Six candidates vie for two Senate seats

ADDISON COUNTY — Recent elections for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore have been more like coronations than contests, with incumbent Democrats easily finishing on top.
But an open seat and the participation of two well-known independent candidates in an overall field of six have made this year’s Addison County state Senate race an intriguing competition that has been drawing statewide attention.
The field includes Bridport independent Marie Audet; incumbent Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven; Addison Republican Peter Briggs; New Haven Libertarian Archie Flower; Middlebury Democrat Ruth Hardy; and New Haven independent Paul Ralston.
Longtime Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, is not seeking re-election. She leaves as chairperson of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and served for several years as Senate majority whip.
Democrats will probably maintain a formidable majority in the state’s highest chamber regardless of how the Addison County election turns out, but the party is working hard to retain the two seats it has held here since 2002.
As previously reported by the Independent, the county’s six state Senate candidates have already raised a combined total of more than $100,000 to fuel their campaigns. It is the most expensive Senate race in the county’s history.
Eric Davis, the Independent’s political columnist and a Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, recently noted the amounts raised by five of the six Addison County state Senate candidates are more akin to what one would see in Chittenden County, which has many more voters and three times as many seats (six) in the Senate.
“It’s an indication of the competitiveness of the race,” Davis said. “I would say this (Senate) race is going to be close.”
Flower is the only candidate of the six who has yet to report raising or spending more than the requisite $500 to trigger a campaign finance filing. The other candidates on Oct. 15 reported fundraising totals ranging from $7,467 (Briggs) to $30,655 (Hardy).
The candidates have been actively campaigning through social media, public appearances, debates and advertising — particularly direct-mail flyers that will likely continue to fill up the mailboxes through Nov. 6.
What follows is a brief bio of each of the six candidates, in alphabetical order:
•  Marie Audet. Audet, an owner of Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, is making her first foray into Vermont politics. She’s been an active voice for the farming community at the local, state and national levels. She is a founding member and vice president of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, an organization that helps farmers to adopt agricultural practices that improve economic resiliency and environmental stewardship.
Blue Spruce was one of the first farms in Vermont to adopt manure-to-energy technology. Audet currently serves on Governor Phil Scott’s Climate Action Commission.
She described herself as being “a strong advocate for sustainable agricultural practices, as a social, economic, and environmental ideal.”
Audet promised to give farmers a louder voice in the Statehouse if she’s elected.
She’s also emphasizing the need for Vermont to improve its education system in order to better prepare students for the next generation of jobs.
“What we need to do is get our education system to meet the needs of the businesses,” Audet told the Independent during a recent interview. “If we can grow the skills of Vermonters, we can grow the economy, have healthy businesses and we’re going to have better wages and benefits. It all fits together like a nice puzzle.”
Audet and Ralston are running as a team, with joint campaign literature and a common website:
•  Chris Bray. Bray is seeking his fourth two-year term in the Senate. He previously served in the House representing the Addison-5 district from 2006 to 2010, when he made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
Bray operates Common Ground Communications, which provides writing, editing and production services to technical clients and the book publishing industry. He and his family operate an 82-acre farm in New Haven.
He currently chairs the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee, which is helping lead Vermont though in a federally mandated cleanup of its waterways, including Lake Champlain. The cleanup cost has been estimated at $2.6 billion; Bray and his colleagues have been considering ideas for the state to cover its estimated annual share of $55 million over 20 years.
During his legislative career Bray has taken a lead role in shaping Farm to Plate, renewable energy, Act 250, and clean water bills. He also supported bills targeting aquatic nuisances (such as milfoil) and calling for more stringent testing of well water. His committee also passed an initiative that allows farmers to diversify their operations through accessory uses like “farm stays.”
The Natural Resources & Energy Committee, under Bray’s leadership, set into motion a complete re-write of Act 250, Vermont’s 50-year-old land use law. A commission will be appointed to recommend changes in Act 250 so it can better serve Vermonters during the next 50 years. Lawmakers during the coming biennium will draft new Act 250 legislation based on the commission’s suggestions.
Bray is also member of the Senate Education Committee.
•Peter Briggs. This is Briggs’ second attempt to secure a state Senate seat. He finished in third place with 7,330 votes in 2016, behind Bray and his 9,545 tallies.
He’s the fourth generation of the family to operate its farm in Addison. He currently serves as vice chairman of the Addison selectboard and previously served on the town’s development review board.
