MONTPELIER >> Four of Vermont's top jobs in state government will have new occupants in January, and a primary election set Tuesday will narrow the field of those competing for two of them.
Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin steps away from public life at year-end after three, two-year terms and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott wants to move up, which opens up the No. 2 spot. To complete the clean sweep, both House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell are leaving those posts as well.
How the races in Tuesday's primary are shaping up:
Five Democrats and two Republicans are vying to take the helm of state government in January. Among the three Democrats seen as having a chance — former lawmakers Matt Dunne, Peter Galbraith and Sue Minter — the biggest issue to have emerged in the contest is where each stands on Vermont's long-running debate over wind-power development on the state's mountaintops.
Dunne issued a policy statement July 29 saying he would side with a town where residents voted against a wind-power project. That pushed many leaders in the state's burgeoning renewable power industry into Minter's camp. Leading environmentalist Bill McKibben shifted his endorsement from Dunne to Minter. Galbraith, meanwhile, has taken the strongest anti-wind stance, calling for a ban on the projects on Vermont's ridgelines.
On the Republican side, Scott, the popular lieutenant governor, is widely considered a strong favorite over retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman. But Lisman has been spending freely from his personal wealth on television ads, accusing Scott of being too close to Shumlin and the Democrats who have controlled the Legislature for more than a decade.
Three Democrats and one Republican are on their party's ballots on Tuesday. For the GOP, it's former state Auditor and Sen. Randy Brock, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Shumlin in 2012. He's running on a campaign of fiscal restraint, questioning Democrats' calls for free or sharply reduced tuition at public colleges and universities and arguing the state has been on an unsustainable spending track. He also has urged a go-slow approach to wind power development on ridgelines.
The Democrats include Rep. Kesha Ram, of Burlington, who is making free college for every young Vermonter a centerpiece of her campaign; House Speaker Shap Smith, who is proposing to expand the state health insurance program that now covers children up to age 18 to age 26; and David Zuckerman, a long-time Progressive Party stalwart and advocate for issues ranging from labeling of genetically modified foods to marijuana legalization.
Three-term incumbent Beth Pearce, a Democrat, faces a primary challenge from Richard Dunne, a Burlington-based financial analyst. Dunne is challenging Pearce's reluctance to sell off the state's investments in fossil fuel stocks. He also wants to see Vermont create a state bank, something Pearce opposes.