On November 14, 2018

Hooker wins Senate seat after running unexpected campaign

By Katy Savage

After walking 500 miles from France to Spain, Cheryl Hooker will have a seat in the Vermont Senate.

Hooker won one of three spots for Rutland County Senator in the Nov. 6 election.

“I was thrilled,” she said. “I was kind of surprised.”

Hooker, 71, did as much campaigning as she could, but she was out of the country from Aug. 21 to Oct. 11. Hooker and her husband George spent 45 days walking El Camino de Santiago, a historic pilgrimage that 300,000 people walk each year. They averaged walking 12 miles a day on the trip she and her husband had planned for four years.

Hooker wasn’t planning to run for election.

Hooker, a Democrat, was asked to put her name in as a write-in candidate three weeks before the Aug. 14 primary.

This is the first time a Democrat has won a seat as Senator for Rutland County since 2012.

Hooker received 10,875 votes in the election. She will serve with Republicans Brian Collamore, who received 11,476 votes and James McNeil, who received 10,751 votes. They defeated Republican Ed Larson with 10,085 votes and two other write-in Democrat candidates, Greg Cox with 10,070 votes and Scott Garren with 7,452 votes.

“We’re disappointed that Ed Larson wasn’t the third senator from Rutland County,” said Joshua Terenzini, who is the Rutland Town GOP chair. ”Cheryl Hooker is a well known and respected person throughout our community. Nobody can be surprised to see Cheryl go back to Montpelier.”

Both Hooker and George are retired teachers who don’t like to sit around.

George Hooker taught at Rutland High School for 35 years and then taught biology at what was then Castleton State College. Meanwhile, Cheryl was an English teacher at Mill River for 11 years.

On the Camino, they were out the door and walking by 7 a.m. They stopped around 2 p.m. to stay at hostels along the way.  They carried one set of clean clothes in their 15-pound packs. They got used to using bar soap to clean their clothes and their bodies. They washed their clothes  every night.

They met people from all different countries, including Canada, Tasmania and Venezuela. Some walked in mourning of family members they lost. Other walked for the experience of it.

“It was a soul-reaffirming experience to see all these people and talk to them and get to know them and to find out we had a whole lot more in common than not,” Hooker said.

Hooker isn’t a stranger to politics.

She served in the Vermont House for six years and in the Vermont Senate for two years in the 1990s.

She said the same issues she’s passionate about, such as health care and affordable living, are still topics of concern.

One of the three Rutland Senate seats came open with the retirement of Sen. Peg Flory. Republican Sen. David Soucy, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy by Kevin Mullen who became leader of the Green Mountain Care Board, was defeated in the primary election.

“People are looking for balance,” Hooker said. “People are looking for women.”

Hooker’s son-in-law managed her campaign while Hooker traveled. The campaign hit a glitch when Hooker couldn’t get on a plane to make a debate in Rutland. She attended a debate at Castleton University through a computer screen. Hooker was live-streamed in from Portugal.

“We were sort of surprised, but I think name recognition played a huge part,” Hooker said.

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