James, Browning win in Bennington-4 race
MANCHESTER — Democrats Kathleen James and Rep. Cynthia Browning won election to the Bennington-4 district in the Vermont House on Tuesday night, as incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Keefe fell short in his bid for re-election, according to unofficial results from the district's town clerks.
With all four towns reporting, James had 2,129 votes, trailed by Browning with 1,937 votes and Keefe with 1,731 in the three-way race for the district's two seats. The Secretary of State's website reported the same numbers as of Wednesday morning, along with 34 write-ins and 1,260 blank votes.
According to unofficial results from the Manchester town clerk's office, James rolled up a big win in her home town, with Keefe placing second and Browning third. Browning, a House member since 2007, led in Arlington, Sandgate and Sunderland, with James second and Keefe third, in all three towns.
Keefe said Tuesday night he had called Browning and James to congratulate them, realizing that the results in Sandgate — at that point, not yet available — would likely not save the day for his re-election bid.
I knew it was a possibility. I knew it was a very competitive race. Kathleen and Cynthia ran strong campaigns. But the margins surprised me," Keefe said. "I felt I had done a credible job over two years."
"I hadn't thought I had given people a reason to turn me out. I voted for a balanced budget and against tax increases, and the House passed some bills I introduced. I thought I was a constructive element up there," Keefe said. "Having said that, this is a democracy and people get their choice."
Keefe, who edged out then-incumbent Steve Berry in 2016, said he knew it was possible that the Democrats' "blue wave" might have an impact on his chances.
"I think there's some hostility to anyone who has an R beside their name, even someone moderate and independent like myself who presents balance. I think people voted the party, which is fine," Keefe said.
James, at a reception at the Wilburton Inn, thanked volunteers and supporters for their efforts to help her win in her first-ever race.
"No matter what happens tonight, that effort is extremely worthy," she said.
"A lot of us have been working very hard since the 2016 elections to put forward a different vision of America," James said. "Personally I want to be part of a national movement to heal this country and bridge the partisan divide. I truly believe that happens one conversation at a time."
That was affirmed for James in her door-to-door campaigning, she said, an experience she called "affirming and uplifting."
"You see the partisanship and the division on the national level but you go door to door with your Northshire neighbors, that is not how it is."
Later, on her Facebook page, James was complimentary of both Keefe and Browning.
"Deepest respect to my friend of many years, Brian Keefe, who has worked so hard to serve our community — and the state of Vermont — in the legislature and in countless other ways over many years," she wrote. "I look forward to serving with Cynthia, a smart and experienced legislator who has also served the Northshire with dedication."
Browning said she was pleased to have been given another two-year term by the voters. "I feel I still have so much to contribute and so much to give," she said.
Browning said she looked forward to working on reforming the state's tax code. "It sounds really wonky but if we're going to fix the problems we have, someone's got to get under the hood," she said.
The tightly-contested election featured a pair of incumbents in Browning and Keefe, facing a strong campaign from James, a journalist and grassroots activist making her first run for office.
James ran on a number of progressive issues including climate change, affordable and accessible health care and child care, affordable housing and family-supporting wages.
Keefe, who worked for the late U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, pointed to his accomplishments as a first-term member, including three of his bills becoming law, and to his efforts to maintain partisan balance in the Legislature and control taxes and fees to make the state more affordable and grow its economy.
Browning, a former economics professor, also pointed to her independence and experience with the fine points of state policy, especially finances and taxation, as reasons she should be returned for another two years.
Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at email@example.com or at 802-490-6000.
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