Margolis: The candidate waltz

Randy Brock

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sen. Randy Brock outside Central Vermont Medical Center. VTD File Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is VTDigger’s political analyst.

Not exactly the way it intended, Vermont Public Television performed a valuable public service in its debate among the five candidates for governor of Vermont last night.

Yes, that said, “among” and “five,” as opposed to “between” and “two,” as the race is usually described. The “two,” obviously, are Democratic incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin and his Republican opponent, Sen. Randy Brock of St. Albans.

At the Vermont Public TV studio, though, these two (the only two wearing a suit and tie) were the bookends, not the entire cast. Between Brock on the left (of your screen, not the ideological spectrum) and Shumlin on the right were three other contenders invited for the most sensible reason – they all qualified to get their names on the ballot.

In theory, then, they are the equals of Brock and Shumlin. Putting them all on the panel was no doubt the way Vermont Public TV did intend to perform a valuable public service, even though including the three also-rans threatened to – and most likely did – diminish the size of the audience.

In reality, though, the other three are not the equals of the major party candidates. Well, as human beings, they are. But not as candidates, and not only because Dave Eagle of the Liberty Union Party, Cris Ericson of the U.S. Marijuana Party, and independent Emily Peyton are unlikely to get five percent of the vote among the them.

It’s also that they don’t have very much to say, or if they do they don’t know how to say it. Neither do they seem to know much about government, politics, economics, or, from what could be gathered during the debate, much of anything else. The two women appeared to be unfocused, angry, and on some kind of personal quest. Eagle, full-bearded and dressed in a short-sleeved checked shirt, spoke in comprehensible, rational, and even grammatical sentences. But even he offered voters no coherent case for choosing him. Like the other two, he does not know how to be a candidate.

So no matter how many names are printed on the ballot, this is not a five-candidate race.

Segueing, as the TV folks say, to that valuable public service the debate inadvertently performed: On reflection, this isn’t a two-candidate race, either. It’s a one-candidate … well, “race,” wouldn’t be right word, would it? It’s a one-candidate waltz.

Reporters, including this one, have been reluctant to say this. First of all, the election is not until Nov. 6, and as political observers are (overly) fond of observing, “anything can happen.” A high-ranking official of the Shumlin administration could be caught embezzling from a fund designed to help handicapped children. The governor himself could be found walking down Montpelier’s State Street at 2 a.m. conversing with someone who is not there.

Or perhaps a comet … oh, well, this is now in the realm of the absurd. None of this will happen.

The other reason for the reluctance is that Randy Brock is neither irrational, inarticulate, ill-informed or marginal. He’s a former state auditor, a respected member of the state Senate, a successful businessman, and an energetic candidate. He is also, by all appearances and by the common consent of the office-holders, lobbyists and reporters who hang around the Statehouse, a decent, kind and affable fellow.

But he is not going to be elected governor, and at some point the reluctance to declare the race over has to give way to the fact that this race is over.

It was over before last night. It may have been over as early as August, when the Castleton Polling Institute Poll showed Shumlin ahead 62 to 25 percent. A lot can change in two months (or two days; check the latest presidential polling), but there are no signs that much has changed here. Shumlin has also raised much more money than Brock, and has support from more political organizations.

Brock has gotten some help from the new super PAC called Vermonters First, which has run commercials critical of Vermont Democrats and of Shumlin’s health care plans. But they aren’t very effective commercials. They lack restraint. Their alarmist tone is as likely to repel as to convince an undecided voter.

And for all his strengths, Brock may not know how to be a candidate, either, at least not in Vermont. That was evident Monday when Brock announced his economic plans, which included giving unemployed Vermonters a “business in a box,” which he described as “a homegrown, state-sponsored, state-assisted franchise opportunity for people who are unemployed.”

Using the “box,” Brock said, the unemployed could buy themselves a franchise.

The unemployed? Buy a franchise with what?

Brock’s basic appeal is ideological. He explained that ideology in his closing remarks Thursday night, calling the election “a clear choice” between what he called Shumlin’s support for “centralized management,” and his view of a state where “people make their own decisions.”

Like any ideology, this one can be defended, and in some states it might be effective. But there is precious little evidence that in this state, where the economy is in better shape than it is in most of the other 49 and life – even in these hard times – is relatively pleasant, very many Vermonters to the left of “movement conservatives” worry that they are being centrally managed and unable to make their own decisions.

