Caroline Bright is one of two Democratic candidates for the Vermont Senate from Franklin County. The recent St. Mike’s graduate has dreamt of serving in the Legislature since she was a girl. Now, with former Democratic senator Don Collins and three Repubs, she finds herself in the thick of a hotly contested race for the two available seats.
I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know this poised and goal-oriented young woman, as she is likely to figure significantly in the political future of Franklin County. So I asked her to sit down with me over a cup of coffee at Cosmic Bakery in St. Albans.
I had read her bio and general Democratic profile on the campaign website, but I wanted to know more about her views on topics that are important to the folks around here.
It was a pleasant surprise to find that Caroline has depth beyond her tender years, and the self-confidence that would enable her to make an impression in the statehouse on behalf of her constituents. She comes to the table well-grounded in the complex world of politics and public policy, having majored in Political Science and minored in those twin disciplines that underly most modern conflict, History and Religious Studies.
One of the driving motives that brought her into this campaign is the need she sees to balance the legislature with more female voices. Women’s perspective, she believes, is essential and decidedly different when it comes to many issues that tend to impact their lives more substantially than their male counterparts. The lack of equal representation is one flaw that she sees in our citizen legislature, which she otherwise praises for its accessibility and relevance.
Throughout the early weeks of the campaign, Caroline has repeatedly emphasized her particular interest in the future of diversified agriculture and educational opportunity, both of which she feels represent essential cornerstones in the ability of Franklin County to prosper. In addition, she sees expanded technology opportunities as vital to the creation and retention of quality jobs for Franklin County residents.
I ran a bunch of topics past her and here’s what she had to say:
Education; The young candidate feels uniquely positioned to speak to the challenges facing young people in obtaining the education necessary to make their way in life.
She believes that quality education, including access to institutions of higher learning (college, tech and trade schools) should be a priority for the state and for the country; but that we should be looking for efficiencies to improve delivery of education to the broadest possible population at a manageable cost.
She is very much in favor of advancing distance-learning opportunities for rural communities, so that gifted high-school students can have access to A.P. courses and other forms of enrichment learning that are not currently supportable on a local basis.
If we don’t have an educated population, and that includes skilled technical education, there is no economic future for the state or the country.
Caroline brings an interesting and valid perspective to this conversation, as someone who grew up in a rural community she finds herself supporting school choice, not for the nation as a whole, but for the unique challenges of this rural state.
She sees increased distance learning opportunities as a possible way to achieve some of the benefits of school choice without the drawbacks.
She says we have to find a way to bring down the cost of higher education for Vermonters.
Diversified agriculture: Caroline sees a lot of potential in diversified crops and animal farming. She mentioned particularly the opportunities in goat-farming, artisan cheeses, and forestry. She knows the value of a vibrant working landscape. Her grandfather was a county ag agent and she knows well the importance of maple and dairying as traditional Franklin County industries. It is important that we
Develop safely, sustainably and reasonably.
Vermont GMO labelling: She says that consumers have the right to know what is in the food they buy to feed their families.
On water issues: She believes that everyone has a role to play in protecting the lake from further degradation; that everyone in Franklin County is a “stakeholder;” and that every party must have a seat at the table in order to have a successful outcome. She knows the struggle farmers are facing to control phosphorus and is encouraged that more are becoming actively engaged in that effort.
On the loss of young people from the state: Caroline says that a decline in youthful populations is being experienced across the country, so Vermont is not unique in facing that challenge. She believes we need to continue to create new opportunites in technical industries and to attract quality jobs to the area.
However, she also sees opportunities and new markets in the shifting demographics. Northwestern Medical Center represents one of those local growth industries that has recognized and begun to reach the aging client base with services related to preventative care, education and outreach.
Again, she says the appropriate response to a changing market is to be nimble and diversify.
She feels that one of the key factors in attracting a young workforce is to demonstrate how valued their voices are by electing some younger representatives, like herself, to the State House.
About “Trickledown” economics: She observes that it may be an appealing idea but has been demonstrated to be lacking in effectiveness. She says that while she is not a tax expert, the beauty of serving in a citizen-based legislature is that it brings on board individuals with diverse skill sets and she looks forward to learning a great deal from her colleagues in the senate.
In her view, it is most important to keep an open mind and listen to different arguments; and she she sees that working more effectively in Vermont than on the national stage.
She believes that people choose to live in Vermont for a lot of reasons, not just economics. She is in favor of offering tax incentives when the state wishes to keep employers in Vermont, but does not like the “scare tactic” of suggesting that businesses will shut down operation in the state unless they are given unfair advantages.
One of the interesting things she said was that she has been thinking about the other senate candidates from Franklin County, as she has met and gotten acquainted with them. Because there are two open seats, she is thinking about each one and how she might work best in a team with each one so as to bring about the best representation for Franklin County. I am reasonably sure that she is the only candidate who has taken that perspective, but it couldn’t hurt any of them to do so.
We touched on a lot of other things, but my overarching impression is that Caroline will be a force to reckon with in Franklin County politics and beyond. One of the things that carried Peter Shumlin to the governor’s seat was his energetic, confident personality and ability to overlay an argument with compelling passion. Caroline is at the very start of her career, but I see signs of the same drive and nascent political confidence developing in her.
This may be her first rodeo, but it certainly won’t be her last.