Hey Dave, I went to the Burlington Winter Market on Saturday. Bought some of your fine veggies, but you weren’t there. Presumably spending a happy Saturday at the Senate Dems’ Convocation of Cowards. Maybe next time.
Anyway, organic farmer and state senator Dave Zuckerman is now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, running in the Democratic primary and seeking the Progressive nomination as well. I didn’t attend his kickoff event last Thursday; but here are a few thoughts on Zuckerman and the Lite-Gov race.
— The most interesting participant in Thursday’s festivities, per media reports, was Senate Minority Leader Phil Baruth, who gave a hearty endorsement — “come hell or high water” — of the Prog/Dem Zuckerman. This was a big surprise to me; given the level of Dem>Prog antipathy up Burlington way, I assumed that area Democrats would stand behind Kesha Ram. Without regard to quality; just on the basis of not wanting to help a Progressive win.
Baruth’s stated reasoning boiled down to “I trust him,” a phrase he repeated at least three times. So, he doesn’t trust Kesha Ram?
The good Senator seems to be alone among Chittenden County Democrats in backing Zuckerman, at least publicly. The open question: can Zuckerman make further inroads among Democrats? Possible, but seems unlikely, given the fact that…
— This isn’t the first time Zuckerman has faced Kesha Ram. Round One was in 2008, and it got really nasty. Reformed blogger John Odum’s post-election summary:
Welcome to the just passed(?) Chittenden 3-4 race between incumbent Progressives Chris Pearson, David Zuckerman and Democrats Kesha Ram and some other guy. The race went to Zuckerman and Ram, and I have never seen a race at any level where the charge of “liar” was thrown around for such frivolous reasons.
Both accused the other of being the instigator.
Ram cited quotes from Zuckerman saying he had heard Ram only worked one or two days a week at her job at a preschool program in the summer.
Ram also mentioned a statement from Pearson saying that she had not put forth any ideas about student leadership when they met for coffee a year earlier.
… “This campaign that [Ram] waged certainly created a great deal of tension. Tension between Progressives and Burlington Democrats that I have not seen for eight or 10 years,” Zuckerman said.
There’s more, but you can find it in Odum’s post. (The link is to Green Mountain Daily’s archive for 11/13/08; the Ram/Zuckerman/Pearson piece is the second from the top.) Will this play into the race for Lite-Gov? Well, it’s been several years, water under the bridge and all that. But this is likely to be a hard-fought race, especially for the home turf in Chittenden County, so things might get a little hot. And the personal history won’t help.
— Zuckerman becomes, I’m almost certain, the first major-party* candidate for a statewide office who’s an anti-vaxxer. In last winter’s debate on a bill to end the philosophical exemption, Zuckerman gave an emotional speech outlining the reasons — personal and political — for his stance. I don’t know if the subject came up at his launch; there was no hint of it in the media coverage. But it’s question #1 on my list: If elected, would he pursue changes in the law to make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinations? Especially when the philosophical exemption actually disappears, next summer.
*Using my own definition of “major party,” not the state’s. “Major” means “has an effect on the political dialogue, and is competitive in some important races.” There are only three major parties, and Liberty Union ain’t one.
If he plans to actively pursue the issue, that’s a deal-breaker for me right there. And even if he doesn’t, I’d have serious trouble voting for him. If the subject were to arise during his hypothetical term, he’d have a substantial bully pulpit to spread his views. On most issues, he would be an articulate spokesman for progressivism, but not on vaccination.
— At the campaign launch, Zuckerman was praised as a fearless, principled politician. Ben Cohen: “relentless in pursuit of his principles and values.” And, per Paul Heintz:
In her own introductory speech, climate activist and 350.org board chair Kathryn Blume highlighted the candidate’s “fearless and unwavering support of putting a price on carbon pollution.” Referring perhaps to Ram, who recently walked back her support for a carbon tax she cosponsored, Blume added, “Not everybody is willing to stand up for it and Dave Zuckerman is.”
But after the event, Zuckerman, too, backed away from the legislation, saying he supported “the sentiment behind it,” but not the bill as drafted. He said he worried it would overly burden those who drive long distances in rural Vermont and would be impractical if neighboring states failed to pass similar laws.
Asked if he would vote for the bill if it reached the Senate floor the next day, he said, “I think it’s incomplete because of that border issue.”
Which is almost exactly, word-for-word, what those cowardly Democrats have been saying about the carbon tax. Perhaps Blume is incompletely informed on Zuckerman’s apparently evolving views.
In fairness, it’s obvious that the carbon tax isn’t ready for prime time. The Republicans have adopted it as their #1 weapon against the Dems. Even VPIRG’s Paul Burns acknowledges that a lot of persuading needs to be done before the Legislature will tackle the issue. But still, Zuckerman’s comments to Heintz were at odds with his reputation as a fighter.
— Finally, how do I see the race?
First, I should mention the two — or perhaps one and a half — other people in the race: Hedge fund manager and Democratic activist Brandon Riker, and journalist Garrett Graff. The former has a long hard battle to overcome a complete lack of name recognition; the latter faces an unresolved question about his residency, which may disqualify him from the ballot. In any case, it’s hard to imagine the Democratic primary electorate opting for either of them, since they have no track record to speak of in Vermont. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m assuming this is really a two-person race.
Both Ram and Zuckerman have their pluses and minuses. Ram has the support most of the Chittenden County Dem establishment, plus the not inconsiderable backing of former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and other Democratic women. Being a woman in a Democratic primary is a net plus. It may be even more so with a credible woman, Sue Minter, running for governor.
On the other hand, Ram is still awfully darn young, and she strikes some as incompletely seasoned. Also, and maybe I’m alone in this opinion, her ethnicity is a slight negative. Yes, even in the Democratic primary, and even in good old Vermont. There are quite a few pockets of Dem conservatism out there, and a whole lot of places where a nonwhite face is a rare thing indeed. If you’ve read Seven Days’ recent coverage of race and law enforcement, you know that there are more than a few Vermonters who harbor ethnic stereotypes, if not actual hatred. Her ethnicity will cost her a few percentage points.
As for Zuckerman, he has fairly high name recognition and a solid reputation (vaccines aside) among likely primary voters. He is, arguably, the most progressive voice among Dem candidates for governor and Llite-Gov, which should help. He’s been in Vermont politics longer than Ram, and occupies a higher-profile perch.
But he will have to overcome the Dems’ antipathy toward the Progs, especially in the key battleground of Chittenden County. A significant number of voters will opt for Ram simply because she’s “the real Democrat.”
Add it all together, I give Zuckerman a slight edge. It’s early, and that could change. Especially since Ram is likely to out-fundraise Zuckerman, given her party connections. Zuckerman is hoping that public financing will become an option, which tells you all you need to know about his own opinion of his fundraising prospects. If Ram swamps Zuckerman in the next campaign finance report (March 15), she will become the favorite.
Should be interesting, anyway. Even if it’s not 2008 Redux.