Candid Assessment -- Where the Candidates Stand on Our Issues

September 2006 | Vermont Woman magazine

by Mary Elizabeth Fratini with additional reporting by Carrie Chandler

   State Senator Mark Shepard (R-Bennington County) is vying for the Republican Party ticket in the U.S. House race this fall, and covering a lot of miles every day making sure that people don´t lose sight of the primary before the general election. The two-term legislator has a tough time pulling the media spotlight away from former adjutant general Martha Rainville, but the party has gone for the more conservative candidate in previous primaries and could do so again this year.

   “This race is all focused on who is going to control Washington, D.C., and the Vermonter is left out in the process,’ Shepard said in an interview at Vermont Woman´s office in South Burlington. “You are one member in 435; it´s not like you´re going to turn the world around there. You´re going to have influence and be able do some things and deal with issues that are important. You can have a fair amount of effect for the people of Vermont and I think that´s where the focus should be.’

Who is the Guy from Bennington County?

   Many Vermonters are encountering Shepard for the first time, since this is his first campaign for a statewide office. And they´re finding that he isn´t shy about stating his opinions, or why he´s a better choice than his opponents in both parties. “You can tell that, by looking at where they are getting their money, the whole focus is the ‘high stakes´ of this race. There´s nothing about Vermont that is high stakes,’ he said. “I am very passionate that politics is about making life better and government [allowing] more opportunities.’

   Comparing himself with his colleague and Senate President Peter Welch (D-Windsor), Shepard highlighted their different concepts of government. “I sat next to him for four years on the finance committee and he comes from a very different point of view [that] government can solve everything, government needs more control, more regulation is a good thing,’ Shepard said. “Government has its place, it certainly does, but there are things that can be done much better by the private sector.’

   As for his primary opponent, Shepard acknowledged Martha Rainville´s military expertise, adding, “that´s important, but everything else is not there. Either way you go, we´ve got things to learn and need to rely on people [who] are more expert than we are.’ His move from a relatively safe state legislative seat to the federal level came from a frustration that local politics was not focused enough on helping Vermonters. “There was a lot of influence by special interest [groups] to use Vermont because we are a small state to push their agendas, whatever they are,’ Shepard said. “There have been multiple numbers of things that have hit our Statehouse and have been at the forefront of debate that are national ideas and agendas, but they aren´t really about Vermont and about making life better for Vermonters. In the process, it has made it a difficult place for a lot of people to live and a lot of people have chosen to live elsewhere [who] have grown up here or would like to live here.’

Health Care and Small Businesses

   Shepard´s legislative career and current campaign both draw heavily on his experience as a small business owner. “That´s where most of the jobs are and quite frankly, that´s where most women´s opportunities are. The high regulatory system hurts small businesses much more than large businesses,’ he said. “Every time I deal with something in my business, whether it has to do with taxes or regulation, I am not earning any money.’

   Shepard was one of only two dissenting votes on the Health Care Affordability Act this session, largely due to questions about funding the Catamount Health Plan through Medicaid and tobacco taxes. “It is irresponsible to pass a bill that is going to make people dependant on the government when the government has no dependable source of money,’ Shepard said. “I think a better choice would be to move towards allowing Vermonters to purchase insurance out of state. Vermonters already do [that]; they just have to move there to buy it.’

Choice and Gender

   Although many candidates in statewide races do not support access to abortion, Shepard is the only one who doesn´t shy away from calling himself pro-life; his honesty was as refreshing as his positions were disturbing. “I think that the young women in the world need to be protected. In 1970, the world was different. The technology is so advanced now,’ he said. “We had two miscarriages before we had children and those two miscarriages were children to us. It´s hard to intellectually make a case of it.’ When asked to elaborate on the idea of ‘protecting young women´ in a follow-up interview, Shepard specified parental notification and also added that, “Probably 50 percent of people aborted are women, so I´m protecting those women, too.’

   He supports allowing abortions only to save the life of the mother, calling it “a life for a life,’ but not for cases of rape or incest. He has also, as a state legislator, sponsored legislation to bring parental notification to Vermont, but noted that all of his bills included a judicial bypass for instances of abuse. His position on emergency contraception is in flux, saying, “again, it would be whether it is ending a life or not, that´s where I would make the distinction,’ and he does not support over-the-counter access to women of any age. He also supports both the Hyde Amendment and global gag rule, saying, “I´m not a proponent of abortion, and many taxpayers are not, so we shouldn´t be using taxpayer money to fund something that is so divided.’

