The two Republican and singular Democratic candidate for Milton’s Chittenden-10 House district shared differences and some surprising similarities during a candidate forum last Wednesday night.
Incumbent Republican Chris Mattos, Republican John Palasik and Democrat Todd Buik all participated in the debate co-sponsored by Lake Champlain Access Television and the Milton Independent at LCATV’s Colchester studios October 24. The three men are competing for two seats in the Vermont State House.
Moderator Kevin Christopher, also LCATV’s executive director, gave the three candidates two minutes for opening statements and for subsequent answers to questions crafted by him and the Indy. Questions were not provided in advance.
Christopher started with the tough topic of Vermont’s opioid crisis, asking House hopefuls what other efforts, if any, could be achieved legislatively to address the issue.
Though there were nuances in their responses, all three Miltonians essentially agreed Vermont needs to provide better access to addiction treatment. Palasik, a retired 37-year Milton police officer, admitted law enforcement can only do so much.
“We probably need to concentrate a lot more than we ever have on the actual recognition of the problem, getting treatment for the people and trying to provide more services such as counseling,” he said. “When they ask for help, they need to get the help, and we need to further educate everybody so they know help is available.”
Mattos, appointed in September 2017 when Milton Rep. Ron Hubert retired, said the legislature needs to institute harsher penalties for opiate dealers. He cited the case of Jeff Drown, a homegrown Milton heroin dealer, who was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison last month, as too weak a punishment.
“We need to crack down on those types of infractions,” he said. “That’s a main reason why these problems are happening in Vermont and around the nation.”
Buik called Vermont’s opiate problem a “disaster” and said former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign has clearly failed. He said the legislature should consider expanding treatment options to include lower-priced medication and traditional inpatient rehab, which he said costs less than imprisoning addicts.
The candidates later discussed recreational marijuana and if Vermont should institute a tax-and-regulate system, a measure that failed at last session’s end. If pot is sold in retail stores, how should Vermont use the tax revenue? Christopher wondered.
Buik said if marijuana is eventually sold on a marketplace, the state could use revenues for an education campaign. He also suggested cannabis should be regulated so the state can ensure the product isn’t laced with other drugs.
Mattos said that’s exactly why he voted against the legislation in the first place: because the bill didn’t include those protective provisions. Should it become commercialized, however, Mattos said after increasing awareness campaigns and regulation, any leftover cannabis revenues could also support fighting the state’s opiate problem.
Drawing on his experience policing, Palasik said he wouldn’t have supported the bill in the first place but said if pot ends up taxed, he would require revenues support means to help police detect impaired drivers. He added he doesn’t think a cannabis tax will fill all Vermont’s revenue shortfalls.
Christopher also quizzed candidates on S.55, the legislature’s gun bill that enacted several restrictions on gun owners, including raising the age to purchase one from 18 to 21, banning the possession of bump stocks and sale of large-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for private sales.
Mattos reminded viewers he voted no on S.55 after hearing the public’s feedback on a gun bill forum in Milton last Town Meeting Day. He said the legislature did provide millions of dollars for school safety improvements that benefitted Milton but noted he would not support stronger gun legislation in the future.
Palasik said S.55’s provisions won’t protect children from gun violence in schools. Instead, he said stronger physical security measures—locked doors, bullet-resistant glass and school resource officers—will help.
“I realize a lot of people would disagree with me on that, but that’s, I think, the reality of it,” he said. “If you want to get a gun bad enough, you’re going to get it.”
Buik told voters he supports the Constitution and grew up with guns in his home but believes background checks and banning large magazines were necessary measures.
“I have nothing against guns. It’s education and safety,” he said.
The candidates had varied responses on education funding and Act 46, Vermont’s landmark school consolidation law.
Palasik prefers giving more control to local districts. Buik praised Act 46’s awarding of tax breaks for districts that join together. Mattos said education is too expensive when Vermont’s student population is decreasing.
All three candidates seemed to support Vermont’s goal of sourcing 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050—they just differed on whether that metric is realistic.
Mattos said Milton already has three different renewable producers in town—Georgia Wind, Green Mountain Power’s hydro dams and a large solar array—and said solar credits help keep his home affordable. He agreed with Buik’s point that Vermont should look into installing more solar panels on rooftops.
And both Palasik and Buik agreed that even if the 2050 target doesn’t seem attainable, Vermont should still pursue it.
“I would love to see Vermont be the leader … I don’t think we can be the leader in this,” Palasik said. “We’ve led the country in other things, so who knows. It’s possible.”
Taking the mic next, Buik said: “I think it’s possible, and I think we need to start working in that direction. We can’t freeze.”
Voters will decide the outcome of this race on November 6; polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting is now available at the Milton town offices.