Editorial: Primary election reckoning
For the politically minded, the morning after an election there is that moment of personal reckoning — a deep breath along with the reflection of what just happened and how those results fit into our world.
In terms of the state’s gubernatorial races, the majority of Vermonters are happy with Sue Minter’s easier-than-expected win among the three Democrats, besting Matt Dunne with 50 percent to his 35 percent, while Peter Galbraith trailed at 9 percent. On the Republican side, the majority sided with affable Phil Scott in his 59 percent to 39 percent shellacking of Bruce Lisman.
In the Democratic primary for the lieutenant governor’s race, many supporters of House Speaker Shap Smith are overcoming the shock of Progressive David Zuckerman’s win, as he outpolled Smith 43 percent to 37 percent. For the Democratic mainstream, Zuckerman’s win will require his personal courtship to win them over, lest the more moderate voters cross over to support Republican Randy Brock. Progressives, on the other hand, are ecstatic. It’s the first time a candidate in their party has reached such a high post in state government.
Sizing up the political calculus on Wednesday morning, Democrats see a strong candidate in Minter, who comes out of the primary with increased stature, excitement among her supporters and a head of steam going into the General Election. Her personal engagement, can-do attitude, experience in getting things done in government, and her willingness to tackle tough issues establishes her as a enlightened and forward-thinking candidate. And it doesn’t hurt that she is a woman running for governor of a liberal state in an election year that Americans might elect the first female president of the United States.
That contrasts to Lt. Gov. Scott’s persona as a nice guy who wants to build the economy (who doesn’t?), but who hasn’t accomplished much during his 16 years in Montpelier. It is his defining image, and to that end Scott comes out of the primary far more wounded than Minter.
Lisman’s campaign successfully raised questions about Scott’s construction firm benefitting from state contracts while he was holding state office; and Lisman’s ads effectively tied Scott to a status quo politician resistant to change. It is a criticism that fits, as Scott is an old-school politician who does not have an aggressive policy platform. Rather, he has built a campaign around the premise of not spending much, keeping taxes as low as possible, and being frugal — not exactly an agenda that helps the state overcome the several big challenges it faces (opiate crisis, getting more high school graduates to continue with higher education, cleaning up Lake Champlain, capitalizing on our recreational assets, continuing to build our alternative energy sector, to name a few.)
While the race may be Scott’s to lose at this point, it is likely to come down to the wire.
But here’s a twist. Because Zuckerman won the lieutenant governor’s race, it provides an opportunity for Progressives and Democrats to combine forces for their mutual benefit.
A lifelong Progressive, Zuckerman will need mainstream Democratic support if he is to beat Republican Randy Brock, a well-respected moderate from Swanton who formerly served as state auditor. Similarly, Minter will need the full support of Democrats and Progressives if she is to have a chance to beat Scott.
What the Progressives demonstrated in the lieutenant governor’s race is that they have an effective statewide network that can get their supporters out to vote. If that power can be mobilized on Minter’s behalf, and if the Democrats would return the favor for Zuckerman, the two parties could significantly help each other as opposed to fighting against each other as they have in key elections in the past. Zuckerman and Minter are the two who can make that happen, and it’ll be interesting to see how they play those cards.
If there was a loser in these statewide primary races, it was Lisman. While always a long shot to upset Scott, Lisman’s campaign was increasingly negative and when he went after Scott’s character toward the end, he lost the respect of many Vermonters. That’s a loss for the state as Lisman has served Vermont well in various capacities, including as board chair at the University of Vermont. He’s a talented, smart man, but politics, it seems, doesn’t bring out his best qualities.
To that end, one wonders how his loss might impact the Campaign for Vermont. Lisman was a founder of the nonprofit, and despite its pretense to be a nonpartisan think tank it has always been a shill for his policy ideas and political bias. Now that its partisan cover has been exposed, will its loose-knit membership remain committed to a think tank whose mission these past four years is more aptly described as the Campaign against Vermont — a group more prone to criticism and negative rants, rather than moving the state forward? We’ll see, in the meantime, there’s less than three months before the General Election in November.
Angelo S. Lynn
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