Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen
Tuesday Buzz: on moderates, marriage and a changed political landscape
The monkey wrench in the middle
Gov. Jim Douglas’ announcement last week that he will not seek re-election lit up the phone lines among political aspirants and the people who can help them.
Looking out over the possible new landscape one might wonder whether moderates have a seat at the table. Keep in mind that in recent years, moderates have owned the power to put somebody in the governor’s seat (think Howard Dean, Jim Douglas.
If Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is the Republican candidate against any one of the Democrats who’ve voiced an interest wins their party’s primary, does that leave moderates nowhere to go?
"It is a concern, naturally," said Sen. Richard Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Chittenden, who is often the man in the middle in the Senate. "One of the things expressed to me by a lot of folks in the store and in the business community is they are looking for someone moderate."
Mazza said he worries that neither Dubie nor some of the Democrats considering a run are the answer.
Charlie Smith, a moderate Republican and former member of Douglas’ cabinet, was not so worried, arguing that Dubie fills the bill. "I view Brian as a moderate and I view myself as a moderate," Smith said.
Mazza, who serves with Dubie on the Senate’s Committee on Committees, disagrees. "Brian Dubie’s a conservative," he said.
Dubie, who is expected to announce soon whether he is running for governor and to whom other Republicans are deferring, has shown conservative stances on social issues, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Smith suggested those issues won’t be key in 2010.
"His focus would be on jobs and the economy," Smith said. "I have confidence in his instincts and his values."
John Bloomer Jr., a moderate former Republican state senator who is among those who said he is awaiting Dubie’s decision before making his own, agreed that those issues don’t necessarily close off moderate support for Dubie.
Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, whose moderate status earned him a committee chairmanship in the heavily Democratic Senate, put it this way: "He and I may not agree on some issues but he has respect for other opinions and he listens."
Mazza, meanwhile, is worried enough that he’s trying to recruit moderates into the game, including state Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, who has said he would not run.
"Jeb would be a great candidate," Mazza said. "I’m going to talk to him again."
State Auditor Tom Salmon, a Democrat, has made sought to characterize himself as a moderate alternative. Mazza suggested that Salmon has some work ahead of him before is accepted by Democratic brethren.
Three Democrats are already in the race: Sens. Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, whom Mazza said called seeking his support over the weekend. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin has strongly suggested he might join them.
Among those, Mazza said he ranks Shumlin the most moderate, despite Shumlin’s near-warfare-level wrangling with Douglas.
"He understands the business community. He knows the landscape out there," said Mazza, who runs a general store in Colchester. "Can he get elected? That’s another issue."
No matter how you rank candidates, Mazza said Democrats need to get together in a room and sort things out before they grow ugly. He suggested that Dean and perhaps Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., could pull the candidates together and figure out the best possible course.
"This is real big turning point," he said.
— Terri Hallenbeck
The call to the bullpen
It’s a powerful thing when people call and suggest you should run for any office, let alone governor, as a number of Vermont politicians have discovered in recent days.
"It certainly is flattering," said Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, said he’s had calls suggesting he run for governor or lieutenant governor.
Scott said he is considering it, particularly running for lieutenant governor. On the governor front, he was candid: "I think there’s many more qualified people than myself."
As Scott thought about it, there was another, unique reason being governor might not be a good fit for him. Governors are driven around the state by a trooper and Scott said he likes driving too much to consider giving that up. Not to mention, Scott said, that officials at Thunder Road, where he drives a race car Thursday nights, would never let him sit in the passenger seat for their circuits around the track.
— Terri Hallenbeck
People won’t remember in November — 2010
The consensus among political party officials is that same-sex marriage — which becomes legal today — won’t be an issue in the 2010 election.
No big backlash as in 2000 when opponents of civil union ousted some lawmakers over their votes. "I don’t see it as an overarching issue," said Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper. Judy Bevans, Democratic Party chairwoman, agreed, as did Morgan Daybell, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party.
"People have a year to get used to it and people wanted it," Bevans said of allowing same-sex marriage. "I think we have moved beyond being challenged on it. We have real problems to solve."
