Parties Vie For 2 Open Seats In Rutland County Senate Race
Republicans have held all three of Rutland County's Senate seats since 2014, but this year, Democrats are hoping that two open seats — along with anger over what’s going on in Washington — may help boost their chances in the upcoming election.
Republican Sen. Brian Collamore is the only incumbent in the race.
Sen. Peg Flory, who’s been a Statehouse fixture for two decades, announced earlier this year she would not be seeking re-election. And Sen. David Soucy — the Republican from Killington who was appointed last year to fill Kevin Mullin’s seat after Mullin left the Senate to head the Green Mountain Care Board — didn’t survive the primary.
So with two Senate seats up for grabs in Rutland County, both Democrats and Republicans are campaigning hard for them.
Theresa Burke, chair of the Rutland County Republican Committee, was taking part in a recent honk-and-wave at a busy Rutland intersection.
“We need all three Republicans to come out of Rutland County,” she said as she waved to passing motorists with Collamore and other party supporters.
Last session, Republicans held only seven of the total 30 Senate seats in Montpelier. “We need Republicans to come out of every county in the state and bring some balance to, you know, Vermont's Legislature,” Burke said.
Burke is urging voters to choose Collamore, a former radio broadcaster who's served two terms in the Senate, and fellow Republicans James McNeil and Ed Larson.
McNeil, who's served two terms as a state representative, owns a men's clothing store in downtown Rutland. Larson is a former Rutland City Police officer, who served on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen.
Republican Joshua Terenzini, a member of the Rutland Town Select Board who’s active in local party politics, says conservatives are fighting to keep Vermont affordable, which he says is especially important in a working-class county like Rutland.
“Any of these tax increases that have been presented by the Democrats, Vermonters can't afford,” says Terenzini, shaking his head. “And you can talk to the average Rutland County voter or family, and they're going to tell you, ‘we can't afford any more taxes.’”
For example: The proposed carbon tax some Democrats have called for, or additional taxes to fund paid family leave. Rutland Republicans will fight those, says Terenzini, and block efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage.
“It’s about the economy,” he says.
The Rutland Town resident shrugs off concern that national party politics will push independent voters in the county to the left next month.
“We can’t control what the president does or says,” says Terenzini.
“But I think when people go to the ballot, they're going to look at who the person is, what they've accomplished and what they're going to do for Rutland County when they get to Montpelier," adds Terenzini. "And I think that’s what matters. I think that's what matters in Rutland County more so than anything — regardless of if you have the R the D by your name, they're going to look at the person."
But Brandon voter Melissa Gibbud disagrees.
“With everything that’s been going on in Washington and the way the Republicans are reacting to the president that we have in office, and the bullying and all the other things that are going on, I just feel that all Republicans at this point are perpetuating this terrible feeling that’s in the country, and I’m having a very difficult time dealing with it,” she says, her face visibly upset.
She adds that her feelings about voting this year are very different than how she’s felt in the past.
"Absolutely, I’m an independent voter, and I would vote for whomever I thought was the best candidate," Gibbud says. "And this year, because of what’s going on in Washington, I am not going to vote for any Republicans.”
Julian Fenn, chair of the Rutland County Democratic Committee, is counting on voters like Gibbud. Fenn says about 40 percent of voters in Rutland County identify as independents, and he says many are angry.
Fenn says there’s also a lot more excitement among young and liberal-minded voters who want lawmakers to do more about global warming, the cost of higher education and raising the state’s minimum wage.
“There's a lot of people that didn't vote in Rutland County two years ago that I think are going to turn out," says Fenn. "You know, there’s a lot of talk about the 'blue wave' or the 'red wave' this year. I don't know if we're actually going to see a blue wave, but I think it's going to have a positive impact for Democrats here in Rutland."
The three Democratic candidates running for state senate are Cheryl Mazzariello Hooker, Greg Cox and Scott Garren.
Hooker, a Rutland City resident, has served in both the Vermont House and Senate and was also a member of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen.
Cox owns a farm in West Rutland and is president of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. He's perhaps best known for growing the local farmers market.
And Garren, a Shrewsbury resident, has a background in information technology and has been a strong Democratic Party organizer in the county.
Meadow Squier, a registered voter from Tinmouth, says she definitely feels passionate about voting this year. And she disagrees that sending Republican senators to Montpelier will provide balance.
“Rutland has been Republican for so long that we need a balance in our own county. It’s not about the state being balanced, I feel like it’s about the county being balanced,” Squier says.
That’s why Squier hopes at least one Democratic candidate will win in November — but winning will be an uphill battle for Democrats.
All three Democrats were write-in candidates, which some party members admit make the local Democratic Party look unorganized. And now all three candidates have to convince a right-leaning county to swing left.
Correction 9:06 a.m. 10/29/19 An ealier version of this story lacked the word "some" when refering to Democrats who were calling for a carbon tax.