Charlotte rep’s ‘no’ vote on abortion-rights amendment leads to primary challenge

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

A Democratic state representative is facing a primary challenge and local pushback after voting against Vermont’s bid to solidify the legal right to abortion in its constitution.

Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, voted “no” in February on Proposal 5, which would prevent the state from passing laws that deny or infringe on a person’s “reproductive autonomy.” While Yantachka has said he does support abortion rights, he said the proposed amendment would restrict legislators from barring late-term abortions, which he opposes. 

The 12-year Statehouse veteran has since said he regrets voting against Proposal 5, a reversal he announced in a Front Porch Forum post on Monday. Yantachka said he made the decision after facing backlash following a May 19 story on his vote in The Charlotte News.

“The outcry regarding my vote has caused me to question my reasoning to get to that vote,” Yantachka wrote. “I have given the impression that I do not trust women to make good decisions regarding their reproductive choices. That is truly not something I believe.”

Yantachka’s vote has spurred a local journalist, Chea Waters Evans, who is the editor of The Charlotte Bridge, to mount a primary challenge in the Chittenden-5 district, which includes Charlotte and a slice of neighboring Hinesburg.

When asked if his change in stance was related to his upcoming reelection race, Yantachka told VTDigger, “That figures into it, obviously.” But he went on to say, “That’s not how I work. If I have a change of opinion, it's because I honestly changed my thinking.”

This isn’t Yantachka’s first change of heart on the subject. He previously voted “yes” on Proposal 5 in 2019, when the measure first began its winding route toward becoming a constitutional amendment. 

To amend the Vermont Constitution, lawmakers must pass a bill, go through an election cycle, and then pass it again, before sending the question to a statewide vote. For Proposal 5, that final vote is scheduled to take place this November. 

Yantachka said he’s committed to voting for the measure when he fills out his personal ballot on Election Day. But that hasn’t stopped Evans from gathering signatures to challenge him. 

In an interview, Evans said her motivation to run stemmed squarely from what she called Yantachka’s “betrayal” to constituents on the issue of abortion. 

“It is definitely about Prop 5 and abortion,” she said of her campaign. “But I also think it's more about people feeling like they weren't heard, like they weren't represented in the way they thought they were going to be represented.”

Yantachka’s latest change of heart hasn’t dissuaded Evans from running for his seat, she told VTDigger. After the recent leak of a draft opinion that would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of abortion as a federal constitutional right, the journalist said she wanted someone who was not “wishy washy” about their policy on abortion. 

“People can change their mind, but the great thing about having a democracy and having an election is that maybe people are disappointed in him and they don’t like the way this panned out,” Evans said. “Now they have another choice.”

Yanchatka, for his part, seconded the notion that primary challenges are good for democracy.

The two opponents spoke to each other not long before Evans announced her intention to unseat Yantachka. The Bridge editor interviewed Yantachka about his Proposal 5 vote, she said, and afterward felt dissatisfied with his service as a legislator.

“I was talking to a friend and I was like, ‘I feel like it would be great if there was a woman who could do this job and … maybe someone younger who hasn't been doing it for a long time,’” Evans, 47, recalled to VTDigger.

In response to those comments, the 75-year-old Yantachka told VTDigger: “I wonder if she has any age discrimination tendencies. Does she think that older people can’t do a good job?”

In an interview, Yantachka defended his record on issues besides abortion as a reason Charlotte residents should vote for him again.

“My primary focus has always been on energy and the climate crisis,” he said. “So I hope to continue working in that area, and I think I've got another few years ahead of me.”

As she launches her run, Evans said she wouldn’t finish the article she was writing about Yantachka. But the journalist said she doesn’t know what the future holds for her job with the Bridge.

“Obviously, there are some ways in which that would not be a really tenable option,” she said of keeping her job. “I guess we'll have to see. It's been 28 hours.”

This story was updated to clarify the nature of Evans' work at the Bridge.

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Jack Lyons

About Jack

Burlington reporter Jack Lyons is a 2021 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He majored in theology with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Jack previously interned at the Boston Globe, the Berkshire Eagle and WDEV radio in Waterbury. He also freelanced for VTDigger while studying remotely during the pandemic in 2020.

Email: [email protected]

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