Candidates Vie For Outgoing Speaker Shap Smith's House Seat

Nov 4, 2016

Voters in the Lamoille-Washington House District will be sending at least one new face to Montpelier next year. 

Lamoille-Washington is a two-seat House district representing the towns of Elmore, Morristown, Woodbury and Worcester. Democrat Avram Patt is running for his second term. But the seat that’s been held by outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith for 14 years is now open.

That means Patt is running against a slate of candidates. And the seats will go to the top two vote-getters on Tuesday.

Smith says he's supporting the two Democrats in the race: Patt and Dave Yacovone.

"I know that they have the interest of the district at heart," Smith said of his fellow Democrats. "And I've seen them work and I have confidence that they both will do a good job. I mean, I know almost all of the candidates in the race and I've known many of them for years. So it's never easy, but those are the two that I believe would do the best job."

In addition to sharing Smith’s support, Patt and Yacovone were also sharing a Morristown street corner one rainy morning this week, holding signs and waving to commuters.

Patt is the only candidate who doesn’t live in Morristown, where about two-thirds of the district’s voters reside. Patt lives in Worcester. He’s worked in state government and as general manager of Washington Electric Coop.

"I’ve been involved in public policy and issues for pretty much my entire working career," he says. "And it’s how I was raised by my parents, that you get involved in one way or another in trying to make your world a better place."

Democratic candidate Dave Yacovone, right, shakes hands with Morristown voter Lawrence Earle at the Lamoille Senior Center's weekly Meals on Wheels lunch.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Yacovone, the other Democrat in the race, is also the only other candidate with legislative experience. On Wednesday he had lunch at the Lamoille Senior Center, which was packed with local voters.

Yacovone grew up in Morristown and started his career as a local nursing home administrator. He raised his family, including a child with special needs, in the neighboring town of Wolcott.

Before moving back to Morrisville, Yacovone served two terms in the Legislature, where he focused on issues involving elderly and disabled Vermonters. Since then he’s served as Vermont’s commissioner of aging and Disabilities and commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

"Public service, to me, is not a career, it’s a calling," he says. "And serving in the Legislature, to me, is a public service. It’s a calling. It’s something I feel passionately about."

Outside, candidate Marci Young is set up near the Morristown schools, waving to parents picking up students.

Progressive candidate Marci Young waves to cars after school lets out in Morrisville.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Young started her campaign as a Progressive-Democrat and one of six candidates in the Democratic primary. Patt and Yacovone won the Democratic nominations, and now Young is in the race as a Progressive.

"I would have never run against Shap Smith because he’s so well respected in this community," she says. "However, with the open seat, it was really an exciting time to get into it."

Young works for the Onion River Exchange TimeBank. In the past she’s worked for state government and ran a recycling company in Hardwick.

Gary Nolan is the lone Republican in the race. He’s a Lamoille County native, a veteran and a local businessman. He’s served on Morristown’s Development Review Board for over 25 years.

Gary Nolan is the only Republican candidate in the two-seat district race.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"I’ve always been an advocate of 'If you don’t vote, don’t complain,'" he says. "And I got to thinking about it and, well, instead of complaining about how things are going in Montpelier, maybe I ought to be able to go down and take a shot at seeing what I can do to help them out."

Nolan says his main concerns are taxes and the economy from a business perspective.

Independent candidate Don Valentine is asking voters to 'send a Valentine to Montpelier.'
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Don Valentine entered the race as an independent after the primary election, in August. He was raised in Morristown and moved back a couple years ago. He says the local Republican Party asked him to run, but he ultimately decided to give it a go as an independent.

"I don’t like what I see [in] the way the Republican Party has gone the last 20 years," he says. "My feelings and my principles have not changed. But somebody’s changed the center of the road."

Valentine says he's running to stop what he calls the "hemorrhaging of money in the state Legislature." He admits he’s an underdog in the race. But with five candidates vying for two seats, no one is considered a shoo-in.