MONTPELIER — A surprise write-in campaign has added drama to the Aug. 28 primary, when opponents of mountaintop wind development will look to transform one of their own into a major-party candidate for governor.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and one of the most prominent opponents of ridge-top wind turbines, has been more or less conscripted by a coalition of fellow activists looking to put their issue front and center in the 2012 governor’s race.
Stephanie Kaplan, of East Calais, is among those trying to push Smith to victory as a write-in in the Progressive primary for governor.
“At first we wanted to nominate somebody to run against (Gov. Peter) Shumlin in the Democratic primary, as a protest vote,” Kaplan said Tuesday. “And then we realized that she could actually win the Progressive primary.”
The Progressives already have a gubernatorial nominee on the primary ballot in Martha Abbott, who won the party’s endorsement at its committee meeting Sunday. But given low turnout historically in Progressive primaries, Smith’s chances aren’t so slight as they would be on the Democratic or Republican ballot.
In 2010, 533 Vermonters filled out a Progressive primary ballot. In 2008, the number was 470.
Contacted at her Danby office Tuesday, Smith said she had no direct knowledge of the write-in effort and said she wasn’t interested in talking politics.
“I’m doing my work, Vermonters for a Clean Environment work, and that’s what I have the capacity to talk about,” Smith said.
Pressed, she said she was aware that others might be working to make her the Progressive Party’s nominee.
“I know there’s an effort going on,” Smith said. “There are a lot of people who are upset and who are very, very unhappy with the status quo.”
Kaplan confirmed that Smith was one of the last to find out she’d been selected as a candidate.
“I told her, ‘Annette, we’re thinking of drafting you.’ She said, ‘Do what you want, but I’m busy and can’t be involved in it, and if I should win I’d decide then whether I would actually run,’” Kaplan said.
An email touting Smith’s write-in candidacy enumerates her supporters’ grievances with Shumlin. They center on the first-term governor’s support for ridgeline wind development, as well as his endorsement of Green Mountain Power’s merger with Central Vermont Public Service.
“We do feel that we need to offer an alternative,” said Peggy Sapphire, a Craftsbury resident who until two years ago served as secretary of the Vermont Progressive Party. “We’re certainly not expecting she’ll win. However, we cannot bring ourselves to vote for Shumlin, and neither do we want to vote for (Randy) Brock. And this is a way of gathering our numbers and making a statement at a time when people will pay attention.”
Smith’s supporters have set up a website — http://annettesmithforvermontgov.blogspot.com — and said they will spread news of the write-in campaign on social media sites, Front Porch Forum, extensive email lists and other digital platforms.
Morgan Daybell, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, said he learned of the write-in campaign Tuesday morning. He said the news came as a surprise, “but I wouldn’t say it’s unwelcome.”
“I think it’s good to have a contest in a primary,” Daybell said.
He said he didn’t know much about Smith or her political views.
Abbott didn’t respond to messages left Tuesday afternoon; the Shumlin campaign declined to comment.
Sapphire said Smith is respected by opponents of “corporate” wind power as an intelligent and articulate spokeswoman for the movement.
Steve Wright, an opponent of big wind who has worked to stop GMP’s 21-turbine project under construction on Lowell Mountain, said electoral politics may offer critics of Shumlin’s positions a more prominent platform from which to voice their concerns.
“The Shumlin administration has grabbed hold of developing ridgeline wind resources with regard to their presumed effect on allaying or ameliorating the effect of advancing climate change, and the technical facts are that ridgeline wind does not reduce carbon emissions at an effective level to help Vermonters deal with the effects of climate change,” said Wright, formerly a climate change educator for the National Wildlife Federation.
“The apparent approach by this administration is to advance a program of blowing up the landscape in order to protect it.”
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