Randall Szott
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Barnard - Pomfret - Quechee -West Hartford

Vermont offers a progressive take on tradition and a tradition of progress.

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Why I'm Running

I want to keep Vermont moving forward. I have been committed to public life in a number of ways: local boards, activism, the arts+design, advising non-profits, public scholarship, education, and volunteering. Now I want to serve in the Vermont House of Representatives to honor our district's tradition of progress.

Four E's are driving me to run:

  • EDUCATION: to advocate for a simpler, fairer way to fund education.

  • ECONOMY: to fight for an economy that is equitable and expands Vermont's "working hands/working lands" tradition.

  • ENVIRONMENT: to push for environmental policies that promote a resilient, regenerative, and recreational agenda.

  • ENGAGEMENT: to harness a unique skill set in socially engaged art/design to inform a collaborative and fresh approach to civic participation and governance.

In each of these interdependent areas, the goal is to be inclusive, fair and in constant pursuit of the common good. Read more about them, and me, below.

 Giving testimony on the value of local control of educational decision making to the Vermont House Education Committee (2017).

Giving testimony on the value of local control of educational decision making to the Vermont House Education Committee (2017).

 

Vermont thrives, not despite its small size, but because of it. 

 

 
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My Story

I'm the son of a high school math teacher and a firefighter. I moved to Vermont in 2011 and moved to Barnard in 2014. I didn't move here for a job. I moved here because I love Vermont and I value the things that make it different from other places - the scale, the people, the traditions - even the tradition of cursing mud season.

I spent 11 years in college at 7 schools in 5 states and have 3 degrees (2 Master's and 1 Bachelor's). Despite all of that time in college (or maybe because of it!) I worked as a chef for 16 years, almost 10 of those on the water as a merchant mariner.  Parallel to this, I've been active in public scholarship that involves extensive writing, research, and public speaking. I have taught college courses across the country and locally in Green Mountain College's graduate program in Resilient and Sustainable Communities.  I recently accepted an invitation from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard to participate in The Four Publics Project and last summer was accepted to a three week National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute. My most recent cooking job was as the school chef for The Prosper Valley School in Pomfret. In 2017 I gave up professional cooking to become the Library Director of the Wilder Memorial Library in Weston, VT.

Beyond public service as a librarian, I was recently re-appointed to the Barnard Planning Commission after serving a three year term and was newly appointed to the Development Review Board. At Town Meeting I was also elected to the remaining term of the Middle School/High School Board. In terms of non-governmental service, I am on the board of Vermonters for Schools and Community, newly active in both the Vermont Creative Network and the Vermont Library Association, and have done significant farm to school advocacy and instruction.

My son is a middle school student and my wife is an Associate Professor of Art at UVM. In the summer months (the only time it is open for service!), we attend the First Universalist Church and Society of Barnard. I also recently converted to being a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates - don't ask.

                                                            Interviewing State Senator Dick McCormack about education for community television (2017).

                                                           Interviewing State Senator Dick McCormack about education for community television (2017).

Education
 

 
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Flexible - Inclusive - Valued

Strong schools are essential to strong communities and for attracting young families. Vermont's PK-12 education system has challenges, but it continues to be one of the top performers in the nation. Despite increases in per pupil expenditures, the overall cost of educating our children has remained essentially steady for nearly two decades (as a share of the state GDP).  The best way to relieve the current property tax pressure on taxpayers is to shift to income based funding of the school system. This would be a fairer, simpler, and smarter way to keep our schools strong. Just as individual learners are provided flexible pathways for education, communities should also be allowed to decide for themselves what the best scale, approach, and fit is for their local districts. Cutting staffing and consolidating schools may make sense in some situations, but in others it weakens public education and weakens Vermont.

There is near universal agreement on the educational and social/emotional value of quality Pre-K education, especially for at-risk and under-served children.  Act 166's funding of Pre-K tuition was a good start, but every effort must be made to invest in the expansion of Pre-K availability. Strong evidence suggests that these initial expenditures would be offset by reductions in special education and social services costs in the future. 

The strategic planning of secondary education school boards and administrators leans heavily toward the desires of middle to upper class families. Thus, they focus on four year college preparation even though only a third of VT students finish a four year degree. My mom had a college education and my father did not, both were able to find meaningful and rewarding paths in life. As a merchant mariner I worked with people that could weld, plumb, run and repair complex machinery, and build things from the ground up. We need to ensure that students that don't follow a post-secondary path have these, or other skills for productive work as well as have the requisite tools for thoughtful civic life. 

When it comes to higher education in Vermont the picture is less encouraging. The state ranks 49th in state support of higher education. That entails an only slightly higher ranking in college affordability at 46th. In this tight budgetary era, a possible path forward could be developing an incentive program that ties incremental loan forgiveness for Vermont college graduates to obtaining employment in critical areas like eldercare, domestic abuse centers, or opioid treatment clinics or for opening a small business. This could promote economic development, retain college graduates, and relieve young people from potentially crippling debt.

Economy

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Working Hands - Working Lands - Economic Equity
 

Economic systems are more than a means of distributing goods, they are also a reflection of the inherent values of a culture, and a moral crucible. It is unacceptable to have economic gains concentrated in the hands of a few while large segments of the population struggle to heat their homes or pay for essentials. Demand side economic policies (economic policies that put resources in the hands of the poor and middle classes rather than the wealthy) have historically proven to lift workers up and build solid communities. We have to pursue a legislative agenda that acknowledges this reality and focuses on economic equity. The gender/racial pay and wealth gaps and widening economic inequalities are bad for business, but more importantly they are immoral.

