HUNTINGTON — For the first time in decades, candidates competing for Addison County’s two state Senate seats will be straying north, rather than south, to pick up extra votes.
That’s because, barring a court challenge, Huntington and Buel’s Gore will soon join Addison County’s senatorial district in place of Brandon, which will return to Rutland County’s voting district. The Vermont Legislature and Gov. Peter Shumlin recently approved these changes as part of the decennial reapportionment process.
The reapportionment changes figure to benefit Democratic candidates over Republicans running for state Senate in Addison County. That’s because the district will be losing 2,811 registered voters in Brandon who have tended to vote in the majority for GOP hopefuls and causes, while gaining around 1,350 voters in Huntington, a decidedly “blue” town as reflected in recent elections.
Fun facts about Huntington
• The local school serves children in grades kindergarten through 4. Students in grades 5 through 8 go to Richmond. Grades 9 through 12 go to Mount Mansfield Union High School — even though Champlain Valley Union High School is considerably closer.
• Local residents are avid supporters of their beautiful town library, are active in the Community Church of Huntington, and are committed to the Meals on Wheels program.
• There is no local public transportation serving Huntington, though officials note the new Route 116 bus service run by Addison County Transit Resources runs nearby.
• There are three distinct villages — Hanksville, Huntington Center and Huntington Lower Village.
• The town hall is not actively used, as it needs repairs and access improvements.
• Camel’s Hump is in Huntington, and the Catamount Trail Nordic skiing trail and Long Trail hiking route go through the community.
• There are nice recreation fields and a local community garden.
The approximately 20 voters from tiny, neighboring Buel’s Gore vote in Huntington.
Huntington Town Clerk Heidi Racht said a clear majority of voters have picked Democratic ballots over Republican ballots during recent primary elections.
“It is definitely a very progressive-thinking community,” Racht said.
And it appears as though Huntington will soon get a chance to flex its electoral muscles in the new political landscape. New Haven’s Christopher Bray confirmed on Tuesday that he will run for one of the county’s two Senate seats (see related story, Page 1A). That decision will set the stage for an Aug. 28 Democratic primary with incumbent Sens. Claire Ayer of Addison and Harold Giard of Bridport.
While Huntington could play a critical role in this and future elections, officials of the active, rural Chittenden County community remain concerned that the latest reapportionment process might have further marginalized the town politically.
Huntington, population 1,940, is part of the Washington-Chittenden-1 House district, which includes the Washington County towns of Duxbury and Waterbury, along with Buel’s Gore. The district is represented by Reps. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, and Rebecca Ellis, D-Waterbury Center.
Huntington has not seen one of its own residents elected to the House in around a half-century.
Huntington receives regional planning, solid waste management and court services through Chittenden County. Most of its citizens also work and shop in the state’s most populous county.
Now Huntington is poised to be represented in the state Senate by two Addison County lawmakers, fueling some constituents’ fears of political disenfranchisement.
Huntington selectboard Chairman Jim Christiansen said the town stated to lawmakers its desire to remain in the Chittenden County senatorial district.
“Our comments apparently fell on deaf ears at the Statehouse,” Christiansen said.
The more populous, affluent and politically connected town of Charlotte was at one time the leading candidate to be annexed into Addison County’s senatorial district. But residents there successfully lobbied, petitioned and exhorted Chittenden County’s six state senators to intercede on their behalf.
Instead, Christiansen said the Huntington selectboard got a call from Sen. Tim Ashe, D-Burlington, “a few days before the (reapportionment) vote,” informing them of the new scenario.
“That was it; it was a done deal,” Christiansen said.
The Huntington selectboard last week began weighing its options in terms of potentially contesting the reapportionment decision in court. But Christiansen conceded such a venture would be a long, expensive and risky proposition.
“Talk about a long, uphill fight,” Christiansen said. “Looking at past case history, most of the time you lose right out of the box.”
With that in mind, Huntington officials are also looking at making the best of the situation the Legislature has handed them. The town will be inviting Ayer and Giard to speak with them. Huntington infrequently saw visits from any of the six Chittenden County senators.
“We are hopeful we will have good representation,” Racht said. “People speak highly of the senators in Addison County.”
Racht also believes Huntington is more compatible, size-wise, with Addison County towns. Some folks in the southern part of town shop in Bristol, she noted, and some Huntington kids’ sports teams compete with those in the five-town area.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]