Vt. State Senator Has Challenger

Bob Frenier, of Chelsea, is a candidate for Orange County State Senate. (Courtesy the candidate)

Bob Frenier, of Chelsea, is a candidate for Orange County State Senate. (Courtesy the candidate)

Chelsea — A 67-year-old small businessman is launching a Republican challenge to longtime state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange.

Chelsea resident Robert Frenier, who runs a company that buys used airport fire trucks and rebuilds them, said he is concerned that working Vermonters and senior citizens are being hurt by state-run healthcare programs and “no-growth environmental policies.”

“There are a lot of people in Orange County who aren’t terribly happy with how things are going,” Frenier said in a phone interview Monday. “My main interest is in coming up with a better plan for the way we deliver health care. Universal access is a great idea, but if you want to do good you have to do due diligence, and the people who are doing this don’t seem to know enough about business. They have a system that seems doomed to fail.”

He said he favored a health-care system with fewer mandates, the ability to buy policies across state lines, premiums with incentives for healthy lifestyles, and medical malpractice reform.

Frenier, who moved to Chelsea 22 years ago and previously served as a volunteer EMT intermediate with First Branch Ambulance Service, grew up in Massachusetts and served, decades ago, as a selectman in Bedford, Mass., a Boston suburb.

He said he had also been active in helping formulate a new business plan for Chelsea Health Center and bringing mobile dental services to seven area schools.

Frenier, whose father grew up in Barre and Bellows Falls, Vt., said he also believes Vermont’s call to have 90 percent of its energy needs met by renewable sources by 2050 is unrealistic and is discouraging manufacturers from creating jobs in the state.

He also favors school choice to spur more involvement, and give families more options, for their children’s education.

“My point is that ‘let’s fix it!’ is precisely the kind of thinking that’s required of a state senator these days to re-set the direction of government,” Frenier said in a written announcement of his candidacy.

MacDonald, a 71-year-old retired teacher who has represented the 11-town Orange Senate district for seven terms, said he intends to run again and said Vermont’s health care reforms have led to the state having the “best signup rate in the nation” under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Though he supports a move toward a single-payer system, MacDonald also said he wants to make sure such a system would save money, improve health care and cover more people.

The Shumlin administration has delayed providing key information, such as a plan to pay for the system, until 2015, after this year’s elections.

“The decision on whether to do it is in front of us, and the evidence and facts aren’t there (yet). When that time comes, we’re going to have to make a decision,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald also said he supported the push to spur more renewable energy in Vermont.

“If you don’t set goals, you don’t move ahead,” he said.

MacDonald turned back a Democratic primary challenge in 2012 from Thetford resident Tig Tillinghast, and breezed to re-election in November 2012 in the district, which includes the towns of Braintree, Brookfield, Chelsea, Corinth, Randolph, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Vershire, Washington and Williamstown.

Fairlee Republican Mary Daly, a member of the Republican State Committee, is serving as Frenier’s campaign manager and encouraged him to run for the seat.

“He has a lot of energy,” she said of Frenier. “He’s a small businessman, has marketing experience in his background, which is good for someone who is campaigning, and he has a lot of ideas, and he doesn’t just have the ideas, he goes for it.”

The filing period runs from May 12 to June 12, and primaries in Vermont will be held on Aug. 26 this year.

News staff writer John Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.