4-Town Vt. House Seat Opens Up

Illness to Prevent Hoyt From Running

Norwich — State Rep. Kathy Hoyt this week said that due to illness, she will not be running for a new term in the two-seat Vermont House district representing the towns of Norwich, Sharon, Strafford and Thetford.

“I just hate to have to make this decision. It’s been very hard,” Hoyt said in a phone interview Monday.

Until Hoyt ends her term on January 7, she will continue to work with the House Health Care Committee, which is coordinating Vermont’s transition toward a single-payer healthcare system. Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed Hoyt, a former top aide to two prior governors in Montpelier, to the seat in September 2013 after then-state Rep. Margaret Cheney resigned to become a member of the Vermont Public Service Board.

Since the filing deadline to acquire the 50 signatures needed for the ballot is on Thursday, Hoyt hoped that her statement would encourage someone from Norwich to run. Hoyt declined to make any endorsements until she knew whether a Norwich resident was running, but said that Tim Briglin, of Thetford, would be “clearly a strong candidate.”

Briglin, a founding partner of Tuckerman Capital in Hanover and a member of Shumlin’s healthcare financing council, declared his candidacy Monday after hearing that Hoyt would not stand for reelection.

“I’ve been a big Kathy fan for a long time and it’s very bittersweet that she’s not running,” Briglin said. He first expressed interest in Hoyt’s seat when she took over for Cheney, who Briglin says encouraged him to run. A Democrat, Briglin has a Stanford MBA. and previously worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The heavily Democratic district is also represented by eight-term state Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford, who says he supports and looks forward to working with Briglin.

But their candidacies are facing a challenge from Strafford Selectman John Freitag. Freitag on Monday said he is running as an independent after more than 20 years of association with the Democratic Party, “to keep the conversation alive,” he said. The maintenance director at the Newton School, Freitag has held numerous positions in the community, including justice of the peace and chair of the recreation board.

Freitag’s main reason for running is to block proposals to integrate local school systems. “I think the beauty of Vermont is that you have these small towns and small schools,” he said. “Regionalization takes away from that.”

Masland voted for a bill this spring that supported consolidation of school boards in Vermont.

Masland agreed that “small schools are the heart of a town,” but “the present situation will lead to their failure,” he said, referring to some school districts’ financial difficulties.

The bill this spring, and one he plans to draft if re-elected, would allow regional districts to share teachers and funding, Masland said.

Before she replaced Cheney, Hoyt was retired, and she has no definite plans after she steps down. “I’ll check on things and people (will) ask me questions, but I won’t take a job. I think I’ve learned my lesson.”

Originally from North Carolina, Hoyt moved to Vermont in 1968 and met her late husband, Norrie, in the early 1970s.

She was chief of staff to Governors Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean, as well as the only female secretary of administration. Yet throughout her years in state government, her Norwich community was indispensable. “The one thing that kept me going when I was commuting to Montpelier was that you at least had Dan and Whit’s as a hub,” she said.

As a freshman state representative, Hoyt settled in more quickly than most, perhaps due to her experience. House Speaker Shap Smith soon appointed her to the influential House Health Care Committee.

Her family played an important role in her decision to leave the Legislature, Hoyt said, in addition to her age and medical issues.

“I turned 72 last week, and that just said that if this is happening, and no one in the medical community can tell me why I passed out and hit my head and woke up two hours later, it’s very unsettling. So I decided that the timing’s not right,” she said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at 603-727-3242 or rwolfe@vnews.com.