- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Gov. Peter Shumlin, who narrowly survived a re-election bid last fall from a little-known candidate and then had to abandon his signature goal of a state-run single payer health care system, said Monday he would not seek a fourth two-year term next year.

Speaking at the Vermont Statehouse in front of a bust of Abraham Lincoln and surrounded by current and former staff members, the Democrat insisted his political setbacks played no role in his decision and that he had always believed six years was the correct tenure for a Vermont governor.

Before announcing his decision Shumlin rattled off what he sees as his accomplishments since taking office in 2011, including helping Vermont recover from the Great Recession and confronting the epidemic of heroin and opiate abuse.

“I reached this decision after a lot of thought and consideration,” Shumlin said. “It’s the honor of my life, it truly is, to serve as Vermont’s governor. I want to serve in this role until I feel confident, confident that we’ve accomplished what we promised to do.”

Shumlin, 59, who was first elected in 2010, said he would redouble his efforts to continue working on the issues confronting the state during his remaining time in office. He said he has no plans to seek another job in Washington or elsewhere beyond returning to the family business in Putney.

“I think it’s hugely helpful to my team that’s assembled here to have 18 months to complete the work that we’ve set out to do without always being questioned, ‘oh, you’re just saying that or doing that because you want to get your boss re-elected,’” he said.

Last fall, Shumlin outspent little-known business owner Scott Milne but still drew less than 50 percent of the vote, forcing the Legislature to decide the outcome in January.

But Shumlin said his political successes exceeded his disappointments, which he said played no role in his decision not to seek re-election.

“You know me, I love tough races and I firmly believe if we’d run in a presidential year we would have won big,” he said.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis said he was surprised by the timing of the governor’s announcement, but not the substance.

“If he had run, in my mind he would have been the most vulnerable governor seeking re-election since Dean in 2000,” Davis said referring to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Shumlin lost the support of many of the state’s left-leaning Progressive Party and he had little grass roots support, Davis said.

The decision also clears the field for an open race for the governor’s office in 2016.

Davis said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott should be able to secure his party’s nomination if he wants it. On the Democratic side he mentioned House Speaker Shap Smith, who also has expressed an interest in running.

The governor’s decision now not to seek re-election is speeding up Vermont’s 2016 political timetable.

“They are going to have to decide sooner than they may have wanted to,” Davis said of the potential candidates.

Shumlin said historically Vermont governors served shorter terms than his immediate predecessors.

“I thought that as my third term was evolving, as often happens in life, my perspective might change,” Shumlin said. “It never did. I have never wanted to be a full-time politician.”

Shumlin said he’d made the decision to leave office some time ago, but his staff seemed surprised by the announcement.

In a statement, the Republican Governor’s Association said Shumlin is “throwing in the towel after an embarrassing term as (Democratic Governors’ Association) chairman.”

“His decision adds Vermont to a growing list of open seats the DGA will be forced to spend limited resources on to defend in 2016, and presents a strong opportunity for the RGA to go on offense,” the statement said.

Shumlin said that during his years in office the state has created 16,000 jobs, increased by about 10 times the amount of solar power installed in Vermont or is on its way and spread the reach of broadband internet to the most remote areas of Vermont with only a handful yet to be served. He also said he made it possible for students to earn up to two years of college for free.

The roads and bridges are improved, as is the state’s mental health care system, he said, and the state increased the minimum wage to help low-wage Vermonters survive.

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