by Joyce Marcel
August 12, 2010
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Bear with me as I try to reason my way through the embarrassment of riches that is the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Republican Gov. James Douglas is retiring and leaving the seat wide open. His lieutenant governor, Brian Dubie, has a lock on the Republican nomination. So if you want many more years of economic stagnation and mental vacuity, just vote for him. If you don't, you have a bewildering array of excellent candidates to chose from:
In a better (and less interesting) world, one of these five would have already sprinted to the lead. But all five candidates have enlisted heavyweight supporters, raised serious money and waged excellent campaigns. All have explicitly or tacitly endorsed shutting Vermont Yankee when its license expires in 2012.
It's a real horse race. And with two weeks to go to - primary day is Aug. 24 - no one really knows who will be the first to cross the finish line.
So how to handicap the race? I went to the candidates' economic programs, which are posted on Vermont Business Magazine's Website.
After all, all roads lead to and from the economy, and with a projected $100 million shortfall next year, Vermont is hurting.
To be frank, the candidates' programs offer pieties, blanket generalizations (who doesn't want to "stimulate entrepreneurship?") and evasions. But there are also interesting ideas.
Bartlett's Big Idea is an Office of Innovation and Intellectual Property to assist entrepreneurs with patents, business support, education and marketing.
Dunne's campaign centerpiece is wiring all of Vermont for high-speed Internet access. He told me last month that he would use the state's superior credit rating to raise the cash, but now that the state is awash in federal stimulus money, he may change his focus.
Markowitz, who has posted a 26-page economic plan on her Website, vows to become "the chief marketing officer for Vermont." This is needed because Douglas has been bad-mouthing Vermont's business climate for years. Since Dubie just picked up on Douglas's false charges, it's good to see her challenge him.
Markowitz also wants to reward banks that invest in Vermont, keep kids in school until they're 18 (the current mandatory age is 16) and encourage people to create savings funds to start new businesses with built-in tax deferments.
Racine's economic statement was all hyperbole, i.e. "In this time of severe economic turmoil, it is essential for Vermont and Vermont leaders to focus on strengthening our business base to ensure job growth and creation..."
That brings me to Shumlin. While the other candidates are big on statements that begin "I will...", Shumlin can begin many of his with "I already have... ."
When Vermonters were complacent about civil unions, he and Speaker of the House Shap Smith introduced, fought for and passed a gay marriage bill, ultimately overriding a Douglas veto.
Shumlin has already started the ball rolling with legislation for a single-payer health care system - the only sensible solution to our overwhelming health insurance costs. And he has already put the Legislature on the road to closing Vermont Yankee in 2012.
After reading all the statements, I came to these conclusions. Racine is too wishy-washy for me. Markowitz has strong ideas but she's a bureaucrat, not a leader. Bartlett is tough when it comes to the budget but she's not progressive or inventive enough. Dunne is intense and smart but inexperienced. This leads back to Shumlin, who has moxie, drive, ideas, leadership experience and who always provides great entertainment value.
If there's a down side, it's Shumlin's reputation for being too slick, too fast-talking, too willing to make promises that he later evades. In other words, for being too much of a politician. He scoffs at that.
"I don't apologize for being good at politics," he told me recently. "If you're hiring a roofer, do you want the roofer who actually has the reputation for keeping the water out of your house or the roofer who lets the roof leak after he goes? I don't apologize for passing legislation that makes a difference for Vermonters. Don't judge politicians by their rhetoric but by their record. I have a record of trying to get things done."
I'll be voting for him on Aug. 24.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.