Liberally Speaking (9/17/09)

Sizing up the 2010 governor's race

Sept. 17, 2009

By Steve Mount

Just a little under a year ago, in this space, I noted that Gov. Jim Douglas was a virtual shoo-in for governor in the 2010 election, should he decide to run. As you’ve surely heard or read by now, Douglas has, indeed, announced his intention to not run in 2010.

True to his Vermont spirit, Douglas assured Vermonters that he would serve out his term, unlike some other notable Republican governors. When VPR’s Bob Kinzel suggested that Douglas could give his Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie a leg up in the 2010 election by stepping down early, Douglas was unequivocal about his intention to go the distance.

With the curtain on the Incumbent Protection Plan drawn back, Douglas’ decision opens up possibilities for a new face in the office, the same way Howard Dean’s decision gave Douglas his chance and Madeleine Kunin’s decision allowed Richard Snelling to step back into the governor’s office.

On the Republican side, there are several familiar names mentioned as contenders, though none have officially announced as yet. These include Dubie, former Vermont National Guard Commander Gen. Martha Rainville, recent Republican convert Tom Salmon and Mark Snelling, son of the late aforementioned governor. The general consensus is that everyone else is awaiting Dubie’s decision before moving ahead with their own plans.

On the Democratic side, there are several familiar names, many of whom are now serving the state with distinction. Unlike the Republicans, though, some are not waiting to make their intentions known.

Deborah Markowitz has been Vermont’s secretary of state since 1998, having been elected to the office six times. In 2008, she was reelected with 70.8 percent of the vote. In her role, she has been a champion of towns and cities and of open government. I’ve been impressed with her efforts promoting free and fair elections, and in her office’s efforts to move the state to higher and higher voter turnouts. Though she is the veteran of many statewide elections, I’m not sure of her experience as an executive.

Doug Racine is a former lieutenant governor and on-again-off-again member of the state Senate. Racine lost a bid for the governor’s office in 2002, to Douglas. Racine has the benefit of statewide name recognition and executive experience, both in business and government. In Chittenden County, at least, he enjoys wide popularity, being reelected to the Senate in 2008 by the highest vote count in history. Fair or not, though, I do feel like Racine had his chance in 2002.

Both Markowitz and Racine have officially announced their intention to run for governor in 2010.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin has been mentioned frequently as a possible contender, but has not made a formal announcement as yet. Shumlin has served in the House and the Senate since 1989. Shumlin ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, losing to Dubie. It would be interesting to see the two lock horns again for the big chair in 2010, but I have a feeling the experience may have left Shumlin gun shy. He may be more content to serve the state on the legislative side.

A possible dark-horse candidate could be Treasurer Jeb Spaulding. TV commercials produced for the treasurer’s office, offering Vermonters a chance to recover misplaced bank accounts, have graced the airwaves for years, boosting Spaulding’s statewide name recognition. Spaulding also enjoyed a whopping 89.9 percent support rate in the last election, though he had no serious Republican opponent, a luxury he would not enjoy in 2010.

Finally, there are rumblings that our U.S. Rep. Peter Welch might be interested in the governor’s job, and also that recently selected Speaker of the Vermont House, Shap Smith, is contemplating a run. I’m dubious, however. Welch, like Racine, has made a trip to the trough, in 1990, losing to Richard Snelling; and Smith, with even less experience than 2008 Democratic loser Gaye Symington had in the same job, might not see statewide office as attainable just yet.

Lastly, this question: Kunin, after leaving office, joined the U.S. diplomatic corps, serving her adopted country as ambassador to her native Switzerland. Dean, as we can well remember, ran for president in 2000, then became head of the Democratic National Committee. What, then, is in store for Douglas?

When he spoke with Kinzel at the end of August, he had no plans yet, but I’m sure offers will begin to flow soon, if they have not already. Whatever role he plays, I am certain of one thing. He will play it with distinction.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at