If Progressives challenge Shumlin in 2014, it’s the governor’s own fault

Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled his budget on Thursday (01/24/13) to the General Assembly in Montpelier Vermont. Photo by Roger Crowley

Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled his budget to the General Assembly in January. Photo by Roger Crowley

The Vermont Progressive Party isn’t champing at the bit to make a run for the governor’s seat in 2014, but party leaders say their displeasure with Gov. Peter Shumlin might leave them no choice.

“We’ve stayed out [of the past two elections] in sort of mild support of him,” said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, who leads the Progressive caucus in the House. “I would say he is making it harder and harder for us to maintain that level of support.”

The last time the Vermont Progressive Party threw its weight behind its own candidate was in 2008, when Anthony Pollina, now a state senator, swept up more than 20 percent of the vote.

Shumlin’s pledges to set up a single-payer health care system and to shutter Vermont Yankee helped cement the party’s support for him in the past two elections.

Shumlin undercut that allegiance during the 2013 legislative session, Progressives say, and they are weighing a challenge in 2014.

The falling out

The disillusionment among Progressives is rooted in two issues: they are dismayed by Shumlin’s “aggressive stance” toward anti-poverty programs, and they’ve begun to doubt Shumlin’s commitment to single-payer health care.

Shumlin proposed to cut nearly $17 million from the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which benefits low-income working Vermonters, and that riled a number of legislators.

“That was probably the most egregious example of things he’s done that we don’t agree with,” Pearson said.

The governor also spearheaded the push to put time limits on Reach Up, the state’s family welfare program, and he squashed a tax code proposal that would have shifted more of the burden to higher-income Vermonters. Both moves soured Progressives.

Proposed cuts to developmental disabilities programs and a “lack of commitment” to making substantial investments in thermal efficiency and weatherization also rankled Progressives, Pollina said.

“I think it’s no secret Progressives have been really disappointed in Shumlin and the attacks on the working poor that were so intrinsic in his budget proposal,” said Selene Colburn, a member of the Progressive state coordinating committee.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, said Progressive lawmakers stayed mostly aligned with Democrats on social issues, but “when it came to economic issues and health care, it was a very frustrating session.”

Progressive Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott described misgivings among party members about Shumlin’s dedication to developing a single payer system.

“The finance plan was supposed to come out in January, and people are beginning to wonder about that,” Abbott said.

The Shumlin administration, Zuckerman said, appears to be “making negative strides” toward that goal. Pollina, Pearson and Colburn mentioned similar concerns.

Extent of the discontent

Progressive leaders and political experts say the discontent isn’t confined to their party — a number of left-leaning Democrats left the Statehouse disenchanted with the governor.

Pollina, P/D-Washington, who heads the Progressive caucus in the Senate, said, “I do think that some of the dissatisfaction or the disappointment is shared by a lot of Democrats who are progressive minded and believe in social justice. … I do think some of the discouragement is shared by a broader spectrum of people.”

Sen. Anthony Pollina. VTD/Josh Larkin

Sen. Anthony Pollina. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger

Pollina said he isn’t considering a run in 2014, but he’s not writing off another stab at the governorship down the road.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis offered a similar assessment.

“There is also discontent amongst small ‘p’ progressive Democrats,” he said. “I think the message that’s coming to Shumlin from both is ‘pay attention to the base, pay attention to the people who elected you.’ There is a growing amount of dissatisfaction on taxing and spending issues and concerns that Shumlin has been focused on standing up for the business community.”

Abbott said Shumlin’s approach toward low-income Vermonters was especially disheartening in light of the fact that he enjoys a solid Democratic majority in the Legislature. “If that’s the best you can do, why bother to have a Democratic majority? You might as well have a Republican majority.”


Progressives still harbor concerns about pouring resources into a gubernatorial campaign that’s nearly guaranteed to fail. The party claims three senators and five representatives and some party members worry that backing a candidate for governor could stymie their influence in the Statehouse. One statewide official — auditor Doug Hoffer — ran as a D/P and his victory is viewed as a win for Progressives.

