GOP promises spirited attempt to win back seats in the Statehouse

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The Vermont GOP is gearing up for a ground war with Democrats in House and Senate races across the state. The Republicans have recruited 36 new candidates running for House seats (with at least 74 running altogether) and they believe they have a shot at regaining enough seats to tip the balance of power in the Statehouse.

The state party has been aggressively recruiting high-profile candidates that party officials say have a good shot at winning seats in conservative strongholds — Rutland, Bennington and Orleans counties — and in areas that Democrats have typically dominated, including central Vermont and Chittenden County.

After three less-than-stellar election cycles — the state Republican Party hopes to push the Democrats out of their super majority status in the House.

With House Speaker Shap Smith at the helm, the Democrats have held two-thirds of the 150 seats in the Vermont House since 2009. The GOP has had between 45 and 48 representatives during that period, and the Progressives, who are philosophically aligned with Democrats on several issues including health care, typically hold a handful of seats, and this year an equal number of independents will try their luck.

Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, in the Senate Chamber on opening day of the 2014 legislative session. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, in the Senate Chamber on opening day of the 2014 legislative session. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

The GOP holds seven seats in the 30-member Senate, and they hope to gain at least three more. Republicans are targeting Sens. Don Collins, D-Franklin; Ann Cummings, D-Washington; Eldred French, D-Rutland, and John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans.

With the Dems smarting over public antipathy to higher property tax rates and frustration over the repeated failures of the Vermont Health Connect system, the Republicans believe they have key wedge issues they can leverage in the 2014 election. The GOP has candidates vying for the seats of several chairs of committees, including Rep. Martha Heath of Westford, head of House Appropriations, and Rep. Mike Fisher of Lincoln, head of House Health Care.

Dave Sunderland, chair of the Vermont GOP, says the goal is to “bring some balance back to the Legislature and state government.

“That’s the focus for all of our work that we can restore some balance in Montpelier, and bring a stronger voice for people who feel left out of the process over the last four years,” Sunderland said.

The party has put a lot of focus on candidates for legislative races this year, and Sunderland says he is pleased with the number and quality of the candidates who have stepped up this year, and he expects more to come forward before the June 12 deadline for candidate petitions.

Rep. Martha Heath, D-Westford, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Rep. Martha Heath, D-Westford, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Recruitment “has not been that difficult,” Sunderland says, and he believes that “reflects a growing concern among Vermonters about the status of the economic direction our state is headed and the lack of growth and lack of action from Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Legislature to address it.”

Democrats say they’re not worried about the troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect, the lack of progress on property tax reform or polls showing flagging popularity for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

“We are proud of our successes (in the legislative session),” said Julia Barnes, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. “And we will take that into our conversations with voters.”

Barnes cited victories for Vermont families on increasing the minimum wage, a landmark GMO labeling bill, attention to opiate addiction and the creation of universal public preschool opportunities.

“We’re going to go after as many (seats) as we can,” Barnes said. “We plan to organize in every Vermont district and provide support for all of our House and Senate candidates. Our goal is to win.”

Eric Davis, a pundit and retired Middlebury College political science professor, says the GOP could potentially pick up House seats in more conservative areas of the state, including St. Johnsbury, Colchester, Rutland City, Clarendon/Proctor, Brandon, St. Albans, Fairfax and the Northeast Kingdom.

Dustin Degree of St. Albans, a former Republican representative in the Vermont Legislature. Courtesy photo

Dustin Degree of St. Albans, a former Republican representative in the Vermont Legislature, is running again. Courtesy photo

Davis says Senate seats will be most competitive in Franklin and Rutland counties. Dustin Degree, who lost in 2012, could beat Collins, the incumbent Democrat, Davis says, and Sen. Eldred French, an appointee of the governor, could be vulnerable. The chance that another Republican would join Sen. Diane Snelling in Chittenden County is unlikely, he says. Pat McDonald’s quest for a seat in Washington County could be difficult, in his view, because he doesn’t think central Vermonters will support more than one Republican candidate (Sen. Bill Doyle).

