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Minter Runs on Competence

  • Former Vermont Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter, D-Waterbury, left, talks with Three Bean Cafe owner Shari Dutton at the cafe in Randolph, Vt., on July 26, 2016. Minter spent a few minutes campaigning at the cafe after an interview. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Vermont Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter, D-Waterbury, left, talks to Scarlett Rich, 2, of Randolph, Vt., as Rich's mother, Tia, watches at Three Bean Cafe in Randolph, Vt., on July 26, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Vermont Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter, D-Waterbury during an interview at Three Bean Cafe in Randolph, Vt., on July 26, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Sarah Priestap

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2016 12:28:15 AM
Modified: 8/8/2016 1:11:34 PM
Randolph — As Sue Minter stepped behind the counter of Three Bean Cafe on Tuesday, the former Vermont secretary of transportation began the well-versed script many politicians follow this election season.

A friendly smile to owner Shari Dutton was followed by a warm introduction and question of how long the business has been in Randolph.

“Twelve years this summer,” Dutton replied.

That’s when Minter, a Waterbury Democrat, broke off the politico script. She didn’t pivot to talking points about small businesses or throw out a pleasantry about the cafe.

Instead, she asked in an understated tone, “So, you survived Irene?”

While Tropical Storm Irene had a lasting impact on families and businesses who struggled to recover from the devastation, it also left its mark on Minter, 55, who worked to stem the damage.

The former state legislator and transportation official has made Vermont’s response to the storm a centerpiece of her campaign for governor, promising the same efficient and caring approach to other state issues.

“It was our job to really mobilize quickly, to be innovative, to create partnerships and to get done what I think nobody thought possible,” said Minter, who served as deputy secretary of transportation during the 2011 storm and its aftermath.

After the initial emergencies subsided, Minter was appointed Vermont’s Irene Recovery Officer, and her job changed from fixing infrastructure to helping families find aid.

“We had total communities turned upside down, including my community of Waterbury.” she said in an interview at the cafe. “That was an extraordinary time and, I think, the seeds of why I want to continue my leadership.”

Minter was sent to Colorado to aid that state’s disaster recovery after extreme flooding in 2013, and was appointed Vermont’s Secretary of Transportation in 2015. She said she takes great pride addressing problems, such as deficient bridges, in a customer-friendly way.

It’s with that approach, bridging the gap between local and state, that she wants to take on more issues as governor, such as healthcare, education and renewable energy.

“I have experience in running government, in making it function — even in a crisis — and really delivering,” said Minter, who on Thursday won the endorsement of former Gov. Howard Dean.

Reforming the Vermont Health Connect to better serve Vermonters getting health coverage through the system will become a top priority in her administration, she said.

“I care about government. I think it’s essential and that it be essential for it to function well,” she said.

In that spirit, Minter plans to refocus the state’s health care system to think more about outcomes than just appointments and prescriptions. Instead of a hospital system that invests heavily in emergency care, she wants to see more investment in preventative programs that also include social care and housing components.

“I want to get back to the discussion on single-payer and universal access too,” she said, adding that she would be most interested in a program that extends Dr. Dynasaur, which provides health care for Vermont children in families under a certain income level, to age 26.

As a mother of two, Minter said she’s also dedicated to the public school system. She takes a more supportive stance to the state’s new education law, Act 46, than some of her opponents and supports small reforms to give some communities more say over the merging of districts.

“Act 46 has been important to begin a very hard conversation that we need to have district by district,” she said. “When we have been able to unify under one governance structure, I can see the benefits for students, for teachers and for cost effectiveness.”

But Minter understands the concerns of some towns and cities that argue the state’s “one size fits all” approach isn’t right for them. As governor, she’ll be responsible for appointing four new members to the state Board of Education, and will be looking for people who appreciate the uniqueness and difference of Vermont’s communities.

“Really, the game is going to be decided at the state Board of Education, and I will be looking to work with legislators to enable greater flexibility,” she said.

Although the state does a good job providing students with an education through high school, not enough is being done to ensure children with an education past that, Minter said. To encourage more people to seek higher education, she’s calling for students to receive two free years at both the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College.

The higher education initiative is part of her plan to get younger people to stay in Vermont.

“I believe that Vermont can be a magnet for young people and entrepreneurs,” she said.

Minter called for the state to partner with local communities and invest in downtown. With more affordable housing, vibrant villages and public transportation, millennials will want to be in Vermont, she said.

In her first year in office, Minter has promised to identify three communities committed to reworking their downtowns and in need of an economic boost. Her office would then prioritize investments to the communities to help them grow.

She pointed to Barre as an example Vermont community that can make the transition using state money. There, a $19 million in public investment was used to attract an additional $45 million in private one, she said.

“I think the narrative that Vermont is losing all of its people and is kind of withering on the vine isn’t what I see,” Minter said. “Yes, young people with mobility do have the opportunity to leave. They also have the ambition to come back.”

After seeing the effects of large storms and harsh weather hit Vermont, Minter said she’s dedicated to promoting wind and solar power. She hopes to continue the state’s divestment of coal and keep it on track to use 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

If elected, she’ll also be charged with appointing the next Public Service Board chairperson. It’s a task she plans to take on with community in mind.

“I believe what the state needs to do is to really help regions and communities do the planning they need around where they do and don’t want facilites,” said Minter, who holds an advanced degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She added that the state should have its own plans to solar and wind, but they should be supplemented by local planning too.

On gun control, Minter credits herself as the first gubernatorial candidate to endorse tougher measures. When she began campaigning, she said, some officials told her Vermont didn’t have a gun problem.

“I know that we do,” she said. “I know it because some of the visits I made to social service agencies have been to safe homes for the victims of domestic violence.”

Between 1994 and 2004, 50 percent of all Vermont homicides were related to domestic violence, and 57 percent of those were committed through firearms, according to the state Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission.

“I don’t want to leave women unsafe behind their doors,” Minter said, explaining her calls to require criminal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons.

In states that have adopted universal background checks, she said, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners.

After this year’s debate in the Legislature, Minter said she is also supportive of calls to legalize marijuana. She said prohibition “isn’t working” and said Vermont is one of the highest using states in the nation.

Minter said legalization is important, but that should come with a “very robust” investment in substance abuse education. There must also be a roadside test that law enforcement can work with, she said.

The statewide primary will be held on Aug. 9, where voters will choose between Minter, former state Sen. and Google executive Matt Dunne and former diplomat and state Sen. Peter Galbraith.  

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.
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