Next to the contest for governor, the most important Vermont elections this fall are those for the 180 seats in the Legislature. Republicans want to pick up seats in the House, so that chamber could sustain the governor’s vetoes if Brian Dubie is elected. Democrats want to maintain a veto-proof majority in the House, in case Peter Shumlin is not elected.
The veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate is likely to continue after the election, although Democrats and Republicans may trade control of some open seats in the Chittenden, Washington and Lamoille districts. The most interesting Senate contest involving an incumbent is here in the two-seat Addison County and Brandon district.
Democratic incumbent Claire Ayer should finish in first place on Nov. 2. There is likely to be a close race between Democratic incumbent Harold Giard and Republican challenger Mark Young for the second seat in the district. Young, a former House member from Orwell, will do well in the more Republican-leaning towns along Lake Champlain, from Orwell north to Panton. Giard will do well in the most heavily Democratic towns in the district — Middlebury, Weybridge, Cornwall, Ripton and Lincoln. This election will be decided in the medium-size towns that are not part of either candidate’s or party’s base — towns such as Brandon, Bristol, Ferrisburgh and Vergennes.
In the House, Republicans would like to pick up at least two to four seats. This would put the GOP in a position to sustain vetoes should Dubie be elected, and would make Dubie’s threats to veto bills a more credible negotiating tactic with the legislative Democrats.
Both parties have lists of House districts that they are targeting. Seats where no incumbent is running, and seats where a former legislator is trying to win back a seat, are high on those lists. There are two districts in Addison County that meet these criteria.
The Addison-5 district (Bridport, New Haven and Weybridge) is open because Democrat Chris Bray ran for lieutenant governor in the primary. Republican Harvey Smith, who held the seat until Bray defeated him in 2006, is trying to make a comeback. Democrat Spence Putnam hopes to hold on to the seat for his party.
Smith and Putnam ran against each other in 2000. Smith came out on top in a district that then consisted of Cornwall, New Haven, Weybridge, and a few residence halls at Middlebury College.
Based on the performance of their party’s candidates in recent years, Putnam should win this year’s contest in Weybridge, and Smith should win in Bridport. That leaves the election to be decided in New Haven, which is both Smith’s home town and a town that has been trending more Democratic in recent elections.
The two-seat Addison-3 House district (Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham) has been one of the most competitive in Addison County in recent elections. This year, there are four veteran candidates seeking the two seats — incumbent Republican Greg Clark; incumbent Democrat Diane Lanpher; Republican Thelma “Kitty” Oxholm, a former House member; and Democrat Liz Markowski, making her fourth run in the district.
Lanpher is the first Democrat to be elected from the Addison-3 district in many years. She hopes that her work on issues of concern to the district — particularly helping to obtain funds for a prompt rebuilding of the Champlain Bridge and assistance to businesses affected by the bridge closing — will enable her to hold off the challenge from two strong Republican candidates and win one of the district’s House seats in November.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.