By COLIN MEYN
An uncle and nephew who ran as a joint Republican ticket are headed for a recount along with two incumbent Democrats in the race to represent Grand Isle in Vermont’s House.
Just 174 votes separated the first place finisher in the race, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, from the last place finisher, fellow Democrat Ben Joseph.
In the middle two spots were Leland Morgan, 68, and his nephew Michael Morgan, 57, both Republicans from Milton.
Leland Morgan finished 32 votes ahead of his nephew and 58 votes ahead of Joseph, who said he requested the recount because he had been told that some ballots hadn’t been counted.
“In some cases people didn’t make votes for all the possible offices they could have voted on and some weren’t counted,” Joseph said Wednesday evening.
The recount will be held on the morning of November 28 at the Grand Isle courthouse.
The elder Morgan said that he had met Joseph for coffee Monday morning and they talked about the transition to Montpelier, with no mention of a recount.
“That kind of blindsided me to say the least, but it’s within his rights to do that,” Leland Morgan said. (Joseph said he heard of the alleged uncounted votes after the meeting.)
“I think my margin was enough that the recount will not make any difference,” Morgan added.
Leland Morgan, a retired teacher and businessman who served a term in the House in the 1980s, said he was motivated to run again to bring his voice to the debate in Montpelier over gun rights and taxes — issues that also motivated his nephew, who was initially considering a run for Senate.
“We thought there are two seats in our district, so why not the both of us run?” the uncle said.
“I purely think it was luck of the draw I got a few percentage points more, because my name was higher on the list of the four people,” he added.
The second Grand Isle seat was one of the few seats flipped by Republicans, who lost 10 seats across the state and won’t have enough votes to uphold Gov. Phil Scott’s potential vetoes.
Michael Morgan, a retired Air Force colonel, said he didn’t expect the recount to change the outcome. “But maybe I’ll be surprised,” he added.
He said he and his uncle had expected to either both win or both lose.
“The split we gave a 25 percent chance,” he said of the pre-election odds. “We went into it knowing that if that occurred we are uncle and nephew and there are no hard feelings on that.”
Michael Morgan said his priority if he did head to the Statehouse would be to make it cost less for people to live in Vermont.
“I think right now … we are taxing people to death and they are voting with their feet, they’re leaving,” he said, noting that his 27-year-old daughter had moved elsewhere and his 29-year-old son was thinking about doing the same.
However, Michael Morgan noted that his opinion didn’t seem to be in the majority, as economic conservatives had struggled in races across the state.
“Sadly people like me are getting rarer than hen’s teeth around here,” he said. “I’m rather…surprised that people didn’t vote to bring back some normalcy in the state.”
Joseph said he was also surprised by the result of the House race in Grand Isle.
“I had been told by a lot of people that I had no trouble at all, that it would be an easy victory,” said the retired Vermont Superior Court judge.
The biggest issue that divided Joseph and Johnson from the Morgans was gun control bills passed by the legislature last year, which both of the incumbents supported. Joseph said he didn’t know if that position made a difference in the election.
And Joseph said that despite their differences, he thought Leland Morgan would do a fine job representing his constituency in Montpelier — if the results remain the same.
“I think he’s an intelligent and conscientious person,” Joseph said. “I’m not going to condemn anyone because they disagree with me. Heaven forbid, that would be stupid.”