Next week, one of the first orders of business for the Vermont Legislature will be to pick a governor. And a new group is urging lawmakers to send Gov. Peter Shumlin packing.
Vermonters don’t normally see political ads on television between Christmas and the New Year. But this isn’t your normal election year. And while the November election has come and gone, and Shumlin walked away with the most votes, not everyone is ready to give up on Republican challenger Scott Milne.
William Round, of Newport, is the head of a new group, called Vermonters for Honest Government, that’s paying more than $25,000 to run TV ads on four networks over the next week.
Round says the ad buy is the result of conversations with like-minded locals that grew into a more organized fund-raising effort.
“Well, there was just … a real frustration that the perceived direction the state of Vermont is headed in is the wrong direction,” Round says. And they have to a number concluded that Scott Milne would be a much better person to right the ship of state.”
Since no candidate for governor got more than 50 percent of the vote, the Vermont constitution dictates that lawmakers select the next governor in a secret ballot vote. With that vote, Round says, comes opportunity.
Round says Vermonters for Honest Government wants to convince regular Vermonters to call their legislators, and demand they vote for Scott Milne for governor.
“I’d say that the provision is in the constitution just for these instances,” Round says. “It’s happed, what, 23 times in the past. And in three specific instances the front runner was not selected as the governor. So it’s not like we’re plowing new ground.”
Round is correct that it’s commonplace for the Legislature to pick the governor. But lawmakers haven’t gone with the second-place vote getter since the early 1800s. And recent precedent has seen the second-place vote-getting concede the race, and urge lawmakers to support the top finisher.
Milne faces other hurdles as well, namely that the Legislature is dominated by members of the Democratic governor’s party.
Shumlin, who got about 2,400 more votes than Milne in November, says he isn’t sweating the outcome of next week’s vote. He says he hasn’t spoken with a single legislator about how they’ll vote. But he says he’s confident they’ll choose him.
“If we believe that in a democracy the person who gets the most votes should win, and I do, and if we know that it’s not uncommon in Vermont … for a candidate to get less than 50 percent of the vote… I think we compromise the democracy that we love if we ask candidates to run two campaigns, one for the office they wish to seek and another for a legislative vote,” Shumlin says.
Milne, for his part, says he didn’t ask Round, or anyone else for that matter, for help in securing votes. But he says he appreciates the sentiment.
“One hundred and eighty legislators get to determine who the next governor is – that’s the way our constitution is set up,” Milne says. “And I think Mr. Round’s help is something that I welcome.”
Milne says he’s fielded calls from a handful of legislators, who he says have conveyed their support for his candidacy. But Milne says he isn’t actively lobbying for votes.
“I’m welcoming their calls and being responsive, but I’m not going to be cutting deals or twisting arms or doing any of that kind of typical political shenanigans to get elected,” he says.
Lawmakers will cast their ballots next Thursday morning.
Round isn’t disclosing the source of the group’s funding, and Vermonters for Honest Government isn’t even a political action committee. Secretary of State Jim condos said in a statement that, after consulting with the attorney general’s office, it’s his understanding that “an organization acting to influence a legislative election must register as a lobbyist and comply with all lobbyist disclosure requirements.”
“Any actions taken by an organization to encourage legislators to vote for a particular person for Governor would be covered by the lobbying disclosure law and does not fit the definition of an election under the campaign finance law,” Condos said.
Round said he has registered as a lobbyist.