This post has been updated.
Vermont is holding its primary Tuesday, and H. Brooke Paige is campaigning twice as hard as the rest of his fellow candidates. He didn't have much of a choice; he's running in the Democratic primary for governor and attorney general.
"There would be a lot of power if the governor and the attorney general were the same person," Paige told the Caledonian-Record last week.
Yes, in Vermont, sprinkling your name in several places on the ballot is perfectly legal (You can do the same in a few other states, but most people do it as a safety measure while trying to get a political promotion -- not because they want to hold two seats simultaneously). Paige isn't the only person who's running in two races. Cris Ericson is a House and gubernatorial candidate this year, running as an independent. In 2012, Ericson ran in the gubernatorial and Senate races; she campaigned as a U.S. Marijuana party candidate. Ericson has been running for various positions in Vermont since at least 2002. In a state where secessionists, candidates riding fake cows and Fred Tuttle campaign, however, running for two offices simultaneously seems downright normal.
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, says there's no rule banning candidates from running for multiple offices. All that's necessary is a petition with 500 signatures, one for each race. "However, signing a petition does not mean you are committed to vote for that person in the election," Davis writes in an e-mail. "I'll be interested to see whether Paige gets more or less than 500 votes for each of the offices for which he is on the ballot tomorrow."
Paige's opponents, incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin -- or as Paige often calls him, "Emperor Shumlin" -- and incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, don't appear to be worried. Shumlin is on vacation, and is scheduled to be out of town for today's election. Sorrell and Paige had one debate last week. "We'll see what happens," Sorrell says. "I expect to be the Democratic candidate for attorney general."
Paige hasn't gotten much attention from the press either. When I e-mailed Davis about Paige's candidacies, he told me I'm the first reporter to do so. Press conferences have been nonexistent; Paige is afraid if he had one, he'd end up just talking to himself. Which is something he has to do enough of already, as his Web site, which he built himself for $89, notes, he is a "one-person campaign." His total expenses have been around $6,000, which meant giving up his and his wife's vacation money for the year. (Throughout our telephone interview, Paige's wife occasionally interjected to make sure he didn't leave out any important details.) Until last week, he had spent only $500, but a last-minute ad buy in newspapers across the state, plus radio ads on seven stations increased expenses considerably -- if not in comparison to every other gubernatorial race in the country. In Vermont, the GOP gubernatorial primary — which features an establishment candidate, a self-proclaimed "modern-day Mark Twain," a person who is not a Republican and a write-in Libertarian candidate — has received far more attention.
This isn't the first time the 62-year-old has run for election in Vermont. In 2012, he campaigned in the Republican Senate primary against Jack McGovern. Both candidates entered the race against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) because no one else had. Paige lost the primary by 50 points.
He also waged a legal battle against the president, arguing that President Obama is not a natural-born citizen and should have been taken off the Vermont ballot in 2012, relying on an argument that could almost be described as pre-originalist. According to a Burlington Free Press story from September 2012:
Paige [based] his argument or readings of a 1758 legal treatise he said influenced the writers of the U.S. Constitution. The document, called the “Law of Nations,” decreed that a person seeking the presidency must not just be a U.S. citizen, but a “natural born citizen,” defined as someone born of parents who were both American citizens at the time of birth. Obama’s father was a citizen of Kenya when Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961.
A state court dismissed the lawsuit, the Vermont Supreme Court said the case was "moot" and last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Paige's call for a hearing. Paige is not worried that the suit will hurt him in a Democratic primary -- the case may have piqued his interest in the attorney general race in the first place. "I only do things that I think have a chance for success," he told the Brattleboro Reformer a few days ago. "And once I've adopted them, I own them, and I follow them to the end." In a state that overwhelmingly voted for Obama twice, however, Paige's ideas are not liable to catch on.
Paige's political leanings haven't changed much since he ran as a Republican two years ago (although he recently told the Rutland Herald he is “not really the world’s greatest Republican,” choosing the label, “post-neoclassic liberal" instead).If elected attorney general, he would focus on upping law enforcement in the state. ("Lord knows we need more, not fewer.") If elected governor, he would work to prevent a single payer health-care system, legalize marijuana, reject Common Core, push solar and wind power, reduce frivolous healthcare lawsuits and establish a state bank, among other things. His whole platform reads as an odd mix of the conservative ideas that have echoed across Republican primaries this year and Vermont-y progressive staples.
He entered the two Democratic primaries this year because no other prominent Democrats had entered either race. He thought someone ought to challenge the incumbents.
The roughly 2,000 people who voted for Paige in 2012 are allowed to vote for him again today, despite the fact he changed parties. Vermont has an open primary, meaning voters can choose which ballot they'd like to use, although they can't double-dip. Getting those 2,000 voters to polling places in 2014 will be hard, however. There are no Senate races or presidential primaries to compel people to vote this year. Paige has found plenty of people this week who had no idea there was a primary Tuesday -- or that they could vote in it. When he's out campaigning, he has taken to carrying around registration forms. Paige thinks he's registered around 60 new voters, "and about the same number of people whose registration's ran out."
Neither Shumlin nor Sorrell appears to be in peril today. However, Vermont has rewarded underdogs who ran against confident incumbents before. When a Democratic socialist ran in the 1981 mayoral election in Burlington, the five-term incumbent didn't bother campaigning either. The challenger won by 10 votes. Now, he's a U.S. senator -- the same one, oddly enough, whom Paige tried to topple two years ago for being out-of-touch.
The latest polling on Shumlin's approval rating comes from April. Forty-nine percent approved, while 40 percent disapproved. Among independents, his approval rating was within a margin of error of disapproval. In a post-David Brat election cycle, it seems unwise to count out any candidate. But Paige himself sums up his chances best — "It's a little more than luck; I need a little bit of divine intervention."
This morning, Paige was likely at the town clerk's office in Washington, the town of about 1,000 where he lives, at 7 a.m. to cast his ballot. After that, it was time for wave-byes at busy intersections in Barre and Montpelier, which in Vermont means waving at about 20 cars per hour -- if it's rush hour.
"I'm a very positive person," he says. "I think I have a reasonable chance of winning. I wouldn't want to put any percentages on it and jinx myself though."