Amanda Muccio ’18
The Tripod sat down with Ben Jickling ’18, a lifelong Vermonter and newly elected State Representative to the Orange-Washington-Addison district.
TT: What’s your current Trinity major? Do you think that this position will change the types of classes you will be taking? If so, why?
BJ: I am a Political Science major at Trinity. The Political Science Department has been incredibly helpful throughout the process of planning and executing my run. Professors Serena Laws, Anthony Messina, and Diana Evans provided invaluable advice and support over the last year and their input was crucial to my success.
TT: Have you always wanted to work in government?
BJ: I have been interested in the policy making process for a few years now. In 2014, I ran the campaign of a Middlebury College student who mounted a bid for the Vermont House. That experience was important and helped me craft the strategy and messaging for my own race in this election cycle. On a more personal level, I love Vermont, and want to live here for the rest of my life. We have clear challenges facing our communities, and I think I can bring a fresh and unique perspective to the House in Montpelier.
TT: You ran your campaign and won the election as an Independent candidate. What do you feel it means to be an Independent?
BJ: To me, it makes little sense in Vermont to identify with either political party. With the relatively small size of House districts (only around 8,000 people), an Independent can compete with party nominees on a relatively equal playing field. In an election of change, the Independent label was a strength, as voters appreciated a candidate that refused party support and pledged to not adhere to either party’s voting line. Without a party label to fall back on, I worked hard to introduce my platform and plan to voters. I knocked on every door in the district twice, working proactively to convince Vermonters and answer questions they may have.
TT: Do you think that the hotly contested nature of the 2016 Presidential Election had an effect on local elections, such as yours?
BJ: In addition to the chaotic national political scene, my specific race gave voters a clear choice between experience and a fresh perspective. I was facing a older incumbent, running for her seventh term. I emphasized the importance of taking proactive steps to look to the future, preparing for the “gig” economy, prioritizing rural high speed internet access, [and other goals]. Like Americans nationwide, voters in Vermont are frustrated with government in general, and the election results validated their willingness to try a new approach.
TT: In a status posted on the “Ben Jickling for State Representative” Facebook page, you wrote that you planned to run an issues-based campaign in order to achieve a ‘Common Sense Vermont.’ Can you talk about this more in depth?
BJ: A central piece of my campaign platform was to address the challenges facing Vermont in a proactive and strategic way. Like many state legislatures recently, Vermont has been dealing with persistent budget deficits, as revenues underperform in the post-recession recovery. As a result, the part-time citizen legislature has spent a significant portion of past sessions focused on the short-term patching of the budget and finding different ways to raise new revenue. Long-term economic and demographic trends in the state have been largely ignored during this time. The focus of my campaign was to take smart, thoughtful and practical small steps to address the larger trends and put Vermont in a sustainable and advantageous position for the future.
TT: Why did you decide to take off time in the middle of your college career to run for public office? In other words, why didn’t you wait until after you graduated from Trinity? Why now?
BJ: It would have been easy to put off a run for office until I graduated, or later in my life. However, I saw an opportunity where I felt I could make a difference and positively impact the community and state I grew up in. With the anticipated high voter turnout in Vermont and a substantial wave of voter frustration, I thought I stood a chance as a young candidate and an Independent, so I decided to take a chance and run.
TT: Did you face any pushback from vetted politicians, or the electorate, because you are so young?
BJ: As a young candidate, attacks on my age and inexperience were inevitable. Throughout the campaign, I worked hard to combat these assumptions and frame my age as a strength rather than a liability. Very few State Representatives are under 30 in Vermont, and I stressed the importance of having a legislature with a diverse range of views and experience.
TT: How does it feel to have defeated your district’s Democratic incumbent?
BJ: The results on Election Day validated the work I put into the campaign and the platform I crafted. Many people were initially skeptical of my candidacy due to my age, lack of political experience and Independent status. Being the top vote-getter was exciting for me personally, and proved the validity of the message I spread and the type of campaign I ran.
Amanda Muccio ’18