Ben Sarles, communications director for the Vermont Dems, declined to give VTDigger a list of new House and Senate recruits, nor would he confirm wide speculation that the party will be drumming up candidates to run against Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, and Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, who sits on the House Institutions Committee, said she is concerned about a financing plan approved by the Emergency Board for an office building in St. Albans during a House Committee on Corrections and Institutions meeting Friday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, sits on the House Institutions Committee. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Galbraith is a maverick who often bucks the party on key issues, largely on philosophical grounds, but usually votes with the party. Browning often votes with Republicans and has sued Shumlin for documents created in the development of his secret financing plan for universal health care.

The Progressives will have 10 candidates running for House seats, including seven incumbents.

Independent candidates are popping up in more races around the state.

A number of Democrats will retire from the House this year, as will several Republicans. No retirements have been announced in the Senate.

Democratic representatives who will retire this year

Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury
Anne Mook, D-Bennington
Jeff Wilson, D-Manchester
Kristina Michelson, D-Hardwick
Suzi Wizowaty, D-Burlington
George Cross, D-Winooski
Peter Peltz, D-Woodbury
Sheila Volwinkle, D-Hartford
Cynthia Martin, D-Springfield

Republican representatives who will retire this year

Andy Donaghy, R-Ira/Poultney
Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport
Tom Koch, R-Barre Town
Phil Winter, R-Williamstown
John Mitchell, R-Fairfax

Independents leaving office

Tim Goodwin, I-Weston
Will Stevens, I-Shoreham

Here is a partial breakdown of new Republican, Progressive and independent candidates for House races as of May 15.

Republicans

Debbie Ratcliff, Chittenden-3: Jericho/Underhill. She will run against Democrat George Till.
Lawrence W. Hamel, Caledonia-2: Hardwick, Stannard, Walden. Open seat.
Marcia Martel, Caledonia-1: Barnet, Ryegate, Waterford. Open seat.
Janssen Willhoit, Caledonia 3: St. Johnsbury. Vying with incumbent Democrats Michelle Fay and Bob South.
Tom Moore, Caledonia 3: St. Johnsbury. Vying with incumbent Democrats Michelle Fay and Bob South.
Ed Stone, Chittenden 4-1: Charlotte/Hinesburg,
Michael Ly, Chittenden 6-1: Burlington’s near north area. Kurt Wright, a Republican, and Joanna Cole, a Democrat, are the incumbents.
Paul Dame and Laurie Mitchell, Chittenden 8-2: Essex. Incumbents are Tim Jerman and Linda Waite-Simpson, both Democrats.
Bob Bancroft, Chittenden 8-3: Essex, Westford. Incumbent Democrat Martha Heath is chair of House Appropriations.
Pam Loranger, Chittenden 9-2: Patrick Brennan, a Republican and Kristy Spengler, a Democrat are the incumbents.
Claude Bouchard, Franklin 3-1: St. Albans. Incumbents are Kathy Keenan and Mike McCarthy, both Democrats.
Corey Parent, Franklin 3-1: St. Albans. Incumbents are Kathy Keenan and Mike McCarthy, both Democrats.
Brian Westcom, Franklin-6: Bakersfield, Fairfield, Fletcher. Daniel Conner is the incumbent Democrat.
Larry Fisk, Franklin-7: Enosburg, Montgomery. Democrat Cindy Weed is the incumbent.
Shane Bouthillette, Lamoille-2: Johnson, Belvidere, Hyde Park. Mark Woodward and Linda Martin are the incumbent Democrats.
Lucien Gravel, Lamoille-2: Johnson, Belvidere, Hyde Park. Mark Woodward and Linda Martin are the incumbent Democrats.
Gary Viens, Orleans-2: Newport, Coventry, Irasburg, Troy. Open seat.
Devan Small, Orleans-Caledonia: Albany, Barton, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro, Sheffield, Wheelock. Incumbents are Republican Vicki Strong and Democrat Sam Young.
Patty McCoy, Rutland 1: Ira/Poultney. Open seat.
Val Harris, Rutland-Bennington: Middletown Springs, Pawlet, Rupert, Tinmouth, Wells. John Malcolm is the Democratic incumbent.
Job Tate, Rutland Windsor-1: Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington, Mendon. Anne Gallivan is the Democratic incumbent.
Rob Leclair, Washington-2: Barre Town. Open seat.
John Santerello, Washington-3: Barre City. Incumbent Paul Poirier is an independent. Democrat Tommy Walz is a recent appointee of the governor who replaced Tess Taylor, the former majority whip of the House.
Kristin Sohlstrom, Washington-3: Barre City. Incumbent Paul Poirier is an independent. Democrat Tommy Walz is a recent appointee of the governor who replaced Tess Taylor, the former majority whip of the House.
Ken Harrington, Bennington-3: Glastenbury, Shaftsbury, Sunderland. Alice Miller is the Democratic incumbent.
Valerie Mullin, Addison-4: Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, Starksboro. Incumbents are Mike Fisher, chair of House Health Care, and Dave Sharpe, both Democrats.
Fred Baser, Addison-4: Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, Starksboro. Incumbents are Mike Fisher, chair of House Health Care, and Dave Sharpe, both Democrats.
Richard Rotax, Addison-3: Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes, Waltham. Incumbents are Republican Warren Van Wyck and Democrat Diane Lanpher.

