The following is a transcript of the CheckIn interview conducted by GovSight Producer Alexandra Sharat with Vermont State Representative Heidi Scheuermann on mail-in voting. The interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Alexandra Sharat: Vermont State Representative Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe, thank you for coming on CheckIn by GovSight. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Heidi Scheuermann: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
AS: My first question is, this is your seventh term in the Vermont House of Representatives and you also served on the Stowe Selectboard from 2004 to 2010, including two terms as chair. What areas did you focus on most intently during your time serving on the Stowe select board? And how did your own experience attending Stowe Public Schools tie into that?
HS: Oh, I guess I’ll answer the last one first. And that is, you know, I was born and raised here in Stowe and went away for some time and returned in about 2000, I think, yeah, 2000. And just from the time I returned, I had always been involved in service, throughout my life when I was young, first of all at the church and here in Stowe in general, in some sort of community service. In college, I was a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. It's a national service fraternity. So that's what was always part of my life. And then I went into the Peace Corps following college and then following that went to work for Senator Jeffords in the United States Senate. So public service and service in general has always been sort of part of my part of my life, ever since I was a child.
So, when I moved back and got involved in Stowe again, to the extent I did, I realized I thought my experience both as a Stowe native but also as somebody who worked in politics would be useful to the Selectboard. And when an opening arrived, I decided that I would I would run for it. So that's kind of how my experience in Stowe got me there. At the time actually, that six years there were a lot of different things going on in the community. But the one thing that, kind of, those six years are known for is transitioning from a town administrator form of government to a town manager form of government. And we did that when I was chair, and we hired our first town manager when I was chair. So that was probably the most significant one because it's a big change in sort of how things run.
The Selectboard is not in charge of personnel anymore. Which became very complicated for some time prior to our change and different things. So we had a manager, a person on the front lines, who was managing everything, and then the Selectboard is supposed to be the big, you know, the visionary body that talks, you know, ‘Where is Stowe now, where should Stowe be in five years and 10 years and how do we get there?’ So, I think that's my Selectboard experience. And then, by 2010, I had already been serving in the legislature for a couple of terms and I decided it was time to, you know, remove myself from the Selectboard, but still serve Stowe obviously, as much as I could. And so it was good timing on that front.
AS: Thank you very much. Earlier in June, the Vermont Senate approved a bill to allow voting by mail. What are the benefits of allowing mail-in voting and do you hope that your local government will have an influence at the federal level?
HS: Good question. So we've always had a pretty robust and very — and even more so over the last couple of election cycles — a very robust absentee ballot program. People have taken advantage of that numerous times, over and over again, taking advantage of our very easy to access absentee ballot program. And we as elected leaders, and also those running for office, have always tried to encourage that involvement. If you know that you're not going to be around on election day, or if you think you may not be around or even for purposes of convenience, you know, these absentee ballots are available and they're available very early. And so please, you know, please vote.
I think, regardless of party, we've always thought that that was an important part of our electoral politics and our electoral strategy, to get as many people, as many Vermonters as possible, to vote. I think the vote by, I didn't know much about it, frankly, before, before the discussion started happening as a result of COVID. And I think the idea is to ensure that that people vote, who want to vote, and that those who don't feel safe going to the ballot, the ballot location, can vote even easier than the absentee ballot program. I'm not sure if it's, if it was absolutely necessary if we had to do it, just because again, we had a very robust absentee ballot program in place and maybe we could have done something more but other people thought it was, and I didn't see. So we voted actually, Alexandra, we first voted in favor of this in March. But the provision was that the Secretary of State and the governor would agree on a process. And so we voted in favor of it. And it was supposed to be that the former Secretary of State and our former governor, we're gonna agree on a process. That agreement wasn't going to come to fruition and that's why we voted it again. We voted to eliminate that agreement by the two of them. And that's why we voted again and where some of the conflict came, at least here in Vermont, with regard to the program. But in doing my research on the bill, I thought that it was, it was, reasonable. I think we will see if there are any things that we should address, you know, after the election. I don't have a big fear of fraud. It doesn't seem to be a problem in states that do it. You know, but I think it's new to us. And I think, you know, we should keep an eye on it, but I don't have a big fear of that.
I do have a real problem — and tried to amend it on the floor of the house — I have a real concern and problem about the perception of, like, you know, you know, we need to have election integrity, and we need to, we need to make sure it's perceived that we have election integrity. And my real concern with how we've done it in Vermont is that candidates for office, whose names are on the ballot, can actually go around door-to-door and collect and return those ballots. And I think that that is a real, I think that's a real, that's a problem. Perception of conflict is there.
Regardless, I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but perception is reality in politics. And that is a real concern and I fought pretty hard to put a provision in that candidates, candidate families and candidate staff would not be allowed to go and collect and return ballots. And I was really disappointed in my colleagues in the House. It was defeated largely along party lines. I just can't understand why legislators believe that it is appropriate at all for a candidate to go door-to-door asking for ballots. I have, for example, in my regular job, I own and manage multifamily residential properties. And me going around door-to-door in my facility that serves low-income elders would be completely inappropriate.
