by Tena Starr
copyright the chronicle June 13, 2012
So far, at least three people are in the running for the Orleans-Essex Senate seat that Vince Illuzzi has held for 32 years.
John Rodgers of Glover, a former state representative, Bob Lewis of Derby, a current representative, and Jim Guyette of Newport said this week that they are seeking the job that Mr. Illuzzi plans to leave this year in order to run for state auditor.
Republican Tom Salmon, who is currently auditor, is not seeking re-election.
Mr. Illuzzi, also a Republican, wasn’t saying much this week about his decision to run for statewide office.
“I’m not prepared to get into it right now,” he said on Monday. He said he will be filing his nominating petitions, and he will have a statement later in the week.
The deadline for filing petitions for office is Thursday, June 14.
Mr. Lewis said he filed his petitions for the Senate seat on Monday. “Basically, I will be announcing my candidacy in the near future,” he said. He said he’s planning a press conference for early next week.
Governor Jim Douglas appointed Mr. Lewis to fill out the remaining term of Loren Shaw, who voluntarily gave up his seat. He has since been elected in his own right and has been in Montpelier since March of 2008. He serves on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.
Mr. Rodgers had initially planned to run for the House seat that he lost to fellow Democrat Sam Young by one vote in 2010. In the general election, Mr. Young beat him by three votes. That narrowed down to a single, critical vote in a recount.
Mr. Rodgers was a four-term incumbent, and the defeat came as a surprise.
He said he decided to run for the Orleans-Essex Senate seat instead when he heard that Mr. Illuzzi might not be seeking re-election. “It’s something I’ve considered for a long time,” he said. “I need another challenge in my life.”
He said he’d already had his paperwork done for the House seat when he shifted course and decided to run for Senate.
Mr. Rodgers said he’s been getting a lot of encouragement and many people have offered to help him. And he’ll need all the help he can get, he said. “It’s a huge area.”
Although Mr. Rodgers is well known in the southern part of Orleans County, he acknowledges that he’ll have a lot of work to do in the Newport and Derby area. “And in Essex County, I’m fairly unknown,” he said.
Mr. Rodgers believes that he and the area’s other Senator, Bobby Starr of North Troy, would work well together since their political philosophies are similar. “I’m a Democrat, but I’m a conservative minded Democrat,” he said.
He said he’s a “regular working guy” who thinks independently and does not necessarily follow the wishes of party leadership, but can work across party lines, a talent that Mr. Illuzzi was known for, and one that’s increasingly rare in partisan politics.
“I can get along with everyone,” Mr. Rodgers said.
He said that in 2010 he made a “calculated risk to not campaign,” a risk he won’t take this time. “I’ve got a lot of ground to cover now.”
In a statement, Mr. Guyette said his reasons for running are simple: “First, there is no economy and very few job opportunities in this area. It seems to me the current local and state politicians have been unwilling to help improve the lives of residents when it comes to pocketbook issues.”
The area consistently has the highest unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates in the state because of bad economic policies, Mr. Guyette said.
“So how can we fix things? To start, let’s look at new economic policies, infrastructure improvements, creating a natural gas pipeline, scrapping Act 250, changing local permit reforms, and putting a very tight legal leash on the activities of out-of-state groups who tend to have too much say in economic and job development issues. I believe if I’m given the chance to be your senator, we can take steps to make drastic improvements in these areas.”
Mr. Illuzzi has made rumblings about running for statewide office before, but this is the first time he has actually decided to throw his hat into the ring.
At the moment, one question is whether he will run for auditor as an independent or as a Republican.
Another is whether he can continue with his job as Essex County state’s attorney.
Kathy Scheele, director of elections at the Vermont secretary of state’s office, said that’s a question with no clear answer right now.
There’s nothing in the law that prevents somebody from submitting petitions for more than one office, Ms. Scheele said. “If they were to win, that would be a question for the General Assembly, the attorney general, or the courts to weigh in on.”
Mr. Illuzzi was first elected to the state Senate in 1980 when he was 27 years old. In recent years, he’s run largely unopposed and has secured the Democratic nomination as well as the Republican.
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