NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The Vermont State Employees Association announced endorsements Tuesday for statewide candidates, throwing its support behind candidates from all three of the state’s major political parties.
Incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin received the nod from the union, as well as fellow Democrat Cassandra Gekas, who is looking to unseat incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. VSEA also endorsed Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos, who is unopposed, and Democratic Treasurer Beth Pearce over Republican Wendy Wilton.
VSEA opted to support a longtime member, Ed Stanak, in the race for attorney general. The progressive is facing 15-year Democratic incumbent William Sorrell and Republican Jack McMullen.
Republican state Sen. Vince Illuzzi received the union’s endorsement in the race for auditor over Democrat Doug Hoffer.
VSEA spokesman Doug Gibson said the endorsements were voted on by the union’s Board of Trustees based on recommendations by a member council, which includes about 100 union members. The endorsements reflect the union’s tendency to support candidates who have shown support for the union, he said.
"I think, historically, we’ve been known as one of the more bipartisan labor unions in Vermont. I think that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re dealing with state government," he said.
VSEA President John Reese said Shumlin received VSEA’s support over Republican State Sen. Randy Brock because of his efforts at undoing some of the cuts former Gov. James Douglas sought.
"VSEA is pleased to endorse Gov. Shumlin’s re-election, and we look forward to helping him continue to repair the damage done to state government by his predecessor’s reckless cutting of services and positions," Reese said. "Only now are Vermonters realizing the extent of the repair needed, especially in areas like Economic Services or Adult Protection."
Reese said the union’s ability to strike a deal with the Shumlin administration on "a very fair deal" earlier this year without needing a mediator or fact-finder "for the first time in decades" was also a factor.
"That’s huge. VSEA looks forward to continuing to work with Gov. Shumlin to ensure Vermont state employees are given the resources necessary to continue to provide the quality public services seemingly more and more Vermonters need every day," he said.
The union plans to focus on the race for treasurer and attorney general, too, Reese said. He said Pearce has been "a great friend to VSEA members" and "understands the many pitfalls inherent in switching state employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan."
Stanak was chosen because he is "a longtime union leader and activist" who "knows the good that the Attorney General’s office can do for state employees and all Vermonters," Reese said.
Illuzzi, meanwhile, has maintained a strong relationship with the union for many years, according to Conor Casey, the union’s legislative organizer.
"Doug Hoffer would have been our endorsed candidate for auditor last year, and he certainly has a lot of support among our members," Casey said. But Vince has been the leading sponsor on some of the biggest labor bills we’ve passed."
Illuzzi also played a major role in closing down the former state office in Bennington that was replaced after several employees became ill. "I have no doubt that the Bennington state office building would have remained open if Vince didn’t put language in a bill mandating its closure," Casey said. "In that sense, he’s literally a life-saver for many of our members."
Casey said the union looked to back candidates that have worked hard for the VSEA, despite party. "Why would any Republican in the Statehouse support us if we didn’t support a Republican like Vince Illuzzi?" he said.