GOP candidates promise lively campaign for secretary of state
By DANIEL BARLOW VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | May 18,2010
MONTPELIER – Chris Roy welcomed Jason Gibbs to the Republican primary for Vermont secretary of state on Monday – and issued a debate challenge to Gov. James Douglas' former spokesman.
The two Republicans are vying to replace Democrat Deborah Markowitz, who is running for governor. It is the first time in more than a decade that the state's top elected positions will be vacant.
"This is the first time in many, many years that Vermonters will be paying attention to a contested race for Vermont secretary of state," Roy said Monday. "An aggressive debate schedule will ensure that everyone gets to hear from the candidates and make decisions based on the issues."
Roy, a Williston resident who grew up in Barre, entered the race early last summer when, as he joked, he thought "Gov. James Douglas would be running for reelection." Douglas announced in late August that he would retire.
But now Gibbs — a confidant of Douglas who began working for the governor's campaign in 2002 and served as his spokesman for much of his time in office — entered the race, setting up an August primary.
Gibbs' last day as the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation — his latest position in the Douglas administration — ended on Friday. Starting Saturday, Gibbs leaped headfirst into the political campaign, appearing at a number of events across the state to introduce himself to voters.
Gibbs said Monday that he would be happy to debate as frequently as his campaign schedule allows, but added that he would prefer to have all the secretary of state candidates — there are two Democrats running for the seat as well — on stage with them for the debates.
"I think there are too few people out there who appreciate the role the secretary of state plays in Vermont," Gibbs said. "Starting a dialogue with all the candidates who are running will give people more opportunities to learn."
Roy casts the Republican primary for the job as a classic tale of the outsider versus the insider. He points to his decades of experience in the private sector, including the past 20 years working with a Montpelier law firm.
He said there is a sense across the state that Montpelier officials have been "treading water" and the mistakes made in the past can't be fixed by those who were in power at the time. A candidate with experience in the private sector can bring some "common sense" to the capital, he said.
"I'm not going to downgrade the good work that Jason has done for the governor over the years," Roy said. "But his experience has solely been as a press secretary or commissioner within state government."
Gibbs said framing the debate as "insider versus outsider" sounds like political advice from Washington, D.C., advisers. He said he is proud of his time working in the Douglas administration and hopes the campaign focuses on issues, not "mud-slinging."
"I had a tremendous opportunity to serve the state by working for people like Gov. Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie," Gibbs said. "And as an Eagle Scout and avid outdoorsman, I believe I am the ultimate outsider."