Editorial: Shap Smith enters exciting race for governor

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith officially announced his candidacy for governor as a Democrat in typical fashion: a straightforward announcement that nonchalantly recapped his life and career in Vermont, while intoning Vermont as a “state of opportunity” and implying that helping Vermonters realize those opportunities would be the foundation of his campaign — minus any lofty rhetoric or grand visions.
“He is not a politician,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who is supporting Smith as “a man who gets things done,” and because he knows from experience “what Smith stands for, how he works and how effective he can be. … He has progressive values, but he is a pragmatist, a realist. He sees what he can and cannot get done and rather than jeopardizing a big issue he takes small steps forward rather than letting it die.”
Smith, 49, has led the House of Representatives since 2009, and will be the single candidate in the race with the most knowledge of the issues facing the state, including the state’s health care and education reforms — two of the state’s most vexing and complex challenges.
On economic issues, Smith pledged “to reinvest and reinvigorate” the state’s economy, citing recent investments made in his hometown of Morrisville, and saying that similar investments must be made throughout the state “because we know that strengthening local economies will be what attracts young people and keeps them here.”
While Smith’s experience in the Legislature and knowledge of the issues is his primary asset, his six years in a leadership position is also his greatest handicap.
As always, how to stimulate the state’s economy will be a major issue in the race for governor and Smith will have to defend his tenure in the House leadership since taking over in the aftermath of the Great Recession and presiding over economic growth that has recovered at a slower-than-expected pace. He will also have to defend the passing of multiple state budgets that have consistently faced shortfalls and raided one-time funds.
Smith will also have to fight the perception that he’s part of the Shumlin team, although as House speaker he is not, and the fatigue factor of Gov. Shumlin’s controversial initiatives.
But for every issue Smith will have to defend, there are others he can claim as successes: increased funding of pre-kindergarten programs, the rebuilding of the Waterbury state offices, resolving the state’s mental health facilities challengne, passage of a higher minimum wage, passing an education reform proposal with the potential to reduce the growth of property taxes, and on and on. Smith’s tenure in the House leadership was, if nothing else, an activist agenda that tackled difficult issues and, to a large degree, was successful.
As Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, said of Smith: “He finds solutions to seemingly impossible issues. He has the right blend of vision and ability to implement that vision.”
That experience will face challenges from prospective Democratic Party outsider Matt Dunne, a Google executive based in Vermont, who did serve a brief stint in the House as a young legislator and who will lay claim to new ways to attract economic growth; and current Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter, an astute and up-and-coming leader in the party with a reputation for taking charge and being an effective leader of one of the state’s largest agencies.
On the Republican side, most bets are that Lt. Gov. Phil Scott will announce his candidacy soon, and, if so, will be the leading Republican in the race. Yet, while he is well liked and admired by many, he will have difficulty demonstrating a list of accomplishments during his time in the House or defending his role as an effective counter to parts of the Shumlin agenda Republicans did not agree with. Bruce Lisman, a native Vermonter and former Wall Street executive who mulled a run in the last governor’s race, may also run, but has yet to announce his intentions; and Republican businessman Scott Milne, who almost beat Shumlin in the 2014 race, might jump into the race but also has been vague about his intentions.
That’s the foundation for an exciting race with solid candidates who would serve the state well.
—Angelo S. Lynn

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