By THE CITIZEN STAFF
Most election years, the top of the ticket gets the most attention from Vermont voters.
This year, that attention is muted.
There’s a lively race for governor, between Republican incumbent Phil Scott and Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist, but the race for lieutenant governor hasn’t thrown off any sparks, and all the other major candidates — for U.S. Senate, Congress, and a string of state-level offices — lack significant opposition.
For instance, eight little-known figures are on the ballot against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent who came close to being the Democratic presidential nominee two years ago. They are Lawrence Zupan, a Republican; Reid Kane of the Liberty Union Party; and six independents: Folasade Adeluola, Russell Beste, Bruce Busa, Edward Gilbert Jr., Brad Peacock and Jon Svitavsky.
Democrat Peter Welch has been Vermont’s only congressman since 2007, and he has even less competition — Republican Anya Tynio, Laura Potters of the Liberty Union Party, and perennial candidate Cris Ericson, an independent.
For other state-level offices, the incumbents, all Democrats, aren’t losing any sleep worrying about their job security:
• Attorney General T.J. Donovan faces Janssen Willhoit, a Republican, and Rosemarie Jackowski of the Liberty Union Party.
• Secretary of State Jim Condos is up against Mary Alice Hebert of the Liberty Union Party and H. Brooke Paige, a perennial Republican candidate who filed for half a dozen offices in the primary election, but had to choose only one in the general election.
• Treasurer Beth Pearce faces Republican Rick Morton.
• Auditor Doug Hoffer faces Republican Rick Kenyon and Marina Brown of the Liberty Union Party.
This is the headline race.
Republican Phil Scott, completing his first two-year term, has a nearly universal reputation as a nice guy, but that patina is wearing a little thin after some bumps and bruises in this year’s legislative session.
Scott ran a construction company while serving in the Legislature and as lieutenant governor, but sold his share to his partner when he was elected governor. However, the state ethics commission alleges he hasn’t done enough to separate from the company, which continues to compete for state contracts.
His chief competition is Democrat Christine Hallquist, who has drawn national attention as the first transgender candidate nominated for a governorship by a major party. Hallquist is former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative and has a good reputation as a business leader, but has had trouble mounting a dynamic campaign.
In the summer primary, Scott’s support for tighter gun legislation this spring was a flashpoint among Republicans. His signature to controversial bills to ban high-capacity magazines and increase background checks roiled gun-rights activists but earned accolades from moderates and even liberals who appreciated the political risk.
Shifting toward the general election, Scott and Hallquist have largely focused on their differing approaches to Vermont’s economy and budget issues.
Scott has pushed three main points: Making Vermont more affordable, growing the economy and protecting the vulnerable.
Hallquist has similar priorities, but a different strategy.
Scott has pressed the Legislature not to raise taxes or fees, an approach Hallquist blasted in an October debate. “No new taxes is not a good plan for the state of Vermont,” she said. “A good business person knows you’ve got to get more revenue; you can cost-control yourself out of business.”
Hallquist wants to spur economic growth by expanding high-speed broadband access, and would require electrical utilities to install broadband cables, rather than internet companies. She says good broadband will encourage people to move to rural areas, reinvigorating small community schools and small hospitals.
“This is just like the ’30s, when the cities had electricity and rural America did not,” she said, explaining how improved broadband access would rejuvenate struggling Vermont towns.
Scott has suggested that school and hospital consolidation is inevitable, given shrinking populations.
Hallquist says she voted for Scott in 2016, but is disappointed in his performance, including vetoes of a higher minimum wage and a paid family leave program.
Hallquist favors relying on income taxes, not property taxes, to finance schools, saying rich and poor would pay more equal shares of their earnings. Scott opposes that: “If you don’t fix the spending, then someone’s spending more.”
Vermont has a high percentage of older people, and it needs young people to move here, Scott said. His key to doing that is to keep the state affordable by avoiding higher taxes, fees, and other expenses.
