When the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office this week finalized its list of candidates who qualified for the August 11 primary ballot, one name was surprisingly missing — Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans).
By all indications, the longtime lawmaker and onetime gubernatorial candidate had planned to seek a fifth term in the Senate.
When asked last week, Rodgers said he was running and had mailed his paperwork to his district clerk in Newport. But Rodgers acknowledged this week that he cut it too close and missed the deadline, meaning he won’t be able to run as a Democrat in the upcoming primary.
“I had too many things on my plate and wasn’t paying close enough attention,” Rodgers told Seven Days.
He put his paperwork in the mailbox at his Glover farm on Tuesday, figuring that allowed plenty of time for it to reach a district clerk in Newport by 5 p.m. on Friday, which he thought was the deadline.
But the deadline was actually the prior evening, and his papers didn’t arrive at the clerk’s office in Newport by then.
Rodgers plans to run as a write-in candidate in August. Fellow incumbent lawmaker Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans) and Democratic challenger Ron Horton of Jay have qualified for the ballot.
Rodgers didn’t sound too concerned about having a Democratic challenger, however. Horton, a writer and lifeguard, ran unsuccessfully in 2018 as a Democrat, and then lost as an independent in the general election.
One GOP candidate, Russ Ingalls, will be on that party's ballot.
Rodgers said he blames no one but himself for the error, but he noted he’s a little busy at the moment. He’s a masonry contractor with a packed schedule outside the part-time legislative session, which would normally be wrapped up by June.
He and his wife also purchased a 400-acre farm in October that has been in his family for 200 years. Their plan was to grow hemp, continue running a bed-and-breakfast on the property, and rent out their previous home as a vacation rental.
But when COVID-19 hit, visitors evaporated, and now he’s scrambling, often working 12- to 14-hour days trying to keep his head above water.
“We kind of jumped into the tourism business at an unfortunate time,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever open the bed-and-breakfast again. It’s just too risky to have a constant turnover of people coming through your house.”
He’s told Senate leadership he needs to focus on making a living and doesn’t think major pieces of legislation — like reforms to Act 250 and the Global Warming Solutions Act — ought to be proceeding now, anyway. That’s because most of the people he represents don’t feel they can adequately participate in the remote legislative process now in place, he said.
Another unexpected absence from the primary candidate list was Sen. Jim McNeil (R-Rutland), a haberdasher at McNeil & Reedy. McNeil did not return calls for comment, but Rodgers said he certainly could understand how a business owner — especially one focused on menswear and tuxedo rental — might be struggling.
“I feel his pain," Rodgers said. "There are thousands of businesses all around Vermont scratching their heads right now, saying, 'How the hell are we going to do this?'"