HOME PAGE: News - December 16, 2014

Local Legislators Consider Governor Vote

     by Andrew Martin & Mickey Smith

     January is quickly approaching, which means that Vermont’s legislators will soon be casting their votes in the secret ballot vote for governor. Neither Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin nor Republican challenger Scott Milne received 50 percent of the vote in November, a result that requires the election be decided by the Legislature. Governor Shumlin received a total of 89,509 votes statewide, or 46.36 percent of the ballots cast, while Milne received 87,075 votes, which equates to 45.1 percent of the votes.
     When our elected officials do reconvene in Montpelier the election of the governor will be one of their first priorities, and News & Citizen polled the local representatives and senators to get their opinion on that process.
     Scott Milne actually defeated Governor Shumlin overall in Lamoille County, garnering 4,117 votes across the county to Shumlin’s 3,563. Lamoille County is represented in the Senate by Republican Senator Richard Westman. However, Westman’s district actually does not include Wolcott, but is made up of the other nine towns in the county. In the Lamoille senate district Milne received 3,840 votes compared to Shumlin’s 3,354 votes.
     Lamoille County Senator Rich Westman said he is having trouble deciding how he will vote. In 2002 he went with the popular vote and his district in electing Jim Douglas over Doug Racine. This time around Shumlin earned the most votes statewide, but Milne beat Shumlin by nearly 600 votes in Lamoille County. He said he feels he needs to represent his district, where Milne carried seven of nine towns. He said this was a very clear message. For him the internal debate comes down to would a vote for Milne hurt his effectiveness in helping Lamoille County under a Shumlin administration. Sen. Westman said in counties where there are two senators, the minority party senator can take a stronger stand because the majority party senator is still able to push for the things their community really needs.
     Heading into the legislative session, the liberal side of the aisle holds a 52 seat advantage in the House and an 11 seat advantage in the Senate, so he expects the outcome to be a victory for Shumlin.
     He said what it really comes down to is being respectful to and doing the best for his district.
That being said, a 500 plus difference in votes is a strong message, so he is leaning towards voting with the district.
     In the Lamoille-Washington district, which includes Elmore, Morristown, Woodbury, and Worcester, Governor Shumlin received a total of 1,193 votes to Milne’s 1,270. The representatives for the Lamoille Washington district are Democrats Shap Smith and Avram Patt.
     “I am going to do what I did when I was first elected and vote for the person who has received the most votes,” stated Representative Shap Smith, who is also the Speaker of the House. Smith added that he has done the same in the past several times, including the first time Governor Shumlin was elected and once during a vote that saw Republican Jim Douglas win election instead of Doug Racine. 
     “I plan on voting for Governor Shumlin, primarily because he had the most votes statewide,” stated newly elected Representative Avram Patt.
     “That is the primary reason the Legislature should elect him,” Patt continued, “Legislators are elected to represent their districts, but they probably have a higher duty to do what is best for the State of Vermont, what is best for the state is to vote for the candidate with the most votes.”
     Patt also explained that he feels his district sent a mixed message on Election Day. While Milne won the district by overall numbers, he only took Morristown. Shumlin received the most votes in Elmore and Worcester, and in Woodbury the two candidates tied.
     In the Lamoille 1 district, which consists of the town of Stowe and is represented by Republican Heidi Scheuermann, Milne defeated Shumlin by a count of 731 votes to 641.
     “While there is no guidance given to legislators in the State Constitution with regard to this situation, the fact that our founders included this unusual provision in the State Constitution is telling in and of itself.  If they had intended for legislators to make a decision on this using a specific method, they would have prescribed so in the Constitution. For that reason, I believe the founders intended for legislators to vote for the candidate whom they believe would be best for the State of Vermont,” said Scheuermann.
     “As you are well aware, I have been very critical of the current Governor, his Administration, and his priorities for the last four years.  From his dismissal – until now – of the concerns of Vermonters about education funding and property taxes and his crisis management of the state's economy, to his mismanagement of Vermont Health Connect and his all-in-bet on single payer health care, I believe the State of Vermont deserves better. For those reasons, I will be supporting Scott Milne for Governor,” she added.
     The Lamoille 2 district, which includes the towns of Johnson, Hyde Park, Wolcott, and Belvidere, is represented by Democrats Mark Woodward and Linda Martin. Milne received the most votes in the district with 1,336 while Governor Shumlin received 1,060 votes.
     “I would vote for Scott Milne if he had one more vote than Governor Shumlin statewide,” explained Representative Mark Woodward.“Voting for the top vote-getter is what we need to do. I have a strong personal belief in that,” Woodward added.
     “I’ve never heard of a representative voting how their district voted,” stated Representative Linda Martin while speaking in reference to the idea that a representative should vote for whichever candidate won their specific district.
     “I know what the tradition has been, and that is to vote for the candidate with the most votes across the state,” Martin added, “If the public wanted the person with fewer votes to be governor they would have elected him.”
     Republican Bernie Juskiewicz represents the towns of Cambridge and Waterville in the Lamoille 3 district. In that district Shumlin received 592 votes to Milne’s 602. He said he is in Montpelier to represent his constituents.  He noted while in Cambridge Shumlin won in a close vote, Waterville was overwhelmingly for Milne. So he will be voting for Milne.
     The town of Eden is included in the Lamoille-Orleans district and is represented by Republican Mark Higley. Milne received 178 votes to Shumlin’s 77 in Eden. He said he has heard from his constituents who voted in favor of Milne almost 2-1 and he listened to Scott Milne when he announced he wasn't conceding the election. He said those factors coupled with financial state that Vermont is in right now adds up to a vote for Scott Milne for him.
     The town of Wolcott is actually in a different Senate district and is represented by Democrats Robert Starr and John Rodgers in the Essex-Orleans district. Milne took Wolcott by a count of 277 votes to Shumlin’s 209.
     “I’ve served in the Legislature a long time, and I’ve always voted for the candidate who has received the most votes,” Senator Robert Starr explained, “It’s hard to vote for someone who has lost. Milne didn’t win, and I’ve never voted for the runner up… I’m going to vote in the manner that best serves my voters.”
     “It’s pretty tough not to vote for the candidate who has received the most votes,” added Senator John Rodgers, “I’ve always thought the person with the most votes should win, even if they do not have 50 percent of the vote. That’s why I’m not a fan of the electoral college. A person with fewer votes can win.”

