Candidate: Martha Allen
House District: Essex-Caledonia-Orleans (Westmore, Newark, East Haven, Ferdinand, Brighton, Bloomfield, Lewis, Lemington, Canaan, Norton, Avery’s Gore, Warren’s Gore, Averill)
What should be legislative priorities in the next session?
The legislature should focus on COVID-19 safety, relief, and recovery along with a balanced budget in the next session. Economic development, climate change, health care access, childcare, rural broadband, healthy schools, and criminal justice reform are all ongoing priorities.
What would you say are the top three priorities of the people you represent?
People I talk to are concerned with fair property taxation, lack of adequate internet service, and the survival of their small towns.
Define “effective legislator.”
An effective legislator communicates with and listens to her constituents on a regular basis. She advocates in Montpelier for the important issues that affect those living in her district. She represents all constituents, regardless of political party, and always considers state-wide as well as local impacts with every vote cast.
Where do you feel you differ from the other contenders in your district that makes you the candidate worthy of election?
I have energy and enthusiasm and will use those attributes to focus on the future of our district. I have a good working relationship with House leadership. Serving in the majority party will enhance my ability to move issues of importance forward, getting positive results for my constituents. I know I will communicate more often with more substance about what is going on in Montpelier than what we have been used to for the past several years. And you will know where I stand and how I voted.
Does the state budget need cutting or an influx of additional revenue? If cuts are needed, where are the areas to consider? If more revenue is needed, what would you spend it on and what tax or fee increases should be considered to pay for it?
The immediate need is for COVID recovery funds made accessible to support our schools and businesses. For the long term we realize that our state is getting older and the population is not growing at a pace that is conducive to a thriving economy. We must bring in more revenue by attracting young professionals and families who will contribute to our economy and grow the population. Investments in high speed internet and affordable childcare are necessary to attract newcomers to the state. We need to invest in our small towns by supporting community schools that incorporate a variety of needed services to communities into the school facility.
Whether it be climate migration or escaping COVID in more populated areas, we need to encourage new residents, and Vermont needs to prepare for them. Keeping money in Vermont wherever possible, using local businesses, manufacturing and ingenuity will help the state’s economy.
What do you think of education funding in Vermont?
I am proud of our excellent public education system in Vermont. Although considered one of the most equitable education funding systems in the country, the complex formula needs simplification so that taxpayers understand where their hard-earned money is going. We realize how important it is to educate young Vermonters and the investment is well worth it. We have a collective responsibility to provide our students with an education that prepares them for the future, resulting in living and finding employment here in Vermont as adults.
Do you support an increase in state funds to the Vermont State College System to aid struggling institutions like NVU-Lyndon? How much?
Higher education has long been an important value in Vermont. It is critical that we ensure a quality higher education system for any Vermonter who is looking to further their education. Our state college system has been underfunded for years and costs continue to rise. This has resulted in a particularly challenging fiscal situation. To ensure the survival of our state college system, the legislature should increase its financial support while at the same time encouraging other sources of revenue by creatively diversifying the campuses, using space on campus for housing, childcare, small businesses, incubator space, meeting places, etc., while continuing to offer excellent higher education opportunities for our college students. The NEK cannot afford to lose NVU-Lyndon!
Is there racial injustice in Vermont and, if yes, what do you propose the legislature does to address it?
Racial injustice exists in Vermont and has been overlooked or dismissed for far too long. Racism has reared its ugly head across the country and Vermont is not immune to the injustices put upon Vermonters of color in all corners of the state. Now is the time to confront racism and work to provide a safe place for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, to live and thrive. The legislature can lead by examining policies that support institutional and systemic racism and make the necessary changes to eradicate racial bias and discrimination in those policies. To make a difference in the everyday lives of all Vermonters, including Vermonters of color, we must examine our structures, laws, traditions, and behaviors, looking through a racial equity lens, and make the necessary changes to our systems. This is difficult but necessary work. We have begun this work by acknowledging the problem, but have much, much more work to do and it must be addressed in all state agencies.
What does success from the Global Warming Solutions Act look like in Vermont? What, if any, problems could result from the GWSA?
The Global Warming Solutions Act is a good start to acknowledging that Vermont must make changes to address climate change. In the NEK, we are experiencing warmer winters where ticks survive and have decimated our moose population. Our sugar makers worry about their sugar woods, and the maple syrup industry stands to suffer as temperatures rise. In Vermont, our reliance on fossil fuels needs to change, and affordable alternatives must be found. Those who travel long distances to jobs in the NEK have no option of public transportation or cannot afford an electric vehicle, even if there were enough charging stations for those vehicles. Our infrastructure is not built for renewable energy and we need to change that. We need to make sure that low income Vermonters are not penalized as we make these changes.
It is possible that the large group envisioned by the legislature to address the issue becomes unwieldy and ineffective. But our experience of setting lofty greenhouse gas emissions percentage reductions and then failing miserably to meet them suggests that it is time to invest in strategies that work, even if we all have to make some sacrifices. Our children and grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of our actions now.
What, if any, additional firearms laws do you think are necessary in Vermont?
