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Rematch set for Orange Senate district seat

  • Bill Huff (Courtesy photograph)

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

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2020 7:45:48 PM
Modified: 11/1/2020 7:45:44 PM

CHELSEA — Longtime state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, is again facing a challenge from Thetford Republican Bill Huff in the race for the Orange Senate district seat.

The faceoff is a repeat of the 2018 race for the seat representing 11 Orange County towns: Braintree, Brookfield, Chelsea, Corinth, Randolph, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Vershire, Washington and Williamstown. MacDonald won 57% of the vote in 2018, versus 43% for Huff.

While both candidates pointed to the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as a top priority this time around, they have different ideas of the shape that response ought to take.

The 77-year-old MacDonald, who has held the seat since 2003 and also held it from 1996-98, said he’s concerned the pandemic has increased preexisting economic divides. He said life has gotten more difficult for members of the working class who may have lost jobs that will not be replaced, while some white-collar workers are saving money by not having to commute to work and by eating out less.

“I worked hard for the working people who fell behind during the economic crisis of 2008,” said MacDonald, a beef farmer and retired history teacher In Randolph. “This one right now looks like it’s going to be much tougher.”

MacDonald said he is especially concerned about those whose unemployment benefits have run out.

For his part, the 62-year-old Huff, who served briefly on the Thetford Selectboard, said in an email that the state has been fortunate to have federal relief money to “patch most holes in this year’s budget.”

But Huff, a retired pilot and financial planner, predicts hardship in the future that may require trimming government programs.

“Difficult decisions will have to be made in the coming years requiring political courage to make the necessary repairs to balance budgets, streamline our government for more efficient operations, and put Vermont on track for fiscal good health,” he said.

The candidates also differ in their approach to paid family leave. MacDonald was a supporter of a paid family leave bill that passed the Legislature this year. But the House was unable to override a veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

MacDonald said some form of paid family leave is “certainly in the future of Vermont (and) perhaps the U.S.” He noted that it’s “common practice in other modern industrialized countries.”

Huff said he would support a voluntary paid family leave program as both Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have proposed.

“Small businesses are struggling to survive with surplus cash consumed over the last few months just to stay afloat,” Huff said. “Any additional financial burden could easily put many small businesses over the edge into insolvency and permanently out of business with the loss of jobs altogether. This is a time when small businesses need our support, not another tax.”

In addition to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, MacDonald is also focused on addressing climate change. He said the state has done well in curbing carbon emissions in its electrical grid, but needs to reduce carbon emitted for transportation and heating purposes.

“The Earth is going to be here,” he said. “Our job is to see it’s inhabitable by ourselves and other species.”

For his part, Huff said he was motivated to run because he doesn’t like what he’s seeing in Montpelier on issues ranging from climate change to resolving the state’s unfunded pension liability.

“I am running for office because the Vermont Legislature has proven, time and again, they lack the courage to make difficult decisions,” Huff said.

MacDonald, who has been known as a door-to-door campaigner in past years, said the pandemic and the many Zoom meetings had him about 1,000 doors behind schedule as of Tuesday.

He also noted that since most voters in Vermont have received their ballots in the mail, he had come across some who had already voted, which he described as a “totally new notion.”

Information about voting in the Twin States can be found online in the Valley News’ voting guide:

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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