Jim Kenyon: Trump’s toxic influence on display in Windsor County

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Valley News Columnist

Published: 12-17-2023 12:46 AM

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, I went to a fight the other morning, and a meeting of the Windsor County Republican Executive Committee broke out.

How bad (or amusing, if you’re a Democrat) was it?

The dozen Republicans in the room didn’t make it through the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday before the name-calling and clamoring hit overdrive.

Windsor County GOP Chairman John MacGovern was under attack from the get-go as supporters of former President Donald Trump launched a revolt that’s been brewing for several weeks.

As soon as MacGovern asked the small gathering at the Windsor Welcome Center to join him in reciting the Pledge, Committeewoman Andrea Murray, of Weathersfield, jumped to her feet.

“Point of order! Point of order!” she shouted.

I’m not sure what Murray’s point was — other than to disrupt the meeting to the point that MacGovern would no longer want to serve as county chairman.

“Welcome to the Trump era,” MacGovern said during his futile attempt to restore order.

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MacGovern eventually announced he was adjourning the meeting without it ever really getting started. Suzanne Butterfield, the committee’s secretary, and Barre Pinske, chairman of the finance committee, left the building with him.

MacGovern, a 71-year-old Windsor resident, has made it clear for a while that he’ll do everything in his power to stop Windsor County Republicans from falling down the Trump rabbit hole.

Starting with not bowing to pressure to step down form his leadership post, which he accepted in October, after the former chairman resigned. At the same “reorganization meeting,” August Murray, Andrea’s spouse, was named vice chairman.

Murray, 55, graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School and Norwich University before embarking on a military career. In 2022, less than two years after arriving in Weathersfield, he ran for the Selectboard, losing by four votes. In September, he was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy.

Meanwhile, MacGovern has been active in Vermont GOP politics since moving to the state in 2000. A 1980 Dartmouth graduate, he was among the founders of The Dartmouth Review, the college’s conservative student newspaper.

“I’ve been in the trenches for a long time and have a conservative record,” MacGovern said in an interview.

But that doesn’t hold sway with the Murrays who are leading the charge against him.

The couple moved to Weathersfield three years ago from the Washington D.C., area.

At Thursday’s meeting, I didn’t hear the Murrays make any pledges of allegiance to Trump. They probably didn’t see a need to state the obvious. August Murray’s red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap with his signature stitched into the bill was a giveaway.

The Trump faction that controls the national GOP has “now come to Vermont and our Windsor County,” MacGovern told me. “It’s basically a hostile takeover.”

Not that there’s much to take over. The county’s Statehouse delegation of 14 House members and three Senators is made up entirely of Democrats and Progressives.

Statewide, Republicans cling to just 38 of 150 House seats. In the Senate, they’re outnumbered, 23-7.

Gov. Phil Scott, who is in his fourth term, is all the GOP has going for it. And it’s no coincidence that Scott is a Trump critic who voted for Joe Biden in 2020.

If Trump wins the 2024  nomination, “he’ll be a drag on local races and make it more difficult than it already is for Republicans to be successful in Windsor County,” MacGovern said when we talked later.

In 2020, Trump captured a mere 29.1% of the Windsor County vote. But for some sitting at the table Thursday, recent history doesn’t seem to matter.

“We need to support whoever the candidate is,” said Susan Fallone, of Woodstock, referring to next years’s presidential election.

At the Vermont Republican Convention last month, August Murray secured one of two delegate-at-large seats on the state executive committee.

A few days later, Murray demanded that MacGovern resign as county chairman. It’s time to “restore conservative Republican values in Windsor County,” Murray wrote in a letter that MacGovern shared with media.

Along with the letter, Murray attached a list of 11 contributions, totaling less than $300, that MacGovern had made to a political action committee that supports Democratic candidates in congressional races.

Six of the contributions, totaling $180, went to Sen. Raphael Warnock, who won a runoff in Georgia that gave Democrats their crucial 51st Senate seat.

It was a matter of putting “country over party,” MacGovern said.

He was also convinced that if Trump-backed candidates gained control of the Senate, Republicans would lose in the long run.

“Trump is destroying our party,” he said.

Although MacGovern had adjourned Thursday’s meeting, the Murrays, along with Fallone and Earl Dionne, another committee member from Windsor, stuck around to conduct their own meeting.

They argued the October vote to appoint MacGovern as county chair was never finalized.

Paul Dame, the state GOP chairman, disagrees. In a phone interview, Dame told me that he has “certified election results,” which show MacGovern was voted in properly.

The Murrays and their followers aren’t buying it. On Thursday, they announced plans to hold a special meeting of Windsor County Republicans to elect a new chair on — of all days — Jan. 6.

When I asked how they happened to pick the third anniversary of the Capitol attack, Andrea Murray called it “purely coincidental.”

What a joke.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.