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Stowe’s House seat has long been a Democratic white whale. Can the party finally flip it?

Stowe’s House seat has long been a Democratic white whale. Can the party finally flip it?

Collage Maker 11 Oct 2022 04.57 PM
Scott Weathers, left, and Jed Lipsky. Courtesy photos

Most of this year’s legislative battlegrounds are in purple districts in Franklin, Rutland and Orange counties. But one seat sticks out: Stowe’s single-member House district, an affluent enclave that, demographically at least, looks like it should be a Democratic stronghold. (While President Joe Biden won Vermont with 66% of the vote in 2020, he got 79% of the vote share in Stowe.)

Democrats are confident that if they can flip the seat, it’ll be theirs for a while. 

For 16 years, Republican Heidi Scheuermann has fended off a series of well-funded Democratic challengers by toeing a moderate line and working hard at constituent service.

Scheuermann is retiring this year, but her exit does not mean Democrats have an easy path to victory. She has endorsed Jed Lipsky, a 75-year-old logger and the former owner of the Stowe Inn. Lipsky is running as an independent and pledging to bring “a balanced voice and common-sense approach” to Montpelier.

Democrats, meanwhile, are going all in on their nominee: Scott Weathers, a public policy consultant who moved to Stowe with his partner in 2020 during the pandemic. Party stalwarts including Becca Balint, who just won the Democratic nomination for Vermont’s sole U.S. House seat, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who is poised to claim a U.S. Senate seat, are both stumping for him in the final weeks of the race. 

For Weathers and the Democrats, the seat is about policy and legislative math. A razor-thin supermajority in the House has meant that Democratic priority after Democratic priority has fallen prey to failed veto overrides — often by a single vote.

Weathers, 29, said that what galvanized him to run was his own experience. Asked to return to his job for a nonprofit in person before Covid vaccines were available — while he was taking care of his father, who has Parkinson’s — he said he had no choice but to quit.

“Paid family leave legislation failed by one vote — a single vote in the House,” he said, referring to an unsuccessful veto override in 2020. “And so if we can elect a Democrat in Stowe, then we will likely be able to pass paid family leave. And it’s not just that — there’s critical climate legislation that’s hanging on the balance of one vote,” he said.

Other priorities for Weathers include abortion rights, the housing crisis and gun reform.

“Our state is number one in New England in terms of gun deaths. And there are simple, straightforward, bipartisan legislative proposals on gun safety that my opponent does not support,” he said.

Weathers declared his candidacy before Scheuermann announced she wasn’t running again, and has been pounding the pavement ever since. He’s already knocked on every door in town where a registered voter lives, and said he’s now headed back out to knock on any doors that didn’t open the first time.

“He’s working his butt off,” said Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. “Our folks told him what he needed to do to win — told him in no uncertain terms just how much work it would take to convince his neighbors that it was time for a change — and he put his head down and did it.”

Weathers has also raised a staggering sum for a legislative run. His Oct. 1 campaign finance filing with the Secretary of State shows he had brought in $42,459 — more than any other House candidate this cycle. (He also beat out all candidates for the Vermont Senate but one: Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who has taken in $71,004, per the latest filing.)

Lipsky is not far behind: He’s raised $28,275, the second-highest sum brought in by any House candidate.

The two candidates are going toe-to-toe on money in other ways. Lipsky’s camp likes to point out that the majority of Weathers’ cash comes from out of state. Weathers replies that he has more donors from Stowe and Vermont than his opponent. 

If Democrats have tried to make the race chiefly about policy and platform, Lipsky and his supporters have tried to make it all about the person. They’ve painted Weathers as a brash young carpetbagger, parachuting into a community he knows little about, and contrasted that to Lipsky’s years of service on countless town boards and commissions.

Asked why he had decided to throw his hat in the ring, Lipsky immediately pointed to Weathers. 

“It seemed a little out of the norm to move to a community like Stowe, live here for a very short time — never had a business, never had a job, didn’t own any property — and feel that you were the candidate to serve the community,” Lipsky said in a phone interview. “And because I’m being recorded I don’t want to make an inappropriate comment. But it just didn’t sit well.”

When Scheuermann announced at the close of the Legislative session that she would retire, Lipsky asked around to see who would step forward. When he heard “dead silence,” Lipsky said, he decided to jump in himself. “I’m a carpe diem type person,” he said.

Lipsky argued he is somewhere in the middle on many issues — and not a stealth conservative, as some would argue. For evidence that he supports certain Democratic priorities, for example, he pointed to an endorsement from Let’s Grow Kids, Vermont’s major child care advocacy organization. (In an unusual move, the group endorsed both Weathers and Lipsky for the one-seat district.)

“I’m not some conservative who’s going to grumble if the Legislature feels that minimum wage and paid family leave are the top two priorities for this coming session,” he said, although he added that he’s “empathetic, but I’m not open to signing on at any cost.”

Asked what kind of revenue streams he would be open to using to expand the social safety net — like child care or paid family leave — Lipsky answered he couldn’t say until he’d studied all the proposals.

“I’ve never served an hour in the House and don’t know. I cannot answer that till I’ve tried to look at the law, looked at the proposals, projected costs — who is it gonna burden? And that’s not a dodge. I just have no idea,” he said.

Scheuermann said she had known Lipsky for years but hadn’t thought he’d be interested in running. When he reached out to her after learning she was stepping down, she said she endorsed him on the spot: “He said he was an independent and I said, ‘That’s fine. I don’t care. Like, you’d be great,’” she recalled.

The Republican said she and Lipsky don’t necessarily agree on all the issues. But she said she knew him to be “thoughtful” and “deliberative.” 

She also made clear she’s not a fan of his opponent.

“It was a real concern to me that somebody who had just moved to Stowe during the pandemic, doesn’t really know Stowe, doesn’t know the community like I think a representative should, was running to represent us in the House,” she said. She characterized the choice before voters in Stowe as one between “a political activist” and “a public servant.”

“And I will every day of the week choose the public servant,” she said.

That line of attack is working — even among some Democrats.

“I think Scott is incredibly smart and a really nice guy from the interactions I’ve had with him,” said Amy Farley, a self-described “lifelong Democrat” who wrote into the Stowe Reporter to support Lipsky’s run. “But I would like personally to see him running for select board, running for the planning commission, running for school board. Recognizing he hasn’t been in the town even two years yet.”

Dandeneau said the arguments leveled against Weathers’ candidacy are reminiscent of the “anti-flatlander” rhetoric often seen in Vermont politics, and send the message that people “who haven’t lived here for seven generations” shouldn’t get involved in their communities.

He also noted that there are plenty of newcomers in Stowe just like Weathers. (Census data show that it does see more turnover, on average, than the rest of Vermont.) 

“(Lipsky’s) strong community ties are tough. It’s definitely a headwind in our efforts. But I don’t know how strong that headwind is going to be,” he said.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Stowe’s House seat has long been a Democratic white whale. Can the party finally flip it?.

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