This Primary Day there will be two candidates on the Progressive Party’s ballot for governor, but the party doesn’t want their members to vote for either one of them.
Instead, party leaders encourage voters to write in Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman — the candidate endorsed by the party. Zuckerman and other Progressive candidates looking to win a Democratic primary can only appear on one party ballot.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state Legislature lowered the filing threshold, and that’s allowed two perennial candidates to get on the Progressive ballot.
Cris Ericson’s gubernatorial campaign video opens with her sitting in a dimly lit room. A handmade sign taped to a white brick wall boldly says “Ericson Governor” — though the word "for" can be faintly seen between them.
“My name, Cris Ericson, is on the Progressive Party ballot for governor and for several other offices,” Ericson said speaking directly to the camera. “I am running for more than one office.”
She’s running for seven to be exact, including auditor, attorney general and treasurer. In most of those races, she’s the only name that appears on the Progressive ballot.
Ericson could be described as a colorful figure. She’s interviewed herself with a puppet rat named "Squeaky" and drawn national attention for her choice in hats. She has run unsuccessfully for almost every statewide office since 2002. In her last run for governor, as an Independent in the 2018 general election, she netted about 2,100 votes to Gov. Phil Scott’s 151,261.
Ericson didn’t make herself available for an interview, but in a series of YouTube videos, she lays out her plans, which include replacing businesses with state-backed communes and halting the coronavirus pandemic by closing Vermont’s borders to everyone but residents, their families and close friends, plus truck drivers.
"My attitude, my woman’s intuition, my instinct is close all roads coming into Vermont — just shut ‘em,” Ericson said in her gubernatorial video.
While Ericson is on the Progressive ballot, the party does not support her according to Josh Wronski, the executive director of the party. He said if she won any races in the primary, the party would likely issue a “non-endorsement.”
“Just the way she talks about people and the way she goes about politics is not the kind of thing that builds the Progressive movement and supports Progressive values,” Wronski said.
Wronski wouldn’t say which of Ericson’s views he found problematic, but on her website, among many policy ideas, she wrote she opposes decriminalizing sex work out of fear it would bring “wealthy foreign men of color here.”
Ericson isn’t the only perennial candidate on the Progressive ballot this year. Boots Wardinski, who’s run for various state and local offices since 1990, is also running for governor.
“I’m actually a member of Liberty Union Party,” Wardinski said. “We’re a minor party and don’t have a primary, so this gives me an opportunity to get my name out there and a little bit of publicity for Liberty Union.”
Wardinski said he’s also running to give voters more choices and promote the Liberty Union’s anti-war message.
“The military and the police and militarization of the police, those subjects are not being discussed," he said. "And so candidates from the Liberty Union often talk about that issue."
In previous years, the requirement that statewide candidates gather 500 signatures to get on the ballot might have shut Wardinski and Ericson out of the primary, but the Legislature waived that requirement this year due to COVID-19.
Wronski, with the Progressives, said in order to stop Ericson and Wardinski, he’s asking party members to write in names of the two statewide candidates endorsed by the party — David Zuckerman for governor and Doug Hoffer for auditor. Both are also seeking Democratic nomination and can only appear on one ballot.
“It’s a good way to kind of reach out to Democrats and build kind of a border coalition, which is what we're always trying to do,” Wronski said.
This isn’t the first time Progressives have had to write-in their preferred candidate. In fact, it’s kind of a repeat of 2016: When Zuckerman first ran for lieutenant governor, he won the Progressive primary as a write-in candidate against Boots Wardinski.
It's not an ideal system, Wronsk said. But: "We work within the law that is given, and we’ve definitely proposed ideas to change the system and change the way it works, but this is kind of the rules that we have right now.”
The Progressive Party has not endorsed any other statewide candidates. In one of the state’s most competitive races — the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor — Wronski said the party was split between Tim Ashe and Brenda Siegel and couldn’t reach the two-thirds majority required to pick one.
On the local level, the party has endorsed a dozen candidates in House and Senate races around the state, and Wronoski expects more before the primary. Many of those candidates appear on the Democratic ballot.
Wronski said he’s optimistic about this year’s primary and sees an opportunity to expand the party beyond its historical base in Burlington.
“We have a bunch of solid candidates in more rural communities, which is really exciting,” he said.
While the Progressive Party is one of the three major parties in the state, it draws only a small number of people to its primary. In 2018, 643 voted in the Progressive primary compared to 36,987 in the Republican primary and 70,007 in the Democratic primary.
VPR's Henry Epp contributed reporting to this story.
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