Back in March, Tom Salmon announced that he was seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2012, a move that would put him up against Vermont’s incumbent junior senator, Bernie Sanders. Now, after long conversations with family, political types from both inside and outside Vermont, and citizens around the state, Salmon is still considering — but considering a wider range of options.
In an interview with the author, Salmon said, “A lot of people that I talked to about my political career have stressed, Tom, you seem to have a sincere interest in state matters, you have knowledge of state matters, you’ve worked in a variety of sectors – public education, state government, you’ve worked in community action agencies, you’ve been a businessman — you should stay in Vermont.”
That advice has Salmon reconsidering what potential offices best fit his skill set and how he can best and most effectively serve Vermonters. Whether that turns out to be the U.S. Senate, a re-run for his current position, or a shot at the governor’s office is still up in the air. Salmon is also thinking about the larger picture.
It’s important to consider, said Salmon, how, “strategically, the Vermont Republican Party can best fill their dance card in a sincere way, aligning the right people with the right skills for the right positions, and come out with a really strong performance in 2012.” Indeed, some of the top names on the Republican side of the aisle (Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Sen. Randy Brock, Mayor Thom Lauzon, Brian Dubie and Salmon) met this week to discuss potential match-ups for the election a year and a half away
Peter Shumlin recently took some heat for campaigning — and then bizarrely denying that he even had a campaign — just 100 days into his term having hired a campaign fundraiser, sent out fundraising letters and scheduled fundraising events. Asked if he thought it was too early to for this sort of activity, Salmon quipped, “Well, [Shumlin’s] running for president! You’ve got to start that early.”
He went on, “I think the difference between myself and someone like the governor’s approach is that I’m not afraid to let the citizenry know early where I’m headed or what I’m considering. It also sounds the alarm for people to wake up… about considering 2012 as a very important election for Vermont.”
Salmon views the lack of political balance in Montpelier to be a serious problem that needs to be fixed. He and his office felt the consequences of one-party-rule in some unfortunate ways. “Two things happened that were very different,” said Salmon. “One is, we came up with this bulletproof embezzlement initiative that we felt required legislative action, but would also give buy-in to the process. It was all buttoned up in March. When the session ended, it didn’t become law…. And. I did have someone from across the street [in the capitol building] say to my office, ‘Well, maybe your leader should be sending less critical letters to the governor or the attorney general.’
“The other red flags were the seemingly choreographed way of balancing the budget — making people think it was just this gnashing of teeth and hard choices when it had a lot of smoke, a lot of mirrors, a lot of federal funds, cigarette taxes, medical provider taxes, insurance taxes, and things like that that really got pretty glossed over in the process. I felt like when you focus on an anti-nuke agenda followed by a healthcare agenda you’re not really focusing on the economic priorities of the state.”
What should those priorities be? “Stable taxation. True commitment to workforce development (not what we have now). An energy plan – a strategic plan. And something that will change this [economic] mathematical situation…. Vermont in the last thirteen years has had spending go up 113 percent while net private sector job growth has gone up one percent. That is a train wreck. A disaster. And if we don’t start to restructure our economy in a way – and maybe restructure our education system restructure the way we do business, we’re going to be out of business.”
Salmon also sees the need for a culture change in state government. If we’re not careful, he warned, “We’re going to have two types of Vermonters: those with lots of money and those with none because we’ve actually gotten into this habit of subsidizing and fostering dependence instead of independence. If I was governor, I would foster a new spirit of independence. I think that government has done a horrible job inspiring its people…. Our future is bright in Vermont, but we’ve just had a very, very strange legislative session.”