"I don't pick winners or losers," Deb Billado told a vehemently anti-Phil Scott crowd
Gov. Phil Scott and Republican lawmakers who backed new gun safety laws this year face no challengers in the August primary election, despite warnings from gun rights activists that they would face consequences at the ballot.
Also, no Republican registered for the primary in the Chittenden-7-1 district to answer GOP Chairwoman Deb Billado’s call to run against Rep. Martin Lalonde, D-South Burlington, who authored an aborted bid to ban assault weapons this year.
The filing deadline for major party candidates was May 31, but the candidate list posted on the Vermont Secretary of State website, last updated at 8 a.m. on June 7, comes with the warning that the list is not yet final.
The absence of direct challengers in specific races, however, doesn’t rule out the possibility that candidates in other races have been motivated to run by the gun debate.
Some voters see the governor as going back on his stand during his campaign that Vermont needed no new gun laws. Scott’s position changed in February after the arrest of an 18-year-old Poultney man in connection with an alleged mass shooting plot targeting Fair Haven Union High School.
Scott faced shouts of “traitor” and “not my governor” as he signed three gun control laws in April on the steps of the Statehouse.
Scott does have an opponent in the GOP primary, Keith Stern of Springfield, who wavered between running as a Republican and a Democrat. Stern announced his bid last summer, long before gun control became an election issue in Vermont.
Six House Republicans voted for S.55, which expands background checks, requires hunter safety classes for those under 21 who want to buy guns, puts a limit on magazine capacity for rifles and pistols, and bans bumpstocks.
Five of the six are seeking re-election and face no challengers from within their party in the August primary:
- Fred Baser of Bristol.
- Brian Keefe of Manchester.
- Kurt Wright, of Burlington.
- Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe.
- Peter Fagan of Rutland.
Dennis Devereux of Mount Holly announced he is retiring from the Legislature. The only candidate who filed for the primary in Devereux’s district was Democrat Logan Nicoll of Ludlow.
Days after Scott signed the gun bills, Deb Dillabo, chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party, spoke at a Montpelier rally organized by gun right activists. At the rally, she failed to defend the governor when the crowd began to chant, “Dump Phil Scott.” She offered instead, “It’s everyone’s choice to take that to the polls. I don’t pick winners and losers. I work for the Republican Party.”
When an activist called out, “We are the Republican Party,” she replied, “I work for you.”
The Republicans currently hold seven of 30 seats in the Senate and 53 of 150 seats in the House. The GOP’s share of the House is enough to prevent the Legislature from overriding a governor’s veto on a party line vote.
The explanation for the lack of Republican primary opponents may lie in the fact that the Vermont GOP has fewer names on the August ballot than two year ago. Indeed, the party has candidates running for just over half the available House seats this year.
Another explanation might be that the Second Amendment candidates will run without an “R” after their names.
If that’s the case, there’s still time for those running on a pro-gun platform to get on the ballot. The filing deadline for minor party candidates and independents is Aug. 9.
Aki Soga is engagement editor for The Burlington Free Press. Email him at email@example.com or chat with him on Twitter: @asoga