FRANKLIN COUNTY — The election is over and the results are in. Ever since the vote tallies were determined late on Nov. 4, the Messenger has spent much of its time learning more about who Franklin County’s elected officials — the people chosen to create Vermont’s laws, make judgments in the courts, and affect the state’s and Franklin County’s budgets — really are.
This particular investigation, with exclusive reports from the fields of Franklin, the parks of St. Albans and the dining room floors of Enosburg Falls, has insightful findings on locally elected or re-elected politicians.
Some of them are dog people. Others are cat people. One is in in a wholly progressive category with pigs, ducks, chickens, cows, horses and more. Several declare independent status and don’t say what party they’re aligned with at all.
Whichever side they fall on and whatever differences they may have, research and reporting has determined that the elected officials of Franklin County can be defined as a whole on one issue: They have some furry, dang cute, sometimes misbehaving but otherwise delightful, pets.
The State Representatives
To celebrate winning the Franklin District 7 state representative seat for Enosburgh and Montgomery in his first run, Republican Larry Fiske did what anyone would naturally do: He got a cat.
“He was a stray,” said Fiske in his dining room last week. “We always rescue our animals.”
Fiske said he thought he’d surprise his wife, Marty, with a new kitty since their previous cat passed away several months earlier.
“We’re both animal magnets,” she said.
That’s how Freddy, a seven- or eight-month-old kitten, came along.
“I call it the cat from hell,” Fiske said. Apparently, as with his new elected office, the cat, who gave Fiske a few good scratches, is unknown territory.
“I have no idea what to expect,” Fiske said of his imminent residence in Montpelier.
Hopefully Fiske’s first day in the Vermont Statehouse will be a little smoother than Freddy’s first time in Fiskes’s house. Fiske said he and the cat accidentally scared each other in the basement shortly after arriving home. “Teeth and hissing and claws and, oh my god, you wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “I said, ‘If I catch you son of a gun, you’re going back.’”
“I did call it something else [than gun],” Fiske added, laughing.
That was the day before the interview. Last Thursday morning, Freddy was innocently weaving himself between Fiske’s chair and his legs. “He was curled up at my feet this morning,” Fiske said. “Maybe he was just scared, [and] he decided to take it out on the tallest person in the house.”
As for Corey Parent, another newly elected Republican state representative for Franklin District 3-1 in St. Albans City and Town, he also has a young pet.
Charlie, a golden retriever just over a year old, ran in circles around Parent and this reporter while walking through the back fields of Hard’ack Recreation Area last Thursday.
“He’s got space to run around [here],” said Parent. He then threw a tennis ball that Charlie tore after, tongue out and flopping all over the place.
Parent, at age 24, is one of the youngest state representatives to be elected to the Statehouse. Though he may be young in age, he’s well versed in his hometown of St. Albans, where he moved back to two years ago following college and a brief stint in New York City.
Since he often walks Charlie around Taylor Park, Parent said a lot of his constituents know who both of them are. Chuckling, Parent said he’s often caught in a less than noble position as he cleans up after Charlie.
“Someone’s gotta pick up the mess, right?” he said.
Parent then demonstrated Charlie’s “happy dance” that he does after doing his business. There was some hip shaking involved, with energy matching that of Parent’s young dog.
Parent said Charlie is often a way for him to connect with others. While knocking on 5,000 or so doors during his campaign, Parent said dogs would meet him on the threshold and smell Charlie, leading to a friendly conversation with constituents.
“It’s nice for people to see we’re regular people,” Parent said.
The newly elected Franklin County Senator Dustin Degree let this reporter in on a Taylor Park walk on Monday with Tucker, the seven and a half year old golden lab mix Degree received from his grandmother as a puppy.
“He’s on a fitness plan,” Degree said as Tucker padded (and maybe waddled a little) through the park.
Degree made jokes about Tucker becoming a “capital dog” and the mastermind behind his campaign before smiling and saying, “I’m an unapologetic dog person. He’s very loved – probably too loved.”
