Politics

5 Democrats compete for 2 open seats in Montpelier House district

Clockwise from left: Ethan Parke, Conor Casey, Ken Jones, Merrick Modun and Kate McCann. Photos courtesy of the candidates

More than five decades: That’s the age gap between the oldest and youngest candidates in the Democratic primary race to represent Montpelier in the Vermont House.

The youngest candidate is Merrick Modun, a 17-year-old student at Montpelier High School. The oldest — Ethan Parke, 72 — is a longtime Montpelier resident. Conor Casey, 41; Ken Jones, 65; and Kate McCann, 48, round out the field. 

The contest tees up the capital’s first change in House representation in more than a decade. Longtime incumbents Mary Hooper and Warren Kitzmiller, both Democrats, earlier this year announced plans to step down. Hooper had served since 2009. Kitzmiller, who took office in 2001, died unexpectedly last week at age 79.

With no Republicans filing to run in the two-seat district, officially known as Washington-4, Democratic candidates are waging a competitive battle before the primary. 

Casey and McCann are campaigning as unofficial running mates, the only duo in the race to do so.

The top two vote-getters are likely to face Glennie Fitzgerald Sewell, the sole Progressive candidate, in the general election in November. This is the first election in the district since 2006 in which no incumbents are running.

Conor Casey

Casey is executive director of GunSense Vermont and a member of the Montpelier City Council representing District 2. He took office in 2018 and has served as a council liaison for the city’s homelessness task force, which has worked to fund hotel vouchers and warming shelters for Montpelier’s unhoused population. 

“Over that time, I think I became pretty familiar with some of the issues facing the community,” Casey said. “But I also see limitations in what city government can do with a $14 million budget, and really would like to use the experience I already have in the Statehouse to deliver for Montpelier.”

From 2015 to 2018, Casey served as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. He is also the membership organizer for the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association.

Ken Jones

Jones has held positions in local government and organizations over a span of 30 years — the Montpelier Planning Commission, the Montpelier School Board, the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition, Central Vermont Fiber, the Central Vermont Career Center, Building Bright Futures and the Clean Energy Development Fund. 

Jones said his top three issues are the housing crisis, climate change and “performance management” in state government.

“My long-term hope for working in the Legislature is to strengthen Vermont’s performance management — really getting agencies and the public kind of on the same page as to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Jones said. 

During his time at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, he said, he worked to ensure safe business practices in protecting against Covid-19 and implemented recovery programs to give businesses resources they may have lost during the pandemic. For 15 years, he ran a nonprofit, the Green Mountain Institute of Environmental Democracy, which took on this issue. 

Kate McCann

McCann is a math teacher at U-32 High School in East Montpelier. She has also served on the Montpelier Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the legislative Pensions Benefit, Design and Funding Taskforce, where she and two other teachers put forth pension reform recommendations that were unanimously accepted. 

She and her husband have run their own wine business, North Branch Vineyards, in Montpelier since 2007. McCann said the most pressing issue for Vermonters today is the workforce crisis. To address this, she hopes to improve access to affordable child care. 

“There's a lot of help-wanted ads, so it looks like we have a lot of positions open,” McCann said. “And then we also hear that there's a lot of people who can't find work, and I think there's some sort of disconnect between the jobs that are being offered and the jobs that people are looking for.”

Casey and McCann are campaigning together for the two open seats by hosting joint events and distributing joint lawn signs around the community. The candidates have been endorsed by Rights & Democracy Vermont and the Vermont State Employees’ Association.

“Kate and I are very different people in some ways,” Casey said. “But even in working with her on the campaign, I can see our styles complement each other. So it's been a real pleasure to essentially be her running mate and work collectively with her. I think we would get along fabulously if both elected to the Statehouse.”

Correction: McCann remains a teacher at U-32. An earlier version of this story referred to her as a former teacher.

Merrick Modun

Modun is a student at Montpelier High School. Although he’s not yet old enough to vote, he can run for the House because Vermont has no minimum age for candidates for state-level offices. In 2018, then 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn made national news with a run for Vermont governor — and became the youngest person in U.S. history to run in a statewide election. 

Modun is a student representative on the Montpelier-Roxbury School Board and is chair of the Montpelier Complete Streets Committee. This year, he has helped organize protests — including an LGBTQ+ rights walkout at his high school and the Rally for the Planet protest at the Statehouse — and interned in the Statehouse to familiarize himself with legislative affairs, he said. 

“Vermont's rapidly aging population will require younger individuals living and working here to support our businesses, our farms, our services, and a growing population of seniors,” Modun said. “I think my experience already bringing youth voice to areas including the school board and Montpelier’s Complete Streets Committee makes me well suited to fight for the Statehouse.”

Ethan Parke

Parke, a longtime Montpelier resident, has deep experience in state government. For 27 years, he worked for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. He also worked in the state Agency of Natural Resources and was appointed by then-Gov. Howard Dean to serve on the Vermont Health Policy Council. Universal health care and combating the inflation that has damaged people’s ability to afford medical care are top issues for Parke. 

“I don’t think we can ignore health care any longer,” Parke said. “It's gotten too expensive. Prices are out of control. Insurance premiums are due to go way up. I'm going to take a really principled stand on health care and say we need to reopen this discussion.”

Parke said he is proud of his conservation work, helping to conserve more than 300 farms in Vermont and preserving several historic buildings in the Barre area, including the Old Labor Hall.

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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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