By Scooter MacMillan, Editor
An outcry over his vote on Proposal 5 has caused Rep. Mike Yantachka to reverse his position on the proposed state constitutional amendment and, at least in part, motivated another Charlotte resident to run against him in the August primary.
Proposal 5 would add language to the Vermont Constitution protecting personal reproductive rights and prohibiting the government from denying or infringing upon that right unless there is a compelling state interest.
In February, Yantachka voted against Prop 5. After reading and hearing from residents, he said, if he had the opportunity to vote again, he would vote differently.
“Upon re-examination I’ve come to see the unintended implications that resulted,” Yantachka posted on social media. “I realize that I have given the impression that I do not trust women to make good decisions regarding their reproductive choices. That is truly not something I believe. I should have untangled the issues better and recognized that was the message I was sending with my vote.”
On this Monday, May 23, Chea Waters Evans, the former editor of The Charlotte News, announced her intention to run against Yantachka. By Tuesday, she had already collected half of the 50 signatures she needed to qualify. The deadline to turn in petitions to run for office is Thursday afternoon.
“A matter like this is important enough that you should really as a person who’s representing the people in Charlotte, I think you should be really firm on that position,” Evans said. “I think you should stick with that opinion. I don’t think waffling about things that are as important as a person’s right to reproductive freedom is something I can support.”
This was the second vote on the amendment. Two years ago, when this vote first came up, Yantachka voted for Prop 5.
The right to reproductive autonomy is currently protected by state law but this proposed amendment would enshrine that right in the Vermont Constitution.
A constitutional amendment must be approved in two different biennia or, in other words, there must be votes for approving an amendment two years apart so that two different sessions of the Legislature have a chance to weigh in. This requirement is intended to make amending the constitution difficult.
During the two years between the two votes on the amendment, Yantachka became concerned that having the right to an abortion as part of the constitution would preclude any further discussion about when a fetus is viable to live outside the womb. He said he still supports a woman’s right to an abortion.
Evans said she didn’t think the Legislature really got “in the weeds” about when a fetus is a viable life. She thinks the issue is about people being able to choose.
She said from her conversations with residents it seemed Yantachka’s vote against Prop 5 was not how most people in Charlotte wanted him to vote, noting that he was the only Democrat voting “no” on the issue.
Politicians should vote the way their constituents want them to vote since they are their representative except in extreme circumstances, Evans said: “If there was like an angry mob of zombies, who came to Charlotte were like, ‘You need to vote that it’s OK to kill people and eat their brains,’ I would probably vote against that.”
Besides Yantachka’s vote on Prop 5, Evans was motivated by a desire to have someone who was younger and female. She believes there has been a cultural and political shift in the last five years or so which she understands.
Evans is 47 and Yantachka, who has served as Charlotte’s representative for 12 years, is 75.
Yantachka said a weekend that started out really nice turned challenging. The story in The Charlotte News about his hope voters would understand and appreciate his reasons for voting against the abortion amendment appeared on Thursday, May 19.
On Friday, as he was driving down to Binghamton, NY, for his granddaughter’s graduation from Binghamton University on Saturday, he hit a deer which totaled his car and killed the deer.
He ended up in the median unable to see because of the deployed airbag, but fortunately neither he nor his dog, who was riding in the back, were injured.
Then social media began to blow up with people upset about his vote. So, what had started as a really nice weekend turned “challenging.”
He believes he’s done a lot of good things for Charlotte, working hard on such issues as climate change, gun legislation, broadband access, school meals, agritourism “all kinds of good stuff that benefits the people of Charlotte.” He was surprised to feel like this one vote seemed to turn so many people against him.
“That’s kind of a wakeup call. It caused me to reevaluate my rationale for voting the way I did and listen to other people’s perspectives and see maybe I was wrong to vote against it,” Yantachka said.
Running with opposition is good for democracy, Yantachka said. He had opposition the first three times he ran for re-election but ran unopposed the last three times.
He plans to return to a pre-COVID style of campaigning, knocking on doors and holding meetings as he has in the past on issues like immigration or a carbon tax.
“I’ll have to figure out another way to reach out and meet people and get them to meet me,” Yantachka said.
For her part, Evans feels like she has a good grasp of the issues that are important to people in Charlotte like farming, affordable housing, diversity, equity and Proposal 5.
“I’m dialed in, I think, to the community in a way that fosters a sense of dialogue and a way to support lots of different people. I would say even the people who are excited that he voted no” to Proposal 5, she said.
After she resigned from The Charlotte News, Evans founded The Charlotte Bridge, an online newsletter. She said she hadn’t figured out whether her bid for office will mean the end of The Bridge, adding “I am taking things step by step.”
(In the interest of full disclosure: Mike Yantachka is a volunteer proofreader for The Charlotte News. After moving to Vermont five years ago, Scooter MacMillan may appear to have followed Chea Waters Evans to jobs as a reporter for the Vermont Community Newspaper Group, primarily for the Shelburne News and The Citizen, and as editor of The Charlotte News, after she resigned those positions. He will not be running for the Legislature.)