Campaigning together at a forum in Bristol last week, Republican candidates made a show of unity and praised House Minority Leader Don Turner for providing strong leadership on behalf of the party.
With candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state treasurer, attorney general and auditor of accounts finally selected by the state GOP’s nominating committee, the party has taken on a winning attitude for its campaign marathon to the general election.
On Aug. 29, party representatives chose Rick Kenyon for state auditor, Richard Morton for treasurer, Janssen Willhoit for attorney general, Anya Tynio for U.S. House, and Lawrence Zupan for U.S. Senate. Absent from this and other important party gatherings in recent weeks has been Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Some party insiders have told TNR that the governor is still smarting from the conservative base’s primary snubbing, which most attribute to his flip-flop on gun control earlier in the year.
But even with the governor apparently distancing himself from Republican hard liners, the party mantra at a candidates forum held Thursday at the volunteer fire station in Bristol was “unity and victory.”
“A vote for Phil Scott is a vote for all of us,” U.S. House candidate Anya Tynio of West Charleston said during the event.
Appearing along with Tynio was lieutenant governor candidate Rep. Don Turner, U.S. Senate candidate Laurence Zupan and a bevy of local candidates. The GOP also welcomed a local libertarian candidate running for state Senate.
While the party seemed energized by some of its fresh new faces, the Vermont GOP’s de facto leader for the night was Turner, whose leadership at the Statehouse in recent years has helped to prevent a slew of progressive policies from becoming law.
“Don Turner talks about running as a team — that’s why he’ll make a great lieutenant governor,” Addison-4 House candidate Valerie Mullin, of Monkton, said. “It’s truly a team effort as he says — it’s not an ‘R’ or ‘D’ thing. Don is able to walk across the aisle. He’s a leader.”
Mullin cited a familiar Scott theme about declining enrollment and a struggling economy in the state, and offered a message of hope and change.
“There are three fewer children in school every day … and one baby born to a drug-addicted mom every day,” she said. “The repercussions are catching up to us. While the nation is moving ahead, Vermont is being left behind. … But we can change this.”
Mullin also praised Turner for organizing candidates and staying on message as the election looms.
Turner said that he was proud of the 2018 GOP team and appreciated all the praise coming from the dais.
“I am a fourth generation Vermonter and life-long resident of Milton,” Turner said, noting that he joined the Milton Volunteer Fire Department at age 17 and met his wife, Gayle Turner, at Champlain College.
Turner spent 35 years at the department and was fire chief from 2004 until 2018.
He also recounted his foray into politics in 2006 at the prompting of then governor Jim Douglas.
“I received a call from Gov. Jim Douglas’ office to see if I wanted to serve. It was a great honor,” Turner said. “The first question Gov. Douglas asked me was, ‘Are you a Republican?’ I wasn’t sure, I didn’t think much about politics.
“The next question the governor asked me was, ‘What do you think about money?’ I told him, ‘I like it and I want to keep it,’ [and] I told him that state government should live within its means and not just look at raising taxes every year and keep on spending. [And] I’ve been re-elected six times.”
Turner boasted that under his leadership the GOP caucus sustained every veto by the governor, and he said such unity was the key to continued success. He added that, aside from all the important issues facing voters — such as the high cost of living, excessive regulations and taxes and other rising costs — he also is concerned about declining volunteerism in the state.
“The town of Bristol is lucky to have a beautiful new station and a vibrant force, but there’s a crisis brewing out there: volunteer fire stations are closing up in the Northeast Kingdom and in southern Vermont. We’re losing good people who give to the community,” he said. “If elected I want to focus on how to retain and attract more volunteers. We have a lot to do, so please vote for me.”
Candidate Fred Baser, of Bristol, an incumbent state representative of the Addison-4 district, said that while he may have strayed on legislation now and then, he credits Turner with keeping him and other party members focused.
“Let me say that Don Turner has been our minority leader and he was an excellent leader,” Baser said. “ … I am sorry to see him go from the House. He was very reasonable and very fair on the floor. He always says that you have to vote your constituency and vote your conscience. I respect him and he is very professional. Don is a good man.”
Peter Briggs, of New Haven, is running for state Senate in the Addison District. He also praised Turner and criticized Vermont’s high taxes and looming pension crisis.
“I am young and I want a future in this state,” Briggs said.
“One of things threatening that future is the amount we owe teachers’ retirement and health care (pensions). … That’s $4.5 billion, or $7,200 that every person in the state owes, and (on top of that) we have ever-increasing deficits. In 2014, each Vermonter was taxed $300 more than a resident of Massachusetts.”
Even Libertarian Party state Senate candidate Archie Flower of New Haven praised Turner at the forum.
“They’re treating us like a bottomless ATM,” Flower said of politicians in Montpelier. “That’s why even I want to see Don Turner, not David Zuckerman, as our next lieutenant governor.”
Twenty-five-year-old U.S. House candidate Anya Tynio greeted attendees by acknowledging that her opponent, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, has gone out of his way to block President Donald Trump and all the legislation that Republicans present in Congress.
“We can turn back this blue tide in Vermont,” she said. “It’s necessary for Vermont and the nation. If not, all the hard work that the president and the (national) legislature have done will be stymied. Then we’ll have two or more years of a stagnant economy.”
She added: “Things are going in a good direction as far as the economy goes now. That’s why we have to get out and vote Republican. We have to vote for Don Turner, we have to vote for Gov. Phil Scott, too, even though many here will disagree with me. The alternative (Democrat Christine Hallquist) is not good.”
Tynio, who said she was “pro-Second Amendment” and “pro agriculture,” also praised Republican Laurence Zupan as someone who can beat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she described as “the communist poster child who wants to change the world and American values.”
Zupan, at his turn to speak, said he was up to the challenge of facing Sanders in November. After telling an old Vermont joke about two befuddled hunters who dragged their downed deer by the antlers in the wrong direction, away from their pickup truck, Zupan said he would help get things turned back around.
“Bernie Sanders is pulling the deer in the wrong direction,” Zupan said. “If I am elected, I am going to grab the deer by the antlers and turn it around. The pickup truck in this joke is the repository of all the goods and services and good will of Vermonters who work hard every day. That’s where that deer, the symbol of the fruits of their labor, should reside. That’s what I am going to restore for Vermont and America.”
Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.