Partisan candidates forum sparks concern in Chester New local GOP committee is hoping to grow dormant party

The poster announcing the Meet the Candidates event held by the Chester and Grafton GOP committees.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A Chester candidates forum that has excluded half the candidates running for contested seats on the Chester Select Board and the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District is drawing concern that it could be injecting partisan politics into local elections that have not seen them in years.

But the Chester Republican Committee, which re-formed just last fall, says the forum is a nascent attempt to begin to grow a party that has long been dormant.  And the fact is that parties can set the terms of any event that they hold.

But in many small towns, including Chester,  conservatives and liberals have long been elected to positions on both select and school boards without regard of an R for Republican, D for Democrat, P for Progressive or I for Independent next to candidates’ names. As a matter of fact, the formal ballot does not display any party affiliation for the candidates of those positions as well as other local positions including Town Moderator, Trustees of Public Funds and Trustees of the Whiting Library.

This particular event, scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Chester American Legion, has specifically not invited three candidates for contested seats: For Select Board, Tim Roper and incumbent Arianna Knapp; and for school board Tuckerman Wunderle. All three confirmed that they did not receive invitations to participate in the event and learned of it through a flyer in which their names do not appear.

The event is sponsored by the Chester and Grafton Republican committees.

The sample ballot for the March 5 Chester elections at Town Hall. Click image to enlarge. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

Barre Pinske, who helped get the Chester Republican Committee “back in action” and is now its chair, said he was not involved in organizing the candidates event.

On Tuesday, Roy Spaulding of Chester, who did organize the event, said, “We as the Chester GOP thought that the candidates we chose to attend would represent conservative values that would benefit the town of Chester.”

And in an email on Monday, August Murray, the vice chair of the Windsor County GOP, wrote, “Conservative voters have long been underrepresented in Chester and surrounding areas. This event is an opportunity to build and grow the party at the local level.”

In the contested races for Chester Select Board, Arianna Knapp, Tim Roper and Lisa Rufa are all running to fill two 1-year seats. Knapp, the incumbent, was elected to the seat last year after leading the Chester Cannabis Control Commission. Roper currently sits on the Chester Planning Commission. The only information that could be found about Rufa is that she is a Chester resident.

Roper said, “It feels like we have gotten past some of the divisiveness of 2020 and this is a step backward.”

Those running for two 3-year terms as director representing Chester on the Green Mountain Unified School District board are Casey Leahy, Randy Miles and Tuckerman Wunderle. All three would be new to the school board and possibly to elective politics. Miles has been a vocal advocate at school board meetings and in Telegraph comments for keeping the name of the Green Mountain High School mascot, which was voted down in a 6-3 vote in late December.

The only other contested local seat is one 3-year term for the Trustee of Public Funds, in which incumbent Shirley Barrett is facing Jerene Slivinksy.

Despite the lack of party designation on the local ballots, the one active party committee until recently — the Chester Democratic Committee — has long played a behind-the-scenes role in finding candidates to run for local and state offices. But, according to Bill Dakin, the long time moderator for Chester Town Meeting who headed the Chester Democratic Committee for about 20 years, “The Dems have never had a town candidate forum. Candidates for town office previously have never identified as one party or the other or independent-just as citizens running for a town office.”

But he added, until now, there really hasn’t been “any Republican organized committee in Chester.”

Last year, the town sponsored a Select Board candidates forum at Town Hall in which all candidates in contested races were invited but just four of the five running for two one-year seats attended.  It was also streamed to cable subscribers by SAPA-TV and people could attend by Zoom.

Each year, The Chester Telegraph sends out questionnaires to all candidates in contested elections and publishes their answers. The Telegraph did not send out a questionnaire to the candidates for Trustee of Public Funds this year.

And although political parties can set their own rules, James Clemer, who has been the chairman of the Chester Democratic Committee for just a few months, said, “I was surprised and dismayed to see a traditional nonpartisan races take a partisan turn and it’s really disappointing.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Two people are quoted in the article expressing concern. Neither is the publisher.

  2. Larry Semones says:

    After reading the article and comments it appears the only concern is from the publisher.

  3. Kathy Pellett says:

    I was surprised to read Bill Dakin’s comment that the Republicans never really had an organized town committee until now. If my memory serves me correctly and I believe it does, I recall when I was state representative, 2005–2011, the Chester town Republican committee was very well organized as was the Chester Democrats. Yes, when we campaigned, we did not have an R or a D associated our names. The first year I ran for election the Chester republican committee was active and I believe Carol Balch was involved if not the chair of the committee. I was even invited to one of their meetings to address their members.

    I see nothing wrong with either committee holding forums and promoting their candidates. While I was vice chair of the Chester Democrats for a good number of years both during my time in the legislature and afterwords, I felt it was very important that we hold forums on policy issues as well as introducing candidates statewide from our party.

    So what I would suggest is the Chester Democrats get busy again, and do the same thing. For a good number of years, the Chester Republicans did run out of steam, it appeared, and probably a large part of that is usually due to people who were always the organizers retired, and no newcomers were willing to step up to the plate. I think it’s very important for both parties, to promote their candidates and their views, so the public knows who they’re voting for and who is align with their values. It’s a way to get educated on candidates and the issues. And good competition makes for thoughtful elections. You don’t want elections to be popularity contests.

    Kathy Pellett

  4. Scott MacDonald says:

    I do not see an issue with this at all. It’s an opportunity for conservatives to meet conservative candidates, nothing more. The more liberal organizations can do the same. Our entire country has been divided by partisan issues, so frankly it is not a surprise to me. When we become more unified as a country, perhaps these things will not elicit the same reactions. Candidates have their base, no matter what party they belong to, and any group can do as they please to meet the candidates that they feel share their values the most. There is nothing immoral, illegal, or improper about it, it is simply a reflection ofwhat is going on politically statewide and nationally. Certainly it would be nice to have a place where all candidates can meet the public, and perhaps that is something that could be organized for our citizens. It would be healthy, in fact. I would step up to help organize such an event, if asked.

    It would be nice to see people on all sides being less partisan, working toward center, being kind to each other, and focusing on common ground. This comes from leadership. Sadly, we have little of that these days. True leaders bring people together, not pull them apart. True leaders do not have to tell people they are a leader. I know that the Telegraph will do what it always does and offer all the candidates an impartial forum, and that in itself, will be helpful.

  5. Mary Jane Miles says:

    The Democrat Party has been doing this for years. Now it becomes a concern. The school board is an utter disaster with politics being it’s central core. We have members posting racial pictures in their school board email and no one blinks an eye. Members who are so disruptive police are requested for safety. It’s time that people are simply held accountable with consequences for actions. If another group wishes to support different candidates who want full inclusion, it is called concerning by the Telegragh. Your bias shows more than ever. I no longer subscribe. Stop trying to scare people let people educate themselves and decide. People be educated do not simply trust what you read. Be a participant and make your own decisions. Stop letting others run the show for you.