Politics

House races: Progressive upset of O’Sullivan in Burlington highlights the night

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak beat out incumbent Jean O’Sullivan in the Chittenden 6-2 Democratic primary. VTDigger file photos

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak unseated Jean O’Sullivan in the Democratic primary for the Chittenden 6-2 House district, scoring another major win for Progressives in Burlington and topping the list of upsets in House races across the state. Most races were won by incumbents. 

Leslie Goldman, a retired nurse practitioner, also came in first in the Windham-3 Democratic primary, knocking out Rep. Kelley Tully, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Scott to fill the seat in April. Incumbent Rep. Carolyn Partridge came in second. 

The political picture is also looking clearer in a number of House races left open this year. 

Heather Surepenant topped Havah Walther in the Windsor-4-1 Democratic race by about four points, positioning herself to take the seat held by Randall Szott, who did not seek reelection. 

Henry Pearl is also primed for the general election in the Caledonia-Washington district, where he beat out Peter Griffin and Gwendolyn Hallsmith for the Democratic nomination after Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, decided not to run for reelection. 

Tiff Bluemle and Gabrielle Stebbins are poised to be the next Democrats representing Burlington’s South End following the departures of Reps. Mary Sullivan, D-Burlington, and Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington. 

In the Bennington-4 district, incumbent Rep. Kathleen James and Seth Bongartz, who are running as a joint ticket, won the top two spots in the Democratic primary. They will face Rep. Cynthia Browning, who decided to run as an independent after a falling out with House leadership. 

Chittenden 6-2

Mulvaney-Stanak, a former Burlington city councilor and chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, was seen as a strong candidate from the start. She thanked O’Sullivan Tuesday night for her eight years representing the district. 

“Because anyone who’s ever been elected before will tell you it’s a lot of hard work,” she said. “And I think people want a new perspective, a new approach. And I hope that I can do right by all of the voters both in the Old and New North ends.” 

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Mulvaney-Stanak said of all the elections she’s been a part of, this pandemic primary was among the most nerve-wracking due to the lack of visible voter turnout. 

“We had to get creative throughout the campaign,” she said. “It was great for public health, but hard for candidates today because you weren’t able to get a vibe without door-knocking or seeing voters throughout the day at the polls. You just don’t have a sense, it’s like you’re flying blind.”  

Windham-3 

Leslie Goldman, a retired nurse practitioner, finished as the top vote-getter in the Windham-3 Democratic House primary Tuesday with more than 30% of the vote.

Goldman knocked off Rep. Kelley Tully, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Scott to fill the seat in April. Tully finished in a close third in the two-seat district with 26% of the vote. 

There are no Republicans running in the district.

Goldman, who formerly served on the Bellows Falls Union High School Board and the Rockingham Selectboard, holds a Master of Public Health from Dartmouth. She says she hopes to work on health care reform in the House.

“I really feel like we need to fix health care. We need to look at it straight on,” she said. “Combining both my clinical practice and my public health knowledge is really exciting, and hope to have a really important conversation about healthcare in the state.”

Caledonia-Washington

In one of the few competitive legislative races outside Chittenden County, Henry Pearl won the Democratic primary in the Caledonia-Washington House district. 

Pearl garnered 520 votes in the district, which covers the towns of Cabot, Danville and Peacham. Peter Griffin won 350 votes, while Gwendolyn Hallsmith received 195.

Reached by phone on election night, Pearl said he was feeling great.

“Just really happy and thankful for all the voters that turned out today and all the help I had along the way,” he said.

He will now face the GOP candidate, Bruce Melendy, for a seat long held by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville.

A 12-year veteran of the Legislature, Toll chairs the House Appropriations Committee. But in May she announced that she wouldn’t seek reelection, saying, “I just feel like it’s the right time” to retire.

Pearl said he’s heard many times about the shoes he has to fill. 

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“I know Kitty’s been a great voice for this area, and I hope to live up to that standard,” he said.

The 32-year-old owns Hill View Farm in Danville and has said he wants to be a “voice for ag” in Montpelier. On Tuesday he reaffirmed that he wants to see agriculture-geared legislation.

“I don’t specifically have agenda items really that I’ve put in concrete at this point, but I’m excited to have a seat at the table,” he said Tuesday.

Griffin and Hallsmith could not be reached Tuesday night.

Bennington-4 

Incumbent Rep. Kathleen James and Seth Bongartz will face Rep. Cynthia Browning in November’s general election. 

James, Bongartz and Manchester business owner Jamie Dufour were competing for two Democratic spots in the Bennington-4 House race on November’s ballot. 

Browning has held her seat, as a Democrat, since 2007, but is running this year as an independent. She made the switch after she made a controversial call for a quorum in March on a remote voting question, which forced 76 lawmakers into the Statehouse soon after the pandemic hit. 

James, who is running for a second term, and Bongartz, who has served two terms in the House, in 1980 and 1982, are running a joint campaign. There are no Republican competitors in the race. 

With a total tally of 1,320 and 42.8% of the district’s vote, James led in each of the four towns on Tuesday. The district includes Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland. 

“The most exciting thing was to see such a high turnout,” James said. “This is a really important election and voters know that, obviously, and so that was one of the things that was most gratifying to me.”

Bongartz came next, at 34.3% and 1,057 votes. Dufour received 336 votes — 10.9%. 

After watching Tuesday’s race, Browning said her confidence was boosted by a number of write-in votes she received in the Democratic primary. 

“I’ve never run as an independent,” she said. “I think it depends on whether the voters want my brand of independent and strategic policy direction. I’ve been representing the district for a long time, and I think people know me.”

Chittenden 8-2 (Essex Junction and Essex)

In Chittenden 8-2, incumbent Lori Houghton will keep her name on the November Democratic ballot and political newcomer Karen Dolan will add hers. 

Rep. Dylan Giambatista, D-Essex Junction, who made an unsuccessful run for state Senate, left one spot open on the Democratic ticket. Dolan, whose background is in nonprofits said she was inspired to run for office after the 2016 election. 

“This is the time to do this,” she said. “This is the time where we need folks in leadership that care about listening to people, connecting to people, collaborating, and compromising. And that’s my goal.” 

Dolan has more than 20 years of experience with nonprofits in Chittenden County. 

Chittenden 9-2 (Colchester)

Nine-term incumbent Pat Brennan had his first Republican primary contest in a while this year, thanks to new blood that entered the race. 

Brennan will keep his spot on the ballot come November after winning more than 50% of the vote in a race that split three ways. 

The race also featured Alex Darr and Jon Lynch, who won the second Republican opening. 

Brennan said he was excited to see a young person like Darr infuse new life into the party. 

“I’m glad that some of the other people jumped in,” he said. “It’s always new. It’s nice to know the voters still think you’re doing your job.” 

Emma Cotton, Justin Trombly and Jasper Goodman contributed reporting.

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