Starting to sort the differences
OK, so now that there are five Democratic candidates running for governor, how is each going to distinguish him or herself from the others? Not easily. Here is a look at what direction the candidates have indicated they’re taking and comments from University of Vermont professor Garrison Nelson sizing up strengths and weaknesses, with a caveat from Nelson who said, “Unfortunately, none of them has the whole package”:
• Sen. Susan Bartlett of Hyde Park: Bartlett has served nine terms in the Senate and has been chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for eight years, which she highlights as an indication that she offers fiscal expertise in a time when finances are huge. She has written a column titled, “The budget in simple terms,” outlining the state’s budget challenges.
Nelson on Bartlett: Lacks statewide name recognition. She can pitch herself as a fresh face and tout her budget experience, but “the budget puts people to sleep.”
• Former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartland: In announcing his campaign, Dunne emphasized his experience the last two years working in community relations with Google as an indication that he has worked in cutting-edge technology. He touts his work with community service projects.
Nelson on Dunne: “He’s bright, he’s energetic, he’s good-looking, but he seems to have more of an interest in national politics.
• Secretary of State Deb Markowitz: Markowitz will emphasize her six terms as secretary of state, working with municipal officials throughout Vermont, and has spoken in support of environmental protection. She touts efforts to champion open government and preservation of public records, to establish a Safe at Home program to protect victims of domestic violence.
Nelson on Markowitz: By getting into the race early, she lined up key supporters. Because she has won six elections as secretary of state with no losses, she can advertise herself as the only candidate with an unblemished record.
• Sen. Doug Racine of Richmond: Racine touts his background in the Legislature (Senate 1983-92 and 2007-present, including president pro tempore 1989-1992; lieutenant governor 1997-2002) and in business (vice president Willie Racine Jeep/Isuzi Inc.) Racine will also tap into his interest in health care and remind voters that he once beat Republican Brian Dubie (in 2000).
Nelson on Racine: His early entry into the race means that like Markowitz, he got to donors early. He can also tout that he is the only candidate who has defeated Dubie. On the flipside, he’s the only one to lose a bid for governor, against Douglas (in 2002).
• Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney: Like Racine, Shumlin is emphasizing his background in business and government. With his endorsements Monday from renewable energy and same-sex marriage supporters, he showed that he will tout himself as the candidate who can get things done.
Nelson on Shumlin: He’s the best debater of the five and “a forceful figure.” He is joining the race after key contributors have committed to other candidates, however, and his southern Vermont residence won’t benefit him.
— Terri Hallenbeck
Meet the Democrats
For the first time, all five announced Democratic candidates for governor will participate in a public forum. It’s Thursday evening in Burlington, sponsored by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters.
Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie , the announced Republican candidate, was invited, too, but had a schedule conflict. The Democrats are Susan Bartlett , Matt Dunne , Deb Markowitz , Doug Racine and Peter Shumlin .
If you don’t already have a ticket, you may be out of luck. There are only 220 seats and most of them have already been sold. Don’t despair, Todd Bailey , executive director, said Channel 17 will record and replay it.
The candidates will answer four questions. Here’s an abbreviated version of the questions:
• Do you consider significant funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board an essential public investment or an optional priority?
• How should the state finance necessary improvements to wastewater treatment facilities and tackle stormwater runoff so they aren’t sources of increased pollution of Lake Champlain?
• Are there shortcomings in environmental regulation that should be remedied? What are they and what fixes do you propose?
• Do you support closing Vermont Yankee in 2012 when its original license expires? If wind energy is a future alternative source, what would you do to help some projects get built?
— Nancy Remsen
Talk about a lot of candidates
You think there are a lot of gubernatorial candidates here? It’s not even close to the number running for governor in Maine. How many? 21!
There could be more, according to the Associated Press. Maine voters sort it out in a June primary, giving those left standing a lot more time than Vermont candidates will have to do battle before the November election.
Here’s why Dubie could win
Chris Graff , a former Associated Press bureau chief who maintains a keen interest in politics, wrote a commentary in the latest Vermont Business Magazine that suggests some advantages Brian Dubie has going into next fall gubernatorial election. Check it out here.
— Nancy Remsen
Who’s in charge?
Steve Larrabee of Danville, newly elected chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, sees electoral opportunity in the public’s malaise about the economy and government spending.
“I want us to take advantage of the situation,” Larrabee said. “We are out there recruiting candidates now.” Between pressing economic issues and the Vermont GOP’s lack of political muscle in Montpelier, Larrabee quipped, “I think we have scared some people into running for office. They are concerned.”
There is a lot at stake in 2010 for Republicans. Gov. Jim Douglas’ retirement creates an opening for Democrats that Republicans hope they can deny. “We are thrilled to have Brian Dubie at the top of the ticket,” Larrabee said.
The party will focus much energy on legislative races, said Larrabee, who served seven terms in the House. Republicans must retake a lot of ground if they want to do more than just say no to Democratic initiatives. Democrats hold three times the seats in the state Senate as Republicans and nearly twice as many in the House.
Larrabee defeated Dan Riley of Bennington on Saturday to become the new GOP chairman.
Martha Abbott of Underhill, who won re-election Saturday as chairwoman of the Vermont Progressive Party, said her party also will make legislative elections a priority in 2010.
“We are recruiting candidates. We will have some announcements about House races pretty soon,” she said. Progressives hold five House seats and one senator was elected as a Democrat/Progressive.
As for the top of the ticket, Abbott said, “I’m not sure there will be decisions about statewide candidates until we see what happens in the Legislature on our priority issues: health care, Vermont Yankee and fixing the state retirement fund.”
Abbott isn’t persuaded voters want the political pendulum to swing dramatically right. “Certainly in Vermont, polls indicate that a majority of Vermonters want a single-payer health care system and to close Vermont Yankee. If anything, voters at both the state and national level are fed up with promises not backed up by action.”
Judy Bevans of Albany will continue to preside over the Vermont Democratic Party. Its focus will ambitious, she said. “We have our eyes on all of it. We want to take back the governor’s seat,” she said, plus run candidates and score victories in other statewide races. In the Legislature, she added, “We want to maintain our majority.”
When asked how she viewed the results from voting earlier this month, Bevans said, “I don’t think we are especially worried. We are very aware.”
— Nancy Remsen
Flory wants Senate seat
Rep. Peg Flory
, a six-term member of the House from Pittsford, has her eye on the Senate. Flory said she had been planning to run for the Senate anyway next year, but with this month’s resignation of Sen. Hull Maynard
, R-Rutland, she is looking for a quicker entry into the chamber. She hopes to be appointed to fill Maynard’s seat by Gov. Jim Douglas.
— Terri Hallenbeck
Douglas on NPR Sunday morning
If you slept late Sunday, you missed Gov. Jim Douglas answering Liane Hansen’s questions about health care reform — because he’s chairman of the National Governors Association.
No controversy, but he did offer a quirky analogy as part of his answer to her question about the lessons Vermont learned from legislating health reforms that could apply to the current debate?
“As the gangster in the¥’30s said, go where the money is.” Meaning Vermont learned from gangsters? No, no, of course not.
To hear the interview, go here.
— Nancy Remsen