Q: Should the work of a State Government be performed by a State Employee?
A: Yes, state government work should be done by state employees. The practice of contracting out the work leads to increased expense and less oversight, as we have seen on the federal level. In rare cases outside expertise can be utilized, but it should be only for clearly defined purposes and deliniated time periods.
Q: As an elected official, how would you approve the overall safety of state employees?
A: This issue arises in the wake of last August’s terrible tragedy in Barre. I think we need to honestly acknowledge that we could spend $100 million dollars in security upgrades, but tragedies can still occur. In Ms. Sobel’s case, she was shot outside her building by a woman clearly hellbent on murder. It was very, very difficult to prevent.
I think the most important approach we can take is to focus – both publicly and amongst ourselves – on the courage and integrity it takes to be a government employee, and the value our employees bring to our community and our lives. It really angers me to turn on the news and see people like Representative Chaffetz in Washington routinely lambast federal agencies, all the while making budget cuts that make it impossible for them to do their jobs effectively. Those of us who remember the early 1960’s can remember the excitement and challenge President Kennedy brought to government service at every level. We need to rekindle that spirit.
Q: What is your plan to make the health care system more fair and equitable for working Vermonters?
A: The truth is that working Vermonters are probably better off in this regard than those in many other states. We have one of the highest rates of insured patients in the country, and this includes many of the working poor. This is a credit to our expansion of medicaid and the efforts and mandate of the Green Mountain Board to control rates. The challenge now is how to afford this in a small and financially challenged state. If elected I would be the only physician in the state senate, and I would like to use my many years of direct experience in the field to work on issues of cost effectiveness and availability of health care.
This relates to the question on budget shortfalls, since medicaid expenditures are busting the state budget, and we don’t really have a dedicated revenue source to meet those expenses. As all of the candidates have said, we do need to increase revenue and likely increase population to support our social service base.
Q: Will you support collective bargaining and vote against “Right to Work” legislation in any form?
A: I do support collective bargaining. The right-to-work issue is clearly one which has divided states and regions. Approximately half the states in the country have some form of right-to-work laws in place ( although not in New England ).
In general I strongly support unions and believe they serve an important role in providing a voice and a vote for working people. I am beginning to get involved in trying to unionize physicians. The majority of physicians now work in salaried positions, often for large corporations. Although well-paid, my concern for physicians (and their patients) is that doctors are coming under increasing pressure from the corporations to cede their professional autonomy and act in the interest of the corporation rather than the patient.
The Stark amendment, which for decades has kept doctors from unionizing, is being loosened in the face of the Affordable Care Act and the creation of large accountable care organizations, and it is in this new climate that we can press ahead to helping physicians organize.
Q: What do you see as the role of State employees and how would you support them in their role?
Q: What mechanisms would you put in place to avoid budget shortfalls?
Q: What approach would you take to make higher education more affordable for Vermonters?
Q: What would you do to ensure the viability of the state college system?
A: We need to start by providing better and more consistent funding to the state colleges. We rank last or nearly last in the country for state funding for higher education. We lag behind Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and this is simply unacceptable. This year, for the first time in many years, the legislature allowed a slight increase to the state colleges. That is like a few drops of rain after a long drought. The CCV and Vermont Tech systems are doing a great job of helping students transition to meaningful internships and work, and they should be supported. In the four year programs, we need intensive involvement by college academic counselors to help students graduate on time. Affordable college education in Vermont for Vermonters is one of the best ways to help our talented young people stay in Vermont as they transition to their adult lives.
Q: Do you support a livable wage for Vermonters? If so, what do you think that amount should be?
A: Yes, I do. I take care of patients every night in the hospital who are working two or sometimes three jobs just to get by. The challenge is determining what is a livable wage for Vermont and finding the right set point where it helps both workers and businesses.
Q: Briefly state why the VSEA should endorse you and describe the type of assistance that you would be seeking from a VSEA endorsement.