Cheryl Hooker wants another term as Rutland County State Senator
By LEE J. KAHRS
RUTLAND — Sen. Cheryl Hooker has been a Vermont state legislator long enough to enough to know her priorities. It’s a long list of key issues exacerbated by the pandemic, just like everything else.
“I’ve lived in Rutland County my entire life and have always felt this was a good place to raise a family,” she said. “I want to make sure it’s an affordable place and that people have everything they need, and that’s not a handout. I’m talking about things like a livable wage, Family Leave and food insecurity.”
Hooker, 70, is a Democrat running for re-election in a crowded filed of seven candidates, vying for three Rutland County Senate seats. She is nearing the end of a two-year term in the Senate and wants to win another one. She and Republican incumbent Rutland County Senator Brian Collamore are running for re-election, but Republican James McNeil of Rutland Town chose not to run for re-election, opening up a spot for challengers. Democratic challengers include Greg Cox, owner of Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland, Christopher Hoyt of West Haven and Larry Courcelle of Mendon. Republican challengers are Terry Williams of Poultney and Joshua C. Terenzini of Rutland Town. Michael Shank of Brandon is running as an Independent, as is Brittany Cavacas of Rutland City.
Not her first rodeo
Hooker is a veteran running for state office. She previously served in the Vermont Senate serving Rutland County from 1997-1999, and in the Vermont House as a representative from the Rutland 6-3 district in 1990, 1993-1995, 2000 and again from 2001-2003.
For the last two years, Hooker has served as clerk of the Senate Committee for Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, and as the clerk of the Senate Committee on Institutions. She is also a member of the Senate Sexual Harassment Panel, and is one of three state senators serving on the Judicial Nominating Board.
Hooker is a retired middle and high school teacher. She and her husband George, also a retired teacher, have four adult children and six grandchildren. She was also on the Rutland City Board of Alderman from 1999- 2002.
Hooker volunteers at the Rutland Free Library, the Rutland Community Cupboard and Rutland Dismas House, a residential community that offers transitional housing to former prisoners in order to integrate them back into society.
When asked about her platform and the issues she cares most about, Hooker started with housing, or rather the lack of it.
“Housing is a huge issue for me for Rutland County,” she said. “We have a lot of housing stock, but there is such a shortage of suitable housing for people.”
Hooker listed a number of statistics regarding homelessness in the area. She said there are 140 people in Rutland County who have been homeless since March when the COVID=-19 pandemic first hit Vermont.
“There were more than 2,000 homeless people in the state due to the pandemic,” she said. “There are still 1,000 people in the state who need a more permanent place to live.”
The Rutland County Senator said suitable housing is key to anyone trying to successfully get his or her life back on track.
“If you have stable housing, other things fall into place,” she said. “A job, a paycheck, a future.’
Hooker sponsored a bill last year aimed at fixing one area of health care near and dear to her heart: the cost of insulin, the drug used to control diabetes. S. 296 is “ an act relating to limiting out-of-pocket expenses for prescription insulin drugs.”
The average list price for insulin in the U.S. tripled from 2002 to 2013 and then doubled from 2012 to 2016, forcing some diabetics to spend as much as $1,200 a month on the drug.
Hooker’s bill proposes to limit a patient’s out-of-pocket expenses to $100 for a 30-day supply.
It was introduced in January and passed by the Senate on March 11. The pandemic hit Vermont just days later. The Legislature has since been consumed with pandemic-related issues regarding everything from state re-budgeting to restructuring tax payments to the state unemployment benefits.
“I have a bill that’s on life support right now,” she said. “But I would like to help people who need life-saving drugs that they can’t afford.”
Hooker has a very personal reason for wanting to see insulin prices fall. Her sister-in-law is a lifelong diabetic.
Vermont is made up of a fabric of small businesses, another issue close to Hooker, but she’s interested in the finer points under the umbrella of small business, particularly women-owned businesses and childcare issues for owners and employees of small businesses.
One area where the pandemic is ironically helping things is education. As more and more people flee the cities and COVID-19 hotspots for Vermont, which has contained the virus much better than most states, we will likely see not only a population increase, but an increase in the number of students as well. That’s an ironic bit of good news in a state when declining enrollment has forced the consolidation of school districts and closed small schools in the process, as well as funding challenges. The fewer the number of students, the more it costs to educate students on a per-pupil basis.
Then there is the Vermont State College system, which has already combined Johnson and Lyndon Colleges into one, and shuttered Green Mountain College, Southern Vermont College, and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland due to low enrollment.
“What are we going to do to make the colleges we have left affordable and viable,” Hooker asked. “We can’t afford everything we like, so how are we going to get these things in place to make college viable in this state?”
Hooker said Vermont needs to make college affordable for Vermont students and also draw more students from out-of-state.
“Our demographic hasn’t changed,” she said. “We are still an aging state. We want to carry on so the next generation can live here and prosper.”
AND BACK TO HOUSING
Hooker is a big proponent of agencies and nonprofits working jointly to solve problems and complete projects. She cited the work of the Rutland Housing Authority and its partnership with Rutland Regional Medical Center to renovate the former John Deere building on Woodstock Avenue in Rutland. The project will create nine units of housing, with two units available to Rutland Regional Medical Center at all times. Patients who can be discharged but who are homeless can be discharged to one of those units and be given additional support in their recovery. The $3.2 million project is scheduled for completion in December and is being funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The builder is Brandon’s own Naylor and Breen.
“I would love to see and encourage in Rutland County these partnerships that strengthen the community because everyone is investing in it,” Hooker said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
She said those partnerships extend to Vermont’s downtowns, like Brandon’s, in order to keep them viable. Again, for Hooker, that means affordable housing.
“We are looking at putting affordable housing in our downtowns,” she said. “We’re not looking to gentrify, we’re looking to proving housing that the people, the average Rutland County resident, can afford.”
To reach Sen. Cheryl Hooker, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.