When Jeb Spaulding became newly-elected governor Peter Shumlin’s top cabinet official in January 2011, his little-known deputy was chosen to serve out the remainder of his term.
That deputy went on to become, arguably, the most popular officeholder in the Vermont Democratic Party. She routinely got loud, sustained ovations at VDP gatherings, and was at the top of many Democrats’ wish lists as a candidate for governor. But she had no interest in being anything other than Treasurer.
And now Beth Pearce has announced her retirement as Treasurer at the end of her term, when she will have served 12 years in the office.
First and foremost, all the luck in the world to Pearce as she battles cancer. Having watched Pearce in action, I have to say cancer has no idea what it’s in for.
Pearce was the ultimate numbers nerd. She had a long and successful career as a specialist in public sector finance, but she was completely untested as a politician when she became Our Treasurer. That quickly changed; in her first run for re-election, swamped Republican Wendy Wilton in fundraising and at the ballot box.
All that despite the unlimited bankroll behind Wilton. Ultraconservative uberdonor Lenore Broughton created her own super PAC, Vermonters First, and pumped over a million bucks into it. Much of that money was aimed at electing Wilton. Broughton got exactly Jack Shit for her massive investment; Pearce beat Wilton by 11 1/2 percentage points, and Vermonters First unceremoniously departed the scene.
(But we should all remember that the “brains” behind Vermonters First resided in the capacious skull of one Tayt Brooks, who has been one of Phil Scott’s top aides throughout Scott’s tenure as governor, quietly devising economic development policy. Kind of shines a different light on the gov’s reputation as a moderate, hmm?)
After that, Peace was unbeatable. She won both the Democratic and Republican nominations in 2014 and 2016 and cruised to re-election. She got actual Republican opposition in 2018 and 2020, but her smallest margin of victory was a hearty 22 percentage points.
Meanwhile, she was close to faultless in her job performance. She was a fierce steward of the public purse. Her word was as good as a AAA-rated bond. Her views were always taken seriously in the Legislature and the governor’s office, which is not something you can say about any of the other statewide officeholders.
Policywise, her stands were sometimes too conservative for my taste. She was against fossil fuel divestment for Vermont’s public sector pensions. She opposed the creation of a state bank. She was extremely cautious about incurring new debt. She seemed to value Vermont’s bond rating above all else.
But you could count on her to do her job as best she could. Her integrity was unquestionable. She was a superhero of a public servant. Whoever succeeds her as treasurer will have some incredibly big shoes to fill.
And now, let the political maneuvering begin. Should be yet another interesting Democratic primary.