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Vermont Progressive Party Has No Governor Candidate, By Design

by William Boardman, published

The Vermont Progressive Party primary for governor resulted in no candidate. This, according to party officials, is exactly the desired result and went as planned. The winner immediately declined the nomination as a protest. But this may not hold.

The Vermont Progressive Party bills itself as the most successful third party in the country. It has has held seats continuously in the Vermont legislature since 1991 and the mayor's office in Burlington for thirty years.

In the August 28 primaries, incumbent Governor Peter Shumlin won the Democratic primary with about 97% of the vote in unofficial returns. State Senator Randy Brock won the Republican nomination with about 98% of the vote. Both faced write-in candidates that posed no serious challenge.

That’s what the Progressive Party expected, too, when it nominated its state party chair, Martha Abbott, as a place-holder candidate to prevent the nomination from going to some “nutjob,” as one Progressive expressed it.   But then a group of activists offered an alternative plan, a write-in campaign for well-known Vermont environmentalist Annette Smith, who came within 18 votes of winning and is calling for a recount.

The official count of write-in votes took till Tuesday morning for the state elections office to complete. The certified results showed that 993 voters took Progressive Party ballots, casting 371 votes for Martha Abbott, 354 votes for Annette Smith, and 268 non-votes.

Abbott had made her intentions clear in advance: “I will decline the Progressive nomination for governor, a nomination I sought in order to ensure that the Progressive Party would not have a candidate in that race this year. Someday there will be a voting system that will give Vermonters a real choice between more than two candidates in the general election. But we are not there yet.  We have a lot of work to do together.”

The “real choice” Abbott referred to is the long time Progressive Party goal of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), a system that improves the chances of third parties in contested elections. Meanwhile, the Progressive Party has no candidate, thereby improving the chances of the Democratic candidate.

But Smith is not going quietly, at least not yet. Besides requesting a recount, Smith is asking the Vermont Secretary of State to look into what she deems voting irregularities and failures to conform to state election law.

Smith was not active in her write-in campaign, which was initiated by activists around the state in great part because Smith has been an outspoken critic of industrial-scale, corporate-owned wind development in Vermont, activity that has led increasingly to protest and civil disobedience.

Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc. (VCE), which she founded in 1999 in what was eventually a successful effort to prevent a billion dollar natural gas power plant and pipeline project in southwestern Vermont. VCE also opposed the plans of OMYA, a Swiss mining company, to open a new mine in a scenic Vermont valley. OMYA withdrew the plan in 2004, but continues to own the land.

For her write-in campaign, Smith’s slogan was: “Stop the Corporate Colonization of Vermont!” Besides industrial wind projects on the Green Mountain ridgelines, she listed several other issues that have been provoking active grassroots resistance in Vermont, including installing wireless smart meters in every home and business and basing nuclear-capable F-35 air force bombers in Burlington.

In her official withdrawal statement, Abbott indicated Progressive support for Governor Shumlin on two issues important to her party – his commitment to implementing a Single Payer Health Care Plan and to closing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plane.

But Abbott also pointed out that: “Progressives have differences with Governor Shumlin on tax policy, on labor issues, on issues of sustainable economic development, agriculture policy, buying Vermont first, the F-35s, starting a State Bank and private for-profit development of Vermont's resources for energy production.  And we will continue to fight for these issues in the Legislature and in political campaigns. The Progressive party and our candidates do not accept corporate money and don't have many wealthy backers. We must be strategic about which races we chose to run in so we can continue to be effective advocates for the issues we believe in.”

Should Smith somehow manage to secure the Progressive Party nomination, her presence in gubernatorial debates would likely bring attention to some or all of these issues, all of which have active Vermont constituencies.

If the race remains a two-party contest, the Republican candidate has an unusual, populist opportunity to move to the governor’s left, at least on some issues. He did make an appearance at the Northeast Mountain rally August 25, where many of these issues were in play, along with objections to the state’s Public Service Board’s abuse of eminent domain  – and the event’s moderator was Annette Smith.

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