MIDDLEBURY — Paul Ralston’s first political campaign proved a whirlwind affair — a mere 48 hours. But his compressed effort concluded in successful and thrilling fashion on Tuesday evening when the Middlebury Town Democratic Committee voted 6-5 to select Ralston as Rep. Steve Maier’s replacement on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
Tuesday’s result effectively means Ralston and longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Betty Nuovo are all but assured of election to the Vermont House of Representatives, as there are no Republican challengers on the ballot for the district’s two seats.
It proved the second narrow election defeat in a week for East Middlebury’s Amy Sheldon, who during the Aug. 24 Democrat primary fell less than 100 write-in votes short of placing her name as one of two Democrats on the Nov. 2 ballot for Addison County and Brandon’s two state Senate seats. Incumbent state Sen. Harold Giard ultimately prevailed in that race.
On Tuesday, Sheldon fell one vote shy of victory in a race that committee members and other attending Democrats said featured two quality candidates. Sheldon was on a previously scheduled vacation and was unavailable to attend Tuesday’s meeting or comment for this article.
“The universal consensus was that the party had two great candidates to choose from,” said Ralston, president of Middlebury-based Vermont Coffee Company and a longtime, behind-the-scenes supporter of Addison County Democrat Party causes.
Beth Diamond, chairwoman of the Middlebury Town Democratic Committee, said she was pleased with how the meeting transpired. Each candidate was given 10 minutes to make a presentation (with Sheldon represented by Gail Smith), and attendees were given two minutes to speak from the floor. As prescribed by statute, voting took place by secret ballot.
“I though the process worked exceptionally well, very smoothly,” Diamond said.
“It was an embarrassment of riches,” she said of the quality of the candidate pool.
Ralston’s legislative opportunity comes seven says after Maier, an eight-year Addison-1 incumbent and chair of the House Health Care Committee, last Thursday announced he would withdraw from the Nov. 2 ballot in order to take an as-yet-unspecified job in the health care field.
Ralston, 57, said he realizes he has big shoes to fill and will immediately begin the process of networking with his future constituents.
“I know I have a much bigger effort ahead of me, starting today,” he said.
Given his business experience, Ralston hopes to be assigned to the House Commerce Committee. Ralston’s local resume includes past ownership of the Bristol Bakery; past presidency of cosmetics and personal care products manufacturer Autumn Harp; and current president and founder of Vermont Coffee Co., a business that has grown to 13 workers and is poised to add a 14th.
It is the good health of Vermont Coffee that prompted Ralston to throw his hat into the ring for the Addison-1 seat. He said Vermont Coffee’s business philosophy — organic, homegrown and socially responsible — could be used to foster similar economic development efforts throughout the state.
Ralston’s top two priorities entering the 2011 session will be to “create good jobs close to home,” and to “help complete health care reform.” That latter priority, Ralston believes, will likely require a single-payer health care option.
“The Addison County Democratic Committee looks forward to supporting Paul Ralston in his general election bid to represent Middlebury and to work with him in the Legislature,” committee Chairman Paul Forlenza said in a written statement. “Paul brings a wealth of business experience that will be useful as the Legislature deals with state government budget issues.”
Forlenza added he hopes Sheldon will continue to stay involved in state and local politics.
“I also look forward to working with Amy Sheldon on policy issues and finding another opportunity for her to run for elective office,” Forlenza said. “I have tremendous admiration for her ability to win more than 700 votes in the Senate write-in campaign.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.