Republicans Look To Take Both Seats In House Speaker's District

Oct 30, 2018

This election, Republicans hope to unseat Vermont Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson. Johnson has been in the legislature for 15 years and just finished her first term as speaker.

She’s one of two Democratic representatives for the district that covers the Champlain Islands in Grand Isle county and a sliver of the Chittenden county town of Milton.

The causeway leading onto the Champlain Islands in Grand Isle County.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

As you drive through the district, you see yards dotted with signs — including a few big signs for Republicans Leland and Michael Morgan. They’re an uncle and nephew duo running to unseat the Democratic incumbents: House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Ben Joseph, a retired Vermont Superior Court judge who just finished his first legislative term.

One of the big lawn signs for the Morgans belongs to Raoul Beaulieu. He built his house in North Hero and has lived there for 32 years.

He said Leland and Michael Morgan came by his house.

“We talked about the politics and their issues and how their feelings were on the issues and I agreed with them,” he said. “I’m very much for ‘em, both of them. I’m not a fan of Mitzi to begin with.”

Beaulieu said he’s upset that Johnson supported the new gun laws, but there are other reasons, too.

“She's a tax and spend Democrat, you know, and ... we got to get away from that in the state,” he said. “That's one thing I talked about with the Morgans-- I said we got to cut back, we can't keep spending like this.”

Leland Morgan says that’s a big part of the platform he shares with his nephew.

“I would say the major reason that I'm running is because our taxes are so high and they're continuing to get higher,” he said.

Raoul Beaulieu's lawn sign for Leland and Michael Morgan.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

Leland Morgan is a former teacher and was elected to the Vermont house for two years in the 1980s. He also served as an officer in the Vermont Air National Guard.

That’s also where his nephew Michael Morgan worked full-time until last year. He's also served in the U.S. Air Force. Both Morgans have been on the Milton Selectboard.

Michael Morgan says their platform includes reducing business regulations, cleaning up the lake and opposing new taxes and fees.

“We would be people that would be looking for cost savings realizations elsewhere to pay the bills versus raising taxes because you can always make — having work in government for almost 40 years — you can always make a governmental operation more efficient, always,” he said.

(Left to Right) Leland and Michael Morgan are the Republican candidates running for the two Vermont House seats in the Chittenden-Grand Isle District.
Credit Courtesy of Michael Morgan

The district is mostly made up of Grand Isle County and only includes a small part of the Morgans’ hometown of Milton — so Leland says they’re spending lots of time talking to people on the islands.

“Many of them —and from both parties — have indicated to us that the present representation is not receptive to their needs,” he said. “That does make me feel that they are vulnerable and that is positive for us.”

But Mitzi Johnson said she hears the same thing about the Morgans.

“One of the biggest pieces of feedback that I get are people a little uncomfortable ... having people from Chittenden County represent them,” she said.

Johnson said living on the islands is an important part of representing the district.

“When I open up my tax bill it's the same dynamic that other islanders are dealing with, in terms of things that, things that gentlemen from Milton don't have to deal with, like our schools have declining enrollment, we are impacted by Act 46. He is not,” she said.

Johnson said her constituents benefit from her position as speaker of the house.

“I can really put things on the table like, you know, my top two priorities this year were ed finance reform and water quality,” she said.

If re-elected, Johnson said she’ll keep working on those issues and also return to bills that were vetoed by Gov. Scott.

“Things like paid family leave, minimum wage, the PFOA bill that holds companies responsible for some basic medical monitoring in places where people's health is affected because of because of industrial pollution,” she said.

(left to right) Ben Joseph and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, the Democratic incumbents representing the Chittenden-Grand Isle District in the Vermont House.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR

Johnson has raised a lot more money during this campaign than previous ones. In 2016, she raised $4,650 and spent $3,474.19. This year, according her Oct. 15 campaign finance filing, Johnson raised $18,634 and spent $2,667.82.

Between them, Leland and Michael Morgan have raised over $13,000 and spend $7,313.98.

If you talk with people like Marcia Ryan, she’s pretty happy with the Democratic incumbents. As she stood outside a grocery store, Ryan said she was voting for Mitzi Johnson and Ben Joseph.

“I’m satisfied with what they’re doing,” Ryan said. “They’ve worked hard, she’s speaker of the house, that’s some representation and some, little, power. … I think she’s good for all of Vermont.”

Johnson still has to win re-election next week and the results have been close in recent years. In 2016, she won by about 100 votes. And in 2014, the margin was 31 votes.