If elected, Democrat Emily Hecker will be the first woman to represent Milton in the Vermont House of Representatives in at least 10 years.
“We deserve to have legislators and leaders who look like us,” she said. “I’m a working mom who struggles and can relate to a lot of people’s experiences.”
Hecker moved to Milton in 2016 with her husband and three children. She was elected to the Milton Town School District school board in 2018 and is the director of communications and development for the Winooski School District.
Running for political office was never part of Hecker’s plan — she’s even admitted to not being a natural leader, but recent events and encouragement from the Vermont Democratic Party convinced her to step into the race.
“I was really appalled at the current representatives’ voting choices on issues that I feel are really important for Milton: raising the minimum wage, the Global Warming Solutions Act and urgently-needed police reform,” she said. “I felt obliged to step up and provide a different choice for Milton.”
Hecker hopes to represent what she said is a whole group of long-time Milton residents who have been waiting years for Democratic-Progressive leadership.
“I want to be a voice of inspiration for any young women who feel like they are not adequate enough,” she said.
Last week, Hecker spoke with the Independent via phone. Her responses have been edited for length. See italicized Editor’s Notes for more context and links for fact-checks.
The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?
I definitely support the legislation that was presented. I think those are good starts, and I think we need to go beyond that.
Our entire policing system needs to be re-thought. I think the police officers in our current system are tasked with something that's not fair, and it's setting them up to struggle and sometimes fail, because they're tasked with providing support for people who are mentally ill, suffering from substance-use disorder, for family disputes, when really what's needed there are trauma-informed therapists and specialists who can help make things better for families.
It's not an easy task or an easy change. I think any work that is done in terms of criminal justice reform or police reform needs to happen with the police.
What should legislators do to address the impact of COVID-19 on low-income Vermonters?
The pandemic and the recession are exacerbating issues that we already have.
Raising the minimum wage would be a good start — to $15 an hour.
Truly affordable higher education is something else that we need to really prioritize as a state, as well as high-quality public education. We have the fourth best in the country, but we can still do better and we still see inequities.
Here in Chittenden County, Milton is near the bottom in terms of per-pupil spending on education. We're a town that struggles to pass our school budget, so we really need to prioritize public education in a way that's equitable for homeowners.
I’d like to see us revise and change our education funding mechanism to income-based rather than property-based.
These are all things that need to happen no matter what, even after the pandemic is no longer something we are urgently dealing with.
Economists are expecting Vermont to face shortfalls when it is time to prepare the fiscal year 2022 budget, especially the Education Fund. How should the state address that loss?
I’m not an expert. It’s taken me every single day I’ve been on the school board to figure out our education funding system in Vermont, and it’s very complicated.
My concern is, even in a post-pandemic world, we are still pitting homeowners who are struggling to afford the roof over their heads against our struggling students. Schools provide so much more than education. They provide food. They provide mental health services. They provide a safe place for students to go during the day.
I would like to see a more sustained change than kind of punch-hitting through this crisis, and so I think a fifty-fifty split between income tax and property tax would be a really good place to start. I’m also really adamant that this is not a time to make cuts and reduce services.
Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?
I love living in Milton because there's the forest and the Riverwalk, and all these beautiful places to go, and that's what makes Vermont so special. And that can't change. It needs to stay just the way it is.
I think it’s great that we are reviving so many old downtowns, but we need to make sure when we are renovating older homes and properties we are making them more environmentally-friendly.
My house is a good example. We bought a house on Main Street, which was built around 1850, and we’ve insulated it and put in solar panels. We’ve done environmentally-sustainable upgrades that still keep the history alive.
I think that’s something we really should focus on because it will also create a lot of well-paying jobs in Vermont.