Primary Source: Primaries abound in Vermont races

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 9:42:19 PM
Modified: 6/3/2020 9:51:54 PM

It’s going to be a busy summer and fall on the virtual campaign trail for candidates for the Vermont House and Senate, with several primaries to be decided on Aug. 11.

In the Windsor 1 House district, state Rep. Zachariah Ralph, a Progressive from Hartland, isn’t running again for the two-seat district representing Windsor, Hartland and West Windsor. State Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland; former state Rep. Paul Belaski, D-Windsor; Elizabeth Burrows, a School Board member from West Windsor; and Jennifer Grant, of Hartland; are in a Democratic primary, while gun-rights activist Wesley Raney, of Hartland, is the lone Republican.

In Windsor 2, representing Weathersfield and Perkinsville, Weathersfield Democrats Daniel Boyer and Tyler Harwell will face a primary to succeed state Rep. Annmarie Christensen, D-Perkinsville, who is not running again.

In Windsor 4-1, Barnard resident Heather Surprenant and Hartford resident Havah Armstrong Walther will be in a Democratic primary for the open seat, while former Hartford police officer Mark Donka, a frequent GOP candidate, is on the Republican ballot. The district includes Barnard, Pomfret, West Hartford and part of Quechee.

There’s also a Democratic primary in the Windsor-Rutland district, representing the Bethel area, as Democrats Robert Krattli, of Rochester, and Kirk White, of Bethel, will compete to take on Bethel Republican Wayne Townsend for the open seat long held by Rochester Progressive Sandy Haas.

In the two-seat Windsor 4-2 district representing most of Hartford, state Reps. Kevin Christie and Becca White, both D-White River Junction, are unopposed in the primary. Republican Alice Flanders, who has worked as an aerospace engineer in the Navy, is also running along with Progressive Nicholas Bramlage.

At a news conference last week outside the Statehouse, Flanders, who is African American, questioned the value of the Black Lives Matter movement and asserted that Barack Obama separated and divided the country during his presidency, according to a video of the event.

In the two-seat district representing the Randolph area, state Rep. Jay Hooper, D-Randolph, and Larry Satcowitz, also a Randolph Democrat, will face off in November against Republican Charles Russell, of Randolph, and Joseph Roche, of Braintree.

The two-seat Orange 1 House district will have a three-way Democratic primary involving former state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington, state Rep. Carl Demrow, of Corinth, and Kate MacLean of Chelsea. On the Republican side, state Rep. Rodney Graham, of Williamstown, Levar Cole, of Chelsea, and Samantha Lefebvre, of Orange, are also in a three-way contest for two slots on the general election ballot.

In the Orange 2 district representing Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee, state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, is being challenged by Bradford Republican Zachary Michael Lang.

State Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newbury, isn’t running again for a seat also representing Topsham and Groton. Republican Joe Parsons and Democrat Kelsey Root-Winchester, both of Newbury, are on the ballot.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mark MacDonald, the veteran Williamstown Democrat representing the Orange Senate district, is facing a primary challenge from Hatch Davis, the former Chelsea-area lawmaker who is also seeking her old House seat, according to the Secretary of State’s Office listing of candidates.

Hatch Davis could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and could serve in only one of the chambers if she won both elections. She narrowly lost her House seat in 2016 and fell short in a 2018 comeback as well.

“I haven’t really gotten my head around it,” MacDonald said of the potential primary challenge, noting that he had voted for Hatch Davis in prior House elections. The winner would face Thetford Republican Bill Huff, who has run for the office before.

In the two-seat Caledonia Senate district, which includes several Bradford-area towns, state Sen. Jane Kitchel, and former state Sen. Matthew Choate, both of Danville, are the Democratic candidates. They’ll run against state Sen. Joe Benning and Charles Wilson, both Republicans from Lyndon.

In the Windsor Senate district, Democratic incumbents Alison Clarkson, of Woodstock; Dick McCormack, of Bethel; and Alice Nitka, of Ludlow, are being challenged by Republicans Michael Jasinski Sr., of Springfield, and Jack Williams, of Weathersfield.

State Reps. Tim Briglin and Jim Masland, both D-Thetford; Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock; and John O’Brien, D-Tunbridge, face no opposition.

Change at the Dickey Center

There’s little doubt that Daniel Benjamin, who has served as head of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College since 2013, would have held a senior foreign policy post if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.

Benjamin had served as U.S. ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism when Clinton was secretary of state. Now, Benjamin, a former Berlin bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, is heading to Germany again. He has been named president of the American Academy in Berlin.

Benjamin, whose timing is in limbo because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, plans to return frequently to the Upper Valley. His wife, Henrike Frowein, the director of research integrity in the Dartmouth provost’s office and whom he met while in Germany, will remain at their Norwich home for the next year as their son Jonah finishes high school in Hanover.

Christianne Hardy, the special assistant to Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, will serve as interim director at the Dickey Center.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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