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Vt. House candidates in Newbury, Bradford areas split on pandemic recovery

  • Joe Parsons (Courtesy photograph)

  • Kelsey Root-Winchester (Courtesy photograph)

  • Sarah Copeland Hanzas (Courtesy photograph)

  • Zachary Lang (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2020 9:39:58 PM
Modified: 10/17/2020 9:39:55 PM

BRADFORD, Vt. — The Republicans running for the Vermont House representing towns in the Bradford and Newbury area say they want to curb government spending to boost the economy, particularly in light of the impacts of COVID-19, while the Democrats say now is the time to bolster the state’s safety net programs.

Two Newbury residents, Republican Joe Parsons and Democrat Kelsey Root-Winchester, are vying to replace outgoing state Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newbury, in the Orange-Caledonia seat which represents the towns of Newbury, Topsham and Groton.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, faces a challenge from Bradford Republican Zachary Michael Lang in the Orange 2 district representing Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee.

In the Newbury-area race, both candidates say they are seeking to balance issues of affordability with needs for social services, but they would have different approaches to achieving that balance.

Parsons, a 36-year-old floor installer, said discussions about issues he feels are important — such as last-mile internet connectivity, prison reform, school spending and addressing the state’s unfunded liabilities — have to begin with bolstering the economy.

“We have lost so many Vermonters to the opportunities that exist elsewhere,” he said in an email.

“I want to be part of the solution to bring those opportunities back to Vermont, to create an environment that retains and attracts our youth. I believe a vibrant economy is the first rung of the ladder to achieving that.”

Parsons said he supports a voluntary paid family leave program, such as that proposed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

“This is an instance where believing in a strong safety net and believing that the responsibility to fund extra protections diverge,” he said. “The addition of programs that are used by some and paid for by all are having a cumulative effect that is leading to Vermont’s affordability problem.”

The 33-year-old Root-Winchester, who directs the Wells River Wellness Hall and owns a yoga studio, is focused on efforts she says would bolster community, including high-speed, affordable internet in rural areas; increasing access to high-quality, affordable health care; and working to “protect” the state’s schools. Specifically, she would like to create a coordinated network of services to address social, emotional and behavioral needs of students across the state, she said in an email.

“Community work has been at the center of my life and this is the next step to better serve my community,” she said.

Root-Winchester has served on the Blue Mountain Union School Board since 2016. She also serves on the 302 Cares Substance Misuse Prevention Coalition, Wells River Action Program and Little Rivers Health Care board.

She supports a mandatory paid family leave program, such as that described in the bill Scott vetoed, because she said it’s “essential for building a strong society.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on how important it is to be able to care for our families while being able to pay our bills,” she said.

Orange 2 race

The two candidates in the Bradford-area House race also differ in their approach to paid family leave. Incumbent Democrat Copeland Hanzas, who has held the seat since 2005, sponsored the paid family leave bill Scott vetoed.

“I believe this insurance program is a critical safety net for working people,” she said in an email. “Every one of us will have a time when we need to heal from surgery, stay home with a newborn or take care of an ailing parent.”

The 50-year-old Copeland Hanzas owns the Local Buzz Cafe on Main Street in Bradford, is chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee and serves on the executive committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lang, 26, a paraprofessional at Oxbow High School and a volunteer with the Bradford Fire Department and FAST Squad, said he shares Scott’s view that the state should move forward with a voluntary paid leave program.

Copeland Hanzas and Lang also differ in their views on how best to mitigate the effects of climate change and boost the economy.

Lang opposes the recently enacted Global Warming Solutions Act, which Copeland Hanzas co-sponsored, in part because he dislikes the role that appointed officials will have in recommending ways to address carbon emissions. He also is focused on reducing taxes.

“I am running to help reduce the tax burden that is constantly placed on us Vermonters and to help rebuild our economy post-COVID,” Lang said in an email.

“We need to help protect our small businesses and farms, and help those Vermonters that want to open businesses do so without having to jump through numerous hoops or pay thousands of dollars in taxes before opening their doors.”

Recovering from COVID-19 also is top of mind for Copeland Hanzas. To do so, she said, experienced leaders are necessary to bolster the state’s social services.

“When we come out of this pandemic recession we will need leaders who know how to build back stronger,” she said. “What are the lessons we’ve learned about who is vulnerable in our communities? What did we learn about how to support them when things get tough? And how can we make sure our government safety net works when it needs to to support businesses and families during a crisis?”

The candidates in these two races participated in online forums hosted by the Space on Main and the Journal Opinion on Wednesday. A recording is available on The Space on Main’s Facebook page:

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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