Rep. Chris Pearson. VTD/Josh Larkin

Rep. Chris Pearson. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger

“It takes a lot of energy. We don’t have a national party sending us hundred of thousands of dollars … doing that [backing a gubernatorial candidate] undoubtedly detracts from our focus on legislative races,” Pearson said.

Abbott said the decision will depend, in part, on the depth of the applicant pool. “Wanting to put the candidate and having a candidate are two different things.”

“I would much rather see us gain seats in the Legislature rather than run a strong campaign for governor that doesn’t win,” Pearson said. “The challenge is that Shumlin has been disregarding our issues.”

Progressive prospects

The 20 percent-of-the-vote days are over for the Progressive Party, according to Eric Davis. Davis said he thinks a Progressive candidate could clinch between 3 percent and 7 percent of the vote — not enough to change the race’s outcome.

But there are enough people looking for an alternative on the ballot that Davis doesn’t think what he calls the “Martha Abbott 2012 strategy” (Abbott ran in the primary but withdrew her bid in support of Shumlin) will suffice for the Progressives in 2014.

Party officials say they are a long way from making a decision, but the discussions have started — Thursday, the party asked followers on Twitter to weigh in on whether they should field a candidate.

Alicia Freese


  1. sandra bettis :


  2. Don Peterson :

    The ability to “spoil” an election is a powerful tool for a minority party to wield. In cases where the incumbent might be watching the marginal vote carefully, progressives can actually get something done.

    Rolling over for another party is no way to be in opposition to the status quo. Progressives were outfoxed (twice!)

  3. Craig Powers :

    Progressives…do us all a favor and please run someone against Gov. Shumlin! That way you will siphon off votes from the Democrats weaken them enough to make it a closer election.

  4. Deb Tyson :

    Vt was looking for a change, that took us away from a Douglas disaster. We wanted someone who was looking out for all Vermonters, not a selected few. Its time for another change. We need to let our elected officials know that they work for us, not themselves and for ALL of Vermont. This newest stunt where he called in outside forces to land a deal with a homeowner, with a LLC company ,instead of using a company inside of VT, which would of made sure that the integrity of this deal stood, he chose to silently hide it. It’s time we move on. What VT needs is another Howard Dean.

  5. Jim Barrett :

    Just what we need is more far left wing liberals controlling this socialist state!

    • Jim Minnich :

      Maybe Mr. Barrett would prefer the neo-Nazism being promoted by the national Republican party. You people who complain about the far left wing liberals had better check their history. It was progressives that fought against tyranny during the Revolution. We need those same people to fight the tryanny being forced upon us today. If I need to choose between socialism and nazi-fascism, I choose socialism. We have already seen how nazi-fascism destroyed a whole country. So, take your hate mongering and leave.

      • Carl Werth :

        Jim? How come the answer is always the other extreme? Liberals always seem to call conservatives “nazis” and conservatives always seem to call liberals “fascists”. I am so sick of hyperbole. Is there no chance we could ever live under moderate rule – where neither the socialists nor the capitalists have full control? A place where legislation is passed or voted down on its own merit alone and never for ANY partisan reasons?

        “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I ‘m not the only one…”

        • sandra bettis :

          carl – i wish there was a ‘like’ button.

    • sandra bettis :

      sounds wonderful, doesn’t it!

    • Janet Shepler :

      @Jim Barrett – 1. Vermont is not a Socialist state. 2. There has never been a far left-wing liberal controlling the state. 3. Yes, it would be great if Vermont was a Socialist state with a left-wing liberal in power.

  6. Kathy Nelson :

    Abbott bowed to Shumlin after barely winning the primary over Annette Smith. Smith at least would have done something useful in Montpelier. The Progressive have nothing to offer the people of Vermont. I doubt they will ever have another viable candidate as Smith will not run again. I won’t vote Progressive, the party of poor judgement and one issue platform.

    • Jason Farrell :

      A supporter of Annette Smith who bemoans others they perceive as having a “one issue platform”. Now that’s rich.

