Culture war conflict creeps into Vermont midterms

  • Republican State Senate candidate John Klar, of Brookfield, pulls the last of several signs he said were defamatory that were placed by someone outside his campaign near those for him and his wife, candidate for State Representative Jackie Klar in Randolph, Vt., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. The signs contained messages commenting on the Klars' campaigns. Klar said that after having 1,000 signs printed, he had to replace 200 that were stolen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

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    Paul Brink, left, signs an affidavit to get a new ballot as first-time voter Max Chisholm, second from left, takes the voter's oath with Assistant Town Clerk Ann LaPerle, second from right, at the Randolph, Vt., Town Office on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. "I ripped it up because I don't trust them," said Brink of the ballots mailed to Vermont voters for the midterm election. Poll volunteer Mimi Burstein is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Candidate for U.S. Senate Becca Balint, right, reaches out to hug Sam Hooper, of Brookfield, left, as she arrives at the polls in Randolph, Vt., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Hooper was campaigning for his brother, incumbent State Rep. Jay Hooper, D-Randolph, and incumbent State Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown. At back left is Peter Trombley, of Balint's staff. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Orange District Republican Senate candidate John Klar, of Brookfield, gets a refill on his coffee while eating breakfast with his stepson Evan Shadowfax in Randolph, Vt., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Klar is running against incumbent Senator Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, who has held the seat for all but two years since 1996. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2022 11:15:41 PM
Modified: 11/8/2022 11:15:14 PM

With more than three decades in public life, Trini Brassard has seen her share of disagreements.

In Vermont, they tend to get patched up. It’s a small state, and people have to live and work together to get things done.

But the longtime Agency of Transportation manager and current chairwoman of the Randolph Selectboard said Tuesday outside the polls that there’s something unpleasant at work.

“We have a lot of extremes in Vermont,” she said. Citizens and elected officials are generally able to find common ground. “We just don’t seem to be able to do that right now,” she said. “We’re drawing hard lines.”

So while she decided not to vote for incumbent state Sen. Mark MacDonald, a Williamstown Democrat, she couldn’t bring herself to vote for his Republican opponent, John Klar. She thinks it’s time for a change, but not the kind that Klar, of Brookfield, offered.

More than any other state legislative candidate in the Upper Valley, Klar has embraced the rhetoric of the culture wars, issues that have been used as partisan wedges since at least the 1980s. He has shouldered his way into a controversy at Randolph Union High School about treatment of a transgender student.

With election results unavailable by press time, it’s unclear whether Klar has been able to unseat MacDonald, who has served the Orange district for 12 terms since 1996. The district has been redrawn to exclude Braintree and Thetford, and to include Bradford, Fairlee and Topsham.

Voters at the polls Tuesday who said they voted for Klar said they were eager for a new face.

“I didn’t vote for Mark MacDonald,” Jim Angell, 68, who’s retired from a career at Vermont Castings in Randolph, said. “Just because Mark’s been in there for a long time.” He voted for Klar but didn’t want to talk about the cultural issues that Klar ran on.

“My reason for voting, No. 1, is inflation,” Stephen Heller, who like Angell regularly votes Republican, said in Randolph. A residential builder, Heller said the price increases he’s seen in the past two years are the worst he’s encountered in 31 years in business.

He also referred to the school system, but without specifics. “Just the way society is today,” he said. “Nowadays, you disagree with someone and you’re awful.”

“I don’t like the way things are going.” Heller, 58, and his wife, Liesha, 57, said they used to vote for MacDonald “years ago. Now, they think John Klar and his wife, Jackie, who’s running for the Vermont House, “will be great people” in the Legislature.

“I want to see things go back to the way they used to be, with $2 a gallon gas,” Liesha Heller said.

The political polarization bothers them. “We’ve lost work because of it,” Stephen Heller said.

MacDonald suffered a mild stroke last month and is recovering. His Senate colleagues have campaigned for him. Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, also a Democratic candidate for Congress, stopped in Randolph late Tuesday morning.

“We need him back in the Senate,” she said. “We have seen from some elements of the GOP nationally that they play on fear and they play on division. … John Klar can’t get (MacDonald) on who he is for this community, so he’s just going to these very divisive social and cultural issues.”

“Mark has showed up, time and time again on issues that really could for working people,” Balint said.

Miles Hooper, 31, a Randolph resident whose brother, Jay, is a Democratic state representative, said he voted for MacDonald.

“I don’t think people understand the long and diligent work that it takes to pass bills and change things in government,” Hooper said.

Jay Hooper, his brother Sam, and Wayne Townsend, a Republican challenging Hooper for the House, stood around the bed of Sam Hooper’s truck, holding signs and joking around.

The heat of a campaign will lead people to say things they might want to take back, Townsend said.

“At the end of the day, we’ve all got to live together and work together and find common ground,” he said.

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

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