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Lanpher edges Oxholm in GOP-leaning Vergennes-area house race

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By JOHN FLOWERS

VERGENNES — The second time proved to be the charm for Vergennes Democrat Diane Lanpher, who pulled off an upset of sorts by winning one of two House seats in the traditional GOP stronghold of Addison-3, toppling one-term incumbent and former Vergennes mayor Kitty Oxholm in the process.

Lanpher, a Vergennes City Council member, received 1,928 tallies in heavy voting in the House district that includes Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. She finished second in the balloting to three-term incumbent Greg Clark, R-Vergennes, who topped the field with a total of 2,220 votes.

Oxholm, finishing her first term, was third with 1,858 votes — 70 behind Lanpher. Rounding out the field was first-time candidate Jean Richardson, a Ferrisburgh Democrat, who garnered 1,558 votes.

Lanpher credited her win to a lot of hard work, both by her and supporters who worked on her behalf. She walked door-to-door within the district and said she was gratified by how many people knew her. Some of the people with whom she spoke in her travels even thought she was an incumbent representative.

“I took that as a positive,” Lanpher said, adding her recent election to the Vergennes City Council and voters’ interest in Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket probably also helped her House bid.

Lanpher had finished fourth, with 1,217 tallies, in a five-way race for the two Addison-3 seats in 2006. She said she is pleased to have prevailed this year.

“I’m very, very excited,” Lanpher said on Tuesday night. “I feel I’m in a position to get things done.”

Lanpher becomes only the second Democrat in more than two decades to be elected to a House seat in the Vergennes-area district. Former Rep. Tom McGrath of Ferrisburgh won a seat in the district as a Democrat in 1996, but changed his party affiliation to Republican prior to the election of 1998.

Former Gov. Howard Dean on two separate occasions picked Democrats to round out the tenure of incumbents in Addison-3 who did not finish terms. Dean appointed Ferrisburgh Democrat Carl Reidel to complete the term of the late Roger Kayhart, a longtime Waltham Republican who ended out his career as an independent and in 1995 resigned due to failing health, and he appointed Waltham Democrat Tim Ryan to complete the balance of the term when McGrath resigned in 2001 to take a leadership post with the International Order of Eagles. Neither Reidel nor Ryan chose to run for their seat when their terms expired.

Looking ahead to the next biennium, Lanpher said she is eager to begin work promoting renewable energy, improving health care for the uninsured and under-insured, boosting the state economy, creating more affordable housing, and improving education.

She said she would like to serve on either the House Transportation or Human Services committees. The new speaker of the Vermont House will fill out the House committee rosters soon after the 2009-2010 session kicks off in early January.

“It will be a very tough two years,” she said of the challenges facing the state.

Clark, a longtime Mount Abraham Union High School teacher and former Vergennes deputy mayor, is also eager to get back to Montpelier to tackle the state’s challenges.

He is a veteran of the House Education Committee, of which he is the current vice chairman. He said he would enjoy remaining on that panel, which is working to contain property taxes, balancing the state budget and improving health care.

“I’m thrilled to win another term,” Clark said. “I obviously want to thank all of my supporters.”

Clark added that while he will miss not serving with Oxholm, he gives “a lot of credit to Diane Lanpher, who worked extraordinarily hard. I look forward to working with her.”

Clark will be the lone remaining Republican among Addison County’s legislative delegation in Montpelier. Eight years ago, Republicans held one of the county and Brandon’s two state Senate positions, along with seven of the county’s nine seats in the Vermont House.

This year, the GOP did not field candidates for the local state senate seats, nor in three of the county’s six House districts.

Clark said his party affiliation in a heavily dominated Democrat Legislature will not be an obstacle for him.

“I work very well with the (legislators and people) of Addison County,” Clark said. “We can work together; there is no question about that.”

Oxholm, meanwhile, was gracious in defeat.

“I enjoyed serving,” said Oxholm, a member of the House Education Committee. “I felt I served my constituents well. I felt I ran a good campaign.”

She credited her opponents with working hard on their respective campaigns, though she took issue with two flyers sent out by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters just prior to the election. The flyers, she said, stated that Oxholm voted against a statewide energy bill during the last session. What the flyers did not acknowledge, Oxholm said, is that she voted for a second version of the energy bill that passed both chambers.

Oxholm added the League did not contact her prior to sending out the flyer.

“I will file (a complaint) with the state on this,” she said.

A retired special education administrator with the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, Oxholm has not ruled out running for the House during a future election. In then meantime, she will continue to work on several local nonprofit causes, including the Bixby Memorial Library board.

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