In Vermont, movement conservatives are a decided minority, and this campaign is over.

Jon Margolis

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9 Comments on "Margolis: The candidate waltz"


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Josh Fitzhugh
4 years 3 months ago

This reads a lot like the ESPN reporter’s story last Saturday which said that there was no way the Euros would come back and win golf’s Ryder cup. “It’s a done deal,” he said. He was wrong and it is now known as the Miracle at Medinah ( at least to the Europeans).

Pat McDonald
4 years 3 months ago

Jon, to appear to discourage people to participate in the process does a real disservice to us all. I am voting whether you say the election is over or not. Why, because as I recently read on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website “your vote is your voice as an American citizen. It’s your opportunity to be heard, to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions and to have a say in important issues that affect your community. On Election Day, every vote matters.” Just remember as Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”.

4 years 3 months ago
It’s got nothing to do with “appear[ing] to discourage people.” It has everything to do with a political analyst — who gets paid for, well, political analysis — expressing his views on the campaign. Journalists and pundits are usually far too reticent to state the obvious, if it might come across as one-sided. But they do their profession, and the public, a disservice when they do so. And if Mr. Margolis is wrong (he isn’t), then Republicans can enjoy a big horselaugh on the day after the election. But in the meantime, don’t complain about a guy doing his job.… Read more »
Kay Trudell
4 years 3 months ago
Randy Brock is HARDLY a lackluster candidate. He is articulate, energetic, knowledgeable, and respectful of our Founding Fathers’ principles of limited government and shared power. He is running against a sitting governor and power structure that is determined to try to create a socialist utopia here in Vermont. Witness: the state government takeover of our Vermont healthcare system. Many concerned Vermonters can see what you are doing. We know that progressivism is merely another word for socialism. As you cause Ethan Allen to roll over in his grave, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc. remember that socialism… Read more »
4 years 1 month ago
The Constitution has been undermined the most by the press, moreso than any arm of government, and here the VT Digger acts as a political action committee for Shumlin. This reporter and Anne Galloway acts with total disdain for the efforts of my campaign and my platform, as if I am retarded, unprofessional and not one to wear a suit and tie. It is clear from the statement about the only two wearing a suit and tie that had I worn a suit and tie, i would be quickly labeled a dominatrix or some disparagement. Not only do I know… Read more »
Ryan Chase
4 years 1 month ago

A) I saw the debate and thought that you did a good job of representing your viewpoints.

B) Vtdigger has no power to “undermine” the Constitution. They have the power to represent a viewpoint – but they actually do better than that by providing a forum for many viewpoints. Margolis has one viewpoint. Others published here have express very different viewpoints. Try submitting an op-ed piece to Vtdigger. I’ll bet that they publish it.

C) Thanks for running. You brought some important issues to the table that might have been overlooked otherwise.

4 years 1 month ago
Dear Ryan Chase, I followed our advise and sent this in, it has not been published. Do you think that VT digger is going to publish my views in any form? I don’t have the feeling they will, and frankly I can’t think of a good reason for their attitude towards me. Thank you for the support. I sent the following a week ago: I am very thankful for the thousands of people who supported that work with their vote. This weekend, F-35’s will fly over Burlington, and none of our elected or press-designated electable participants on a statewide and… Read more »
Stuart Lindberg
4 years 3 months ago
I don’t know where Mr. Margolis travels but It would serve him well to get out and about the state more often. In my work I travel about 1000 miles per week around Bennington, Windham,Windsor and Rutland County. I know of six yard signs with the name Peter Shumlin on them. I see hundreds and hundreds of Randy Brock signs along with Wendy Wilton and Phil Scott signs dotting the landscape. The people I talk with on the street are worried about high taxes, no jobs and a governor who spends much of his time outside of the state of… Read more »
Jason Farrell
4 years 3 months ago

I suspect you should talk to more people, or a more diverse subset of Vermonters, Stuart. Mr. Brock is in for a very short night on November 6. This one’s over no matter how many anecdotal sign-spotting reports to the contrary.

I predict that Governor Shumlin will roll to re-election with 56% of the vote; Randy Brock will follow with 40% and Annette Smith 5%.

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