Benning Launches LG Bid by Promising to Be a 'Cheerleader' for Vermont | Off Message

Benning Launches LG Bid by Promising to Be a 'Cheerleader' for Vermont


  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Sen. Joe Benning
State Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor Monday, the third person in as many weeks to enter the race to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Molly Gray as she runs for Congress.

The first Republican to enter the field said that if elected, he would use the largely ceremonial post not as a stepping stone to higher office, but to highlight the “civility and integrity” of Vermont and its people.

“It is a position that I envision as a cheerleader for the State of Vermont in trying to make our image, if you will, known not just around the United States, but indeed around the world,” Benning said.

The former Senate minority leader joins Rep. Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) and Patricia Preston, executive director of Vermont Council on World Affairs, in making his campaign official. Others who’ve expressed interest in running include former Democratic representative Kitty Toll of Danville and former Democratic/Progressive lieutenant governor David Zuckerman, who served two terms before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2020.

Unlike other candidates “pontificating about what social ill they are going to attack,” Benning said that as lieutenant governor, he would recognize the inherent limitations of the job.

The LG presides over the Senate and steps into the shoes of the governor if needed. The lieutenant governor has no power over legislation except for casting rare tie-breaking votes, he noted.

“The reality of the job, though, is that I [would] have very little impact in the state Senate itself,” he said.

While he would never shy away from expressing his views on issues, Benning said, he’d shift gears from crafting legislation to being an ambassador for the state, such as attending new business openings or other events requiring the participation of a state official.

Benning stressed his strong working relationship with Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration. He noted that he campaigned for Scott and spoke with him three weeks ago about running. He suggested voters might prefer a lieutenant governor closely aligned with the official he or she might be called upon to replace.

“If something happened to the governor where he was unable to fulfill his role, my candidacy offers about as seamless a transition as you can possibly imagine because I know all those people,” Benning said.

The defense attorney and history buff spoke with reporters and others via Zoom from his home in Lyndonville, shelves full of law books and a historic map of Vermont the wall behind him.

Benning said his next move will be starting to raise the $300,000 to $500,000 he thinks he'd need for a successful campaign.

The 65-year old senator was first elected in 2011. He acknowledged that in a primary, he could face opposition from more conservative Republicans who oppose some of his positions. This includes his support for Proposition 5, which would enshrine in the state Constitution protections for women’s reproductive rights. However, Benning said he and those voters share core Republican values: smaller government, lower taxes, a strong education system, personal responsibility and individual liberty.

Benning previously told Seven Days he was saddened that “somebody was using [the LG role] as an obvious stepping stone to someplace else,” a reference to Gray.

He declined to repeat that critique Monday. Instead he praised Gray for doing an “admirable job” of coming into a Senate “where she knew no one” and moderating the chamber during a pandemic.

“Different people have different paths to arrive at where they want to be,” he said.