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Sara Coffey of Guilford won election to the Vermont House. She will represent the Windham-1 district of Vernon and Guilford.

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Coffey defeats Gilligan, flipping longtime GOP House seat in Vernon and Guilford

County’s incumbents sweep to victory

With additional reporting by Commons reporter Olga Peters.

BRATTLEBORO—Windham County’s races for the Vermont House of Representatives and Senate yielded no surprises on Nov. 6, as Democrats flipped one district into the blue column and easily won the rest of the races.

In the only contested House race, the Windham-1 seat vacated by Republican Mike Hebert of Vernon was captured by political newcomer Sara Coffey of Guilford.

The Democrat defeated Republican newcomer Patrick Gilligan of Vernon, 1,256–665, leaving the GOP without a state representative from Windham County for the first time in nearly three decades.

Coffey trounced Gilligan, 807–230, in Guilford and eked out a narrow 449–435 win in Vernon.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Becca Balint of Brattleboro and Jeanette White of Putney turned aside challenges by Liberty Union’s Aaron Diamondstone of Marlboro and Jerry Levy of Brattleboro, Republican Tyler Colford of Whitingham, and independent Beverly Stone of Brattleboro.

Balint picked up 40 percent of the vote, while White received 36 percent. Colford came in a distant third with 14 percent.

The Brattleboro House delegation were unopposed for their respective seats in the Windham-2 districts.

Democrat/Progressive newcomer Emilie Kornheiser (District 1) will join incumbents Mollie Burke (Democrat/Progressive, District 2) and Tristan Toleno (Democrat, District 3) in Montpelier in January.

Also running unopposed were incumbent Democrats Carolyn Partridge of Windham and Matt Trieber of Bellows Falls in Windham-3; Democratic newcomer Nader Hashim of Dummerston and incumbent Democrat Mike Mrowicki of Putney in Windham-4; incumbent Democrat Emily Long of Newfane in Windham-5; and incumbent Democrat John Gannon of Wilmington in Windham-6.

Incumbent independents Laura Sibilia of Dover in the Windham-Bennington district and Kelly Pajala of Londonderry in the Windham-Bennington-Windsor district also faced no opposition.

In other countywide races, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark ran unopposed on both the Democratic and Republican tickets, while Democrat Mark Anderson of Vernon defeated Liberty Union’s Tom Finnell of Brattleboro for high bailiff.

State’s Attorney Tracy Kelly Shriver and Probate Judge Jodi French of Newfane were unopposed for re-election, as were Assistant Judges Lamont Barnett of Rockingham and Patricia Duff of Brattleboro.

For Democrats, much to celebrate

Democrats, supporters, and even a handful of confused regulars squeezed into McNeill’s Brewery on Elliot Street.

Early in the night, the Associated Press called Vermont’s Senate race for Bernie Sanders. The crowd cheered. Immediately, people joked that his win was a foregone conclusion. They just wanted to cheer.

It’s been a tough couple years for the local Dems. When asked what they thought the rest of the night would bring, multiple people, with the shadow of the surprise 2016 Republican presidential victory of Donald Trump hanging over the evening, answered they wouldn’t dare speculate.

At 7:30 p.m., Coffey gave the room a more concrete reason to cheer when the unofficial results came in from Guilford and Vernon.

The candidate read the unofficial results to the crowd. She thrust her arms into the air and grinned, then disappeared into a crowd of hugs.

“It’s really a total and complete honor,” said Coffey. “This was really a grassroots campaign where we focused on one-on-one conversations and neighbors talking to neighbors.”

Now representative-elect, she said winning felt amazing and that her “world had been enriched” by the campaign experience.

According to Coffey, she started laying the groundwork for her campaign in January, beginning by talking with the women of Vernon.

“I am really honored by the strong result tonight,” she continued. “It gives me a lot of energy, and I look forward to being a strong voice for Vernon and Guilford in the Vermont assembly.”

Coffey’s first plan of action: thank the more than 100 people in Vernon and Guilford who helped her campaign.

Next, she wants to focus on which committees to serve on in the House. A prime focus of Coffey’s campaign has been to strengthen the state’s rural economies and schools.

“There are many components to that,” she continued. “Bring high-speed internet, affordable housing, better paying jobs to the area, and child care.”

She confessed she has entertained thoughts of life after the campaign. Coffey admitted, however, that she didn’t allow herself to think too hard out of fear for jinxing herself.

“I was cautiously optimistic,” she said, noting that the Windham-1 seat “has been held [by Vernon Republicans] for 18 years, and the word on the street was that a Democrat from Guilford couldn’t gain the seat back.”

Coffey noted that her support came from Republicans and Independents, not just Democrats. This cross-section of the political spectrum made her happy.

“Because that’s how I hope to lead — in a very bipartisan way of holding onto my values but also having conversations and doing a lot of listening and finding the best solutions for all Vermonters,” Coffey said.

Looking at the big picture

Voices locked in political conversations bounced off the brewery’s walls.

Anchors from MSNBC gazed down from a news broadcast projected on a large screen. The news crawl at the bottom of the screen flashed the latest voting information. Indiana. Florida. Vermont’s gubernatorial race.

The results favored GOP Incumbent Governor Phil Scott.

John Hagen, chair of the Windham County Democrats, and Balint chatted over drinks near the brewery’s entrance.

Balint praised Coffey for her strong campaign.

“I think people are ready for a change,” Balint said. “And I think they feel Sara [Coffey] is the one to help rebuild Vernon after Vermont Yankee.”

Balint said Coffey’s determination to speak to all her constituents — regardless of political party — bodes well for how she will serve the two towns.

“We’re thrilled to have her on board. Thrilled,” Balint said.

Hagen added a word of warning to Balint’s enthusiasm.

“I’m very excited for all our candidates and their success tonight,” he said. “But I think the key is that we as the citizens of this county need to be supporting our representatives and our senators as they go forward.”

“It’s great that they’re going up to Montpelier, but we need to give them the energy and the issues so they can go up there and do our business for us,” Hagen added.

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Clay Turnbull
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Clay Turnbull (Townshend, Vermont, US)

Thanks for the great local coverage of the mid-term election.

 
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Originally published in The Commons issue #484 (Wednesday, November 7, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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