* updated - Democrats call on Salmon to resign *
After months of speculation, Auditor Tom Salmon announced late today that he is setting up an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Salmon said he'll take the next several weeks to consider whether to make a formal announcement to challenge Sanders, who is up for his first reelection as senator. Prior to his 2006 election to the Senate, Sanders served eight terms in the U.S. House.
"Over the next several weeks, I will consider more formally whether or not I can make a positive difference, whether running for the Senate is right for my family, and whether Vermonters are eager for fresh leadership, new ideas, and a different approach to finding solutions," said Salmon.
As early as last May, Salmon made rumblings that he was prepared to challenge the senator who he claimed was on a "green ego ride." Now, it appears as if the faltering U.S. economy is one of the reasons Salmon is considering a bid for higher office.
“Our nation is in crisis. Millions of Americans face prolonged underemployment, unemployment, and despair. From Washington to Wisconsin we see the effects of poor planning and lots of unproductive blame. Here in Vermont, teachers are on the verge of a strike in some parts and paying property taxes has never been more difficult. America’s decades long spending binge has reached a tipping point," said Salmon. "As an auditor and accountant, I understand that our economic survival is threatened by the massive deficits and debt we are accumulating. As a father, I understand it is my generation’s responsibility to solve these problems now so that ours is not the first generation of Americans to leave to our children a country weaker, less prosperous and less hopeful than the one we inherited."
Salmon said he knows taking on Sanders is no easy task — the popular pol has easily defeated his challengers in each of his past several races.
"I understand that a campaign against an incumbent like Senator Sanders is no easy task. At the same time, I believe that no one is entitled to reelection year after year after year. No one is entitled to any office. Democracy only works when our elected officials are held accountable each and every election cycle through vigorous debate, an airing of the facts, and an examination of the record," said Salmon, who was just elected to his third term as state auditor. He recently announced that he will not seek reelection in 2012, whether he runs for senate or not.
Salmon was first elected auditor in 2006 as a Democrat, but he switched parties in 2009 to become a Republican, claiming: "I did not leave the Democratic Party. The party left me and tens of thousands of others in a reunion with the Progressive Party."
Now, it seems as if he's taking aim at the "Progfather" himself — Sanders. Though to be honest Sanders was never fond of the idea of a third party and he's never considered himself a member of the party, which has seen seven of its party members elected to the House, and two to the senate. The latter senators were elected as hybrid Democrat-Progressives.
A spokesman for Sen. Sanders said it was too early to be talking about the 2012 election and potential challengers.
"Bernie thinks it is much too early to be talking about campaigns. His focus is on doing everything he can to stop Republican budget cuts to LIHEAP, Pell grants, Head Start, the Social Security Administration, community health centers, Community Service Block Grants, public broadcasting and many other important programs," said Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman. "At a time when Republicans have fought for huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, Bernie will do everything he can so that we do not balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and working families in Vermont and across America. That’s where his focus is now.”
Well, maybe Sanders thinks its too early to talk about campaigns, but that certainly doesn't mean he isn't out raising money. On Dec. 10 he sent out an email to supporters urging them to donate to his campaign by Dec. 31 as a way to provide a strong show of support and quell speculation in the Vermont media, which he claimed was already "handicapping" the race.
December 10 was also the day, coincidentally, that he launched into an eight-hour faux filibuster on the Senate floor that captivated progressives around the country.
His Dec. 10 email began: "My re-election campaign started on November 3rd — the day after the Democrats lost 63 House Seats, 10 governorships and a disastrous 6 Senate seats. Republicans, emboldened by their historic wins on Election Day, have vowed to make even greater gains in 2012. In the wake of the horrendous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, Karl Rove’s two groups alone raised more than $71 million to pour into attack ads in races across the country. Next time around, with two full years to collect ‘donations’ from billionaires, Rove and others like him will be in a position to buy Senate seats all over America — including the small state of Vermont."
Sanders later noted, "If I can show strong numbers on this first FEC report, there is a very real possibility that the strongest of my potential challengers will choose not to run."
