If anyone doubted that there was a deep well of humanity inside the flinty-eyed vote-counter, today’s announcement removed all doubt.
House Speaker Shap Smith has left the gubernatorial race, citing his wife Melissa Volansky’s continuing battle with breast cancer. He chose family over ambition, despite Volansky herself urging him to stay in the race.
His announcement was concise, graceful, heartfelt, and noble. It speaks volumes about Shap’s character and priorities, and it makes me hope that he can return to politics someday.
For now, no. He rejected any talk of re-entering the race even if circumstances permit, and he announced he will not seek re-election to the House next year. And if this does turn out to be his last act in politics, then (a) it’s one hell of an exit, and (b) Vermont will be the poorer for it.
And now, since this is a political blog, we don the green eyeshade and consider the political impact.
To put it bluntly, Sue Minter may have just won the Democratic nomination.
Yes, it’s still early. And yes, Matt Dunne is a very strong candidate. It’s far from over, but Minter just became the front-runner.
Each of the (until now) three candidates had their strong points. But Minter and Smith shared many of them: connections in the Democratic Party and to its many elected officers, and (for what it’s worth) service to the Shumlin administration. That’s unpopular in many precincts, but it still carries a lot of weight in the Democratic primary and it provides entree into top-echelon party circles.
Dunne is the outsider, and has positioned himself as such. Although he has served in the House and Senate, he’s been out of the Statehouse loop for the entirety of Shumlin’s governorship. To put it negatively, as some will, he has sailed along in a lucrative private-sector job while Democratic leaders have been navigating the state through very tough times. And of the three candidates, Dunne has been the most forceful in distancing himself from the incumbent. That’s solid strategy, but it doesn’t endear him to those who value party loyalty.
In a three-way race Minter and Smith were likely to split the “mainstream” support, while Dunne had a niche all to himself. Now, Minter has first call on the insiders and loyalists. She also, presumably, has first crack at members of the House caucus, many of whom had closed ranks behind Smith. She did serve seven years in the House, so it’s safe to say she knows some people.
A lot can still happen. If the 2016 legislative session is a disaster, a fresh face will look a lot more appealing. Minter is untested on the big stage, while Dunne has two statewide campaigns under his belt. He also looks to be a fundraising powerhouse, based on very early returns. On the other hand, Minter will have some built-in advantages as the female candidate: she begins with a lot of goodwill among those who want a bit of gender equity in Vermont’s political pickle party*, and she’s a safe bet for entry on Emily’s List for 2016.
*Say that five times fast.
So we’re left with two strong candidates. And one good, big-hearted man who has made his exit in the best possible way for the worst possible reason.