The secretary of state rejected a request from the leader of the House Progressive caucus to hold off on allowing Republican Bob Frenier to be seated as a representative while the outcome of his election is being disputed.
Jim Condos, who presided over the ceremonial beginning of the 2017-18 biennium, told Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, that Frenier had legal grounds to be seated in the House.
Frenier, a businessman, faced off in November against incumbent Susan Hatch Davis, a Progressive from Washington who served in the Legislature for 10 years. After a recount showed Frenier leading 1,850 to 1,844, a judge declared Frenier the winner of the election, according to the Valley News.
Hatch Davis, who was not available for comment Wednesday, has since challenged the judge’s decision. At issue is whether absentee ballots were treated differently in different towns within the district, according to Frenier.
Chesnut-Tangerman said the challenge from Hatch Davis should have triggered a report on the race from the Vermont Attorney General’s office, followed by a review by a House committee, which would recommend a course of action for the election.
But the attorney general’s office has not yet released the report, Chesnut-Tangerman said, so the process has come to a halt. He asked Condos to stop anyone from taking the House seat until the process played out.
“I really don’t see it as a partisan issue. I see it as an electoral issue,” Chesnut-Tangerman said in an interview. “And the reason I don’t see it as a partisan issue is I don’t have a real expectation that the outcome will be different. I just want the process to be complete.”
Chesnut-Tangerman raised the issue in a procedural move called a point of order. Condos, who was presiding over the House for the first few minutes of the biennium, did not accept the point of order.
Condos said the decision from the judge serves as Frenier’s certificate of election and allows him to take the seat. “This is not any different from what has been done before,” he said. “The challenge itself will play out.”
Frenier said in an interview that he had no hard feelings about what happened on the floor. He said Chesnut-Tangerman is simply serving his caucus and doing so in a civil and respectful way.