News

McCullough steps away from Legislature

Arsenault launches candidacy to join Brady in House

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Jim McCullough is retiring from the Legislature after 20 years representing Williston. Hoping to fill the opening is school board chair Angela Arsenault. 

McCullough, 77, spent the majority of his time in the House of Representatives working on environmental issues as a member of the Natural Resources Committee. He is founder, with his wife Lucy, of the Catamount Outdoor Family Center and three years ago sold much of his property on Governor Chittenden Road to the town to create the publicly owned Catamount Community Forest. 

McCullough said it’s time for “new, good blood and young approaches to things … There are too many old, white men in the Legislature.”

McCullough and his longtime co-representative from Williston, Terry Macaig, set the stage for turnover four years ago. Both were considering retirement but did not want to drain Williston’s institutional knowledge from the House of Representatives at the same time. They agreed that Macaig would step away first, which he did in 2020. McCullough served one more two-year term, ending this spring.

Erin Brady, who was elected to replace Macaig two years ago and just completed her first term in the House, helped recruit Arsenault. The two serve together on the Champlain Valley School Board, where Arsenault is the board chair. 

Both Brady and Arsenault filed with the Secretary of State to be on the Democratic party ballot in the August primaries. It will be an uncontested primary as there are two available seats. In November, they will face a challenge for one of the seats from Republican Bruce Roy, who is planning to be on the ballot in the general election, according to Vermont Republican Party Chairman Paul Dame. 

Roy is a former active duty Air Force officer and member of the Vermont Air National Guard, retiring after 30 years as a colonel in 2008. He simultaneously worked at IBM, retiring in 2013. A native of Essex, he has lived in Williston since 2001.

“(Roy) will offer the opportunity for civil, balanced discussions and common sense to legislative issues facing the state that comes from experience as a business leader, military officer and Vermonter,” Dame said in a campaign announcement.

Brady, a high school teacher, served on the House Education Committee in her first term and helped lead successful efforts to extend universal free school meals and create a new child tax credit. In a May campaign announcement, she said she plans to continue to focus on childcare, housing and climate policy.

“For the past two years, I have been honored to work on behalf of Williston in the Legislature to fulfill the commitment we made at the beginning of the pandemic: to support Vermonters, their families, and their communities in a strong statewide recovery,” Brady said in the announcement. 

Brady has served as an example for Arsenault of a mom who can juggle legislative duties, school board responsibilities and raising a family.

“I’m very committed to (the school board) and I only wanted to do this if I felt like I could continue to serve on the school board and do all of that work as well as I want to do it,” Arsenault said.

If elected, Arsenault’s legislative focus will be on policies that support families — from housing and health and human services to employment and education. Her areas of interest certainly overlap with Brady’s.

“Erin and I have similar values but different skill sets — complementary skill sets — much like Terry and Jim,” said Arsenault. 

McCullough plans an active retirement and is ready to focus on family time after a public service career that goes back to when he first became a justice of the peace in the early 1980s. He’s proud to have shepherded a variety of environmental stewardship legislation into law over the past two decades as well as serve as a liaison to state government for his Williston constituents. 

“Being a state legislator these 20 years has been a gift from the voters to me,” he said. “Legislators get to help people in their community who have issues that they can’t solve by themselves. The title ‘representative’ goes a long way to helping to open doors. That as well has been a gift to me.”

This year, through the Legislature’s reapportionment process driven by population counts in the 2020 census, Williston’s house districts have been split. The majority of town will continue to have two seats in the House. But about 1,500 residents on the southwest side of town are now in a combined House district with South Burlington. 

McCullough said he tried to recruit a Williston resident to run in the new district, but only Democrat Noah Hyman from South Burlington filed with the Secretary of State’s office to be on ballot for the August primaries. He could face a challenge from a Republican or independent in the general election in November. 

Williston is also in a new Senate district, with three open seats shared with several neighboring municipalities. Five Democrats are running for the three Democratic nominations; incumbent Sens. Thomas Chittenden (South Burlington), Kesha Ram Hinsdale (Shelburne) and Ginny Lyons (Williston) are challenged by Steve May (Richmond) and Lewis Mudge (Charlotte). No Republican has filed for the primaries but could still run for a seat in the general election in November. 

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