Opposites Seek Vt. House Seat

  • Chip Conquest

  • Joseph Parsons

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, October 21, 2016

Newbury, Vt. — The race for the Orange-Caledonia House seat is pitting a Republican tradesman concerned about the economy and affordability versus a four-term Democrat who hopes to become House speaker and make Montpelier more responsive to such concerns.

Joe Parsons, 32, a West Newbury Republican who works as an installer for Valley Floors in Bradford, said he thinks the Legislature has focused too much on “side issues,” rather than the economy.

“I didn’t really like the way I saw the state headed,” said Parsons, who is married with two children. “It got harder for a guy like me to afford things.”

State Rep. Chip Conquest, a 55-year-old Democrat from Wells River, says he doesn’t take re-election for granted, but hopes to succeed Shap Smith as House speaker and help make Vermonters feel state government is working in their interest.

On the budget, for instance, Conquest believes the current Legislature “has been much more conscious of the fact that our spending has been increasing faster than our revenues,” and wants to consider moving Vermont to a two-year budget cycle, which New Hampshire already has. Conquest, who has a small beef farm and hopes to build a processing facility there, said it could force lawmakers to “understand those spending decisions in a little bit longer-term way in terms of budgeting within your revenue.”

Both candidates are familiar with area schools. Parsons graduated from Oxbow High School in 2003, and Conquest, who has served on the Blue Mountain High School Board, is the girls varsity soccer coach there.

Conquest voted for the Act 46 school consolidation law, but thinks the state Board of Education has been too rigid in its interpretation of the law, especially in potentially curbing the ability of towns to retain school choice.

“I think we need to go back and make changes to make clear there should be flexibility for districts to comply with the general policy goal in a way that works best for them, not in one particular way the board seems to be talking about,” Conquest said.

Parsons said the law is “a good attempt at a reasonable solution, which is cost containment,” but is also a “heavy-handed way of forcing smaller schools to go the way Montpelier wants them to go.” He too favors changes in that regard.

On gun control, Conquest said he doesn’t see it as a priority, but indicated he would support some expansion of a background check law if it came to the House “if it can be done in a way that there is no greater infringement on Second Amendment rights than the present system.”

Parsons said he sees no need for more gun legislation.

As for health care, Parsons favors abandoning the balky Vermont Health Connect system and moving Vermont to combine with another state or join the federal exchange in offering insurance. Conquest agrees that the Health Connect system “has been really bad,” but says in assessing whether it is “fixable,” lawmakers also have to consider whether moving to another system could bring higher costs and losses in some valuable coverage options.

In terms of marijuana legalization, Parsons opposes it. Conquest opposed a Senate version to move Vermont toward a system akin to Colorado’s, but did offer an amendment that would have decriminalized small amounts of home-grown marijuana.

The district includes the towns of Newbury, Topsham and Groton.

John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.