RUTLAND — While much of Vermont is a safe haven for liberals and progressives, Rutland continues to thrive as a regional outpost for GOP leaders, as shown by the results of the recent primary election.
Voters are getting a look at some new faces in the Senate race following the Aug. 14 primary.
While residents gave incumbent Sen. Brian Collamore a somewhat predictable slot on the ticket, they also picked two newcomers to enter the Senate race for November: former state Rep. Jim McNeil and former Rutland City Alderman Ed Larson.
McNeil received 2,811 votes, or 17 percent of the votes cast. Larson, who defeated fourth-place Poultney Selectboard member Terry Williams by just five votes, survived a recount that showed the same slim margin of victory.
With the primary behind him, McNeil told True North that the economy is the top priority for his constituents and his campaign messaging.
“It’s a declining population here in Rutland,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of decent jobs other than service jobs between the ski areas, the strips and mini-marts in the crossroads there. Other than that … we need some help here.”
He does not think that a $15 minimum wage — a popular idea among the state’s liberal lawmakers — is going to help the Rutland economy.
“I think those folks ought to earn it the way all of us rose up through the ranks,” he said. “It just wasn’t given, you’ve got to work for that. What’s gonna happen for those folks who do get the increase? They’re gonna get fewer hours a week.”
On Second Amendment issues, McNeil said background checks are an important tool but aren’t realistic for private sales: “I don’t know about private sales — there’s no way to do background checks [on those].”
He also doesn’t see the need the magazine capacity limits.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you have a magazine of 30 or five. … It only takes one bullet to kill somebody.”
He said affordable health care is a priority, but he does not endorse a single-payer system, such as was proposed by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“We just don’t have the population in this state, definitely not in Rutland County, to foot the bill.”
Larson received 2,049 votes, or 12 percent of votes cast in the primary. He is an adamant defender of the Second Amendment, yet his GoFundMe.com page highlights his other campaign priorities, such as the affordability crisis.
“We need to stop the exodus of seniors and young people by attracting more employers to Vermont by providing better incentives to do business here, as well as assisting in-state businesses with innovative programs to remain here.
His site advocates changing the education tax levy system, protecting students while not removing gun rights, and reducing the cost of state government by tightening the reigns on social service programs.
“I am like the vast majority of taxpayers who have had to live paycheck to paycheck and feel we can make a difference in Montpelier by professing common sense,” Larson writes on his campaign site.
Collamore, the incumbent, received the most voter support, with 3,504 votes, accounting for 21 percent of votes cast. Many know the candidate for his 40-plus-year radio broadcast career in Middlebury and Rutland. He’s currently the general sales manager for over five radio stations.
Like his Republican colleagues, Collamore says he’s putting the economy first.
“Affordability and the economy,” he told True North. “I know people in Rutland Country that, you know, are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t do anything in anything in terms of being able to save any money.
“I think sometimes we don’t get some of the advantages that Chittenden County gets, and I think it is a different situation, a different landscape up there.”
He said the solution is going to have to be getting some of the roadblocks to doing business out of the way: “I think that would go a long way to making our situation in Rutland better for everybody.”
On the Second Amendment, he made clear that he voted no on S.55, now Act 94, which included expanded background checks, magazine ammunition limits, and more.
“I did not feel S.55 was good legislation and I voted no on it,” he said.
During the primary race Collamore received high praise from Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, who told True North that “Brian has been my wing-man … in the leadership position and has done a really good job at keeping us all together.”
Sen. David Soucy, appointed by Gov. Phil Scott after former Sen. Kevin Mullin left the post to become head of the Green Mountain Care Board, lost in the primaries, earning just 1,661 votes, or about 10 percent of votes cast.
In Rutland, all of the Democrat candidates were write-ins this year. That means the Vermont Democratic Party didn’t bother to field candidates and register them to run. Nevertheless, McNeil said the Democrats should not be taken lightly.
“Cheryl Hooker was previously in the Statehouse — she’s been out since 2000,” he said. “And Greg Cox, he’s a good guy, he started the Vermont Farmer’s Association here in Rutland and built a year-round facility. He’s actually the chairman of the board there. They are all good candidates, and they are prepared to run.”
In the August primary, Hooker got 745 votes, Cox got 714, and a third write-in for the Democrats, Scott Garren, received 549 votes.