By Katy Savage
After some speculation, Woodstock Rep. Charlie Kimbell announced he’s running for lieutenant governor.
Kimbell, 57, is the only candidate to officially announce his campaign for lieutenant governor. He said he made the decision to run after current Lt. Gov. Molly Gray announced her bid to succeed Rep. Peter Welch in Congress. Welch, Vermont’s sole member of the House of Representatives, is seeking a Senate seat to replace the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Kimbell calls himself a “moderate Democrat,” who’s “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”
“I truly believe in the Vermont political tradition of self-reliance, social justice, Yankee frugality and environmental stewardship,” Kimbell said in a statement.
Kimbell was elected to the House in 2016 where he served as vice chair of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and co-led the rural economic development working group.
Before entering state politics, Kimbell served as a Woodstock village trustee in the early 2000s. He also served on the boards of more than 15 non-profit organizations. Kimbell was the race director of both the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon and Road to the Pogue. He also formerly owned Elevation Clothing in Woodstock with his wife Carolyn before selling it in 2020.
“Now in my third term in the Legislature, I am committed to working on legislation that helps improve the lives of Vermonters and to helping constituents navigate state government,” Kimbell said in a statement. “As lieutenant governor I would have a much bigger platform from which to help shape policies and programs to move Vermont forward.”
In a phone call, Kimbell said the Covid-19 pandemic has “really made obvious for some of the folks in politics what is important and what’s not.”
“Broadband is not just nice to have -— it’s absolutely necessary,” Kimbell said.
He also emphasized the importance of having local food supply chains.
“We have to have food grown locally,” he said.
While the primary election isn’t until Aug. 19, Kimbell said he announced early to “have enough time to build a credible team and reach out to voters.
“I felt it was necessary to declare now to do both those things,” Kimbell said. “It’s a good thing to be the first.”
There are at least two other people considering running for lieutenant governor.
Former state Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, said she’s “strongly leaning toward a run.” Toll was elected to the House in 2009. She was recently chair of the House Appropriations Committee but opted not to run for reelection in 2020.
Toll said she sees value in the lieutenant government position.
“It provides a statewide platform to really emphasize to Vermonters the things I find valuable and critical,” she said, mentioning better broadband and controlling the “unprecedented” amount of federal funds available.
“When we consider how these dollars are used, I want to have the message out there that they’ll last long into the future,” Toll said.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, is also considering running, but said he’s in no hurry to announce his candidacy.
Benning was critical of Gray for her decision to leave her post after just 11 months in office.
“I really got upset when I recognized that the current occupant was merely using the position as a stepping stone,” said Benning, who said he’d want to be lieutenant governor for at least two terms if elected.
“I’d like to make sure institutional history is kept in the process and not have it become something other than a stepping stone for someone else,” he said.
Benning has served in the Legislature for about 12 years and was formerly the Senate minority leader.
“I think I’m well qualified and I have a commitment to making sure the Senate runs efficiently through the Covid-19 process,” Benning said.
Benning said he respects Kimbell, but said Kimbell lacks needed experience in the Senate.
“The other most important part of that (lieutenant governor) position is to moderate the proceedings of the Senate,” Benning added. “I’ve not heard anybody (running) who has the same kind of history in the Senate as I do.”
Kimbell admitted having experience in the Senate would be “helpful” but said it’s not necessary.
Kimbell is in the process of fundraising as the new Legislative session begins on Jan. 4. “My goal is to have a good war chest by the end of the month,” Kimbell said, explaining he wants to raise at least $300,000 for the entire race.
“That’s where we need to be,” he said. “I have a vague idea of how to get there.”
Kimbell said he’s received some emails from local residents interested in taking his position in the House, but nobody has seriously announced an intention to run.