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Rivals Ainsworth, Buxton Meet Again in Windsor-Orange 1

  • The South Royalton School Student Council hosted a debate between former state Rep. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton, left, and Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge in the rematch for their two-town seat in South Royalton, Vt., on October 24, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, checks the gymnasium scoreboard to see how much time is remaining during a debate with former state Rep. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton, at the South Royalton School in their rematch for their two-town seat on October 24, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former state Rep. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton, speaks about his legislative experience during a debate with Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, at the South Royalton School in the rematch for their two-town seat on October 24, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Student Council moderators Michael Hemond, center, and Cameron Kimball and timekeeper Emily Ballou listen to Rep. Sarah Buxton's response about the carbon tax discussion in the legislature during a debate with former Rep. David Ainsworth at the South Royalton School in South Royalton, Vt., on October 24, 2016. The race is a rematch for the pair's two-town seat. The students are all seniors. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2016 12:06:59 AM
Modified: 11/3/2016 12:14:08 AM

Royalton — As David Ainsworth and Sarah Buxton run against each other for the fourth time, those outside the Windsor-Orange 1 Vermont House district might assume that the two candidates have fostered a cordial, if competitive, relationship over the years.

They might want to think again. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election, the pair have traded accusations, counterclaims, and dueling advertisements in what has historically been a closely contested vote. In 2010, Buxton edged Ainsworth, then the incumbent, by a single vote in the district of about 4,000 residents.

Buxton, a Tunbridge Democrat, is seeking her fourth term, and has kept Ainsworth, a Royalton Republican, out of office ever since her first win.

Now, drivers on Route 14 or Route 110 will see a series of campaign signs by the road, spelling out anti-Buxton messages one word at a time. One reads: “Be-prepared-for-a-carbon-tax.”

A carbon tax, Ainsworth asserts, is one of the many expensive measures that Buxton would enact if she returns to office.

Buxton denies this claim, and said there’s no evidence that she supports a carbon tax; in fact, she said, she opposes the idea.

The 62-year-old Ainsworth acknowledged the signs are his; some of them are out on his lawn along Route 14.

“I’ve tried to not run a negative campaign,” Ainsworth said, “although I’ve been accused of doing it.”

The crux of his campaign, he said, is to keep costs low for working Vermonters.

He said he wants to pass budgets that don’t outpace revenue, a problem in recent years in Montpelier, which he blames, in part, on Buxton.

“That’s why I am running,” he said, “because we just cannot keep doing this.”

Each time the state budget grows beyond its means, he said, “the well’s getting a little drier.”

Buxton, a 38-year-old Vermont Law School graduate and former aide to Gov. Howard Dean, has fired back with Facebook advertisements that attempt, in her words, to “get the facts” straight.

“Buxton’s record is clear,” one ad says. “She opposes the carbon tax, supports keeping school choice, and voted against tax increases.”

It adds, “Get the truth from me, not from a road sign.”

Buxton defended her record and made her own attacks in an interview this week.

Responding to Ainsworth’s charge that the state is spending more than it can handle, Buxton placed the blame on the 2000s-era Legislature, of which her opponent was a member.

“There is a mantra that is both inaccurate and pervasive: that Vermont is spending beyond our means, and that is absolutely not true,” she said. “We never deficit-spend. We only spend the money that we have.”

Fighting back against her opponent’s accusation that she opposed school choice, Buxton pointed to his record: In 2010, Ainsworth sponsored a bill that would have imposed state-mandated consolidations on a timeline of about 18 months.

Buxton sits on the House Education Committee and has been a proponent of Act 46, the 2015 school district merger law, which has drawn frustration from Vermonters over the pace that consolidation is taking place, as well as the complexity of the merger process.

“Those frustrations are very real, and I will take them seriously,” Buxton said. “I don’t take seriously the criticism coming from David because his plan was disastrous.”

Ainsworth, for his part, attempted to distance himself from the earlier consolidation bill, which did not pass. “I signed on to a bill,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I sponsored it; there were 25 other sponsors.”

As for Act 46, Ainsworth said he fears the law does not uphold school choice and is urging school districts to consolidate too rapidly.

The law gives districts until 2018 to make plans, after which the state may draw them up on its own.

“Yes, maybe that bill I signed on didn’t allow for so much time,” Ainsworth said, “ ... but what they’re putting through now isn’t so justifiable, either.”

Despite the acrimony, the candidates say similar things when asked about the primary focus of their campaigns.

Whereas Ainsworth says he hopes to keep Vermont affordable, Buxton says her top priority is “greater financial security for all Vermonters, across the board.”

“The way to financial security is through a stronger economy overall, with better paying jobs and a workforce that is matched to meet our employment needs,” she said.

Another contributor to Vermonter’s financial lives is health care, where Buxton supports a move away from the fee-for-service model, although she says she isn’t yet sure whether the “all-payer” agreement approved last month will work.

Ainsworth is even less optimistic about an all-payer system, which he says the state is “rushing” into.

“I believe our current governor’s record on health care reform is not too good,” he said, referring to outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who presided over the bumpy rollout of Vermont Health Connect and abandoned a promised move to single-payer health care, “so I’m not sure why he’s trying to leave us more legacy behind.”

The two candidates also are closer than one might expect on marijuana legalization, a measure that passed the state Senate in the past session but did not find favor in the Vermont House.

Buxton, who voted against the proposal, said there had been too many unanswered questions, including those on Vermont’s response to a potential increase in drugged driving. Ainsworth said he saw some merit in medical marijuana, but opposed recreational use.

“I do believe, over the course of time and reading and studying it, (that) there is some potential use of it for chronic pain, under doctor supervision,” he said. “And that’s where I think it should stay.”

Buxton works for Building Bright Futures, a charitable nonprofit that serves as an adviser on early childhood policy to the state Legislature and administration, and is a constant presence in the district.

Ainsworth, a fifth-generation dairy and vegetable farmer, also is a familiar face in the district. He is the longtime town moderator in Royalton, and his wife, Peggy, is a selectwoman in town. The Ainsworths are now caring for two grandchildren after their mother, Emily Perkins, was convicted in a fatal 2011 drug-related Bethel shooting.

One issue where the opponents do differ on is gun control. Whereas Ainsworth says the state doesn’t need new regulations, Buxton said she voted against the latest firearms bill, which passed in 2015, because it was stripped of a provision that would have expanded background checks to most private sales.

“I will support a reasonable background check bill,” she said, “but what I will be looking for is ensuring that it goes no further than necessary and doesn’t create an undue burden on the lawful ownership of firearms.”

Election day is Tuesday. Voting is scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the South Royalton High School gym, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Tunbridge Town Hall, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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