Has Vermont seen its last Republican governor? The view from here.

The question was first posed by Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis in the wake of the November election, which saw the VTGOP win only one statewide race and lose ground in the House and Senate. It was picked up by the Freeploid in an article published on November 12.

There are valid reasons for asking the question. The VTGOP fielded an incredibly weak slate, and ran a campaign seemingly designed to turn off voters in the center and center-left. Party leaders admit they are underfunded and disorganized, years behind the Democrats in the nuts-and-bolts of politics. Its only prominent statewide figure, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, is a self-described moderate who might decide to go independent if he decides to run for Governor at all.

So it’s a legitimate question. But if you ask me, the answer is no. Right now, it seems almost impossible for the Republicans to win a statewide race. But forever is a very long time. I can see at least four conditions under which the Republicans could retake the corner office.

1. Lengthy tenure leads to complacency. Mismanagement, if not outright corruption, sets in. The dominant party fails to notice until it gets spanked by the voters at least once. Massachusetts is a classic example: complacency led to featherbedding and influence-peddling. Pretty soon, the bluest of states has a series of Republican governors and elects a Republican to replace St. Teddy in the U.S. Senate. The same could certainly happen to the Vermont Dems after a few more years of dominance.  

2. The right candidate at the right time. The obvious name right now is Phil Scott. It’s considered a virtual certainty that he’ll run for Governor sometime. The big question seems to be, will he do it as a Republican or an Independent? Let’s say he stays in the Republican Party. Could he win? Sure he could. Probably not until 2016 or 2018, and only if he influences the VTGOP back toward the center. But he’s got wide name recognition and a positive reputation.

But aside from Scott, someone else could emerge.

After the jump: a name you might not expect.

What about a person who’s not known as a political figure, who manages to do something noteworthy that creates massive amounts of goodwill and turns him into a central figure in Vermont?

What about Bill Stenger?

Co-owner and operator of the Jay Peak resort. The man who built it into a year-round destination and a rare bright spot in the Northeast Kingdom’s economy. And now, the guy behind a very ambitious $500 million project to revitalize the Kingdom. If he pulls it off, he will have done something that nobody ever has: pull the Kingdom out of its seemingly perpetual doldrums.

Stenger has worked across party lines to make things happen. Most notably, he’s worked closely with Senator Patrick Leahy to bring foreign investment to the Kingdom through the federal EB-5 program.

I have no idea if Stenger has any political ambitions. For all I know, the thought of holding political office gives him the heebie-jeebies. But let’s say it’s the year 2018 or 2020; his Kingdom project is humming along, he’s in his late 60s but still energetic and looking for a new challenge to serve as the capstone to his career.

Why not run for Governor as a candidate with no political baggage and a track record of working with all kinds of folks and getting things done? And run, for the sake of using an existing party structure, as a Republican?

Stenger’s only one example, and again, I have no idea if he’d ever be interested. But you never know where the next big thing will come from, and when it will come.

3. The VTGOP gets smart and goes moderate. The Party was unwilling to do so this year, in spite of Vermont’s political realities. But say a Phil Scott (or a Bill Stenger) comes along who can lead a centrist movement, and who has enough credibility to convince true-blue conservatives to swallow their pride and back him?

Say the party simply gets tired of getting its head beat in, takes stock of its own heritage and Vermont’s political scene, and moves to the center on its own. Even if it meant distancing the VTGOP from the national party. After all, how much help has the state party gotten from hewing to conservative orthodoxy? Vermont is such a small prize in national terms, and the Dems are so dominant right now, why would the national bigwigs bother with Vermont? There are much bigger fish in the ocean.

So if the VTGOP is left to its own devices, why not reinvent itself as a center-right party? Or at least plausibly present itself as such?

4. Unforeseeable events. As I said, forever is a very long time. Who knows how Vermont will change in the next 10, 20, 50, 100 years? For most of the state’s history, the Republican Party was dominant. It was known as “the star that never sets,” the most solidly Republican place in the country. But eventually it came to an end. Now, the Dems are dominant — but they’ve only been that way for less than a decade.

In fact, you could argue that the moment the punditocracy declares a single party to be forever dominant is precisely when that party ought to start running scared.  How often, in my lifetime, have I heard predictions that the Republicans — or the Democrats — are about to launch an era of one-party dominance?

And every stinkin’ time, those predictions have proven wrong. Often in a surprisingly short period of time.

So no, I don’t think we’ve seen our last Republican governor. And if the Democrats start believing we have, that’s when the VTGOP will come back.  

7 thoughts on “Has Vermont seen its last Republican governor? The view from here.

  1. that guy from Mass who ran against Leahy a few years ago..???   Maybe he would come North again and try to run a campaign for truth justice and the American way…???  

    What???   OOOOOOOOOOOOH,  I thought that guy was a holographic from the Laurel and Hardy comedy show…  

    OK then what about Kurt???  Free potato chips for everyone…

  2. Phil Scott will be the next Governor of Vermont, and almost certainly he’ll run as a Republican.  I get (?) to talk to a lot of statehouse insiders, and I’m not sure I’ve heard more of a unanimous opinion on a single issue from the likes of them than this.

    The more interesting question, to me, revolves around circumstances, as well as who could be a possible challenger to Scott.  Shumlin seems to pretty clearly have his sights set for a higher office, the question to me there is: will he go for broke and run for president in 2016?  Obviously, that’s a high risk, high reward game for him to play that requires a pretty outstanding track record, among many other things.

