Republican seeks Williston seat in Vermont House

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Tony O’Rourke is running to become the first republican to represent the Town of Williston in the Vermont House of Representatives in the nearly 20 years that he has lived here.

O’Rourke was recruited by the Vermont Republican Party to run after it became clear that 12-year incumbent democrat Terry Macaig would not seek re-election. O’Rourke missed the deadline to file with the Vermont Secretary of State to be on the republican ballot in the Aug. 11 party primary elections. To become the republican nominee, he will need at least 25 write-in votes. He would then advance to the November general election, where he would run against incumbent democrat Jim McCullough and first-time candidate, democrat Erin Brady for one of the two Williston seats in the House.

Macaig has endorsed Brady as his successor. The last republican to hold one of the seats was Mike Quaid, whom McCullough defeated in 2002.

“Seeing that Terry was retiring, that changed the landscape. That presented an opportunity,” said O’Rourke, a New York native and father of five. “It’s tough to unseat an incumbent.”

O’Rourke’s only previous political campaign was an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Williston Selectboard in 2015. He is a veteran of the food, beverage and hospitality industries who moved to Vermont in 1997 to manage the former Sirloin Saloon in Shelburne. He currently works as a regional manager for a wine supplier. Since his 2002 move to Williston, he has volunteered as a Little League coach and with the sustainable growth group Citizens for Responsible Growth, as well as on his neighborhood homeowners association.

O’Rourke describes himself as a moderate republican, one who supports Gov. Phil Scott but not president Donald Trump. His legislative focus would be on fiscal responsibility, addressing the rising cost of living and environmental sustainability. He is running out of a sense of civic responsibility.

“I don’t have a political agenda,” he said. “I think that people should, when they can and when they are willing, enter into the arena of public service.”

Running for a seat in the Vermont Legislature as a republican “is an uphill battle,” he acknowledged. “I think people sometimes have already made up their mind based on the letter next to a name, and I think that is a dangerous approach to politics.

“It seems like every topic has people on one side of the fence or the other,” he continued. “There should be no fence. It should be a table to sit down and talk.”

Asked to comment on O’Rourke’s candidacy, Macaig offered only: “He has a different set of values politically than I do.”

O’Rourke said he plans to speak to as many Williston residents as possible through the campaign season. Early voting by mail is currently available through the Williston Town Clerk’s office.