Jim Kenyon: Party crashers make waves in Windsor County

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) Reba Saldanha—AP


Valley News Columnist

Published: 01-09-2024 8:48 PM

Modified: 01-11-2024 4:52 PM

As revolts go, the one staged by a small band of Windsor County Republicans against Chairman John MacGovern last Saturday was tame and orderly.

That’s not to say the GOP renegades, however, still don’t pose a threat to democratic norms.

The 50 or so Republicans who gathered at Martin Memorial Hall in Ascutney — on the third anniversary of the Donald Trump-fueled Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — borrowed a page from the former president’s post-2020 election playbook.

Claiming that MacGovern wasn’t “properly elected,” they unilaterally declared a vote taken at a Windsor County GOP meeting almost three months ago to be invalid. Apparently, it didn’t matter to them — some of whom were in the room Oct. 18 — that MacGovern, running unopposed, was elected unanimously by voice vote.

“They want a do-over of an election that they have decided they don’t like,” MacGovern told me. “They live in a world of denial.”

In their world, Lynn Baldwin, of Ludlow, is now chairwoman of the Windsor County Republican Committee. She won the unanimous approval of 28 town delegates who showed up for Saturday’s “special” meeting. But Vermont GOP officials say the vote carried no weight. Under state rules, only a county chair, such as MacGovern, can call a special meeting.

In an email that Baldwin sent me Saturday evening, she argued that during the Windsor County GOP meeting in October, the “Rules of Parliamentary Procedure were not followed and the election was in error, therefore wrongfully certified.”

Baldwin added it was her hope that MacGovern would “graciously cease any further action or attempt to nullify the will of the majority of Windsor County Republicans.”

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A majority, really?

In 2022, incumbent Gov. Phil Scott alone received almost 3,600 votes in Windsor County in the Republican primary. No matter how fuzzy the math, I don’t see how Saturday’s turnout in Ascutney could be viewed as representing a majority of county Republicans.

MacGovern, who lives in Windsor, isn’t planning to step down. “I’m not going to be bullied,” he said in a phone interview.

Paul Dame, the state GOP chairman, told me Monday that he’s heard nothing that would bring MacGovern’s election in October into question. A statewide GOP convention in November would have been a “suitable time to bring it up,” Dame said, “but no one issued a complaint.”

MacGovern’s opponents want to toss out the Oct. 18 election results to suit their goals, which from what I can discern is to get Vermont more in line with their conservative GOP counterparts in red states.

MacGovern has joined Scott and other mainstream Republicans in trying to distance their party from Trump. “For me, insurrection is a bridge too far,” said MacGovern, who as an undergraduate in the 1970s helped launch the conservative Dartmouth Review.

While Baldwin was crowned the rogue group’s chair Saturday, it’s not a secret who the ringleaders are in the effort to oust MacGovern.

August and Andrea Murray moved to Weathersfield in 2020 from the Washington, D.C., area. August Murray, who grew up in southern Vermont, is a retired Army officer.

At a Windsor County GOP executive committee meeting in December, he was carrying around a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap that had his signature stitched into the bill.

Although relative newcomers, the Murrays have quickly immersed themselves in Republican politics. On Saturday, Andrea Murray, a member of the Windsor County Republican executive committee, signed people in as they arrived.

August Murray, vice chairman of the Windsor County Republican Committee, secured one of two delegate-at-large seats on the state executive committee at November’s GOP convention.

“August Murray is charismatic,” Josh Bechhoefer, of Cornwall, who heads up Vermont’s 14 county chairs, said in a phone interview. “He’s able to get people angry about stuff.”

Shortly after the state convention, Murray demanded MacGovern resign. It’s time to “restore conservative Republican values in Windsor County,” Murray wrote in a letter to MacGovern.

Murray attached a list of 11 contributions, totaling less than $300, that MacGovern had made to a political action committee that supports Democrats in congressional races. By donating to a handful of opponents of out-of-state Trump-backed congressional candidates, MacGovern said he was putting “country over party.”

Before Saturday’s meeting got underway, MacGovern stopped in briefly to drop off copies of a written statement. “Battles among Republicans are the greatest gift we could possibly offer to the Democratic/Progressive majority” in the Vermont Legislature, he wrote.

Later MacGovern joined Dame in White River Junction to recruit potential legislative candidates. I trust they’re looking for Republicans who can appeal to more than just rabid conservatives.

As a four-term incumbent, Scott has “demonstrated the path to success,” Dame said. “He’s shown us the way to do it.”

One way has been by announcing that he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2020 general election.

I asked Murray whether his splinter group would support Trump if he wins the 2024 Republican nomination. “It would be premature to declare support for any candidate as a committee until after the primary,” Murray responded via email.

Pat Kelley, a retired Springfield business owner, took time at Saturday’s meeting to thank the Murrays for “turning the ship around.”

Gauging from recent statewide election results, I’d say the Murrays and their passengers are headed in the wrong direction.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@ vnews.com.