Fourth times the charm? (2/4/10)

Residents running for Senate, lt. Governor

Feb. 4, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston residents Shelley Palmer and Tim Palmer share a last name and political ambitions. But the men, who are not related, could hardly be more different.


Shelley Palmer


Tim Palmer

Shelley Palmer is a former bail bondsman who now works as a taxi driver. He is a Republican with a libertarian streak.

Tim Palmer is a consultant who advises socially responsible businesses and nonprofits. He is a Democrat with a progressive bent.

They do, however, have an electoral history in common. Each has run unsuccessfully for office three times. Both are trying again this year.

Shelley Palmer is running for state senator representing Chittenden County. Tim Palmer is a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Both men said they are undaunted by their previous lack of electoral success and see their new campaigns as fresh opportunities.

“Losing a race for public office is tough, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Shelley Palmer, who has run twice for Vermont House and once for the Williston Selectboard.

“I’ve spent three election cycles slowly building my name recognition here in Chittenden County,” said Tim Palmer, a three-time candidate for Vermont Senate. “The rest of the challenge is to continue to build on the relationships I have around the state to reach the other three-quarters of the population.”

Tim Palmer, 60, is a widower. He has worked as director for Vermont CARES, an HIV/AIDS service organization, and Community of Vermont Elders, which advocates for seniors. He recently founded VerMentor, a company that does consulting work for community-based nonprofits and socially responsible businesses.

Shelley Palmer, 53, is married and has three children. He works seasonally as a heavy equipment operator and is currently employed by Benway’s Taxi in Burlington. Years ago, he worked as a bail bondsman.

After falling fall short in previous campaigns, he said he looked for a race that offered better odds. The Senate contest in Chittenden County fit the bill. Republicans only managed to field write-in candidates in 2008 to challenge Democrats, who hold five of the six seats. Shelley Palmer said that lack of interest creates an opportunity.

“Turnover is so low in Vermont politics, so I figured this was the only way I was going to get in there,” he said.

Chittenden County Democrats, however, have had no problem finding candidates to run for the Senate. Tim Palmer was edged out in primaries in 2006 and 2008, and failed to win in the general election in 1998.

The district, the largest of its kind in the country, presents a frustrating hurdle because it is so hard for challengers to emerge from the pack, he said. Nine candidates ran in the 2008 Democratic primary.

This time — at least so far — Tim Palmer faces fewer opponents in running for lieutenant governor. On the Democratic side, Rep. Steve Howard of Rutland has officially declared his candidacy, and Rep. Chris Bray of New Haven announced on Tuesday that he will run.

Two Republicans, Sen. Phil Scott of Washington and businessman Mark Snelling of Starksboro, are also seeking to fill the position now held by Republican Brian Dubie, who is running for governor.

It is unclear how many Republican candidates will emerge, or whether there will be a primary. The party has found it hard to field candidates in the Democratic stronghold.

Shelley Palmer said he does not always agree with other Republicans and in some cases is more of a libertarian who thinks government should stay out of people’s lives. He said he can bring a workingman’s sensibility to the Senate.

“I also believe in a citizen legislature,” he said. “Having all the lawyers down there is a horrible thing.”

Tim Palmer said the lieutenant governor position is a good match for the skills he has acquired working with nonprofits and small businesses. He said would build on his experience to foster economic growth and job creation.

The answer to Vermont’s current economic woes is to focus on small business development rather than concentrate on recruiting large, out-of-state firms as the current administration has done, he said.

Despite their losing records, both candidates were optimistic this would be their year. Tim Palmer noted that even Abraham Lincoln lost elections.

Williston Democrat Terry Macaig is one local politician who has come back after defeats. He was beaten in races for the Vermont House of Representatives and the Williston Selectboard before winning election to both.

In a telephone interview from the Statehouse on Tuesday, Macaig explained the mindset he used to persevere politically.

“I knew the odds were long when I was running for the House that first time,” he said. “I probably said to myself that I expected — well hoped — to win, but if I didn’t that I’ll be back.”