ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore voters will elect at least one new state senator this November, and that person will either be a Democrat or an independent candidate.
A records check at the Addison County Courthouse revealed that two major party candidates had filed papers by the June 14 deadline to run for the state Senate this November. Those filing at the courthouse were incumbent Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, and fellow Democrat Christopher Bray of New Haven.
A third candidate, Ripton independent Robert Wagner, said he had gathered the requisite 100 signatures and planned to file them with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.
Last Thursday’s deadline came and went with no local Republican candidates filing for the two Senate seats up for grabs. And one of them will be open seat, to be vacated by incumbent Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, who has decided not to run for re-election after eight years in office.
As reported last Thursday by the Independent, Giard has decided to take a pass on running for a fifth consecutive term.
“It’s a citizens’ Legislature and it’s someone else’s turn,” Giard, 60, said.
This was Giard’s second stint in Vermont’s General Assembly. He had previously served in the House for eight years, during his 20s. A longtime farmer, Giard successfully ran for the Senate in 2004, serving this year on the Senate Institutions and Agriculture Committee (as vice chairman).
“I never intended to make a career out of this,” said Giard, who believed there was no “off-session.” He prided himself on fielding and addressing constituent concerns throughout the year.
“It is time to move on to something else.”
While he doesn’t know what that “something else” is at this point, Giard said he didn’t think it would have been fair to sort out that issue as a sitting senator for two more years.
“I served in the House for eight years, was a farmer for 20 years and served in the Senate for eight years; those are all the things I wanted to do,”’ Giard said. “I am excited about the next part of the journey.”
Ayer, who will be seeking her sixth consecutive two-year term, said she will miss Giard as a Senate colleague. She recalled recruiting him to run eight years ago, confident that he could bring a strong voice for farming to the Legislature.
“We learned a lot together,” Ayer said. “We could always talk.”
She is now turning her attention to her campaign, which she said is going well. She is making the rounds to towns and speaking with constituents to get a sense of what’s on their minds. So, far, health care reform and the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have been particularly resonating with the voters with whom Ayer has been speaking.
And Ayer, if re-elected, said she would continue to play a major role in reform of the state’s health care system. She currently serves as chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, a job she has told Senate leadership she wants to continue during the next biennium.
Hoping to join her in the Senate is former Rep. Chris Bray, D-New Haven. Bray is the former Addison-5 representative who is making his first state Senate bid. Giard’s decision to not run for re-election created a clear path for Bray (and Ayer) to the Nov. 6 General Election. That’s because an Aug. 28 primary runoff would have been needed to reduce the three Democrats running down to two.
Giard said the prospect of a primary did not influence his decision to bow out. He believes he would have made the cut.
“If Addison County was going to throw me out of the state Senate, they would have done it two years ago,” Giard said, referring to how he missed the candidates’ filing deadline in 2010 and had to re-enter the race through a write-in effort. He was able to hold off Republican challenger Mark Young, an Orwell Republican, by fewer than 400 votes.
Bray was prepared for a primary but is pleased not to have to endure one this summer.
“I am very appreciative of (Giard’s) service in the Senate,” said Bray, who submitted petition papers bearing 946 signatures. “Harold has been a very energetic and positive voice working on behalf of Addison County. I sincerely hope he finds ways to stay involved making our county such a great place to live.”
Bray has already begun making the rounds at public functions, chatting with voters. He has already visited the town of Huntington, which with Buel’s Gore, finds itself in the Addison County senatorial district due to reapportionment. Meanwhile, Brandon has left the Addison County senatorial district and joined in with the rest of Rutland County.
“My overall sense so far is that people seem cautiously optimistic about our economy,” Bray said.
One of the main planks in Bray’s campaign platform is promoting “sustainable local economic development.”
This will be Wagner’s second run for state Senate. He finished last in a five-way race for the two seats in 2010, but was encouraged by receiving 1,127 tallies as an independent candidate
“It’s been fun,” Wagner said about the campaign to date. “I really enjoy listening to people and discussing the issues that are important to them.”
Those issues, he said, have ranged from industrial hemp to end-of-life legislation.
Wagner plans to run a shoe-leather campaign, as he believes personal interaction with voters will be key.
Vermont Yankee, mandatory vaccinations for children and the sustainability of local schools are among the top concerns that constituents have mentioned to Wagner thus far.
Addison County Republican Committee officials said they are disappointed the filing deadline came and went on Thursday without producing any GOP challengers for the two Senate seats. They pointed to the time commitment of the job and the redrawing of Addison County’s senatorial district lines as contributing factors to the dearth of candidates. Brandon has leaned heavily Republican in elections, so GOP candidates could depend on picking up a lot of tallies to help counterbalance the Democrat stronghold of Middlebury. Huntington, meanwhile, has leaned to the left in recent elections.
“That’s huge,” Addison County Republican Committee leader Bryan Young said of the loss of Brandon. “It took one of the more conservative towns in the district and replaced it with one of the more liberal towns.”
He did not rule out the possibility that some Republican challengers might seek to belatedly enter the race through a write-in campaign in the August primary.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]