As the rumor mill had predicted, Secretary of State Jim Condos has announced he will not seek a seventh term in office. The 71-year-old Condos has been a quietly influential figure in state politics. He was the champion vote-winner in three successive elections (2012-16), when the Republicans failed to even field a candidate to oppose him.
You never know what you’re going to get when a politician becomes Secretary of State. It can be a sinecure for an aging pol or a mischief-making opportunity for a real partisan, but Condos did neither. He fulfilled his duties with honesty and a minimum of politics, and did his best to make the office run more efficiently in all aspects.
He was also unafraid to take stands unpopular with his old friends in the Legislature. I’ll always appreciate his advocacy for ethical standards and campaign finance reform, which are uncomfortable topics in the Statehouse.
No sooner did he announce his decision in a YouTubed press conference than the speculation began about his successor. The first question was whether Condos would endorse his deputy, Chris Winters, to succeed him. Condos praised Winters’ performance, but declined to issue an endorsement. “I will deal with that at the appropriate time,” he said.
I can add a couple of names to the potential candidate pool. The Republican grapevine sings the name “Dustin Degree,” former state senator and top adviser to Gov. Phil Scott who’s now deputy labor commissioner. Among potential Dems, Montpelier city clerk John Odum, who tells me he is “seriously considering an SoS run and will make a decision within the next couple weeks.”
Well, then. Degree would be a credible candidate, which in itself is a plus for a party that often has to fill its statewide ticket with last-minute unknowns. He’s got political experience, albeit only in Franklin County. Degree is conservative enough to mollify the party base, and his association with Scott is a big plus — especially if the governor gave him a solid rub. Scott has never really done that, but then he’s never had the opportunity to promote one of his loyalists.
One big potential stumbling block for Degree: He’d have to navigate the treacherous shoals of Trumpian conspiratorialism and its dark electoral fantasies. Tarring Condos or his would-be successor with the George Soros brush would be death to any hope of capturing the moderate vote that’s crucial to Scott’s success.
Odum is well known in Democratic circles, and gets the lion’s share of the credit slash blame for launching my so-called blogging career. Before running for clerk, he was the chief cook and bottle washer for Green Mountain Daily, the now-dormant liberal group blog. He invited me on board GMD back in 2011, and the rest is history.
As was the case with Condos, Odum entered office from a partisan background but has served in a fair, transparent manner. He would offer a good reputation and experience in running elections if he chooses to run.
Whether he has the political pull or not, who knows. If Winters gets the backing of his boss, you’d have to consider him the favorite in a likely Democratic primary. Beyond those two unconfirmed candidates, you’d have to think it likely that at least one state lawmaker would take a shot. It’s a good stepping stone to higher office if that’s what you’re into.
One thing’s for sure. It turns a race that’s been a snoozefest since 2010 into a real contest for the Democratic nomination. Any Republican candidate, including Degree, would be the underdog. I mean, it’s been over a decade since any GOPer not named “Phil Scott” has won a statewide election. I hope that at least one Republican of substance gives it a go. The voters deserve a real choice, and not only in August.