I guess Sanders' haul of more than $500,000 didn't do much to thwart Salmon's challenge, which also picked up steam the day after election day 2012. The day after the election, Salmon issued a letter to Sanders asking the pol if he knew about some of the records requests made of his office, as well as the push to have his roadside DUI tape released to the public.
Salmon intimated that Sanders could have done more to thwart these efforts.
Perhaps it was Sanders' early January letter that has led Salmon to believe that "Bernie" isn't invincible after all.
Earlier this year Sanders drew widespread criticism for issuing a fundraising letter just days after a shooting that left six people killed and more than a dozen wounded in Arizona. In the letter, he mentioend the shooting and the need to raise money, which outraged even some of his supporters. Sanders defended the letter, but at one point hung up on a Vermont Public Radio interviewer when she pressed him on the topic.
So far, website salmonforsenator.com was registered via GoDaddy, and on Feb. 10 Salmon himself registered another website — salmonforvermont.com.
If Salmon doesn't choose to take on Sanders, Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon is considering a bid, too. Though Lauzon told the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus that his decision to run for U.S. Senate, or governor, wouldn't be predicated upon Salmon's decison.
Salmon has also said he if he doesn't run for higher office, he may seek a new career in conflict mediation.
* Update: Progressive Party Chairwoman call on Salmon to resign *
Progressive Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott, who ran for auditor in 2006 and 2008, is calling on Auditor Tom Salmon to resign office.
In a statement emailed to Seven Days, Abbott says: “Vermont taxpayers should not be forced to pay the salary of a guy who has announced that he will be spending his time doing something other than the job we are paying him to do. Salmon was sworn in 8 weeks ago and now says he has accomplished everything he set out to accomplish. It is time for him to resign graciously and let us find someone who will spend their time doing the job of State Auditor."
Salmon has already said he plans to concentrate on the job he was elected to do — State Auditor — while contemplating his political future. Other politicians, he notes, have held statewide office while considering a jump up the political ladder — including former Govs. Jim Douglas and Howard Dean as well as former Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.
Also in that camp would be former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who ran for governor and lost in 2004, and current Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, who ran for mayor while serving in the Vermont House. Not to mention U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders was in the U.S. House when he decided to run for U.S. Senate.
When asked last week about juggling these competing demands, Salmon told Seven Days: I am not surprised that people who may not know my work ethic (on the 610 a.m. bus from St J unless I have to drive), capacity and level of talent of my staff would have questions. Suffice it to say that whatever my future holds, I remain 100 percent committed to fulfilling the obligations of the office to which I have been elected through the end of my term. Among the reasons I decided it was prudent to announce sooner than later my intention not to seek reelection was to give everyone affected the maximum opportunity to prepare and plan accordingly, including my staff and others who may be interested in the job."
* Update 2: Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Bevans call on Salmon to resign *
Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Bevans issued this statement Thursday afternoon:
“It’s clear that Tom Salmon is only interested serving one Vermonter — Tom Salmon. As Auditor, his only accomplishment has been his ability to stay in the news, while accomplishing remarkably little. From his publicity-stunt party switch, to his erratic behavior in the press and now this, Tom Salmon may think he was elected to improve his own political standing — but the people of Vermont elected him to serve for four years. Not only will his bid for the US Senate take away from the time he spends working for Vermonters, his behaviors in the last year are only a small indication of the type of unreliable and acrimonious leadership Salmon would continue to bring to either office.
“It is troubling that less than 60 days into his new term as Auditor, Mr. Salmon has lost interest in serving in his current capacity. It is only right that he resigns from office and allows someone who actually wants to serve as State Auditor to take his place. Vermonters deserve an Auditor who is committed, grounded and dedicated to the future of our state, not someone who is solely concerned with advancing his own career. I ask Auditor Salmon to heed my words and resign from office immediately.
“Senator Sanders is a longtime Vermont public servant and champion of the middle class. The fact that Auditor Salmon would seek to oust such a leader for our state shows just how out of touch he is with Vermonters and the needs of our state.”