Degree, who ran an enthusiastic campaign that included waving from the corners of highways and raising just under $30,000 in campaign funding, according to his Oct. 15 filing with the Secretary of State, said he was enjoying a little downtime before going back to work and eventually moving on a temporary basis to Montpelier.
“It was a long two years,” Degree said.
Just as his owner was a thorough candidate, Tucker made sure to check out every bench and tree. Before going home, Degree demonstrated why he called Tucker by his nickname, “Smushy,” and helped Tucker wrinkle all the extra skin on his furry face.
“He has all the extra face,” said Degree.
As they passed the now empty Taylor Park fountain, Degree asked Tucker, “Wanna be the statue?” and the two easily took their place on the platform.
Franklin County Senator Norm McAllister is perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum from Degree’s face-mushing animal ownership. McAllister, who has had a farm in Franklin since 1975, has many, many animals but no true pets to walk or cuddle up next to.
When asked on Tuesday how many animals he has, McAllister responded, “Oh god” and started counting the 150 or so ducks, 40 geese, 10 pigs, eight cows, 50 turkeys.
“I’m the one who has pets that you eat,” said McAllister jokingly. “We have a menagerie.” When asked if he is attached to any of his animals that would soon be processed or go to market, he responded, “We like them all. They taste very good.”
McAllister also has two horses, TC and Christie, who were both born at the farm two decades ago and live out their days in open pasture.
“My niece convinced me to do horses,” McAllister said. “I guess they’re pets.” At one point, the farm had 30 or 40 horses.
McAllister’s farm has gone through a lot of changes through the years – much like the state has through his various terms. He said that he likes to continue to try new things – in the past he’s done goat and cow dairy, and next year he’s thinking about getting more dairy cows again.
McAllister is also clearing some woods for a sugarbush while keeping some swaths of land for wildlife like rabbits, squirrel and deer.
“I get a kick out of seeing them,” he said. “It’s part of what I do [even though] it doesn’t make financial sense.”
In general, the politician-farmer said that he just likes working with the land and making things grow.
“I love agriculture,” McAllister said. “Farming was what I always wanted to do. I think it chose me.”
The Assistant Judges
Bob Johnson, recently re-elected as a Franklin County assistant judge, has an adopted cat, Lui. Lui, which, like Johnson, has the drive and desire to be a local leader.
“He’s got the run of the house,” said Johnson in his St. Albans home last Friday as Lui, a brown, black striped cat with white splotches, walked authoritatively around the living room. Also like Johnson, though, Lui is a fairly relaxed person to interact with.
“He’s a nice cat,” Johnson said. That may be where cat and cat owner similarities end, however.
Lui is named after the videogame character Luigi, and likes to lounge on the Johnson’s couch. He occasionally goes outside, said Johnson, and sometimes brings back prizes, like a mouse.
“He’s a monster,” said Johnson. “He’ll chase it and he’ll catch it and he doesn’t kill it, he just plays with it.”
When not playing with live animals, Johnson said Lui likes to play with his other toys, and apparently, this reporter’s pencil, which he happily batted at throughout the entire interview.
For Johnson’s fellow re-elected assistant judge Kelly Gosselin, her furry companion is a bit less interested in others.
“He’s quite indignant,” said Gosselin of her French Bulldog, Oliver, on Thursday. Walking around her St. Albans City backyard in a white crocheted sweater, Oliver was more interested in getting back inside to his pop-up doghouse.
“He’s mostly a couch potato – he likes to relax,” said Gosselin.
This is rather different from Gosselin, who is often seen walking everywhere around St. Albans City including during her campaign for re-election. Despite their differences, Gosselin often isn’t seen without Oliver.
“I brought him different places to chat with people,” she said. “He didn’t like it – he’s not a politician.”
Sitting in her dining room, Gosselin looked over at Oliver as he slept and snorted, and said, “He looks like some sort of Gremlin, doesn’t he?” He may appear a little brutish, but Oliver is pampered thanks to the items sent along by his previous owner.
“He’s got his own car seat,” said Gosselin. Oliver also has a reflective vest, winter parka, life preserver vest, and other outfits including holiday collars.
“Lots of outfits, lots of collars,” said Gosselin.