Don Turner, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, conceded the race to incumbent David Zuckerman just before 11 p.m. Election Night.
By that point, Turner had earned just 39 percent of the vote to Zuckerman’s 58 with 215 of 275 districts reporting, unofficial results from the Vt. Secretary of State show.
“I’m very disappointed by the end result,” Turner said around midnight. “I knew trying to beat an incumbent was going to be a challenge. I’m disappointed the spread is so big because I really did not expect that.”
Turner said his campaign’s data forecasted a much tighter race but wondered if Vermont’s higher-than-anticipated voter turnout skewed the predictions.
The defeat effectively marks an end to Turner’s 13-year political career, but he wouldn’t discount re-entering the political realm sometime in the future. He only pledged to move on, and for now, that means returning to a full-time gig as Milton’s town manager.
“I’m grateful the selectboard allowed me the opportunity to do this run, and my staff has been awesome,” he said. “For me, I think it will be good to go back to work.”
Turner’s legislative service began in 2005 when former Gov. Jim Douglas appointed him to the Milton House seat. Turner rose through the ranks, ascending to House minority leader in 2011.
He simultaneously served as Milton’s fire and rescue chief, a real estate developer and realtor. He was named Milton’s town manager just over a year ago and pledged if elected to statewide office, he’d do both jobs with diligence.
Turner ran a spirited and ambitious campaign, out-fundraising his Progressive/Democrat opponent by more than $100,000, campaign finance records show. He ran on a platform of affordability, a message he heard repeatedly in his canvassing.
“My message just kept getting stronger and stronger as I traveled around and heard from more Vermonters: They can’t afford to live here,” he said Monday night.
Turner drew stark contrasts with his opponent, the two Chittenden County men disagreeing on many major political issues.
Zuckerman supports a $15 hourly minimum wage; Turner said it would harm small business. Turner opposed marijuana legalization; Zuckerman has been a proponent for years. Zuckerman would consider a carbon tax; Turner does not.
Turner joined Gov. Phil Scott on Monday for a 14-county tour that began at 3 a.m. and ended 14 hours later at Georgia Mountain Maples’ banquet hall for a Republican rally.
“It’s been fun, it really has,” Turner supporter Joyce Shepard said during a sign wave in St. Albans on Monday night. “It’s nice to see all the people that are encouraging when they go by.”
Shepard, a member of Milton Rescue, which Turner led for a decade-plus, said she’s known the candidate her entire life. That’s why she voted for him.
“I know what he’s done for Milton, and he can do the same thing for the state, and I think that will be good for all of us,” she said. “He’s a nice person and a trustworthy person.”
Shepard’s sentiment resonated with others on the campaign trail, like Jim Minor, who said he was “tickled pink” when he heard Turner was seeking higher office—a premise Turner once scoffed at.
Minor, co-owner of Minor Funeral Home in Milton, has known Turner for more than 30 years. Like Shepard, he’d never helped a political campaign before but joined Turner’s because “Don’s a good guy.”
“What he says comes from the heart. That’s what I like about him,” Minor said. “When he says something, you’ve got his word.”
Minor hoped Turner would be elected and make Vermont more affordable. Even though Vermont’s lite gov role is statutorily relegated to tie-breaking and substitute-governing, Minor said Turner could tamp down spending.
Grand Isle dairy farmers Dwight and Ryan Bullis said they supported Turner because he’s opposed to a carbon tax, which would bankrupt already struggling farmers.
“He’s open to ideas,” Ryan Bullis said of Turner. “The carbon tax would not help us at all. The price of fuel, which, we use a lot of fuel in tractors, would just increase that.”
Dwight Bullis, who grew up with Turner, simply said: “It’s time for change.”
Turner’s tenure earned him the badge of “the voice of opposition,” one he embodied last session when he was one of only 14 lawmakers to vote to sustain Gov. Scott’s budget veto. Zuckerman said this only helped drive the partisan divide in Vermont politics, but Turner said he’d consistently pledged to support the veto if the budget would increase taxes.
Monday night in the packed banquet hall, former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas praised Scott and Turner for reining in spending in Montpelier. Douglas first appointed Turner to the legislature in 2005, a move he said he “never regretted.”
At the mic, Gov. Scott said even though he and Turner didn’t agree on everything, Turner is “always there. I can always count on him.”
Tuesday night, Turner credited his team of campaign volunteers, including many friends and family who piled onto the campaign bus for countless rallies, parades and other events.
“It was very humbling to have so many people support you,” he said. “It was an experience I will forever be grateful for.”
Turner said he ran a clean campaign, and though he didn’t emerge victorious, he’s the same guy as he was six months ago – “just with a lot less to do.”