Former Vt. state representative backs off primary challenge for Orange Senate seat

  • Susan Hatch Davis

  • Mark MacDonald (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • Bill Huff (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2020 9:17:04 PM
Modified: 7/31/2020 4:55:33 PM

CHELSEA — A former Progressive lawmaker who is on the Aug. 11 Democratic primary ballot for the Orange state Senate seat is backing off from a challenge of state Sen. Mark MacDonald, who is also running again.

Former state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, of Washington, said in an email this week that she only filed for the Senate race after hearing that MacDonald, D-Williamstown, who is completing his 10th term, might not run again.

Although her name will remain on the ballot, Hatch Davis now says she backs MacDonald’s candidacy and intends to focus her energy on trying to reclaim the Orange 1 House seat she represented for five terms before narrowly losing in 2016 to Chelsea Republican Bob Frenier.

Besides filing for the Senate seat, Hatch Davis is also in a three-way Democratic primary for her old two-seat House district along with state Rep. Carl Demrow, D-Corinth, and Kate MacLean, of Chelsea.

State Rep. Rodney Graham, R-Williamstown, Levar Cole of Chelsea and Samantha Lefebvre of Orange are on the Republican ballot in the Chelsea-area House district.

MacDonald on Wednesday welcomed the news that Hatch Davis was backing off from a Senate run, saying he was initially “surprised” to see Hatch Davis’ name on the list of candidates.

“She hadn’t spoken to me,” MacDonald said in a phone interview.

The move likely sets up a general election rematch for the Orange District Senate seat between MacDonald and Thetford Republican Bill Huff. The district comprises 11 towns — Braintree, Brookfield, Chelsea, Corinth, Randolph, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Vershire, Washington and Williamstown. Bradford-area towns are in the neighboring Caledonia Senate district.

Both MacDonald and Huff said this week that voters are most interested in Vermont’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has depleted state coffers and led to greater discussions about the effectiveness of its social safety net.

“COVID-19 has everybody’s attention,” MacDonald said. “It has either dwarfed issues that are ongoing or provided insight into issues.”

State officials predict that Vermont will lose about $330 million in tax revenue because of the economic downturn, a predicament that Huff says should be met with cuts.

The retired airline pilot and financial planner said that the state government has more staffers per capita than Maine and New Hampshire, and could make do with less.

“Clearly there’s room there for some cuts,” he said in a phone interview.

Huff also called on state lawmakers to reduce taxes to help struggling businesses and attract new ones.

“We’ve got to be more business-friendly,” he said. “We have to create a tax base that is supported by lots of businesses.”

The Legislature is largely awaiting news from Washington before negotiations over future spending can start in August, MacDonald said, adding that funding levels will vary greatly depending on what’s included in a relief package still being debated by Congress.

Using past relief funds, state budget writers last month approved a three-month spending plan that reversed cuts proposed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

MacDonald supported the move but warned that it will likely deplete Vermont’s rainy day funds, leading to some tough choices in the future.

“It won’t be easy and we may have to take a bridge loan over the next year,” he said. “The next Legislature is going to show up with no rainy day funds to work with.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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