Q&A: Candidates for U.S. Senator | Primary Voter Guide | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Q&A: Candidates for U.S. Senator

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Published June 29, 2022 at 9:59 a.m.
Updated June 29, 2022 at 11:13 a.m.


Isaac Evans-Franz, Niki Thran, Peter Welch, Gerald Malloy, Myers Mermel, Christina Nolan - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Isaac Evans-Franz, Niki Thran, Peter Welch, Gerald Malloy, Myers Mermel, Christina Nolan

The founders of the country divided the U.S. Congress into two chambers — the House and the Senate. Together, they make up the legislative branch of the federal government. The House and the Senate pass bills; the president decides whether to sign the bills into law.

There are a few important differences between the two. Representation in the 435-member House is based on population. So California, Texas and New York have many more representatives than small states like Vermont. But in the Senate, all states are equal. Two senators represent each one, giving smaller states more per-capita influence.

The way the Senate is structured also makes it easier for the minority party to block the will of the majority, most famously through use of the filibuster, a tactic unique to the Senate. Checking this move requires a supermajority of 60 votes — difficult to muster in the current evenly divided Senate.

Unlike House members, who serve two-year terms, senators serve for six years — longer even than the president. And just a third of them are up for reelection at a time.

It's a place that's slow to change, but Vermonters will feel it shift this year: The Senate's longest serving member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), is retiring after nearly a half century of service. Three Democrats and three Republicans are competing to be their party's Senate candidate in the November general election.

Democrats

Isaac Evans-Franz

Brattleboro

Grassroots organizer, executive director of Action Corps, first high school student with a vote on the Vermont State Board of Education

Why are you running?

We need a new voice in Washington because the system is not working for most people. We need a leader who brings the concerns of everyday Vermonters to the Senate. Taking up the hard fight is what I have always done and is exactly what I will do as Senator.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

Played key role in passing VT legislation to expand dental workforce and access to care.

Coordinated 100+ organizations representing millions of Americans that secured in 2021 the largest global economic relief ever.

Organized largest anti-war mobilization since 2003, World Says No to War on Yemen Global Day of Action, in 2021, endorsed by 400 organizations in 30 countries.

Do you support ending the filibuster?

Yes. We must restore confidence in our government. We do that by allowing majority rule and getting rid of procedural games that stop progress. The filibuster is being used to block critical reforms, like protecting voters' rights. The crises facing us require action, and the filibuster must go.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

I will support the expansion of background checks and red flag laws, raising the age for purchase of assault weapons, and enforcement of laws on the books. I will work to ensure that gun manufacturers like Daniel Defense that market assault weapons to teenagers are barred from Pentagon contracts.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

I stand with Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski majorities in opposing the F-35s. Congressman Welch, who supported the basing, took tens of thousands of dollars from F-35 contractors. I challenged the congressman on F-35s in our June VPR debate. I will work to cut off Pentagon funding for the basing.

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

Sen. Jim Jeffords inspired me because of his independence and courage. A lifelong member of the Republican Party, he left his party when it no longer reflected his values. That decision shifted the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. I strive for that level of integrity and bravery.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a strong ally. I have worked closely with his office on food security, foreign policy, and defense of congressional war powers. I would also look to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as key allies on climate, economic justice and peace.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

I will continue to stay true to my values while finding common ground across party lines. I worked with Democratic and Republican lawmakers and constituent groups to advance life-saving legislation. I helped pass bipartisan efforts on congressional war powers and COVID relief in a divided Congress.

Niki Thran

Warren

Emergency physician at a hospital in Randolph, VT EMS District 8 medical advisor, president of the Vermont Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians

Why are you running?

I know I can help more Vermonters in D.C. than I can one by one in the E.R. I have seen firsthand how the American health care system is hurting Vermonters — that needs to change. I want to improve health care, combat climate change, and work towards equity for all.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

Past chair of the Town of Hartford Democratic Committee; past vice-chair of the Windsor County Democratic Committee

Vice-chair of the Town of Hartford Energy Commission

Besides being the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians Vermont Chapter, I have been very active nationally, promoting policies and passing resolutions on firearm safety, workplace violence and other issues

Do you support ending the filibuster?

Yes. The filibuster is a nondemocratic, outdated tradition that, while first being created to stop civil rights protections, has evolved to be used to prevent voting on any progressive legislation. If it isn't abolished, we will not see legislation passed addressing gun violence and the attacks on voting rights.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

We must enhance background checks, instate mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases and ban assault rifles. We must repeal the Dickey Amendment — a CDC funding freeze on firearm research. In the E.R. I already ask suicidal patients about firearms at home. This should be expanded to primary care settings.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

Not in the current form that they are today. We should disperse them amongst various airfields in New England and N.Y., each base having 2-3 jets. We could still protect the East Coast while significantly decreasing the number of flights in Vermont. Dispersing jets is strategically a better idea.

