The election may be over. But the campaign for governor continues.
While the time for convincing voters has passed, Republican Scott Milne and his supporters are taking his case to legislators.
Marylou Wells is done with Gov. Peter Shumlin. And she’d like the Legislature to dispatch with him on her behalf.
“I feel Peter Shumlin was disconnected from the real world and what is going on in our society, and the everyday struggles of the people,” she said.
Wells is a resident of Plainfield, and she’s one of the 2,587 people who have so far lent their names to an online petition that asks lawmakers to make Scott Milne – not Peter Shumlin – the next governor of the state of Vermont.
Shumlin got about 2,000 more votes than Milne on Tuesday. But neither candidate topped the 50 percent threshold. And under Vermont’s constitution, when no candidate gets a majority of votes, the 180 members of the Legislature hold a special assembly to elect the next governor.
It’s not an infrequent occurrence. Lawmakers have cast deciding ballots in the race for governor on 22 occasions. But they almost always go with the top vote-getter, and they haven’t gone with second-place finisher since 1853.
Milne, however, says that since he won the majority of votes in more legislative districts than Shumlin, he ought to be the next governor. And there are some Republicans, like House Minority Leader Don Turner, who agree with him.
“I will say for my race, Milton, conservative community, two-to-one, Scott Milne – I’m pretty sure today I’m going to be voting for Scott Milne,” Turner said Friday.
Turner isn’t the only Republican leaning toward Milne. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, whose Caledonia County district went heavily for Scott Milne, says he too is inclined to vote for the GOP challenger.
“I have a very strong statement from my constituents, and that’s what’s weighing heavily on my mind right now,” he said Friday. “So in the end, that may very well be the direction that I go.”
The state’s highest profile Republican, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, is of a different mind. Scott formerly served as a state senator. And in that role, he had to cast a ballot for governor on at least one occasion – he was one of the lawmakers who had to cast a vote in 2002 when neither Republican Jim Douglas nor Democrat Doug Racine won a majority of votes. The joint assembly of lawmakers chose Douglas.
Scott says that for him, honoring the will of the people means going with the first-place finisher overall, not the winner of a district.
“The person that gets the most votes would get my nod,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve done it in the past. That’s the way I’d do it in the future.”
Milne’s other argument for being Vermont’s next governor involves third-party candidate Dan Felicaino, a Libertarian who picked up about 4.5 percent of the vote. Milne says those votes were a vote for change, and for conservative change, at that. So he says if you meld Feliciano’s results into his, then voters have demonstrated a clear preference for a more conservative alternative to Shumlin.
House Speaker Shap Smith says he hasn’t spoken with members of his caucus about the upcoming gubernatorial vote. But he says tradition holds that lawmakers elect the candidate who won the plurality of votes – as they did in 2010, when Shumlin won his first term in office, without receiving more than 50 percent of the vote.
“My sense is that most people will observe that historical precedent,” Smith says.
Neither Turner nor Benning say they expect their fellow Republican lawmakers to follow their lead and vote for Milne.
“I have no intention of trying to arm-twist any of my compatriots in their decision-making process,” Benning says.
Even if Milne were to win the backing of all 63 Republicans in the Legislature, he’d still need 28 Democrats, Progressives, or Independents to break ranks. And even in places where voters went heavily for Scott Milne, Democrats are unlikely to oust their incumbent Democratic governor.
Democrat Herb Russell represents Rutland City, which voted for Milne by a nearly three-to-two margin. Still Russell says he’ll stand by the incumbent.
“I supported Shumlin, I will continue to support Shumlin,” he said. “And I will not be one of those people who will be doing a write-in for Mr. Milne.”
Lawmakers will cast their votes for governor by secret ballot shortly after the Legislature reconvenes in January.