Dean Corren (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Dean Corren (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO -- In a sense, Dean Corren stepped into a vacuum with his run for Vermont lieutenant governor.

Some would say that was a political vacuum: With the potential Democratic candidate bowing out, Corren -- a longtime Progressive -- has been able to pick up Democratic backing including the support of the Windham County Democratic Committee.

But the Burlington resident also believes he is filling an informational vacuum, given his longtime involvement in critical issues such as health-care reform and renewable energy.

"If somebody else isn't going to do this who is potentially up on these issues and able to explain these issues to the public in a way that makes sense then I will do it," Corren said.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, is pursuing a third term in an office tasked with standing in when the governor is outside the state and also presiding over the state Senate. When necessary, the lieutenant governor casts a tie-breaking vote in that 30-member body.

Scott was a five-term Washington County senator before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010. He has no GOP opposition in the Aug. 26 primary.

Democrat John Bauer had attempted to mount a run for the office, but he dropped out at the filing deadline in June because he had failed to independently raise enough money to qualify for public campaign financing.

That leaves two other candidates on the primary ballot: Corren and Marina Brown of Charleston, a Liberty Union candidate.


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Like Scott, Corren has legislative experience. He served four terms in the state House from 1993 to 2000 as a Progressive.

"I tell everybody that, of all the jobs I've done -- and I've done many different jobs -- that was absolutely my favorite job, as frustrating as it is," he said.

The main issue behind his run for lieutenant governor now -- health-care reform -- also was one of the most-important issues in his legislative career. Corren said he co-authored Vermont's first single-payer health-care bill, though the concept did not advance at the time.

"We got up to, I think, 30, 35 sponsors, and (then-Gov.) Howard Dean promised to veto it, and that was the end of it," Corren recalled.

Now, the state is on a much clearer -- though still controversial -- path toward universal, publicly financed health care. Corren noted that Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is "totally invested in this," and he wants to assist in the transition.

Corren believes single-payer is "clearly the only solution there is." In the 1990s, he recalled, legislators were concerned that total health-care spending in Vermont was passing the $1.5 billion mark; now, he said, that tally is at $5 billion.

"It is absolutely necessary to get comprehensive control over costs," Corren said.

Corren also has a long-term interest in energy. Early in his career, he was involved in the development of underwater turbines, and Corren currently works as chief technology officer of Verdant Power Inc., a sustainable energy company.

Corren has served as a member and chairman of the Burlington Electric Commission, using that platform to "assemble a broad consensus for major investment in local efficiency," he said.

"I've been involved in renewable energy my entire career and have seen the need for it my entire career," he said.

At the same time, though, he called for a more-systematic approach on development of wind turbines. Vermont officials should have brought "every possible interest holder" together long ago to develop a plan showing the best places for large turbines.

That hasn't happened, Corren said, and, "as a result, we have more controversy than we should have. But the fact is, the majority of Vermonters want wind."

Corren wants the lieutenant governor to take a more-active role in the state's efforts to combat climate change. But he also sees economic opportunity in the move toward renewables and greater conservation.

"How we can tailor our economy to best take advantage of these changes that we know are coming essentially capitalizing on what we see is coming?" Corren said. "We really need a plan that looks at that."

On the economic-development front, Corren said he still is developing a "comprehensive list" of ideas. But Corren believes "chasing smokestacks" won't work long-term.

"Going out there and trying to attract outside businesses with money and promises about regulatory streamlining and stuff like that -- that's an old model that doesn't work, and it's not sustainable for Vermont," he said.

Corren said his economic-development ideas include more emphasis on telecommuting -- which he practices in his own job -- and on continued expansion of high-speed Internet access.

He also wants to encourage "homegrown businesses in Vermont that grow and potentially stay in Vermont."

"Most jobs are created in small businesses. (But) the rate of small-business creation has plummeted in this country ... and no one really understands why that is," he said.

While the incumbent lieutenant governor has gained some Democratic backing -- most recently an endorsement from state Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington -- Corren's stances have won support from many Democrats including Shumlin.

Corren is asking that Democratic voters write in his name in the primary.

This week, Windham County Democratic Committee voted unanimously to give Corren its "complete support." The committee mentioned Corren's policies on health care as well as his success in qualifying for public campaign financing; Corren has said he will take no campaign money from corporations.

"This is still a country where one person of legal age still has only one vote," said John Wilmerding, Windham County Democratic Committee chairman, in announcing the Corren endorsement. "And Vermont, with our unique history of requiring that votes not be bought or coerced by others, may once again have a few historically important lessons for the rest of our democracy."

The Corren campaign is online at www.DeanCorren.com.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.