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The Life of Brian

Fair Game


Published September 2, 2009 at 10:55 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Four minutes. That’s how long it took Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie to send out a statement honoring Republican Gov. Jim Douglas last week, after the guv shocked the state by announcing he would not seek reelection.

An airline pilot and colonel in the Air Force Reserves, Dubie is always ready for takeoff.

He’s also the heir apparent to the throne, and all in Republican-land are awaiting his answer to the question: What will Dubie do?

“The governor’s announcement today changes the political landscape in Vermont. As Vermonters reflect on this new landscape, I will contemplate my options,” said Dubie.

When “Fair Game” caught up with Dubie the day after Douglas dropped the bomb, the lite guv had moved beyond contemplation to action. He signed up his 2008 campaign manager and longtime political ally Susan Hudson to lead his exploratory effort.

“My wife and family will certainly be part of that discussion, as they always are, but it’s a much larger conversation this time — as it should be,” said Dubie. “When you talk about public service at this level, there is a much broader conversation that you need to have before you make a decision.”

That decision could come in two to three weeks, he promised.

No doubt he’s giving considerable thought to his least favorite part of running for office: raising money, and lots of it.

The most Dubie has ever raised in a single campaign is $250,000, and the price tag for a gubernatorial bid would be closer to $1.5 million, or $3500 a day, between now and the election. That’s a lot of phone calls, cocktail parties and trips to Washington, D.C., for major fundraisers.

Other possible thorny issues for Dubie include his anti-abortion stance and being an active member of the Air Force Reserves. As a colonel in the reserve, he has been called to duty several times — to serve in emergency-response, not combat, roles. Holding the fifth-floor office would not exempt him from service.

Dubie was sent to Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks and to Salt Lake City for the Olympics. He helped clean up after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Ike in 2008.

If Dubie were to face a primary, he’d win in a landslide. Why? To many conservatives in the party, he practically walks on water. You kind of have to in order to get past that Cuba embargo, right?

Dubie has led several agricultural missions to Cuba, which have opened new markets on the island nation for Vermont heifers and apples. He even helped a Little League team get home from Cuba after they were stranded there by bad weather.

His Cuba trade missions suggest Democrats shouldn’t “mis-underestimate” Dubie, as they often do. His “aw shucks” caricature masks a savvy politician. He’s much smarter than people give him credit for.

With as many as five or six Dems in the race, several of whom are key lawmakers, Dems will find it hard to agree on a unified message that benefits just one candidate. And, there’s almost nothing Douglas does better than pit Democrat against Democrat.

So far, the Dems seem happy to oblige.

Grand Orderly Party? — If Dubie doesn’t run for governor, he won’t likely run for reelection, either. What then?

“It would become a free-for-all,” said State Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), who is mulling a bid for lieutenant governor.

Former State Auditor and State Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) is also considering a statewide run for lite guv — if Dubie runs for guv. If Dubie doesn’t, Brock may go for the top slot himself.

“There are a number of folks who are available who will try to fill the void,” Brock said of the governor. “But he’s an extremely tough act to follow and those are tremendous shoes to fill.”

Unlike Dubie, Brock is likely to face a primary no matter which office he chooses.

Other GOP senators who are considering both the guv and lite-guv jobs include State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) and Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington). Illuzzi may seek the governor’s office, while Scott is interested in the number two spot.

GOP contenders not angling for higher office this time include Rep. Peg Flory (R-Pittsford), Barre City Mayor Thom Lauzon, former House Speaker Walt Freed and Charlie Smith, former Human Services Secretary in the Douglas administration.

Every one of them, though, is quick to quote one of the most popular lines in politics: “Never say never.”

All in the Family — One businessman with a familiar last name in politics is making some noise about running for higher office: Mark Snelling.

Snelling, who lives in Starksboro, is currently the president of the Snelling Center, which was created in honor of his father, the late Gov. Richard Snelling. The center has fallen on tough times, laying off staff and rehiring them as contractors on a project-by-project basis.

Snelling tells “Fair Game” he’s contemplating either a run for governor or lieutenant governor.

The younger Snelling also runs Shelburne Corporation, the family business, which makes brass wire products. He’s chaired the governor’s council of environmental advisors, and run boards of directors at Housing Vermont and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. He’s been directly involved in 10 statewide campaigns for both his dad and his mom, Barbara Snelling, who once had the job he may now seek.

His sister, Diane Snelling, serves in the Vermont Senate as the only Republican from Chittenden County.

