Group endorses single-payer supporters

August 04, 2014

Burlington Free Press

With the primary election fast approaching on Aug. 26, and early voting already underway, political advocacy groups are becoming active.

One organization that supports government-financed health care recently weighed in on four House races and one Senate race. Vermont Leads wants to help voters differentiate among the Democrats based on who is committed to help the state move to a single-payer health system.

"We wanted to be involved in the primary," said Peter Sterling, executive director of Vermont Leads, a nonprofit organization founded in 2012 to educate the public about the benefits of implementing a single-payer health-insurance system. The organization has funding from Vermont's teachers union. Prior to the general election, there will be another round of "many more endorsements," Sterling promised.

Vermont Leads selected among Democrats in a Middlebury race, in two Bennington House districts and one central Vermont district that includes Thetford. It also embraced one of the two Demcrats running in the Franklin Senate district.

To receive an endorsement, a candidate had to have voted for the law setting up Green Mountain Care, the government-financed insurance system that state officials intend to move to in 2017. Otherwise, the candidate needed to have replied affirmatively to two questions Vermont Leads posed.

One question asked candidates whether they supported replacing the current system of paying for health care "with a progressive and equitable tax package as called for in Act 48 and which includes all Vermonters."

The other question pinned candidates down on their commitment to the implementation of Green Mountain Care, by asking if they would work to make it happen "at the earliest possible date and dedicate yourself to overcoming the political barriers to its implementation."

"We know that these candidates will work with their colleagues and Gov. Peter Shumlin in the coming year to make Green Mountain Care a reality," Sterling said of the endorsed candidates.

Vermont Leads has pledged to help the selected candidates with donations, get-out-the-vote work and recruitment of volunteers, he said.

In two other races — an Addison County House district that includes Lincoln and Bristol, and the Washington County Senate race — Vermont Leads endorsed Democrats who are without primary opponents. Sterling explained this support was intended to bolster the re-election bids of several lawmakers who have been leaders in the push for government-financed health care.

Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, was one of the candidates that Vermont Leads endorsed — even though he lacks a primary challenger. Given his longstanding support for a government-financed health care system, he said he was unsurprised to receive an endorsement from a group advocating that kind of health-reform option.

David Sunderland, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, suggested Vermont voters are looking for people with broader interests, not single-issue candidates.

"This is a group myopically focused on single payer," Sunderland said. The election "is much more multifaceted," he said, listing other top voter concerns such as property taxes and job losses.

Darcie Johnston, founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, an organization opposed to single-payer health care, said she worries about how much money will be spent to support candidates who back implementation of Green Mountain Care.

She is a sharp critic of Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Democrat-dominated Legislature for pushing to launch a government-run health care system — especially given the state's record launching the online health-insurance marketplace.

"I don't know what the Republican plan is to counter that," Johnston, a political consultant who recently returned from Arizona, said of the money that will be spent on single-payer-supporting candidates. She suggested "the grassroots of the Republican Party is going to be looking for candidates who oppose single-payer health care."

"The party will wholeheartedly support candidates where constituents are looking for change," Sunderland assured. "I'm very excited about our chances."

Contact Nancy Remsen at 578-5685 or nremsen@freepressmedia.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nancybfp

Vermont Leads endorsements

• Amy Sheldon and Betty Nuovo, Addison 1.

• Rachel Fields, Bennington 2-1.

• Brandy Reynolds, Bennington 2-2.

• Tim Briglin and Jim Masland, Windsor/Orange 2.

• Dave Sharpe and Michaek Fisher, Addison 4.

• Sara Kittell, Franklin Senate.

• Anthony Pollina, Ann Cummings and Sandy Gaffney, Washington Senate.