Politics

Sen. Joe Benning, a moderate Republican from the Northeast Kingdom, launches bid for lieutenant governor

Sen. Joe Benning, left, chats at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Jan. 23, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

After serving nearly a dozen years in the Vermont Senate, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, is hoping to lead the institution he believes “represents the best of Vermont.” On Monday, the Lyndonville Republican joined the race for lieutenant governor — a position that entails presiding over the state Senate and breaking the occasional tie vote. 

“The Senate is something that I love dearly,” Benning said. “I love the players. I love the way they treat each other with respect. And I think that Vermonters appreciate that image.” 

The 65-year-old attorney is the first Republican to declare his candidacy for the open seat. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a Democrat, is relinquishing it to run for Congress. Two Democratic candidates — Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, and nonprofit executive Patricia Preston — joined the race in recent weeks. 

Though Benning previously served as the Senate’s Republican minority leader, he has carved out a reputation — and voting record — as a libertarian. He advocated for the legalization of marijuana and voted for Proposition 5, which would enshrine abortion rights into law. Benning has publicly criticized the last Republican president, Donald Trump, and said he declined to vote for his party’s nominee in the 2016 and 2020 elections, instead writing in his wife, Deb. 

“I know that I will have hurdles in the primary as a result of not being a fan of Donald Trump, but I want to move us as a party beyond the 2020 election and start to concentrate on where the Republican Party should be,” he said. 

Benning appears far more comfortable associating himself with another Republican: Gov. Phil Scott. The senator’s best qualification for the job, he said, is his relationship with the governor and his team. 

“I know all the players. They know me. We’ve worked together for a very long time,” Benning said. “And in the event he was unable to continue in that role, my transition into that office would be as seamless as it would get.”

Born and raised in New Jersey, Benning moved to Vermont in 1975 to attend Lyndon State College. He has practiced criminal and family law for nearly four decades and served on the local school board, as town moderator and as chair of the state’s Human Rights Commission. For the past four years, he has been the only Republican to chair a committee: Senate Institutions, which oversees the state’s facilities and corrections system. 

“I think I’ve got a pretty good track record of working with people across the aisle,” he said. “The best thing I can bring to the job is a desire to treat people with respect and civility and to try to get away from the tri-partisan bickering that goes on.”

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Paul Heintz

About Paul

Paul Heintz is managing editor of VTDigger.org, where he oversees day-to-day operations of the newsroom. Heintz previously spent nine years at Burlington’s Seven Days newspaper, serving as a reporter, columnist and political editor. During that time, he was named journalist of the year by the New England Society of News Editors and won the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award for his successful advocacy for Vermont’s first media shield law. Heintz previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and for the Brattleboro Reformer and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and thru-paddled the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Email: [email protected]

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