The Vermont creative economy is exemplary in its dynamic array of stakeholders - non-profits, museums, architects, craftspeople, artists, private enterprise, and state funded agencies. Each entity plays a role in building a resilient and productive economy. Sector coordination has begun under the auspices of the Vermont Creative Network which provides a model for how top down stability can coexist with bottom up inventiveness to increase gains for everyone.

In a similar vein, the agricultural activity in Vermont has unassailable brand value that crosses from schools to restaurants, to cheese-makers, brewers, bakers, dairy operations, farmer's markets, maple producers, winemakers, and more. We need to protect Vermont farmers from rising land prices and the vagaries of the commodity markets. Forest stewardship is a cultural, aesthetic and economic driver that needs ongoing support. 

Working hands and working lands are essential to Vermont's identity and its economic future, as are the 99.1% of businesses in VT  that are considered "small" businesses by the Small Business Administration. 71% of employment is attributable to small businesses in Windsor County and every effort needs to be made to simplify starting and growing a small business. Looking to principles that guide the "working hands/working lands" sectors will facilitate this.

Lastly, no accounting of the Vermont economy can ignore health care. Unlike education, expenditures on health care as a percentage of state GDP have skyrocketed. This will only be exacerbated by VT's aging population. Health care is a human right and getting a handle on its cost is essential. The evidence is clear that some form of single-payer/publicly financed health care is the best way to ensure access, improve health outcomes, and contain long term costs.

Environment

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Regenerative - Recreational - Resilient

Our recent experience in Vermont implores us to build ecological infrastructure that can withstand the capricious swings of weather in an era of climate change. Flooding will be more frequent and devastating without implementing policies that understand the role that development, agriculture/forestry, and conservation can play in mitigating it. This holds true beyond flooding - human choices and activity affect the environment in a multitude of ways, impacting the character of our landscape and the quality of life.

Vermont's environmental past and its future are literally connected to the soil. Regenerative agricultural practices play an essential role in improving soil and water health, which leads to flood resilience, and to capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Such practices also reduce or eliminate the externalized costs typical of other forms of agriculture. Consumers pay more upfront for the products, but avoid the long term costs of a degraded environment. The proposed $31 million tax to clean up Lake Champlain is an example of how lower priced goods can fail to reflect their true cost.

Protecting our environmental resources is often presented as a zero sum game - the loss of short term economic profits are used as the only measure of value. However, Vermont is a per capita leader in solar industry employment (1 in every 406 workers) and a leader in female employment in that industry. This is one example of a win-win scenario, but the protection of soil, water, wildlife, and ecological systems are not simply economic issues, they are moral and ethical issues. We have an obligation to future generations to address climate change and we have an obligation to protect not just our human communities, but the broader natural communities we are a part of.

Hunters frequently play an essential role in this obligation by helping control the balance of wildlife populations, but also directly contribute $7 million to conservation efforts via their licenses and permits. Anglers are often leading advocates for the protection of waterways. The value of our recreational landscape and scenic beauty is massive in terms of dollars (as much as $2.5 billion according to the Agency of Natural Resources), but the psychological, cultural and spiritual value is priceless.

We need to be guided by more than self-interest and economics when it comes to environmental policy (although that argument alone should suffice). We should also be guided by ethical duty to those before us that stewarded the land and to generations to come that should not have to endure the consequences of our neglect.

Engagement

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Collaboration - Empathy - Civic Artisanship

My expertise is in socially engaged art/design theory and education. This is an emergent scholarly and creative field that does significant research into the nature of social collaboration, creative placemaking, and community engagement. You might wonder - what in the world does this have to do with elected office and the day to day struggles of working families?

I would answer - everything. The field, sometimes known as human centered design, puts empathy at the core of its mission. The ability to see problems through the eyes of someone else is sorely needed in politics generally, and the current political climate especially. A major assumption of the socially engaged design process is that the designer/artist can't foresee the solution or proper approach to a project ahead of time. It takes careful, open conversation and experimentation to fully understand the context for problem solving.

To translate this to legislating, it means that the folks directly affected by an issue need to work in collaboration with governing bodies in order to craft solutions. Thinking of the role that socially engaged art/design can play in the political process leads to new understandings of civic participation, rather than seeing constituents as merely voters, they can be seen as co-creators of common life, as engaging in "civic artisanship." This strengthens public culture and encourages more just and equitable solutions to pressing problems.

In my field, experts are important, but the nature of expertise is fluid. A group of neighbors bound together by a common land use issue have expertise as does the field representative from a regional planning agency. Only by doing the hard work of social design, in which people take the time to build trust in the process as well as each other, can a long term resolution be achieved. It takes satisfying three key elements - what is desirable (changing some perceived problem), what is feasible (a pathway to achieving the change), and what is viable (the ability for the change to be sustained over time). 

I believe the proper design of public policy and public institutions can lead to better outcomes. Central to the spirit of collaboration and empathy of social design is the inclusion of more people in the process. In the political context, engagement would mean more than listening to lobbyists, or holding a hearing. It would mean actively seeking out the voices of people that are often excluded from civic participation - the poor, women, people with disabilities, people of color, etc. More than that, it means truly listening. And it means imagining a better world, not just for your narrow interests, but for the greater good of everyone
 

 

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Barnard - Pomfret - Quechee -West Hartford

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