UVM English Professor Philip Baruth runs for Senate seat

Philip Baruth is a UVM English professor, the author of multiple novels and one of the most well-known political bloggers in Vermont.But come next November, he is looking to pick up a new job — in Vermont’s state legislature.Baruth is running for one of six seats to represent Chittenden County in the state Senate. If elected to a two-year term in 2010, Baruth would enter a political arena that he has been writing about for more than a decade. He has been writing on his blog, Vermontdailybriefing.com, since 2005, and in that time he has won three reader’s choice awards from Seven Days for the best Vermont political blog. Despite that success — and partly as a result of it — Baruth announced his candidacy for state Senate earlier this year.  The Cynic sat down with him to talk about his campaign.     VC: How does an English professor become interested in local politics? PB: I’ve always been interested in politics, going back to when I was a kid.  But going back to Vermont in 1993 I really just got into the deepest grassroots level in politics, so I began working with candidates who were running for House and Senate.I really began because Vermont was new to me at that point, I really began to try to learn the place through grassroots organizing.     VC: You are a pretty renowned, and pretty widely read political commentator, at least locally; was it always your intention to get involved with a campaign of your own?PB: I don’t know if I’d say its an intention. I mean, I think it’s all part of one piece.  You know, I think people take the word activist and think about it, and images come to mind of people marching in the streets and burning effigies and really angry people who are out of touch with mainstream, normal life in Vermont.  And I just don’t see it that way at all.I think activists are people who get involved on the school board, they’re the people that make the city council run, they’re the people who, when there is a pothole in their part of town, they pick up the phone and they get something done about it and that makes them activists. Even if they do it over a period of time, I think they merit the title of activist. So in that sense I’ve been an activist for a long time. On certain issues, I got more active as time went on.  So when George Bush got elected president, that was a huge watershed moment for me, and I started a political blog because I began to feel as though I needed some outlet every single day.And so I named it the Vermont Daily Briefing on purpose, because I wanted it to be a daily counterpoint to what was coming out of Washington. And so that kind of activation that a lot of people experienced between the years 2000 and 2004, that is the basis of it. But then once I put that political blog up, an amazing thing happened: it immediately selected for me the technology, selected for me a kind of readership and activist base around the state, but mostly in Chittenden County. And those people all have issues that they were concerned about, some issues the same as mine, and others that I had never really thought that much about. VC: Beyond that, briefly, what are the pillars of your campaign?PB: I start from what I think of as a symptom, and it is a statistic, but it is a symptom of a larger problem.  The statistic is that, since 1990, Vermont has lost a huge number of its 20- to 34-year-olds.  We’ve lost one-in-five, 20 percent, since that time.  Now, you can’t run a state on that basis, if you choose to go to Boston, or your choose to go to New York or California, and all of your friends and people in your peer group do the same, we’re up shit’s creek. Now, excuse my French, but you can’t run a viable state that way, you can’t pay for services, you can’t innovate, you can’t grow; you become essentially the Japanese economy. And there is no way I want to allow that.So I see that again as a symptom of a larger problem, and the reason why people like you leave is because you finish UVM and you want a good job.  What’s a good job? A good job is something that is challenging, satisfying and lucrative.  And those are in growth fields now, hi-tech chief among them.  Even if it is not a hi-tech field, chances are, if its a good job, that it will use certain kinds of hi-tech as infrastructure and it won’t locate in a state without that.  VC: Now bringing jobs into the state will be an important part of a lot of campaigns that will be going on this next year.  Now, there were 14 candidates who ran for the six seatsChittenden County has in the State Senate last year; how are you going to distinguish yourself from them?PB: I think one of the things that I’m focusing on is the pace of change.  I think if you ask any Democrat they will say we need to wire up the state, or wire up the county.  I think if you ask any Democrat they’re going to say we need healthcare, they’re going to say we need to clean up Lake Champlain.  But if you look at the pace of those problems and the solutions to fix them, the pace is horribly slow. And part of that has to do with fact that, honestly, we’ve had a Republican governor who has backstopped companies like Entergy or FairPoint, instead of looking out for Vermonters, instead of looking out for people who need, again, they need that high-speed broadband in Orleans County, or even in parts of Chittenden County, in order to grow and innovate and to create jobs for people in your age group. What Douglas has done instead is say that we’re going to let corporations and their bottom-line accounting determine where and when and how fast we’ll expand broadband, for instance.  So I think we need to be a little more concerned and need to step up the pace, a great bit, not just a little bit. VC: I checked out that and some other posts on the blog; it seems like you are fairly outspoken there.  Do you make any differentiation between political commentator Philip Baruth and political candidate Philip Baruth?PB: No.  I think the only thing I would say is that Vermont Daily Briefing, which I’ve run for almost five years, that is a site that has a certain amount of humor to it, a certain amount of satire, a lot of bite, a lot of edge. And I think its found a niche because people like that kind of plain speaking. On the other hand, I would say that candidates in Vermont who are very plainspoken people, like Bernie Sanders, do very well.  Or Howard Dean.  If you ever hear Bernie Sanders, he will say things like, “This bill passing through the US Senate is an obscenity.”And that word settles on the audience like a little rhetorical bomb, but it is not a bomb that does something negative, but it ignites people to get behind him. So, at its best, I think my campaign will be as outspoken as my political blog, I will try to avoid doing a lot of things with humor and sarcasm because, even in e-mail, there is too much chance for misunderstanding.  But I hope to never be less than plainspoken when it comes to the things I’m really behind.  VC: Do you find yourself being outspoken about your political beliefs in class?PB: No, never.  And I think I can say never. I might be forgetting sometime. I have a really powerfully held belief that in the classroom I’m an honest broker for ideas. VC: How do you see your role at the University changing if you were to be elected? PB: I would clearly do a little less than I do now, and I’ve worked out ways to make that happen.  The legislature was never meant to be a permanent place, its a citizen legislature that was designed for farmers who had a full-time farm, and then went to Montpelier, did their thing, and then went home and tended to their crops and the rest of their responsibilities.So my way of looking at it is that farmers have it tough, and if they can find the time to work it in with their job, I can too.  VC: Wrapping it up, the question on everyone’s mind: With Douglas out of the picture, isthere any chance that Philip Baruth for State Senate might become Philip Baruth for Governor? PB: Only if I was an extremely stupid man.  And I like to think I am not.  That was big big news, and it just spins the wheel in all sorts of incredible ways.  One of the things I think it certainly does, regardless of who steps into the race for Governor, the chances that we will have somebody that will continue to protect Entergy from their financial responsibilities — those chances have gone way down. It is looking much better that we will have somebody in place who will be willing to hold their feet to the fire.  Same thing with healthcare, same thing with digital access, same thing with clean-up for Lake Champlain.  Those are things that I think the Douglas administration slow-walked, whether it was deliberate or not, I couldn’t say, but they were almost deliberately kept at a moderate pace rather than something that would be effective.  So the chances for forward movement on all of those things just went dramatically up.