Welcome to "Fringe Friday" — our new weekly web series about the independent and minor party candidates running for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Each Friday we'll profile a different candidate seeking higher office in the Green Mountain State, many of whom are pitching more radical ideas for bettering the lives of average Vermonters.
For our first installment, we interviewed Independent Emily Peyton of Putney (pictured), a candidate for governor making her first run for public office. While "fringe" might seem disparaging, we don't mean it that way. Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third party candidates on the ballot, giving voters the option to choose from a wide menu of ideologies. Still, these candidates rarely garner more than 1 percent of the vote, perhaps due to their less-traditional ideas, or poor organization or even lack of media exposure. As such, they remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
Candidate: Emily Peyton
Office sought: Governor
Education: Marlboro College (2 years; did not graduate)
Occupation: Activist, Filmmaker, Full-time Mother
Family: Peyton grew up In East Dorset, Vt., Princeton, N.J., and Cambridge, Mass., the daughter of musicians. Her father was a composer at the New England Conservatory and her step-mother was chair of the Vocal Department there. Peyton was trained in music notation theory and says she's penned operas and musicals. Her partner is a mechanic. She has two children: Joe, 20; Max-Anthony, 19
Platform: Peyton wants to radically overhaul how Vermont conducts banking, lending and community development. Her proposal has four "cornerstones." The first is a state-owned "Bank of Vermont" that would control the state's $4 billion treasury and use it to make loans to Vermont businesses and individuals in need of capital. The second is a system of so-called "common good banks" in every community in Vermont, essentially a pool of money controlled directly by a board that approves individual loans, with general guidance from the individual depositors. The point is to direct bank "profits" back into the community and not to CEOs. The common good banks would exist mostly as online entities, working in partnership with Vermont credit units, and would have no corporate management structure, or corporate payroll, to speak of. The third cornerstone, borrowed and adapted from Progressive/Independent Anthony Pollina, is to create a "Vermont credit card" that would reinvest a portion of interest payments into Vermont's small farms and enterprises. Lastly, Peyton wants to create a "Vermont Unit of Exchange," or V.U.E., that would be an alternative compensation system for low-paid laborers, artists, Vermonters on social services and those struggling to pay tax bills.
I sat down with Peyton yesterday at Magnolia Bistro in Burlington, where she greeted me with with a big hug. (Afterward, Peyton made a short video introducing herself and her agenda. Scroll down for that.)
Seven Days: Who is your political hero?
Emily Peyton: Mother Teresa. I like a combination of [Ralph] Nader, Ron Paul and [Congressman Dennis] Kucinich and I've encouraged them to work together and they've begun to. Princess Diana and her work. To a certain extent, Martin Luther King, but I didn't like that he cheated on his wife.
SD: What's the very first thing you would do as governor?
EP: Be thankful. Working on being very grateful that we are in a state that has enough connection to the Earth that we can make the transformation that needs to happen.
SD: What's the first official action you would take, once you're conferred with the powers of the governor's office?
EP: Well, I'm going go keep my focus on creating these financial needs. I have a lot of views about our health care system. I think it's absolutely criminal that people have to be mandated to make a profit for a finite group of insurance companies. I think that's unconstitutional as a matter of fact. And I also think our western health care system, without looking at the pharmaceutical companies' intent to keep people sick in order to buy pharmaceuticals, and simply looking at how to fund, to get people access to it, is incomplete. Also, the numbers of illnesses that have sprung up as a result of the corporate food industry — our stomach cancers, our diabetes — have just ballooned in the last decade. Our health care system needs to be purified.
SD: What do you think is the biggest threat facing Vermont.
EP: The biggest threat of all? Economic war waged against Vermont by corporate interests. That's as cruel as any other war.
SD: How would you come up with $100 million in cuts or tax increases to close Vermont's budget deficit? Actually, the deficit's going to be much higher next year, but $100 million is a nice round number.
EP: Well, there's one source of income that hasn't been tapped that in all fairness should be. We're in this fix because of derivatives, because of the bankers who have engaged in gambling activity with these hedge funds and the fact that the Congress ignored the will of the people in bailing out the banks. What we're looking at is a Wall Street Transfer Tax. Right now, all those transactions are happening tax free. Yet, because of the bailouts, each person is going to be responsible for something to the tune of $44,000. Now we need to understand that the spiritual depravity that leads these people to accumulate wealth and ignore the importance of compassion, needs to be addressed. One percent is called a Tobin tax on these transactions, which would generate a lot of money, millions. What is fair is fair. If everybody here is paying a sales tax of 6 percent and 10 percent on meals and rooms tax, then people who are exchanging derivatives, which is essentially gambling behavior, can pay 6 percent sales tax on that as well.
SD: So it would be a state-level tax passed through the Vermont Legislature, applied to transactions? How much do you think that could raise in a year?
EP: It would be very speculative. One percent, I think it could raise about $750 million, close to $1 billion. ...We've got a paradigm shift to accomplish. We've got to change the whole feeling on being taxed and having things taken out of our pocket.
SD: Name three skills you have that would make you a great governor.
EP: I generally inspire people to work their hardest and do their best. And I delegate very well. And I don't know if it's a skill — I think it's a quality — I'm not self-motivated. I'm motivated for the good of all.
SD: What do you think is the biggest misperception people might have about you?
EP: I'm much more conservative on a personal level than people might think. I don't smoke pot. I'm not even addicted to chocolate. I do like a cup of coffee. I'm not as wacky as it seems. I'm very honorable and honest with my personal relationships.
SD: What can Vermont do to strengthen its arts scene?
EP: The Vermont Unit of Exchange will do that. It will give credit to those who are working in the arts and being creative. Where I live in Putney — Putney has the highest number per capital of artisans in the entire country. What that means is that it, somehow, because of its intrinsic connection with nature, inspires creativity. And that is a resource that that area, and Vermont as a whole, has. We ought to be capitalizing on that and also enabling our artisans to be connected with the rest of the country as a Mecca for art and a place to come to be inspired, a place for writers to come.
SD: What's the last book you read?
EP: I read numbers at a time. I'm reading an autobiography of Nikola Tesla right now.
SD: Do you think Michael Jacques should get the death penalty?
EP: I'm not up to speed with Michael Jacques.
SD: He's the man who murdered Brooke Bennett, the 12-year-old girl. He's on trial in a federal death penalty case.
EP: Death is not the final door that spirits go through. ...I think it's a mistake for society to think that by killing the person they're killing the spirit, because the spirit is everlasting. I also can see that certain people have been so misaligned and so wounded that they won't ever be safe people. But killing them is not going to solve anything.
SD: You're running to make a point, right? Or do you really think you can win?
EP: I'm running to win. Since I was 5 I knew I was going to be a major politician. And then I was disgusted. I thought I'd rather be a whore than be a politician. But events since Bush, it's become clear why there's a need for my voice. But it's going to be on my terms.