Primary Source: Vermont Governor Watching House Races With Veto Numbers in Mind

  • 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 Geoff Hansen

Published: 10/31/2018 11:26:45 PM
Modified: 11/1/2018 10:08:28 AM

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is watching a number of races for the Vermont House with great interest.

That’s because with fellow Republicans holding just 53 of the 150 seats in the House chamber, the first-term governor could lose the ability to have his vetoes sustained if the GOP loses three seats.

“It would be a game-changer, there’s no question about it,” Scott said on Wednesday in a visit to the Valley News.

Scott says he still encounters “a lot of anger” from some gun-rights supporters over his vote for gun-safety legislation this spring, and acknowledged he was concerned about a low-turnout primary in August. As it turned out, he handily defeated North Springfield resident Keith Stern, and a VPR/Vermont-PBS poll last month showed Scott with a comfortable lead over Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist.

Scott said it’s unclear whether widespread antipathy toward President Donald Trump could hurt GOP candidates running for House seats.

“It could go either way. Certainly, there’s enough open seats where it could happen naturally, and with the national attention — the president’s disapproval rate in Vermont — it makes it difficult for a Republican to run and succeed,” Scott said.

On the local issue of what to do with the former Windsor prison farm, which closed last year, Scott made clear that input from Windsor officials and residents would be a critical consideration.

Asked about a Department of Corrections report that found it might cost $1.3 million to convert the outdated prison to transitional housing, plus cost some $6 million annually to operate if it were to serve some 50 former inmates, Scott said, “I’m just not sure the community wants that.”

And he showed little interest in the drive for a $15-an-hour minimum wage espoused by many Democrats and Progressives, noting that the minimum wage in New Hampshire, which is tied to the federal system, is $7.25. “We have to pay attention to what New Hampshire does because we lose (business) to New Hampshire every day,” Scott said.

Scott plans his traditional 14-county barnstorming tour on Monday, the day before Election Day, with Upper Valley stops around 9 a.m. along Route 5 in Bradford, Vt.; some more campaigning at the bus terminal in White River Junction around 9:45 a.m., and a visit to Nortrax Equipment in Springfield, Vt., at 10:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, Hallquist also will be out in force, including a 3 p.m. meet-and-greet on Monday at the Tuckerbox Cafe in White River Junction, and a “honk-and-wave” stop along Route 5 in Bradford, Vt., at 4:30 p.m.

Other statewide races in Vermont include U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., facing a challenge from Manchester Republican Lawrence Zupan; U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., vs. Charleston Republican Anya Tynio; Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, against state Rep. Don Turner Jr., R-Milton, and Attorney General TJ Donovan, a Democrat, against state Rep. Janssen Willhoit, R-St. Johnsbury.

Resting Somewhat Easy

A write-in challenge is always a possibility, but several legislative candidates in the Twin States have uncontested races on Tuesday’s ballot.

Most notably, none of the three Democrats running to represent Hartford in the Vermont House face any GOP opposition. State Rep. Kevin Christie and Hartford Selectwoman Rebecca White are running in the two-seat Windsor 4-2 district that represents much of the town.

And newcomer Randall Szott, a Barnard Democrat who also is on the Progressive ballot, is unopposed in his bid for the Windsor 4-1 seat that represents West Hartford and much of Quechee as well and Barnard and Pomfret. He would succeed state Rep. Sue Buckholz, a West Hartford Democrat who won an open seat two years ago but opted not to seek re-election.

Also unopposed is first-term state Rep. Annmarie Christensen, the Perkinsville Democrat whose district represents Weathersfield and Cavendish; and first-term state Rep. Charlie Kimbell, the Woodstock Democrat whose district represents Plymouth, Reading and Woodstock.

In Orange County, veteran state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, also is unopposed, as are state Sens. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, and Joe Benning, R-Lyndon, who represent several Bradford-area towns.

In New Hampshire, state Reps. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, and Roger Dontonville, D-Enfield, face no challengers on the ballot.

After the Voting

Want to make sense of the election results after the big day on Tuesday? The Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College is hosting a “post-midterm” panel asking “What Might Change as a Result?” two days after the voting.

It will be moderated by emeritus professor Linda Fowler, an expert on Congress and legislatures, and participants include history professor Leslie Butler, sociology professor John Campbell and government professor Dean Lacy. The forum will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, in Room 003 at the Rockefeller Center.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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