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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Chittenden County Incumbent Senators Tout Achievements, Challengers Call For New Perspectives

A sign for Progressive/Democrat Chris Pearson. Pearson is one of six incumbent state senators in Chittenden County running for re-election.
Liam Elder-Connors
A sign for Progressive/Democrat Chris Pearson. Pearson is one of six incumbent state senators in Chittenden County running for re-election.

Thirteen candidates are vying for the six state Senate seats in Vermont’s most populous county. 

All six incumbent legislators are running again as Democrats (and three also won the Progressive Party nomination). The incumbents are Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, Ginny Lyons, Phil Baruth, Michael Sirotkin, Debbie Ingram and Chris Pearson.

During a series of candidate forums on Channel 17earlier this month, the incumbent senators highlighted their experience and accomplishments in Montpelier, while the challengers made the case for adding political diversity to the delegation.

“We have a delegation from Chittenden County that’s made up of six folks that all represent one ideology. I would bring a moderating and different perspective,” said Republican candidate Alex Farrell during his closing statement at the forum.

Chittenden County, which has the largest delegation in the Vermont Senate, is seen as one of the state’s most liberal areas and a difficult place to win as a Republican. Farrell is one of three Republicans looking to get elected. The other Republican candidates are Dana Maxfield and former state representative Paul Dame.

During the forum, the Republican candidates talked about ways to make Vermont more attractive to businesses by reducing regulations and permit requirements.

In an interview, Farrell said Vermonters like balance in their representation, but it isn’t enough to run on balance alone.

“While that big ‘R’ might get in front of people, if you go issue by issue with me … I’ve got some pro-small business policies, a lot of policies that would make it easier for folks to afford to live here longer or maybe stick around after college,” Farrell said. “And on the social side I am very moderate.”

"We have three candidates running strong campaigns, putting their names out in front of the voters and ... it gives us an opportunity to defeat, hopefully, three of the Progressive, Democratic senators." — Mike Donohue, chair of the Chittenden county Republican Party.

Farrell has also raised the most money in the race, pulling in $45,496.39 according to his Oct. 15 campaign finance filing. He’s already spent a lot of that cash: $32,874.98. And just under $12,500 of that spending has been on mass media expenditures of $500 or more.

In 2016, only one Republican ran for a Senate seat in Chittenden Countyand lost by about 5,800 votes. With three candidates this year, Chittenden County Republican Party chair Mike Donohue feels optimistic:

“We have three candidates running strong campaigns, and putting their names out in front of the voters,” Donohue said. “And because we are asking our voters to come out and vote for those three candidates ... given the configuration of this at-large district, it gives us an opportunity to defeat, hopefully, three of the Progressive, Democratic senators.”

But Terje Anderson, the state chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, isn’t too worried about losing seats in Chittenden County.

“Quite frankly, we don’t think Chittenden County is a county that wants to send a Republican to Montpelier in the current environment,” Anderson said. “I think we’re looking at national trends and state trends right now where it’s a very tough year to be running with an ‘R’ behind your name.”

"Quite frankly, we don't think Chittenden county is a county that wants to send a Republican to Montpelier in the current environment." — Terje Anderson, state chair of the Vermont Democratic Party.

Still, the Democratic candidates say they’re making sure to campaign, going around the county, attending forums and knocking on doors.

“One of my favorite things to do in Vermont is stump at the dump — you know that tradition — so I’ve been doing that on Saturday mornings,” said Sen. Debbie Ingram, who’s running for her second term.

Among the six incumbents, Sen. Chris Pearson — who’s running for his second term — has raised and and spent the most money. A campaign finance disclosure from Oct. 15 shows he raised $16,752.06 and spent all but about $134 of it.

The six incumbents said if they were re-elected, they keep working on issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave and cleaning up the lake and waterways.

Candidates challenging the incumbents have said there’s a lack of ideological diversity in the delegation, pointing to the fact that the incumbents are running as a ‘slate.’

But Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said when the incumbents announced there were running as a slate, it was more about pooling resources and campaigning on a common set of principles.

Ashe said it would be a stretch to say the six incumbents always think that same way.

“It’s the type of thing that incumbent elected officials are accused of all the time,” he said. “In our case, while the six of us vote similarly on many important issues, the truth is we vote the same as many of our Republican colleagues too.”

Besides the Democrat and Republicans running, Libertarians Loyal Ploofand Seth Cournoyer, independent Louis Meyersand Fair Representation Vermont candidate Joshua Knox are in the race.

On his website, Ploof lists repealing the income tax, eliminating the new gun laws and releasing nonviolent offenders from prison as a few of his top issues.

Cournoyer writes on his website he would look for “human solutions rather than government solutions” and among his positions, says he would look to reduce the legislative session to just one month.

Independent Louis Meyers — who has 25 years of experience as a physician — said during the Channel 17 forum he will take every issue on its own merit. He also said it would be important to have a physician in the Senate especially as big decisions around health care come up.

"The more voices you have at the table ... the more interesting solutions you can come up." — Joshua Knox, Fair Representation Vermont candidate

Fair Representation Vermont candidate Joshua Knox said while he’s not a one-issue candidate, a big reason why he’s running is to raise awareness around how the Senate seats in Chittenden County are apportioned.

In an interview, Knox said that in Chittenden County the district isn’t really broken up and when resident go to vote, they’re going to see 13 candidates and pick six, often voting along party lines.

Knox said ways to fix the problem might be to break up the county into smaller districts or have proportional representation. The simplest example of that, according to Knox, means when people vote, they’d vote for a party and the seats would be allocated based on the votes.

Knox said it would be a surprise if he wins, but he said his campaign has gotten a good reception. He said he’s also seen how his idea ties into other issues, like education, the economy and health care.

"All of those things I think in some way are tied to how representative our government is,” Knox said. “The more voices you have at the table ... the more interesting solutions you can come up.”

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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