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Backstory: Best Evidence Vermont Is All Right


Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 29, 2022 at 7:59 p.m.

  • File: Ben Deflorio
  • John Klar

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2022.

My beat is education, not politics, so covering the state Senate race in Orange County was already a bit of a stretch. Plus, the race had gotten complicated. John Klar, a conservative culture warrior, was aggressively challenging Democrat incumbent Mark MacDonald, who suffered a stroke mid-campaign.

To better understand this particular matchup, I decided to take a page from the politician's playbook and do some door knocking. That's how I found myself driving down Interstate 89 toward Randolph on a rainy Tuesday morning in October. I felt a little nervous about the prospect of intruding on people in their homes but figured it was a good way to get their candid, unvarnished opinions.

Once off the highway, I cruised around for a while, noting all the residences that had MacDonald or Klar signs in front of them and weighing which one to try first. Here in Vermont's bucolic Orange County, I'd found the local version of America's great political divide.

The people promoting Klar answered their doors — and my questions — but stopped short of inviting me into their homes.

Those for MacDonald were more welcoming, perhaps as a result of their assumptions about me and Seven Days. At a ranch-style house on Route 65 in Brookfield, a kind-looking woman named Amy invited me to take a seat on her cozy living room couch. Her husband, Michael, appeared in the kitchen, offering me both his opinion on the Senate race and a cup of tea, the latter of which I politely declined.

Later in the day, at an ornate Victorian just off the main drag in Randolph, I chatted with Floyd, a retired school principal, and his wife, Georgia, marveling at their eclectic art collection as I scribbled in my notebook. Before I left, Georgia showed me a Greek cookbook she and her sister had written and offered me a few pretty note cards she'd made with recipes for spanakopita and keftedes on the back. Those, I took!

At a tidy East Randolph abode with a picture-perfect front porch adorned with wind chimes, Lillian, a Long Island native who'd married a longtime Vermonter, showed me a wall full of framed pictures of her three daughters and grandchildren, one of whom I immediately recognized as a high school classmate of my daughter.

I drove home that day with a notebook full of interesting quotes and observations from Orange County and a warm, fuzzy feeling about its gracious constituents. A few weeks later, they voted to return MacDonald to office.

Correction, January 7, 2023. A photo caption in a previous version of this story misidentified John Klar.