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John Gregg: Generational Divide Possible in Windsor County Senate Race

Published: 4/7/2016 12:33:15 AM
Modified: 4/7/2016 12:33:16 AM

The appointment of Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell to a full-time job as executive director of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs has prompted several Windsor County residents to consider running for the Senate seat he is leaving after 16 years.

Windsor County Democratic Chairman William Kuch, a Springfield resident, said at least four people from his party are thinking about a run, including state Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock and three 20-something Democrats: Hartford Selectwoman Rebecca White; Royalton resident Nate Ruby, a regional field director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign; and Conor Kennedy, a Hartland native who serves as Campbell’s deputy chief of staff in the Vermont Senate.

“There certainly has been a lot of interest,” said Kuch.

On the Republican side, Windsor County GOP Chairman John MacGovern said Mark Donka, a police officer in Woodstock and former Hartford selectman who has run for Congress before, is likely to run.

“I’ve been working pretty steadily” at recruiting candidates, said MacGovern, a Windsor resident who has also run for state Senate himself in the past. “With this opening, it does change things, so more people are interested.”

Telecommunications executive Charlie Davenport, a White River Junction resident  who previously served as general manager of Topsham Telephone Company, confirmed that he is also considering a Republican bid for a Senate seat.

The two other incumbents beside Campbell, Sens. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, and Alice Nitka, D-Ludlow, are both expected to seek re-election. McCormack is 68, Nitka 72, setting up a potential generational gap in the primary if a couple of the younger potential candidates seek the office. The top three vote-getters in party primaries make it onto the general election ballot.

Campbell is encouraging Kennedy to run for his seat, saying the 26-year-old, who has worked for him for three years, has both empathy for constituents and the skills to understand complex budget issues.

“I’ve never seen anybody with a bigger heart than him ... and his policy acumen is just incredible,” Campbell said.

Kennedy, who attended Hartford and Woodstock high schools, said he is considering a run but hasn’t made a final decision. “I’m a firm believer in Vermont, and I think we do a lot of great things here, but there’s always room for improvement,” he said.

Clarkson, a six-term veteran who is chairwoman of the Windsor County legislative caucus and serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, said she is “very much exploring the possibility” of a Senate bid.

Asked about the trio of potential candidates decades younger than herself and the two Senate incumbents, Clarkson, 61, said, “It’s great to get young people engaged in politics.”

Campbell, 62, will be paid up to $104,000 in his new job, which is likely to start next month, and said he applied several weeks ago at the urging of former Senate colleague Vince Illuzzi, a longtime state’s attorney in the Northeast Kingdom.

The job involves managing a $19 million budget for the 14 State’s Attorneys offices and some sheriff functions, involving about 130 employees.

Campbell, a former sheriff’s deputy in Florida who in 2014 took a part-time prosecutor job in the Windsor County State’s Attorneys office, also will be called to testify before the Legislature on various criminal justice policy matters.

He said he wants to boost training opportunities for young prosecutors.

“The more training going in for people handling cases, the better case management you are going to have, and that’s going to result in savings,” Campbell said.

Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster, who heads the executive committee for the prosecutors, said Campbell’s experience as a private attorney, prosecutor and former police officer were key factors in his committee’s hiring decision.

“He has significant qualifications that make him a great candidate,” Fenster said.

Campbell has been paid $30,000 annually for the 20-hour a week job in Windsor County, which was funded by a measure legislators passed to alleviate caseloads across the state, and has recently been prosecuting sex-crime cases. In his new job, he will be succeeding David Cahill, who is now the Windsor County State’s Attorney.

Cahill said Campbell’s prosecutor’s job in White River Junction will go unfilled until at least the end of the fiscal year on June 30, as part of a budget savings measure, but that he plans to hire someone after that.

“I am adamant about keeping that position after he goes, and I’m going to make a pitch to make it full-time, because we have the work,” Cahill said.

Debate Ahead

Vermont Law School is holding a gubernatorial forum on Tuesday including both Republican and Democratic candidates in Vermont. The event at Chase Community Center starts at 5 p.m.


John P. Gregg can be reached at

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