By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — Area residents, who turned out to vote in droves on Tuesday, will see some new faces among those who represent them in the county courthouse and in Montpelier.
With turnout exceeding 65 percent in most towns, residents elected Cornwall Democrat Eleanor “Misse” Smith as their new probate court judge and sent three first-time candidates to county seats in Vermont House. One of those three new legislators — New Haven Democrat Christopher Bray — earned his spot in a tight Addison-5 contest against longtime incumbent Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven.
Tuesday’s general election also gave voters an opportunity to soundly defeat a $10.3 million renovation plan for Otter Valley Union High School; endorse a new town garage project for Bridport and a veterans’ memorial in Bristol; and pick two assistant judges for the Addison County courthouse.
The tightest county-wide race proved to be for Addison County probate judge, involving Smith and eight-year incumbent Amy Douglas, a Shoreham Republican.
Leads in the contest shifted back and forth, as results from the county’s 23 communities began pouring in at around 9 p.m. on Tuesday evening.
Douglas scored decisive wins in her hometown of Shoreham (392-172), as well as in Ferrisburgh (733-570); Orwell (398-166); and Addison (411-264).
But Smith, a Middlebury-based lawyer and longtime community volunteer, scored big wins of her own in her hometown of Cornwall (421-200); in Weybridge (354-136); and in Ripton (217-82). But her most decisive — and ultimately insurmountable — win came in Middlebury, where she out-paced Douglas, 1,866-849.
Smith ultimately took 14 of the county’s 23 towns en route to an 8,224 to 7,413 victory.
“I’m honored by the support of the voters of Addison County,” Smith said on Wednesday morning. “I will continue to work hard to meet their high expectations and standards.”
She also acknowledged “Amy Douglas’s eight years of service to the people of Addison County.” She said she will continue Douglas’s tradition of ringing the courthouse bell when the probate court finalizes adoptions.
“I want to work with (Douglas) on a smooth and orderly transition,” Smith added.
Smith pointed to her long experience as a lawyer and volunteer as the chief reasons for her winning the race for what is a non-political position.
“I have met a lot of people,” Smith said.
Douglas was gracious in defeat.
“I really appreciate the support I received from the people who voted for me,” Douglas said. “I appreciate the past eight years.”
In the only other contested countywide election, Salisbury Democrat Betsy Gossens and Cornwall Republican Frank Broughton won in the three-way race for two assistant judge positions. Gossens earned 8,919 tallies and Broughton, an incumbent, garnered 7,448. Middlebury Democrat Jeffrey McDonough finished out of the running with 6,733 votes.
For the first time in years, there was no race for Addison County and Brandon’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Democratic incumbents Claire Ayer of Weybridge (14,507 votes) and Harold Giard of Bridport (11,848) will both serve another two years.
The GOP also did not field challengers in the Addison-1 and Addison-2 House districts.
In Addison-1, Democrat incumbents Steve Maier and Betty Nuovo of Middlebury were both automatically renewed for new two-year terms, while Addison-2 incumbent Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, had no opponents in his walk to victory in the district that includes Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton and Salisbury.
Other legislators had their hands full in contested races. Those races took place in the House districts of:
Incumbent Rep. Greg Clarke, R-Vergennes, and former Little City Mayor Kitty Oxholm won the district’s two seats in a race that included current Progressive Vergennes Mayor April Jin, Ferrisburgh Democrat Elizabeth Markowski and Vergennes Democrat Diane Lanpher.
Clark, a two-term incumbent, was the top vote-getter in all five of the district’s towns — Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. He got 1,984 votes.
Oxholm placed second in each of the five towns and tallied 1,536 overall.
Markowski, a local businesswoman who has run in the district on several occasions, placed third, with 1,257 tallies. Rounding out the field were first-time challenger Lanpher, with 1,217 votes, and Jin, who has also run before and who this year recorded 638 tallies.
“I want to say I am grateful for the trust people have put in me,” said Oxholm, a longtime special education administrator with the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union and an avid community volunteer. “It’s humbling.”
She said her past service as city mayor, her volunteerism and her aggressive door-to-door campaign probably helped make the difference for her in the election.
“It was a great experience,” Oxholm said. “I learned so much from it.”
Interest in the Addison-3 race jumped last spring when longtime incumbent Rep. Connie Houston, R-Ferrisburgh, announced she was stepping down.
Addison-3 is home to what are now the only two Republicans in Addison County’s legislative delegation.
Incumbent Reps. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, and David Sharpe, D-Bristol, easily won re-election in a four-way race for the two seats representing Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro.