Anyway, That was really disappointing. And I'm hoping that that will change when we do it when we realize that it shouldn't be there.
AS: Just to switch gears, what are the biggest challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brings to your community in Vermont, especially being a tourist town? What are the next steps as more [places] are opening back up?
HS: Yeah, so actually, you nailed it there, Alexandra, in the sense that we are largely — the community that you know, and that I serve — is is largely tourism based. It's a, you know, a four-season resort, community destination, resort community. And that has come to a screeching halt in many ways. And so the economic impact of this. We have been doing exceptionally well, I think, as a state. Our governor has done an exceptional job in my view, leading the state through the health crisis that comes with COVID obviously. We've been very — the governor has been very in tune with everything going on, giving daily updates. He's committed, and has clearly been. His focus is on ensuring the health and safety of Vermonters. He is using data and science to do so. And, and he and his team, the Vermont Department of Health, especially, have just been really great ensuring that we are addressing outbreaks when we need to address them, we're trying to ensure the mitigation of any spread and we're giving the tools necessary to folks to be able to understand that the causes of the, of the spread and to mitigate those.
So in my view, we’ve been doing really well as a state in that sense. It's really hard, though, for a state of our size to recover from something like this economically. And that is — and in my community specifically, it's a tourism community, and it's that much more difficult. Hospitality, the hospitality industry has been hit, I think, far worse than many others, although I don't diminish the hit that so many, whether it's manufacturers or agriculture or anything like that, has taken as well. But tourism certainly has been more, more significantly hit. And, and we only have so much in the way of funds to be able to help minimize that or help people get through those months. So that's where we're at right now in this community, is ensuring that we do open to those and the governor has a very clear metric outlined that we're opening the places that have 400 or fewer active cases per million.
So as of today, there's many more counties with that, that we've opened up [for people] driving by their personal vehicles into Vermont, coming here and visiting without quarantining. Everybody else has to quarantine and they have to certify that they've quarantined, there are various quarantine regulations. But that is, in general, it's still really going to be a difficult year in my view, it's not just going to be a difficult summer or fall or winter, it's going to go on and the recovery is going to be a long one.
And it's gonna, I think we're gonna see businesses, whether it be changed hands, as a result of bankruptcy, or close, closing down or sell, it's just in many ways what, what had been really fear and some anger and real frustration has turned in some — for many in the hospitality industry, to kind of hopelessness. They're not sure if they're going to be able to get through at all. And for some of these people they've given, you know, decades of their life to this particular business and to ensuring jobs in this community. Or they've come here more recently and bought something that they thought they could retire with, and really have fun, whether it's a bed and breakfast or something along those lines. So it's, it's really a challenge. We have these Vermont recovery grants that are opening up for applications next Monday, which I'm excited about. It's, we don't have enough grant money in the world here in Vermont to be able to save everybody, but we're hoping that that money will go out there, get out there soon, be able to get people by for the next couple of months as we reopen further — and hopefully to some of those places from where we get so many tourists regularly. I mean, we're still not open to New York City or Boston or places from where we get a lot of our regular visitors. So it's, it's a challenge. And certainly our Canadian border, our Canadian friends, aren't allowed to come down and that's, that's a hit to Vermont in general at this point. It's difficult, it's difficult but people are really hanging in.
I will say and like I said, even just on the non-economic front like my residence again, I have a property that is low-income seniors. And so we've been working really hard for the last four months to ensure that the disease doesn't penetrate here, knowing the risks. And you know, as frustrated as my residents get at me for being very strict about who gets in and who can come in and wearing masks and all of that stuff and doing all the bleach cleaning every day, they've been great. They've been really great about it and — for the large part, and I'm grateful. So, I think in general people are really taking it seriously. They're doing what they need to do. And so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to, we'll be able to emerge, without huge scars. We're going to see scars, but without like really massive scars.
AS: Thank you very much. I'm also sending hope and feel it with you. How have the global protests against systemic racism changed your local law enforcement?
HS: Oh, so fortunately for us, you know, obviously the the tragic death of George Floyd was was an impetus for for the for the country and now the world. Obviously trying to address equality and justice and ensuring that true equality and true justice for all. And so, I'm thankful actually — so, Vermont, fortunately, the public safety community over the last year or so had been working on a whole, for, I think they called it a law enforcement modernization and reform effort. And they had been working together. It was like the Chiefs of Police, the Vermont Department of Public Safety, the Sheriffs Association, the racial justice taskforce and a few others had been working on some on a modernization plan. And they hadn't gotten to the point to to release it yet.
