By JOHN CURRAN, Associated Press Writer
SHELBURNE, Vt. – Peter Garritano thinks it’s time for Vermont to call it quits with America.
The way the 54-year-old automobile salesman sees it, the “empire” is about to implode and tiny Vermont can lead the way by becoming its own independent republic. So he’s running for lieutenant governor, topping a slate of secession-minded candidates seeking statewide offices this year.
Their name: Vermont Independence Day.
“The only hope is to just say, ‘Look, this isn’t working for us. We want to start fresh again, with a real democracy,'” Garritano said. “I think that’s the answer. Hopefully, it won’t take another horrible economic breakdown to realize that the people running things don’t look out for the little guy, or us, or the soldiers. It’s all about profit and getting the last drops of oil on Earth and trampling people’s rights.”
Garritano, gubernatorial candidate Dennis P. Steele and seven candidates for state Senate seats plan to declare their candidacies Friday.
Their cause isn’t new: It’s the latest incarnation of a movement that’s bubbled in Vermont and elsewhere for years. Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Texas all have made noise about seceding, to no avail.
Their method is: Organizers say it’s the first time since the Civil War that a secession movement has fielded a slate of candidates for statewide office, although individual pro-secession candidates have run before.
Few political observers give them much hope of winning, even in a left-leaning state where the popular Republican governor’s decision not to seek re-election has touched off a scramble among would-be successors, with five Democrats and a Republican in a wide-open race for the seat headed to the Nov. 2 election.
Unlikelier still is the idea that, if elected, the candidates could accomplish their goal, critics say.
“This is the triumph of hope over reality,” said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont and a longtime observer of the state’s political scene. “The whole movement was spawned by having George W. Bush as president. My guess is that with (Barack) Obama as president and this being Obama’s second-best state, the wind has been taken out of their sails.”
In fact, Obama’s failure to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has fueled some of the candidates’ positions.
Long on outrage about the status quo but short on details about the new order they envision, they say Vermont could establish its own Social Security system, tend to health care and maintain roads using the billions of dollars in taxes it could save by not paying federal taxes.
Steele, a U.S. Army veteran, says if elected he’ll call a statewide convention to consider articles of political independence and try to get Vermont National Guard troops returned home from the wars.
But as Dartmouth College professor of government Linda Fowler says, “The problem (with secession) always is the one the framers pointed out: Governmental units that are so small end up being vulnerable to their neighbors, in all kinds of ways.”
For now, the focus is on the campaign in Vermont, where the secession candidates — on a shoestring budget — plan a largely Internet-based campaign. As of Wednesday, they hadn’t launched a dedicated Web site, though one is planned.
Garritano, a Shelburne independent who’s never run for office before, promised his wife the campaign wouldn’t cost them much money. He’s sticking to that: So far, he’s spent $20 on business cards.
Come November, he won’t be identified as a “secession” candidate on the ballot; it will just say “independent.”
“If somehow, miraculously, I got elected lieutenant governor, I’d make an effort to get back some of our rights — right to freedom of speech, freedom of association and other Constitution-Bill of Rights things that have been taken away from us,” Garritano said.
Steele, a 44-year-old political neophyte from Kirby who owns Internet radio station Free Vermont Radio, says he’ll take a grassroots approach to campaigning — traversing the state in a recreational vehicle with his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
“The plan is to travel around the state with my family, try to make it a fun thing,” he said. “Go out, do some live broadcasts, pound some doors and then come back to the campground with my family in the RV.”
Former Gov. Thomas Salmon is among those who doubt Vermont will ever break its ties with Washington, D.C.
“Do I think Vermont has a realistic chance of seceding in the near-term, midterm or long-term future? No, I don’t,” said Salmon, who served in the 1970s. “We did our time as an independent Republic, from 1777 to 1791. I think one time as an independent republic is enough.”