      • Randy Koch :

        You’ve got it upside down: Annette Smith’s candidacy grew out of a movement that was disgusted with the Dem leadership positions on a whole bunch of issues: the F-35 basing, health care insurance, the GazMet takeover of the electrical grid, and, yes of course, their fanatical promotion of industrial wind. The Progressives qualify better for the one-horse parade as they confine themselves to the issue of distributive justice, and then naively look to a 1%-er like Shumlin to carry their water. What on earth did they expect?

    • sandra bettis :

      just curious, what is this perceived ‘one issue’?

  7. Charles Russell :

    Sen. Anthony Pollina is safe in the senate – ideology will not get in his way … no run for gov for him

  8. rosemarie jackowski :

    The Progressives gamed the system in the last election. What they did was not illegal, but in my view it was unethical. In a way, we have the Progressive Party to thank for having Shumlin now. I have lost faith in the Progressive Party.

    “…Abbott was a Progressive Party candidate for Governor of Vermont.[2] She ran unopposed in the primary on August 28, 2012[3] and would have faced incumbent Peter Shumlin (D) and Randy Brock (R) in the general election had she remained in the race. Soon after she accepted her party’s nomination, Abbott confessed her intention to drop out of the race rather than oppose Shumlin in the general election. One week after the primary election, Abbott dropped out of the gubernatorial race. Her candidacy was a purely strategic maneuver to prevent another member of her party from winning, and she said she wanted to yield her party’s support to help Shumlin win re-election.[4]…”

  9. Peter Liston :

    Who would they run that could actually mount a credible state wide campaign? Can’t think of any one of them that could do it.

  10. Randy Koch :

    I’m with Kathy Nelson. Why is any ink (or electrons) being wasted on the party that prevented Annette Smith from raising exactly these issues during the campaign debates by the weird, twisted tactic of standing in for Shumlin. It was so typically Progressive: foolish, manipulative, and tricky. They are just using up all the political oxygen in the room and accomplishing little or nothing.

  11. Brian Flynn :

    The mission of a political party is to win elections. The Progressives have to field a candidate for governor. If they don’t they will be like a boy at a dance afraid to ask a girl to dance. The ps are not a party if they don’t dance.I believe Abbott’s I’m in to win but I’m out caper was a farce.

    Brian Flynn
    Craftsbury Common, Vt

  12. Dave Stevens :

    Annette Smith for Governor! Become the “Ralph Nader” of the next election. Send a message to the Shumlin Administration! And I’m not just saying this because I’m a republican.

  13. Michael Bayer :

    it would be a good idea if people got their facts straight. 1. Martha Abbott was not unopposed in the last primary.
    2. When Anthony ran for Governor he got almost 30% of the vote and outpolled the Democrat, former Speaker Gaye Symington.
    3 Martha told everyone that she was going to withdraw if she won the primary because she and the Prog’s did not want to create the possibility of Dubie winning after Shumlin had already pledged himself to support Single Payer and close Vermont Yankee.
    Apparently there are those like Charles Russell who think that all politicians are cynical and only out for their own personal interests. Too bad, it is not always true.
    As far as Mr Davis’ punditry suggesting that Progs can only get between 3 and 7 percent of the vote that is only the latest obituary of the VPP, which will prove just as silly as all the prior ones.
    If no Democrat challenges Shumlin in a primary, we can only assume that he will continue to move further to the right. He has made it clear that the only part of the electorate that he empathizes with are people like him, the super rich.
    He doesn’t want to pay more taxes and neither do his wealthy friends, even if that means abandoning low income Vermonters.
    Whether the VPP runs a candidate or not, you can bet that we will be calling him out for what he is, a social liberal who will not spend money on working Vermonters.

  14. Paul Denton :

    I’d rather see a primary challenge from within the Democratic Party. We have no one but ourselves to blame for Peter Shumlin. We had a choice of five candidates and picked the worst of the lot. When you make a mistake you need a do-over. Shumlin has been a disaster; everything he’s touched has been poorly managed. T.J. Donovan showed us that a primary challenge to an incumbent can be honorably and effectively mounted. We can only hope that a credible Democrat will step up to the plate.

