Former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman is one of many people publicly considering a run for governor of Vermont. But unlike other prospective candidates, Lisman isn’t formally aligned with a major political party, which means his decision could have a unique influence on the electoral dynamic in 2016.
Ever since he founded the public policy think-tank Campaign for Vermont, Bruce Lisman has flirted on and off with gubernatorial politics. He’s made it clear in recent days that he’s very much interested in the open governor’s seat up for grabs next November.
“Well I am thinking about running, and it’s serious thought process,” Lisman said Monday.
But perhaps as important as whether Lisman runs is the question of how he’d go about it if he does.
“Which party label would Bruce Lisman seek to run for governor under?” says Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College. “Would he enter the Republican primary and seek to be listed on the ballot as a Republican? Or would he go directly to the general election and run as an independent?”
The answer to those questions, should Lisman jump into the race, could reshape the political field in 2016.
An independent candidacy from a deep-pocketed hopeful like Lisman could dramatically alter the Republican-versus-Democrat format that has defined recent election cycles. Asked whether he’d run as a Republican, independent, or even a Democrat, the Vermont native and former Bear Stearns executive said, “that’s an interesting multiple choice.”
“I should first decide with family and friends and those who have good advice to offer whether I should run at all,” Lisman says.
GOP leadership is hoping Lisman opts to put an ‘R’ next to his name, should he move forward with a campaign. Vermont Republican Party Chairman David Sunderland says the issues Lisman talks about most— things like fiscal restraint and property tax relief — would make him a welcome addition to their ranks.
“We believe that from what he’s been saying publicly that the issues he’s concerned about line up well with the issues the Vermont Republican Party is working to resolve,” Sunderland says.
Sunderland said he’s spoken with Lisman on multiple occasions about a possible run for governor and got together last year to discuss the possibility of Lisman running as a Republican in 2014.
But a bid for the Republican nomination might put Lisman up against Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a popular statewide politician whose name recognition and organizational support might be hard for Lisman to overcome.
Scott says he’s still deciding whether he’ll seek the state’s top elected post.
If Lisman bypasses the primary and jumps directly into the general election as an independent, then Davis says he’s likely to split the conservative vote and hurt the GOP’s chances at reclaiming the governor’s office.
But Davis says it isn’t necessarily good news for the GOP if Lisman opts to compete for the Republican nomination, since his candidacy in that race would force presumptive front-runner Scott to expend resources he would prefer to save for the general.
“This is certainly not what he would intend, but a Lisman candidacy may end up benefiting the eventual Democratic nominee,” Davis says.
Lisman says that for him, the equation involves issues, not politics.
“I don’t have a political bone in my body I don’t think, and I’m certainly not a bureaucrat,” Lisman says.
Lisman gave $10,000 to the Vermont GOP and $25,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association, last January.
Lisman has never held political office or worked in state government. But he says management and financial skills honed during a career on Wall Street have could help rebuild an economic climate sullied by what he calls the “incompetence” of the Shumlin administration.
“Business isn’t government and government shouldn’t be business,” Lisman says. “But competence of management, of being truthful, of being straightforward, of having a strategic direction that’s easily understood, those are all things we ought to have here, and should have here. And I think I can help deliver that.”
Lisman’s critics have already sought to paint him as a key player in the culture of recklessness and excess that spurred the financial meltdown of 2008. Lisman worked as head of global equities for Bear Stearns when the firm collapsed. But he says he’s proud of his record there and that he’ll look forward to discussing it with Vermonters should he decide to run.
Lisman says the global equities division he led was “a business that had literally nothing to do with the financial crisis around us.”
Lisman says he has no timetable for making a decision one way or another.
Former State Auditor Randy Brock, businessman Scott Milne and Libertarian-turned-Republican Dan Feliciano are also contemplating Republican bids for governor.