Analysis Of Shumlin's Announcement: The Timing, Calculus And Fallout

Jun 8, 2015

On Monday, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced he will not be seeking a fourth term in office. Shumlin still has about a year and half left in his current term, and he says he made his announcement now because he wants to spend the rest of his time in office focusing on his agenda.

Eric Davis, Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, helps us read the tea leaves.

On the surprising timing

"Previous governors who’ve decided not to run for re-election – Howard Dean and Jim Douglas – made their decisions in the August/September time frame of the year before the election rather than about a month after the Legislature adjourned."

On Shumlin's political calculus

"I suspect that the governor looked at the political situation and decided that running for re-election next year would be a risky proposition. He barely won election to his third term, last year, with less than 50 percent of the vote. He’s lost the support of many Progressives because of his decision not to go forward with single-payer health care. One of the few public polls on him that we have shows that his approval ratings are below 50 percent. So you put all those things together and he would have been, if he had decided to run, the most vulnerable governor seeking re-election since Howard Dean back in 2000. And I think Shumlin may have decided that the risk of being the first governor to lose a re-election bid since 1962 was reasonably high if he ran again."

On the remaining prospects for Shumlin's agenda

"I think there’s one issue that’s particularly going to be interesting to follow ... and that’s the future of Vermont Health Connect. Some people who may themselves become gubernatorial candidates – [Lt. Gov.] Phil Scott, and [Speaker of the House] Shap Smith – have both said that maybe the state should be exploring alternatives to Vermont Health Connect. Perhaps going into some sort of regional partnership with other states like Connecticut and Rhode Island, as an example.

"I think Shumlin may have decided that the risk of being the first governor to lose a re-election bid since 1962 was reasonably high if he ran again." - Eric Davis, Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science

"And if the Shumlin administration wants to push ahead with Vermont Health Connect for another 18 months without exploring any of the ideas, I’m not sure whether the Legislature, which is looking more to the future than to the past, would be willing to go along with Shumlin on that."

On potential gubernatorial contenders 

"On the Republican side I think clearly the decision is now in Phil Scott’s court. He’s told reporters over the last few weeks that he was seriously considering running for governor in 2016. Now that it’s an open seat, I think this makes it more likely that he would run. He won re-election last year with 60 percent or more of the vote; he’s well-liked; he’s a natural campaigner; and he can appeal to voters beyond the Republican base, which is important for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, especially in a presidential election year.

"On the Republican side I think clearly the decision is now in Phil Scott's court ... On the Democratic side, I think it's more complicated ... If Shap Smith enters the race, can he make it through without having to face a contested primary in August of next year?"

"On the Democratic side, I think it’s more complicated. Shap Smith, the House speaker, is also interested in running for governor. And again, he is well liked. He’s very articulate and knowledgeable on policy issues. Democratic activists like him. But he is the public face of the Legislature, and I think it’s interesting to note that you have to go all the way back to 1960 to find a sitting House speaker who was elected to the governor’s office.

"So the question for me is, if Shap Smith enters the race, can he make it through without having to face a contested primary in August of next year? And that depends on what some other people might think about. Doug Racine and Matt Dunne, who’ve run for governor and other statewide offices before, might be interested in exploring another run. T.J. Donovan has run statewide, but he may be more interested in attorney general, especially if Bill Sorrell decides also to step down, after 19 years in office."