   Shepard is also in favor of abstinence-based sexual education as a way to help teens learn self-control. “Sometimes you don´t have your contraception with you and if you haven´t learned that discipline, that puts you in a difficult spot. I think that abstinence is really important, but I´m supportive of explaining other forms with comprehensive explanations as to why they don´t work,’ he said. “The term safe sex – that´s really a misnomer. We have two children who were conceived that way. If you pretend that it is, your kids are deceived. It is a precious part of life and should be saved for a very strong relationship.’

   On the Defense of Marriage Act and proposed federal marriage amendment, Shepard was philosophical. “It´s interesting [that] that issue is pushed much more by the other side. For many years, the argument was it´s a private relationship so the government shouldn´t be involved. That´s why we got rid of sodomy laws. Now they are taking a whole different twist on it and saying now we want to bring it into the government. I think it should stay where it was to begin with,’ he said. “It has been pushed by the court and that´s what has people feeling like there needs to be an amendment. I´m not opposed to it. I would prefer that the justices let the democratic process do its work.’

   He also does not support a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. “How do you know that someone is? I feel like the work that went through for blacks and for women is reduced if you say that you can get it for something you do instead of getting it for something that you can´t avoid,’ he said. “Certainly I don´t support ill treatment of anybody. That´s wrong, but you shouldn´t pick out special groups because of the choices they make. Even though they are difficult choices, you are still making an active choice.’

Environment and Energy

   One role Shepard does see for government is regulating areas where the actions of an individual or corporation affect other people, particularly the environment – as long as the regulations are neither burdensome nor punitive. For example, he supports raising the federal miles per gallon standard as an incentive to automakers, but does not support an extra tax on inefficient vehicles. “I don´t think that´s right because a high-wage earner can drive an economy car to work because he just needs a briefcase, but a low-wage earner might need a pickup for work,’ he said. “I don´t think it is right to penalize someone for something they need to have.’

   As for the political debate about global warming, Shepard is less interested in consensus about its causes than moving forward in areas of agreement. “It is made into such a huge issue and I fail to see why. The measures you take to reduce the human effect are what we want to do anyway, so why get caught up in debate about why people think we should do [them], when we all agree we should have more economical vehicles and less dependence on oil,’ he said. “There is consensus. I don´t know of anyone who believes we should be more reliant on the Middle East, so just do it and don´t worry that we come to the same point of view.’

   Shepard supports efforts to supply more of our own energy needs through a mixture of other sources of oil, alternative energy, and developing new technologies. “I think it ought to be more of an even playing field for different energies as far as subsidies go. I´d rather not see increased subsidies on oil that offset what the real cost is, that´s the taxpayer paying for it,’ he said. “Why not pay for [the real cost] and maybe you will begin seeing some of these other forms being more competitive. It isn´t changing the price – it´s changing how you are paying for it.’

National Security and Iraq

   Shepard declined to comment on the decision to invade Iraq, saying, “I wasn´t in a position to make a vote [but] we are there and I don´t believe we can head out tomorrow.’ He sees our role as training the Iraqi population by providing diplomatic assistance to ease tensions between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. “I do think it is a part of the war on terror, because the terrorists are coming like bees to honey and [Iraq´s] important to the terrorists; they show us it is. To say it has nothing to do with that—I don´t agree with that.’

   He is hesitant to unilaterally support Bush´s doctrine of preemptive warfare, calling it “something to be very cautious about,’ but added that he believes Congress declared war. “You can´t say the president went ahead without them when they voted for it,’ he said. As for the National Security Administration´s warrantless wiretapping and financial records tracking, Shepard is uncomfortable with both the risk posed to civil liberties by the programs´ existence, and the potential risk of a missed attack if they do not exist. “I think that [the administration] is certainly pushing their limits on that. Each time you look at it the boundaries move depending on the threats that are out there,’ he said. “But we could be pennywise and pound-foolish […] Yes, if we didn´t have these threats, I´d be completely opposed to it. Clearly there are people who wish ill for our country; we should believe that they do and take them at their word.’

Conclusion

   Facing a female candidate in his primary, why should Vermont women Republicans vote for Shepard? “If your whole objective is to get a woman there, then vote for Martha Rainville. Certainly, as a woman, she brings something to the table that is important and I acknowledge that,’ he said. “But I think it means more than that. Martha Rainville needs to define herself and who she is. People ought to vote based on what she thinks on policy, not on [her] gender.’

   Shepard´s plain-speaking and unabashed conservative credentials face a tough fight in the primary against Rainville, whose candidacy is supported by leaders of the state and national Republican parties. But if the rank-and-file do choose Shepard, then the general election will see some very interesting debates indeed.

"... 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

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