Baser in, Fisher out in Addison-4

BRISTOL — Bristol Republican Fred Baser on Tuesday rattled what had been a decade of Democratic dominance in the Addison-4 House district, and his victory will also likely have a big impact on the complexion of the Legislature’s health care reform debate during the next biennium.
Baser, in his second bid for one of Addison-4’s two House seats, was the top vote-getter in the four-town district with a total of 1,872 tallies. Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, finished second in the race with 1,765 votes.
Stunningly, seven-term incumbent and House Health Care Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, finished out of the running in third place with 1,738 votes, just 27 fewer than Sharpe.
Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin finished in fourth place with 1,514 votes in what was her first run for the Legislature.
“I am very grateful to the voters,” Baser said late Tuesday evening when all the results were in. Baser gave particular thanks to what he said was a core group of supporters who worked tirelessly on his behalf in the district-member towns of Bristol, Starksboro, Monkton and New Haven.
“I am humbled by this (result) and would never have guessed I would be the top vote-getter,” said Baser, a longtime financial planner and former Bristol selectman who ran unsuccessfully in Addison-4 in 2010 and took a pass on the race in 2012. But he broke through in a big way this year, burning a lot of shoe leather and shaking a lot of hands in an effort to garner enough support in a district that has elected Democrats ever since it was expanded to a two-seat district back in 2001 through legislative reapportionment.
Baser was the top vote-getter in Bristol, with 881 tallies to 665 for Sharpe, 638 for Fisher and 616 for Mullin. Sharpe took Starksboro with 342 votes, compared to 334 for Fisher, 313 for Baser and 280 for Mullin. Sharpe also was the top vote-getter in Monkton with 420, followed by 408 votes for Mullin, 392 for Fisher and 387 for Baser. This set the stage for the last town to report — Lincoln, one of the largest Addison County communities that still counts its ballots by hand. When those results were confirmed shortly before midnight, Fisher had won his hometown with 374 tallies, but it was not enough to bridge his deficit. Sharpe finished second in Lincoln with 338 votes, followed by Baser with 291 and Mullin with 210.
Networking with voters was a key to victory, Baser said, in addition to sending out campaign mailers, putting up signs and advertising.
Baser and his GOP running mate Mullin also made a point of underscoring their Democratic opponents’ records during a campaign that was at times contentious.
Some of Mullin’s 11th-hour campaign literature alleged that the Shumlin administration wanted to “take over Medicare,” and alluded to Fisher’s and Sharpe’s association with the Democratic majority position on health care. Fisher and Sharpe said they were not in favor of any state government takeover of the Medicare program.
But Fisher conceded that his leadership position on health care reform probably attracted resentment from some voters who concluded he was to blame for the failed roll-out of the Vermont Health Connect website and the delay in getting funding details on a proposed single-payer system. Fisher said those specific failings rest more with the Shumlin administration than the House Health Care Committee.
“I can’t deny the frustrations people have with Vermont Health Connect, and I was certainly linked to that,” Fisher said.
And Fisher believes he and Sharpe might have faced some residual backlash from Tuesday’s negative vote on the proposed $32.6 million Mount Abraham Union High School improvement bond (see related story, Page 1A). That bond failed by a three-to-one margin, and Fisher believes that more fiscally conservative voters were probably less likely to cast a vote for the two Democrats in the local House race.
Fisher on Wednesday said he is not considering a future political run and will use his newfound time to pursue other interests. He will remain an outreach worker with the Parent-Child Center of Addison County.
“I have so appreciated the voters’ support for 14 years; it has been an incredible experience,” Fisher said. “Congratulations to Fred. He worked very hard, as did all of us.”
Asked how the Democratic leadership would reshuffle the House Health Care Committee following his election loss, Fisher said, “I have no idea. That’s a good question.”
Sharpe was grateful to have made the cut during what were some tense moments as the final ballots were counted.
“I have to give credit to the challengers,” said Sharpe, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee who in January will begin his seventh consecutive two-year term in the House.
Sharpe, like Baser a former Bristol selectman, said “it will be very interesting to work with Fred … I look forward to hearing what (Baser) thinks, and how that fits into the Legislature.”
Sharpe will also miss Fisher, and agreed that his longtime colleague had likely been enveloped in an undertow of discontent about recent failings on health care reform.
“Unfortunately, (Fisher) got the blame for something he had very little to do with,” Sharpe said, alluding to the failed Vermont Health Connect roll-out, which he called “a debacle” that was largely the doing of the feds, the Shumlin administration and the state-hired contractor.
Sharpe continues to believe that a single-payer system, if properly executed, would lower costs for individuals and businesses. But in the meantime, he said the task “is a $2 billion pill to swallow … and it scares the heck out of people, and rightfully so.”
Sharpe cited continued work on health care, education financing and property tax reform as some of his priorities for the coming session.
“It won’t be an easy session,” Sharpe predicted.
Baser cited the same priorities, in addition to promoting more economic development in the state.
“If we can’t broaden the tax base, it will put us at such a disadvantage in doing the things we want to do,” Baser said.
Though she failed to win a seat on Tuesday, Mullin said she was proud of her campaign and stands behind her political fliers and criticized her opponents for alleging she had received campaign funding from “the Koch brothers.”
“I am very grateful for the people who stepped out of their comfort zone to help me in this race,” Mullin said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t easy, but I feel I brought some light to the issues.”
She is not sure about her future political plans. For now, she will rest after a busy couple of months.
She congratulated Baser on his win.
“I know Fred will do a great job representing the people of these four towns,” Mullin said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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