    • Tom Haviland :

      Yes, this. A primary is the way to handle the issue. What’s Matt Dunn up to?

      • Fred Woogmaster :

        Of the five candidates in the Democratic primary of 2010, Matt Dunn is the only one not to have joined the Shumlin administration, and, in my opinion, the only one who has not compromised him/her self in relation to a challenge.

        • Fred Woogmaster :

          Should be : Matt Dunne (with an E)

  15. David Zuckerman :

    It is also important to remember that whether a Progressive runs and earns 3%, 24% or 48%, if there is a 3 way race and no candidate receives 50% + 1 votes, then it goes to the combined general assembly to interpret the results and then elect the Governor. I think it is quite clear at this point that the traditional conservative Republican position is not one that would/should be elected by the Assembly, so it would be between Gov. Shumlin and the Progressive for the Assembly to choose between.

    This is a scenario that actually gives the large Democratic majority a lot more power when negotiating with the Governor on a number of issues. They can either leverage him towards a more progressive position or they could choose not to.

    We are fortunate that in Vermont our Constitution is drafted in this way. It allows for either the more traditional primary system (as mentioned by Paul Denton above), or a broader system with more viable choices in the general election. This would bring a broader debate to the general public, many of whom only become engaged in the election near the very end.

  16. kevin lawrence :

    Progressives, who support many positions I endorse, have not outlined clearly how they would pay for the big elephant that is health care, something we all desire but will have a hard time selling to all Vermonters. Everyone wants a ride in the medevac helicopter when it’s their turn, but few want to pay for the whole ride, from cradle to coffin. My family works in medicine every day, but the current system that relies on insurance carriers as our lifeline is corrupt. Our choices are between “bad” and “mediocre”, an expensive ride that guarantees profits for corporations and stagnates citizens’ personal finances at every turn for working Vermonters.

    • sandra bettis :

      single payer is the only way to fix this – paid for by our taxes which is the only fair way to do it and, saving on admin costs and profits for ins cos, will be much cheaper than the current premiums that we are paying. every country but the usa seems to have figured that out. the only reason can be that we don’t really care for our neighbors like we say we do.

  17. Randy Koch :


  18. Elizabeth Frye :

    I for one an tired of party and labels that go with it. I am getting closer to my original roots that Independence “label”..Bernie is a Independent and He gets elected. Mr. Davis is it true over 50% of Vermonters consider themselves to be Independent…..

    Progressives..what about campaign finance reform in Vermont..Governor Shumlin won the last election because He had MORE money then the other candidates and because He won in Windham County..where many “progressives live and worked for him”…times have changed..time for a change!

    • sandra bettis :

      actually i believe bernie describes himself as a socialist, not an independent.

    • sandra bettis :

      actually, i believe bernie describes himself as a socialist, not an independent.

  19. Chris Brimmer :

    If we don’t run it shouldn’t be cheap. I want to see the Democrats support our candidate for Lt. Governor and we should run Chris Pearson for that office. I see Chris as a governor in waiting and a member of the next generation of leadership for both the party and the state.

  20. Paul Denton :

    Democrats and Progressives should realize that the governor is very vulnerable to a good Republican candidate after his recent missteps. He got a pass last time sine the R’s ran a nice guy without a chance of winning. If the R’s can talk a credible candidate like Lt. Governor Phil Scott into running then there goes the 5th floor. We Democrats need to get a candidate that can attract Progressive support and unite our strong majority among the voters. That isn’t Peter Shumlin. As things stand the Republicans will have a very good chance next cycle. We can’t rely on them to shoot themselves in the foot again.

  21. Timothy MacLam :

    The Democrats need to get together and run a credible candidate for governor in 2014. Gov. Shumlin does not in any way represent the values of Vermont Democrats. The Progressives would do well to run a credible candidate against Shumlin in 2014. It is time for “Richie Rich” Shumlin to go.



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