Shepard, in Stowe, says he can win race

By Scott Monroe | Stowe Reporter | 06/15/06

Other candidates aren't the obstacle, says state Sen. Mark Shepard, a Republican who's running for Congress. Rather, the problem is the clock.

In a small-money campaign where handshakes and personal contacts are the way to win voters, Shepard says, "My race isn't against Martha Rainville and it's not against Peter Welch. It's against time.

"If I can get out there and get out my message … I'll take this race all the way."

Shepard visited the Stowe Reporter for an interview Friday, a few days after he held a press conference to try to focus the race on issues he thinks are most important to Vermonters.

Welch is the only Democratic candidate in the U.S. House race. Rainville is considered the GOP front-runner, and recently won a straw poll at the state Republican convention. Shepard will face off in the Sept. 12 primary with Rainville and former Burlington restaurant owner Dennis Morrisseau.

Shepard thinks either Welch or Rainville would be beholden to their national party leaders and toe the party line.

Both parties want to control the House seat, and Shepard said money is pouring from Washington into the Welch and Rainville campaign coffers.

The Republicans trotted out a big gun right before the state GOP convention, when First Lady Laura Bush headlined a fund-raiser for Rainville. Two weeks ago, the House Democratic leadership chose Welch to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush's weekly radio address.

"The interest in this race is so heavy from D.C.," Shepard said. "It's about which party is in power, in control, and it isn't very much about the people of Vermont. I think that's the unfortunate thing of this situation, but it isn't Republican only; it's both sides."

Asked about that, Rainville spokesman Brendan McKenna said Rainville has a history of acting independently.

"Martha Rainville will not be used the Republican leadership," McKenna said. "Look at her track record. As adjunct general, she stood up to the Pentagon and made sure our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had all the equipment and supplies they needed."

Andrew Savage, Welch's spokesman, similarly dismissed Shepard's criticisms.

"Peter Welch believes the choice facing Vermonters in this election is clear: Do we want to give the Bush Congress and the Bush administration one more vote, or do we in Vermont want to take America in a new direction?" Savage said. "Sen. Welch is running for Congress because he believes we need a new direction for the good of Vermont and the country."

Shepard said he wasn't let down when Republican delegates overwhelmingly aligned with Rainville. In fact, Shepard said he was enlivened by the opportunity to meet so many people and get his message out. Plus, he got 30 percent of the votes at a gathering he thinks was stacked in Rainville's favor.

"They know I can win this primary," Shepard said. "I was in a similar situation six years ago" when he first ran for the state Senate.

From engineer to politician

Shepard, now 45, grew up in Hartland, Vt., on a strawberry farm. He married Rebecca Shepard in 1990 and they have four children.

From 1978 to 1982, he worked and studied in the Vermont Electrical Apprenticeship Program, earning a journeyman electrician's license. One of his construction projects, he remembers, was the Stowe police station.

He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida, and worked as a specialist in semiconductor research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He went back to school in 1994, earning a master's degree in engineering, electrical engineering, automation and robotics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

"My whole training and my years of working - we look at a problem that's put before us, identify what the parameters are, and try to come up with a solution," Shepard said. "And I have found my engineering background to be extremely helpful in thinking through issues that are unrelated to engineering, but you go through that same process."

For the last 13 years, he's run his own industrial control and test systems engineering business.

In 2002, Shepard was elected a state senator for Bennington County.

As someone who started out doing blue-collar work and now owns a small business, Shepard said he understands issues of the pocketbook.

"The past two years, I've lost two of my Vermont customers; they've left the state," Shepard said. "That's a third of my business, which meant one employee had to go. Those type of things - there's a lot of Vermonters that don't understand that."

On the issues

As Welch and Rainville argue about whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign, Shepard says he wants to refocus the campaign on the economy, on creating jobs in Vermont.
Shepard would support a national sales tax or a flat-rate income tax to replace the existing income tax code, which he called "cumbersome" and favoring special interests.

"I'm not committed to one or the other of those, and maybe there's something along the way in between, maybe just making it flatter and simpler," Shepard said of the tax code.

"You're not going to go in there as one member of 435 and say, 'This is where we're going to go.' But there are a lot of members already down there (who are) advocates for tax reform. I think I would join in with those folks and really like to engage in that discussion."

Shepard dismissed repealing all or some of President Bush's tax cuts, as Welch has called for; Welch says the tax cuts mostly benefit the "wealthiest 1 percent."

"The tax cuts increase the revenues for the federal government. … Creating a larger deficit is not the solution," Shepard said.

Shepard doesn't have a particular House member that he admires, though he said he'd likely align himself with those who are for "fiscal responsibility."

"I will - just as I've done here - even if I disagree with somebody on policies … I don't tend to hold things against people," Shepard said. "If they have something that I think is good for the people of Vermont and for Americans, I'll work with anybody. I've never had a strong need to be in politics."

Shepard said he disagrees with some aspects of the Republican agenda, namely the No Child Left Behind act and the Medicare Part D bill.

The controversial new Medicare prescription-drug benefit, Shepard said, is a huge entitlement program that's verging on a financial disaster. For Shepard, that program - peppered with complications and delays since being unveiled late last year - is a strong example of where his party has faltered.

"If we're going to be a party that's really relevant, we have to be aiming for things that produce opportunities for people and get back to those core principles which, in my lifetime, I would best attach to Ronald Reagan," Shepard said.

On a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Shepard said he would have been open to the measure. That proposal failed last week 49-48 in the Senate.

"I probably would support it," Shepard said of the proposed amendment. "My reason for doing it is only because the democratic process isn't working; it's being overridden by judicial activism. My preference would be to not have the amendment and have the courts stay out of it and allow the democratic process to take shape, which is the people, and that's how we set the norms of our society."

Vermont's leading congressional candidates say they would have opposed the constitutional amendment.

Still, Shepard said he has mixed feelings about the issue, because "government should be about creating opportunities and removing barriers."

Another top issue is the war in Iraq, Shepard said, and he doesn't think "we can cut and run."
"If democracy ends up coming out of this, that is just a huge accomplishment for our world, because of the wealth of energy resources there."

The looming U.S. energy crisis is a big issue, Shepard said, and he's open to alternative fuels and policies that veer the U.S. away from total oil-dependency in the volatile Middle East region.

"I don't have a vested interest in a particular type of energy," Shepard said. "I don't have a tie to anything."

On immigration reform, Shepard said he thinks the most important factor is enforcing existing law, and he doesn't favor amnesty measures.

But building a wall the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, for instance, has "a bad taste to it," he said.

"The first thing we have to do is make immigration policy work," he said. "I'm not big on just putting Band-Aids on problems."

"... 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.