But after the after the George Floyd murder, it was clear that they decided proactively on their own to act in order to accelerate it. And so they released the draft plan with 10 reform efforts, 10 parts of the reform effort. Obviously, the banning of chokeholds, the wearing of body cameras by everybody, as well police officers and a number of other things. And so they had already — so they released that almost, I mean very soon after, I think it was early June that they released that, which was great. The legislature followed up very quickly afterwards to do its own, to really promote, its own reform bill. Which it is not, it's just the first step certainly it's not any it's not any sort of complete effort.
But it certainly was a step forward so that we can build on that progress. And so I'm, I'm pleased that we added — and more importantly, you know, we're finding all around the country like there's arguments and a lot of divisiveness about about this between police and protesters or people calling for change. You see the politicians divided on this. And I will just say I think everybody was impressed with the public safety community for putting putting out the reform plan. And again, it talks about the hiring practices. It talks about the police [handle] misconduct investigations and things like that. And then even more so when the legislature passed it in the House anyway. And I suspect it was the same in the Senate, but it was unanimous, the legislation, so that means people from all across the state of Vermont and all across the political spectrum voted in favor of of this kind of proposal. And again, it doesn't do everything, the legislation does mainly three things. It bans the use of chokeholds, it mandates that all State Troopers wear body cameras and it requires additional significant — significantly more data reporting on stops and what have you and things like that. And then it conditions, the important part of that, is that it conditions state funding on that data reporting. So, so that's — we're trying to get the information we need to make better decisions in public policy. So anyway, in Vermont anyway, again, and not surprisingly, frankly, we tend to come together especially in on issues of inequality and injustice. We have for, you know, our entire existence as a state and and so unsurprisingly, in my view, we came together and, again unanimously adopted the legislation. And the public safety community came out and proactively promoted its draft plan. That's not — that's still in the process, but they wanted to get it out there, so that we can really look at all of the items on it and, you know, make some additions or make some changes and obviously do so all collectively as a group, which is great.
AS: Great, thank you. Switching gears a bit. Do you think that senator Bernie Sanders supporters will get behind Biden and the moderate Democratic establishment or pursue their own progressive ideals via elections?
HS: I think there's two answers to that question. If you don't mind. I think the first question, of whether or not they will go to the ballot box and vote and check the box for Senator Joe Biden. Or I'm sorry, Senator, he was Senator when I was down there. Vice President Joe Biden or President Trump, I think you will find that a large — the large majority of them will, I think that they will. And they won't be happy about it. They wanted somebody more progressive, much more progressive. And they were unsuccessful at doing that. But I think at this point from what I can see, that will happen, they will absolutely.
Whether or not they're satisfied with where his administration tries to take us as a state, or how moderate Democrats try to take us as a state, if they win, I will say just if Vice President Biden were to win or if other — that's a different question. I think it's clear that they are not satisfied with with moderation, they're not satisfied with a more cautious approach to things. They, you know, it's the whole kit and caboodle that the progressives would like, and they're going to fight for those. I think you've seen that in races around the country and right here in Vermont. You see a lot of moderate voices getting sidelined and progressive voices taking their place, and that is throughout this state. You know, a lot of moderate Democrats are frustrated with their Democratic party, as a result, that because progressives have really taken over the party, in their view. And I think that frustration has some merit. I think that's the same — you know, I think in general I think the same can be said obviously about the Republican Party that I'm a member of. And I grew up in — or grew up, at least in my adult life, I've always been a Vermont Republican and consider myself a traditional Vermont Republican. And still can do, but it gets harder and harder as a moderate voice. To be there, it's — in general in, throughout our country moderates are getting, are being silenced. And I think that's a shame. I think moderates were the ones who were able to bring people together. And, and everything didn't happen at once. It never does, not in a democracy, you know, it just is much harder. But I think you end up with better public policy and more consistency and more consensus when people come together. And I think moderate voices have always been those folks who have brought people together, and that's just not happening these days, unfortunately.
AS: Great, thank you very much. My last question, you talked about always being naturally prone to service — community service, is there something else that first got you interested in politics, law and government specifically? And what advice would you have for someone who is trying to enter those fields?
HS: My advice is always to — is to see what you can do to get out for a little bit. Come back, we want you back. But I guess I'm different than a lot of Vermont elected officials who just want people to stay here and go to school here and stay, stay in Vermont. I'm much, much more in favor of getting out, expanding your horizons and really seeing what's out there. Because there's so much, and there's so much that you might become interested in. And my bottom line is generally say yes to things. You know, if you know, if people are doing something that — and I don't mean anything dangerous or illegal or things like that — I mean, just opportunities that might arise. You know, take advantage of it. Don't be embarrassed if it's a friend of your father’s who’s giving you an opportunity. Or a friend of your mother's. Just say yes. You'll learn your way, you’ll earn your stripes, if you were able, and if you can, you know, cut the mustard. And you won't if you can't. But don't lose the opportunity. And that's what I try to do and and those service opportunities come along with. Because I think most most people want to make their community a better place, and once you're somewhere that you really enjoy, you'll want to do that and you'll be able to. So that's my sort of philosophy in general.
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