Windsor-Orange 2 district has 4 candidates eyeing 2 Vt. House seats

  • Rebecca Holcombe (Courtesy photograph)

  • Bill Huff (Courtesy photograph)

  • Jim Masland Patrick Fallon

  • Matthew Stralka (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2022 12:39:44 AM
Modified: 11/4/2022 12:39:26 AM

The race for two House seats in Vermont’s Windsor-Orange 2 districts pits a pair of Democrats with Montpelier experience against two Republicans who are new to state politics.

Incumbent Jim Masland, D-Thetford, and Norwich resident Rebecca Holcombe, who served as state education secretary, face Republicans Bill Huff and Matthew Stralka, both of Thetford. The district comprises Norwich, Sharon, Strafford and Thetford and hasn’t been represented by a Republican since it was drawn 20 years ago.

The candidates expressed divergent views on issues facing the state. The starkest contrast might be on abortion. Vermonters will consider an amendment to the state constitution on Tuesday that would enshrine reproductive freedom as the law of the land.

“I think it’s critically important that we pass it,” Masland, who was first elected to the House in 1998 and has served since then, said in an interview. He retired last year from a 15-year hitch supervising projects for Habitat for Humanity.

“I have been encouraging people to support” the proposed amendment, Holcombe said. “Reproductive health care is, broadly, health care.” In going door-to-door to campaign, Holcombe has encountered at least one resident motivated to vote for the first time because of the amendment.

Huff, a retired airline pilot and financial planner and a former Thetford Selectboard member, said he’s not opposed to abortion in the first trimester, and even in part of the second trimester. But “I am opposed to late-term abortion,” which he said the amendment would enable.

He also cast doubt on the wording of the proposal, saying it will likely end up in court.

Masland said he’s fielded questions about the wording and has forwarded to residents language from the state Legislative Counsel, which helps lawmakers draft bills.

Stralka, a chiropractor with an office in Hanover, said in an email he was unavailable for an interview. In a mailer he distributed and also emailed to the Valley News, he said he supports “a woman’s right to birth control and to responsible abortion” and opposes third-trimester abortions.

In addition, “I would promote legislation to make the responsible male pay for the abortion instead of the woman or taxpayers,” he wrote in a subsequent email.

On the subject of providing public funding to religious schools, Masland said he expects the Legislature will take up the issue when it reconvenes in January.

“We need to take great care to make sure we are not using public money to provide individual religious education,” he said.

Holcombe, who served as education secretary for a little over four years, from 2014 to 2018, said she sees education funding as “a common benefits issue,” a reference to the “common benefits” clause of the state constitution. That clause, in Article 7, holds that government and its institutions are for the common benefit of the public.

“The question we should all be asking is why we are funding any institution that is exclusive in purpose and design,” she said.

Districts that pay tuition for certain grades could designate public schools, which would keep public money in public institutions, including Thetford Academy, the designated high school for Thetford’s students.

Education Secretary Dan French declared in September that public districts that pay tuition could not exclude religious schools but said nothing about designating schools to avoid public support for private religious beliefs.

“It’s striking that the administration did not mention designation, which could be practiced in a way that provides common benefits,” Holcombe said.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Carson v. Makin, which held that Maine could not deny public tuition funding to religious schools, Huff, 64, said he feels the court case settled this issue and sees no need for the Legislature to take action.

Stralka’s mailing and other communication did not address this issue.

On the subject of inflation and energy costs, Masland, 73, said there isn’t much Vermont can do to affect prices, which are global in scope.

But it can continue with weatherization, fuel assistance and renewable energy, all of which will bring down fuel usage and make Vermont more resilient.

“What we need to be doing is planning ahead,” said Holcombe, 56. Not everyone can afford to install heat pumps to get off fossil fuels, and the state can’t build its way out of its housing crisis in a year, she said.

Huff, who’s also running for a seat in the state Senate, said inflation was largely a federal issue but that Vermont levies many taxes and fees that worsen the effect of inflation.

And Stralka, in keeping with his small-government views, writes in his mailing more about what he would oppose, including measures that would raise costs, than what he would support.

Above all, Holcombe said she’s encouraging residents to vote. “You’re reminding leaders that you’re paying attention,” she said.

Polls open at 7 a.m. in Norwich, Strafford and Sharon and at 8 a.m. in Thetford. All must stay open until 7. Voting in Norwich is at Tracy Hall; in Sharon at the elementary school; in Strafford at the Town House; and in Thetford at Town Hall.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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