Legislature will include new faces from county in '25

Coffey, Roberts, and Toleno announce their retirements, while Kornheiser gets a primary challenger

BRATTLEBORO-It may not be odd that there will be several races for seats in the House of Representatives this fall, but it is unusual that two of the people leaving are named Tristan.

Both Tristan Roberts, D-Halifax, and Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, are stepping away from the Legislature. Sara Coffey, D-Guilford, is also leaving the House.

And Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, who is not leaving, will face a challenger in the Democratic Party primary, with Amanda Ellis-Thurber of West Brattleboro announcing her candidacy.

No candidate has yet announced for Roberts's seat. Former Brattleboro Selectboard Chair Ian Goodnow will be running in the Democratic Party primary to succeed Toleno.

Roberts, Toleno, and Coffey are all leaving for differing family reasons.

Roberts and his partner are expecting a baby, and Toleno needs to build financial security for his family.

"There have been some recent developments with elders in my family [...] and I have decided it is time to support some of the people who have supported me," Coffey said in an announcement.

"It's unfortunate that the two Tristans are leaving," said Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney. "We have an effective team of county legislators who are dedicated to serving Vermonters and working together to that end. We work together well, and it will be a loss for all of us to see any of our team leave."

Now that the legislative session is mainly over - the legislators will likely have to return to Montpelier to address Gov. Phil Scott's vetoes, should that happen - all the legislators will begin campaigning.

The deadline for nominating petitions are due by May 30. The primary election takes place on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

A compensation challenge

Pay for the 19-week legislative session is $15,428, with a daily stipend of $69 for food and another $134 for lodging, according to Ballotpedia.

"Most of us work a year-round job to supplement the low pay for legislators," Mrowicki said.

Windham County legislators must, in general, live in Montpelier while the Legislature is in session. It offers no health insurance, although lawmakers can access a dental plan.

"There are no other perks or stipends, aside from the license plate and legislative parking pass at the State House, if you count that as a perk," Roberts said. "There is zero pay outside of the regular session for the day-to-day work of communicating with constituents."

Vermont's legislators do not have staff.

"Some people may assume we do," Roberts said.

Although in Vermont, "legislators have access to legislative staff, including legislative counsel, in doing our legislative work [...] we do not have any staff at the individual basis, unlike federal senators and congresspeople, who have dedicated office staff to help them with constituent work."

Primary battle

Kornheiser, the chair of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, is running to represent West Brattleboro in the Windham-7 district again because, she said, the work she wants to do is unfinished.

"In the midst of global and national struggles, I want to support our resilient, vibrant, but often struggling community," Kornheiser said. "I want government to work for us."

Since early voting starts 45 days before the official election day, that means that a campaign season can run from June to November.

Kornheiser said she's "really looking forward to knocking on people's doors to listen to what matters to them."

Her opponent in the primary, Ellis-Thurber, is the third generation to farm at Lilac Ridge Farm, a certified-organic, diversified farm in West Brattleboro with dairy, haying, pasture management, maple sugaring, vegetables, fruit, flowers, farmstays, timber harvesting, farm education, and maple creemees.

"We are fortunate that there is a fourth generation interested in continuing to farm," Ellis-Thurber said. "From my career in farming, I deeply understand working hard for a marginal return."

"Truly, the wealth of a life in farming comes from the relationships with the people who love the land you have the privilege to work on," she continued. "It is humbling. I believe that more humility will be helpful in Montpelier."

Ellis-Thurber will have a campaign kickoff party at Lilac Ridge Farm on Thursday, May 30, from 5 to 9 p.m.

This News item by Joyce Marcel was written for The Commons.

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