MONTPELIER — After months of speculation about whether he would run for attorney general, treasurer, auditor or try to continue a 32-year state Senate career, Sen. Vince Illuzzi on Thursday made his run for auditor official when he filed his paperwork with the secretary of state.
Illuzzi, who has represented Essex and Orleans counties for decades, will run as a Republican after seriously considering running as an independent and shucking the party affiliation he has held since he joined the Senate as a 27-year-old.
During a news conference at the Secretary of State’s office, the 58-year-old Illuzzi said he would bring to the auditor’s office a legislative track record of challenging establishment policy positions pushed by governors, powerful lawmakers and industry leaders. The most recent example, Illuzzi said, was his fight against aspects of the proposed merger of the state’s two largest electric utilities, Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power.
“You need an independent voice who is willing to respectfully and constructively stand up to the establishment and question certain policies and programs, and I think I’ve done that,” said Illuzzi.
Illuzzi cast himself Thursday as an “independent, moderate Vermont Republican,” a label he applies to big-name Vermont politicians of the past like James Jeffords, George Aiken and James Douglas.
After prodding from some fellow lawmakers, Illuzzi gathered signatures to run as either an independent or a Republican, which led to a temporarily “grim” relationship with the Republican Party, he said.
But he eventually decided to remain loyal to the Vermont GOP.
“I thought about it myself, and I found that those individuals who have served honorably and in the best interest of the state by and large over the last century were Republicans, and my lot was somewhat cast 32 years ago,” Illuzzi said.
Jack Lindley, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, believes Illuzzi realized running as a Republican was his best shot at winning.
“I think he understood running as an independent was a losing proposition,” said Lindley. “I mean, independents aren’t going to win in a three-way race between a Republican, a Democrat and an independent. He understood there would be a Republican in the race, and he would rather win, so he was going to run as a Republican.”
Illuzzi will battle Doug Hoffer, a Democrat who has also been endorsed by the Progressive Party, for the auditor’s office.
The current auditor, Republican Tom Salmon, is not seeking re-election.
Hoffer, a self-employed policy analyst, ran for auditor in 2010. He lost to Salmon but garnered 45 percent of the vote.
Hoffer, a 60-year-old Burlington resident, has never held elected office. Other than a run for select board in Massachusetts in 1977, he said, his campaign for auditor two years ago was his first foray into electoral politics.
Hoffer, who said he has a “passion for challenging conventional wisdom,” would bring 24 years of experience as an analyst to the auditor’s office, including five years of work under a contract for former Vermont Auditor Ed Flanagan.
“Auditors require an interesting and diverse set of skills, and I have those skills,” said Hoffer. “My experience is directly related to the work of this office. It could not be clearer.”
In the Senate, Illuzzi is chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. He is also a state’s attorney in Essex County.
Illuzzi said he will unveil more specific proposals during a campaign kickoff he plans to hold in Barre, where his father was a granite worker. But he gave a glimpse Thursday at how he views the role of auditor.
“It really is about looking at programs to see if they are performing as envisioned by the General Assembly, as expected by the public and not resulting in unintended consequences,” said Illuzzi.
Asked why Vermonters should elect him over Hoffer, Illuzzi said he has a record of action and suggested Hoffer has something less than that.
“People can talk about theory, they can talk about what they think about issues, they can talk about what they’d like to do about issues,” said Illuzzi. “I’ve got a 32-year voting record. I’ve walked the walk.”
Hoffer said it’s not a matter of picking him instead of Illuzzi; rather “voters have to learn about my qualifications, my experience and what I’m going to do in the job.”
Illuzzi has some blemishes on his record from his legal career, having had his law license suspended in the 1990s after infractions that included settling a case directly with an insurance company adjustor and bypassing the defense attorney.
Illuzzi said his history “may very well come into play” during the race for auditor but added that he’s acknowledged his mistakes and learned from them.
Hoffer said he doesn’t plan to make an issue of Illuzzi’s professional misconduct.
“I’m interested in talking to people about my qualifications, my experience and what I want to do in the job,” said Hoffer.
Illuzzi could have run for Senate as well as for auditor. His choice not to seek re-election to his Senate seat has made the race in the two-member Essex-Orleans district a crowded one.
In addition to incumbent Democratic Sen. Bobby Starr, at least four other candidates — two Republicans and two Democrats — are running for Senate in the district. They are Rep. Robert Lewis, a Republican from Derby, Jay Dudley, James Guyette and John Rogers.
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