(Host) Democrats are thinking hard about a gubernatorial candidate to take on Governor Jim Douglas next year.
But one leading Democrat suggests that Republican state senator Vince Illuzzi should run for governor as an independent.
Illuzzi says he hasn’t ruled out the idea.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Windham Democrat Peter Shumlin is his party’s leader in the Senate. But Shumlin says the best candidate to take on Douglas could be a Republican: Essex-Orleans Senator Vince Illuzzi.
Shumlin says if Illuzzi ran as an independent, he could pull together a strong coalition.
(Shumlin) "I have tremendous respect for Vince Illuzzi. I think that if he ran as an independent, which is what he is, and the Democrats and Progressives can unify behind him, then he may well win the governorship."
(Dillon) Douglas is a popular third term incumbent. He easily defeated his Democratic challengers in the last two elections.
Shumlin says he’s willing to support someone outside his own party – if it means the candidate has a chance of unseating Douglas.
(Shumlin) "I’m not particularly attached to a particular Democrat, a particular Progressive, or a particular independent. What I think is really important, and what I’m trying to help orchestrate, is that Progressives, Democrats and Independents unite in understanding that it’s time for new leadership in Vermont. We need a new governor. We need one that’s going to lead with boldness and with vision for the huge challenges that we’re facing. Jim Douglas has been in a sense a caretaker governor. We need a leader and a manager and I’m willing to unite behind anyone who can make that happen."
(Dillon) Illuzzi is a Barre native who represents two counties in the Northeast Kingdom. He’s been a state senator for 27 years, and serves as the part time Essex County state’s attorney. Although he’s a Republican, he’s a strong supporter of labor unions. He’s also taken a very un-Republican position on energy issues. He wanted the state to buy a series of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River, although the purchase was opposed by Douglas and a state power authority.
Illuzzi says he’s flattered by Shumlin’s support, but he’s far from ready to commit to the race.
(Illuzzi) "To run as an independent would require me to switch parties. I have a five-year-old son, and I have a number of large cases that I handle as a private attorney as well as my caseload as state’s attorney. So it would require major time commitments and that’s nothing that you do without a lot of planning, something which I haven’t had the opportunity to do."
(Dillon) And Illuzzi says that during the past legislative session he worked well with the Douglas Administration on issues such as workforce development, higher education and telecommunications.
That was not always the case, he says.
(Illuzzi) "There’s no question of all the Republicans in the House and the Senate, I’m the one who has had the most disagreement with the governor and his staff. Whether I’m prepared to challenge those in a campaign, given the time constraints, the work load, my five-year-old son, that’s a different story."
(Dillon) Jason Gibbs is Douglas’s spokesman. He said he would be surprised if Illuzzi ran, especially since the senator had many of the same priorities as Douglas during the last legislative session.
(Gibbs) "The governor’s leadership and record is so well respected by the people of Vermont and they so greatly appreciate the effort that he makes on their behalf that the Democrats have no candidate of their own, and they are desperately seeking some alternative. And it’s almost laughable that they would offer this proposal."
(Dillon) So far, most of the likely Democrats – including Shumlin have ruled out a gubernatorial race. But Shumlin says he’s not worried because candidates usually don’t announce until the spring of the election year.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.