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Vermont GOP Charts Moderate Course With Party Election

Vermont Republicans chose to follow a moderate path with the election Saturday of former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland as party chairman.

Sunderland defeated John MacGovern of Windsor 48 to 30 in an election that revealed deep divisions within the Vermont GOP over its future.

MacGovern, who ran against Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2012,  had the support of party conservatives, including outgoing chairman Jack Lindley. Sunderland was backed by many Republican members of the Legislature and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who holds the party’s top elected office.

In a speech before the vote, Sunderland promised to rebuild the party, both financially and at the polls.

“As your chair I will work diligently to bring our varying views together on the core issues that define our party: an affordable Vermont that works for our small businesses and families, efficient government that is by your side and not on your back, an education system that reins in spending and gives parents a seat at the decision table, and a health care system that enhances the doctor-patient relationship instead of destroying it,” he said..

MacGovern urged state Republicans to hew to core party principles: opposition to abortion, “protection of marriage,” and strong support of Second  Amendment gun rights.

“And when I hear Republican leaders – Republican elected leaders – talking about not mentioning, mollifying, even abandoning some of those principles, I’m deeply, deeply concerned,” he said. 

Scott, the lieutenant governor who has urged a more moderate course, addressed his critics in his speech to the party faithful.

“I know leadership from me is something that at least some of you have questioned. For some of you, I’m not conservative enough. I get it. I respect that,” he said.

Scott went on to urge the party to move beyond its public feud over its future. He said the party needs to unify if it's to win more statewide seats and regain control of the Legislature. 

“The bottom line is I’m not asking you to change who you are. I only ask that you consider how you present yourselves because part of the solution is not to keep fighting amongst ourselves about who’s right,” he said.

The party also unanimously elected Brady Toensing, a lawyer who lives in Charlotte and practices in Vermont and Washington, D.C. as vice chairman. Jackie Barnett from Barre was elected secretary.

The race for party treasurer was closely contested. Current treasurer Mark Snelling narrowly defeated challenger Deborah Bucknam, 40 to 38.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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