Incumbents turn back challenges in Vergennes-area House race

VERGENNES — Incumbents Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, and Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, on Tuesday prevailed in a competitive four-way race to win the Addison-3 district’s two seats and will represent Ferrisburgh, Vergennes, Addison, Panton and Waltham in the Vermont House of Representatives for the next two years.
Lanpher, a three-term incumbent, led the race with 1,409 votes. Van Wyck, appointed in February 2013 to complete the term of Vergennes Republican Greg Clark after Clark’s untimely death, was next with 1,305 tallies.
They turned back challenges from two newcomers to state politics, Addison Republican and farmer Peter Briggs, who waged a successful write-in effort before the August primary to get on the general election ballot, and Addison Democrat John Spencer, who currently heads two town committees and has a history of service to his hometown.
Briggs drew 1,218 votes, and 1,116 residents of the five-town Addison-3 district backed Spencer.
The numbers town by town were:
•  Addison: Briggs, 307; Van Wyck, 285; Lanpher, 239; Spencer, 198.
•  Ferrisburgh: Van Wyck, 520; Lanpher, 492; Briggs, 433; Spencer, 396.
•  Panton: Lanpher, 114; Briggs, 105; Spencer and Van Wyck, 102.
•  Vergennes: Lanpher, 455; Spencer, 384; Van Wyck, 315; Briggs, 291.
•  Waltham: Lanpher, 109; Spencer, 86; Van Wyck, 83; Briggs, 82.
Lanpher has served on the House Transportation Committee and was Addison-3’s top vote-getter two years ago. She worked hard on the effort to relocate the former Vergennes rail depot to the Agency of Transportation commuter lot in nearby Ferrisburgh and earned praise locally for lobbying to have a new Lake Champlain bridge built as quickly as possible.
She said she believes her incumbency, history of community service, and hard work campaigning and while serving in Montpelier contributed to her win.
“You do the work and stay engaged with your constituents,” Lanpher said.
Lanpher said her priorities would be to focus on property taxes, health care, education, the state’s pressing short-term budget issues, and her service on the House Transportation Committee, where she hopes to continue to improve on the state’s infrastructure and also take steps to reduce the state’s carbon emissions.
Lanpher said she appreciated Addison-3 residents’ support that once again made her the district’s top vote-getter, and said she will continue to devote herself to what she considers her fulltime job.
“I continue to be humbled by their trust and support in me,” she said. “I can give my all to my community at a time when we have some very big issues.”
Van Wyck, a University of Vermont analyst, has served on the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee since his appointment a year and a half ago and emphasized finding an answer to rising property taxes as well as his business-friendly record during his campaign.
He believes that having served in Montpelier helped him in the tight race, and that it didn’t hurt that his hometown, the district’s largest, had a strong turnout.
“Being the incumbent was a big factor, and being from Ferrisburgh for the past 30 years was a big factor,” Van Wyck said.
Van Wyck said he was “quite honestly amazed” Briggs fared so well as a late entrant into the race, and said both of their strong vote totals could reflect the district’s traditionally conservative leanings as well as the state’s trend to the right on Tuesday.
“Though I think we had a different approach on some of the items, yes, I think that certainly must be the case,” Van Wyck said.
Briggs’ presence on the ballot also probably helped, he said.
“Any party wants two people on the ticket,” Van Wyck said. “I believe that does help in most cases. Exactly how it factors out in every race, I don’t know.”
Van Wyck said he would like to focus on property tax relief and education funding, which he, like other candidates, said he heard was the “No. 1 issue” on the minds of Addison-3 voters. He also “wouldn’t mind” a move to either the Appropriations or Ways and Means committee to allow him to focus more on tax and spending issues. 
Van Wyck also thanked his backers.
“I certainly am grateful for the support I had from the voters, and also from the volunteers,” he said.  
Briggs, who serves on the Addison Development Review Board, focused during his campaign on taxes, jobs, healthcare, education, and what he called excessive government regulation. He also said he wanted to support Van Wyck’s election bid.
Briggs was upbeat about his showing despite not winning.
“I’d say I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things turned out, considering the late start I ended up having,” Briggs said.
He believes his presence on the ballot did, in fact, help Van Wyck.
“That’s half the victory there,” Briggs said. “We kept a Democrat majority from making any gain.”
He believes his message resonated with voters, helping his vote total.
“I guess I’m worried about the way our future is going in this state, and I’d say 60 or 70 percent of fellow Vermonters in the Addison-3 district are also concerned,” Briggs said.
Briggs said he will “absolutely” consider another run.
“My future is no better secured with this Democrat majority in power,” he said.
Spencer emphasized education and property tax reform during his run and said anger about rising property taxes and the party in power put him, as a newcomer, on the wrong side of the aisle.
 “I don’t think it was the year for Democrats,” Spencer said. “Everybody’s angry about property taxes, and the Democrats were in the majority, so they get blamed for it even though it’s mostly school board problems, not state government.”
Spencer said he offered his own ideas for property tax reform, which he, too, heard was the top issue for district voters, but they didn’t gain traction.
Still, he said, he enjoyed the effort and appreciated the significant backing he did receive.
“I’m really honored by all the support I got,” Spencer said. “It was a great honor to run.”
He would not commit to doing so again, however.
“I don’t think now is even the time to think about that,” Spencer said, adding, “I’d never say never about anything.”
Lanpher said she will lobby him to do so.   
“It was an honor to work with John,” Lanpher said. “I hope that he will consider running again in the future.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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