James Ehlers testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.
Updated at 4:37 p.m.
Environmental activist James Ehlers is running for governor of Vermont.
The Winooski resident on Thursday registered as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate with the Secretary of State’s Office and confirmed his candidacy to Seven Days via text message. If he wins the party’s primary, he would presumably challenge first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who is expected to seek reelection in 2018.
At his weekly press conference later Thursday, the governor delivered an ambiguous answer when asked about his political plans.
“I’m trying to get through this next term, so I’m not ready to acknowledge my candidacy today, but I’m intending to run in the future,” Scott said. “But I’m not announcing today.”
Ehlers, the executive director of Lake Champlain International, is known in public policy circles as Vermont’s most persistent water-quality advocate. Ehlers told Seven Days that he has no plans to step down from LCI “at present.”
Candidates cannot formally petition to appear on the ballot until April 23, 2018. But they are required to register their candidacies with the Secretary of State’s Office within 10 days of raising or spending at least $500. Ehlers filed such a registration statement Thursday, listing Alex MacDonald as his campaign treasurer.
Within the next few days, Ehlers said, he will begin organizing and fundraising.
“My main focus now is putting a team together and forming a people’s agenda, where every decision from the governor’s office puts people first,” he said. The Democratic candidate blasted the “bankrupt agenda of trickle-down that underlies the administration’s decisions.”
Seven Daysfirst reported Ehlers’ campaign exploration last month. At the time, he cited his “deeply instilled ethic” of leadership, learned during his service in the U.S. Navy. “Leadership occurs at the front,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me, anyway, that the governor feels comfortable leading during these challenging times.”
Ehlers is well aware that he begins the race as a decided underdog, but that isn’t stopping him. “If I didn’t think I could be competitive, I wouldn’t be running,” he said.
Ehlers would certainly be an unconventional candidate. He’s never sought public office and is not known for abiding by the niceties of political discourse. But his candidacy is being welcomed by the Vermont Democratic Party.
“That’s great,” said VDP chair Faisal Gill when informed of Ehlers’ entry into the race. “James has been a great advocate for the environment. He’s passionate, and he knows the issues.”
Gill cites passion as a key attribute for a gubernatorial candidate. “The biggest thing you need to run for governor, aside from the ability to do the job — which James has — is to have the desire, to be passionate about the issues.”
Asked if the famously independent Ehlers is enough of a Democrat for the party faithful, Gill said, “Oh, yeah. I have no reason to doubt that he’s a Democrat.”
At the same time, Gill expects others to seek the nomination. “Several people have talked to us about running for governor,” he said. “We think there will be plenty of people in the race.”