Vermont: GOP says party will follow conscience on governor vote

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MONTPELIER, VT. >> Republican members of the Vermont Legislature will be free to vote their consciences in the upcoming balloting to choose the next governor, party leaders said Friday.

Speaking at a Statehouse news conference, the leaders said they would not try to persuade party members to vote one way or the other when they cast secret ballots in January for either Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin or his Republican challenger, Scott Milne.

The state constitution requires that candidates for top office receive at least 50 percent, plus one vote, to be elected outright. Shumlin garnered 46 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election while Milne had 45 percent.

Even though recent tradition has been for lawmakers to cast their ballots for the top vote-getter, some Republicans are considering backing Milne.

It's fairly common in Vermont for the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer not to reach 50 percent, but in recent cases, the lower vote-getter has conceded and Legislature has given the race to the top vote-getter. In 2010, when Shumlin won his first two-year term, he received 49.5 percent of the vote in the November election, and the Legislature voted him in.

Milne is unwilling to concede the race. He said he and his supporters are looking at the detailed results of the voting to determine which candidate won the most districts. He's also considering asking for a recount.

Nevertheless, Vermont Democrats still control at least 106 seats in the 180-member Legislature, making it unlikely Milne supporters could muster the needed 91 votes.

"I think they have to represent their constituency," Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said of members of his party. "They have to dig deep and listen to themselves. They are independent voices. They'll make their own decisions on what to do."

Scott said he would vote for Shumlin since he was the top vote-getter in the election.

But House Minority Leader Don Turner, a Republican who represents Milton, where Milne defeated Shumlin by a margin of 2-1, said he would probably follow the will of his constituents.

"I'm pretty sure today I'm going to be voting for Scott Milne," Turner said. "I've got some things to look at in the next few weeks, but that's Don Turner. I'm not speaking for the caucus because each and every member has to go through that process."

Shumlin's campaign and Democratic leaders of the Vermont Legislature didn't immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said lawmakers would have to consider tradition, conscience and the wishes of their constituencies. He said he hadn't decided how he'd vote, but his constituents voted heavily in favor of Milne and he would consider that.

"I have no intention of trying to arm-twist any of my compatriots in their decision-making process," Benning said.


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