Editorial: Shap Smith for Lt. Gov.
In the three-way Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor on Aug. 9, House Speaker Shap Smith has the legislative experience, leadership skills and vision to be the best candidate to represent Democrats against Republican Randy Brock in the general election.
Smith’s years as Speaker since 2009 have demonstrated a unique ability to marshal forces around big ideas — health care reform, universal child care, education reform, jump-starting the renewable energy sector as a way to fight climate change to name a few — and craft legislation that could be accepted by both the House and Senate and become law. Part of that ability is listening to and understanding the public sentiment throughout the state (and among legislators) and not pushing issues that would inflame partisanship without a good chance of passage. The decision to delay legalizing marijuana this past session is one example. While Smith agrees that marijuana should be legalized, he said the House membership, including many Democrats, were split on the wisdom of such a move when the state was also in the throes of an opiate addiction crisis. Heeding that conflict, Smith effectively sidelined moves to advance the issue this past session.
Such demonstrations of political restraint and public understanding are rare among politicians, and make Smith that unique political leader who leaves his ego aside and exhibits patience as well as political savvy in his decision-making.
That said, he is a political force with progressive ideas. As lieutenant governor, Smith has a particular focus on working to revitalize Vermont’s downtowns, noting the recent improvements in Barre, Rutland and St. Albans and has encouraged similar efforts to be used in Vermont’s smaller communities. Smith also has said he would place an emphasis on expanding access to improved health care and ending childhood poverty, saying that he was concerned that a large segment of the next generation was falling into poverty.
“I feel like we’re losing a whole generation,” Smith said in an interview with VTDigger. “In a state like ours, and a country like ours, where we believe in equal opportunities, I think we’re falling down and we can do better.”
It is a comment that reflects Smith’s deep-seated passion for equal opportunity. While he is known more for his dispassionate, lawyerly demeanor and sense of practicality, Smith is driven by a desire to ensure all Vermonters have a fighting chance to succeed, and he is most emboldened when tackling those political issues that stand in the way of that success — childhood poverty, early childhood education, affordable higher education, access to health care and affordable housing. Smith has said he would use the office as a “bully pulpit” to bring attention to such concerns, and we can think of no one who could do so more effectively.
Smith’s two primary opponents — Sen. David Zuckerman and Rep. Kesha Ram — also bring valuable attributes to the race. Zuckerman, in particular, would bring his 18 years of experience in the Statehouse (14 years in the House in the Progressive Party and the past four years in the Senate representing Chittenden County where he sits on the Education Committee and is vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee) to the lieutenant governor’s post. One of Zuckerman’s priorities, he said, would be to focus on developing the state’s rural farm economy, particularly its agriculture and forestry products. He is an advocate of legalizing marijuana and considers improving Vermont’s health care system a priority. We still have a “broken system,” he says, emphasizing that a universal health care system is vital to improving the state’s economy. Ram, who will turn 30 a week before the primary, is the youngest person in a statewide race and could have a promising political future. She is articulate, and understands the struggles of families caught in the cycle of poverty often prompted by family divorce and exacerbated by domestic violence. Her legislative experience, however, pales to either Smith’s or Zuckerman’s.
Without a doubt, Smith offers Democrats the best opportunity to beat Republican Randy Brock in the general election, and offers Vermonters the best choice as second in command to the next governor. Smith’s political priorities reflect the practical sensibilities of most Vermonters, his political instincts are measured and spot-on, and his political passions are premised upon fairness and equal opportunity for all. Moreover, in his 14 years in the House, Smith has demonstrated an ability to work well with both sides of the political aisle — an important asset in light of a gubernatorial election that will most likely be a very close race between the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Smith has our enthusiastic vote in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and, if given the chance, would represent the state well in that post.
Angelo S. Lynn
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