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Vermont’s Political Campaigns Gear Up For 2016

Photo of Vermont Statehouse in winter
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse

The middle of 2015 shook up Vermont’s political field.  At the beginning of June incumbent Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin made the announcement not to seek re-election. That resulted in a stream of candidates stepping forward to seek not only Vermont’s highest office, but the state’s second seat.
On June 8th Governor Peter Shumlin surprised Vermonters when he announced his 2016 plans.  "I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for a fourth term in 2016."

Candidates were soon lining up like bees to honey.

Speaker of the Vermont House Democrat Shap Smith was the first to officially launch a  gubernatorial campaign, on August 19th.  "I’m running for Governor because I want every Vermonter to have the opportunities and the choices that I’ve had."

Democrat Matt Dunne, a Google executive from Hartland, a former member of the Vermont House and Senate and a 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, formally stepped into the gubernatorial race on September 2nd.   "I am running for Governor because  it’s becoming very clear that the economy in Vermont is not working for all of Vermont or for all Vermonters."

There were more Democrats interested in the state’s top spot.  State transportation Secretary Sue Minter, who had served the state as Irene Recovery officer after devastating flooding in 2011, resigned her position on September 10th and announced that she would run for governor, creating a three way democratic primary.  "I’m the only one that has both legislative experience combined with executive experience."

Republicans also stepped up.  Retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman threw his hat into the ring.   "What the state has lacked for too long is a sense of direction."

The state’s current Lieutenant Governor is the highest ranking Republican in the state. Speculation was rampant whether Phil Scott would run for Governor.   On Labor Day weekend he let it be known that he would seek the governor’s office, but would make his formal announcement later in the fall.  That happened in early December.   "A Scott Administration will be focused on the fundamentals.  When it comes to policy we will be unyielding. If a proposal decreases the cost of living in doing business here we will support it. If it increases costs we will resist it.'

In Vermont the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are elected separately.  With the incumbent Lieutenant Governor seeking the Governor’s seat, that position is also drawing candidates.  Democrat Brandon Riker, a 28-year-old Brattleboro commodities trader who has never run for office,  announced he would run.   "I believe the Lieutenant Governor’s office has been underserved for a very long time.  It’s a great position to help people.  But also it’s a great spot to help legislatures pass policy that can help the state move forward and get out of the unsustainable economic cycle we’re in."

Vermont House representative Kesha Ram, a Democrat from Burlington, also decided to run for Lieutenant Governor.   "It’s the right time to take a new step to support all Vermonters at a very critical juncture for insuring that we figure out what’s beneath Vermont’s economic stressors and begin to deal with them."

There is one declared Republican in the race for Lieutenant Governor so far.  Randy Brock is a former state senator who served as state auditor from 2005 to 2007 and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2012.   "This is an office that plays to my strengths.  It’s an office that has some constitutional duties, of course, that I know how to do.  But it also has largely a blank page and one of my strengths is coming up with new ideas and collaborating with people to make those ideas turn into reality."

There have already been some twists in the campaigns.  Garrett Graff, a native of Vermont, worked on Howard Dean’s campaign for president. He then left the state to work as a journalist in Washington D.C.  Graff planned to move back to run as a Democrat for Lieutenant Governor. But his eligibility has come into question.   "I’m a Vermonter. I was born a Vermonter.  I was raised a Vermonter. I have woken up every day of my life as a Vermonter.  And I have consulted with the state’s leading election law attorney Paul Gilles and I am quite confident that I meet the residency requirement."

Perhaps the biggest surprise so far was three months after declaring his candidacy for governor, Speaker Shap Smith withdrew from the race because his wife Melissa had been diagnosed with breast cancer.   "A diagnosis like this reshapes one’s priorities. This is a time when Melissa and the kids need me most."

Organic farmer and State Senator David Zuckerman is also running for Lieutenant Governor. He will run as a Democrat and seek the Progressive Party endorsement.

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