Voted down but not out. Might WRJ's Keith Stern mount a write-in campaign for Vermont governor?


Submitted 3 months ago
Created by
Jeff Good

After losing a primary election, many candidates opt to do the politic thing and endorse the opponent they vilified during the campaign. Not Keith Stern

After losing to incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott in Tuesday's Vermont primary, Stern took a break from working at his family's White River Junction produce market to answer a few questions. First on the list: Will he endorse Scott? 

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Nope. 

How about Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist, who became the first transgender woman in America to win a major party nomination for high office? 

Nope. 

So is it simply back to selling tomatoes, watermelons, peaches and the like? Not exactly. 

"We've got a big splash coming up," Stern said, fiddling with some mangos arranged in a box. Does that mean he might mount a write-in campaign? 

"I will call you and let you know when we make a formal announcement," said Stern, a 63-year-old Springfield native who, with his wife Judy, has run Stern's Quality Produce downtown for 33 years. "I can say this: there are a lot of people who say they will write me in." 

Scott won the primary handily, taking two-thirds of the votes cast statewide. Stern fared somewhat better in the Windsor 4-2 district, which includes White River, Wilder, Hartford Village and parts of Quechee and West Harford, earning 70 votes to Scott's 156. 

Turnout was light in Hartford and around the state. Of the 6,800 voters registered in Windsor 4-2, only about 1,260 voters cast ballots — 18.5 percent. 

This represents Stern's "first and last" run at Vermont's top job. He said he was prompted to run by the Republican's support of increasing gun control, legalizing recreational marijuana, requiring individuals to obtain health insurance and publicly slamming President Trump, among other issues. 

"Absolutely not," he says when I ask about endorsing Scott. "I couldn't support a dishonest and disingenuous person who would violate our constitution." 

And Hallquist, the former utility CEO who transitioned a few years back? He chuckles, "I could never endorse a Democrat," he says, adding that his opposition has nothing to do with her gender identity. 

Stern said he focused his campaign in Republican-rich counties like Rutland, Franklin, Orange and Caledonia. 

"In hindsight, we probably should have put a little more time in here" in Windsor County, he allowed. 

He defends his refusal to release personal financial information, a stance that cost him support from advocates of financial transparency. He said he was simply respecting his wife's wishes about making family finances public. "I said 'I won't do it if you don't want it. "

People in and around White River know him and his family as being purveyors of affordable, high-quality produce, he says. "We live very modestly, more so than if we were to charge the prices you would pay at the supermarket."

People might be surprised to hear that he's neither a hunter nor a gun owner; he says his opposition to Scott's gun control measures is rooted strictly in his respect for the constitutional right to bear arms. He does, however, keep a pellet gun at the ready in his produce operation to dispatch squirrels and other varmints who might stop by for a snack. 

While Stern and I are talking in the back office, Judy Stern comes in and points to the black pellet gun propped on a box. "If you see anything," she tells him. "Just point it and shoot." 

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