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GOP candidates criticize ad as misrepresentation

ADDISON COUNTY — An advertisement in the Oct. 20 Addison Independent Election Guide was intended to inform voters about where candidates stood on important issues, but instead some of those featured in the ad say it misrepresented their views.

The full-page paid advertisement on Page 13 of the Election Guide features the names and faces of seven Republican candidates seeking to represent Addison County districts in the Vermont Legislature, at least five of whom disavow it. 

“I was quite surprised and disappointed,” said Valerie Mullin, a Monkton Republican running for an Addison-4 House seat. “When I saw it, I was speechless for once in my life.”

The ad features some typical messages that many candidates for office espouse: “Truth,” “Common Sense” and “Liberty.” 

It also featured messages that are very rarely heard coming from the mouths of politicians who hope to have success with a broad swath of voters, such as: professionals are saying men can get pregnant; we are against fentanyl in children’s Halloween candy and in all candy and food; we are against medical experiments on children through “gender mutilating surgery.”

Without saying specifically which of the two dozen or so talking points in the ad she objected to, Mullin said she was misrepresented and had “absolutely not” authorized the ad.

“I briefly spoke to the man one time; I said hello to him one time in Vergennes at the (Sept. 22) candidates forum. He has no idea what I think.”

She was referring to Robert Burton, a retired doctor who resides in Cornwall and is a Republican candidate for an Addison County seat in the Vermont Senate. Burton brought the final advertising materials to the newspaper and paid for the ad — in part with checks from the Republican Party, and in part with his own money.

“It’s not me, just that I’m the guy who went down there,” Burton said in explanation of his role in the advertisement. 

Burton said Peter Caldwell, the Middlebury Republican running for an Addison-1 House seat, initially planned to meet with an Independent ad rep. to manage the advertisement, but when that meeting couldn’t happen, Burton was enlisted to spearhead the effort with a meeting on the Monday before the ad ran. Caldwell could not be reached for this story.

Burton further explained that a committee headed by Ed Wheeler, the pastor of Valley Bible Church in East Middlebury, headed up a committee that was charged with producing the ad. Wheeler is described in the advertisement as treasurer of Misty Mtn. Resources, Committee for Good Government, which takes its name from a farm that Burton formerly ran.

“It was a scramble, we thought everybody was on the same page,” Burton said.

Everyone was apparently not on the same page.

Leicester Republican Christine Stone, a write-in candidate for Addison-2, said no one but Burton got to review the final design of the advertisement.

“I sent pretty reasonable, respectful language, and he disregarded it,” Stone said. 

Lynn Dike of Bristol, who is running for an Addison-4 seat as a Republican, was also upset. She and her husband, Lloyd Dike, who is running for state Senate, both appear in the advertisement. Lynn said she and Lloyd didn’t authorize or approve it. 

Addison-5 candidate Jon Christiano, a New Haven Republican, said he was somewhere between upset and disappointed with the ad, in which he appears.

“We are united in the fact that we disavowed being part of it and we told Mr. Burton that we didn’t want to be a part of it,” Christiano said. “I never saw it until it was in the paper.

“Mr. Burton is a very stubborn man; when he decides something is the right way to go, nobody else can change his mind.”

Like the others, Christiano wouldn’t say which parts of the ad he opposed and which he supported.

Burton acknowledged he knew some individuals did not agree with all of the assertions in the ad. He said, “I spoke to people and asked what their interest are — family, parental rights, etc.”

“The process got screwed up, not the message,” Burton asserted. “Nothing in there is not something that somebody said.”

He further explained that Caldwell, for instance, had written the part about men getting pregnant as a kind of “backwards humor.”

Burton said the ad includes a selection of comments from everyone, though they didn’t necessarily all get to sign off on the entire message. He was fine with that.

“If they’d been paying attention to what Peter is saying they could have said, ‘Hey, I don’t want that to be there,’” Burton said.

He said some of the candidates being upset over some of the messages in the ad was “narrow-mindedness.”

Some of the five candidates who were upset to be in the ad discussed writing a letter to the editor to distance themselves from it, but Christiano said they decided not to because it might only add fuel to the fire.

“There’s very little we can do at this point, it’s water over dam,” he said.

The staff at the Addison Independent also weighed what to do. The process for creating the advertisement was not so far out of the ordinary, and an advertisement — even one with such extreme views — rarely warrants a news story. But we decided to find out how we ended up with four people highlighted in a paid political advertisement so upset with a person in the same political party over the content of a message. 

Publisher Angelo Lynn said that in 40 years in the news business, he had never seen a situation like this.

Christiano acknowledged that “individually, most of the components I wouldn’t be upset about; it’s just the overall context of the ad.

“Most important,” he continued, “we told him not to do this and he did it anyway. That we really don’t like.”

Mullin said she ‘s campaigning on four things she cares most about: fuel and gas tax increases, lack of affordable housing, school mergers and rising health care costs. That’s the message she wants to get to voters.

Stone asked, “Who writes anything like that, you are just looking for a fight.”

Burton said, “frankly it doesn’t matter” if the ad didn’t appeal to a wide swath of voters.

“We need to get Vermont back on the right page,” he insisted.

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