I support safe and responsible gun ownership for our hunters. I personally own guns that my son and late husband have used for hunting over the years. There has been a long history of a healthy hunting culture in the NEK and I support its continuation, even though the number of local hunters has dropped dramatically in a generation. We do need to protect our most vulnerable Vermonters, however, making sure that guns are kept away from those who are struggling with mental illness, are underage, or who may use them irresponsibly. I will never vote to restrict responsible gun use, but if small accommodations can be made to protect vulnerable spouses from violence or reduce impulse suicides, I would listen to suggested solutions. It is well-known that women and children are the primary victims of irresponsible gun use.
What are the strengths in the state’s economy? What are the weaknesses? What can state government do to address the weaknesses?
One of Vermont’s strengths is that we work hard to always have a balanced budget, even though it is not mandated. Fiscal responsibility is important, and legislators take this seriously. Our greatest economic strength is our people; we are frugal, and we help our neighbors when needed. We are facing large deficits, though, and need to address this problem. We will need to consider public-private investment partnerships (I.e. affordable childcare and high-speed internet) that attract families and professionals to all counties in the state. To boost our state economy, we need to boost our local economies and the best way to do that is to have more people and jobs here to support a robust community.
COVID has taken a toll on our tourism industry and we need to address that, now. Visitors need to access rapid testing upon entering the state so that they can avoid the quarantine period and enjoy all that Vermont has to offer.
Concerning the state’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $12.55 in January 2022, is the increase too much or too little?
Increasing the wages of working Vermonters is key to a thriving economy. $12.55 is an improvement but the wage should increase in step with the cost of living. It is not right that full-time working Vermonters are forced to take two jobs or live in substandard housing or find themselves food insecure. We all benefit when working Vermonters can support themselves and their families, living in secure and healthy situations. It is also one more issue where the gender disparity in wages contributes to the higher number of women in financial distress, often with children to support.
What is your position on the state’s marijuana legalization efforts?
Marijuana should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. This ensures that Vermonters are not exposed to supplies from an unreliable market, and taxation would support education programs relating to marijuana use. I do not believe smoking of any kind is healthy but like tobacco and alcohol, if it is legal let’s make sure it’s not toxic and pays to support the state services required.
In recent years the state has been trying to address a substantial unfunded liability in state employee retirement obligations, but the liability remains high and the number of retirees grows. What should be done?
Vermonters who have paid into the state employee pension system for years have fulfilled their promise to the system and the state must fulfill its promise to those who dedicated their lives to public service in one form or other. We are fortunate to have a state treasurer who recognizes the value of our pension system and has a plan to pay back the unfunded mandate over a period of years. Our retired teachers and state workers planned for and depend on their pensions. This money often goes right back into the state economy, too.
What, if any, criminal justice and/or corrections department reforms do you advocate?
We are in a time of intense scrutiny of our criminal justice and corrections systems. For too long there have been inequities and discrimination and now is the time to review policies and procedures that are inequitable. We have institutional and systemic injustices that occur throughout the system that must be addressed. Rather than defunding the police, we should examine and reallocate funding to provide our police with appropriately trained staff for all the situations they are expected to respond to. Vermonters who are incarcerated out of state should be brought home to serve their sentences nearer to families and support systems.
More About Martha
Martha Allen is a retired public-school teacher from Canaan. She lives on Pollard Hill where she and her late husband Scott built their home and raised their two sons along with various animals and pets over the years. She is a proud grandmother of a young Vermonter, too! Martha has a deep appreciation for the Northeast Kingdom (NEK), and enjoys gardening, hiking, skiing, and biking outdoors, and reading, cooking, sewing, and knitting while indoors. The rural nature of this part of the state is one that she wants to preserve, and at the same time encourage growth by bringing more young families and businesses into the area.
Martha’s work as a teacher allowed her to get to know the students and families in her town. She really appreciates the people who care so much about their town and those who live there. Small towns are something that she treasures. As State Representative, she is eager to represent her town of Canaan and the other towns in the district: Bloomfield, Brighton/Island Pond, East Haven, Lemington, Newark, Norton, and Westmore. In addition to the towns with polling places, the UTGs (Unincorporated Towns and Gores) of Averill, Ferdinand, Warner’s Grant, Avery’s Gore and Warren’s Gore are included in the district. This means she will make sure our wilderness areas will be maintained so that they may thrive.
After thirty years of teaching, Martha spent nine years traveling to Montpelier during the week while serving as Vermont-NEA president. One of her responsibilities included representing teachers and support staff in the State House where Martha met and worked with many politicians and leaders. These relationships continue today and when serving as State Representative, she will have the ability to give issues of concern from the NEK a voice and move them forward.
COVID-19 has shown that there are many inequities in our state, and the lack of high-speed internet is one of the most evident. Our district needs broadband brought to every mile, up every road and into every hollow if we want to be competitive in a 21st century society. Martha will fight to get broadband into our district and improve access for everyone in the district.
Martha supports working families, public education, the rights of all people to be treated equitably, affordable quality health care, and a clean environment that attracts tourists and Vermonters year-round. She has a goal of supporting and increasing services to our small communities so that they attract and retain young professionals and families of all backgrounds. Martha will support a community school model that connects the services communities need to public school facilities, promoting a sustainable community for all residents.
Martha’s energy and enthusiasm as State Representative will manifest itself in many ways that benefit this corner of Vermont’s NEK. She believes that every Vermonter has the right to be safe and healthy and make a decent living. Her advocacy for all of her constituents is one that will endure and bring new vitality to the Essex-Caledonia-Orleans district.