Three days after the Vermont primary elections, there's one nail-biter of a race still in contention.
Could Annette Smith — a write-in candidate for governor on the Progressive Party ticket — unseat party chair Martha Abbott as the party's pick for opposing Peter Shumlin?
Smith's supporters won't officially know until next week how their upstart, seat-of-the-pants write-in campaign panned out. The Secretary of State's unofficial tally shows Abbott leading over write-in votes (not all of which may be for Smith) 304-248. With only 77 percent of precincts reporting, Smith supporter Stephanie Kaplan thinks the race could be much closer. She put in a call to Craftsbury, where Smith's fierce opposition of the Lowell wind project has won over some fans, and learned that 33 voters chose a write-in candidate on the Prog ticket. Newark counts another eight.
In other words, it's a tight race — which is a surprising turn of events in a contest announced just two weeks before the primary, and particularly one in which the candidate herself has refused to campaign, make speeches, or even engage with reporters beyond the reminder (as she told this Seven Dayzer on August 14) that she'd be happy to talk about her advocacy work but not her election.
And there's no question that Smith works hard. She runs Vermonters for a Clean Environment from her Danby off-the-grid home. The organization got its start in 1999, fighting a natural-gas power plant and pipeline project proposed for Rutland and Bennington counties, and went on to tackle a proposed OMYA quarry in Smith's hometown. VCE grew to encompass environmental battles ranging from chloramine in water supplies to mountaintop wind projects. She's hammered the Public Service Board for allegedly cozying up to developers. But in an interview today, Smith objected to reports that characterize her work purely as "opposing" everything.
"What I do in my work is not oppose things," she says. "It's community support. It's education. ... We're solution-oriented."
She adds, "People keep proposing really bad things. That's not my fault."
The wind issue has arguably brought Smith her largest audience. As Seven Days reported in March, Smith believes large-scale wind development destroys natural resources and victimizes nearby neighbors:
Smith ... says that even as proponents advocate for sacrifice in the face of climate change, residents near these projects are begging, “Don’t sacrifice us.”
“They are making climate-change victims out of the people who live around the projects,” she says.
For like-minded supporters, Smith is a tireless and media-savvy advocate — quick to respond to reporters' queries with a barrage of documents, photographs and suggested sources.
Her supporters see Smith as the ideal candidate to debate Shumlin on issues of environmental policy and corporate influence in politics. In addition to the hot-button wind issue, campaign organizers Stephanie Kaplan and Randy Koch say Smith was the choice of voters concerned about smart metering by utilities, the CVPS/Green Mountain Power merger, and basing F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport.
Secretary of State Jim Condos says his office will be tallying votes on Monday and certifying and releasing results on Tuesday. In a campaign with a reluctant, downright absent candidate, it's not clear who might be authorized to file for a recount, if Kaplan and Koch thought one warranted. But they are hearing some troubling reports from voters who swear up and down that they wrote in Annette Smith, but town clerks say otherwise.
Discrepancies like that aside, Kaplan and Koch are delighted with the outcome of the write-in campaign. "We feel really good," says Kaplan. "It obviously struck a chord with people." She also suspects that at least some of the 973 votes reported as write-ins for governor on the Democratic ballot might have been cast for Smith as well — theoretically by voters who felt strongly about voting in the attorney general's race but who still wanted to protest Shumlin's policies.
If Smith does win the nomination, Kaplan hopes she'll step into the limelight — and Smith says she'd be open to debating the governor if the opportunity arose. "I don't have any plans, because I'm not a candidate yet," she says. "Have I thought about what I want to do? Yes."
In the meantime, Smith's supporters are waiting on Tuesday's results — and reveling in their candidate's relatively strong showing. "I think that we did kind of a kick-ass job," says Koch. How kick-ass? Only Tuesday will tell.