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

Dr. Howard Dean. I admire his activism, policies and broad contributions as lieutenant governor, governor, presidential candidate and DNC chair. I admire Vermont for leading the nation with civil unions. I am inspired by his intellect, honesty, integrity, genuineness and sense of humor.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

There are too many to mention, but this list are my Senate all-stars: Senators Schumer, Booker, Blumenthal, Duckworth, Durbin, Gillibrand, Hirono, Kaine, Klobuchar, Ossoff, Reed, Warnock, Warren and Whitehouse.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

I would ask to meet with the members of the opposing party individually. I would find common ground to work on legislation. I’m very proud that I have bipartisan support. Every day in the ER, I treat patients and work with folks with extremely divergent political views from my own.

Peter Welch

Norwich

U.S. Representative since 2007

Why are you running?

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We're facing affordability and climate crises with an imperiled democracy. It means that all of us must work to protect our democracy and help build stronger communities. I know we can address our challenges if we work together and bring the Vermont Way to Washington.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

First, as Vermont's congressional representative for the past 15 years, I listen to Vermonters and work to bring their values to Washington.

Second, I build coalitions to get things done, including starting the bipartisan Rural Broadband Caucus, which led to significant broadband investment in the infrastructure package.

Lastly, Bernie, Patrick and I have worked together every day to deliver for Vermont.

Do you support ending the filibuster?

Yes, the filibuster must be abolished if we are going to pass the critical legislation needed to address the multiple crises our nation faces. It's unacceptable that bills cannot even be brought to the Senate floor for debate, let alone voted on, because of the filibuster.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

Congress is on the verge of passing the first significant gun safety legislation in over 20 years, but we must do more to address the gun violence epidemic. I support banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, universal background checks, and closing loopholes in the federal background check law.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

We must address community concerns while preserving the flying mission of the Vermont National Guard. Local residents have serious concerns about the noise caused by F-35s. It's essential that the FAA, VT Guard, and the Department of Defense deliver federal resources to Vermont for more robust noise mitigation.

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

Patrick Leahy. He has served Vermont so well and faithfully in the U.S. Senate for the past 48 years. Patrick has always put Vermonters and their values and aspirations first. His leadership and service to Vermont will never be surpassed.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

Senator Sanders. I’ve worked closely with Bernie for decades. I was proud to receive his endorsement on Day One of my campaign. We are both focused on doing all we can to deliver for Vermonters, and we’d continue to be partners in that effort if I’m elected to the Senate.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

Trust is essential to building a strong political system and strong communities. I believe each of us, individually, has to treat one another with respect and civility. It’s the Vermont Way. We build trust by working together to find solutions for shared problems in our districts.


Republicans

Gerald Malloy

Weathersfield

Businessman, retired as an active duty Army officer in 2006

Why are you running?

Our constitutional rights and American way of life are threatened. I will provide desperately needed leadership for a better future for Vermont and America — not a future of dependency, control, reset. 42 years of relevant service: unmatched experience, performance, leadership to return to prosperity, order, limited government, under the constitution.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

Leadership/Experience: West Point, 22+ years worldwide military service with NATO partners/allies, combat veteran, NYC 9/11 JFO; 5 years' US Govt service, 20 Presidential Disaster Declarations.

Performance: 11+ years' business success in highly competitive D.C. area serving US Govt; MBA.

Vermonter: Father, 3 teenagers in Vermont schools. VFW, American Legion, NRA, GoVT, Church of Annunciation.

Do you support ending the filibuster?

No, I do not support ending the filibuster. The filibuster is part of the Senate rules and political process of Senate actions.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

I believe the root cause of mass shootings such as Buffalo and Uvalde is mental health, where the resources have gone from 300 to 15 beds per 100k. I would sponsor resources, and processes, for federal/state mental health capabilities, to identify/treat individuals with warning signs.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

If Vermonters want them moved I would discuss relocation, options, and economic/revenue/defense/cost considerations and impacts with local residents and business/city/state/federal organizations. I know many military current leaders: I could possibly get it done, maybe a win-win to a remote Vermont area.

