Well, the briefest of gubernatorial trial balloons has settled to the floor, like the birthday balloon that got a half-shot of helium. Deb Markowitz, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary throughout the Shumlin administration, has taken her name out of the running. In an email to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, she wrote:
“I will not be running for Governor this time around. I want to be able to continue to fully focus on the important work of the agency to address the important environmental, energy and economic issues facing Vermont.”
Fair enough. It kinda seemed like she was a token woman on everybody’s list rather than a real top tier contender. Which is a shame, because she could very easily have been Governor instead of Peter Shumlin. And the way his administration has turned out, we might have been better off with Markowitz.
We’ll never know, of course. But let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane, just to show how close we came to that particular alternate reality. And how a possible bit of trickeration (the Nixon folks called it ratf*cking) might have kept her out of the corner office.
When Jim Douglas decided not to see a fifth term in 2010, several years’ worth of pent-up Democratic ambition was suddenly unleashed. Five candidates entered the Democratic primary. Four were very serious candidates: Peter Shumlin, Doug Racine, Deb Markowitz, and Matt Dunne.
The fifth was veteran State Sen. Susan Bartlett, who was a clear no-hoper in such a stacked field.
In the primary, Shumlin beat Racine by less than 200 votes out of 73,576 cast. Markowitz finished a very close third, less than 700 votes behind Shumlin. Dunne finished a solid fourth.
Percentage-wise, it was almost a four-way split: Shumlin 24.8%, Racine 24.6, Markowitz 23.9, and Dunne 20.8.
And Bartlett? Dead last, with only 5.1%. One wonders how seriously she took the campaign, since she skipped a candidates’ debate a mere five days before the primary. Organizers were expecting her; they had five lecterns lined up. But without notifying organizers, she instead spent the evening at a confab of a business group. The only possible explanation is that she knew damn well she wasn’t winning.
There is some portion of the electorate that will choose a female candidate if everything else is equal, because women are so chronically underrepresented in the corridors of power. I am one of those people. I think it’s fair to assume that if Bartlett wasn’t in the race, Markowitz would have gotten more of Bartlett’s 5,000-plus votes than any of the three male candidates. Enough to overcome a 700-vote deficit? Quite probably.
I don’t think it’s outlandish to believe that if not for Susan Bartlett, the winner of the primary would have been Deb Markowitz, not Peter Shumlin.
Would Markowitz have beaten Brian Dubie? We’ll never know. But she would have been the candidate.
And what happened to Susan Bartlett after the campaign?
She took on a low-profile but high-grade post in the Shumlin administration as a policy adviser.
Markowitz and Racine were given Cabinet posts, which gave them much more visibility but also saddled them with responsibility and the potential for failure.
Bartlett’s been quietly collecting state paychecks all along. Currently, she’s Special Projects Coordinator in the Agency of Human Services, drawing a salary of $72,513. Nice work if you can get it.
Putting the pre- and post-campaign together, we have a person who (A) helped Shumlin survive the primary, and (B) has been occupying vaguely-defined but lucrative posts in the Shumlin administration.
Far be it from me to draw a line between A and B. But the two points are there, clear as day.
Best wishes to Deb Markowitz on her remaining 18 months in office, and in whatever adventures may come her way after that.