The one-sided votes in Grafton and Windham against the Stiles Brook project were victories for the anti-wind movement. But there were some setbacks that call into question the movement’s political sway.
Four prominent opponents of ridgeline wind were candidates for the State House this year. None were elected.
Each race was different, and generalizing form a small sample size is a mug’s game. But there are a couple of inferences that strike me as valid.
1. The anti-wind movement is not strong enough to have a measurable impact on elections. The results support the movement’s image as noisy and dedicated, but numerically small. There aren’t many voters who are motivated by the issue.
2. The movement is hamstrung by its own political divisions. There are anti-wind activists in all three of Vermont’s major parties*. Two of the four losing candidates ran as Democrats; the other two as Republicans.
*Liberty Union may be a Major Party by Vermont’s very generous legal standard, but it is not a “major party” by any objective measure.
So now, let’s review the four anti-wind losers.
— Penny Dubie was a Republican candidate in Franklin-6, which includes Fairfield, Fletcher, and Bakersfield. Dubie and her husband, former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, are leading opponents of the proposed Swanton Wind project.
Dubie had the best showing of the four anti-wind candidates. She lost by 37 votes in a district that’s been solidly Democratic: incumbent Democrat Dan Connor didn’t have a Republican opponent in 2012 or 2014.
Was her showing the result of broad anti-wind sentiment? Maybe. Name recognition was a plus for her; it’s a powerful factor in down-ballot races. The increasing Republicanism of Franklin County may have also played a part.
Given that the other three anti-wind candidates didn’t seem to move the needle much at all, there’s reason to believe that name recognition was the bigger factor in Dubie’s strong finish. But it’s arguable.
— Monique Thurston was a Republican candidate in Addison-3, a two-seat district encompassing Addison, Ferrisburgh, and Vergennes. I don’t know of any wind proposals in the vicinity, but the Champlain Valley is a prime site for solar farms due to its relative flatness.
For nearly three decades, Thurston was basically Maine’s version of Annette Smith — a persistent opponent of wind farms and a frequent presence at the state capitol. Thurston moved to Vermont in 2008; she said her House candidacy was inspired by the passage of S.260, the energy siting bill that became law this year. (The bill was intended to address advocates’ concerns, but didn’t go far enough to satisfy them.)
Addison-3 has split its two seats in each of the last three campaigns, electing one Democrat (Diane Lanpher) and one Republican (Gregory Clark in 2012, Warren Van Wyck from 2014 on).
Thurston finished fourth, substantially behind the two incumbents and the other Democratic candidate. The race was actually more competitive in 2014, when the four candidates were bunched closer together. Thurston certainly didn’t do any better than the other non-incumbents in the district.
— In the two-person Orleans-2 district (Newport City, Newport Town, Irasburg, Coventry, Troy), two leaders of an anti-wind group ran as Democrats against two Republican incumbents. Dr. Ron Holland and Judith Jackson were founding members of the Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance, which is battling a proposal by renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf to build a small wind farm in Irasburg.
Both are well-known in the district. Jackson is clerk of the Irasburg Planning Commission. Holland is head of the emergency department at North Country Hospital in Newport; his advocacy for health services in the Kingdom led to a dialysis center being named in his honor. (Holland was also one of the Lowell Six, the anti-wind protesters who were arrested in 2012 on the site of the Kingdom Community WInd farm in Lowell.)
The district is strongly Republican. Jackson and Holland faced long odds against incumbents Michael Marcotte and Gary Viens. They didn’t come close to winning; Holland did a bit better than Jackson, but both finished well behind Marcotte and Viens.
So there’s your oh-for-four. As I said, too small a sample size to be definitive; but it can be fairly said that strong anti-wind advocacy, even in a district where the issue is on the front burner, provides no discernible advantage for a candidate.