This political season, with its rare turnover in the top ranks, has generated quite a bit of activity from politicos whose aspirations are no surprise — Phil Scott, Bruce Lisman, Matt Dunne, Sue Minter, TJ Donovan, etc. — but it’s also created some real headscratchers. There are people running for high office who cause me to wonder, “Who asked for this?”
So far, this category largely centers on the race for lieutenant governor, which has attracted a pair of high-profile liberal lawmakers and a trio of candidates who seemingly came out of nowhere: Brattleboro-area investment dude Brandon Riker, recently repatriated Washington journalist Garrett Graff, and Rutland-area doctor Louis Meyers. Nothing against these worthies or their noble intentions; but really, who asked for this?
Now comes another would-be candidate from out of nowhere, giving his own distinctive twist to this narrative: former State Representative and Vermont Coffee Company founder Paul Ralston. He has declared his potential candidacy for An Office To Be Named Later, under the banner of A Party To Be Named Later Or Maybe Independent, and created his own weekly radio show as a platform for his amorphous ambition.
Nothing against Paul Ralston; he makes my favorite coffees, a hell of a lot better than that Keurig sludge. But this whole thing strikes me as a vanity project more than anything else.
Added bonus: his radio show is the latest step in the devolution of WDEV’s daily schedule. It used to feature one hour of conservative talk, one hour of liberal talk, and two hours of Mark Johnson. Of that noble endeavor, only the conservative hour remains intact. The liberal hour has fragmented into “whatever WDEV can find that’ll fill the hour and maybe generate some cash.” The Thursday hour used to be a forum for Small Dog Electronics founder Don Mayer to dispense Apple advice and promotion; now it’s Paul Ralston from a makeshift studio at Vermont Coffee Company, hosting a show called “The Reluctant Politician.”
Full disclosure, I haven’t listened to it. My comments are based solely on the concept.
For starters, that word “reluctant” makes me laugh. Truly reluctant people don’t take to the airwaves to dangle themselves before the electorate in hopes of inciting a bandwagon. Who the hell is going to call this meatball of a program, or even listen? Those who think Paul Ralston is the bee’s knees, that’s who.
Ralston served two terms in the House as a Democrat representing Middlebury. When he entered politics, the Democrats had high hopes for him as a successful businessman trumpeting the liberal cause.
Relations quickly soured, as Ralston turned out to be a thoroughly independent cuss with a well-developed sense of his own brilliance. Kind of a lower-case Peter Galbraith, if you will. His centrist-cum-DINO politics were a big part of it, but he’s far from the only DINO in the house. (Jim Condon, for example, is a strongly pro-business Democrat who does just fine in the caucus.) The bigger problem was his impatience with the process. He didn’t, as they say in kindergarten report cards, Play Well With Others. His own words provide an unintentional window on his problematic tenure:
“Seventy-five percent of my experience in politics has been good. Twenty-five of it has been really boring. The first time I ever fell asleep in a meeting was in a Democratic caucus,” he said.
Yeah, well, your caucus appreciates your attention and support. Personally, if I were a lawmaker, I’d find the caucus fairly interesting compared to those endless committee sessions, listening to the Usual Suspects reciting their predigested viewpoints. But one man’s ceiling, I guess.
After a couple terms banging his head against the wall (and his colleagues’ sensibilities), Ralston retired from active politics. But apparently the itch is still there, and he’s looking for a way back into the arena that doesn’t require all that messy, wonky insider work.
Yes, there’s a lot of taking your castor oil in politics. You’ve got to make nice with local apparatchiks, you’ve got to raise money, and if you win, you have to carry out the duties of office, the fun and the not-so-fun. Paul Ralston’s disaffection is emblematic of the problems faced by successful businesspeople entering politics. It’s a different game played by different rules. Some of that is hidebound hierarchic nonsese, but a lot of it exists for very good reasons.
In any case, it’s not going to change simply because Paul Ralston thinks it’s beneath him. And as for this self-promotional radio show? Sorry, I won’t be tuning in.