“I’ve spent 35 years in business full time, and my part-time job has been public policy, and I believe that my set of skills and experiences would be a particular good fit to meet the challenges that Vermont is facing,” said Snelling.

He won’t base his decision solely on what Dubie decides, either.

“I know Brian, and I like Brian, but I’m not focusing specifically on Brian as the person I would talk to or wait to see what he does,” said Snelling. “There’s an awful lot of fluidity in the situation right now.”

A D-for-all — While the GOP is trying to keep things orderly, the Democrats are embracing the chaos.

And why shouldn’t they? History suggests they’ll capture at least the top spot, and the victor will likely hold that post for at least six years.

Prior to last week, the current gubernatorial candidates were: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Chittenden County State Senator and former Lt. Governor Doug Racine, and Lamoille County State Sen. Susan Bartlett.

Those now thinking about it are House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) and former State Senator Matt Dunne (D-Windsor).

“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 “Fair Game.”

Shumlin said he expects to make his intentions known in a couple of weeks. He explained his prior lack of interest by saying the prospect of preparing for a legislative session and a gubernatorial race was daunting, especially with Douglas as an adversary. Vermonters have never thrown out an incumbent governor.

“His decision lifts that veil and therefore we all need to move more quickly,” said Shumlin.

Dunne expects to make his decision by November. Word is, he’s more in than out.

“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.”

Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Auditor Tom Salmon and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding all claim they are focused on reelection, not running for governor.

The race for lieutenant governor is still quiet on the Dem side, despite perennial murmurings about former Vermont CARES executive director Tim Palmer as a candidate. He’s told “Fair Game” that he only discusses a run for lite guv “when people bring it up,” but that he’s definitely thinking about a run for political office. He’s run twice for a Chittenden Senate seat — and lost.

Other lite-guv wannabes include Sen. Ed Flanagan, who announced earlier this year he was running and then pulled back when he was accused of masturbating at the Greater Burlington YMCA. He’s now facing a criminal investigation. One of the people who may decide whether to file charges is Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, who is also said to be interested in the number two slot. Small world.

Don’t count out Tom Costello, the former state rep who ran, and lost, to Dubie in 2008.

Hurry up, only 369 days left until the primary.

What’s a Prog to Do? — What about the Progressives? Surely they won’t let two open seats — for governor and lieutenant governor — pass them by.

The governor’s race is probably too pricey, but Progs are definitely looking at other races.

Burlington Progressive Rep. Dave Zuckerman is weighing a possible run for higher office — lite guv or state Senate.

And there’s always the electoral wild card: Anthony Pollina. Though a Progressive in the past, he ran for guv in 2008 as an independent and came in a distant second behind Douglas, and yet bested Democrat Gaye Symington.

“We’ll have a meeting of the minds soon as a party as to what we’re going to do,” said Zuckerman.

If nothing else, Prog Party chief Morgan Daybell said Douglas’ announcement was a good day for “health care reform, closing Vermont Yankee, and state workers.”

Time will tell.

Media Notes — A new web-based, nonprofit journalism site is up and running this week. Its founder, Anne Galloway, was laid off earlier this year from her post as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald/Times Argus.

The concept for had been in the works for several years, as Galloway saw resources for reporting dwindle at her paper and others.

“We’re focused on in-depth news,” said Galloway, who lives in East Hardwick — “to put into context the news we hear on the evening news.”

The first series of stories were focused on the state’s crumbling dairy industry. Galloway, and several other writers involved, will post new material in the weeks ahead as they try to raise money from individuals and foundations. She’s also exploring syndication opportunities in Vermont newspapers.

“This is an experiment,” added Galloway. “No one’s really sure what’s going to happen on the web.”

Speaking of online news sites, Vermont Daily News founder Alden Pellett tells “Fair Game” his virtual daily will soon have a physical newsroom on Main Street in Burlington. Look for a “grand opening” in about two weeks.

Finally, here’s where media and politics truly mix this week: Retiring WCAX-TV anchor Marselis Parsons could find himself on the other side of the microphone.

Parsons tells “Fair Game” he has been courted by two political parties to run for elected office.

While some readers may link him to the “WGOP” nickname my Seven Days predecessor used for WCAX, Parsons is quick to point out that his dad was a staunch Democrat. He even ran for political office as a Dem — in New Hampshire, of all places.

“I’m flattered that people urge me to run, but I think it highly unlikely,” said Parsons. His retirement barbecue was last weekend. “Nevertheless, I’ve learned never to say never.”

There’s that line again.

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