Eric Davis: Fall ballot in Vermont still uncertain

The deadline for candidates seeking state offices to file their ballot petitions is May 26. This deadline is earlier than in previous years because the state primary will now be held on the second Tuesday of August. With just over two months to go before the filing deadline, many questions remain about this year’s Vermont ballot.
Will additional Democratic candidates for governor join Matt Dunne and Sue Minter? Two former legislators from Windham County, Sen. Peter Galbraith and Rep. John Moran, have said recently that they are seriously considering entering the race, with Galbraith the more likely candidate.
Both Galbraith and Moran would offer progressive voters a Bernie Sanders-like program. They want to re-open discussion of health care reform, talking about both universal primary care and single-payer. They would like to see the state’s income tax become more explicitly redistributive. They would like to reverse some of the Shumlin Administration’s cutbacks in human services and other social programs. They want to see fundamental campaign finance reform.
A recent VPR poll indicated that 31 percent of self-identified Democrats support single-payer health care. In a three-candidate race, a progressive candidate relying on public financing could be competitive with Dunne and Minter. Whether such a candidate could hold on to the governorship in November is another question.
Will House Speaker Shap Smith run for a statewide office? Smith suspended his gubernatorial campaign last fall after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. In recent weeks, Smith has told reporters that his wife’s treatment is going well, and that he will make a decision on his political plans for 2016 before the late-May filing deadline.
Smith might re-enter the gubernatorial race, or he could join the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, where there are already three candidates: political newcomer Brandon Riker, and Chittenden County legislators Rep. Kesha Ram and Sen. David Zuckerman. Smith is better-known statewide than any of the declared candidates, and he could be a stronger Democratic candidate in the General Election against Republican Randy Brock.
Smith is a skeptic about legalizing marijuana this year. If he becomes a candidate for lieutenant governor, expect Zuckerman, one of the principal sponsors of the legalization bill that passed the Senate but might not make it through the House, to try to make the Democratic primary a referendum on marijuana.
Will Republicans seriously contest any statewide offices other than governor and lieutenant governor? The Vermont GOP’s top priorities this year are to win the governorship, to hold on to the lieutenant governorship, and to gain seats in the Legislature. Putting resources into other statewide races could be a distraction from those goals.
Democrat T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney, will be strongly favored in the race to succeed retiring Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Donovan ran a well-regarded primary challenge against Sorrell in 2012. Republicans will have difficulty recruiting a credible candidate for this office.
Which local legislative races will be the most competitive? One of the two seats in Middlebury’s Addison-1 district will be open, because of the retirement of Rep. Betty Nuovo. The Democratic primary for this district should attract several candidates, with the two winners — likely to be incumbent Rep. Amy Sheldon and one of the newcomers — favored to win in November in strongly-Democratic Middlebury in a presidential election year.
Both Democrats and Republicans will highlight the Bristol-area two-member Addison-4 district. Republicans will try to recruit a well-known candidate to take on incumbent Democrat Dave Sharpe, a high-profile legislator because of his role as chair of the House Education Committee. Democrats will work hard to defend Sharpe, and should recruit another strong candidate to challenge first-term Republican Rep. Fred Baser for the second seat in the district.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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