The polls were tight and Middlebury Republican James Douglas didn’t have a clear read on his prospects for the governorship when voting closed on election day in November of 2002.
Douglas ultimately scored a 45 percent to 42 percent win over challenger Douglas Racine, a Richmond Democrat and sitting lieutenant governor.
It would prove to be the closest any opponent would come to Douglas in his subsequent three re-election bids. In the end, Douglas decided to relinquish the governorship on his own terms, announcing in August of 2009 that he would not seek another two-year term in the 2010 election.
The governor quickly quashed speculation that he was leaving Montpelier to run for federal office. He explained that after 36 years in elective office — including stints as Middlebury’s House representative, secretary of state and state treasurer — he was simply ready to retire back to Middlebury. He did not rule out a future foray into politics or a job in the private sector.
“I just feel this is the right time,” Douglas, a 58-year-old Middlebury College graduate, told supporters, cabinet members and media at a press conference last August. “I just hope that some good opportunities come along.”
Douglas’s announcement soon triggered another series of political announcements from people seeking the governorship and other statewide offices. No less than five major candidates — including current Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Racine — have stepped forward to run for the state’s top executive post. Still other candidates — including Starksboro’s Mark Snelling — have announced plans to run for lieutenant governor.
Douglas’s legacy is still being written, but during numerous interviews, he expressed a satisfaction at having promoted business development, fiscal responsibility and a stopgap between what he believed were some ill-advised initiatives advanced by a Legislature heavily dominated by Democrats. But the Democrats were successful in bypassing Douglas on two major bills in 2009. They successfully overrode his veto on the 2009-2010 state spending plan as well as a same-sex marriage law.
Douglas won’t completely leave politics in the rear-view mirror, however. He is poised to wield the gavel again this March as longtime moderator for the town of Middlebury.