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Norwich-Area Seats Contested

  • Vermont House candidate Tim Briglin outside the polls in Thetford, Vt., on Aug. 26, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • Jim Masland of Thetford is one of four candidates running to represent Windsor - Orange District 2 in the Vermont House. Masland spoke to the Norwich Democratic Committee during a candidates night at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

  • Nick Clark courtsey photo

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2016 12:12:54 AM
Modified: 8/5/2016 9:22:35 AM

Norwich — In the Democratic primary for state representative, a millennial candidate is seeking to frame his first-time run against two older incumbents as a contest of generations.

In Windsor-Orange 2, a two-seat district representing Norwich, Sharon, Strafford and Thetford, state Reps. Jim Masland and Tim Briglin, both of Thetford, face a challenger: 28-year-old Nick Clark, a Norwich native who recently moved north to Thetford.

Clark has made a perceived generational gap — his opponents are both old enough to be his father — the focus of his first run for public office.

“I started running because of the realization that young adults were either leaving the area or staying here and struggling, and they weren’t being adequately represented,” he said in an email this week. “It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that I know we can fix. I quickly realized, too, that a lot of people, young and old, felt voiceless.”

Masland, who is pursuing his 10th term in the Vermont House, and Briglin, who running for re-election for the first time, have proved a close pair during their two years serving together. They run a joint blog called the “Jim & Tim Report,” which offers semi-regular updates on their work, and they say they will vote for each other in this election.

Clark said he did not believe the two incumbents were “actively bad legislators” or personally responsible for Montpelier’s culture, but he did consider them out of touch with young people.

“They do lack that connection to younger voters by virtue of either not growing up here or not growing up here recently — not being young, poor or disaffected,” Clark said. “Try as they might, they are outsiders to the struggles so many people are facing today. Young adults are some of the most vulnerable, but people of all ages are struggling.”

Masland and Briglin emphatically rejected that charge.

“I commend him for getting involved and raising a voice,” Masland said, “but he is not correct, at least with regards to this legislator, that we’re ignoring his generation, that we’re out of touch with them.”

Outside of legislature, Masland, 67, has two jobs: he is a builder and renovator, as well as a supervisor and project manager for Habitat for Humanity. Between the two, he works with graduate students, Dartmouth College undergraduates, high-schoolers and young people in their first jobs.

Masland said that he makes a point of asking them about their hopes and dreams, and that his legislation, including a recent $700,000 grant he helped secure for the state college system, was meant to help make those aspirations a reality.

Briglin, 50, who is a founding partner of the Hanover-based private equity firm Tuckerman Capital, said he drew his inspiration as a legislator from all Vermonters.

“I speak with everybody,” Briglin said. “Young, old, middle-aged, children — the whole gamut.”

Briglin and Masland argued that many of the challenges they addressed as legislators — cost of living, internet connectivity, transportation, housing costs, child care costs, post-secondary educational costs — were “felt strongly” by young adults, as well as by the rest of the population.

The three candidates are close to agreement on several other high-profile policies.

On guns, all three expressed support for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

All three espoused an expansion of health care services, although they differed as to how that should be done.

Clark said the state should move toward universal health care, but declined to offer specifics, saying he would delve into policy after the election.

Briglin, who serves on the House Health Care Committee, floated several policy ideas, including enacting a payroll tax to finance expansion, expanding existing programs for low-income Vermonters and pursuing universal primary care.

Masland, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, put more emphasis on primary care, while taking a cautious outlook on a payroll tax.

“A payroll tax might be part of the solution,” he said, “but we need to make sure that small businesses aren’t put in jeopardy as we cross the threshold.”

On Act 46, the 2015 Vermont school district merger law, Clark said he believed the law should meet its goal of finding efficiencies in educational governance while still giving residents a say.

“In this instance, I would believe strongly in local control,” he said. “I don’t think Act 46 was well thought out, but I think we ought to make the best of it.”

Masland said the law’s goals were “laudable” but its authors had “completely overlooked the importance of local community support for the schools and how that builds the communities that make Vermont what it is.”

As Sharon, Strafford and Thetford have discussed a possible merger, the towns have run into difficulties with a provision of Act 46 that requires consolidating districts to have the same governance structure.

The three municipalities have similar interests but slightly different structures.

(Norwich, part of the interstate Dresden School District, is not required to merge, and has dropped out of talks with the other towns.)

Masland and Briglin said they supported a clarification of the law that would allow an “alternative” structure wherein their constituent towns could merge.

And Briglin, although he took a more positive outlook on the law than the other two, said he supported giving towns more time to weigh consolidation.

“The effects of these decisions are going to last decades into the future,” he said, so districts should have enough time to “get it right.”

Renewable energy siting is another issue of local control that has arisen in Windsor-Orange 2.

Last summer, as developers and state officials discussed the possible location of a large solar array at the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site, the Strafford Selectboard sharply criticized the regulatory process, which at the time did not give town officials the automatic right to participate.

In interviews this week, Briglin and Masland touted laws passed since then that give selectboards that status and also require that municipalities specify how they will contribute to Vermont’s energy goals. The state has committed to producing 90 percent of its energy through renewables by 2050.

Clark appeared to take a more aggressive line, saying he was “dissatisfied” with the state’s progress toward that benchmark.

“There are difficult questions about who’s going to pay for what and where we’re going to put it,” he said, “but at the end of the day, you have to do it.”

Asked whether Strafford residents, for example, should have veto power over an energy project in their town, Clark said that if the residents didn’t support it, legislators weren’t “doing their job” to convince them.

“Most people in Strafford understand that yes, climate change is real,” he said. “I think there’s something off with the conversation there that needs to be refocused and hasn’t been happening.”

The clearest difference between the three candidates came in their stance on marijuana.

Clark said it should be legalized with safety controls. Masland said he supported legalization of homegrown pot, but not of a commercial industry, which he feared could be taken over by large agribusiness.

And Briglin said that after speaking with educators, law enforcement and medical experts, he did not support legalization for now.

Although Briglin supports decriminalization, he said, “as we sit here now, I am not a proponent of legalization. I may be at some point in the future.”

No Republicans or members of other parties have filed for the two Windsor-Orange-2 seats.

Party primaries are next Tuesday.

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




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