Windham County to elect new state Senate roster

Jeanette White will retire, leaving both seats without incumbents; Rick Morton seeks seat from the GOP side; Wendy Harrison set to announce run

Ten-term Windham County state Sen. Jeanette White is set to join regional colleague and Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint in relinquishing her position, spurring a rising number of newcomers to seek the two southeastern Vermont seats.

“I don't look forward to a primary and raising money. Campaigning is not my favorite thing to do,” White said this week of her decision not to run for reelection. “I like meeting people and selling them on ideas, but I don't like trying to sell them on myself.”

The Putney Democrat, who turned 79 on Monday, has served this session as chair of the Senate committees on government operations and reapportionment and co-chair of the Public Records Legislative Study Committee and Pension Benefits, Design and Funding Task Force.

“I love the institution, the policy work, and the people,” she said.

On the flip side, White dislikes what she sees as increasing polarization in and out of the State House.

“I see less willingness to respect everybody's opinion,” she said, “and instead more an attitude of, 'I have a corner on the truth, and therefore I don't need to listen to you.'”

The departure of White and Balint - also a Democrat, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives - is expected to lead that party to hold a primary in August, where the two winners would face off against at least one independent and one Republican.

On the Democratic side, social justice advocate Wichie Artu of Athens and former state Rep. Nader Hashim of Dummerston already have announced their candidacies.

They are expected to be joined as soon as this week by Wendy Harrison, a Brattleboro resident who has worked as a municipal manager in Rockingham and an interim administrator for Vernon and, currently, Winooski.

“My decades of experience in local government will be of value to the people of Windham County and Vermont,” Harrison has written in an email to supporters, many of whom also know her as the spouse of recently retired Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell.

Morton enters GOP primary

As the race stands now, the winners of the Democratic primary will face off in November against Brattleboro Selectboard member Tim Wessel, who is running as an independent, and fellow Brattleboro resident Richard Morton, who chairs the Windham County Republican Committee.

Morton, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago, worked as a security manager and compliance officer at Brattleboro Savings & Loan before he retired four years ago. In 2020, he made an unsuccessful run to replace Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D/P-Brattleboro, in the House.

In an interview with VTDigger, Morton said is he is running for the state Senate this year largely to rally voters against Proposal 5, a state constitutional amendment on this year's general election ballot which would enshrine Vermonters' access to abortion and contraception.

“I'm going to just take the platform that is provided by being a candidate, and whenever the opportunity arises, hopefully each time that I'm in a public setting, I'll be able to explain what my positions are on a variety of topics,” Morton said. “One of them would most likely almost always be my opposition to [Proposal] 5,”

As he did when he ran for the House two years ago, Morton says he sees his candidacy as an opportunity to bring partisan balance to the Legislature's Democratic supermajority.

“I think the Legislature is squandering its resources in unnecessary directions. It's wasteful. It's unrestrained, really,” he said.

“[Democrats] have such an overwhelming majority in Montpelier that Republicans there - not that they're a party of no, not at all - but we need to say, 'Wait, have you thought about the consequences of all these things you're proposing?'”

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