MONTPELIER — A former Progressive House member has chosen to run in the Democratic primary for a Chittenden County Senate seat, a former Progressive mayor is running as an independent, and the Vermont Progressive Party is losing a long-time state representative to retirement in a district where no Progressives have filed to fill the seat.
But politicians, candidates and party officials say those are minor blips in the history of Vermont’s third major political party, and not a sign of a party weakened as campaign season gears up ahead of the 2012 elections in November.
“It’s an evolutionary process,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, a Washington County Democrat-Progressive. “I don’t feel negative about it at all.”
With the slate of 2012 candidates set after last week’s filing deadline, races for the Vermont House, Senate and for statewide offices have become clear.
The Progressives are focusing their energy on House races rather than statewide offices, hoping to add to the five Progressive members who have served in the 150-member chamber the past two years.
If all their candidates are elected, it would mean seven new House members, said Morgan Daybell, the executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party.
“I hope we do run the table,” Daybell said. “I think we’re going to do well and pick up some seats in the House.
There are two Democrat-Progressives in the state Senate, and the party hopes to add another: David Zuckerman, a former Progressive state representative who spent 14 years in the House.
“We’ll work like hell to get Zuckerman into the Senate,” said Daybell.
Zuckerman is running in the Democratic primary, but he said that’s not a sign he’s parting ways with the party.
“I’m not becoming a Democrat,” said Zuckerman, a Hinesburg resident.
“I’m a Progressive running in a Democratic primary, as bizarre as that may sound,” he said.
If he wins in the primary, Zuckerman said he will seek the endorsement of the Progressive Party and run as a candidate for both parties, which is the same path that Pollina and Chittenden County Sen. Tim Ashe have taken to the Senate.
It’s not a sign of an ideological shift, said Zuckerman, rather it’s a pragmatic choice to draw down Democratic votes.
Daybell pointed out that Chittenden County is a six-seat Senate district.
“It’s hard to differentiate yourself in field between 12 and 20 people, so it’s difficult to make an impact outside of that party affiliation,” Daybell said.
If Democrats vote for you in a primary, said Zuckerman, they’re more likely to pick you in the general election.
“Once people voted for you, they tend vote for you more and more,” he said.
Former Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss has filed to run as an independent, but his story is different than Zuckerman’s.
After the Burlington Telecom debacle – in which the municipal telecom provider violated its state license by borrowing $17 million in taxpayer funds without repaying it – Kiss fell out of favor with many in the party.
Rep. Sarah Edwards, of Brattleboro, is the one incumbent Progressive in the Legislature not seeking re-election after 10 years in office.
As far as statewide races, Doug Hoffer – a Democrat who has won the endorsement of the Progressives – may be the candidate aligned with Progressives who has the best chance of winning. He is running against Republican Sen. Vince Illuzzi for State Auditor.
Cassandra Gekas, who announced last week that she will run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat, is in talks with the Progressives about running under the banner of both parties.
As Vermont candidates continue to run as both Democrats and Progressives and support candidates from the other party, it appears some of the old rivalries between the parties are breaking down – aside from some “bad blood” that still exists in Burlington, said Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor.
Davis pointed out in some districts this year Democrats aren’t going after Progressive incumbents, and vice versa.
Rep. Chris Pearson, a Progressive, and Rep. Kesha Ram, a Democrat, for instance, are running as a team in their two-seat Burlington district.
“In the past, in Burlington in particular, there were bitter battles between Democrats and Progressives,” Davis said.
Rep. Mollie Burke, a Democrat-Progressive from Brattleboro, said she runs under the banner of both parties because she feels it’s representative of her district.
But she said she has noticed the lines between the two parties blur.
“I get a feeling there was ... more of a definition, a stronger definition on issues,” Burke said.
But Progressives say that’s not a bad thing, and in some cases shows that their attempt to pull the political dialogue to the left on issues like Vermont Yankee and single-payer health care have worked.
“It’s a sign of strength that Democrats are so eager to work with Progressives,” said Pollina. “It’s not as if we’ve moved from where we are.”
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