STEFAN HARD / STAFF FILE PHOTO
Gov. Peter Shumlin in the House Chamber of the Statehouse in 2011. Shumlin was elected chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
MONTPELIER — After a two-day swing in Los Angeles this week in which he was elected chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday said he’ll use his new prominence nationally to benefit the Vermont voters who carried him to a second term last month.
Shumlin was elected unanimously by his peers Tuesday to head an organization whose primary goal is to increase the number of Democratic governors. But Shumlin said he’ll also use the post to become a more effective advocate for Vermont’s interests on the national stage. Relationships forged with high-profile players in the corporate sector in particular, Shumlin said, will yield dividends for Vermont.
A settlement announced Wednesday in which Hewlett Packard agreed to reimburse the state for a portion of a failed $20 million computer system, according to Shumlin, is evidence of the kind of sway he’ll hold over the companies with which Vermont does business.
“In my capacity as a member of the DGA, I developed a close relationship with the folks who run HP,” Shumlin said at a news conference Thursday morning. “And in that friendship, I made clear my concern about the outcome of the DMV contract that … I felt was wrong for Vermont taxpayers.”
When it initially agreed to the $8.7 million settlement last year, Shumlin later clarified, HP wasn’t aware that he would be ascending to the DGA chairmanship.
“The point is the relationships you develop with both governors and the private sector at these association meetings really help you to get things done,” Shumlin said. “And obviously as chair of the DGA I’ll have an even greater voice.”
Shumlin’s chief of staff, Bill Lofy, will leave his post in Vermont to serve as Shumlin’s liaison on the DGA staff. Shumlin said he’ll work with the DGA vice chairman, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, to elevate Democrats’ prospects in the next cycle.
Democrats, who hold only 20 gubernatorial seats, have contests in New Jersey and Virginia next year. But the real opportunity comes in 2014, when 37 seats will be up for grabs.
“In 2014 we have a lot of open seats, and I think we’ll be able to gain some traction there,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin becomes the fourth consecutive Vermont governor to assume the chairmanship of a governors association.
James Douglas headed the National Governors Association, while Howard Dean and Richard Snelling were chairmen of the DGA and the Republican Governors Association, respectively.
“What it does for our little state is give us a larger voice than we would otherwise have, and give us the opportunity to get great ideas … that we might not otherwise hear and learn about,” Shumlin said. “So I see it as a huge resource … in my job as governor to be able to grow jobs and economic opportunities.”
Shumlin’s rapid rise to the chairmanship — he’s held office for less than two years — has fueled speculation about the scope of his political ambition.
He said Thursday he “got a chuckle” out of the speculation and that he’s happy where he is now. “My eye is on the prize — and it’s being governor of the state of Vermont,” Shumlin said.
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