Shumlin Will Not Seek Re-Election In 2016

Jun 8, 2015

Vermont will have a new governor in 2017.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday afternoon that he won’t seek a fourth term in office. The Democrat says he’ll leave the state in far better shape than he found it. But his Republican critics argue otherwise, and the open seat for governor has made for an early start to the 2016 campaign. 

In the hours and minutes before the governor’s 1 p.m. press conference, it was clear that something big was about to happen. Administration officials wouldn’t disclose what was in store, but Shumlin aides had strongly urged media to attend. And as the event neared, the governor’s entire cabinet filed toward a podium set up in the lobby of the Statehouse, directly under a giant marble bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Shumlin strode to the dais, thanked his subordinates, and then launched into a well-rehearsed recitation of his accomplishments as governor.

“I believe that we will have accomplished, and in many ways and in many cases exceeded my expectations, the work we set out to do when I became governor,” Shumlin said. “I am announcing today, for those reasons, that I will not be a candidate for a fourth term in 2016. I reach this decision after a lot of thought and consideration. It’s the honor of my life, it truly is, to serve as Vermont’s governor.”

"I am announcing today ... that I will not be a candidate for a fourth term in 2016. I reach this decision after a lot of thought and consideration. It's the honor of my life, it truly is, to serve as Vermont's governor." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

With the exception of failing to deliver the single-payer health care system he promised voters when he first ran in 2010, Shumlin said his tenure has been successful. Vermont has 16,000 more jobs now than when he took office, according to Shumlin, 10 times more renewable energy capacity, nearly-universal access to broadband Internet services, and a more sound transportation infrastructure.

Shumlin says the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation is added proof that the Vermont his successor inherits will be far better off than the one he took over in 2011.

“I decided to make this decision now because I want these 18 months in office to be focused entirely on continuing the work that we started together. And we have a lot left to do, a lot left to do,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin’s legacy won’t be universally celebrated.  Jeff Bartley, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, says Shumlin’s near defeat last November, at the hands of a political unknown, underscores waning enthusiasm among voters for the governor’s agenda. A survey by the Castleton Polling Institute in March showed that more Vermonters disapproved of the job Shumlin is doing than approve of it.

“I think he really understood – and especially after the election cycle – that Vermonters aren’t too happy with his performance, and it’s time for leadership that listens, and puts progress ahead of politics, and I think by stepping aside he’s really doing the right thing for Vermonters,” Bartley says.

"I think he really understood, and especially after the election cycle, that Vermonters aren't too happy with his performance, and it's time for leadership that listen, and puts progress ahead of politics." - Jeff Bartley, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party

With about 17 months until Election Day, there are already plenty of candidates pondering a bid for the open seat. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says he’s begun asking family, friends and supporters about whether now is the right time, and if he’s the right person for the state’s top political job.

“These are things that I will contemplate over the next few weeks and try to come up with an answer, so that we can move forward,” Scott said Monday.

House Speaker Shap Smith previously said he wouldn’t compete against Peter Shumlin in a Democratic primary. With Shumlin stepping aside, however, Smith on Monday afternoon sounded eager to be his replacement.

“I am seriously considering running for governor,” Smith told reporters at a mid-afternoon news conference. “I plan to take the next several weeks to speak to my friends, family and Vermonters to see how we can work together to make Vermont an even better place than it already is.”

"I am seriously considering running for governor." - House Speaker Shap Smith

The chief of staff for Rep. Peter Welch told the National Journal Monday that the Democratic congressman hasn’t ruled out a bid for governor.

"It’s likely Congressman Welch will seek reelection to Congress. But this news comes as a surprise, so he will be taking the time he needs to thoughtfully consider how he can best serve Vermonters," Bob Rogan told the online journal.

Matt Dunne, a former state senator who finished fourth in a five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, says he’s actively considering another bid in 2016.

Former Republican state auditor Randy Brock, who lost to Shumlin by a wide margin in 2012, confirmed he’s considering a run as well, and will likely decide by the end of summer. Scott Milne, the political neophyte who nearly unseated the incumbent last fall, has said he’s considering another run. And Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian-turned-Republican who took less than 5 percent in the November election, but was viewed as a conservative spoiler by many Republicans, says he’ll decide in the next month whether to run in 2016.

Shumlin said his decision has nothing to do with political weakness, and dismissed predictions of his impending electoral demise. Shumlin said he’s always believed three terms is the optimal shelf life for a governor.

Shumlin, who purchased land and built a home in East Montpelier after winning the governor's office, says he plans to return to his home in Putney in 2017, and work at the student travel and real estate businesses he left in his brother's care when he assumed office.

“You know me, I love tough races,” Shumlin said. “And I firmly believe if we’d run in a presidential year we would have won big. That’s what I believe. But we’re never going to find out because I always felt that six years was about right, and I think I’m about right about that.”

Shumlin says he’ll play an active role in the next campaign, before stepping out of the political spotlight.

“And I’m going to fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat with the values and priorities to build upon rather than to undermine the extraordinary progress that we have made,” Shumlin said.

The Republican Governor’s Association will be working to thwart him. Jeff Thompson, communication direct for the RGA, said Shumlin’s decision “adds Vermont to a growing list of open seats the DGA will be forced to spend limited resources on to defend in 2016, and presents a strong opportunity for the RGA to go on offense.”

Julia Barnes, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, says her organization is ready to work hard to ensure Democrats retain control of the state’s top elected office.

“(Shumlin’s) announcement doesn’t necessarily change the momentum with which we’re going forward into 2016 as an organization,” Barnes says.

As for the new uncertainty over who will be carrying the Democratic banner, Barnes says she expects a “lively discussion between party members  and folks who might want to step forward into the primary.”

“The Vermont Democratic Party certainly welcomes that process, and encourages all of our activists, community members and volunteers to really engage in the primary process as much as possible,” Barnes says.

Shumlin says serving as governor is his last act in politics, and that Vermonters shouldn’t expect to see him reemerge as a candidate for state or federal office in the future.

“I have never had any desire to live in Washington, D.C., to serve in Congress, to serve in anybody’s cabinet,” Shumlin said. “I truly ran for governor because I wanted to make changes to the state that has given me so much, and then go back to private life, and frankly to being the businessperson that I love to be.”

Shumlin, who purchased land and built a home in East Montpelier after winning the governor’s office, says he plans to return to his home in Putney in 2017, and work at the student travel and real estate businesses he left in his brother’s care when he assumed office.

“And I’m going to fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat with the values and priorities to build upon rather than to undermine the extraordinary progress that we have made,” Shumlin said.

This post was updated at 5:45 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.

Original post and 1:54 p.m. update: Flanked by members of his administration, the Democratic governor announced his decision at a news conference in Montpelier on Monday afternoon.

Read the full text of Gov. Peter Shumlin's remarks, as prepared.

"I reached this decision after a lot of thought and consideration," Shumlin said in prepared remarks at the Statehouse news conference. "It is the honor of my life to serve as Vermont’s governor. I want to serve in this role until I feel confident that we have accomplished what we promised to do. By January of 2016, I believe we will have done just that."

Shumlin said he wants to focus his attention solely on his remaining 18 months in office. He outlined six major priorities for the end of his governorship, including job training and employment growth, lowering health care costs, criminal justice reform, keeping Vermont affordable in the fact of taxes "which are already too high," paid sick leave and further expansion of renewable energy.

"Being part of this progress has been an extraordinary privilege and I want to thank Vermonters from the bottom of my heart for believing in my ability to make our state a better place for all of us," Shumlin said.