Vote against reproductive rights amendment propels Charlotte incumbent to defeat

Chea Waters Evans defeated Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, after he voted against the proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights. Courtesy photo and photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A vote against a proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution that would protect reproductive rights has ended a 12-year incumbent’s tenure in the Statehouse.

State Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, was defeated Tuesday night in a primary challenge from Chea Waters Evans, a local journalist who was spurred to join the race by Yantachka’s vote against Proposal 5.

Evans earned nearly 51% of the vote to Yantachka’s 46% — a 61-vote difference out of 1,385 votes cast. With no candidates running as Republicans or independents, Evans is likely to earn the seat representing the Chittenden County town in November.

The proposed amendment, which will also appear on voters’ ballots in November, would prevent the state from passing laws that deny or infringe on a person’s “reproductive autonomy.” The Vermont House passed the measure on a vote of 107-41 in February.

Lucy Leriche, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of public policy in Vermont, called Yantachka’s Prop 5 vote a “fatal decision for him.” 

Evans characterized it as a betrayal. She said voters were “particularly upset” when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the months after the House’s Prop 5 vote, and criticized Yantachka for what she called a lack of transparency around his decision. 

“Because I can’t stress enough the importance of people feeling like their representative is standing up for them,” she said, “and I think people felt betrayed by that vote.” 

Yantachka has since said he regrets his vote, which he said was made based on his concerns around the proposal’s language and his own ill-equipped knowledge of gestation stages and medical standards. 

Still, he said on Wednesday, the job of a representative is not always to listen to the loudest people.

“You have to represent your constituents, but you also have to use your own head. A representative is not only a follower but has to be a leader sometimes,” Yantachka said. 

He now joins some 12% of state legislative incumbents nationally who have lost primary elections to date since Ballotpedia began collecting such figures — a datapoint that is even rarer for Democratic incumbents, who are more likely to lose in general elections than primaries, the data shows. 

“I’m disappointed that the election went the way it did,” he said. “I thought I had a good chance of prevailing but obviously, I was wrong.” He offered his congratulations to Evans and credited her networking and outreach as “more effective” than his. 

What’s next

Evans, the editor of the Charlotte Bridge, called her win a surprise — “it's a little out of the ordinary for somebody to win their first race ever,” she said, especially against a 12-year incumbent — but said she is assuring voters that she is excited to get to work in the Statehouse to enact change.

She said her focus will be to make significant moves toward stricter gun laws and establishing more mental health services statewide. She also wants to address housing and employment to better support people seeking to live and work in Vermont, she said.

As a journalist, Evans said she has developed the ability to be fair and objective while maintaining a thick skin, which she feels will benefit her in Montpelier. Additionally, people trust her in large part due to her transparency, she said.

She plans to talk to people who voted against her to try to understand their concerns, she said.

She said she has not yet decided whether she will continue as editor at the Bridge. The outlet was founded in spring 2021 after Evans quit as editor of The Charlotte News following a dispute with the publisher. 

Leriche, the Planned Parenthood executive, said that the organization’s Northern New England chapter will distribute candidate surveys to primary winners in the next two days and begin talks to decide on endorsements.

“I expect that (Evans) is the kind of candidate that we will likely endorse depending on what we see from her completed survey,” Leriche said.

Evans and Yantachka consider themselves to be closely politically aligned — but they agreed that Evans’ fresh face may be what voters are looking for. Yantachka said he likely will not run for another elected office but plans to stay involved in the community in other ways. 

“I was running based on my experience and knowledge,” Yantachka said, “and apparently, others felt that that wasn't enough to reelect me.”

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Kori Skillman

About Kori

Kori Skillman recently earned a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, with a focus on visual craft and short documentary. She also holds degrees in journalism and international business from San Diego State University. Kori worked this year as a press intern at the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

Email: [email protected]

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