Progressives

Carl Davis, a Progressive, is running for Kilmartin’s seat in Newport.
Teresa Ellsworth, a Progressive, is running for the Windham-Bennington-Windsor seat against Oliver Olsen, an independent and former representative.

New independents

Calvin McEathron, a recent Middlebury graduate, is running in Addison-1 for Paul Ralston’s seat.
Barbara Murphy, the Fairfax town clerk, is running in the Franklin-2 district, for John Mitchell’s seat.
Oliver Olsen, a former representative, is running as an independent for the Windham-Bennington-Windsor seat against Teresa Ellsworth, a Progressive, for Tim Goodwin’s seat.
Tim Ryan, who lost in the 2012 election, will be running in Addison-2 against Democrat Willem Jewett, majority leader of the House.
Laura Sibilia, Windham-Bennington-1, will run against incumbent Democrat John Moran.
Heidi Spear, Washington-7: Incumbents are Democrat Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin, an independent.
Ed Reed, Washington-7: Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren. Incumbents are Democrat Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin, an independent.
Jerry Mullin, Washington-Chittenden: Bolton, Buel’s Gore, Huntington, Waterbury. Incumbent Democrats are Rebecca Ellis and Tom Stevens.

Senate races

Dustin Degree, a Republican who lost in 2012, will run against Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, in a three-way race (so far, last cycle it was a four-way) with Sen. Norm McAllister, D-Franklin.
Pat McDonald, a former Vermont GOP chair, House representative and agency secretary under Govs. Richard Snelling, Howard Dean and Jim Douglas, is running in Washington County. The incumbents are Sens. Anthony Pollina, a Progressive Democrat; Ann Cummings, a Democrat; and Bill Doyle, a Republican.
Dexter Lefavour, an Republican from Middlesex, is also running in the Washington County Senate race.
Republican Joy Limoge will seek a Chittenden County senate seat.
Bob Frenier, a Chelsea businessman and a Republican, is running against Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Rep. Leigh Larocque, R-Barnet, was retiring. He will seek re-election. Sibilia is running against John Moran, not Valerie Stuart as originally reported.

Follow Anne on Twitter @GallowayVTD

Comments

  1. Nathan Flan :

    I agree the Democrats dropped the ball on some issues… Paid sick days did not pass, nor did the prevailing wage bill. Our tax system still make working people pay too much and the rich pay too little. Progress on these issues would have been a huge boost for Vermont’s working families. On the other hand the huge Democratic majorities, over the last few years, did get through:
    *The road map toward single payer healthcare;
    *Expanded union rights for 10,000 new workers;
    *Fair share;
    *Universal pre-school;
    *GMO labeling;
    *And the employment rate is down to 3.3% (second best in the nation).

