Election will decide balance of power in Vermont Senate

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(Host) The Vermont Senate is up for grabs on Election Day. Democrats hope to hold onto their 16 to 14 majority. Republicans say they have a good chance of gaining control of the chamber for the first time in six years. The outcome is hard to predict because a number of veteran senators have retired, and some senate districts were redrawn by the Legislature.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) There are tight Senate contests all around the state, but one of the very closest is in Lamoille County. It’s a one-seat district and incumbent Democrat Susan Bartlett faces a strong challenge from Cathy Voyer, a moderate Republican lawmaker from Morristown and Stowe. The outcome of this race could determine which party controls the Senate.

The stakes are high and campaign spending is likely to set records. Voyer said she plans to spend over $40,000 in the race, almost twice what Bartlett says she’ll spend.

Leadership of the Senate has emerged as an issue in the race. Bartlett chairs the Appropriations Committee. And at a campaign forum in Hyde Park this week, she said the county benefits by having a senator in a top leadership post:

(Bartlett) “We need to remember that Lamoille County is a very small county. There are 30 senators and you have one senator. The advantage of having people in leadership positions are that your priorities are the ones that come to the top. You’re the one that helps set the agenda. So if it’s important to Lamoille County, the more power you have in Montpelier the better the odds that what’s important to people in Lamoille County are what’s going to be paid attention to.”

(Dillon) But Voyer says Bartlett will put her party above the people in her county:

(Voyer) “Susan has a made a point in this campaign to emphasize on her power in the Senate. And her desire to be the Democratic majority leader is well known. But political power, particularly the power of party leadership, comes at a high price. Because when duty calls, the party comes first, not Lamoille County interests.”

(Dillon) Bartlett scoffs at that charge, and says anyone who thinks she blindly follows the party hasn’t look at her voting record. But as Bartlett fights for her own political survival, she’s also trying to coordinate the Senate campaigns for Democrats around the state.

The economic downturn has the party on the defensive. Republicans are running on issues of jobs and the economy. They blame Democrats for a decline in manufacturing and promise to make Vermont more friendly to business.

Republican Senator Rob Ide chairs his party’s Senate campaign committee. He says Democrats have been in power for years, and Vermont has seen a steady loss in jobs.

(Ide) “They as a party have been in control. People have lost jobs. And we do not stack up favorably compared to other states in our business climate and now it’s time to correct it so our children and grandchildren have better economic opportunities than our generation.”

(Dillon) Ide says Republicans can pick up seats in Franklin, Washington, Bennington, Windsor and in Windham Counties.

One particularly close contest is in Orange County where incumbent Republican Bill Corrow faces a challenge from Democrat Mark MacDonald. This is a rematch for both. MacDonald is a veteran senator who lost to Corrow two years ago, in part because of his vote in favor of the civil unions law. MacDonald says voters are now focused on economic issues and will support him once again:

(MacDonald) “I’ve had working family after working family say, ‘Mark, I didn’t vote for you two years ago, but I’m going to support you.’ It kind of surprised me the first couple of times.”

(Dillon) Corrow says with Republicans in control of the Senate, action on social issues would be a top priority.

(Corrow) “I’m very, very concerned about parental rights and school choice, in my opinion, is an extension of that also. I believe that parental notification for abortion in a minor is necessary. What we’re doing is we’re eroding family values.”

(Dillon) The conservative parts of this social agenda concern Senate Democrats. Bartlett says the Senate has served as a balance against the Republican-controlled House:

(Bartlett) “I believe that what we saw in the past two years shows how important it is to have a Democratic balance to a Republican House. I don’t think most people realize that the House repealed civil unions, that the House was repealing a woman’s right to choose, that the storm water legislation just sort of said, ‘Here’s dirty water, let’s call it clean.’ The Senate didn’t let those things happen. It’s really important that they’re be a balance there.”

(Dillon) But Republicans say the Democrats have stood in the way of reforming the Act 60 school funding law and other initiatives that were passed by the House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Hyde Park.

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