     The fact that the legislators cast their votes in a secret ballot when electing a governor in this manner has been discussed and debated at some length since November. The legislators were also asked their thoughts on whether the vote should be secret or a roll call vote so their representatives know how they voted. Overall, many of the reps and senators don’t seem to have a strong opinion one way or another on the subject.
     “I hadn’t really thought about it,” Representative Linda Martin stated, “That’s how the rules have been set out, but either way is fine with me.”
     Juskiewicz said people should know how their representatives vote. He likened these special elections executed by the Legislature to be more like the electoral college system.
     As for the matter of whether the vote should be secret or open, Higley said he has no qualms announcing his vote. He said any elected member of the Legislature should feel comfortable voting how they feel their constituents would be best served.
     “I don’t really have a view one way or another,” Representative Smith explained, “Historically it has been secret, and I don’t have a problem with that. I also don’t mind telling people how I’m going to vote.”
     “I am a big fan of transparency in government,” stated Senator John Rodgers, “But in this case I feel like it should be more like the general election when an individual can choose to tell you how they voted or not.”
     “Personally, it doesn’t matter to me,” echoed Senator Bobby Starr, “I could see it putting some people in a very awkward position if they had to vote openly though… what purpose would that serve.”
     “I have no problem telling people who I am voting for,” added representative Patt of Lamoille-Washington, “If the decision was made to have an open ballot I would be ok with that.”
     “I don’t have strong feelings one way or another,” Representative Woodward stated, “Generally though, I think it should be open… people know how we vote on every other vote, they should on this too.”
     “With regard to the vote itself, I would certainly prefer that the vote be a public vote. There is no requirement in the Constitution that this vote be by secret ballot. And, in fact, when the Constitution was written, I don't believe there was any secret balloting in the United States. In this case, it is simply that "ballot" has been interpreted by some to mean secret ballot. This does not have to be the case. Legislative Rules adopted for the Joint Session may be amended by us to ensure that this vote is a public vote. And, I personally, would like to see that happen. These are the most important votes legislators have, and I believe strongly that Vermonters deserve to know how their legislators vote on them,” said Representative Scheuermann.
     Senator Westman said these days it is really a moot question because with proliferation of media outlets everyone will be asked how they voted.
     “There is no way to avoid it, it's not really a secret ballot anymore.”

This Week's Photos

Continuous snow and rain last week led to views like this, taken on Eden Mountain. However, the continued precipitation right near 32 degrees F led to downed trees and power lines around the county, causing extensive outages.  - Martin photo

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Lamoille in the News

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