MORRISVILLE, Vermont — Surrounded by family, friends and supporters and standing behind the former department store where he got his junior prom tuxedo, Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith on Wednesday announced he'll seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016.
Smith, 49, who grew up in neighboring Wolcott and attended school in Morrisville, used the latter town as an example of the downtown revitalization he said is happening in communities around Vermont and which he said he wants to see continue.
When Arthur's Department Store closed in 2010, "it left a hole in our community. And I believe that Morrisville at that moment was at a crossroads," Smith said.
"But here's what happened," he continued. "With state and community partners, our town worked incredibly hard to transform this building into what it is now: housing that people in Morrisville needed and could afford, and retail space that was necessary in the downtown."
"It's a great example of what a town, investing in itself, can do to move from its past to its future," Smith said. "Our state government needs to be an active partner in supporting vibrant and livable downtowns."
Smith offered no detailed policy proposals — he said those would be unveiled during the campaign — and also declined directly to answer policy-related questions, for example, whether he would choose an increase in the top marginal tax rate or a cut to the state's Reach Up public assistance program to balance the budget.
"What I'm going to be about is making sure that we have a Vermont that's going to be successful for the future and it's going to be one that our kids have the opportunity to do well in," he said in reply to the question about Reach Up cuts.
Aside from his work in Vermont's part-time Legislature, Smith is a partner in a Burlington law firm. He said he would reduce his hours this fall and take a leave of absence starting in January.
Smith is the first candidate to formally announce in a race that is expected to draw several hoping to replace Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who announced in June he would not seek a third two-year term.
Matt Dunne, a Democratic former lawmaker and candidate for governor in 2010, has been raising money and is starting a listening tour with stops around the state. Transportation Secretary and former Democratic House member Sue Minter also has said she's considering a run, as has Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Businessman Bruce Lisman also has been hinting with a run either as a Republican or independent candidate.