“Condos & Winters,” Eh?

There’s nothing new in Secretary of State Jim Condos penning an op-ed for Vermont news outlets. Does it all the time. But there’s something different with his latest: He lists deputy SoS Chris Winters as co-author. And earlier this month, Condos’ office announced the creation of an Elections “Myth vs. Fact” page on the Secretary’s website. Specifically, it announced that Condos and Winters had created the page.

This would be mere trivia except for one thing. The Democratic rumor mill is rife with word that Condos will not seek a seventh term in office, and that he will endorse Winters as his successor. In that context, it makes all the sense in the world for Condos to be elevating Winters to kinda-sorta coequal status in the public business of the office.

Condos’ endorsement would be a huge plus for the politically untested Winters, but it would be far from dispositive. There would be other entries in the race, possibly from two distinct spheres: (1) the technocrat class, with experience in running elections and such, and (2) Democratic politicos looking to climb the ladder. I don’t have specific names in either category besides Winters in Column A, but the opening would be a big fat juicy opportunity.

The statewide offices, generally speaking, are the best perch for those seeking to reach the highest levels of Vermont politics. They get your name before a statewide audience. They get voters accustomed to filling in the oval next to your name. (I was going to say “pulling the lever,” but I need provide no additional proof that I’m old.) A statewide post is a far better launchpad than any position in the Legislature, and I’m including Speaker and Pro Tem in that calculation. Most people, even most voters, just don’t pay much attention to the Statehouse.

Regarding the statewides, the Democrats have been in a funny position for the last decade or so. They’ve held all of ’em except when Phil Scott was lieutenant governor, but the officeholders have been unlikely to seek higher office. Beth Pearce was born to be Treasurer*, as was Doug Hoffer to be Auditor. Attorney General TJ Donovan has always been seen as a climber. But if he’d ever considered a run for, say, governor (spoiler alert: he has), he’s chosen not to climb into the ring with Scott, which is a case of discretion being a singular mix of valor and cowardice.

*Just about every Dem in the state would have liked Pearce to run for governor, but she’s never shown any interest.

Condos? Well, the former state Senator has turned out to be a first-rate technocrat. He’s done much to bring the office into the 21st Century while maintaining an aura of nonpartisanship (unless you’re a conservative conspiratorialist). He’s been astoundingly popular at the ballot box; his first time around he beat Jason Gibbs by nine percentage points, and he’s never faced more than token opposition since then. Since 2015 Condos has been seen as a potential candidate for governor, but he’s never made the leap.

So, the Dems have held almost every coveted statewide perch, but most of the occupants have chosen not to climb the ladder. It’s made for an odd vacancy in the on-deck circle of Democratic politics; many have had the ambition, but none have had the chance to win a statewide platform.

So there’s a pent-up demand for the scant supply of statewide offices. If Condos retires, Winters had better have his big-boy pants on; he’d face a crowded field. You can see this already in the Democratic race to succeed Molly Gray as lieutenant governor. Two candidates are already in, and two former LGs — David Zuckerman and Doug Racine — have said they’re more likely than not to give it a go. Those statewide posts are worth their weight in political gold. Extra bonus: They actually pay a living wage, unlike the House and Senate.

The top of the ticket is looking like a snoozefest, as is the general election. But the Democratic primaries for any open statewide seat will be historically lively. It should be an entertaining summer, at least, for those who follow state politics.

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