Rutland County Senator Brian Collamore running for third term

By LEE J. KAHRS

RUTLAND TOWN — To be Republican in Vermont has long included a caveat at the state level. The notion that Vermont Republicans are not cut from the same cloth as the national party was never clearer than right now. The Moderate Republican was practically birthed in Vermont, and while Rutland Senator Brian Collamore was not (he was born in Michigan, the Republican is seeking his third term to continue holding the right-wing party line in Vermont.

He faces a crowded field of candidates for the three Rutland County senate seats. Incumbent Sen. Cheryl Hooker (D) is running for re-election, along with seven challengers representing Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

HOW HE GOT HERE

Collamore, 69, grew up in Dearborn, Mich. before moving to Bedford, Mass. at age 12.  He then attended and graduated from Middlebury College with former Gov. Jim Douglas, also Republican, and was in Vermont to stay.

Brian Collamore

Collamore has had a long career in radio and is currently the general sales manager for Catamount Radio. He and his wife, Christine, live in Rutland Town. They have one son, BJ, who is an electrical engineer at GE in Rutland.

The senator said that Douglas was one of three key area Republicans who stayed close friends and in 2010 approached Collamore about running for statewide office. Former Rutland County Senators Peg Flory and Kevin Mullins were also keen for Collamore to run.

“Peg, Jim and Kevin started getting after me,” he said. “I did not have a political bone in my body. But, in 2014, I finally ran.”

Another challenge was party. Collamore was raised in a Democratic household.

“My uncle and my Moms family are die hard Democrats,” he said. “When I told my Mom, she was not very happy.”

Many Vermont Republican bemoan the progressively more liberal sociopolitical path Vermont has taken since the 1960s Back to the Land movement that brought so many young people to the state. The first sign of a political sea change came with the election of Democrat Phil Hoff as governor in 1962, the first Democrat to be elected Governor of Vermont since 1853.

CREATING BALANCE

Now, Collamore, said, it’s time to strike a better balance between the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Vermont Legislature.

“I just think Vermont has been on a path to become more and more liberal,” he said. “And now, it’s pretty unbalanced.”

Technically, that’s true. There are currently 150 House members, 95 of who are Democrat and 43 are Republican, with 7 Progressives and 5 Independents.

In the Senate, there are 30 members, 6 of whom are Republican.

“In Massachusetts, I would be considered a Democrat,” Collamore said. “But certainly in Vermont I fall very much on the Republican side of the policy aisle.”

The Senator said that because of that imbalance, he feels a responsibility to tote the party line and listen to his constituents. Collamore also feels a duty to represent his party as the assistant senate minority leader under Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (Caledonia), and explained his thoughts on that.

“My job is to listen to my constituents and try to get the facts and determine the best course of action,” he said. “I see my role is asking questions about (a bill or topic) from the opposite point of view, to question, to poke holes in the theory they brought up, to be the loyal opposition, to put it nicely.”

He said on the Senate floor, that’s more difficult because he’s outnumbered.

“You’ve got 26 people, generally speaking, who have the opposite point of view. I’m not nasty or dismissive, I just want to make sure what I ask might job someone’s view to look at it another way.”

That said, Collamore eagerly says that he has often voted with his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Agricultural Committee and the Government Operations committee. But ultimately, Collamore circles back to his constituents.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to hear what the other side is thinking and evaluating, and thinking about the emails and calls I’ve gotten. You really have to vote based on your constituents. That’s what a representative form of government is all about.”

PHILOSOPHY

Like most conservatives, Collamore said his platform is based on two key beliefs: fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility.

“Those are important principles to me and I find the Republican Party more attuned to those principles,” he said. “I think people have a responsibility to take care of themselves and not have the government doing it for them, to use their own intelligence and common sense to solve their own problems.”

Take employment for example, he said.

“If you’re able-bodied and can take care of yourself, you should find the best job you can and make yourself valuable to your employer and go up the ladder,” Collamore said. “Vermonters have a tradition of being independent and not feeling that the state of federal government should help them.”

The senator cited his own personal experience working in housekeeping at a hotel.

“I learned the job and performed it to the best of my ability and worked my way up the ladder,” he said. “Eventually, I became head of housekeeping.”

But when asked if the government has a role if someone is not able-bodied and able to care for themselves, Collamore quickly agreed.

“I think government has a role and the government should provide for our most vulnerable,” he said. “Nothing is ever 100 to nothing.”

ISSUES

Collamore serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee. He said he is focused on dairy farmers and how to support them in the face of record-low milk prices set by the federal government.

“We’re consistently trying to make the dairy farmer’s life sustainable,” Collamore said. “It’s costing more money to make their product than they’re getting for it.”

Collamore considers dairy farmers a vulnerable population, even if they are able-bodied and able to care for themselves. He said it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to support dairy farmers and help make their lives easier.

“We need to find a way to help them live up to best practices and show them other ways to go with diversification,” he said, meaning diversifying into farming other products where the margins are wider as well, such as cheese, fiber, meat, hemp, and agritourism.

On the Government Operations Committee, Collamore authored the bill S.233, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott. The bill streamlines the licensing process for people who move to Vermont from out-of state who are in professions where state licensure is required, such as nurses or plumbers.

“It take the out-of-state provisions and makes it simpler to get certified here,” he said. “It goes a long way to helping people coming from other areas and standardizes the licensing process to make it as easy as we can. We had tri-partisan support. I’m proud of that bill.”

Collamore also worked on election law in the committee, helping to make voter registration easier through automatic and same-day registration.

“I don’t know what else we could do to make it so easy for people to vote,” he said.

Collamore said it’s a bit different campaigning this election cycle during a pandemic, with no handshaking or crowded candidate forums. He said he’s doing a lot of sign and wave events in area towns, standing at busy intersections with other candidates, waving to motorists holding a campaign sign. But he said he still prides himself on always answering voters’ emails and phone calls.

“I appreciate the folks who’ve supported me, and I take great pride in answering someone’s call or email, even if we’re not on the same page on issues,” he said. “I try to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason — to listen twice as earnestly as we speak.”