Republicans took aim at powerful incumbents in Grand Isle and Chittenden County during the midterm election, but by the end of Tuesday night it was clear that Democrats easily held on to their power.
The Grand Isle House race, which saw Republicans attempt to knock down Democrat House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, of South Hero, failed to send the leader packing. However, the GOP picked up one seat of the two-representative district.
Johnson led the pack of four candidates with 2,100 votes. Leland Morgan, a retired Vermont Air National Guard officer, won the next highest vote tally with 1,984 votes. The district covers the Champlain Islands and West Milton.
While the results meant Johnson, an eight-time incumbent, would keep her job, Morgan’s victory ended the legislative career of state Rep. Ben Joseph, an incumbent Democrat.
Prior to Tuesday’s election, outgoing House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, told True North that every House seat is “absolutely essential” regarding the GOP’s ability to maintain a veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
But on Wednesday it appeared that Democrats had picked up at least 10 seats in the House, giving them a total of 93 members. If Democrats are joined by about seven Progressive members, they will achieve the 100-vote threshold to override any governor vetoes.
Leland Morgan and his nephew, Michael Morgan, who ran for the House but lost, share experiences in the U.S. Air Force, in business ventures, and municipal government. Leland was born in Vermont in 1950 and had been a legislator in the 1990s.
Leland Morgan told True North that he is focused on the clean-up effort for Lake Champlain.
“Nothing seems to be getting done on a long-term basis,” he said. He added that Vermont farmers should not be used as a scapegoat for lake pollution, and that there should be more attention paid to outdated sewage treatment plants and city water runoff.
On the economy, he suggested that high taxes and regulations are ruining the business climate. Like Scott, he said he opposes “any new taxes or increased taxes and fees.”
Chittenden Senate Race
Another big race Republicans hoped to win was in Chittenden County, where six incumbent Democrat and Progressive senators have formed a stronghold of left-wing power in the Senate for years. Three Republican challengers — Alex Farrell, of Burlington; Dana Maxfield, of Milton; and Paul Dame, of Essex — made an aggressive push this year but were unable to break through.
Of a total 396,644 votes cast for the top six candidates, Progressive-Democrats Tim Ashe, Philip Baruth, and Chris Pearson, won 11 percent, 9.5 percent, and 7.9 percent of the vote, respectively. Democrats Virginia Lyons, Debbie Ingram, and Michael Sirotkin won 10.5 percent, 10.2 percent, and 9.7 percent, respectively.
That left no room for the Republican challengers. Farrell, Dame and Maxfield won 4.9 percent, 4.4 percent and 4.1 percent of the vote, respectively.
All three Republican challengers made the state economy’s shortcomings their rally cry. Maxfield’s campaign also focused on personal liberties, the Second Amendment, veterans’ care and opposition to new taxes and regulations. Dame, who has a strong business background, was named one of Vermont Business Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40. He also had experience as a former state representative.
But in Vermont’s most liberal and most populous county, liberal party affiliation mattered most. Farrell’s 19,595 total votes as the seventh-place finisher were well short of Pearson’s 31,460 votes as the sixth-place finisher.
The inability to elect even a single Republican in the county led Vermont GOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing to tweet Wednesday that the district is unfairly drawn to favor Democrats, and needs to be re-drawn.
#vtpoli Time to break up the Chittenden County Senate district. It is unfair to the candidates and constituents. And it's unconstitutional.
— Brady Toensing (@BradyToensing) November 7, 2018
The fall of Kurt Wright
In one other Chittenden-related race, Republican state Rep. Kurt Wright, the only GOP legislator representing Burlington, was defeated in his bid for an eighth House term serving the city’s New North End. The two open Chittenden 6-1 House seats went to Carol Ode, a Democratic incumbent, and Robert Hooper, a Democrat newcomer. Ode won 2,680 votes while Hooper garnered 1,999 votes.
Wright, who came in third place place with 1,833 votes, said on Burlington Channel 17 TV late Tuesday evening that the loss meant the end of his career in elected politics. However, said he will continue to serve out his current term as a councilor on Burlington’s City Council.
“It’s been a hell of a run for me. I don’t leave with any bitterness. I will finish out my term and do the best job I can for the people of the New North End for another year and a half and move on to some other things,” he said.