House Seats Go to O'Sullivan, Wright, Cole, Bissonnette, Gonzalez | Off Message
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

House Seats Go to O'Sullivan, Wright, Cole, Bissonnette, Gonzalez

Posted By and on Tue, Nov 4, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Clockwise from top right: Michael Ly (R), Jean O'Sullivan (D), Roy Collette (L), Scot Shumski(R), Loyal Ploof (L), Kurt Wright (R), Bob Hooper (D), Joanna Cole (D) - MARC NADEL
  • Marc Nadel
  • Clockwise from top right: Michael Ly (R), Jean O'Sullivan (D), Roy Collette (L), Scot Shumski(R), Loyal Ploof (L), Kurt Wright (R), Bob Hooper (D), Joanna Cole (D)
Update, 9:28 p.m. 11/4/2014:
Unofficial results posted by Burlington show Jean O'Sullivan bested Scot Shumski in the Chittenden 6-2 district. And in Chittenden 6-1, Kurt Wright and Joanna Cole won seats, with Michael Ly a close third. And in Winooski, 
Clem Bissonnette and Diana Gonzalez won seats in the Chittenden 6-7 district.

Winooski and Burlington were home to some closely fought campaigns for the House of Representatives.

In Burlington’s Chittenden 6-2 district, Democratic representative Jean O’Sullivan faced her first contested election since Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed her to the House in 2011. Both she and her opponent, Republican Scot Shumski, a recently elected school board member, campaigned doggedly. The district is politically diverse by Burlington standards — it includes parts of the solidly Democratic Old North End and the more conservative New North End.

O’Sullivan, an unabashed liberal who previously worked as a stockbroker, said her goals for another term include making it easier for convicted felons to find employment and housing after prison.

Shumski, who quickly gained a reputation as an outspoken maverick advocating for cutting school spending, told voters he wanted to revamp the statewide property-tax system and address the heroin crisis. During the campaign, he repeatedly denied allegations that he was tied to the Tea Party. Former Seven Days columnist Shay Totten called Shumski’s assertions into question when he reported that the candidate had been tweeting from an account that defended the Tea Party platform, under the name SlappyWhyte. Shumski responded by accusing his critics of "McCarthyism."

The November 1 campaign finance disclosures show that Shumski and O'Sullivan each raised roughly $4,400. Shumski's fundraising included a $500 donation from Lenore Broughton, who bankrolled the conservative super PAC Vermonters First during the 2012 election.

During the final weeks before the election, prominent Democrats made several visits to the New North End to bolster O’Sullivan's bid. Gov. Peter Shumlin accompanied her during a round of door-knocking. On November 2, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) joined O’Sullivan at a free brunch hosted by the Democratic Party at the Burlington High School.

Also benefitting from that brunch were Democrats Joanna Cole and Bob Hooper, who were running in the neighboring two-seat Chittenden 6-1 district where Cole and Republican Kurt Wright were the incumbents. Wright, a longtime representative and city councilor, lent his political capital to fellow Republican Michael Ly, campaigning with the first-time candidate. Two Libertarians, Loyal Ploof and Roy Collette, completed the field.

Both Wright and Ly made property tax reform the cornerstone of the campaign. Cole, who made two unsuccessful runs for the Statehouse before clinching a seat in 2012, identified this as a priority, too — along with promoting energy efficiency and single-payer health care. Ly raised $6,500, Cole raised $4,700 and Wright raised $3,300. The other candidates didn't hit the $500 threshold requiring them to file disclose contributions.

click to enlarge Diana Gonzalez - COURTESY DIANA GONZALEZ
  • Courtesy Diana Gonzalez
  • Diana Gonzalez
In Winooski, incumbent Democrat Clem Bissonnette and Progressive/Democrat Diana Gonzalez won the Onion City's two House Seats.

Gonzalez, a first-time candidate, won 908 votes, and Bissonnette took home  848 votes to win his fourth term. First-time candidate Robert Millar, a progressive, won 583 votes. 

"I love Winooski and saw the need for someone else to run ... someone who can move us forward as a state," Gonzalez told progressives inside Magnolia Bistro in Burlington last night.

In his remarks, Millar said he was likely hurt by the fact that he remained a pure progressive, and did not bolster his name recognition and base by running as a Democrat and Progressive, as Gonzalez did.

"I got into this because nobody else would," Millar told the crowd. "I'm really proud I stayed Progressive and didn't run in the Democratic primary. Some of us have to do that. I'm proud that I did that and still got almost 600 votes."
click to enlarge Clem Bissonnette - COURTESY OF CLEM BISSONNETTE
  • Courtesy of Clem Bissonnette
  • Clem Bissonnette
Gonzalez and Millar have lived in the Onion City for less than a decade combined. But they insisted they would better represent the rapidly evolving community than would Winooski native Bissonnett e, who served as deputy mayor, mayor and chairman of the school board before he was elected to the House in 2008.

The city has seen a rapid influx of immigrants — the student population has gone from 78 percent white to 57 percent white in the past six years — and millennials drawn to a resurgent downtown.

Both Millar and Gonzalez significantly out-fundraised Bissonnette, respectively raising $4,400 and $2,200 to his $1,400.

No Republicans were on the ballot in the district, which includes all of Winooski and a sliver of northern Burlington.

Read our past coverage of Burlington and Winooski House races:

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About The Authors

Mark Davis

Mark Davis

Mark Davis is a Seven Days staff writer.
Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese was a Seven Days staff writer from 2014 through 2018.

More by Mark Davis

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