonald was among 22 senators who voted to support a second budget proposal, which was opposed by three senators and faces a likely veto from Scott.

MacDonald said he’s also concerned about how the state spends its surplus revenue, adding the Legislature needs to be cautious spending $34.5 million in one-time funds from tax revenue and a tobacco settlement.

Scott wants to use the money to pay down property tax rates, but Democrats argue the money would be better spent funding teacher obligations, the Associated Press reported.

The two candidates also disagree on a package of gun control bills passed in the wake of a February school shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Fla., as well as what police said was an averted shooting days later in Fair Haven, Vt.

In April, Scott signed legislation that raises the age to purchase firearms, banned high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, expanded background checks and made it easier to remove guns from people deemed to be at an “extreme risk” of committing violence.

MacDonald voted in support of the measures. He said on Tuesday that the new laws still allow responsible gun owners to obtain firearms.

The most controversial piece of legislation raised the age to purchase a firearm to 21, but there are exemptions for many Vermont families, MacDonald said. Young adults can buy a gun after attending a hunter education or safety course, and parents legally are allowed to transfer rifles to their children, he said.

“All of those are responsible expectations, that young people have some sort of education before they go out and buy (a firearm),” MacDonald said.

Huff, who is a member of the Upper Valley Fish and Game Club in Thetford, said the bills will not “make anybody any safer,” and said he instead advocates for increased security measures.

School doors should be better secured, so that people can only come and go through a single point, he said. Huff also said that teachers and administrators should be better trained to respond to an active shooter, suggesting that training should include voluntarily arming teachers.

He also proposed the creation of a Vermont state school task force, made up of five police officers, that would be responsible for investigating potential shooting threats and working with schools on security.

Huff’s platform also calls for an “alternative to alternative energy,” which would see the state back off investments in solar and wind energy in favor of biodiesel and geothermal energy.

“The objection for many New Englanders is the destruction of the view,” Huff said of both solar and wind on his campaign website. “Pristine ridgelines and mountaintops are part of why a lot of us live here and why many consider Vermont to be a desirable tourist destination.”

Geothermal resources are harnessed by tapping into reservoirs of hot water beneath the earth’s surface, while biodiesel is manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant grease.

“We in this country are going to move to renewable energy,” said MacDonald, who sits on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. “That’s our energy future and it’s going to happen.”

Solar energy has helped to bring electric rates down and lessened the region’s dependence on fossil fuels, and will continue on that trend into the future, he said.

The challenge ahead is being sure Vermont is prepared to continue investing in renewable energy, while also insuring that homeowners and small businesses are the beneficiaries of those investments, MacDonald said.

He also expressed hope that electric cars soon will become more available to Vermonters, saying such a step could greatly reduce carbon emissions.

The Orange Senate district comprises Braintree, Brookfield, Chelsea, Corinth, Randolph, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Vershire, Washington and Williamstown. Several Bradford-area towns are in the Caledonia Senate district.

State Sens. Joe Benning (R-Lyndonville) and Jane Kitchel (D-Danville) both are running unopposed in the Caledonia district.

Both MacDonald and Huff are running unopposed in their party’s primary, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14. The general election will take place on Nov. 6.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.