    The only other place “up” from Governor would be the Senate.  I was told by someone- who I don’t know at all, but who claimed to have the complete inside info on it- that Sanders will not be running again in 2018.  That would seem to be an easy jump for Shumlin, though I’ve never had a settled stomach since Douglas stepped down for no apparent reason while insisting on keeping a high public profile (rather than quiet retirement) by teaching at Middlebury and offering his decidedly revisionist musings on VPR.  My suspicion has always been that Doesless decided to just wait for an open Senate seat- and do so from the comforts of the public’s fond memories rather than having to handle the mess of economic difficulties and public pressure to actually accomplish something meaningful (let alone risk defeat against a strong challenger like Shumlin).  Still, similar “insider gossip” that I hear surprisingly suggests that Leahy is all-in, at this point, for running again.  I find this most significant, as 2016 is reasonably close (for both potential Shumlin or Doesless runs), while 2018 seems to be a (political) eternity away.  Never the less, Doesless-Shumlin for Senate would be the Ali-Fraiser of Vermont politics, with more money, negativity, and sheer entertainment than anything that has happened in Vermont since Gen Stark marched his troops to Walloomsac.

    As for Scott and his (seemingly certain) shot at the Governorship: We’re talking about a highly popular politician- why, other than the folk celebrity of being a race car driver, I can’t figure out- who is moderate enough to overcome the GOP’s unpopularity in the state and who enjoys an incredibly high profile statewide gig as Lt Governor.  Even more to his advantage, the Lt Gov has pretty much no responsibilities at all, meaning there’s little chance of any kind of gaff or otherwise unpopular move that Scott will could make while waiting for Shumlin to vacate.  So that leaves the question: who could possibly, maybe challenge him and win?  Despite their electoral domination and general popularity, I don’t see anyone on the left (Dems or Progs/fusion candidates) that jumps out.  Of course, there are a number of people on the edge who could emerge, and who are in the right place to do so (Spaulding, Shap Smith, Campell, Zuckerman come to mind first).  But in a scenario where Shumlin isn’t running, Scott is the clear favorite against any challenger (and I personally see zero chance of Scott actually running against Shumlin; VTer’s will see no reason to usurp a sitting moderate).

    zzvn, .?iggggggggggggfffffffdsssSvvvvvv    v m,/0t5554r4reefrrervcxzdtgttyfdddffgfc    bjj.,khccffds                          b  vasfgcczzgghggvcfrvgbfccc c fd d0 *(that was my 3-year old’s controbution while I was in the other room stoking the fire)

    I guess time will just have to tell who steps into the fold to be positioned well enough to legitimately challenge a Scott run; and of course where and when Shumlin decides to make a move.  But for my money, Scott runs (as the favorite), and he runs as a Republican.

  3. Pretty soon, the bluest of states has a series of Republican governors and elects a Republican to replace St. Teddy in the U.S. Senate.

    The nit: (and It doesn’t take away from your larger point) Senator Kennedy was not replaced by a Republican. Kennedy died in office and Paul Kirk was appointed to the Senate seat pending a special election. It was the tone deaf AG Martha Coakley who lost to Republican pin-up Scott Brown in the special election.

    When Kennedy held office I don’t think he was in danger of losing. This isn’t to say that the party around him, leaderless and rusty was unable to run a winning candidate.

  4. So, any Republican hope must now hinge on CHAMP.  Perhaps that rich lady in Burlington will spend a lot of time on the Lake now.  And CHAMP would make a great Republican governor, if you see the parallels between him and Douglas.  You know–never seen except at ribbon chompings.  Yes.  There’s their candidate.  Oh, but wait…it’s possible CHAMP is Liberty Union now.  Yeah, I think he left the Republican Party back in 2006 when Douglas proposed making himself also the State Monster.  Well, I guess if I were the Vt. Republicans I’d look around the fairs next summer and fall.  Do any of them have Freak Arcades still?  Shit, they’ll probably find Tom Salmon in one.  I think maybe they’d better call in the Dowsers in Danville.  Shit again.  The Dowsers will lead them to the grave of the last good Republican.  Well…bring in the Zombie Party then.  Here’s his campaign slogan:  “A dead Republican is a good Republican.”  Hell, they’ll fuck that up too and get the slogan backwards.  I give up.  Sorry, boys, I tried to help.  Better shop around out-of-state and bring somebody up here next year.  Ooops, shit again.  Oklahoma comes to Vermont?  Forget it.  Concede now.  

  5. the Lt. Gov has pretty much no responsibilities at all,

    Here was an extremely well qualified woman who actually wanted to DO SOMETHING as Lt. Governor.  She wasn’t interested in kissing babies and cutting ribbons…she actually wanted to work on policy issues.

    Not even the Democrats seemed to want a Lt. Governor who would actually do a piece of work.

    So Phil Scott gets the proverbial walk to home base just for smiling pretty and keeping his mouth shut?  I will never understand that.  

  6. …the Lite Guv in 1991 became Guv.  Followed a lot of the GOP Guv’s policies (including an increase on the top marginal rate to preserve social services), went on to sign civil union legislation, etc.  Surprising that the Gov and the Dems didn’t support somebody who at the very least would continue working toward single payer should Shummy leave office for some reason…

  7. Single payer is going to be the mantle-piece to a run to the top, should that be the Guv’s designs.  Shumlin continues on with status quo, middle of the road, moderate Republican taxation and economic policies (ie, no new income taxes, even for the wealthiest even if it means freezing or cutting state services/workers) just as Doesless and Dean before him.  But if the single payer experiment goes wrong in any direction Shumlin’s bid for anything would be challenging, I believe.  Also don’t forget Civil Unions were signed for behind closed doors, cause he didn’t really support it and was afraid of it tarnishing his national hopes; he just had to because of judicial ruling because of a movement by people to force it…  

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