Less than 24 hours after announcing his decision to challenge Gov. Phil Scott in the 2018 Republican primary, North Springfield resident Keith Stern now says he’ll run as a Democrat instead.
Stern says he arrived at the decision “after much soul searching,” and that he believes the Democratic Party infrastructure offers a more sound path to electoral success.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans now anyway, because the Republicans have gone to the left,” Stern says. “So I just thought that the Democrats have the best opportunity to get things done at this point in time.”
Stern ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for U.S. Congress in 2010. He says he hopes Democrats won’t hold his former partisan allegiance against him.
“I just hope the Democratic Party will focus on results rather than ideology,” Stern says.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott is only six months into his first term in office. But a North Springfield man — and member of Scott’s own party — is already plotting a bid to make Scott a one-term governor.
Keith Stern, who owns a produce stand in White River Junction, announced on Facebook Sunday that he’ll challenge Scott in the 2018 Republican primary.
“[Scott] isn't a leader that the party desperately needs,” Stern wrote in a post to the Vermont Republican Party. “He brings no energy to the party and from what I have been hearing he is bringing apathy among the Republicans. That is why I have decided to run for governor.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Stern, 62, confirmed his candidacy. He says Scott’s inability “to make the hard calls” has fueled his entry into race.
“I think he’s a likable guy, but he’s not really performing what we really need,” Stern says.
It isn’t Stern’s first foray into statewide politics; he’s failed to generate much traction with voters in his previous campaigns.
Stern ran as an Independent for the U.S. Senate in 2004, and finished fourth out of five candidates, with 1.1 percent of the vote. In 2006, again running as an Independent, he placed sixth out of eight candidates in a race for the U.S. House, tallying 0.4 percent of the vote. His most recent campaign was in the 2010 Republican primary for the U.S. House, a race in which he finished third out of three candidates.
It's been more than 50 years since a challenger ousted an incumbent governor, and Scott is on a particularly sound political footing after his 2016 election victory in which he defeated his Democratic rival by nine points.
Scott's communications director, Rebecca Kelley, said in a written statement that the incumbent isn't yet giving much thought to next year's reelection.
"Following the end of Gov. Scott’s first legislative session ... the Governor’s focus is on continued efforts to grow the economy and make Vermont more affordable, rather than on potential campaign opponents," Kelley said.
Stern, however, says he thinks members of the Vermont Republican Party share his disaffection for their new governor. He says Scott’s proposal to create a statewide contract for teacher health plans was especially problematic.
“I just think that each school district should be able to decide what they can and what they can’t afford,” Stern says.
Stern says Scott’s efforts to curb spending on health care costs have also been inadequate. Stern says he thinks he can reduce health insurance premiums by as much as 40 percent by creating a nonprofit, state-funded company that does billing and collecting for the entire medical industry.
Stern says his plan “could eliminate insurance companies by taking on the role of insurers without the profits the insurance companies receive.”
Stern says the plan would also take away the problems that come with government-run health care systems, which were well-documented through the rocky rollout of Vermont Health Connect.
“Over time this would set up the mechanism for a true universal single payer system that isn't government run so it eliminates the failures of government inefficiencies with all the benefits a single payer system provides,” Stern wrote on his campaign website.
Stern says he also wants to disband the Agency of Education.
With the 2018 Republican primary still more than a year away, Stern says he doesn’t plan to begin campaigning actively anytime soon.
“It’s just kind of letting people know that I’m running, the people that are into politics, and let them see what I have to offer,” Stern says.
Updated on 7/7/2017 to include Stern's decision to run as a Democrat. This piece originally ran under the headline: "It Begins: North Springfield Republican Announces 2018 Run For Governor."