As Seven Days reported this morning, State Auditor Thomas M. Salmon has renounced his Democratic Party roots and will become a Republican.
"I did not leave the Democratic Party," said Salmon. "The party left me and tens of thousands of others in a reunion with the Progressive Party."
Not that said reunion has won them many elections — especially against Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. Fusion, unity or head-to-head, the left has been unable to seat a governor in Vermont for many years. Heck, even former Gov. Howard Dean was known as a fiscal conservative when he led the state — never mind his status as a "raging liberal" today on the national stage.
In response to reporters' questions, Salmon said his intent is to run for reelection as auditor in 2010. But he won't yet rule out a run for higher office.
"I'd say there is about a 10 percent chance I'd run for higher office," said Salmon.
That must mean Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is 90 percent sure he's running for the top spot, eh? We may know more next week when Dubie's "couple of weeks" to make a decision runs its course. He's in Alaska this week surveying Vermont-made wind turbines powering remote Eskimo villages.
Salmon said he would support Dubie if the lite guv decides to run for governor. But, speculation is that Salmon would run as a Republican if Dubie opts to sit out the race.
Most of Salmon's speech was reserved for a critique of the Democratic Party as one out of touch with the fiscal challenges facing the state, and failing to grapple with the need for fundamental restructuring of state government.
"I believe the majority of Vermonters do not want to see tax increases as a consequence of poor planning," said Salmon. "I am changing my political affiliation to align myself with the party closest to my core beliefs. It is my belief that the Vermont Republican Party is closest to accepting the realities of our times, and is therefore the party best equipped to manage the very real and troubling economic and social conditions which confront us not only today but in the coming decade."
Salmon was joined in the Cedar Creek Room by dozens of Republicans — the GOP Welcome Wagon, as it were. They included House Minority Leader Patti Komline (R-Dorset); Vermont GOP Chairman Rob Roper; Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland); Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden); Rep. Pat McDonald (R-Berlin); and Neale Lunderville, the political wunderkind of Gov. Jim Douglas and his administration secretary. Also, joining the throng were Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe); Rep. Scott Wheeler (R-Derby); and Rep. Linda Myers (R-Essex).
Every Republican I spoke with was practically giddy with joy to have Salmon — the son of a Democratic governor — jump the D's ship and join theirs.
"We're glad to have him," said Komline. "I think he's right that the Democratic Party has moved to the left, and it's really been the Republicans who are talking about fiscal discipline."
Komline said she does not expect Republicans to be wary of Salmon's leap to the GOP. "As state auditor, I know plenty of House Republicans who believe Tom to be a straight shooter, and we'll be glad to have someone else like him at the pulpit."
That sentiment was echoed by Roper, who said he has heard no concerns among rank-and-file GOP about Salmon's defection.
Salmon's decision ends a week of speculation and rumors that he was going to leave the party.
On Friday, Salmon said he was consulting with friends and colleagues as he sought to make a decision. The state GOP said they will welcome Salmon with open arms. He becomes the highest-profile defector among Democrats in a number of years.
His father, Thomas P. Salmon, was governor from 1973 to 1977.
"He supports me unequivocally," said Salmon.
Salmon told reporters he did support Democrat Doug Racine in 2002 over Douglas, but he had voted for independents in the past. In fact, he voted for presidential candidate Ross Perot twice.
Here's a smattering of official reaction to Salmon's defection from Vermont politicos:
The Vermont Democratic Party
"We are disappointed by Auditor Tom Salmon's decision to switch to the Republican Party. Auditor Salmon and his family have a long and storied history with the Democratic Party in this state and have enjoyed a great deal of electoral success with the help and support of the party and our dedicated activists," the party's Executive Director Robert Dempsey said in a statement.
"As shown during this past budget battle and again in his statement today, it is clear that the Auditor identifies himself with Republican Governor Jim Douglas and the 'Party of No New Ideas.' We will field an exciting slate of well-qualified Democratic candidates for every statewide office in 2010. We are confident they will be successful and continue to do great work on behalf of the people of Vermont," said Dempsey.
House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville)
"It is regrettable that Auditor Salmon felt he couldn't work with the Democratic Party and the legislature to achieve his goals. The fact is, the legislature understands the gravity of the financial crisis and took a balanced approach during the 2009 session that included cutting over $200 million from the state's budget.
"Auditor Salmon's announcement is perplexing in light of the fact that the legislature included the Auditor in many key discussions. Most recently, following a suggestion by the Auditor, the legislature has explored the idea of hiring the consultancy firm Public Strategies Group to find $30 million worth of savings in state government."
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham)
"Vermonters have a proud tradition of working across party lines and, while we are disappointed with Auditor Salmon's decision, we will continue our work with him. Fiscal responsibility is practiced by members of all parties and, as the 2010 session approaches, the legislature will continue to put Vermonters back to work and craft a balanced and fair budget."
Gov. Jim Douglas (R)
"It is an honor to welcome Tom Salmon Jr. to the Republican Party. Tom is a loyal and dedicated public servant whose deep commitment to serving our state and our country is an example for others. I value his steady leadership in the Auditor's office and appreciate working with him to put our state on a sustainable fiscal course for the future," Douglas said in a prepared statement.
"As Vermont continues to feel the effects of the recession, it is crucial that elected officials stand for responsible fiscal policies. Tom has proven to be a fair, honest and diligent State Auditor, working to ensure that every tax dollar is spent efficiently. His commitment to finding lasting, long-term solutions to the state's financial challenges is shared by the Vermont Republican Party," Douglas added.
Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R)
"Tom Salmon has consistently demonstrated an earnest desire to put the interests of Vermonters and their financial security first. Tom is a sincere and principled public servant, and I welcome his contribution as we work to make life better for Vermonters at a critical time for our national economy. His talents are needed."