Primary Source: Vacancy in Hanover, Challenge in Windsor

  • 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 26, 2018

It looks like there will be a contested Democratic primary for the two Vermont House seats representing Hartland and Windsor in Montpelier.

Hartland resident Zach Ralph, who has worked for the past eight years on social and environmental advocacy campaigns, including Sustainable Woodstock, said earlier this month that he plans to run in the Windsor 1 district represented by state Reps. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, and Paul Belaski, D-Windsor.

“I believe in the Vermont way, which is when independent minds come together for common solutions,” Ralph said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “As a representative for our communities we will work together to create whole systems approaches that proactively work to address problems before they become a crisis.”

Ralph serves on the Hartland Conservation Committee and the town Energy Committee and has been an advocate of a carbon tax. He says on his Facebook page that he has knocked on “over 100,000 doors in the last 10 years for social and environmental campaigns in 5 different states.”

Meanwhile, state Rep Patricia Higgins, D-Hanover, said on Wednesday she won’t seek a fourth term in the four-seat Grafton 12 district representing Hanover and Lyme in the New Hampshire House.

Higgins, who has long been active with the Upper Valley Transportation Management Association and used to drive a bus for Advance Transit, said she has been encouraged by turnout at Democratic events and is confident a strong successor will step forward. “I have been thinking about not running, and this might be a good time to have a vacancy so that people who have said to themselves, ‘I’ve got to get involved’ would have an opportunity to do so,” Higgins said.

A member of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, Higgins helped pass a “traffic signal priority” measure that would harness technology to keep traffic lights green for a few seconds longer to allow an approaching mass transit vehicle to keep to its schedule.

She also was the prime sponsor of a bill that would have doubled from $5 to $10 the fee cities and towns can add onto motor vehicle registrations to fund local transportation projects. It passed the House but lost by one vote in the Senate in January.

Higgins said her decision to leave was not affected by the fact that Democrats have been in the minority for the past two terms in the House.

“My focus that I brought to my work was to do what I could as an individual about the polarity that we seem to see in every aspect in life, so my greatest satisfaction has been working across the aisle, and when you are in the minority, that’s smart,” Higgins said.

Granite State Polling

Some interesting tidbits surfaced in the latest Granite State Poll released this week by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. President Donald Trump’s approval rating in the state has risen to 41 percent, up from a dismal 33 percent last fall. But 52 percent of voters in New Hampshire still disapprove of the job he’s doing.

And the poll found little support for firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is keeping plenty busy these days.

The UNH polling also found first-term Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has a 59 percent approval rating, while almost 75 percent of voters either don’t know or haven’t heard of his two top Democratic contenders, former state Sen. Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand.

Briefly Noted

The Vermont House voted, 94-53, on Wednesday to override a veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott of a bill that would have created a new agency to regulate toxic chemicals in Vermont, falling a few votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. Scott has argued the agency is unnecessary.

Brownsville physician Dan Freilich has spent about $25,000 so far in his longshot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in a primary. More than $9,000 went to his daughter Tamara, a 2016 graduate of University of Pennsylvania Law School, for “consulting and reimbursement,” according to campaign finance records. Freilich said she “helped get the campaign going with initial project management tasks” and now works on antitrust cases for a Philadelphia law firm.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., will be the main speaker at Colby-Sawyer College’s 180th commencement on May 5. And on May 12, U.S. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth Coss MacDonough, who graduated from Vermont Law School in 1998, will be the commencement speaker in South Royalton.

Climate change activist and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer is funding NextGen America, an advocacy group that plans to spend at least $750,000 in New Hampshire to boost turnout by young and progressive voters. NextGen already has 14 organizers in the state and plans to target 16 campuses.

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