Environmental activist James Ehlers, who's been running for governor as a Democrat since last summer, finally made it official Tuesday night. He launched his campaign with a litany of progressive, pro-labor talking points on May Day, the working class holiday, in Vermont's most iconic workers' landmark: the Old Labor Hall in downtown Barre.
The oft-repeated tagline of the evening was "We, Not Me," a reference to what Ehlers calls his "people first" approach to campaigning and governing.
"As governor, I will have your back," he told a crowd of about 50 gathered in a room capable of holding many more. "That's why our campaign is about protecting and investing in our people and our places so that everyone can rise, regardless of how we fared in the birth lottery."
In his 15-minute speech, Ehlers spoke of "an economy in harmony with the ecology," campaign finance reform, universal primary care as a step toward Medicare for all, "a $15 per hour minimum wage as a start" to a living wage — which he pegged at $20-$25 an hour — investments in infrastructure and a bold approach to combating climate change. "There is no time to waste," he said. "There is no Planet B."
He echoed Abraham Lincoln's call for a government "of the people, by the people and for the people," and added that "Vermonters need the halls of Montpelier to stand with us and not in our way."
The event was classic Vermont progressive: the Old Labor Hall, with its plain white walls and well-worn wooden floor; a warmup band leaning heavily on the Grateful Dead songbook; and more than a few attendees who could fairly be called aging hippies. There were no Democratic or Progressive party officials or officeholders on hand; the closest brush with political "star power" was Jill Charbonneau, president of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO.
She was one of several speakers who took to the podium in advance of Ehlers. She called on the audience to make a "$27 revolutionary donation to this campaign," a callout to the average gift to the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The senator's name was never uttered, but his agenda clearly formed the backbone of Ehlers' platform.
Afterward, Ehlers chatted with supporters while his campaign staff distributed lawn signs and buttons and urged people to volunteer. He said his campaign will not accept money from corporations or corporate political action committees. So he will need plenty of those "revolutionary donations" and people power if he's going to beat Christine Hallquist, the former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, and 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn in the Democratic primary in August.