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Douglas: He's Out, Everybody's In

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Anyone who is not thinking of running for Vermont governor in 2010, please raise your hand.

Yikes. This could get interesting. If nothing else, this political columnist is thankful for a little job security through at least one more election cycle.

Less than 24 hours after four-term Republican Gov. Jim Douglas surprised our tiny political world in Vermont, the political landscape in Vermont is still firmly settled in a fog bank.

While Republicans may do most of their primary work behind the scenes, the Democrats are completely out in the open.

Both House Speaker Shap Smith and President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin tell Seven Days they are weighing bids for governor, adding their names to an already crowded field.

On the GOP side, the top candidate is Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (pictured). Dubie was first elected to office in 2002 along with Douglas and has been his trusty "co-pilot" ever since. Dubie will be taking some time to weigh his options.

A guest on WVMT's Charlie & Ernie Show this morning, Douglas said he made his announcement this far in advance to give Republicans time to find an able replacement. And, despite a state that has increasingly put Democrats into office around Vermont, Douglas said a Republican could still get elected.

"It'll be a challenge, and I don't know who might emerge as the candidate, but that's one reason to make the decision fairly early in the biennium," said Douglas. "Certainly, Brian Dubie has first dibs to run but he's still assessing the new information."

Douglas said he informed Dubie of his decision not to run in 2010 "Tuesday-ish," which means Dubie had at least a couple of days head start on the competition.

If Dubie runs, he'll have to raise about $3000 a day for the next 16 months just to be competitive money-wise, and raising money is one of his least favorite aspects of running for office. He'll also face serious questions about his stance on a woman's right to choose (which he opposes). Statewide candidates in Vermont have largely been pro-choice in Vermont, and it's likely to be an issue Democrats would use against him.

But people often underestimate Dubie. He's much smarter (intellectually and politically) than people give him credit for, and that works to his advantage. Trust me, if he gets into the race, he's in it to win and shouldn't be seen or treated as a lightweight.

If Dubie opts not to run, a few Republicans will be considering it: State Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), who also served a term as state auditor; State Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), who was a key vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of same-sex marriage this past session; State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) and others. Other names that have been floated by political insiders include former House Speaker Walt Freed, and former Rutland State Senator John Bloomer Jr.

"I am one of seven Republican senators in Montpelier, and for me to be effective means I have to work with Democrats which means you get labeled a liberal or a RINO (Republican in Name Only)," said Illuzzi. "But, to get something done, you have to work across the aisle when you're in the minority."

Illuzzi said out of deference, he and other Republicans will give Dubie the chance to make up his mind before taking more public steps.

Once Dubie decides, expect the party to fall in line behind the candidates and not hold a messy primary.

Messy primaries, it seems, are left for the Democrats.

Yesterday, the list of Democratic candidates who were already in the race for 2010 were: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz (pictured), State Senator and former Lt. Governor Doug Racine, and State Sen. Susan Bartlett.

Today, the potential list of Democrats has more than doubled. So, who's now thinking of it?

Here's a quick list: Smith and Shumlin (as noted above), Auditor Tom Salmon, former State Senator Matt Dunne, and possibly Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

"My thinking was that I was going to run for another term as speaker, but given this surprise announcement, I have to at least look at my options," Smith told Seven Days. "I would say that I'm looking at my options, but my commitment has been to be Speaker of the house."

Dunne expects to make his decision by November.

"The governor's race has been and continues to be a viable option for me," said Dunne. "I certainly had been considering a run when Douglas was in, and my decision-making process doesn't change much for me."

At this rate, a Democrat will need to win about 15 percent of the vote to beat opponents in the primary.

Burlington Progressive Rep. Dave Zuckerman is also weighing a possible run for higher office, but he said it's still early and he may settle his sights lower — say, lite guv or state senate.

"We'll have a meeting of the minds soon as a party as to what we're going to do in terms of governor, lieutenant governor, or even state senate," said Zuckerman.


Second in Command

If Dubie does run, then another shakeup occurs. As I've noted in "Fair Game," a few folks in the GOP are ready to run for lt. governor, too. So much for the shallow-bench theory, eh?

If Dubie opts out, expect Brock to consider a run for that office. But other lawmakers may be in contention, including Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington) as well as Rep. Peg Flory (R-Brandon). Also in the mix would likely be Barre Mayor Tom Lauzon.

Democrats are interested in the lite guv post, too.

State Sen. Ed Flanagan, who is under criminal investigation for allegedly masturbating in the men's locker room at the Greater Burlington YMCA, is one possible candidate. Another is the person who partially holds Flanagan's political fate in his hands: Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan.

And, if Flanagan decides not to run for lite guv, or even reelection, expect plenty of activity in the Chittenden County Senate race.

Ain't this fun?


Odds & Ends

Still, many people want to know: Why did Douglas announce now? Another job? A scandal?

No hikes on the Long Trail, that's for sure. It seems to be a pretty straightforward case of a guy being in office for three decades and wanting a break.

And, let's face it, after being the subject of two veto overrides this past session and the prospect of an even rougher session coming — what would you do?

Don't write him off yet, however. Douglas is still a formidable politician, whether he's running for office or not. This next legislative session, we'll see Douglas doubling down on his "Affordability Agenda," as it's the legacy he'd like to leave. And, he's put together a strong team of budget negotiators.

And, with a clusterf**k of a Democratic primary about to be unleashed, there's nothing the Douglas admin loves better than to send the Democrats into disarray. With both a lean budget in the offing and contract talks with the state employees' labor union, he'll be in true command.

The question for Democrats is how much they can play offense on key issues such as health care reform, Vermont Yankee and the budget while playing defense against one of the true political pros.

One more thing before we go: My favorite rumors from yesterday (and today) are as follows:

• Douglas was stepping down to take a job in the administration of Pres. Barack Obama, possibly as ambassador to Russia.

• Auditor Tom Salmon, a Democrat, is thinking of running for governor as ... a Republican. Word is he is calling Republican lawmakers to see if his entrance into the race would clear the field. My guess? Nope. The GOP will either get behind Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, if he runs, or any other GOP stalwart, but not a Dem. Hey, they aren't like the Progs.

• U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders might run for governor. It's a job he thought of running for in 1990 before opting to take on U.S. Rep. Peter Smith, a Republican, one more time. As we all know, he did run for U.S. House and won. Current U.S. Rep. Peter Welch ran for governor that year and lost to Republican Richard Snelling. Sanders said with a resounding "NO!" that he's not interested in giving up his senate seat.

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