BY ANGELO LYNN
MIDDLEBURY — After a decade of leading a statewide organization that brings the international community to Vermont’s doorstep through collaborative exchanges, Patricia Preston, 37, has joined the race for Vermont’s lieutenant governor. She is one of four candidates, so far, to vie for the position in the Democratic primary, which also includes former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, former Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Caledonia, and Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock.
Preston’s work as executive director of the Vermont Council on World Affairs has taken her to all corners of the state bringing international leaders together with Vermonters in both the public and private sectors to build economic and cultural relationships. It’s work that has allowed her to see and listen to Vermonters’ concerns and understand where folks are struggling, the kind of help that’s needed, and “discussing its most pressing needs,” she said in a recent interview at the Reporter.
“I have a long history of diving into the issues that most concern Vermonters, understanding the obstacles and the successes,” she said. “I look at the lieutenant governor’s position as a continuing path to what I’ve been doing… working with Vermonters to help them succeed. I got to a point where I couldn’t not take this step; I had to get more involved in helping more directly. When you love the state as much as I do, you want to give back, to help the state live up to its full potential.”
Preston was born in Randolph Center on a fourth generation dairy farm that is still run by her parents. The youngest of three sisters, she attended the same “little red schoolhouse” with four classrooms as her sisters, father and grandfather. She recalled that at the age of 5 she started attended her local town hall meetings where she watched her grandfather advocate for farmers and agriculture.
That upbringing sparked an active participation in her community. She was involved in plays at the Chandler Music Hall, played sports, raised calves through the 4-H club, and later would go on to volunteer with the local mentoring program and reading to residents at the local nursing home.
She said her passion for public service stems from her belief that making a more promising future begins with the state’s youth. To that end, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Vermont, taught in area schools, then pursued a master’s degree in International Education from NYU, which led to multiple nonprofit and international positions, including teaching and developing curriculum in Tanzania and Guatemala. During that time she traveled and lived in 45 different countries working to educate youth and community members.
She returned to Vermont in 2014 and brought her international and nonprofit sector experience to the Vermont Council on World Affairs. There she helped reinvigorate the organization, rebuilding funding streams and strengthening ties with national and international organizations throughout Vermont. As president and CEO, Preston has increased the organization’s revenue by 130% over the past decade. She currently lives in Burlington, and in her free time enjoys the backwoods of Vermont while mountain biking, skiing, or hiking with her dog.
ON THE CAMPAIGN
As lieutenant governor, Preston said she would use the skills developed in her current job and life experience to elevate the voices of Vermonters on the crucial issues facing the state. Her three priorities, she said, include:
• Vermont’s Affordability Crisis, particularly as it concerns the lack of affordable housing and childcare;
• Climate action, with a focus on helping to build a sustainable future by expanding renewable energy production and “developing a green job workforce”;
• Strengthen our rural communities, in part by expanding high-speed internet and workforce development opportunities.
To pursue those issues, she cites her experience to “strategically guide and implement federal funding to meet public needs” and to “engage Vermont communities in meaningful ways to help solve problems.” She says that experience more than makes up for her absence of any legislative experience.
While the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and casts a vote in case of a tie, the traditional role of the office has been to bring the public’s concerns to the Legislature and to help lawmakers reach consensus on difficult issues. It’s a task, she said, she is “uniquely qualified to do” as she has spent the past 10 years bringing people together on dozens of the most pressing issues facing Vermonters and the world.
As lieutenant governor, Preston said, the work would be similar to what she’s been doing, but she would be able to “make a bigger impact with a bigger voice.” As Vermont’s lieutenant governor, she said, “I will work tirelessly to build the trust and cooperation we need to solve our most pressing issues to make Vermont the state we know it can be.”
Two Republicans, Sen. Joe Benning of Calendonia County and Gregory Thayer are also running for the position in the Republican primary.