Next Tuesday is one of the most important primary elections in Vermont’s recent history. Of the six state offices, four have competitive races. Five Democrats are vying for the right to confront Republican Brian Dubie in gubernatorial race. Two Democrats and two Republicans are in a party run-off in the lieutenant governor’s race and the secretary of state race; two Democrats are vying for the state auditor of accounts position to confront Republican incumbent Tom Salmon. Add to that a competitive three-way race among Republicans for the congressional seat held by Democrat incumbent Rep. Peter Welch, plus a competitive write-in race among two Democrats for one of two state Senate seats in Addison County and it’s as important an election as any general election in November.
So, bone up on the issues, choose your candidates and — most importantly — go vote.
Astute readers will acknowledge that we have already endorsed Matt Dunne as the Democrat for governor and Chris Bray for lieutenant governor among the Democrats. (See both endorsements online at www.addisonindependent.com), so we’ll focus on the other two contested races in this editorial and review both sides of the lieutenant governor’s race on Monday.
• Secretary of State — Vote for Condos and Gibbs:
Among Democrats, the race is between Jim Condos and Charles Merriman.
Condos, a four-term state senator from South Burlington, not only has served on the Senate’s Government Operations Committee, he served on the South Burlington city council for a number of years, and is currently in government relations for Vermont Gas Systems. That mixture of having served in the Legislature, in town government and in private business encompasses many of the constituents the Secretary of State’s office serves and is good experience for the job.
Condos, 59, supports an early primary date and same-day voter registration to allow the most open access to the polls. He has the same attitude about openness in government and campaign finance rules.
“Open government,” he says, “is good government,” and he has been a proponent of that premise throughout his years in the Senate.
“The biggest and best thing we can do is more transparency,” Condos said in a recent interview with the Barre Times Argus, which is a crucial perspective for the Secretary of State to embrace. He also has a good perspective on the role of the office and how important it is to continue the highest efficiency through improved technology and streamlining systems and reducing bureaucratic red tape.
Merriman, an attorney who lives in Middlesex and a newcomer to statewide politics, is also running on an open-government platform, but has some new ideas to bring to the table. For instance, he advocates that the Legislature grant the Secretary of State legal authority to determine the status of a requested record — in real time — with a right of appeal to the superior court. That makes great sense.
As Merriman explains: “The current law allows people to file an expedited civil action when they are wrongfully denied a public record and seek attorneys’ fees. This approach is cumbersome, inefficient and puts a heavy burden on the individual and the courts. Moreover, over the last 30 years, there have been very few instances in which attorneys’ fees have been rewarded. Thus, there is little incentive to fight a public records denial.
“The better approach to resolving public records disputes is the one currently being pursued by the Archives and Records Administration division of the Secretary of State’s office under the guidance of State Archivist Gregory Sanford… Getting to this system will take a few years. In the interim, I recommend the Legislature (give) legal authority to the Secretary of State to issue a determination of the status of a requested record with a right of appeal to superior court. Once Mr. Sanford’s procedures are in place and the status of records are clear, I support the imposition of mandatory, reasonable attorneys’ fees for a wrongful denial of a public record.”
It’s that kind of thoughtful analysis of an ongoing problem, plus his big-picture perspective of the Secretary of State’s role, that makes Merriman an intriguing choice.
According to his website, Merriman, who is around 50, received his BA in economics from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He taught English in Japan for a year then worked with his father in the construction industry for a few years before returning to graduate school in economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1985-86. In 1989, he and Sarah Strohmeyer, a journalist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, married and the couple lived and worked in downtown Cleveland, Sarah in journalism and Charlie in real estate, before moving to Vermont in 1992. Since moving to Middlesex in 1996, he has served in various capacities, including chair of the Middlesex Zoning Board of Adjustment, member and chair of the Rumney School Board, vestry member of Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, Board member of Brookhaven School for Boys in Chelsea, and Justice of the Peace. In 2009 he became a partner in the firm and this year the firm reformed as Tarrant, Gillies, Merriman & Richardson.
Merriman’s one mistake in this primary race, however, is a comment he made on the Mark Johnson show that he should have run as an independent and might change to an independent status if he were to win. In a Democratic primary, that’s just not a smart thing to say. We understand his desire to be non-partisan while in office, but in a primary race you’re either running within the party or not. Perhaps he’ll try again down the road and run as an independent if that is his preference.
In the meantime, Condos has the edge in name recognition in populous Chittenden County, would be a competent Secretary of State as well as a worthy opponent to challenge the Republican winner.
Vote Condos for Secretary of State on the Democratic ballot.
On the Republican side, Jason Gibbs is our pick over Chris Roy.
Gibbs, a former Brandon native, was press secretary for Gov. James Douglas before becoming the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation within the Douglas administration for the past two years. He’s an energetic, smart, well-intentioned young leader with an enthusiastic desire to serve the state. During his brief tenure as commissioner he’s made progress in streamlining the department while also improving services and morale — partly through his positive style and personal persuasion.
Gibbs served six years on Gov. Douglas’ senior staff as Press Secretary, Communications Director and Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs. He was a senior policy advisor to the governor, as well as his liaison to several national and state associations.
A native of Forestdale, he graduated from Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon in 1994 and attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he earned a degree in political science. Married, he and his wife have one young son, Addison.
Roy, 45, was born and raised in Barre. His parents worked in the granite industry. After graduating from Spaulding High School, Roy attended Harvard College, where he graduated with a degree in government. He later received his law degree from Cornell University. He now lives in Williston with his wife, Lisa, and their three sons.
Roy has worked since 1990 for Downs Rachlin and Martin, the state’s biggest law firm. He specializes in commercial litigation. Roy has served on the Williston Selectboard since 2007 and previously served on the Burlington Planning Commission and the Vermont Environmental Board. While Roy maintains he has the better experience, one can argue that his background representing commercial interests hits one aspect of the job, but misses others.
Not surprisingly, Gibbs has the endorsement of Gov. Douglas, and gets ours as well. On the Republican ballot vote Gibbs for Sec. of State.
• Auditor of Accounts: Doug Hoffer gets the nod
In the race between Democrats Doug Hoffer and Ed Flanagan, Hoffer deserves a chance to bring his progressive approach to the table. Intelligent and experienced in conducting state audits and performance reviews for the state as a self-employed policy analyst for the past 17 years, Hoffer campaigns on one principle point: he’s the better Democrat to run against incumbent Republican Thomas Salmon.
On that score alone, he’s right. That’s because Flanagan, a former state auditor and now a senator from Chittenden County, has recently embarrassed himself in numerous ways. That he was in a near-fatal car accident and has recovered remarkably is to his credit, but those personal incidents make him unsuitable for the job and not a strong candidate to challenge Salmon.
Hoffer, on the other hand, would bring a sharp and probing intellect to the position while pledging to keep his personal politics off the table. The auditor’s job, he says, is to provide the Legislature with the facts and reports it needs to ensure the legislation as proposed is based on good data and the programs passed are working as cost-effectively as they were intended. Vote for Hoffer in the Democratic race for auditor of accounts.
Salmon is unopposed in the Republican race.
In other races, we’ll leave the congressional contests to cover in November’s general election — with a strong preference for supporting U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch as two very effective congressional leaders that Vermont should be proud to re-elect.
Angelo S. Lynn