Fisher earned the most tallies (2,514) in his bid for a fourth consecutive term. He is currently vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee.
Sharpe, a Bristol selectman, finished second, with 2,348 tallies, in his successful bid for a third straight term. Sharpe currently serves as a member of the House Transportation Committee.
Lincoln Republican Barb Rainville, marketing manager for Maple Landmark Woodcraft in Middlebury, finished third, with 1,479 votes. It was her first House bid.
Bristol Republican Nathan Fitzgerald rounded out the field with 844 votes in his second try an Addison-4 seat. This year, enough supporters wrote Fitzgerald’s name on the September primary ballot to make him eligible to run in the general election.
Smith, a four-term incumbent and senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, proved to be the only incumbent lawmaker in Addison County to go down to defeat on Tuesday.
That occurred when Bray, a political newcomer and co-operator of the Equestry horse farm in New Haven, edged Smith, 1,029-979, in the district that includes Weybridge, Bridport and New Haven.
Smith out-polled Bray in New Haven, 458-434, and in Bridport, 343-276. But Bray was able to eke out his 50-vote victory with a decisive, 319-to-178 edge in Weybridge.
“I’m thrilled,” Bray said on Wednesday morning. “I think we ended up winning because we had a fabulous team of people who came together to make it happen.”
Bray estimates 300 people helped him with rides, leafleting and one-on-one conversations with constituents. Bray said he knocked on 1,351 doors in the district.
“I told people my own voting history, which includes voting Republican, Democrat and independent,” said Bray, the current president of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) board. “I’m not interested in party politics.”
If given his choice, Bray said he’d like to serve on the House Agriculture Committee — the panel on which Smith has served these past eight years.
“(Agriculture) is part of our culture that’s really in crisis,” Bray said.
Smith was disappointed with the results, but said he would not call for a recount.
“Fifty votes is a pretty substantial number,” Smith said.
He added he was surprised by Bray’s margin of victory in Weybridge, a town that has long leaned Democrat, but a community in which Smith has polled relatively well during the past few election cycles.
“Losing Weybridge by 141 votes was quite a surprise,” he said.
Smith said he plans to explore other job and volunteer opportunities in the months ahead. He has not ruled out a return to politics.
“(Tuesday’s vote) clearly shows constituents in the three towns were looking for a change in direction,” Smith said.
Shoreham independent Will Stevens was the clear winner in the race to determine who would succeed 14-year incumbent Rep. Mark Young, R-Orwell, in the district that includes Benson, Orwell, Shoreham and Whiting.
Stevens, who with his wife, Judy, runs Golden Russet Farm, beat Shoreham Republican Steve Jackson by a 1,105-to-625 tally.
“I’m thrilled, I’m grateful and I’m humbled,” Stevens said on Wednesday morning.
Stevens said he liked his chances going into Tuesday based on the feedback he had received from the many constituents he visited during the campaign.
“People liked the fact that I’m independent, that I’ll cross party lines when appropriate … to look after the interests of our rural towns,” Stevens said.
He pledged to stay in contact with constituents during and after the legislative session.
“The big thing for me has always been constituent service,” Stevens said.
He acknowledged he will probably caucus more frequently with House Democrats than Republicans, in part because the Democrats hold such a numerical majority at the Statehouse.
He hopes House leaders will place him on the House Agriculture Committee.
Incumbent Rep. Joseph Acinapura, R-Brandon, scored a comfortable 984-792 victory over his opponent, Mitch Pearl, in the race for Brandon’s House seat. Acinapura had been appointed to the seat last year upon the death of longtime incumbent Rep. Robert Wood, R-Brandon.
Some communities and school districts used the Nov. 7 elections as an opportunity to poll their residents on local referenda.
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union residents soundly defeated a $10.3 million expansion and renovation proposal for OVUHS. The project, which included construction of a new gym, failed by a 2,412 to 1,705 tally (See story, Page 1A).
In Bridport, residents affirmed, by a 362-265 tally, a plan to spend $600,000 on a new town garage and renovated fire department facilities. The project had originally been approved by an 81-75 margin on Aug. 17. The revote was forced by a citizens’ petition.
And in Bristol residents voted 1,347 to 277 in favor of a proposal by the Bristol American Legion to use a spot on the town green for construction of a memorial to all veterans from the five-town area (See story, Page 1A).
Meanwhile, in Middlebury, voters responded to a selectboard questionnaire that will determine if there is public support for a local mosquito-control program. Results of that questionnaire were still being tabulated as the Addison Independent went to press.