'Bellwether' Bethel strikes a moderate tone

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BETHEL — Gubernatorial voting in this Windsor County town has matched Vermont results in 21 of the last 22 general elections. So when 63-year-old therapist David Pellegrino cast the first local ballot in Tuesday's state primary, one might have wondered if he was speaking for more than himself.

"There weren't too many candidates or issues I was interested in," Pellegrino said minutes after the polls opened, "but I do want Phil Scott to win the governorship."

Hours later, it was clear Pellegrino's opinion — both about the Republican incumbent and the day's other primary races — was shared by many in this bellwether community.

"I don't like the intense negativity in the political realm," Pellegrino said. "I consider myself a moderate, and most of the time I see people going to the right or the left. I hope someday we'll move a little bit more toward the center."

That's not to say all voters in this town of 1,982 are in harmony.

"I'm disgusted with taxes and spending and the infringement of my Second Amendment rights," said a man in a camouflage green T-shirt who didn't identify himself but voiced opposition to Scott's support of new state gun-control measures.

"I wouldn't vote for that son of a " the man went on, spouting words outside the Bethel Elementary School polling place that would land a student in detention. "I'd vote for Mickey Mouse."

(Tuesday's ballot gave him the option of choosing Scott's GOP challenger, White River Junction businessman Keith Stern.)

Rebecca Carleton, who cast a ballot to select a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for the Nov. 6 general election, said she doesn't like how Scott has wrestled with the Vermont Legislature over the state budget and how to pay for schools.

"Education should be something we can figure out a way for people to afford," the teacher said. "I don't understand why he has set it up as a contentious issue."

But for every person who complained about Scott there were at least two others who voiced support for the incumbent one described as "the nice guy who seems not to make anybody happy."

"I know there are a lot of people who are opposed to him, but I want to make sure he gets on the ballot," said Rodney Rainville, who owns a local logging company. "I can't say I agree with everything he has done, but he works with both sides of the aisle."

Several residents who usually vote Democratic cast a GOP ballot for Scott.

"Even though I don't usually vote Republican," said one man who chose not to give his name, "I like that he is fighting to keep property taxes down."

Residents who voted in the Democratic primary seemed less sure when explaining the reasons for their gubernatorial selections.

Take one voter for James Ehlers, executive director of the nonprofit environmental education group Lake Champlain International: "My best friend is working on his campaign."

Or one voter for Christine Hallquist, former chief executive officer of the Vermont Electric Cooperative: "I never had heard of any of them, so I voted for a woman. It was just an intuitive choice."

Or one voter for Brenda Siegel, a self-described "low income single mom" and dance teacher: "She sounds like an average person."

Or one voter for Ethan Sonneborn, a soon-to-be ninth-grader at Bristol's Mount Abraham Union High School: "His age isn't a problem because he hasn't had time to do anything really awful."

A majority of residents concluded they cast ballots not for or against a particular candidate but instead because of what one called a "civic duty."

"It's my first primary," said Pellegrino's 18-year-old son, Christopher. "I want to be involved."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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