One of the bigger surprises of last month’s filing deadline was the appearance of an old face in a new place: Roger Allbee, Ag Secretary under Jim Douglas and self-described “liberal Republican,” is running for the State Senate in Windham County.
… as a Democrat.
Well, last Wednesday I guest-hosted the Mark Johnson Show on WDEV*, and I booked Allbee as one of my guests. I thought it worthwhile to try to pin him down on his move to the Democratic side.
*For those unfamiliar with the show, Mark frequently does in-depth interviews with key figures in politics and government. He posts his more noteworthy interviews in an online podcast, available anytime for people outside of WDEV’s range or who can’t listen live between 9-11 a.m. because they, y’know, have to work and stuff. The podcast is a bit out of date right now because Mark’s been on vacation. But it’s worth bookmarking.
The result, such as it was, has earned Allbee a nickname: The Artful Roger.
He bobbed and weaved, ducked and parried, and determinedly changed the subject at every opportunity. In a very genial way, I should add. It wasn’t at all contentious; he simply wouldn’t say much about it. If you’re a Windham County Democrat wondering about the sincerity of his party switch, well, you can keep on wondering. The Artful Roger didn’t lay any doubts to rest. Indeed, my conclusion is that he hasn’t changed a bit: he’s still a moderate Republican, and his positions are more or less in line with the likes of Phil Scott.
His case for his candidacy as a Democrat: “People who know me know that I have always worked in a very bipartisan manner, and even when I was Secretary, to bring things together.”
I’m passionate about Vermont and the values of our community, and believe that with my knowledge of the state and my reputation for working with people on all sides of the aisle in a very bipartisan way, that I can bring my great passion and knowledge to the Senate. I know how it works, and have been there as Secretary and think that my values, my skill and my background can help make a difference.
Prospective slogan: “Vote for Allbee: He’s Very Bipartisan.” Alternatively: “Allbee: ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Democrats.'”
He says he hasn’t moved, but the GOP has moved away from him:
When I grew up in Brookline many years ago, party labels really didn’t mean much. People voted for the individual, and for what the individual believed in. I still believe that, but the Republican Party that I’ve known in the past, the Aiken party, the Dick Snelling party, that party has certainly moved in a way that it doesn’t represent my views today.
True enough, but with Phil Scott trying to make the party more inclusive, this seems like exactly the wrong time for a liberal Republican to jump ship. Allbee replied that he respects Scott, but still believes his views “haven’t been included as much as they should be” in the party. Which doesn’t really answer the question.
Then again, he gave no indication that he has actually jumped ship. When I asked about switching to the Democratic Party, he replied, “I can’t say I really did switch parties.”
As quickly as he could, The Artful Roger launched into a lengthy explication of what he sees as the three big issues facing Vermont: Health care reform, the public school system and how to fund it, and economic development. An explication that lasted more than five minutes.
And it sounded like the kind of stuff you’d hear from Phil Scott (or, Lord help us, Bruce Lisman): long on exploration, short on specifics, plenty of talk about “concerns” with current policies but no outright criticism, and invocations of a more balanced approach to stuff like taxes and regulation.
I redirected the conversation by noting that Allbee should expect skepticism about his candidacy, and asked him to convince me it wasn’t sheer opportunism — his only way to win in a very liberal constituency. His answer was more of the same.
I think people who know me and know what I’ve done and how I’ve worked collaboratively with others and know my personality and my values, know that it’s not opportunism, but it’s using my experience. Obviously there will be some who say that. So be it. I think I have a history of working with all sides, and supporting candidates like Pat Leahy and Peter Welch and working with them, even Bernie Sanders. Governor Shumlin asked me to stay on [as Ag Secretary], because I had the reputation of being collaborative and working on the issues. So some will say that, but my history demonstrates otherwise.
“Even Bernie Sanders.” Nice touch.
My conclusion: Allbee’s a nice enough guy with a lot of experience and knowledge. I think he’s more or less honest about running as a Democrat, although there’s clearly an element of opportunism at work. He’s running in a solidly Democratic county at a time when one of the two incumbents is stepping down, leaving an open seat.
Still, he’d be a fine Republican candidate — from somewhere else, like Rutland or Caledonia. But Windham? One of the most liberal counties in the state shouldn’t be represented by a neo-centrist.
Besides, the State Senate already has too many of these types, both Democrats and Republicans: centrists or center-rightists who’ve helped block a lot of progressive legislation during the Shumiln years. We really don’t need another Dick Mazza, do we?
Postscript. There hasn’t been any coverage of the Windham County race in the statewide media (except my own stuff on Green Mountain Daily), which surprises me. I realize the primary isn’t until late August, but this is a slow time for political coverage and Allbee’s entry sets up perhaps the most intriguing primary race in Vermont: a four-way run for two Democratic nominations, including one incumbent (Jeanette White), two newcomers (Becca Balint and Joan Bowman), and Allbee. And with no declared Republican candidates, the winners of the Dem primary will waltz their way into the Senate.