Ending months of speculation about his political future, House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) announced Wednesday that he will make a bid for lieutenant governor.
"I think that there is a real opportunity for someone who wants to work on many of the challenges that the state faces and is willing to use that office to convene people around issues like tax reform, higher education financing, health care and downtown redevelopment," he said.
After 14 years in the House — including eight as its speaker — the 50-year-old lawyer has been looking for an opportunity to trade his Lamoille County district for a statewide perch. Smith launched a campaign for governor last August but suspended it in November when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. After her health improved this spring, he considered reentering the gubernatorial race but determined he couldn't raise enough money.
Smith said the lieutenant governor gig appealed to him because its part-time nature would allow him to focus on complex policy issues without having to manage "the day-to-day issues of running either the Senate or the House."
"As I thought more about the office and how it can be used, I have gotten more excited by the possibilities," he said.
Smith acknowledged that he's anything but a shoo-in. Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) and Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) have been campaigning for the Democratic nomination since late last year. The primary is scheduled for August 9. Former state auditor and senator Randy Brock is currently the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination.
"I'm getting a late start. I have two very credible opponents that I'm running against — people I have respect for and people who have put together very good campaigns," Smith said. "There's no doubt in my mind that I'm coming from behind, and I'm going to have to work my butt off to be competitive on Primary Day."
Smith won't be starting completely from scratch. As of March, he had roughly $31,000 left over from his gubernatorial campaign. As a darling of the Democratic Party establishment, he should have little trouble replenishing his campaign account.
"I plan to have a strong organization. I plan to have a lot of support," he said. "I think my record stands out as someone who can get a lot of tough things done and who is known for being able to work with a lot of different people and bring people together — and I think those messages will be attractive to primary voters."