Sue Minter stepped down from her job as state transportation secretary Thursday and announced she’ll run for governor. She plans an October campaign kickoff.
Minter, 54, a Democrat from Waterbury who spent 13 months overseeing the state’s recovery after Tropical Storm Irene ripped up roads, bridges and homes in 2011, emphasized her managerial experience as she competes against at least two other Democrats for the party’s nomination next year.
“When I see a problem, I look for the potential,” said Minter. “I’m someone who is very focused on solving problems and getting things done.”
She served six years in the Vermont House, four years as deputy transportation secretary and the last eight months as secretary of the state’s second-largest agency.
Minter submitted her resignation Thursday morning, effective Friday. Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking reelection, issued a statement praising Minter’s work. He also appointed deputy secretary Chris Cole to her post.
“Whether it was overseeing recovery efforts following Irene, steadily improving Vermont’s transportation infrastructure, or managing one of the largest agencies in state government, Sue has been an invaluable asset to the state of Vermont,” Shumlin said. “She is smart, driven and an incredibly talented leader. I wish her all the best.”
Minter said when she told Shumlin a few weeks ago she was thinking of running for governor, “He was encouraging.” But he also made it clear he will not be endorsing anyone in the Democratic primary.
Minter said she agreed with a Shumlin administration edict that any appointed secretaries or commissioners have to resign to run for office. But resigning wasn’t easy, both because she liked her job and because now she doesn’t have one. Minter, a mother of two whose husband, David Goodman, is a freelance writer, had health coverage for her family as a job benefit. She said she will likely buy insurance through Vermont Health Connect.
Minter, who has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a reputation as being a quick study. Among her challenges will be name recognition and making her stances on issues known.
She’ll face House Speaker Shap Smith of Morristown and former state senator Matt Dunne of Hartland in a Democratic primary. Smith’s job as House speaker has kept him in the political limelight the last seven years. Dunne has experience running statewide campaigns for governor in 2010 and lieutenant governor in 2006.
Two Republicans — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott of Berlin and retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman of Shelburne — have also announced they are running.
Minter and Smith will both have to emphasize their state government experience while also distinguishing themselves from Shumlin. His support eroded and he barely won reelection last year.
Minter will likely face criticism over a recent lawsuit filed by three Agency of Transportation employees alleging workplace abuse and discrimination. Minter said the allegations predate her time as secretary, and said she has increased harassment-prevention training, upped recruiting of women and minorities, and established an affirmative-action task force.
As a legislator from 2005 to 2010, Minter served on the Transportation and Appropriations committees, roles that involved budget-building, with less emphasis on policy. Colleagues describe her as a solid Democrat they could count on to understand complicated budget issues.
“She’s somewhere between a left-leaning Democrat but not a real ultra-liberal,” said Rep. Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester), chair of the House Transportation Committee, who said he’s supporting Scott for governor. “She leans a little left, kind of as Shap [Smith] does.”
Rep. Johannah Donovan (D-Burlington), co-chair of the legislature’s Working Vermonters Caucus, said she thinks of Minter as a “good Democrat and somebody who supports Democratic ideals.” But Donovan, who said she doesn’t know which Democrat she will support for governor, said of Minter: “I don’t know whether she’s ready personally or organizationally to take on this challenge of running for governor.”
Minter enters the 2016 governor’s race as the only female candidate, spurred on by former governor Madeleine Kunin, who is the only woman ever to hold that job in Vermont. Minter said Thursday that gender matters, but that’s not why she’s running.
“It absolutely matters to me that we have women in leadership positions,” she said. “I’m running because I think I’m the most qualified for the job.”
Alex MacLean, who served as Shumlin’s campaign manager and then as a top aide to the governor, said sheencouraged Minter to run for governor. “She is the only candidate in the race with both executive and management experience in Vermont,” MacLean said. “She has the ability to bring people together.”