MONTPELIER >> A state senator's decision to seek re-election despite facing trial next month on felony sexual assault charges is not drawing much support from senior colleagues.
Republican Sen. Norm McAllister filed papers Monday seeking a third term representing Franklin County. He said Tuesday that he expects to be acquitted of the charges, but by then it would be long past the filing deadline for party-affiliated candidates, which is Thursday.
Prosecutors say McAllister sexually assaulted two women who were tenants and employees on his Highgate dairy farm and solicited a third for sex. One of his accusers worked for him at the Statehouse as an assistant. Vermont State Police arrested McAllister outside the Statehouse on May 7, 2015.
McAllister has denied any wrongdoing. He is slated for a two-day trial beginning June 15. Legislative colleagues are expected to testify about McAllister's relationship with his assistant.
In January, the Senate took an unprecedented step in Vermont by suspending McAllister, leaving his seat vacant for the 2016 session.
The Senate's top Republican, Minority Leader Joe Benning, said Tuesday that he would prefer that McAllister not seek re-election, at least not as a Republican.
"I wish he had not decided to run until after his court business is over with," Benning said. "I wish if he were to do so he would run as an independent, rather than as a Republican. ... It's going to be causing a fracture in Franklin County."
Two other Republicans are seeking the county's two at-large seats in the Senate — incumbent Republican Sen. Dustin Degree and longtime House member Rep. Carolyn Branagan from the Franklin County town of Georgia. Former Sen. Sara Kittell and environmental activist Denise Smith, both Democrats, also are running for the two Franklin County seats.
The leader of the Senate's Democratic majority, Sen. Phil Baruth of Chittenden County, said he doubts McAllister will survive the Republican primary in which the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election.
McAllister said he still has support in the county, but he declined to name any of his backers.