Mr. Crandall goes to Vermont

Tom Crandall is a first-time candidate for the Maine Senate seat from Waldo County. Why did he make the effort to get in his car at 4 a.m. yesterday to drive to Montpe lier for an Act 60 meeting, and then turn around and drive home all in the same day? When you find out, youll wish you could vote for him, too.

Tom Crandall lives in the Freedom Fighter country of Waldo County, but he missed the mid-seventies in Maine when selectmen from small towns, irate over Maines new sta te property tax, vowed to get rid of it.

If elected, Toms towns will include the little town of Freedom. It was the Freedom Grange Hall where the rebellious selectmen were meeting when they chose their name. That began a statewide movement of municipal officials and citizens who stood up to the state and threw out the tax. In honor of that effort, it was the Freedom Grange Hall where Tom kicked off his campaign for the senate.

Toms opponent in the November election is Susan Longley, a liberal state senator who showed her true colors last year when she sponsored a constitutional amendment which could lead Maine into the same kind of court troubles now suffered by New Hampshire and Vermont.

Susan Longley wants to change the education article in the Maine Constitution. That article is the only one of its kind in the country. It was authored by Thomas Jefferson. As recently as 1994, Jeffersons simple, direct words held off a lawsuit of 83 sch ool districts in Kennebec County Superior Court, and the decision was upheld by the Maine Supreme Court.

Longley, a lawyer and a teacher, knows the legalese which would make Maine ripe for a school finance reform lawsuit, the kind which have already overcome 19 other states. She wants to embed a few choice words, like land mines, inviting court action or as a signal to a future activist legislature. She just cant wait to rip out what Maine is so fortunate to have and what New Hampshire and Vermont wish were theirs.

Susan Longleys constitutional proposal would have Maine head back in the direction of a state property tax, a tax her father opposed when he was governor of Maine.

Tom Crandall saw first hand yesterday whats in store if Susan Longley and her ilk ever get their way. He saw the same turmoil and revolt in Vermont at the Act 60 forum that Maine experienced nearly 25 years ago. It was a history lesson from Maines past being reenacted in Vermont. It was a Vermont Freedom Fighter meeting.

The forum was put together by the Stowe Act 60 Action Committee and the speakers were inspiring. Moderator for the forum, as well as a speaker, Jay Barrett has all the energy and commitment to his cause that his Barrett ancestor must have hadthe one who gave the order to fire on the British at Concord in 1775.

Jay, chairman of the board of selectman of Fairlee, heads the Vermont Coalition of Municipalities. Its counterpart in Maine was Maine Towns for Fair Taxation, which worked for and financed the repeal effort.

Because Vermont has no constitutional provision to rid itself of onerous laws through direct initiative (public referendum), the Vermont grassroots have to take a more circular route of identifying and electing legislators who will then change the law.

At the same time, they need to reach the communities who havent felt the immediate sting of Act 60 and warn them of the consequences for them now that the state has assumed power over the largest expenditure of any town or city budget. Jeff Wennburg, May or of Rutland, gave a thoughtful analysis of why Act 60 is bad for communities such as his who have been told they are winners under Act 60.

Because everyone loses local control under Act 60, the resistance groups provide an alternative to the present distribution formula called “Educational Revenue Sharing”. ERSs author, Peter Gr atiot of Pomfret, has spent a quarter of a century in its development.

Peter and his wife Daphne have been making some of the trips with Jay Barrett, reaching out across Vermont so that people understand that there is a plan which will more closely satisfy the concerns of the judges in the Brigham case, but which does not re quire a state property tax and which regains local control.

Yesterdays all-day session profiled an intelligent revolt led by people of great common sense and deep passion, each determined that government encroachment into school and community had gone too far and have pledged themselves to the effort of finding a better way.

Out of the struggle is coming new heroes. Some are new to political dissent and are just beginning to realize that they have joined hands across the centuries with earlier Americans who wanted to govern themselves. It was a rare case of an audience as imp ressive as the roster of people who spoke to them. Asked to give the luncheon remarks, I was privy to the day. Hoping to say something which would inspire them, it was I who was inspired.

The program included John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute, Jane Chadwick, Chairman of theDover selectmen, Donna Carpenter of the St owe Education Fund, Dave Matthews of the Stowe Act 60 Action Committee, Mary Barrosse and Jeffrey Pascoe of Vermont Parents for Quality Education. (Jeff also maintains the Act 60 web site.) Supportive remarks by candidates Ruth Dwyer and Barbara Snelling (Governor and Lieutenant Governor) and others rounded out the day.

Maines similar passion for local control in repealing the state property tax is being replayed by Vermonters two decades later, and for the same reason.

Tom Crandall had heard and read a lot about those Freedom Fighter days in Maine and had always wished hed been there. Yesterday, he was.

His Marathon round trip to Montpelier surely must have given him new insights into the importance of his own election campaignand revealed why, for the sake of his state, he must win it.

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