    But all told, I agree… We did need to do better, and we do need to bring balance to the State House. That is why I am hoping we elect more folks from the Progressive Party to the House and Senate. That would be balance!

    But to vote Republican (unless we are talking about the pro-labor Vince Illuzzi type), is no answer… From what I see 95% of the Vermont Republican Party supports tax breaks for the rich, nuclear power, and private for profit healthcare… On the other hand they seem to largely oppose labor unions, healthcare for all, public education, and addressing the needs of working people. So bringing them in doesn’t sound like an answer to me.

    So in my mind, vote Democrat where you must, and Progressive where you can. Lets bring the right kind of balance to Montpelier!

    • Craig Powers :

      That is a spend, and then spend some more, balance. What ya going to do when there is no more money to take from those you call “rich” and evil businesses? Where will you get your money from? Print it?

  2. Rachael Fields :

    Why would the GOP run someone against Browning? She runs on the Democrat ticket, but everyone knows she is a republican. I agree with Nathan, we need more progressives or at least our Democrats need to be more progressive. Also, we could use more working class candidates and a whole lot less rich politicians in Vermont offices keeping the rich rich and the working Vermonters poor.

    • Wendy wilton :

      Rachael, re-read the article. The GOP isn’t running against Browning in that 2 seat district. The article refers to speculation that the VT Democrats may seek to replace her as she is very independent in her thinking and they don’t like that.
      In my view Browning is a great representative for Vermonters. She is smart, independent and works for the good of the people. She is incredibly popular in her district for these reasons. Good luck to the Democrats trying to get rid of her–won’t happen.

      • Peter Liston :

        It’s not like Republicans tolerate independent thinking. Just ask Marion Milne.

        • Jonathan Willson :

          I’ve been helping Shane Bouthillette prepare for his run in Lamoille-2 and the Republican Party has been nothing but accepting of our independent thinking. They’ve given us broad leeway to say what we believe, even if it conflicts with more conservative party members.

          I’ve been really impressed with the Party’s response to fresh ideas and young candidates. Corey Parent, Dustin Degree, and Shane Bouthillette are all great young leaders with a 21st Century message.

          As odd as it may sound here in Vermont, I think the future of the Republican Party is bright. Hopefully some of these new candidates can restore balance and healthy discourse in Montpelier.

  3. Greg Townezen :

    Rachael, I agree. If we are to have some many democrats, lets elect those “from the democratic wing of the democratic party.” But we need balance… More progs makes more sense to me as far as balance is concerned!

    And hey Nathan, don’t forget about the minimum wage going up to best in the nation. That is a big deal for working class people. If the republicans had more seats in the house and senate, that would never have happened. If we had more progs, maybe we would get a livable wage.

  4. Walter Carpenter :

    “So in my mind, vote Democrat where you must, and Progressive where you can. Lets bring the right kind of balance to Montpelier!”

    I heartily agree.

  5. Dave Bellini :

    The way I read the article, the Democrats might run a candidate against Browning in a primary. Republicans don’t want her to leave. Peter Galbraith isn’t a lackey for Peter Shumlin and he keeps telling the truth, so he’s out of favor.
    .
    Shumlin and the Democratic leadership oppose raising the minimum wage.
    They oppose paid sick days.
    They favor high property taxes.
    They lack the courage to tell Vermonters how they will pay for “single payer.
    Children are not protected.
    Food stamp recipients have to pay for the states errors.
    The Administration supports bullying of state workers.
    .
    I don’t want to see any one party get too much power. It’s usually a negative.

  6. Bill Olenick :

    The heck with the two major political parties,who have served the country poorly, in my opinion.
    Vote for any common sense candidate who will scale back runaway spending, by the government, and against the pols who legislate more taxes,rules and regulations.
    The government ,on all levels, is just too big for its britches and needs trimming down NOW!
    Too many of my friends are having a tough time paying all the taxes, and compiling to all the regulations, that these clueless politicians are ball and chaining the voters with.
    Let us turn the tables on them and vote them out forever.

