William Gayotti, left, and Mike Rice. Images courtesy of the candidates

In the county-wide Bennington-Rutland Vermont House, voters will elect a replacement for Linda Joy Sullivan, the unpredictable D-Dorset who sometimes skips parties.

William “Bill” Jayoti, a Republican from Mount Tabor, styled himself as a natural successor. As a moderate, he even garnered tacit endorsement from the district’s Democratic office holder, with Sullivan posting Gaiotti’s campaign messages on her Facebook page.

“The best laws and policies for the majority of us are not made if only one side has control,” Jayoti said. “I am a man of great checks and balances.”

First-time nominee Mike Rice, a 31-year-old Democrat from Dorset, believes his youth will give him an important perspective in the legislature. Having raised more than $23,000 – a colossal sum for the Vermont House race – he is determined to give Gaiotti a run for his money.

“I think the difference is about whether we’re really willing to step up and take action to make this a place that’s convenient for families and workers,” Rice said. “The affordability of housing, the affordability of childcare, the climate – I think these are things I haven’t heard much about from my opponent.”

A recent renter, Rice said his first-hand experience with Vermont’s affordability challenges helps him better understand the issues facing his neighbors. He and his partner have spent months looking for a reasonable place to live and decently paid jobs.

“These are the kinds of experiences that I think will be valuable in Montpellier,” he said.

Gaiotti served on local school boards and the Mount Tabor Selectboard, and for 12 years served as a police officer in Rutland. His campaign’s repeated refrain from “common sense” etches Rice’s more progressive priorities around climate change and the opioid epidemic.

The “common sense” approach worked with Sullivan, the current county office owner, who has represented Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Mount Tabor and Peru since 2017. Sullivan veered off the party line when she voted against the clean heat standard and took paid family leave. outraged fellow Democrats.

On his campaign website, Gaiotti highlights his endorsement from Vermont’s most famous moderate Republican, Phil Scott. However, Gayotti did not always follow the governor’s notable strides away from the Republican Party.

Scott supports Proposition 5, also known as Article 22, which would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution. Jyoti? “My problem with that is ambiguity,” he said. “My vote of ‘no’ has absolutely nothing to do with a woman’s right to choose. For a woman’s right, it is none of my business.”

Gaiotti also reiterated a talking point from some proponents of Prop 5, who suggested that minors could be allowed to receive gender confirmation care without parental consent. Proponents say that Prop 5 only protects an individual’s rights to conception, bearing a child, abortion, and to choose or refuse contraception and sterilization.

When a child “decides how they want to proceed with the transformation,” Jayoti said, parental involvement is critical. Parents “will need to understand. They will need help with processing,” he said. “The worst thing you can do, as someone who has been there, is to exclude (the parents) from the process.”

It’s an important topic for Gaiotti as the father of a transgender son, and he’s “1000%” supportive, he said.

“The only thing I want from people is to be happy, healthy, safe and productive,” he said.

During the 2020 presidential election, Phil Scott crossed partisan lines to cast his vote for Democrat Joe Biden. Meanwhile, “I wrote in Ronald Reagan’s last election,” Jaywety said.

Although, like the governor, Gaiotti opposes the clean heat standard, arguing that it would unreasonably increase fuel prices.

“We can’t just switch the switch and change the way we do things right now. We have to look at how that affects everyone,” he said. “You have to be wary of someone who says, ‘If we don’t do something now, that’s the end of days.'”

To support his claim, Gaiotti points to the closure of the Vernon Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon which closed in 2014. Despite Democrats’ support for closing the plant, Gaiotti said nuclear power is one of the cleanest sources of energy.

In contrast to his economic opponents’ attitude toward the climate crisis, Rice, the development director for the Northeast Organic Agriculture Consortium, advocated a “hands-on deck” approach.

“We’ve been talking about climate change all my life and how we’ve been too slow to act on it,” he said, stressing the need to build weather resilience and ramp up renewable energy production within the state.

With a week to go until Election Day, Gayotti and Rice are knocking on doors and introducing themselves to voters. The results of the race will help determine whether Democrats will secure a veto-blocking majority in the 150-member House of Representatives — something they failed to secure in the previous two-year period.

For Gaiotti, maintaining Scott’s veto is critical to a future that benefits the majority of his neighbors.

“If you have a governor who is as popular as Phil Scott and has more veto power than any other governor in history,” he said, “that should say something.”

Leave a Reply