BENNINGTON — The county’s state senators are decrying a campaign mailing from a political opponent and the social media comments of a school board member — both of which they say convey racist sentiments.
Democratic Sens. Brian Campion and Dick Sears issued a media release concerning a campaign post card sent out by Republican Mike Hall, of Sunderland, an opponent in the Nov. 3 election.
The flyer includes the image of a political cartoon apparently depicting former President Barack Obama milking a skeleton cow, with “Economy” printed on a bell around the cow’s neck and Obama saying, “Relax, ol’ girl, I know what I am doing.”
“We are deeply disturbed and disappointed by the racist image that our opponent Mike Hall chose to use on his recent campaign mailing,” Sears and Campion wrote. “We believe he owes our constituents, particularly persons of color an apology for his insensitivity. Racism has no place in Vermont and certainly not in this campaign.”
“I don’t know where they get that from,” Hall responded, when reached Monday by phone. “I didn’t see that as Barack Obama. I thought it was more like Alfred E. Neuman, of Mad Magazine.”
The Hall mailing to potential voters was a post card critical of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which both senators supported, which aims to reduce fossil fuel emissions in Vermont. Republican critics contend the bill will significantly raise the cost of gasoline and heating fuel costs for the average Vermonter.
If it was supposed to be Obama in the cartoon, “I certainly wasn’t aware of it,” Hall said, adding that he found it on the internet and has had posted it on his campaign Facebook page “Nothing racial was intended.”
Sears and Campion continued in their release, “Bennington County is making strides and learning how to recognize and address systemic racism. We are proud of the progress that has been made and look forward to continuing to partner in this area so all Vermonters and visitors feel welcomed, safe and valued in our communities. It’s unfortunate that Mike Hall does not appear to share those goals.”
Hall said he believes the senators “are trying to turn this into a racial thing; shame on them.”
The post-card’s message, Hall said, “had to do with turning the state around economically.”
Above the cartoon, which is in the lower left corner of the postcard, the message warns that if “Democrats pass the proposed carbon tax, the average cost for a gallon of gas would increase 40%.”
The flyer also criticizes the Global Warming Solutions Act, which the incumbents supported and the three Senate challengers, including Hall, Republican Meg Hansen and independent Kevin Hoyt oppose.
The issue was debated during a candidate forum earlier this month, sponsored by the GNAT-TV cable television network in the Northshire.
Hall’s flyer message says in part that the senators “just voted to force all of us to cut our CO2 [emissions] by 53+ [percent] in 10 years. How’re we gonna do that? Replace your oil burner? Buy an electric vehicle?”
His post card also drew criticism from William Fisk, of Bennington, who said in a letter to the Banner that “today’s mail brought a campaign flyer from Michael Hall that demonstrates that racism is not dead in Vermont.”
There is a message about the economy, Fisk wrote, but adds, “So far, so good, but then the farmer doing the milking is, at least, a caricature of a black man bearing some resemblance to President Obama. One has to wonder about the message of this cartoon and the lack of racial sensitivity of the person who selected it for inclusion in the flyer.”
Fisk said in the letter that he has voted for Campion and Sears.
Hall said he remembers receiving one critical message about the flyer through his Facebook page but he isn’t sure whether it was from Fisk.
Hall, a member of the Manchester Police Department from 1983 until his retirement as police chief in 2019, entered the Republican Primary race as a write-in and qualified for the Nov. 3 ballot.
SCHOOL BOARDSThe two senators also commented in their release on the Mount Anthony Union School District’s efforts to get school board member Ed Letourneau to resign because of several comments on social media deemed racist or racially insensitive.
“We also want to take this opportunity to applaud the school board for its efforts in working to remove Ed Letourneau from the board, and the students for taking a stand against his racist statements,” the senators wrote. “We join those who are working to pursue his removal.”
MAU Board Chairman Timothy Holbrook, who has asked Letourneau to resign and said he otherwise will remove him from board committees, said Tuesday that the situation remains the same.
However, he said the board has a special teleconference meeting scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m.
The MAU meeting can be viewed via Zoom at svsu.zoom.us/j/93512713574?pwd=VWhlM0JVdXgwaXRVcnRHVnlqbTdaQT09, meeting ID: 935 1271 3574, password: 976398, call in: 929-205-6099. The Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District board, on which Letourneau also serves, has likewise requested Letourneau’s resignation.
During a meeting Monday, that board voted to call for Letourneau’s removal and decided to pursue legal steps with the state Board of Education and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to remove him.
Reached by the Banner, Letourneau declined to comment.