Politics

An opening in Washington County’s Senate delegation touches off a competitive Democratic primary

Clockwise from top left: Jared Duval, Anne Watson, Jeremy Hansen, Ann Cummings and Andrew Perchlik. File and contributed photos

The retirement of Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, has led to a competitive Democratic primary for Washington County’s three seats in the Vermont Senate. 

Five candidates are seeking the party’s nomination in the Aug. 9 primary. The top three vote-getters will move on to the November general election, during which they will face off against two Republicans. 

In the Democratic primary, the district’s remaining two incumbents — Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, and Sen. Andrew Perchlik, D/P-Washington — are up against Anne Watson, the mayor of Montpelier; Jared Duval, former economic development director for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development; and Jeremy Hansen, a Norwich University computer science professor. 

Paul Bean and Dwayne Tucker are running unopposed in the Republican primary. 

Vermont’s decennial redistricting process left the Washington County Senate district’s boundaries largely unchanged, though it gained three towns: the Lamoille County town of Stowe and the Orange County towns of Braintree and Orange.

Here’s a look at the five candidates on the Democratic primary ballot.

Differing experiences

The five Democratic candidates appear to have few policy disagreements. What differentiates them most is their professional and electoral backgrounds. 

Watson, a physics teacher at Montpelier high School, has been mayor of Montpelier since 2018 and served on the Montpelier City Council for five years before that. 

“Whether people agree with decisions that I've made in the past, they have an opportunity to know me better,” Watson said. “I have a track record with the city of Montpelier.”

In her time as mayor, Watson led the creation of the Social and Economic Justice Committee and the Homelessness Task Force in Montpelier. Watson also has championed construction projects, such as the Siboineibi Shared Use Path extension, and the 1 Taylor Street Transit Center. 

Other Montpelier mayors have made the move to the Statehouse in the past, including Cummings. 

“As mayor, I have had a lot of experience crafting policy, hearing from constituents and being able to incorporate constituents’ feedback into policy crafting,” Watson said. “I think that's really important.”

Hansen had similar experiences serving on the Berlin Selectboard for seven years. One lesson: “You can’t make everybody happy,” he said. 

Hansen founded CVFiber, a municipal organization working to expand internet access in Vermont. In his time there, he said, he had to work with many who held differing political ideas. 

“Being able to guide and work with that many people and try to get everybody working roughly in the same direction, that was a pain,” Hansen said. “It was hard. But I think when you have a body like the Legislature, where you, again, have a lot of personalities and people with different ideas, shepherding an idea through to see it to the end — I think I could be pretty good at that.”

Cummings was elected to the Vermont Senate in 1996 and has been reelected 12 times. Since 2017, she has chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which is charged with setting tax policy in the state. Cummings said she was proud of her work in the committee this year seeking to reduce property tax rates and fund universal school meals. 

“I've been there. I've moved things along. I'm a problem solver,” Cummings said. “I like to think I've developed some skills in doing that, and I tend to be very pragmatic.”

Perchlik, who was first elected in 2018, has been a member of the Senate’s transportation and education committees. Outside of the Legislature, he serves as the fund manager and director of the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. 

Perchlik said he’s most proud of his work in committee — specifically on the electrification of transportation and seeking to increase the use of public transportation throughout the state.

“I feel like I've done a good job for the constituents of the Washington district of building those relationships and realizing that an important part of being able to advocate for your constituents is having those relationships and having a good reputation with the other senators,” he said. 

Tackling climate change

In interviews with VTDigger, all five candidates named climate change as one of their top priorities. 

“This is a crucial decade for every government everywhere to do everything we can to confront the climate crisis,” Duval said. “We need people, not just who have some high-level talking points on climate and clean energy, but the depth of experience and expertise to advance effective solutions that don't just reduce pollution — but do so in an equitable way so that lower- and middle-income Vermonters come out ahead in this transition.”

Duval has served for the past five years as executive director of the Energy Action Network, a Montpelier-based research and advocacy group and is a member of the Vermont Climate Council. He said he hopes to fund a Vermont Green New Deal by returning to “Obama-era tax rates,” using tax revenue from wealthier Vermonters. 

“Policy matters because people matter,” Duval said. “So if voters want somebody who is running because they understand how policy affects people's lives, comes from the working class, has real experience and commitment on climate clean energy issues, then I would be honored to earn their vote.”

Perchlik said that when he advocated for renewable energy policy in his role at the Clean Energy Development Fund there was a “huge difference” between what legislators said they were willing to do versus how they were actually willing to vote when the time came. He said he hoped to promote more local, renewable clean energy throughout Vermont if reelected. 

“It's important for voters that care about (climate change), that they listen closely, and talk to the candidates about it,” Perchlik said. “It's something where a lot of people say they're for it, but it really does matter what they're willing to do for it.”

Watson, like Duval, said she hopes to implement recommendations from the Vermont Climate Council. In addition, she wants to transition away from carbon-based heating in rental homes, tighten vehicle emissions standards, create a transportation efficiency utility, and explore joining the Western Climate Initiative. 

Cummings noted that at least one-third of the Senate will be newcomers next session, and it will be key to rebuild relationships among senators to pass climate legislation. 

“I think we will see some version of the Clean Heat Standard,” she said, referring to a proposal to incentivize heating-fuel distributors to move away from fossil fuels. “I think what we need to do is a better job of explaining it, you know, to people so they understand how it's going to impact them. When the economy is teetering on an edge, it could go either way.”

Following in Pollina’s footsteps

Pollina, a former gubernatorial candidate and staffer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, proposed a Vermont version of the Green New Deal in 2020 and has been vocal in his support for greater climate change action. 

“It's not every day that you have a senator stepping down,” Watson said. “I have a great deal of respect for Sen. Pollina and have been thinking about the things that I care about, particularly around climate change. We've made a lot of progress here with the city of Montpelier, but we need to do more.”

Pollina has endorsed Watson and Hansen — and both have won the support of the Vermont Progressive Party, as has Perchlik. Hansen, as a member of the Progressive Party, said he believes that, among all five candidates in the primary, he aligns the most with Pollina’s ideas. 

“I think losing Anthony in the Senate would have been the loss of a progressive voice and I think I can be that progressive voice that is similar to what he was,” Hansen said. “He has shoes that I don't really expect that I'm going to fill fully — I'm not sure that anybody could — but certainly going to give it a shot.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Sen. Pollina’s preferences in the Democratic primary. 

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Jenna Peterson

About Jenna

Jenna Peterson is a student at the University of Southern California, where she is majoring in journalism and political science. She is news editor at the Daily Trojan at USC and was an editor of the Burlington High School student newspaper when it received a special New England Newspaper & Press Association award for successfully fighting a censorship effort by school administrators.

Email: [email protected]

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