So far, only one Democrat has stepped up to the challenge of facing Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, widely considered a strong favorite for re-election. And while the Party is open to more candidates, I thought it was worth getting to know the only Dem in the race, John Bauer, a little bit better. So, on a recent morning, I met him at the North Branch in Montpelier for a cup of tea and some political conversation.
Bauer knows he’s a longshot. He’s managed two statewide campaigns, but he’s never run for office himself beyond the town level. He is, again, facing a strong incumbent. On top of all that, Bauer is pursuing the public-financing route, which places strict limits on fundraising — and imposes a fast-approaching deadline. He has until June 12 to convince at least 750 Vermonters to contribute to his campaign. Each individual can give no more than $50, but any amount, no matter how small, adds one more name to his list. (As of today, his campaign is about 20% of the way there.)
The potential payoff: enough public funds to mount a competitive campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Not to mention a blow against big-money politics.
Bauer is definitely a member of what Howard Dean used to call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Indeed, he refers to himself as a progressive Democrat. His focus is on growing an economy that provides a secure foundation for the working and middle classes and for small business owners. His role models: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Robert Reich, promoters of what Bauer calls “new economic theory,” which “has a lot to do with finding alternatives to Wall Street.”
Bauer supports Sen. Anthony Pollina’s proposal for a state bank — starting small, to see if the idea will work. And he sees a much larger, untapped pool of resources for bolstering Vermont’s economy:
There are a lot of retirement funds, a lot of long-term money invested. Currently, it’s very, very difficult to invest that in Vermont businesses. We have a lot of money in Vermont that goes to Wall Street. We need to find ways to put it on Main Street.
He’d also like to explore setting up a program where hourly workers could have a small amount deducted from every paycheck, “just like an IRA,” except the funds could be invested in Vermont businesses. The details remain to be worked out; mainly, Bauer wants to open the doors of government to new economic ideas. “There are so many directions we could take that would strengthen our economy, and it would cost the taxpayers nothing.”
Indeed, if he’s elected, he’d like to turn the Lieutenant Governor’s office into something of an idea lab:
I think of it as taking the desk out of the office and putting in a conference table. It’s a place where we can bring people together with different viewpoints that are not necessarily being considered by state government. Bringing people together to find ways to help working Vermonters.
Bauer is spending the month of May visiting every county in Vermont, meeting county party officials, spreading the word and soliciting small donors for his effort to gain public financing. He acknowledges the challenge: “It’s a very difficult conversation to have with people because it’s not politics as usual; it’s politics as unusual.” But, he says, the process is a key part of his message.
One of the core problems we have is money in politics. That being said, is it possible to run a campaign using public financing? Well, nobody’s tried it in ten years. I think that once people understand what it means, that they could literally clean out their cabinets, turn in their bottles, and send in a check for $5.75 to my campaign, that that will help me qualify for enough financing to run a competitive campaign.
I’ve made a small donation myself. I see Bauer as an energetic bearer of an important message; and I’d like to see a candidate succeed through public financing, just to prove that there’s another way to do politics.
Bauer acknowledges he’s got an uphill fight:
I may lose because I have strong opinions. But that’s okay. It’s about pushing the conversation forward. And if someone wants to sit down with me and talk about how cutting taxes and regulation is good for the economy, I’m going to turn around and look at the last forty years and say, ‘Show me where that’s demonstrated to be true.’ Because we’re working harder, we’re more productive, and we’re making less money.
It’s no longer a trickle-down economy, you know; it’s a vacuum-up economy. You don’t have change in your pockets anymore because they’re suckin’ it out from between the cushions.
John Bauer is formally launching his campaign at the State House on Monday, May 19 at 11:00 am. He’s asking supporters to show up a little early “so we can arrange a group to stand behind me.”
For more information, or to add your two cents (or $5.75, or any amount of $50 or less), visit Bauer’s campaign website, www.bauervt.com.