Shepard Shows 'Regular Guy' Image in Campaign for House

By M. D. Drysdale | Herald of Randolph

August 10, 2006

    When it is suggested to state Sen. Mark Shepard that experts think he's unlikely to succeed in becoming Vermont's next Congressman, he has a ready response.

    Shepard faces a Republican primary race against a tough opponent, former Vermont Guard adjutant general Martha Rainville, who has wrapped up high-level party support. And if he wins that, he would face long-time Democratic fixture Sen. Peter Welch in the November general election. So most professional observers feel that Shepard, who's just been in political office for four years, is a long-shot.

    Shepard, however, points out that as a vocational student, the son of a Hartland builder, he wasn't expected to go to college, either. But he ended up with high honors in an electrical engineering B.A. program, doing semi-conductor research at MIT.

    He wasn't supposed to have success running for the state senate in 2000 in Bennington County, shortly after he moved there, against an opponent who outspent him two to one. But he won with a 38% margin of the vote.

    He lost the general election to an incumbent, but two years later he tried again-again facing a money deficit and also the disadvantage that any Republican has in Democratic Bennington County. This time he won, with lots of Democratic support.

    So Mark Shepard has a message for the experts:

    "I've won when they said I couldn't, and I'm getting a very good response with the people I talk to.

    "I think there's going to be a surprise in November."

Regular Guy

    Shepard courts the voters as a "regular guy" based on an inspiring biography-and also with a simple set of political principles.

    "Government is about people, not special interests," he says.

    And, "Government is about creating opportunity, not dependency."

    This is his message as he travels the state in a mobile headquarters with his flutist wife Rebecca and his four young boys. He thinks his message is important enough so that he has lost more than $200,000 in earnings because of time in politics, he says.

    His message about opportunity is particularly close to his heart.

    "I never had a teacher or guidance counselor suggest that I go to college," he remembers.

    What he WAS good at was building stuff. His dad stimulated that ability by buying an old schoolhouse in Nova Scotia for $500 and turning all the electrical wiring over to him. He was in eighth grade.

    He began life, therefore, as an electrician (which he still is). And he found he was pretty worried when he finally paid his own way to a Texas engineering school-until his first test paper came back with a "108" on it. He transferred to the University of Florida for his B.A., and research, and more courses, followed at MIT, followed by work in robotics and automation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

    He married Rebecca in 1990 and moved to Troy and then Bennington, where she started the Bennington Band and he started his own business while together they fixed up a fixer-upper. He volunteered at Habitat for Humanity.

Takes a Stand

    In his four years in the Vermont Senate, Shepard has not been afraid to stand out from the crowd. He cast the only "No" vote on the new campaign finance bill enacted the last term (and now declared unconstitutional).

    He was one of only two "No" votes on this year's health care bill. And he was a prime sponsor of a resolution against adding more designated wilderness to the National Forest. That resolution passed the House handily but was bottled up in the Senate and never even received a vote.

    Some of his stands have resulted in Shepard being tagged as not only a Republican but a "conservative" Republican. He's not ready to accept the tag.

    "When you say 'conservative,' somebody thinks of somebody else who's a conservative and an absolute jerk," he says.

    However, the "special interests" he cites with disapproval have a liberal slant: the civil union coalition, the lobbyists for single-pay health care, the assisted suicide movement, and the coalition for more wilderness.

    When he looks at an issue, he says, he looks at whether the energy is "fueled by Vermonters or by people outside Vermont?" Vermont, he noted, "is a cheap state to buy" by lobbies that have money to spend for their political agendas, and he thinks that's happened in several cases.

International Policy

    Shepard has opinions on plenty of Vermont issues, but he admits that in his current political race, international policy is on the front burner with many voters, especially Iraq.

    He's not taking a position on whether the invasion was a good idea in the first place, but he says the country has learned that this is not a good way to create a democracy. And he points out that-as shown by the 68% voting turnout-the people of Iraq "certainly want something" in the way of a different way of doing things. "They want to have a say in their government."

    Pulling out suddenly, Shepard believes would be a disaster, with "millions slaughtered."

    "But we should never be an occupying force."

    On policy toward Iran and Korea, he takes a different approach from the Bush Administration. It should be recognized that "nuclear weapons are going to move into those countries," he said. "We need to come to terms with that." Working with those nations would make more sense than trying to keep them from getting the arms, he says.

    In general, Shepard says, "radical Islam is a threat all over the world, and we need to take it seriously.

    "We need to win this."

What If?

    And if he himself doesn't win, come November, if the predicted surprise doesn't happen?

    "I like my life as an engineer," he says with a grin.

"... many politicians talk the talk about doing something tangible about new jobs and it doesn't go much further. Sen. Shepard walked the walk."
"Sen. Shepard's big accomplishment, and it is a significant one, lies in the major role he played in bringing the Bennington Microtech Center into being."

Bennington Banner State Senator Endorsement Editorial, October 29, 2004

Paid for by Shepard for Congress Committee

Copyright © 2006, Shepard for Congress Committee. All rights reserved.