Siegel Joins Racine in Mulling Circle

Two-time statewide candidate Brenda Siegel is “seriously considering” another run for governor, joining former lieutenant governor Doug Racine in the Mulling Circle(TM Pending). Siegel is a citizen Statehouse advocate on poverty, substance use and other issues, known for her seemingly endless energy and willingness to ruffle feathers along the way — a trait rarely in evidence in the polite world of #vtpoli.

“We’re not going to out-nice the Nice Guy,” Siegel said. “Phil Scott has to be off balance. When you ask yourself who’s been able to put him off balance, I think the answer is pretty clear.”

Is that a veiled reference to Racine, also a famously nice guy? Uh, I believe so.

Besides, she added, “I know what it takes to beat the governor. I’ve done it twice.” Siegel was referring to last year’s fight to decriminalize possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, which Scott signed reluctantly, and last fall’s renowned protest in which Siegel and some allies slept on the Statehouse steps for 27 nights until they won major changes in the state’s emergency housing program — changes Scott had stoutly resisted.

Siegel ran for governor in 2018 and finished third in the Democratic primary; she had the same result in 2020 when she ran for lieutenant governor. So why will the third time be the charm?

As a candidate from an unconventional background, she said, “It was always going to take me more than one try, but my name recognition is higher than ever before.” True dat.

Siegel believes she’s built a lot of political capital from her advocacy and her work within the Vermont Democratic Party; she’s chair of the Newfane Democratic Committee and a delegate to the Windham County Democrats.

Siegel expects to make a decision “in the next several weeks,” and the deciding factor is how she feels she can make the most difference on the issues — as an advocate, or as a candidate.

What do I think? Well, in the still-hypothetical Siegel/Racine primary, it depends on what you’re looking for. Do you think there’s a chance to beat the governor, and do you think a mainstream Democrat gives you the best chance? Then it’s Racine. Would you like to see someone go toe-to-toe with the governor, damn the torpedoes? Then it’s Siegel.

If you’ve already given up hope of beating Scott, then Siegel is the best-equipped to take some skin off Scott’s hide and possibly make him more vulnerable in the future. The Democrats have let him skate on a lot of stuff, most notably his all-time record (and still climbing) number of vetoes. That isn’t exactly the mark of a conciliator, but the Dems haven’t been able to penetrate the governor’s Teflon coat. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

As for the more unlikely hypotheticals… What if Scott doesn’t run for re-election? That means the Democratic nominee becomes the almost certain winner in November. In this scenario, Racine is the safe choice, and Siegel is the policy firebrand. She’d definitely push the issues, which would be a new thing for a Democratic governor. As for doing the actual job of running state government, Siegel has a lot less administrative experience — but Racine was forced out of his biggest managerial job as human services secretary under Peter Shumlin.

I wouldn’t tell you which way to vote in the still-hypothetical primary. Hell, I wouldn’t make up my own mind until mid-summer at the earliest. Part of me wants to give Racine another shot as a capstone to his career; part of me wants to just let it rip, and enjoy some very lively Scott/Siegel debates this fall.

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