By JOHN FLOWERS
VERGENNES — Addison County voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to decide a variety of statewide primary contests and sort out a spirited GOP runoff in the Addison-3 House district.
The one competitive local primary involves Republicans Greg Clark, Tom McGrath and Kitty Oxholm, who are among those competing for the two house seats representing the district that includes Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Waltham and Addison.
The two Republicans finishing with the most votes on Sept. 12 will earn spots on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, joining a field that already includes Progressive April Jin and Democrats Elizabeth Markowski and Diane Lanpher.
Addison-3 is the exception in an otherwise humdrum primary election scene in Addison County this fall. There are no local races at all for state Senate and in the Addison-1 and Addison-2 House districts.
Some of the interest in Addison-3 stems from the fact that longtime incumbent Rep. Connie Houston, R-Ferrisburgh, decided not to run this year.
Clark, Addison-3’s two-term incumbent, has been campaigning hard for the seat he first won in 2002.
“I think it’s going to be very close,” Clark said of the final tally next Tuesday. “There are no throw-away candidates in this primary.”
Clark, 56, is a teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School. He served on the House Education Committee during the past biennium.
Asked which issues are resonating the most with constituents this summer, Clark quickly replied, “taxes, spending and price of energy.” Those three concerns, Clark said, are causing a lot of anxiety among people on fixed incomes who are wondering how they will weather the upcoming winter.
“People are wondering how they are going to stay warm, keep eating and pay their taxes,” said Clark, who added the 2007 Legislature may have to identify additional resources to help those whose incomes have not kept pace with surging fuel prices.
“People are already calling me to talk about fuel assistance,” Clark said.
Folks are also concerned about their education property tax bills, according to Clark, who has organized a public forum on that subject to be held at Vergennes Union High School on Sept. 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
McGrath echoed Clark’s contention that voters seem most concerned about making ends meet in today’s economy.
“We keep hearing, ‘education tax, education tax,’” said McGrath, who added people are also concerned about the quality of education their children are receiving.
People have also expressed frustration about unfunded mandates that have been coming down from state and federal government, according to McGrath. He specifically cited the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which has prescribed student performance targets. School officials have argued that the federal government has not provided the necessary funding to help schools meet NCLB requirements.
If elected, McGrath said he won’t have to negotiate a steep learning curve in the House. That’s because he represented the Addison-3 district for five years, beginning in 1996. McGrath first ran as a Democrat, then switched to Republican after finding himself at odds with Democratic House leadership. He stepped down from the House in 2001, mid-way through his third term, to accept a leadership position with the International Order of Eagles.
Like Clark and McGrath, Oxholm, needs little introduction to voters in Addison-3.
Oxholm served as mayor of Vergennes for four years, until March 2005.
Her civic resume includes seven years on the Vergennes City Council. Oxholm, 68, currently serves as president of the Bixby Memorial Free Library board; is a board member of People of Addison County Together (PACT); is part of the Northlands Job Corps Community Relations Council; is a member of the Vergennes Community Forum; is a volunteer with the Counseling Service of Addison County; and is active with the Vergennes Lions Club.
She has served as a special education instructor and administrator for the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union for the past 32 years.
During her campaign rounds, Oxholm heard people lament the high costs of health care and rising property tax bills.
“There was a concern about older people losing their homes, and younger people not being able to start out here,” Oxholm said.
During her discussions with voters, Oxholm has stressed her past experience in local government and community organizations. She has also emphasized what she said is a “commitment to affordability.”
While Addison-3 boasts the only competitive local primary on the ballot on Sept. 12, there are several contests for statewide office.
Voters who turn out at the polls will have the option of picking a Republican, Democrat, Progressive or Liberty Union ballot.
The Republican ballot features three contested primaries:
• Rich Tarrant of Colchester, Greg Parke of Rutland City and Cris Ericson of Chester are seeking their party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate.
• Martha Rainville of Williston and Mark Shepard of Bennington are vying to represent the GOP in the race for Vermont’s lone U.S. House seat.
• Dennis Carver of East Montpelier and Karen Kerin of Royalton are competing in the race for Vermont attorney general.
Democrats will decide two contested primary races:
• Bernie Sanders of Burlington, Larry Drown of Northfield, Craig Hill of Montpelier, Peter Moss of Fairfax and Louis Thabault of South Burlington are seeking the party nomination to run for U.S. Senate.
• Matt Dunne of Hartland and John Tracy of Burlington both have their sights set on the post of lieutenant governor, an office currently held by Republican Brian Dubie, who is running for re-election.
Tuesday’s primary also offers an 11th-hour opportunity to get on the Nov. 7 ballot.
To that end, those seeking to run for the Vermont House must garner at least 26 write-in votes on Sept. 12. Anyone seeking to enter the field for one of the county’s two state Senate seats must receive at least 51 write-in tallies.