BRATTLEBORO — The top vote-getter for Windham County Senate in the Aug. 9 Republican primary, disavowed by Vermont GOP leaders for displaying fascist and alt-right symbols, is relinquishing his party affiliation and running as an independent for one of two open seats in the November general election.
Westminster logger Mark Coester received 542 votes, followed by Brattleboro tax preparer Richard Kenyon with 539 votes and retired Brattleboro bank employee Richard Morton with 528 votes, according to unofficial results posted on the secretary of state's website.
State GOP officials had hoped Windham County voters would favor the similar-looking names of Richard “Rick” Kenyon and Richard “Rick” Morton after Coester marched in Colchester's Fourth of July parade with a flag associated with authoritarianism and a drawing of “Pepe the Frog,” a cartoon character whose image has been appropriated as an icon by white nationalists.
“I'm encouraging every Republican to vote for the other two established Republicans in that primary,” state GOP Chair Paul Dame told VTDigger last month.
But that did not stop people in the district - which includes all Windham County towns except Londonderry, Stratton, and Wilmington - from voting for Coester, who also filed a petition to run for U.S. Senate as an independent.
State law, however, prohibits anyone from appearing on the ballot as an independent if they are a candidate of an organized political party.
Coester filed a petition before this month's deadline to run for the county post as an independent.
As a result, he said, he will drop his Republican status in the Windham race and compete as an independent for both the state Senate and U.S. Senate.
November's Windham Senate ballot will include six candidates for two seats that only Democrats have won in the past 30 years.
Two will run as Democrats: Primary winners Nader Hashim, a former Windham-4 district state representative and current law clerk, and Wendy Harrison, a Brattleboro-based traveling municipal manager.
Two will run as Republicans: Kenyon and Morton, whom the Windham County Republican Committee voted to name as its official candidates after Coester's switch.
And two will run as independents: Coester and Brattleboro Selectboard member Tim Wessel.
This year is the first in 20 years that both Windham seats are open, as incumbent Becca Balint has stepped down as Senate president pro tempore to run for Congress, and colleague Jeanette White is retiring after serving in the 30-member chamber for two decades.