Area Democrats to vie in Aug. 14 runoffs for sheriff, House seats

BRISTOL — Local primary elections typically offer few fireworks and are thus notorious for low voter turnout.
But a hotly contested race for sheriff and a crowded runoff for the Addison-4 House district are giving Addison County residents — and particularly Democrats in the Bristol area — extra reasons to vote on Aug. 14.
Local interest is also being generated by Ethan Sonneborn, a 14-year-old Bristol youth who will compete for the Democrat nomination for governor.
In addition to the two Addison County races, area voters will help decide contested statewide primary elections for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative and Vermont governor, on both the Republican and Democrat sides. Registered voters at their polling places will be given a choice of selecting the Democrat, Republican or Progressive Party ballot. The primary will determine which candidates advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
Locally, Democrats Peter Newton and Ron Holmes are both vying for the right to face Independent candidate Kevin Gibbs in the general election for Addison County sheriff.
Newton, 46, currently serves as a lieutenant with the department under incumbent Sheriff Don Keeler, who’s not seeking re-election. Newton has earned Keeler’s endorsement.
Newton (pictured, right) has already logged 28 years in the public safety field. Certified as an advanced life support EMT, Newton worked for various emergency response organizations from 1990 to 2003, including Middlebury Regional EMS and Fletcher Allen Coordinated Transport. In 2003, he began his law enforcement career, starting off as a Middlebury Police Department officer before joining the sheriff’s department in 2012.
Newton has more than 2,000 hours of law enforcement training and is a patrol-procedures instructor and basic training assistant at the Vermont Police Academy.
If elected, Newton hopes to — among other things — establish a county-wide school resource officer position, create a “cadet” program for local youths interested in helping law enforcement and add a second drug recognition expert to the department.
This will be Holmes’ (pictured, left) second attempt to lead the sheriff’s department, which hasa staff of almost 20 full- and part-time workers performing such duties as traffic patrols, prisoner transport, courthouse security, fingerprinting and service of court-related documents. Holmes waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign against Keeler back in 2014.
Holmes, 63, currently serves as Addison County’s High Bailiff. He’s lived in Middlebury since 1985. He began his career in construction, working eight years for Pike Industries, and then switched over to the automotive industry. Holmes worked at Paul Steele’s service station in downtown Middlebury for around 11 years.
He joined the sheriff’s department as a part-time deputy in 1989, leading to a long stint that included traffic enforcement, prisoner transport and other assignments. Holmes said he left the department around five years ago after being laid off by Keeler. He’s currently a full-time security officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Holmes’ priorities for the sheriff’s department, if elected, include reopening the county jail, re-establishing county-wide dispatching for public safety organizations, and putting more emphasis on fighting drug-related crime.
Meanwhile, Democrat voters in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro will pick two of four candidates to advance to the general election to face incumbent Addison-4 House Rep. Fred Baser and fellow Republican Valerie Mullin of Monkton.
Interest in the Addison-4 House race is being fanned by the impending retirement of longtime incumbent Dave Sharpe, a Bristol Democrat. Competing in the primary are, in alphabetical order:
• Mari Cordes of Lincoln (pictured, right). Cordes, 59, has for the past 17 years worked as an RN at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She and her family have lived in Vermont for more than 30 years, moving to Lincoln in 2003.
Cordes has delivered testimony at the Statehouse on behalf of the UVM Medical Center’s nurses’ union on such issues as health care reform, paid sick days, and safe hospital staffing levels for patient care. She helped create the Equal Care Coalition, to advocate for the elimination of health insurance policy exclusions for transgender patients. She is former treasurer for 350VT, a grassroots group that advocates for remedies to climate change.
She ran unsuccessfully for an Addison-4 seat two years ago, but believes she has the support and experience to prevail this time around. As was the case in 2016, Cordes will emphasize such campaign priorities as a publicly funded universal health care system, an economy that “works for all Vermonters,” development of more renewable energy, and institution of a more progressive tax system “that ensures corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share.”
• Rob Demic of Bristol (pictured, left). Demic, 62, is a local building contractor and theater enthusiast. He’s worked varied jobs in the past, including stints cleaning a convent in Bennington and working at the Ethan Allen Furniture Factory. He’s helped care for clients/residents at the Brattleboro Retreat, the former Brandon Training School and the Counseling Service of Addison County. Demic has also worked for the Mary Johnson Children’s Center after-school program.
A survivor of a major accident in Middlebury in 2008, Demic has also dedicated himself to teaching dance, singing and acting techniques to younger Vermonters; he’s directed the annual musicals at Vergennes Union High School for the past 24 years.
If elected, Demic said he’ll support policies to help Vermont develop and retain “high quality teachers.” He believes it’s time for Vermont to stop using the property tax as its main education funding source. Demic also wants the state to encourage dairy farmers to diversify their operations so they are less dependent on a milk industry plagued by over-production and low prices.
• Caleb Elder of Starksboro (pictured, right). Elder, 36, has been working in the renewable energy field for a decade. The Mount Abraham Union High School graduate attended Middlebury College, where he earned a degree in environmental studies in 2004. He took a job as a sales account manager with AllEarth Renewables, a Williston-based company specializing in green energy projects. Elder recently joined Bristol-based construction company Smith & McClain, in charge of sales and marketing for its solar division.
Elder currently serves on the Mount Abraham Unified School District school boards, and was a member of Addison Northeast’s Act 46 Study Committee that laid the groundwork for a successful governance and budgeting merger for the five-town school district.
If elected, Elder said he’d emphasize workforce training and what he called “well paying career paths” in a public school system he believes should prepare students for pre-K through college. He said Vermont should continue to work toward adopting a universal health care system, though he realizes such a dramatic shift will take more time, study and a sizable up-front investment. So in the meantime, Elder wants to see the state offer universal access to primary care.
• Paul Forlenza of Lincoln (pictured, left). Forlenza is former chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee and a current Lincoln selectman. This is his first House bid, though he ran (unsuccessfully) for one of Addison County’s two state Senate seats back in 2004.
Forlenza ran his own consulting firm developing strategic plans for nonprofits. He spent 15 years helping IBM on various policy issues — including health care. He has also spent time advocating for the use of health information technology as a way to advance health care reform. Forlenza has previously served on the boards of Mountain Health Center in Bristol and the Counseling Services of Addison County.
During an interview this past spring, Forlenza declared support for  universal access to health care for all Vermonters, offering paid family leave, establishing a “livable wage’ of $15 per hour by 2024, improving child care services, and lowering property taxes while decreasing the state tax on Social Security.
Here’s a rundown of the statewide primary races, beginning with the Republican ballot:
• Jasdeep Pannu of Essex, H. Brooke Paige of Washington and Lawrence Zupan of Manchester are running for the nomination for U.S. Senator.
• H. Brooke Paige of Washington and Anya Tynio of Charleston are seeking the nomination for U.S. House Representative.
• Incumbent Gov. Phil Scott faces opposition from Keith Stern of Springfield for the nomination for Governor.
Here are the races on the Democrat ballot:
• Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Burlington is being challenged by Folasade Adeluola of Shelburne for the nomination for U.S. Senate.
• Dan Freilich of West Windsor and Benjamin Mitchell of Westminster are challenging incumbent U.S. House Rep. Peter Welch of Norwich for the nomination for the state’s lone seat in Congress.
• James Ehlers of Winooski, Christine Hallquist of Hyde Park, Brenda Siegel of Newfane and Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol are vying for the nomination for governor.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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