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August 31, 2009

Trial Balloons Begin to Pop

It's only been four days since Gov. Jim Douglas (R) shocked Vermont's political world and announced he would not seek reelection in 2010.

Since then, this reporter's phone has been buzzing with calls from political insiders floating names of possible candidates who "would be great for the job," or by politicians themselves claiming they are "weighing their options" or "expressing an interest" in one of several possible statewide offices.

I say "possible," because it's not yet clear how many offices will open up as a result of Douglas' decision. It all really depends on whether Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (pictured) decides to run for governor, and if he does, who runs for his seat.
If Dubie opts to not run for governor, or even reelection, that would certainly open up the political floodgates in a way that didn't happen after U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I) announced in April 2005 that he would not seek reelection in 2006.

After an initial flurry of speculation, then-U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I) announced he would seek Jeffords' seat, opening up his lone post in the House. Douglas, wooed heavily by national Republicans to run for Congress, balked at taking on Sanders. Instead, businessman Rich Tarrant ended up taking one for the team. And how.

It was really the race to replace Sanders that became the hot ticket of the 2006 election cycle, as it became clear early that Sanders was going to walk away with the Senate race against Tarrant.

The House race involved former Adjutant General Martha Rainville, the Republican, and State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch (D-Windsor). Rainville's decision, while opening up a post to be filled by a vote of the legislature, did not have a ripple effect in the political world. Welch's seat, too, opened up a county seat, not a statewide one.

The outcomes? Welch won the House seat, Dubie's brother Michael Dubie was elected Adjutant General, and Sens. Alice Nitka (D) and Dick McCormack (D) were elected to the state senate from Windsor County. That year, Democratic State Sen. Matt Dunne, also of Windsor County, ran and lost his bid to unseat incumbent Lt. Governor Dubie.

Today, we have a similar scenario at play.

While Douglas' announcement disrupts the political equilibrium, it will be the next decision that could shake up things in ways that didn't happen when Jeffords stepped aside. Besides, the race for the U.S. Senate seat was never competitive, while the race for Vermont governor in 2010 will be all that and then some.

If Dubie runs for governor, speculation is that State Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) would run for lite guv, opening up his seat in the senate. Deputy Commissioner for Housing and Community Affairs Tayt Brooks told Seven Days he is "giving it some thought" but it's still too early to decide.

If Dubie doesn't run for reelection, or governor, then Brock is likely to run for the top spot. Lining up as possible candidates for lite guv include several Republican state senators — which could thin their ranks considerably, given there are only seven of them out of 30 seats.

As I noted on Friday, Sens. Phil Scott and Kevin Mullin are considering whether to make the leap. Both voted in favor of same-sex marriage, which would certainly not bode well for them in a GOP primary, especially against Brock, who voted against the measure.

Also, two other statewide officeholders — Auditor Tom Salmon or Attorney General Bill Sorrell — have been coy about whether they are considering a run for governor.

They would join an already crowded field of candidates and potential candidates on the Democratic side. To date, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, State Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) and State Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille) are the confirmed candidates. As of Friday, you can add House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham), and former State Sen. Matt Dunne to the "considering" column.

Some candidates whose names have been floated as possible successors to current officeholders tell Seven Days they are not running for higher office:

• Despite the rumors, Rep. Peg Flory (R-Pittsford) is not considering a run for either secretary of state or lieutenant governor. She had been considering a run for secretary of state, but when her husband died in April she said she lost interest in running a statewide campaign.

• And, despite being a much-touted pick by several insiders, Mary Powell, the CEO of Green Mountain Power, is not running for guv — or anything else.  Her name has been floated as a possible candidate for governor or other offices. While flattered, Powell has "zero interest in running for political office," company spokeswoman Dotty Schnure said.

• Thom Lauzon, mayor of Barre, also said he's flattered by the talk of him running for lieutenant governor, but he's not changed his stance since June when he told "Fair Game" that he wasn't thinking a lot about running for higher office. "There are a lot of people who have contributed more to the state than I have at this point who would be great candidates," said Lauzon.

There will be more to come in this week's "Fair Game," and next week's and the following week's and ... Well, maybe not that long. Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie told Seven Days he plans to take a couple of weeks to make up his mind.

"Public service is not just about what one person wants to do," said Dubie. "And right now I need to have those conversations to think a decision like this through thoroughly. Right now is the time to sit down with people and look them in the eye."

He's asked Susie Hudson, who ran his successful 2008 campaign, to spark those discussions among the GOP and more broadly with Vermonters.

"I want to talk to people who have been supportive of me in the past, but whose opinions I also respect," said Dubie. Those people would include his wife and children.

History is certainly on the side of the Democrats for 2010. The parties generally have swapped the governor's office back and forth every six to eight years since Phil Hoff became the first Democrat elected Vermont governor in modern history. That was 1962.

Why has House Minority Leader Patti Komline been silent? Maybe she can't float. Like Scott and Mullin she also was supportive of gay marriage. Unlike them, her vote was needed and noted by many who might not have voted Repub.

Ms Komline talks when it is important. She votes correctly when it is important. The real question is, why is she not on the list of possible Republican candidates for statewide office?

Steve & Older is Better: I was only able to just reach House Minority Leader Patti Komline. Not sure she's been silent, just not called perhaps?

In her chat with me, she said it's too early for her to consider running for statewide office. Besides, there are plenty of good candidates already in the mix, she said.

Frankly, as Scott noted in my post, too, I think her support for same-sex marriage could work against her in a GOP primary—and that's something she probably knows.

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