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

Calvin Coolidge from the past: a man of honor, public servant that respected the constitution, treated everyone with respect, promoted economic prosperity and education, with a budget surplus. Vermont representative Bob Helm as a Vermonter from the present: veteran with 32 years of dedicated public service to Vermont.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

Any Senator willing to take the harder right over the easier wrong, not stuck on getting re-elected and spending recklessly. I will build consensus and support for a common goal with all Senators that are unwavering in commitment to abiding by the constitution, promoting prosperity, and ensuring order.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

I am engaging, a good listener, and able to develop relationships. I will continue these traits with all MOCs. I will represent and act in the interests of Vermonters, Vermont, and the United States, and will interact with all MOCs to support results for Vermonters, Vermont, and the United States.

Myers Mermel

Manchester

Businessperson, 35-year career in finance and banking

Why are you running?

I am running to be the voice of the people: a voice of commonsense conservatism. I want to build the Vermont economy and liberate us from the failed liberal policies of the past.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

Married and raised a family, while overseeing the corporate relocation of over 300,000 high-paying jobs within America.

Initiated the transformation of Times Square into a business district.

Acted as the exclusive real estate advisor to governor Pataki in the resettlement of nearly 900 companies from the WTC buildings after the destruction of the attacks on 9/11.

Do you support ending the filibuster?

No, the filibuster must remain as an important tool for the minority to check the party in power. We cannot eviscerate our bicameral legislature, and we cannot allow the Senate to become an extension of the House. However, we can, and should, look for ways to stop filibuster abuse.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

Any mass shooting is unacceptable. However, laws alone will not stop violence, and we cannot punish the law-abiding for the actions of the lawless. The 2nd Amendment should remain unchanged. We must increase mental health support and earnestly look for ways to reform the carceral state.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

I am willing to discuss alternatives with all stakeholders.

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

George Aiken – a Republican senator for three decades, he steered the federal government to action on inflation and unemployment, promoted federal aid to education and farmers, and played a historical role as national peacemaker. With a strong heart and able mind, he represented all Vermonters well.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

My allies will be those Senators — from any party — who choose to be pragmatic in helping Vermont families. I will work across the aisle to get legislation passed that stops runaway inflation, ends skyrocketing fuel and gas prices, and brings our fair share of federal funds back to Vermont.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

I will lead with the firm belief that only love conquers hate, embracing others of different beliefs and parties. My ministerial training will be very effective in listening, not judging, and building consensus. We must really put the effort forth to understand each other so that we can work together.

Christina Nolan

Burlington

Former U.S. attorney for Vermont, currently a partner at the law firm Sheehey Furlong & Behm

Why are you running?

I'm running because Vermonters need a fresh perspective. I will bring Vermont's independent voice to D.C. We need a senator who will stand with our law enforcement, promote public safety, fight inflation and get our economy back on track. I'll work with colleagues in both parties to do just that.

Three accomplishments that qualify you:

Overseeing historic growth at the U.S. Attorney's Office by convincing D.C. to send unprecedented resources.

Increasing charges against dangerous offenders by more than 50 percent while also bringing cases of national significance, including the Folks human trafficking conviction, the EB5 charges and the Purdue Pharma conviction.

Joining forces with treatment and prevention communities to fight the substance-use disorder crisis.

Do you support ending the filibuster?

No. It is incredibly short-sighted to end the filibuster. The filibuster is there to give the minority party a voice and influence. It also promotes bipartisanship. Terminating the filibuster would have negative consequences for both parties and Vermonters.

What should we do on the federal level to reduce gun violence?

I am a supporter of the bipartisan gun legislation that came out of the Senate negotiations, which I would have led had I been in the Senate. We also need more mental health and school safety funding. I believe in promoting red flag laws nationwide.

Do you support the basing of the F-35 fighter jets at BTV? If not, what would you do to move them?

I absolutely support keeping the F-35 in Vermont. We are the first National Guard station to house them, and we should fight to keep them here. They provide a technological advantage to the battlefield for our troops and they bring jobs to Vermont. Thank you to the National Guard!

Name a Vermonter who inspires you.

Justice Nancy Waples, who was recently sworn in as associate justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. Justice Waples has exactly the legal background and temperament one would hope for in a justice. The story of her upbringing is deeply moving, and she is known for always treating people well.

Who will your allies in the Senate be?

Senator Susan Collins is someone I admire and I believe I would govern in her way. I am pleased to have support from her and other leading Senators and I will work well with Senators in both parties who want to get results , rather than engage in constant partisan gridlock.

In an increasingly polarized Congress, how would you interact with members of the opposing party?

The same way I did as U.S. Attorney — by listening, treating others with civility and finding common ground, rather than trying to score political points. We can work together to tackle serious issues facing Vermonters and we can do it with fresh perspective and new leadership.