Daybell listed the issues he expects will the front-burner issues for voters — health care, the future of Vermont Yankee and the economy. "Same-sex marriage is going to be eclipsed by those issues."
Roper predicted same-sex marriage would become an issue only in a handful of legislative races if candidates received significant out-of-state money contributions.
— Nancy Remsen
In case you missed it
Free Press photographer Glenn Russell shot video of our interview with Gov. Jim Douglas the day he announced he would not seek re-election.
Nationally speaking: Gov. Jim Douglas’ announcement Thursday that he would not seek re-election set of a flurry of political buzz nationally among those who track states and who controls what some refer to as "the governor’s mansion," though Vermont has no mansion.
CQ Politics is among those that immediately changed its rating of the state to "Leans Democratic" from "Leans Republican." CQ Politics said Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has proven he can win, "But he also has clashed with Democratic state legislators over his conservative line on law-and-order and social issues — views that could provide ammunition for the opposition in the contest for the much higher-profile governor’s office in strongly Democratic-trending Vermont."
— Terri Hallenbeck
Roar of the crowd
"If Dubie runs, I don't think he will have as difficult a time as CQ politics imagines in this "heavily democratic" state," said politicaljunkie, responding to CQ Politics’ assessment. "If Vermont voters really perceived Dubie as that different from Douglas or some kind of extreme conservative, he would have undoubtedly faced many more defections."
Campaign stimulus plan
Gov. Jim Douglas has done his part to stimulate the economy in Vermont with his announced retirement from political office. Think of all the staff, rented offices, phone lines and placards for the many politicians eying the opportunities from the changed political landscape in 2010.
OK, the pack will shrink so the stimulus may be short-lived. Still, some political hopefuls are hiring for what they hope is the long haul — from now to at least September, 2010.
Democrat Doug Racine, who was in the race for governor whether or not Douglas was the Republican candidate, has now hired his third campaign aide.
Amy Shollenberger, who comes to the campaign with a decade of grassroots organizing and political experience, becomes Racine’s field director. "I’m responsible for getting people engaged," the 38-year-old Montpelier resident said. She will recruit volunteers and supporters. "Basically I ask people to do stuff to help get Doug elected."
Shollenberger wrapped up her work as director of Rural Vermont earlier this summer, so this opportunity came along at the perfect time, she said.
Democrat Deb Markowitz, who got serious about her run for governor last winter, is interviewing to find a campaign manager. She is conducting a nationwide search.
A staffer she hired to get her campaign and fund raising launched has moved on to pursue other career options as expected. He was never a long-term hire, Markowitz said. She has another paid campaign aide.
Democrat Susan Bartlett, the last of the three to declare her intentions, said she’s still relying on volunteers.
— Nancy Remsen
VPIRG counterattacks on health reform
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group doesn’t want Vermonters to feel left out of the national health care battle — so it has launched a series of television advertisements in support of comprehensive reform. Radio ads may soon follow.
Paul Burns, VPIRG’s executive director, said though Vermont’s Congressional delegation strongly supports reform, "We want them to be champions of the very best bill we can get." In other words Burns wants Vermonters to tell Rep. Peter Welch and Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders to hold tight to the public health insurance option rather than throw it overboard in a seemingly futile attempt to win Republican support for a health reform bill.
In his 30-second spot — one of three VPIRG is airing — Burns shoots a dart at Gov. Jim Douglas, too.
"Some angry mobs, insurance industry lobbyists and our own Gov. Jim Douglas are opposing the public plan option that will keep costs down and give Vermonters more choice," Burns states on air.
Burns said he objects to Douglas using his new political weight as chairman of the National Governors Association to promote a position that differs from that of a majority of Vermonters. Burns urges Vermonters to let Douglas know he’s not speaking for them.
— Nancy Remsen
Quote to note:
Gov. Jim Douglas, announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2010.
"But as any farmer knows, after many years — working sun up to sun down, seven days a week — there comes a time to turn over the reins to fresh arms. For me, that time is approaching. After 36 years as a public servant, 28 of those in statewide office, what will be eight years as governor — and through 15 statewide elections — I will have held center stage long enough for any leader. I will not seek another term as governor of Vermont."