Is There a Shortage of Political Candidates in Vermont?

One candidate won nominations for six different offices, and said he ran in so many races because he didn’t want them to be uncontested

The Vermont GOP met Wednesday night to pick new candidates for the November ballot after one man won six different races in the state Republican primary, then withdrew his nominations in five of those contests.

Republicans selected Lawrence Zupan to face Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent, for one of Vermont's U.S. Senate seats, and chose Anya Tynio to vie for Vermont's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently held by Democrat Peter Welch.

Vermont's Republican Party also selected Janssen Willhoit as its candidate for attorney general, to face incumbent Democrat T.J. Donovan. Rick Morton was nominated by Republicans in the race for treasurer, to face incumbent Democrat Beth Pearce.

Additionally, at its meeting Wednesday night, the state GOP chose Rick Kenyon as its nominee for auditor of accounts, an office currently held by Democrat Doug Hoffer.

The GOP nominees each replace H. Brooke Paige in their respective races, after the perennial candidate withdrew his candidacy in the five contests to focus on the sixth he won—the nomination for secretary of state.

"People have become discouraged by the process," said Paige, who won the six political nominations on the same ballot in this month's Vermont state Republican primary.

Some politicians speculated that Paige's name being on the ballot so many times may be an indication of how tough it can be to convince people to run for office in today's climate.

Paige said he took the unusual step of pursuing so many offices just to ensure a Republican would make it on the ballot in each of those races in November's general election. He explained he feared if no one ran in the primary, it could mean incumbent Democrats could go uncontested this fall.

"I think it was better than having the communist slate where only one person is running for office," Paige told necn Wednesday.

But why weren't there more candidates in the primary?

Paige said he knows there are plenty of Republicans, even in a state with a liberal reputation, so he said he believes the time and cost of running for office is what's keeping people away: the need for would-be candidates to be working instead of campaigning.

"People are working themselves to death just trying to cover the bills, keep the mortgage payment paid—get the taxes paid so their house doesn't go into arrears with the town assessor," Paige theorized. "And part of this [political] disengagement has been out of necessity to just try to keep their own lives and their own families afloat."

"People aren't stepping up the way they used to," observed Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

When asked about the situation at his weekly news conference Tuesday, Gov. Scott said he has noticed races from local school boards to legislative seats going uncontested, and wondered if the sometimes nasty tone in politics these days is to blame.

"I'm not sure that that bodes well, at times, for people to participate," Scott said of often-polarizing politics around the country.

Democrat Jim Condos is Vermont's current secretary of state, whom Paige will try to unseat.

"Uncontested races are not good for democracy," Condos said. "It's a great feeling to not have an opponent, but the reality is that it's always a better situation when you have a contested race — because you have the issues being dealt with, being discussed, being debated."

Condos said he is encouraged by the numbers of teens, college students, and people in their 20s he sees registering to vote, adding that he hopes some of them will one day want to enter politics themselves.

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