Fierce competition emerges in Franklin County House races

Republican Joe Luneau, left, and Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans City, are running for the Franklin-3 House district this fall. Archival and courtesy photos

Over the past decade, Franklin County has consistently sent Republicans to the Vermont House of Representatives, with a few exceptions. This fall, the party hopes to clinch even more seats, but it will face a series of competitive races.

In St. Albans City, Republican Joe Luneau is seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Mike McCarthy in the new one-member seat Franklin-3 Ward. Both candidates are well known in political circles: McCarthy served three terms in Montpellier and is currently the House Democratic whip, while Luneau is a former Franklin County GOP chairman.

Republicans hold nine of the county’s 11 House seats; McCarthy and Rep. Barbara Murphy, a Fairfax independent who is not seeking reelection, hold the other two.

Vermont Republican Party Chairman Paul Dame predicted earlier this year that Luneau would give McCarthy “the toughest race he’s ever had.” Dame said he was confident Luneau had the name recognition and campaign skills to win.

The Republican president also said he believed the new design Ward Franklin-1 — of which the district of Murphy is a part — is Republican-friendly because the district now also includes the reliable conservative city of Georgia, in addition to Fairfax.

This race has four contenders: former Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia; Republican Ashley Bartley; and Democrats Alan “Al” Maynard and Devon Thomas.

At the same time, Democratic leaders say they have strong candidates across the region and suggest they may have their best chance in decades to make inroads in a county that has historically been back and forth. between the parties.

Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Democrats could gain ground in the county as Burlington-area residents migrate north in search of more affordable housing. Dandeneau pointed to the House’s narrow failure in May to resurrect legislation that would have banned “without cause evictions” in Burlington — after Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the measure — as a case of Republicans blocking a measure which he said would have helped residents of Franklin County, especially those in towns bordering Chittenden County.

“If we have a more rational housing policy in Burlington, that impacts Franklin County,” he said. “And all Republicans have united against it.”

McCarthy said he believes his role in House leadership positions him well to advocate on behalf of St. Albans residents.

Luneau, who is operations manager at Handy Toyota in St. Albans, defined McCarthy’s role as the opposite. “I will vote my conscience on every issue and I will not toe the party line – much less incite others to line up against my constituents,” Luneau said. campaign website bed.

After the redistricting this year, Luneau or McCarthy will represent four St. Albans City wards. The two southernmost neighborhoods of the city, as well as part of the city of St. Albans, have been inserted into another new neighborhood: Franklin-8who also enjoys a competitive race.

People vote and work in the polls at St. Albans City Hall Auditorium on the day of the 2022 Town Meeting. Photo by Shaun Robinson/VTDigger

In this district, Democrat Lauren Dees-Erickson is challenging incumbent Republican Representative Casey Toof, who is seeking her third term in the House. Dees-Erickson works at an international development nonprofit and is vice chair of the St. Albans City Planning Commission.

Her campaign has some historical significance: if she wins, she has declared she would likely be the first woman of color elected to the Franklin County Legislative Assembly (as will Democratic Senate candidate for Franklin District Jessie Nakuma Palczewski).

Dees-Erickson said she would have been different from Toof in several recent key votes in the House. She pointed to the Reproductive Freedom Amendment (known as Prop 5 or Section 22) – which Toof voted against approving earlier this year – as well as Scott’s 2020 veto on a family leave program paid, which Toof voted to support.

Toof said he thinks it’s important that Republicans win enough seats in the Legislature to be able to uphold potential vetoes if Scott wins re-election alongside a Democratic majority in both legislative houses.

In a television forum this month, Toof also said he changed his mind about Section 22 after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and now supports the Vermont amendment. He admitted to being criticized for changing his position.

“But I feel like if I’m able to grow as a candidate and listen to what my constituents are telling me,” Toof said on the forum, “I think people should be happy.”

In the Franklin-7 Ward, in the northeast, voters also attend a competitive contest. Enosburgh Republican Rep. Felisha Leffler’s decision not to seek re-election produced a three-way race for the single seat representing Enosburgh and Montgomery.

Voters will likely recognize Enosburgh’s Progressive/Democratic nominee on their ballots: Cindy Weed, who has run in four of the district’s last five elections, winning twice. Republican Allen “Penny” Demar and independent Suzanne “Suzi” Hull-Casavant – both of Enosburgh – are also in the running.

Just south in the Franklin-6 Ward, Republican Representative James Gregoire, of Fairfield, faces his first competitive race since winning a House seat in 2018. His challenger is Brenda Churchill, Democrat of Bakersfield and an advocate for the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont. She also sits on the selection committee of her hometown.

Candidates gave divergent answers when asked about Article 22 in a television forum. Churchill said she supported the amendment, while Grégoire declined to say how he would vote on his ballot. Grégoire voted against the amendment in the House earlier this year, saying in the forum that he had challenged the “very partisan” debate.

If Churchill is elected, she would be the second openly transgender person to serve in the Legislative Assembly, joining Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski.

Dame made Gregory the first subject of a series of fundraising emails this fall highlighting GOP candidates. He didn’t mention Churchill by name, but cited Emerge Vermont — an organization she worked with that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. The president also said the race could be tight.

Grégoire “did such a good job serving his constituents that he ran unchallenged in both the Republican primary and the 2020 general election,” Dame wrote.

“But this year Emerge VT have made James’ run a target and could give him the hardest fight so far in his three races.

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