Five Candidates on the Ballot for Two Randolph-Area House Seats

  • Dan Brown

  • Jay Hooper

  • Ben Jickling

  • Larry Satcowitz Ben DeFlorio

  • Stephen Webster Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2018 11:47:58 PM
Modified: 10/27/2018 11:47:59 PM

Randolph — The gun safety legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Scott last spring is at the heart of the race for the two Vermont House seats in the Randolph area.

Five candidates are vying to represent the Orange-Washington-Addison district, which includes Braintree, Brookfield, Granville, Randolph and Roxbury.

State Reps. Jay Hooper, D-Randolph, and Ben Jickling, I-Randolph, both supported two of the three bills passed last session but rejected the third.

“That was by far the most challenging vote of both sessions,” the 24-year-old Hooper said.

After much reflection, Hooper said he decided to support H.422, which addresses guns and domestic violence, and S.211, regarding the removal of firearms or other dangerous weapons from individuals who are deemed at risk. Hooper, who grew up on a goat farm and serves on the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, described the bills’ impact as “narrow in scope.”

He said he voted against S.55 — which placed a limit on magazine sizes for firearms, increased the age to purchase a firearm to 21, expanded background checks to private sales and banned bump stock rapid-firing devices — because he felt it was too theoretical and that it was not supported by constituents in the rural district, many of whom are gun owners.

“I felt, ‘Man, I’m in Orange County,’ ” he said.

Likewise, Jickling, a 24-year-old who works at Montague Golf Course and serves on the House Health Care Committee, voted for H.422 and S.221, but against S.55. The former bills helped ensure that the state would be able to “keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” he said.

The latter, including the magazine limit, left Jickling with concerns about how it would be implemented.

Both Republicans in the race, 74-year-old semiretired Randolph attorney Stephen Webster and 41-year-old Braintree truck driver Daniel Brown, said they would have voted against all three of the gun bills. They also said they suspect the laws, or elements of them, may be thrown out in court.

The magazine limit included in S.55 doesn’t prevent people from coming into Vermont from out of state with larger magazines, Brown said. As a result, the law leaves “people defenseless or outgunned,” he said.

Webster, a former Orange County prosecutor who has previously served in the House and as Senate president pro tempore, said he doesn’t see a need for these sorts of gun laws in the state.

“I don’t think we have the problem (of gun violence) in Vermont and we have a tradition of honoring the Second Amendment,” Webster said.

The fifth candidate, Randolph Selectman Larry Satcowitz, a 52-year-old Democrat who teaches computer applications courses at Vermont Technical College, said he would have supported all three gun bills.

“I think they were moderate and reasonable,” he said. It “seems like the time was right.”

Legal Marijuana

The candidates also were divided in their views on marijuana, with both Democrats supporting the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use and the aim of establishing a tax-and-regulate system. In contrast, both Republicans said they oppose any form of marijuana legalization, while Jickling said he opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana, but could support a tax-and-regulate system if questions about safety could be answered.

Jickling said he opposed the recreational bill because “the structure of it is kind of hokey” and it may increase reliance on a black market. But before he would support a tax-and-regulate system, which he described as “the next logical step,” Jickling said, he would like to know how law enforcement would be asked to manage impaired driving and how the state would restrict use by minors.

Like Jickling, Brown said he is concerned that there is insufficient information available about how marijuana might interact with medications people may be taking and that drugged driving would be difficult for law enforcement to manage.

“I think we have enough problems in Vermont right now,” Brown said.

Webster said he opposes the legalization of marijuana and would vote against allowing its commercialization.

“I think that’s a very dangerous substance, particularly for young people,” he said.

Satcowitz, however, said he feels the time was right to legalize marijuana.

“Penalizing marijuana consumption doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Hooper said he sees the marijuana industry as an “emerging market.” Now, he said, he’s concerned that Vermont may be behind other states in developing its own industry.

“We should be constructing a tax-and-regulate market,” he said.

Mostly ‘No’ on Carbon Tax

Most of the candidates opposed the idea of Vermont implementing a carbon tax on fossil fuels such as gasoline, heating oil and propane. At least one, though, might support such a tax if it were implemented at a regional or national level, however.

Satcowitz, who declined to take a position on a carbon tax, was the most open to Vermont implementing one. But he said, “It really depends upon the details of it.”

Rather than a tax, he said, he would like to see the state focus on increasing investment in renewable energy and increasing energy-efficiency efforts.

Jickling also said he would like an increased push toward energy efficiency. He would not support a carbon tax because such a measure “disproportionately hurts people who live in rural areas and low-income people,” he said.

Hooper, who began his campaign last time with a carbon tax on his platform but removed it after talking with voters, said he remains opposed to the state implementing such a tax on its own. He would, however, be “open-minded” if an opportunity to implement a carbon tax at a regional level were to arise.

Not only would Brown oppose a carbon tax, he said he would like to reduce the overall tax burden on Vermonters.

“Vermont has a spending problem,” he said. “I’m going in there fighting for less taxes.”

Webster said a carbon tax would put Vermont at an economic disadvantage.

It would “make all the products we import to eat or use here more expensive,” he said.

Education Philosophies

Both Republican candidates said they are supportive of school choice and would back measures to expand options for families. Rather than consolidating schools as Act 46 suggests, Brown said the state ought to pay parents who want to home-school their children.

“Anytime the government is in control of your money, they don’t spend it responsibly,” he said.

Webster also supports the districts that have navigated Act 46 mergers by preserving school choice.

“I like that parents can pick a school that has an educational philosophy that’s congruent with theirs,” he said. “I don’t think every student does well in government schools.”

The other candidates in the race expressed concern about the closures of small schools and questions about whether Act 46 mergers will lead to cost savings.

“I’m skeptical of the proposed savings,” Satcowitz said.

Hooper expressed similar skepticism about the savings and worried about the loss of small schools.

“I believe that these small elementary schools are like the heart of small communities,” he said.

Jickling, on the other hand, said the reforms contained in Act 46 need time to play out. Communities are being asked to have fundamental conversations about how they educate children, conversations they only have a couple of times a century, he said.

Between Act 46 and a special education funding reform bill, H.897, that passed last session, “Montpelier is asking them to do a lot,” he said.

Other Issues

Top on Satcowitz’s list of priorities is health care reform, he said, adding that he would be interested in working with other states to reduce health care costs.

“I would have thought that we would have reached the breaking point years ago,” he said. “It’s amazing that we put up with it.”

Health care is also on Jickling’s mind this election season, he said. Jickling, who sits on the board of the Randolph-based Gifford Health Care, said he is concerned that the consolidation of hospitals between the University of Vermont and Dartmouth-Hitchcock systems puts into question the role rural providers may have in the future.

Independent hospitals provide a real benefit, he said, noting that Gifford operates clinics in relatively far-flung communities such as Chelsea and Rochester, Vt.

He has “a hard time believing that UVM would continue that,” he said.

Hooper’s focus is on agriculture. He said he would like to help farmers diversify their income streams through paths such as agritourism.

“We have farmers to thank for our working landscape,” he said.

For his part, Brown said he would like to address the opioid epidemic by implementing stiffer penalties for people found to be bringing drugs into the state.

“We should be able to protect our citizens,” he said.

Though Webster said he has no particular agenda, he is running to support Scott, whom Webster expects will be re-elected, but who can barely see a veto sustained with the number of Republicans currently in the House.

“I want him to have some Republicans to back him up,” Webster said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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