French, Carlson and Hooker seeking Carris seat
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | December 14,2012
One name kept coming to the lips of Rutland County Democrats on Thursday: Eldred French of Shrewsbury.
French, who lost his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives after redistricting pitted him against fellow incumbent Dennis Devereux of Mount Holly, was repeatedly described as being at the top of the list of candidates to replace Sen. William Carris, D-Rutland.
Carris announced Wednesday he was stepping down for health reasons. The Rutland County Democrats will hold a caucus and come up with as many as three names to forward to the governor, who will then appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Carris’s term.
County Chairwoman Kathy Hall said she expected to hold the caucus after New Year’s. She said she had heard four or five names, and one name more frequently than the others, but she would not disclose any of the names under discussion.
“I was told I have to remain unbiased and I am worried if I mention names I’ve heard, it would affect things,” Hall said.
However, a number of current and former county Democratic officeholders put French’s name forward Thursday.
“He barely lost,” said Rep. Herb Russell, D-Rutland. “He was a very, very good rep in Montpelier. He’s extremely well-liked. He truly represents the interests of the common people. He’s not only a good rep, but he knows how to make things happen.”
Russell said he was not interested in the seat. Nor was Margaret “Peg” Andrews, who just lost her seat in Rutland District 5-2.
“I have a pretty full life right now,” Andrews said. “My preference would be to see Eldred French in that position. I’m going to hope he’s going for it and throw my full support behind him. ... He was, is, a phenomenal statesman — good for the state of Vermont, good for Rutland County.”
French said he is in the running.
“I loved the job up there and I hadn’t really resigned myself to not doing it,” the 66-year-old said. “I assumed that I had a political future, but I hadn’t gotten any further than that. I run a tree business — I was prepared not to have a political life for a year or so, but it was at the back of my mind to continue. I wasn’t ready to let it end the way it did.”
French said he heard about Carris’s resignation from a colleague and immediately called Carris “just to make sure he was OK.”
“He’s always been a terrific senator and I’ve always admired him,” French said. “I regret Bill’s not able to continue to serve. If I can do as good a job as he did, I’ll be pleased.”
Rep. John Malcolm, D-Pawlet, said he believed French was “at the top of most people’s lists” and that he was not aware of anyone else seeking the position. French also said he had not heard of any other candidates.
There are at least two others. Rich Carlson of Mendon and Cheryl Hooker of Rutland both said they intend to put their names forward.
Carlson, 61, a former president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said he was approached to run this year but decided not to because he had just agreed to become board chairman at Neighborworks of Western Vermont and was overseeing the capital campaign at the Vermont Farmers Food Center.
“I have a strong desire to give back to the community that’s given a lot to me over time,” said Carlson, who ran an insurance agency for 32 years. “I’ve been able to make a difference in our community in this capacity and now I want to take it to a legislative level.”
Hooker, 62, has previously served in the House and then the Senate. After losing her Senate seat, she was again appointed to the House but, in a situation similar to French’s, found herself on the losing side of a race against another incumbent when her district was eliminated in the 2000 redistricting.
“It’s been in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be an impossible thing to go back,” said Hooker, who also made an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2008. “I’m sorry that Bill is stepping down. I would like to serve as well as he has.”
Carris himself denied rumors that he planned to nominate one of his daughters — they both live out of state — and said his wife, who ran for a House seat in 2008, was not interested in the position.
“She’s quite busy in other stuff — art and art agencies,” he said.
Carris said he thought French would be “great” and that he was not aware of any other candidates.
“He was a hard-working rep, really cared and fought for the county and the state,” he said. “I’m sure it’s very premature. Eldred — he got redistricted out. It’s just a shame he got sacrificed for whatever reason. Starting out of the box, it makes sense to put him forward.”