    • Deb Tyson :

      Well said Bill.

    • Peter Everett :

      Democrats favorite word is spend, Progressives may have some good ideas, but, most of them cost lots of money to achieve. Therefore, they both need one word to reach their goals: TAX!!!
      We know that, those in power, somehow write tax laws so they benefit from them. Who winds up paying??? The people that can afford the tax increases the least, that’s who!!!
      Not every program needs increased funding every year, there is waste in the State’s budget (even though Montpelier says there isn’t). It’s time that people who really don’t want to run, do so. Some one with no personal agenda probably would do a better job. Some one who will not accept $$$ to run. Word of mouth would mean the person is NOT beholding to any one or any Special Interest. Party wouldn’t make a difference. Ridding ourselves of “professional” politicians would be a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, you and I know that will never happen. We’re stuck with the same old type of crew that will lead the tax payer to less and less of their hard earned money.

  7. Regarding the Franklin and Alburgh senate race, I will be turning in my 1400 signatures for the Democratic Primary in Franklin/Alburg this week on Friday.

    There is a four way race in Franklin County and all four candidates need to listen carefully to the voters.

    My ideas can be found at:

    http://www.billroberts4vtsenate.com

    Bill Roberts, MD, PhD

  8. Addition to the new independents list: Rama Schneider, Orange-1 (Chelsea, Corinth, Orange, Vershire, Washington and Williamstown) … http://rama4rep.us … I already have enough signatures to appear on the general election ballot but will be continuing to collect more.

  9. Deb Tyson :

    What we need is politicians who actually work and care about VT , not just make a statement during election time and turn around and do the opposite when elected and that’s the problem , these are the kind of politicians VT is getting. All in office now, we need to remove and start over. We need to make it clear ,If you fail during your elected time, don’t count on returning. Its time the people , make politicians know YOU work for us and when you fail, we remove you. Its time for taking a tough stance on political failures and show the country who we really are.

  10. Cynthia Browning :

    I will be running for re-election as a Democrat. I fully support the goals of ensuring that all Vermonters benefit from our economy and have health care, protecting our environment, and building a better future for our children.

    But when the leadership of my party undertakes policies that put politics over economics, that I believe as an economist will not work for Vermonters, I have a duty to my constituents to say so, in private and then in public.

    I have given Speaker Smith several opportunities to ask me to leave the Democratic caucus, and he has declined to do so, saying “Big Tent”. I think sometimes he grits his teeth as he says it, but he says it.

    My loyalty is to my constituents and my priniciples, and I continue to believe that my duty is to them and not to party leadership. I look forward to a spirited campaign.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  11. Lawrence W. Hamel :

    IT’S HAMEL, LAWRENCE W. HAMEL REPRESENTING HARDWICK WALDEN AND STANNARD. HAMEL, FIVE LETTERS, IT AIN’T THAT HARD

    • Cate Chant :

      Our apologies. The error has been corrected.
      Cate Chant
      VTDigger.org

  12. If all I could see of the Vermont electorate was this page, I would be tempted to give up in despair.

    I would say, “These people would vote for the Devil because of the D in front of his name, or the demon Pazuzu from ‘The Exorcist’ because of the P (for Progressive). They have been poisoned by their proximity to New York.”

    On the other hand, I have in front of me the Vermont “Lifepages Pro-Life Resource & Action Guide.” It is loaded with the names of individual donors, as well as commercial advertisers — including businesses that are open to the public, such as car dealerships, restaurants, florists. I am actually sort of shocked.

    Apparently, these folks don’t know about Vermont Digger or don’t care to post here. Most of the time.

    http://home.earthlink.net/~ellingreeranderson/coldspring.html

    The wider issue relates to the following question: If you were the Communists, would you take over America by announcing “Hey, we’re the Communists!” and attempt to establish central control through the only means possible — violent means?

