by Aaron Warner
Sashaying through the doors of Fatty’s BBQ in downtown White River Junction, Hartford legislator Becca White has a ready smile and greetings for the local town folk she represents. It’s clear she was made for this type of work. As she sat down for an interview with a reporter who happens to be a constituent, she was every bit a local representative, eager to serve me by buying my drink and answering my questions with alacrity.
White, 27, grew up in the small town of Wilder just north of Hartford on Route 5. A knack for debate preceded politics. With her as a member, the Hartford High School debate team earned a trip to nationals in Washington D.C.. Soon she applied for and won the post of student representative to her local school board. A future in politics was birthed.
She also debated at UVM, traveling to India, Qatar, and Germany, sharpening her skills against the finest collegiate arguers around the globe. She knows adventures prepared her for statewide politics.
At 22 she became one of Hartford’s youngest selectboard members ever. She served two terms before moving on to state representative for District 4-2. She’s now serving her second term, and sits on the Transportation Committee.
When asked how she listens to her constituents she listed the main methods: email, phone calls, face to face, social media, and even private texting. Though all have the ability to get her attention, face to face is her preference.
Becca began her professional career as an organizer for solar power installer SunCommon and now works as a community engagement manager for Efficiency Vermont. When asked which were the most pressing concerns of Hartford residents this past year and she quickly responded COVID. Namely businesses needing to stay open to stay afloat, including restaurants and outdoor seating.
Then there are the staffing shortages. She says they reflect a lack of meaningful work opportunities and livable wages. When I questioned the value of skilled versus unskilled labor, she said all labor is skilled and deserves higher wages. She even gave a reasoned defense of McDonald’s. The White River location has a ‘help wanted’ sign out front offering $750/week. One can’t help but wonder if the admixture of meaningful, skilled and livable wages will be enough to fill these vacancies. And if not, why not?
Another big concern is childcare. Anyone paying for it knows it can amount to a second mortgage. Becca echoed her constituents’ pain while stating many had chosen to reduce to one income with the mother staying at home to care for the kids. The UVM history major sounded a little defeated by the thought. Yet students of history remember when this was the norm and that current studies show children actually thrive in that environment.
Turning to the housing crisis, she explains the problem is not only local but national. Locally, however, she noted both low-income and affordable housing are essentially absent. She and her husband Dylan were able to find an affordable housing loan through Twin Pines trust as first time home buyers, complete with chicken coop for their small inner-city flock. Her eyes lit up as she searched for pictures, finding one of her holding her rooster, who looks more threatening than he is, she assured me. As one who loves eggs and has been considering acquiring my own birds, I was glad to hear their low-tech experience and filial bond, not to mention four eggs a day and counting. We couldn’t help but laugh as she recounted a recent divorce she knew of which included some contested sheep and chickens.
I asked about the issue hit closest to home: the officer response shooting that took place around the corner from my house. I related the story as I’d heard it from my neighbor and partner of a former lawmaker: within a day or so of the fatal shooting a town vigil was held where residents had a list of demands associated with the incident, including the firing of the officer.
Not able to hide my feelings about it, given the officer lives four houses down from me and was being beaten by the man he shot, I asked if she thought such a quick reaction was inappropriate and disrespectful. I was surprised to listen to her brush the question aside while supporting the rights of the people in town to express their opinions. It seemed the right of the officer to a fair investigation and some respect for his trauma was of less importance.
This led to a back and forth in regard to defunding the police, of which she wanted a clarification for the term. I remarked it was a national rallying cry that had made its way quickly to Vermont, and we are now seeing crime skyrocket in the cities policing has come under the most attack. Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Chicago, New York all are seeing massive declines in policing and major spikes in crime. Becca wanted to know if crime meant actual crime or reported crime.
Avoiding this hair-splitting analysis, I offered the town of Burlington has seen shootings go from an average of one to two per year up to ten last year and twelve as of this month. My interview with Burlington Ward 3 hopeful Chris-Aaron Felker was eye opening. His constituents and he are worried, at this rate, whether they’ll have police to protect them in the years ahead.
White mentioned the need for mental health rapid response units, which many agree are useful. However the question remained: what is an officer being beaten to do? One of her objections was to police having military grade firearms, which I assured her was not the case. Officers have standard issue hand guns, typically 9mm, which I carry on person at times. She countered departments need more training for handling mental health crises, which most anyone agrees with, yet there is still the problem of the force part of law enforcement and the safety of the people who were feeling threatened by the man who proved he was a threat by assaulting an officer. She declined to take a position, other than people’s rights to question police actions, preferring instead to wait for the State police investigation to issue a report.
In an odd twist, she commiserated with the call for the officer’s dismissal, having been asked by Hartford residents to resign her post on the school board for not participating in the standard pledging of allegiance during meetings. “I don’t believe in God” was her stated reason. [Later, as we parted ways in the parking lot, Becca invited me to attend her Unitarian Universalist church.]
My last question was about the Convention of States (COS) motion that is growing in interest among Vermonters. Becca was familiar with it, however she explained for those wanting to bend her ear, or that of any legislator, sending form letters like those from COS doesn’t allow law makers to follow up with the resident. Her helpful suggestion is to follow up with a personal letter, call, or stop by and express your views beyond a script. She, like her colleagues, really do want to listen and help, but it’s the job of the citizen to pursue the legislator to enact change and not the other way around.
She asked for clarification on COS and I explained it comes from Article V of the US Constitution and acts as a safety valve for the people to check a government that is non-responsive. Of particular concern are three issues:
- Term limits
- Balanced budget
- Regulatory controls
She said she is in favor of term limits and a balanced budget but wasn’t sure what is meant by regulatory controls. I explained everything from taxes to masks to government regulating wages. Despite the broadness of it, she seemed to agree with much of the COS aim, but wondered why those issues can’t be done without it. Which is the point. They can, but they aren’t.
Earlier in the interview Becca shared a story of the joy she gets from being a representative to the people she grew up with. A woman approached her about a permit that was slow in processing. It seems a shady contractor hadn’t been honest about getting in the application. A few phone calls to the right name and viola, her neighbor’s delay was handled.
Categories: State Government