Governor’s race: County lawmakers lean toward Milne

Scott Milne.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Scott Milne. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle November 12, 2014

by Tena Starr

If Orleans County’s legislative delegation had its way, Scott Milne would be Vermont’s next governor.

That’s not a surprising decision for the Republicans who represent the county, but as of this week only one of the three Democrats was willing to unequivocally say that he’ll follow tradition and support the candidate who won the popular vote.

Representative Sam Young of Glover said he will vote for Governor Shumlin.

“I think it’s generally a bad precedent if the Legislature starts electing people who didn’t win,” Mr. Young said.

The two Democratic state senators — Bobby Starr of North Troy and John Rodgers of Glover — said they are undecided.

“I haven’t really come to a conclusion on that yet,” Mr. Starr said over the weekend. “I know in the past I’ve voted for whoever got the most votes.   I think that’s happened twice or three times since I’ve been down there. That’s just the way we’ve always done it.

“Some people are saying you should vote the way your district voted,” he said. “I’m weighing that out, whether tradition should stand, or whether we should take a different route. I’ve never heard it mentioned before that you should vote the way your district voted.”

The first thing legislators will do when they return to Montpelier on January 7 is decide, by secret ballot, who’s governor of Vermont. Although Democrat Peter Shumlin beat Republican Scott Milne by about 2,400 votes, he did not get 50 percent of the vote. When that happens in Vermont, and it’s not terribly uncommon, the Legislature decides who will be the next governor.

Mr. Milne said on Monday that he’s waiting for Wednesday when the final vote tallies come in before he decides whether to contest the election or not. He said he wants to understand the numbers and where they came from.

“I promised to listen before I act,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re not lobbying legislators, we’re not suggesting that people vote one way or another.”

The suggestion that legislators vote with their constituents did not come from him, he said, but likely from other Republicans.

He said he’s not surprised by how close he came in the popular vote. He’s more surprised that he didn’t actually win. “That’s a little disappointing to us.”

The county’s Republican legislators largely say they intend to throw their lot in with Mr. Milne come January 7.

“I’ve been weighing my options, and I’ve had a number of calls from constituents,” said Representative Mark Higley of Lowell. “They’re encouraging me to vote for Scott Milne. I haven’t come to a complete decision, but I’m leaning towards voting as my constituency did. If nothing else, it will keep the conversation going a little bit.”

Right now, the Governor is “talking about listening,” Mr. Higley said. That, in his view, would be a good step.

Paul Lefebvre, newly elected Republican from the Essex-Caledonia-Orleans district, said, “I’m going to vote for the candidate who my district voted for overwhelmingly.”

He said he believes many people have been unhappy with Peter Shumlin’s governership, for many reasons, and he intends to honor the preference of the people he represents.

“My thought right now is that I’m leaning the way my constituents voted,” said incumbent Republican Mike Marcotte of Coventry. “When you look at the county as a whole, it was overwhelmingly for Scott Milne. We’re basically in there to vote for who our constituents want us to vote for.”

Mr. Marcotte, who owns a mini-mart in Newport, said he knew the race for Governor was closer than what pundits had predicted. People weren’t being listened to, he said. They did not feel that their concerns about property taxes and other issues were addressed, he said. The customers who came into his store made that clear.

“I think he just wrote off the Northeast Kingdom,” Mr. Marcotte said about the Governor. “He figured he was going to blow Milne out of the water.”

“It’s not just a message to the Governor,” he said. “I think it’s a message to the Legislature, too. People have had enough, they’re fed up. There’s no more capacity to tax people. We need to get expenses under control.”

The public’s concern about property taxes, in particular, has not been addressed, he said.

“I would vote in favor of Milne,” said Vicki Strong of Albany. “Especially having to do with the wind issue. Shumlin lost a lot of ground on that issue. I would definitely vote for Milne. So many of my constituents are struggling with property taxes.”

“I’d love to see something really unusual happen in Vermont, instead of just voting the party line,” Ms. Strong said.

Gary Viens of Newport, a political newcomer elected last week to replace Duncan Kilmartin in the Orleans 2 House district, said he’s voting for Mr. Milne.

“I’m going to vote for the winner of the Orleans 2 district, which was Milne,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some Democrats who vote along party lines. I look at it pragmatically. The people of the district I represent voted for Milne.”

Loren Shaw, another Republican, from Derby, said that he, too, will vote with the majority of his constituents. “I represent my constituents. I represent the state, too. But I don’t like the way the state’s been run.

“I know popular vote is the way it’s supposed to be, but I’ve got to vote with my constituents. I’m pretty conservative, but I’m not a Libertarian, I’m not a Tea Party person.”

Mr. Shaw said he hopes that, if Governor Shumlin is re-elected, it’s possible for Republicans to go to Montpelier and work with him.

One of his gripes with the Governor is health care.

“President Obama had a health plan going. [Shumlin] didn’t need to wrap that around a state of 620,000 people.”

Also, Mr. Shaw said, property taxes are a serious issue that he believes has gone unaddressed.

“It’s horrible the phone calls I’ve gotten, retired people, their taxes have gone up $2,000, they have to sell their homes.”

“We can’t compare this area to Chittenden County, but they’re not even flourishing.”

Fellow Orleans 2 Republican Lynn Batchelor said she’s planning to vote for Mr. Milne in part because he’s a businessman.

“Mr. Shumlin has had his chance, and he’s sort of put his foot in it,” Ms. Batchelor said. “I’d like to see a businessman get us back on the right track.”

“You have got to listen to people’s ideas and do what’s best for the state, not what’s on your agenda,” she said.

And her constituents did vote heavily for Mr. Milne, Ms. Batchelor added.

Although he expressed no enthusiasm for the Governor, Democrat Sam Young said he thinks “that whoever wins the popular vote should be the governor.”

Senator Rodgers initially said he was inclined to vote with his constituency, meaning for Mr. Milne. But after some thought and a re-examination of the numbers, he decided to hold off on a decision about his January 7 vote.

“It puts us in a bit of a pickle,” he said.

Mr. Rodgers doesn’t claim to be a fan of the Governor either.

“A lot of Democrats are fed up with Shumlin,” he said, and their gripes range from the Governor’s enthusiastic embrace of ridgeline wind, to escalating property taxes, to health care.

Mr. Starr said he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Mr. Milne. He has little political experience, he noted.

“The Republicans didn’t even support him all that much. I don’t know how good a governor he would make. If a strong Republican had been running, he would have won easily.”

Mr. Starr said he knows Governor Shumlin has “screwed up a lot.” But he works hard, he added. “I think this is a wake up call that would bring him around.”

Aside from that, he said, Vermont is facing many pressing issues, “and I want to be in a position where I can get some things done for people.”

A change in administration generally means that little gets done the whole first year while administrators change and get up to speed, Mr. Starr said.

“Sometimes you’re better off to keep your enemy close by,” he said.

contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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