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November 16, 2009

Shumlin Launches Bid for Governor

It's officially, official: Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin is running for governor.

The Windham Democrat, who has been the Senate leader since returning to the post in 2007, enters an already crowded field of Democrats. Five candidates, including Shumlin, are vying for the right to challenge the putative GOP nominee — Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

Already in the race are: State Sen. Susan Bartlett (Lamoille), former State Sen. Matt Dunne, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and State Sen. Doug Racine (Chittenden).

Shumlin said he believes his small business background, coupled with his legislative leadership, provides the right mix of skills to be an effective governor.

"Our next governor is going to have the toughest budget challenges in recent memory. Over the past eight years, our state has overpromised and underperformed," said Shumlin, 53. "Promises of job growth have not materialized. Our expenses far exceed our revenues, and our long-term financial obligations outpace Vermont's ability to pay. Vermont, and Vermonters, cannot bear further tax burden."

Given his party has been in control of the Legislature and he one of the legislative leaders, what has the Democratic majority overpromised? Seven Days asked.

"I think that the biggest fiscal problems we're facing as a state right now are two-fold … that is that the promises made by government … are … uh ... the promises that have been made … uh ... while often genuine and thoughtful have not been adequately paid for," said Shumlin. "We must stop doing that. We need to figure out how to do more with less."

He noted two long-term liabilities in particular that are costly and underfunded — retirement and health care benefits for retirees as well as health care programs, in general.

Efforts to look at ways to save money through efficiencies is one way to tackle the problem, Shumlin noted. The legislature did hire an out-of-state firm to help find $30 million in savings. Additionally, a special committee is reviewing the state's tax structure to find improvements. Finally, another panel is looking at how best to pay for retirement benefits for public employees.

"We are high-tax state," said Shumlin. "And we need to rethink how we raise revenue."

Shumlin added that though a legislative leader, he is only one of 180 lawmakers under the Golden Dome. "The thing is that governors get things done. We need a strong governor."

Shumlin has hired Kate O'Conner as his campaign manager. O'Conner managed each of Gov. Howard Dean's successful candidacies for governor, and later worked on Dean's presidential campaign. In 2006, however, she worked as a campaign strategist for Republican Rich Tarrant. Tarrant lost — and by a wide margin – to then Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a bid for the US Senate.

Shumlin was introduced by David Blittersdorf, CEO of Earth Turbines, as well as Beth Robinson of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, and two former legislative pages: Sarah Levine and Will Kunin. Yes, readers, he is the grandson of former Gov. Madeleine Kunin (who is supporting Markowitz, by the way).

Blittersdorf praised Shumlin's focus on not only global warming, but on helping foster growth in Vermont businesses working to develop renewable, local sources of energy.

Robinson applauded Shumlin's resolve to shepherd through the state's landmark gay marriage law this past session when he was pressured to simply leave it for another day and only deal with the ongoing fiscal crisis.

Here is a partial transcription of Shumlin's announcement speech:

Vermonters are struggling to get by during these tough economic times. Tough times require tough and visionary leadership. I believe my experiences growing up in Vermont, building a successful family business and serving in a legislative leadership role, serve me well in understanding and addressing the challenges facing our beloved state.

What I want is solid, steady jobs and a good quality of life for all Vermonters — it's that simple.

Vermonters are facing tremendous economic challenges, grappling with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Even when employed, too many of our neighbors are struggling with stagnant incomes, rising property taxes and seemingly endless bills for fuel, food, rent, mortgages, health care and college tuition payments.

We must set a new path of economic vitality for our state, one that builds on our greatest assets: The hard working and innovative citizens of our state, our natural environment, our agricultural and technological innovation. That's what this campaign is about.

I think you mean "Shameless for Governor."

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