Woodstock lawmaker running for Vermont lieutenant governor

  • After announcing his intent to run for Vermont Lieutenant Governor, Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, right, plays with his granddaughter Libby Hale, 1, held on the shoulders of Kimbell's son-in-law Matt Hale, of Stowe, outside the Woodstock, Vt., Town Hall Theatre on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Kimbell is in his third term representing the Windsor-5 district. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Vermont Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, announces his campaign for Lieutenant Governor outside the Woodstock, Vt., Town Hall Theatre on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/3/2022 9:18:27 PM
Modified: 1/3/2022 9:17:48 PM

WOODSTOCK — Two moderate lawmakers from the Upper Valley, one Democrat, the other a Republican, could wind up competing for Vermont’s open lieutenant governor’s seat this year.

On Monday, state Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, announced his candidacy, declaring that after serving three terms in the House he is ready to assume a “much bigger platform from which to help shape policies and programs to move Vermont.”

Kimbell, 57, is the first candidate to announce that he is running to succeed Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a Democrat who grew up in Newbury, Vt., and who is running for Vermont’s lone U.S. House seat. That came about because U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is retiring.

Kimbell likely is entering what could be a multi-candidate field. Seven Days reported that former state Rep Kitty Toll, a Danville Democrat who served 12 years in the House, including as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is “strongly considering” running for lieutenant governor. Former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman told the Burlington weekly that he is also considering running for his old office after losing a gubernatorial bid in 2020.

And state Sen. Joe Benning, the Caledonia Republican whose district includes several Bradford-area towns, told the Valley News on Monday that he is “leaning in that direction” on the GOP side.

Standing in 17-degree temperature on the doorsteps of the Woodstock Town Hall in front of a small turnout of supporters, Kimbell said he “believes in the Vermont political tradition of self-reliance, social justice, Yankee frugality and environmental stewardship” and described himself as “a moderate Democrat” who is “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

The lieutenant governor presides over the Vermont Senate, has a strong say in committee assignments, can cast the tie vote and is the de facto chief executive when the sitting governor is out of state or vacates the office.

Perhaps more significantly, the post is also seen as a step toward higher office; Republican Gov. Phil Scott took that step, and Gray is now trying to as well.

Other former lieutenant governors include Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean, who both served as governor, and former governor and U.S. Sen. Robert Stafford.

Leahy’s decision not to seek reelection in November after 48 years in the U.S. Senate has triggered a series of announcements from Vermont politicians jockeying to fill what they expect to be down-ballot vacancies as current holders seek to move up the political ladder. Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Brattleboro, has also declared her candidacy for the U.S. House seat and other state lawmakers have said they are weighing a run as well.

Kimbell on Monday played up his nearly lifetime roots in Vermont — the youngest of eight siblings, Kimbell grew up in St. Albans and Brownsville, graduated from Woodstock Union High School and University of Vermont and followed that with a 35-year business career with jobs in 11 different Vermont towns and cities. He said that and his extensive volunteer commitments and public service have made him well-versed in the challenges facing the state.

Specifically, Kimbell cited his advocacy of paid family medical leave, the creation of a “Vermont Corps” in which high school graduates would work for a year or two after school to gain skills and earn money, broadband and transportation infrastructure initiatives for rural communities and policies that would “double the number of new business startups in Vermont.”

A former bank manager, small business owner and now marketing chief at a Woodstock software company, Kimbell has gravitated toward economic and business issues and counts his participation in the Vermont Rural Economic Development Group, which has targeted the forest products industry, expanding high-speed broadband and strengthening wastewater and potable water systems, as some of his most gratifying work.

“It’s focusing on stuff like that, with aspiring farmers and expanding broadband, that’s really helped drive some of the discussion forward in the Legislature,” he said.

Kimbell had been a Republican but switched parties before he ran for the House in 2016, representing Woodstock, Plymouth and Reading. He said he did so “when I realized that a lot of my beliefs aligned more closely with the Democrats, especially on the social side, not necessarily on the fiscal side.”

As for Benning, he is an attorney who is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Institutions Committee and a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He previously served as Republican leader in the Senate. He said he would bring “historical, institutional knowledge” to the job of lieutenant governor.

“Several of the names I’ve heard floated don’t have that,” said Benning, 65, who added that, if elected, he would seek to serve at least two terms, a pointed reference to Gray’s decision to run for Congress while still in her first term as lieutenant governor.

“I know the players,” Benning said, while on break Monday from a court hearing. “I know how to run a meeting.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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