Most election years, the top of the ticket gets the most attention from Vermont voters.
This year, that attention is muted.
There’s a lively race for governor, between Republican incumbent Phil Scott and Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist, but the race for lieutenant governor hasn’t thrown off many sparks, and all the other major candidates — for U.S. Senate, Congress, and a string of state-level offices — have no serious opposition.
For instance, eight little-known figures are on the ballot against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent who came close to being the Democratic presidential nominee two years ago. They are Lawrence Zupan, a Republican; Reid Kane of the Liberty Union Party; and six independents named Folasade Adeluola, Russell Beste, Bruce Busa, Edward Gilbert Jr., Brad Peacock and Jon Svitavsky.
Democrat Peter Welch has been Vermont’s only congressman since 2007, and he has even less competition — Republican Anya Tynio, Laura Potters of the Liberty Union Party, and perennial candidate Cris Ericson, an independent.
For other state-level offices, the incumbents, all Democrats, aren’t losing any sleep worrying about their job security.
• Attorney General T.J. Donovan faces Janssen Willhoit, a Republican, and Rosemarie Jackowski of the Liberty Union Party.
• Secretary of State Jim Condos is up against Mary Alice Hebert of the Liberty Union Party and H. Brooke Paige, a perennial Republican candidate who filed for half a dozen offices in the primary election, but had to choose only one in the general election.
• Treasurer Beth Pearce faces Republican Rick Morton.
• Auditor Doug Hoffer faces Republican Rick Kenyon and Marina Brown of the Liberty Union Party.
This is the headline race.
Republican Phil Scott, completing his first two-year term, has a nearly universal reputation as a nice guy, but that reputation was tested over two years after some bumps and bruises in this year’s legislative session.
Scott ran a construction company while serving in the Legislature and as lieutenant governor, but sold his share to his partner when he was elected governor. However, the state ethics commission alleges he hasn’t done enough to separate from the company, which continues to compete for state contracts.
His chief competition is Democrat Christine Hallquist, who has drawn national attention as the first transgender candidate nominated for a governorship by a major party. Hallquist is former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative and has a good reputation as a business leader, but has had trouble mounting a dynamic campaign.
Scott has pushed three main points: Making Vermont more affordable, growing the economy and protecting the vulnerable.
Hallquist has similar priorities, but would pursue a much different strategy.
Scott has pressed the Legislature not to raise taxes or fees, an approach Hallquist blasted in an October debate. “No new taxes is not a good plan for the state of Vermont,” she said. “A good business person knows you’ve got to get more revenue; you can cost-control yourself out of business.”
Hallquist wants to spur economic growth by expanding high-speed broadband access, and would require electrical utilities to install broadband cables, rather than internet companies. She says good broadband will encourage people to move to rural areas, reinvigorating small community schools and small hospitals.
“This is just like the ’30s, when the cities had electricity and rural America did not,” she said in a debate, explaining how improved broadband access would rejuvenate struggling Vermont towns.
Scott has suggested that school and hospital consolidation is inevitable, given shrinking populations.
Hallquist says she voted for Scott in 2016, but is disappointed in his performance, including vetoes of a higher minimum wage and a paid family leave program.
Hallquist favors relying on income taxes, not property taxes, to finance schools, saying rich and poor would pay more equal shares of their earnings. Scott opposes that: “If you don’t fix the spending, then someone’s spending more.”
Vermont has a high percentage of older people, and it needs young people to move here, Scott said. His key to doing that is to keep the state affordable by avoiding higher taxes, fees, and other expenses.
For lieutenant governor
For lieutenant governor, Don Turner, a Republican legislator from Milton, is running against incumbent David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat who won a two-year term in 2016.
Turner, a state legislator since 2006 and House minority leader since 2011, is focusing on affordability and holding the line on new taxes and fees.
Turner is also Milton’s town manager, and he’s confident he can keep that job and also be lieutenant governor, which is only a part-time job.
The Legislature is heavily Democratic and the current governor is a Republican, and Turner said he sees the potential to bridge the divide.
Zuckerman, an organic farmer, served in the Vermont House for 12 years and the state Senate for four years. He lives in Hinesburg and is a regular at the Burlington Farmers Market, selling produce and talking politics.
Zuckerman is the first Progressive Party candidate to win statewide office in Vermont; he was also the nominee of the Democratic Party.
Zuckerman, who says he was inspired to enter politics by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has clashed with Scott on proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establish a statewide paid family leave program, which Scott vetoed.
Crowded Valley ballot
If you live in the Mad River Valley, your local ballot resembles something like a buffet.
There are five people running for the two seats in the Washington-7 House district, which covers Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren. And seven people are vying to be one of three Washington County senators.
First, up for Senate are incumbents Ann Cummings, D-Montpelier and Anthony Pollina, D-Middlesex. They are joined by Democrat Andrew Perchlik, three Republicans — Ken Alger and Dwayne Tucker, both of Barre, and Chris Bradley of Northfield — and independent Barry Wadle of Barre.
Three other Democrats were ousted from the race in the August primary.
There wasn’t much of a primary for the Washington-7 House district, since only two of the five candidates are linked to a major party.
Incumbent Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, is on the ballot, as is fellow incumbent Ed Read, I-Fayston. Read was appointed to the seat by Gov. Scott last summer after Scott tapped former Rep. Adam Greshin to be the state finance commissioner.
Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield, was among the 13 people who applied to replace Greshin. Now, she’s on the ballot, as are Bob Readie, I-Warren, and Waitsfield resident Neil Johnson of the Green Mountain Party.
The only other local race is for Washington County high bailiff, where Mark Hughes, I-Montpelier, and Marc Poulin, R/D-Barre, square off.
Incumbent Reps. Tom Stevens and Theresa Wood, both Waterbury Democrats, are unopposed for the two seats in the Washington-Chittenden House district, which represents Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington and Buel’s Gore.
In other local races, running unopposed are:
• Probate judge — Jeffrey Kilgore, D/P-Waterbury.
• Assistant judges (2 seats) — Muffie Conlon, D-Montpelier, and Otto Trautz, D/P-Cabot.
• State’s attorney — Rory Thibault, D/R-Cabot.
• Sheriff — Sam Hill, R/D-Montpelier.