If elected, Briggs vowed to repeal Act 46, the state’s school governance consolidation law, and replace it with “universal school choice.” He’s said he also wants to scrap Vermont Health Connect and turn to a “non-government health care plan that puts the individual in charge.”
Briggs is a self-described fiscal conservative who said he’ll push for balanced budgets, “business friendly taxes and regulations,” and “world-class infrastructure” to spur economic development.
Briggs has been candid in his criticism of new gun safety measures Gov. Phil Scott signed into law this past spring. The new law requires universal background checks prior to buying a firearm, raises the minimum age for buying a firearm to 21, bans “bump stocks” that allow a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon’s nearly continuous fire, and limits the capacity of gun magazines to 10 rounds (with some exceptions).
“I can maybe forgive (Scott) for signing the bill, but I can never trust him again,” Briggs said of Scott during a recent interview. “I don’t support him anymore and I don’t trust him. If he’ll sell out his largest constituency (on gun control), he’ll sell us out on anything.”
•Archie Flower. Flower has since 2010 worked as a computer technician at UTC Aerospace in Vergennes. He worked a variety of jobs prior to that, including as a bouncer, a deli clerk and cashier, and as a laborer at the former Specialty Filaments plastics company in Middlebury.
Like Audet, he’s making his first bid for public office after having become politically active in 2016. He was watching the Libertarian National Convention and party chairman Nicholas Sarwark urged like-minded individuals to run for office. Flower set his sights on 2018 and filed his paperwork with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office in early August.
His credo: “Live and let live.” He believes government should serve the people with minimal interference.
If elected, Flower’s priorities will include repealing the aforementioned new state gun laws and abolishing Act 46.
“I think education is the only tool we have to ensure that civilized society will continue,” Flower said during a recent interview. “I think centralizing education on Montpelier is the exact wrong thing. I think we need more local control, more private schools and we need to give more parents the tools to homeschool.”
Another one of Flower’s priorities: Advocating for an amendment to the Vermont Constitution to allow the property tax to be abolished. He subscribes to the principle that if a citizen has paid off his or her mortgage, that person should own his or her property free and clear and not be subject to future taxes on that real estate. Flower believes sales or income taxes would be more appropriate sources of revenue to fund public education and other essential services.
•Ruth Hardy. After having spent several years serving her community on local school boards, Hardy is making her first run for the state Legislature.
She’s currently on sabbatical from her post as executive director of Emerge Vermont, an organization working to “increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office through recruitment, training, and providing a powerful network.”
As leader of Emerge Vermont Hardy has recruited many women to run for public office. She felt this was the year that she should make her own leap into the election mix.
Hardy is best known in her hometown of Middlebury for her work on the Mary Hogan Elementary School (ID-4) and Addison Central School District (ACSD) boards. She chaired the ID-4 board for several years and was active in the Act 46 transition of the Addison Central Supervisory Union to a single, consolidated ACSD board to oversee the district.
During her campaign Hardy has emphasized policies she believes would improve Vermonters’ quality of life, including paid family leave, expanded childcare, affordable college education, and universal primary care.
She vowed to advocate for more programming to help people wean themselves off of opioids.
Hardy has acknowledged many of her ideas will need resources, and state and federal funds are in short supply. So she wants to be part of the decision-making when it comes to allocating funds in Montpelier. Previously Hardy served as both assistant budget director for Middlebury College and the head of the ACSD finance committee.
•Paul Ralston. Ralston is the founder and CEO of Middlebury-based Vermont Coffee Company.
He’s already familiar with the legislative process, having represented Middlebury — as a Democrat — in the Vermont House from 2010 to 2015. He served primarily on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
His civic résumé includes stints on the boards of Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Family Forests, Addison County Democrats (Treasurer), and Addison County Chamber of Commerce.
Ralston wants to bring an additional entrepreneurial voice to the Legislature.
He’s said he’s running as an independent in order to “advance a non-partisan vision and pursue responsible actions that are affordable to Vermonters.”
Ralston vowed to bring more attention to such issues as climate change, farming, water quality, early childhood education, renewable energy, and business development.
He believes he and Audet can work as a team to help make Vermont a better place to do business.
“We both run small businesses in Vermont, we’re both competing in a challenging market place,” Ralston said during a recent interview. “We have foreign and domestic competition, we’re both employers and understand what working Vermonters are up against.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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