Politics

Scheuermann faces tough Democratic challenge in Stowe House race

Jo Sabel Courtney, left, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, for the House seat from Stowe. Courtesy photos

In 2018, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, narrowly held on to her seat in the Vermont House. 

That year, Scheuermann, who had been in office for 12 years, beat her Democratic challenger Marina Meerburg by only 87 votes

Two years later, another Democrat, Jo Sabel Courtney, is trying to unseat Scheuermann in one of the most competitive legislative races in 2020. And the Democratic Party believes that the presidential election on Nov. 3 will give Sabel Courtney an edge.

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“We think that we have a chance in a presidential election year, with Joe Biden and Donald Trump on the ballot, to pick up a seat,” said Spencer Dole, who directs the Vermont Democratic Party’s House campaigns. 

Scheuermann, who is wrapping up her 14th year in the Vermont House, says the race is “going to be tough, just like two years ago.” But she thinks voters will look beyond national politics when considering the Stowe House race.  

“We’re confident that the people of Stowe are going to understand that this is a race for the Vermont House of Representatives and are going to look at it as such,” Scheuermann said. “We’re confident that they will continue to look at the people running, and the work I’ve done.” 

In her campaign, Scheuermann is highlighting her work to help local businesses apply for grant funding during the Covid-19 crisis and to advocate for financial assistance for the hospitality industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic. 

Scheuermann, 49, who owns a property development and management company, called herself “the champion of tourism and hospitality in the Statehouse.” Stowe is a popular ski and vacation destination. 

Sabel Courtney, 70, who has lived in Stowe since 1990, previously worked in the tourism sector. For 10 years, she was the international marketing and public relations manager for the Stowe Area Association. In that role, she marketed Stowe’s tourism sector throughout the U.S. and abroad. 

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Now she operates her own public relations firm, Sabel PR. In 1995, she co-founded the Stowe Theater Guild, a community theater organization. 

Sabel Courtney was raised on a farm in Indiana and later trained as an actor in New York City.  Before moving to Vermont, she had a career in radio.   

She has also volunteered for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and was a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention during his 2016 run for president. Sanders endorsed Sabel Courtney last month. 

She said that, if elected, she would support a paid family leave program, broadband expansion and policies to fight climate change. 

She would also prioritize expanding affordable housing, which she said is particularly needed in her area. She estimated that the average price for a home in Stowe is now about $800,000, and younger people are being priced out of their hometown. 

“I know several of them who work in town, but they can’t live in town and they grew up and went to school here,” Sabel Courtney said. “So I will work for a robust community that is inviting, and livable for everybody.”

Sabel Courtney said she also believes that the politics in Stowe are moving to the left as the country moves through this year’s presidential election cycle.

“There is I think a desire in town, in our district, to make a change, especially in this incredibly pivotal year where so much of — I think, I hope —  the country is actually moving a little bit farther to the Democratic side,” Sabel Courtney said.

Scheuermann disagreed with the analysis that Stowe’s voters are leaning further to the left.

She pointed to the fact that a majority of Stowe residents voted for Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, in 2018, while they voted for his Democratic challenger, Sue Minter, two years before. 

Scott recently endorsed Scheuermann, and in a statement called her “the strongest advocate Stowe will have in Montpelier.”

Like Scott, Scheuermann has prioritized property tax relief. She has also opposed Democratic priorities, including a paid family program and minimum wage increase.

Over the years, she has been one of the House’s largest proponents of overhauling the state’s education funding system. 

Scheuermann grew up in Stowe, and spent years working for former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., before she was elected to the House in 2006. From 1994 to 1997, she served in the Peace Corps and taught English as a second language in Poland. 

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While the Stowe House race is among the most competitive legislative races this November, it is also among the most expensive. Schueurmann and Sabel Courtney have each raised close to $20,000 in campaign funds this year. 

Both have spent money on local newspaper ads in recent weeks. Scheuermann also paid for an ad on a local cable station. 

Like other political candidates, Sabel Courtney, who announced her campaign in July, said that because of the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to knock on voters’ doors. She has focused on making phone calls, attending “honk and waves” and sending out mailers to reach voters. 

In her discussions with local residents, Sabel Courtney said many see Vermont’s local races as a referendum on the presidential race. 

 “They want the president out; that’s what I’m hearing from folks,” Sabel Courtney said. “By extension, this is what they want to see in Stowe and in Vermont as well. That’s what I’m hearing.” 

But Scheuermann said people in Stowe tend to look at the individuals who are running, and not focus on political parties.  

“The majority of people don’t play party politics and most likely many will have a split ticket,” she said.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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