By MIKE DONOGHUE
ISLANDER STAFF WRITER
Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson of South Hero has been apparently ousted from her 18-year legislative seat as voters in the Grand Isle-West Milton District have voted to be represented by two Republicans.
Rep. Leland J. Morgan and his nephew Michael R. Morgan both of West Milton claimed the two top seats in a four-way race in the house district, which also includes the five towns in the Champlain Islands.
Rep. Morgan scored 2,768 votes and Michael Morgan collected 2,619 votes, according to election numbers compiled by The Islander.
Johnson, who tallied 2,601 votes, told The Islander today that she plans to file Thursday a request for a recount. She said she thought it was appropriate for an 18-vote difference with about 11,000 votes cast.
It would mark the third straight recount for the House district.
Democrat Andy Julow of North Hero finished fourth with 2,402.
As a show of unity, the four candidates appeared Wednesday morning for a honk-and-sign wave on the Sand Bar causeway near the South Hero-Milton line on U.S. 2.
Rep. Morgan said he and his nephew started the sign wave shortly after 6 a.m. and were later joined by Johnson and Julow. The entire event was cordial with a few jokes back and forth, the four candidates reported.
The four wrapped up shortly after 7:30 a.m. The apparent winners said they jumped into Rep. Morgan's truck and continued north through the islands to Alburgh to reclaim the lawn signs supporting their candidacies. They made a few other stops along the way, including at the Harborside Market in North Hero to grab lunch.
During the afternoon they made a similar drive throughout Milton collecting more lawn signs, according to Michael Morgan, a retired career military officer.
The Morgans estimated they had between 450 and 500 lawn signs on display in the six towns. The signs included some from the campaign from two years ago. That also ended with a recount with Michael Morgan coming up short.
He said over the past two years he and his uncle have worked to further develop their base in the Champlain Islands. As they talked with residents, they said they got strong encouragement for another joint run.
Both Morgans said they tried to make themselves available to residents through phone, email or social media. Rep. Morgan said he also tried to stay in contact with taxpayers through the legislative columns printed in The Islander.
The Morgans said voters frequently mentioned Johnson did not respond to phone calls and emails leading to frustration.
Johnson said she has tried to respond to voters while balancing the work of House Speaker. She said some residents may not have liked the response to their questions and that they are claiming those as a non-response by Johnson.
Vermont town clerks have 48 hours after the election to forward their final ballot totals to the office of Secretary of State Jim Condos. His office next Tuesday morning will provide the official outcome for each race throughout Vermont.
The request for a recount is filed at Vermont Superior Court with the County Clerk running the recount. Each political party is asked to submit names of local residents that can work the recount.
If Johnson seeks a recount, it is unclear where it would happen in Grand Isle County due to physical distancing required under the COVID-19 pandemic. Possible locations might include the North Hero Community Hall and the Isle La Motte School, which is not being used for classes this year.
Johnson's apparent defeat would mean a loss of some legislative power for the Champlain Islands in Montpelier.
The Speaker of the House oversees how the 150-member chamber runs and often helped set the agenda for legislation to be considered, for spending and other issues. As one former House Speaker claimed, "everything comes through this office." The Speaker presides over the daily sessions of the House and assigns committees.
Johnson, 49, has served 9 terms as a state representative, including the last four as the speaker. Before being named by her colleagues as speaker, Johnson served on the Agriculture Committee 2003-07 and the Appropriations Committee from 2007 to 2017.
This was Julow's second run for the House district. Four years ago, he was declared a winner in the Democratic primary on election night, but a court-ordered recount edged retired State Judge Ben Joseph past him. Joseph and Johnson both won seats in the General Election.