MONTPELIER -- Progressive candidate Dean Corren got a warm welcome from Vermont Democrats on Saturday as he asked for their support in his bid for lieutenant governor.
The Democratic State Committee, at its bimonthly meeting, stopped short of a formal endorsement, with party leaders saying there is a specific process for that and it hadn't been adhered to. But it was agreed that the minutes of Saturday's meeting would reflect Corren's endorsement by John Bauer, a Democrat who dropped his candidacy for lieutenant governor last month.
His presentation came during a roughly 90-minute meeting in which Democrats formally endorsed Gov. Peter Shumlin, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and other statewide officials for re-election.
Corren acknowledged that there had been tension between Vermont Democrats and Progressives in the past, with Democrats worrying that Progressive candidates might drain away some of their support. "I feel like I need to convey the message to you that times have changed," Corren said.
But to repeated applause from the more than 50 people who attended the Statehouse meeting, Corren sought to emphasize the common purpose of the two parties, particularly in their support for a universal, publicly funded health care system, sometimes called single-payer.
"The No. 1 reason I am in this race, got in this race in May, is health care reform," Corren said, noting that as a House member from Burlington in the 1990s, he joined with other lawmakers to write Vermont's first legislation calling for a single-payer system.
Corren asked the state committee members to work through their county committees to generate support for him.
Republican incumbent Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has expressed skepticism about a state-run health care system, saying he has "serious concerns" about its possible effects, especially on small businesses.
The issue is expected to top the agenda in the two-year legislative term beginning in January. Legislation passed in 2011 calls for Vermont to move toward a single-payer system, and many supporters have said they want it in place by 2017. Among the issues still to be determined are how the system will be paid for and what range of benefits it will offer.
"At this critical point in time, in order to seize this opportunity, we need both of them (the governor and lieutenant governor) working shoulder-to-shoulder to push this issue forward," said Corren, a renewable energy entrepreneur.
On other issues, Corren said he would support the state's efforts to shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy and combat climate change. He also said he supports public financing of campaigns as an answer to concerns that wealthy contributors can distort the political process.