    The answer is no — not when there’s an alternative. You would gradually assume control of an existing party — in this case, the Democrats — and establish control piecemeal — through healthcare, EPA regulations, and the climate change hoax, among other things.

    I anticipate that the above will elicit shrieks along the lines of: “But the GOP wants to control women’s bodies!!!!”

    No one wants to take away your right to a lonely, useless, and possibly impoverished old age. Women who would otherwise shine as wives and mothers — who would spend their lives in a glow of love, with a posse or “quiverful” of loyal supporters, progressing from reverence to sainthood (read any grandma’s obituary) now bear the brunt of 50 years of brainwashing to the effect that the aforementioned is “bad.” Abortion ‘rights’ courtesy of mob rule/mob hysteria are here to stay.

    But I digress.

    I feel very sorry for the fine local representation we have on the Democratic side in Vermont: Browning, Galbraith, Hartwell, Rodgers, Starr et al., who are still quacking and walking like ducks while the fox is guarding the coop. The rug has been pulled out from under them. The “people’s party” of FDR and his Fireside Chats, “Give ‘em Hell Harry” and his small-town whistle-stops, and JFK frolicking in the surf of the Cape with his adoring fans, is no more.

    Some years ago, there was a photograph in the paper of Vermont Governor Jim Douglas receiving Québec’s highest honor at a white-tie event up north. It looked straight out of a Grace Kelly movie. It was the epitome of international sophistication, style and class. I was so proud.

    Cynthia, if I lived in your district I would take the will for the deed and give you my vote. As it stands, I will be voting a straight Republican ticket.

  13. Dave Bellini :

    “It looked straight out of a Grace Kelly movie.” “…style and class. I was so proud.”
    .
    Grace Kelly? What was he wearing?

    • As mentioned: It was a white-tie event. I assumed everyone would know what that is. The gentlemen wear white ties with their tuxes. The ladies wear dresses.

      Since it was YOUR imagination that turned Princess Grace into a “drag king,” why don’t you tell us what ‘he’ was wearing?

  14. Anne: just so you know, Leigh Larocque is indeed running again. Not sure where you got the idea that he was retiring.

  15. It’s as simple as this – if you want communism vote Progressive, if you want Socialism vote Democrat, if you want smaller Government and lower taxes vote Republican or Libertarian.

    When someone messes up the system as much as we’ve seen in the past few years we can’t expect them to be the ones to fix anything.

  16. Kathy Callaghan :

    “We did need to do better, and we do need to bring balance to the State House. That is why I am hoping we elect more folks from the Progressive Party to the House and Senate. That would be balance!”

    How would that possibly be balance? Dems and Progs vote together, which would only intensify the one-party rule now in place.

    Balance requires members of the opposing party, in this case Republicans, so that a variety of voices and ideas can be heard, and a variety of Vermonters can be represented. The same would be true if the super majority party were Republican.

    No one political party or mindset has all the best ideas, particularly when it doesn’t listen to dissenting opinions or differing ideas from the other side.

    No clearer example could be made than the single payer “discussion” which is totally one-sided, with Democrats and Progressives steamrolling over any attempt by the minority party to approach this huge endeavor in a more thoughtful manner.

    As one example, it was amazing, but not surprising, that Rep. Mike Fisher, chair of the House Health Care Committee, allowed only one day of discussion in his committee about the BerryDunn report, entitled, “Lessons Learned”.

    The BerryDunn report was an independent consultant’s report on what went wrong in the rollout of the Vermont Exchange. The Governor and his administration were repeatedly cited for treating this important health care business rollout as a political issue, where saving face was more important than getting it right.

    Because single payer will be built off the exchange, the lessons learned in the BerryDunn report should become the textbook on how not to screw up single payer. It should have been reviewed in depth for several days. Instead, it got the brushoff in Rep. Fisher’s committee. Was that because the truth was told, or because Rep. Fisher and his committee already know it all? It is not likely that it is the latter.

  17. Mary Barrosse Schwartz :

    I’m running for the House as a Democrat for Bennington-Rutland 1, serving Dorset, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Peru, and Landgrove.

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