Four Vie for Two Randolph-Area House Seats

  • Patsy French

  • Jay Hooper

  • Ben Jickling

  • Bob Orleck

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, October 24, 2016

Randolph — The race for the two-seat Orange-Washington-Addison district in the Vermont House has drawn two candidates with government experience and two Brookfield natives in their early 20s who are newcomers to politics.

The district represents the towns of Randolph, Brookfield, Braintree, Granville and Roxbury. State Rep. Marjorie Ryerson, D-Randolph, is not seeking re-election.

The other incumbent, state Rep. Patsy French, D-Randolph, is allied with her fellow Democrat in the race, Jay Hooper of Brookfield.

Also running are Republican Bob Orleck of Randolph and independent Ben Jickling of Brookfield.

French, 67, was born in Randolph and grew up in Royalton. A former elementary school teacher who sits on the House Committee on Human Services and serves as chairwoman of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, she is seeking an eighth term in Montpelier.

Hooper, who turns 23 next month, graduated in May from Connecticut College, where he majored in history and government, and grew up on a goat-dairy farm. His father, Don Hooper, is a former secretary of state in Vermont.

Orleck, 74, was a prosecutor in Hawaii and served as assistant attorney general in Vermont about 30 years ago. He later became a pharmacist, managing Rite Aid stores in West Lebanon and then in Randolph.

Jickling, 22, is a junior at Trinity College in Connecticut but is taking a semester off to run, and would also defer classes in the spring if elected. He graduated from Randolph Union High School in 2013, where he was a pitcher and shortstop on the baseball team that won a state title.

Jickling says he loves Vermont and wants to live here the rest of his life, but is concerned about the aging population and shrinking enrollment in schools. “I want to do things to make life in Vermont a little more feasible,” he said. Jickling said he is running as an independent to develop his own platform. “I’m not going to vote any party line. And it doesn’t make any sense to be elected by these five towns and then go to Montpelier and be pushed to vote in any particular way (by the parties).”

Orleck said that he is concerned that young people often leave the state for good jobs.

“I woke up one morning and said ‘I really love Vermont, and it’s getting unaffordable.’ Taxes are just getting crazy… there needs to be a (political) balance in Montpelier.”

French points to her committee work on human service and administrative oversight and also says she thinks voters in the district are comfortable with her stands on issues.

“I have a certain amount of experience under my belt, and I think I’m good for a little bit more,” she said.

Like French, Hooper backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary and hopes voters have faith that government can help.

“Government is not going away, and we need government to be part of the solution to the greatest issues of tomorrow, like opiates on the state level and climate change on the world level,” Hooper said.

On the Act 46 school governance law, French said she voted against it because she did not want to force districts to consolidate. She would not repeal it at this point, but is “open to looking at tweaks, particularly to give more flexibility to school choice towns.”

Hooper said he doesn’t have any particular concerns about the law, but is cognizant of the importance of elementary schools in small towns.

Orleck said the law needs to be tweaked, “if not eliminated,” particularly in the pressure it is putting on some districts to give up school choice.

“Their backs are against the wall. This is a ‘one shoe fits all feet’ (law), and it doesn’t,” Orleck said. “ I’m opposed to centralization. We need to get back to local control.”

Jickling questioned “top-down mandates from Montpelier” and said incentives are needed for school boards to present and pass “frugal budgets.” 

“Right now, the way the system is set up, there’s a lack of that incentive.” he said.

On health care, Hooper favors keeping the often-dysfunctional Vermont Health Connect system because the state has invested hundreds of millions into it and it can offer more health-care benefits than the federal system.

“We ought not to give up on it. We can fix it and make it work well,” he said.

French said she is “not satisfied” with its current performance but is awaiting a pending report to decide whether the system should be fixed or scrapped.

Orleck said he believes Gov. Peter Shumlin “grossly misserved the people of Vermont” in pushing for a single-payer health system and pouring money into Vermont Health Connect. He also is wary about a Shumlin proposal to expand an “all-payer” system that rewards providers for comprehensive care of patients, rather than a fee-for-service system. 

“I think it’s going to result in rationing, and potentially do a great deal of damage to people on Medicare,” Orleck said. “To me, the all-payer thing is wrong. Competition is much better.”

Jickling said it’s “too early to tell” about all-payer, but he thinks Vermont Health Connect has been a “failure of management, implementation and execution.”

“We need to be proactive in exploring other options,” Jickling said. “We can’t keep just pushing these decisions down the line, because the exchange is still not working as it should be.”

On the state budget, Orleck is highly critical of a pattern of spending in Montpelier that routinely outpaces revenue.

“Every year there is a budget gap. You can put these things in very high, idealistic terms about investing in our future, but we also have to live within our means,” he said.

Jickling also said the spending is “unsustainable,” and that short-term patches come at the cost of important long-term investments, such as job training or high-speed Internet expansions.

French said lawmakers “always look carefully at the budget” and that it is a difficult issue in a small state, where some fluctuations are out of lawmakers’ control.

“Last year we had a bad snow winter. Keep your fingers crossed for snow and lots of tourists coming here and spending their money,” she said.

Hooper noted that he has not yet voted on any budget, but that there is a purpose to the spending. “While we hear ‘we don’t want any more Democrats in Montpelier to raise taxes,’ at the same time we do need to invest in our state for the future,” he said.

The candidates also have different stands on gun control. French and Hooper said they would support universal background checks for gun sales.

Jickling said he is “open to any discussion around trying to prevent gun violence. What I think is really important is the issue doesn’t become a political talking point” and that finding consensus on both sides is important.

Orleck said he sees no need for further legislation, given the low rate of gun violence in Vermont. “I think we have (other) problems we have to deal with. This is not a pressing issue,” he said.

On marijuana, French voted against a Senate bill that would have led to legalization with large companies growing and selling marijuana, but backed an amendment to allow small amounts of homegrown.

Orleck cites his prosecution experience in Hawaii and said he is opposed to any legalization, raising concerns about the impact of marijuana on developing brains, people with mental health problems, and drugged driving.

Jickling he would rather spend legislative time dealing with the opiate problem, rather than legalization of marijuana.

Hooper was the most in favor, saying legalization is inevitable and that Vermont should move quickly to capitalize on the tax revenue that could be captured.

It is “what I think would be a pretty profitable market if we regulate it well, and I think it has some pretty tremendous medical benefits, particularly for war veterans,” he said.


In another House district from Orange County, state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas is unopposed in her bid for a seventh term representing Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee.

The 46-year-old Copeland Hanzas, a Bradford resident who serves as the House Democratic leader, has said she is interested in running for House speaker in January.

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