Primary Source: Vermont Republicans Split Over New Gun Law

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The new gun control legislation Gov. Phil Scott signed into law on Wednesday has roiled gun-rights advocates and some Vermont Republicans, with more potential cracks emerging over a Trump-themed email from the state GOP party.

One of the most conservative lawmakers from the Upper Valley, first-term state Rep. Bob Frenier, R-Chelsea, has decided not to seek re-election to the seat he narrowly won in 2016, in part over his frustration with the gun law, which he voted against.

“I thought it was an insult to traditional Vermont culture ... and so was the coyote bill,” said Frenier, referring to a bill that passed the Vermont House that bans coyote-killing tournaments.

Frenier, who won his Orange 1 House seat over then-state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington, by 7 votes in 2016, indicated he may try to bring a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of some of the legislation that has passed, and said it would be easier to do once he is no longer a lawmaker.

Meanwhile, he is trying to recruit Republican candidates for the two-seat House district, which represents Chelsea, Vershire, Corinth, Washington, Williamstown and Orange.

Also raising concerns about the new gun law is North Springfield resident Keith Stern, who runs Stern’s Quality Produce in White River Junction with his wife. A protest candidate in the past, Stern this year is planning to run against Scott in the GOP primary, saying he is upset with the first-term governor’s support for the gun-control legislation and for just holding the line on taxes, rather than cutting them.

Stern said that if elected, he would order his administration not to enforce the new gun laws, which include raising the purchase age for firearms to 21 and background checks for most private gun sales.

“It’s unconstitutional and the governor takes an oath to uphold the constitution,” Stern said in a phone interview. Stern also asserted that Scott, whom he voted for in 2016, has lost support among GOP voters.

“If he runs, it’s going to have to be with Democratic support. It has to be,” Stern said. “He has lost the Republican base.” That remains to be seen, of course, and Scott in his remarks at the bill signing on the Statehouse steps made clear he knows the stakes.

“I understand I may lose support over the decision to sign these bills today. Those are consequences I’m prepared to live with,” Scott said. He said avoiding more gun tragedies was most important.

Stern, who is holding a “meet and greet” with the public at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, at Hartford Town Hall, said he voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson, and not Donald Trump, in the 2016 elections, and said he likes some of Trump’s ideas, while disagreeing with others.

Scott has been careful to distance himself from Trump, but the state party is a different animal. A fundraising email on Wednesday morning from the Vermont GOP bannered “Make Vermont Great Again!” raised several hackles with its obvious homage to the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

“In recent years, our state has been co-opted by the liberal elite. Out-of-touch politicians have been hell-bent on stripping away every right and freedom that Vermonters hold dear,” the GOP pitch said.

State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Stowe Republican who worked for then-Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, was not amused by the “Make Vermont Great Again!” appeal.

She issued a tweet that said she was “disappointed” and “embarrassed” by the email.

“Traditional VT Republican values I embrace = fiscal responsibility, free market economy, smaller, more efficient government AND compassion, respect, understanding, compromise. None of the above displayed here,” Scheuermann tweeted.

Briefly Noted

The filing deadline for candidates in Vermont is on May 31, and some new faces are stepping forward. Democrat Randall Szott, a librarian who lives in Barnard, said he plans to run for the House district representing Barnard, Pomfret and part of Hartford. State Rep. Susan Buckholz, D-Quechee, has opted not to run again. And Thetford Republican Bill Huff is planning to run for the Orange Senate seat long held by state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has endorsed Executive Councilor Chris Pappas in a crowded Democratic primary for New Hampshire’s open First Congressional District seat.

Two former Valley News reporters won prestigious awards this week from the Columbia Journalism School. John Woodrow Cox, now a reporter at the Washington Post, won an award for his series on children affected by gun violence. And Hanover High graduate Ben Conarck, of the Florida Times-Union, won along with Topher Sanders of ProPublica for a series they did, “Walking While Black,” about the ticketing of a disproportionate number of African-Americans in Jacksonville for jay walking.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.