The reluctant candidate? If Smith wins Progressive Primary, she could make trail bumpy for Shumlin

Editor’s note: This article is a political analysis, not a straight news story.

Just when the Democrats and Gov. Peter Shumlin thought they’d made peace with the Progs, here comes an under-the-radar candidate with no money, a lot of chutzpah and zero campaign experience.

Enter Annette Smith, stage (where else but?) left, in the Progressive Party primary for governor.

Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is the reluctant standard-bearer for the anti-corporatists who are so angry at Shumlin for his stance on a narrow range of issues — overt support of the Green Mountain Power/Central Vermont Public Service merger and his willingness to back industrial wind — that they are willing, against all odds, not to mention at the very last minute (the campaign is 10 days old), to run a write-in campaign for Smith.

Smith has been jeremiahing in the wilderness about the environmental impact of wind on the state’s ridgelines for years. A primary win would give her a platform to take her message statewide.

Mind you, Smith herself isn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the idea of a campaign. It wasn’t, after all, her idea. It was the brainchild of Stephanie Kaplan, Randy Koch and other activists who were in anyone-but-Shumlin mode and wanted to have someone to vote for come Election Day. (Smith isn’t taking calls from the press, Kaplan says, because she isn’t running the campaign — she’s too busy fighting the David Blittersdorf wind project on Georgia Mountain, among other environmental fronts.)

Kaplan, Koch et al., believe Smith is perfect candidate for disaffected voters who: 1. oppose industrial wind (especially on Lowell Mountain, a Green Mountain Power project the governor has supported wholeheartedly); 2. believe Shumlin is too cozy with business, especially corporate Canada, i.e., Gaz Metro; 3. have concerns about Gaz Metro’s merger of Green Mountain Power and CVPS, the state’s two largest utilities; 4. hate the idea of smart meters for health reasons; and 5. oppose the basing of F-35s at the Burlington International Airport.

“These are the issues that we’re raising because we know they’re issues Annette has positions on and would be able to discuss these things intelligently,” Kaplan said. “It starts with Shumlin’s coziness with big corporations in Vermont and how that has made people uncomfortable. It’s reflected in the merger that he promoted [between Gaz Metro’s Green Mountain Power and CVPS]. … It was promoted as this fantastic thing … other people looked closely at figures and it may not be good thing for Vermonters, though it’s good for Green Mountain Power and CVPS.”

If Smith wins the primary, she will be given the right, as a major party candidate to be included in all the public debates — and the opportunity to give Shumlin a hard time about the aforementioned issues.

Kaplan said in an email that Smith “consistently stands up for ordinary Vermonters, helping them take on the big corporations and their lawyers and lobbyists. She is deeply knowledgeable about the corporate take-over of Vermont in all its many forms, and she is an excellent and passionate speaker.” The “anti-corporate” jingle, which has been the theme song of Progressives, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the standard-bearer for the Progressive Party in Vermont (even though he eschews the label and runs as an independent), is apparently no longer being sung loudly enough for the Lowell activists.

Do Smith and her supporters really think she has a chance to beat the Progressives’ very own Martha Abbott, the chairwoman of the party?

Very hard to say. In the last two election cycles, only about 500 people voted in the Progressive Party. Smith’s “campaign” listserve (friends of friends taking the news viral) is at least that size, and her supporters are motivated activists, many of whom are appalled by the Lowell Mountain wind project. “Lowell is the biggest development in Vermont since the interstate,” Kaplan said. What galls activists, she said, is Shumlin’s unwillingness to talk to them about the project — or visit the site.

Then there is the contrarian factor: Vermonters love opposition candidates in a primary. Remember Fred Tuttle?

Still being a write-in candidate in a primary is a dicey business in Vermont. First, there is the question of which ballot to choose (there are three, one for each of the major parties), and most people who go to the polls on Aug. 28 will likely choose a Democratic ballot, in order to vote in the hotly contested Vermont attorney general primary race.

The other challenge is getting voters to remember the name of the write-in candidate.

Abbott will have no such issue, as her name will be front and center on the Progressive ticket. Abbott told the Vermont Press Bureau that the challenge from Smith is “exciting” because it will “raise the level of interest in our primary.” In the last election, the Progressives supported Peter Shumlin because of his stances on single-payer health care, renewable energy and Vermont Yankee. Abbott has said that if she wins, she may drop out of the General Election.

CORRECTION: We originally stated that Sanders was a founder of the Progressive Party. Though often claimed by party members as one of their own, Sanders is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Anne Galloway

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