Paul Ralston says he is thinking about running for public office in Vermont this year, but he wants help deciding what, if any, office he should pursue.
So Ralston posted his musing on Facebook.
One person recommended: “Governor!”
“Lt. Gov.,” another answered. They were just the sort of responses you get when you publicly ask your friends what you should do. Ralston also launched a website through which he is seeking input.
And now he’s taking it to the radio airwaves, launching a weekly show titled “The Reluctant Politician” on Waterbury-based WDEV. It’ll air 1-2 p.m. on Thursdays starting this week.
It’s an odd approach — crowdsourcing advice on his potential candidacy — and one that runs the risk of making Ralston appear indecisive. If that’s how it strikes people, Ralston said, they don’t have to vote for him if he decides to run.
“I’m serious about this,” said Ralston, a Middlebury Democrat who served four years in the state House from 2011-2014 and owns the Vermont Coffee Company. “I want to talk to a lot of people.”
He’s so serious that he’s hired a part-time producer to help him and is setting up a radio studio at the coffee plant. The building already happened to have a soundproof room that wasn’t in use, he said.
He plans to interview other Vermont candidates on the air about how they manage to balance work, family and life with seeking and holding public office. And he hopes to encourage other Vermonters to give running a shot, pulling back any veil of mystery people might feel there is to running for office. His first guest will be Secretary of State Jim Condos, whose job, in part, is to oversee elections.
“It should not be mysterious. It should not be something you should have to be an insider to know about,” he said.
Ralston, 62, said the seed was planted when he contemplated buying the Green Mountain Glove Company, a glove factory in Randolph. His wife urged him not to and said she’d prefer him to run for office again. It’s not that he’s bored with the business of roasting coffee beans, Ralston said. “I’m always working on the next thing,” he said.
The “next thing” is fairly open-ended, but Ralston said he won’t be running for president. He won’t be running for U.S. House or U.S. Senate, he said, because he doesn’t want to go to Washington, D.C. Local town offices are probably off the table, as the filing deadline is fast approaching. He discounted the possibility of county sheriff and considers himself an unlikely choice for state attorney general. But he declined to narrow the choices further.
Asked if he is considering state Senate or lieutenant governor — two spots that might be logical next steps for someone after the House — Ralston said, “If that’s your recommendation, I’ll take it into consideration.”
Ralston said his experience in office will lend the on-air discussion a touch of realism.
“Seventy-five percent of my experience in politics has been good. Twenty-five of it has been really boring. The first time I ever fell asleep in a meeting was in a Democratic caucus,” he said. He was sitting against the back wall of Room 11 in the Statehouse, where coffee consumption is not allowed. He doesn’t think anyone noticed his head loll forward.
If by the candidate filing deadline for state offices in late May Ralston decides to run for something in 2016, he won’t be able to keep the radio show going, he acknowledged. The Federal Communications Commission has rules about equal airtime for all candidates.