The Vermont GOP and Randy Brock have ended speculation about who will run on the Republican ticket for governor in 2012.
Brock, 68, a state senator from Franklin County, will be the GOP contender against Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, in the 2012 election.
After months of behind-the-scenes jockeying for position, the other potential contenders for the top slot – former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, state Auditor Tom Salmon, former candidate for lieutenant governor Mark Snelling and Pat McDonald, chair of the Vermont GOP – threw their support behind Brock in a press conference at the Statehouse on Wednesday. Even Gov. Jim Douglas, who left office a year ago, put in an appearance (and joked that his portrait in the nearby hallway should be retouched because he’d aged a year since the painting was finished).
Brock, 68, a former state auditor, who is well respected for his business acumen and policy knowledge, is not exactly a household name in Vermont. He admitted in an interview with the press that he is the underdog in a race against Shumlin, the newly elected incumbent, but Brock said he “loves a challenge.” The state senator will hold his seat through the legislative session and launch his campaign in earnest in the late spring or early summer.
In remarks to a crowd of more than 50 well-wishers in the Cedar Creek Room, Brock sounded the themes of his campaign, namely policy areas where he believes the Shumlin administration is falling short, including health care, law enforcement, education, taxes and energy. “They are good at politics, they are good at promising all things to all people, they are great at dealing with the press, but my experience tells me that Vermonters want more,” Brock said.
The candidate described the Shumlin administration’s single-payer health care plan as “utopian” and threw out a line that drew applause from the audience: “Think about the illogic: how on earth can we say it will save money when we don’t know what it will cost?”
Brock then went on the attack in a prepared speech. “I believe that Peter Shumlin is a good man, but I believe he is blindly steering Vermont’s ship of state toward the shoals,” Brock said. “Peter Shumlin’s policies – especially in the areas of health care and energy – are built on rosy assumptions and wishful thinking constructed over a foundation of quicksand.
“If my travels around this state have taught me anything, it is this: Vermonters don’t want to live in a “laboratory for change,’” Brock said. “They don’t want to be the guinea pigs or lab rats in a grand social experiment.”
Dubie gives Brock the nod
Right up to the day of the announcement, Brock was tight-lipped about his bid for the top slot. He made up his mind 10 days ago and only began talking with a small group of people over the last few days, though his campaign website prematurely let the news slip for a short window this week before it was abruptly shut down when word leaked out.
Dubie, who narrowly lost in a race against Shumlin last year, had long been touted as a party favorite for another run. The Vermont GOP has been pushing for a candidate to emerge since the summer, and the party anticipated that Dubie would announce his intentions on Labor Day, but Tropical Storm Irene delayed those purported plans.
On Wednesday, Dubie, who was out of state at the time of the announcement, issued a statement extolling Brock’s public service.
“Randy is an outstanding public servant and a good friend. I am pleased to announce that he has my full support in his campaign for Governor,” Dubie said in a statement that was read to the crowd and sent to the press by email. “I look forward to assisting Randy in his campaign to make our beloved State of Vermont an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”
Salmon, who as a Democrat beat Brock in the race for auditor in 2006 before he later became a Republican, also supported Brock after he had toyed with a 2012 race against Shumlin and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. At Brock’s announcement, he sang the senator’s praises. “He’s deeply committed to both high standards for himself and for others, high expectations for himself and others and I think whatever he decides or confirms to decide we’re going to somebody who’s going to set the bar higher for Vermont.”
Douglas, in a backhanded jab at Shumlin’s administration, said it was going to take “responsible, dedicated, experienced leadership in order to get Vermont on the right track to recovery and prosperity to ensure our kids and grandkids have a place to live.” The former governor described Brock, who he has known since the early 1970s when the two men met at Middlebury College, as “a person of tremendous integrity, dedication energy someone who I know will continue to make a contribution to the betterment of the state we all love.”
A career in finance
Though Brock is something of an unknown quantity politically (this is only his third statewide race for office), he has a long and distinguished career in the military, business and (of late) politics.
He grew up in Philadelphia, and he is the son of African American parents who both came of age during the Great Depression and attended college on the GI bill. His father, 5’7” went to college on a basketball scholarship and his mother taught French in the South before they moved to Pennsylvania.
Brock made Vermont his home when he came to Middlebury College in 1970. He served in the military police corps in the Armed Forces and spent time in Europe and Vietnam and attained the rank of captain before he went to Yale University for a master’s degree in history.
His career was in finance. Brock was an executive vice president for Fidelity Investments for many years. He was the general auditor for the company, head of risk oversight and worked as a fraud investigator at one point. (Brock is a certified fraud examiner.)
He lives with his wife, Andrea Forest Brock, and his daughter in St. Albans.
A political foray
Brock’s foray into Vermont politics began in 2004, when he beat Elizabeth M. Ready, a Democrat, for the Auditor of Accounts post. Two years later, he lost the seat to Salmon in a 102-vote recount. Brock candidly attributes his two-year stint to inattention to the political side of the auditor’s role.
Though he was widely viewed as an excellent auditor, Brock said he lost the race because he wasn’t “as much of a politician as I needed to be in that office.”
Brock may face a similar challenge in his race as governor, particularly since he is not well known.
Eric Davis, a long time observer of Vermont politics and retired political scientist from Middlebury College, said Brock will need to raise a great deal of money to run a competitive race against Shumlin in 2012, particularly since this is a presidential election year and Vermont will likely vote overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama.
“The things Randy has going for him are he’s articulate and he has a strong knowledge of policy issues so there will be no ramp up time for getting ready for the governor’s race,” Davis said.
In 2004 and 2008, when Democrats John Kerry and Barack Obama ran for president, Douglas was able to split the ticket because he was a moderate Republican and popular incumbent.
Brock, in this instance, is the outsider challenging an incumbent, and that puts him at a distinct disadvantage, Davis says, particularly since Shumlin is a prodigious fundraiser.
By summer, Davis said two factors will emerge that will clarify Brock’s shot at the Fifth Floor: the campaign finance reports and polling numbers. If Brock can raise $500,000 and get within 10 points of Shumlin in the polls, he will be able to hold his own. If he raises $200,000 and drags behind by 20 points, Davis says it “could be a long fall for Randy Brock.”
Davis anticipates that Shumlin will raise $1 million to $1.5 million by July and he predicts that neither the Republican Governors Association nor the Democratic Governors Association will take an interest in the race. The only wild card, he says, is Bruce Lisman’s Campaign for Vermont group, which could morph into a political action committee.