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August 27, 2009

Douglas Opts Out in '10: Political Reaction

Photo(4) Before a packed room of staff, lobbyists, media and other members of Montpelier's political class, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas made it official: He's not seeking reelection in 2010.

He also said he's not seeking any other political office. But, he made no indication as to what his next steps may be — other than taking a break from the political spotlight. He's held elective office of one kind or another for roughly 36 years, standing for statewide election 15 times.

"I know there will be some speculation as to what is next, so I want to lay a few questions to rest immediately. I am not running for president. Dorothy has a divorce lawyer on speed dial if I ever utter that crazy idea," Douglas told more than 100 people who packed the governor's ceremonial Statehouse office. "I’m not running for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House or any other statewide office in 2010. However, for the next 16 months, I am running state government."

Will he take a job in the administration of Pres. Barack Obama? There continues to be speculation he just might. But Douglas also made it clear that after trekking from his Middlebury home to Montpelier — over the App Gap along Vermont 17 — in snow, rain and sun was taking its toll.

"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," Douglas said. "My service to this state will not end with the governorship. Whether I’m in the corner office or my home office, I will always strive to do what I can to make better this great state. But I am also ready to write a new chapter in my life."

But, he dismissed quickly the notion that he would become a lame-duck governor.

"Those who presume there will be an absentee landlord in the corner office will be mistaken. I will focus as intensely as I always do on the needs of Vermonters. And I will continue to fight every day to put this state on firm footing. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels," Douglas added.

Douglas' decision is likely to open up the political floodgates, similar to the decision by Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords in 2005 to not run for reelection.

Currently, three Democrats are running for governor: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, State Sen. Doug Racine, and State Sen. Susan Bartlett. Each candidate believes it likely more Democrats will enter the race now that Douglas has decided to not run.

Other Democrats who are possible contenders include State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and Auditor Tom Salmon.

Republicans, who hold just 49 out of 150 seats in the House and seven out of 30 seats in the Senate, only have one additional statewide elected official: Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. Democrats hold four out of the six statewide offices, and a commanding majority in the House and Senate.

Dubie said he's not yet ready to make his plans known.

"The governor's announcement today changes the political landscape in Vermont. As Vermonters reflect on this new landscape, I will contemplate my options," said Dubie in a statement. "Right now, I will focus on doing my job. I will discuss my plans when the time is right."

Other GOP names floated as possible candidates for governor include Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), who served a single term as state auditor.

"I think there are a number of folks who are available who will try to fill the void, but he's an extremely tough act to follow and those are tremendous shoes to fill," said Brock. "But we do need to put forth a slate that will continue the kind of moderation and sensibility and stability that Jim Douglas has provided the state."

Rob Roper, chairman of the Vermont GOP, said he does expect there will be a few Republicans who step forward to run for governor. 

"We'll see about a primary," said Roper. "We'll start having more discussions once all the names come to the surface."

Political reaction:

"I want to congratulate and applaud Jim Douglas for his years of service to the state. Douglas is a Vermonter who has devoted his life to public service.  Vermonters, regardless of political party, should honor him for his commitment to serving the state for all of these years.  I wish him the very best in his future endeavors." — Democrat Deb Markowitz, Secretary of State, candidate for governor

"I'm surprised, but at the same time I think it was the right decision to make the announcement now. It's better to announce it once he made the decision rather than wait and let the news come out through rumors and backroom discussions." — State Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden)

"I think this just proves that the political field can change dramatically in a moment. I think it's clear from his announcement, though, that he's not going to be a lame duck and we've reached out to him to work together on the next state budget." — State Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille)

"It's sad to learn that he's not going to be governor, but I'm thankful for what he's given to us over the years, to the Republican Party and the State of Vermont." — Rob Roper, chairman, Vermont State Republican Party

"He's been clear ever since he was first elected that this is not a lifetime appointment. Even if you could get elected, you shouldn't. As his friends, we all want this to be the best decision for him, and you know that this was the best decision for him." — Neale Lunderville, administration secretary

"This was a very emotional announcement. He's the greatest boss I've ever had." — Jason Gibbs, commissioner of Forest, Parks & Recreation

"This is the end of an era. It's hard  to think about going to the polls and not seeing his name on the ballot. He leaves a long legacy and a very positive one. He's brought Vermont a sense of balance and moderation and that is something that will be sorely missed and is so important in thinking about a replacement." — State Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin)

You omitted Peter Shumlin from your list of possible Democratic candidates. Don't count him out. If he gets into the race (which I think he should), it will come down to him and Markowitz. Racine and Bartlett don't have a chance.

Who will speak for the moderates in this state if it's not Jim Douglas? Susan Bartlett? Brian Dubie? Not everyone in Vermont thinks we should succeed from the Union, shut down Vermont Yankee and raise taxes. Douglas did a great job of representing Vermont values (with the exception of the gay marriage bill). I think his moderate approach to financial matters will be sorely missed in Montpelier.

The Dem that runs to the middle will win in the end. Shumlin will nose into the raise (pun intended) as the Prog/Dem candidate. Tim Salmon has been running for the top job for a few years now too, so don't count him out either. There will be at least a three if not five way Democratic primary. Good time to be a political consultant in this state... a lot of money is about to be spent.

Takes a lot of balls for Douglas to compare himself to farmers particularly since he did next to nothing for farmers as governor. Riding over the App Gap in the snow to your gig in an office isn't quite the same. In addition to ineffectual, he can also be called delusional.

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