For lieutenant governor
For lieutenant governor, Don Turner, a Republican legislator from Milton, is running against incumbent David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat who won a two-year term in 2016.
Turner, a state legislator since 2006 and House minority leader since 2011, is focusing on affordability and holding the line on new taxes and fees.
Turner is also Milton’s town manager, and he’s confident he can keep that job and also be lieutenant governor, which is only a part-time job.
The Legislature is heavily Democratic and the current governor is a Republican. Turner said he sees the potential to bridge the divide.
Zuckerman, an organic farmer, served in the Vermont House for 12 years and the state Senate for four years. He lives in Hinesburg and is a regular at the Burlington Farmers Market, selling produce and talking politics.
Zuckerman is the first Progressive Party candidate to win statewide office in Vermont; he was also the nominee of the Democratic Party.
Zuckerman, who says he was inspired to enter politics by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has clashed with Scott on proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establish a statewide paid family leave program, which Scott vetoed.
Charlotte and Hinesburg are represented in the Vermont House by Democrats Mike Yantachka of Charlotte and Bill Lippert of Hinesburg.
Yantachka is running unopposed for a fifth term. A key assignment is his seat on the House Committee on Energy and Technology. His Chittenden 4-1 district covers all of Charlotte and a small portion of Hinesburg with just 24 registered voters, according to Hinesburg Town Clerk Melissa Ross.
Representing Hinesburg in the Chittenden 4-2 House district since 1994, this is Lippert’s 12th election. He has a Republican challenger in political newcomer Sarah Toscano.
A gun-rights advocate, Toscano said she was motivated to run after Gov. Scott signed new gun restrictions into law this year with Lippert’s support. She also said the issue forced her to change her party loyalty from Democrat to Republican.
Toscano volunteers with the Hinesburg Fire Department, is training to become an emergency medical technician and said she would be mindful of state spending’s impacts on taxpayers if elected.
Lippert, now retired, spent his career working in the mental health field, nonprofits and as an advocate for LGBTQ rights and protections. As an openly gay legislator, Lippert was at the forefront of Vermont’s push for civil unions in 2000. He chairs the House Committee on Health Care.
Meanwhile, the Chittenden Senate race to fill six seats is crowded, with all six incumbents seeking re-election and a slate of seven challengers. (see story page 1).
Two county races have no contest: Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George and Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin are both unopposed for re-election.
Voters will make decisions in three other spots on the ballot:
• For probate judge: incumbent Gregory J. Glennon, a Democrat, and Republican William “Bill” Norful. The two faced off in the Democratic primary in August with Glennon winning that contest. The probate division of the county superior courts handles adoptions, birth, death, and marriage records, emancipation, guardianships, estates, trusts, and wills.
• Assistant judge: The civil court seats a panel of three judges who confer to decide non-jury civil cases. Two positions will be filled. On the ballot are incumbents Charles Delaney on the Progressive and Republican tickets and Democrat Connie Cain Ramsey; challengers are Democrat Suzanne Brown and Progressive Zachary York.
• Justice of the peace: Charlotte has 15 candidates vying for 12 seats. Hinesburg voters have an even 12 names for 12 seats.
Voters in Hinesburg may request and cast ballots absentee or early up until noon on Monday at the town clerk’s office.
In Charlotte, the town clerk’s is open Monday for early voting or absentee ballots until 4 p.m.
On Tuesday, Election Day, the polls will be open at Hinesburg Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In Charlotte, the polling place will be the multi-purpose room at Charlotte Central School, also 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
As of Tuesday afternoon, town clerks in both communities said they had sent out many early ballots and had seen many come into their offices to vote already.
In Hinesburg, approximately 540 ballots had already been voted by Tuesday, according to Town Clerk Melissa Ross. In Charlotte, Town Clerk Mary Mead said nearly 600 ballots were either mailed in or voted early in person.