Liam Madden on his win in the Republican primary for U.S. House
For the first time in 16 years, Vermont will send a new face to the U.S. House this November. The state's current House member, Rep. Peter Welch, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is retiring after 48 years in office.
Liam Madden, a U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran who works in the renewable energy sector, and who identifies as an independent, beat out the other candidates in Tuesday's three-way Republican primary by about 10% of the vote. He will face off against Becca Balint, a progressive Democrat who was the first woman to serve as Vermont's Senate president pro tem.
Vermont Public's Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Liam Madden. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mikaela Lefrak: Liam, I think it's safe to say that many Vermonters didn't see you coming. You started your campaign earlier this year as an independent, and you filed, quite literally, at the last minute with the secretary of state's office to run as a Republican. And here you are the winner of the Republican primary. So, what did you see and hear from voters during your campaign that really fueled you through this race?
Liam Madden: I felt that there was a deep hunger in most of the Vermonters I spoke with to have a shift away from the two-party system that we see as pretty dysfunctional and warlike and corrupt.
And if people are talking substantively and authentically about ways we can do better, and we all know we can do better, I think that's a transcendent message between left and right.
Well, you've been quick to point out to voters throughout this campaign that you are not a Republican. You're an independent candidate running in the Republican primary. You've even said in the past, I believe, that you'd consider declining the party's nomination. So just to be abundantly clear, will you be running as a Republican in the general election?
To be abundantly clear — I don't know yet. I would like to run as an independent and decline the party's nomination, but I've learned in the process of this campaign that the Republican Party has the right to fill open seats if I were to leave an open nomination, and that would make a three-way race, which defeats the point of me winning that primary.
So, it's still an open conversation with the leadership of the Republican Party, what they will do. If they are going to replace the spot I would leave open, then I'm absolutely going to keep the Republican “R” behind my name. And it doesn't have cooties. I can win with it. I can win without it. I just don't want to run in a three-person race.
You’ll be facing Becca Balint in the general election. And in a statement you released yesterday, you said, “Becca Balint would be making an enormous mistake to think that the same message that wins Democratic primaries is the same message the very independent-minded Vermont general election voter will want to hear.” Liam, what can you offer those independent-minded Vermonters that Balint cannot?
I think Becca Balint is a really smart person with a genuine interest in helping other people, but I think she puts a kind face on a really broken system. And I think, at the end of the day, she is bound to a party agenda, and she's honestly on the extreme ideological end of that party agenda.
And that's something I can offer. I can offer a clear alternative to that — someone who looks at both sides of issues carefully and is willing to see value in solving problems from multiple perspectives.
Last night, another one of the big winners was Gerald Malloy, who won the Republican primary for Vermont's U.S. Senate seat. And in that race he beat out the more moderate candidate, Christina Nolan, who many people were expecting to win that race handily. And Malloy over the past couple months has positioned himself as a conservative. He doesn't support any new gun control measures, for example. He would support a full federal abortion ban. What message can you draw from the fact that Republican voters in Vermont elected Malloy and you yesterday?
Yeah, it's been a head scratcher, isn't it? I was speaking with Paul Dame, the head of the Republican Party here in Vermont, and that was a bit of a head scratcher for him too.
So, I don't really know what to make of that. I think that there's people — people vote for the person and not necessarily every single policy position being what they want. They want to know that the person that they're sending the office is someone who's authentic and honest and even when they disagree, will come from an honest place in that. So, I think maybe that's a common bond.
My number one priority is a government that works and some pretty profound renewals to the way we do politics.Liam Madden, winner of the Republican primary for U.S. House
Another thing to just touch on the previous question about Becca Balint — Becca Balint needs to not only appeal to independents, and moderates and Republicans, which I feel like I have a stronger appeal to, but she also needs to firm up a base of people on the traditional liberal left who are extremely skeptical of war and are very pro-environment and very pro-free speech.
And these are all issues that I think I have a stronger record than her on. So, she can't really rely on just the blind voting of left-leaning Vermonters because I think even in her base, I have a strong appeal.
So, you're saying that you appeal more both to kind of traditional conservative Republicans and liberals?
Yes, and that's going to be a challenge for her.
Now, Vermonters might not know all the different facets of your background. You're a veteran and an activist and somebody who works in the renewable energy sector. So briefly, what would you say to voters about this multifaceted background and your priorities if they send you to Washington?
My number one priority is a government that works and some pretty profound renewals to the way we do politics. I'm talking about term limits, and election finance reform, which are kind of the basics, but also really a renaissance in civic life and problem solving and engagement. And I have a whole list of ways we can tackle that problem on my website, rebirthdemocracy.com.
But that is absolutely my highest priority — we will not solve any of the problems we care about, and the world that we love will slip between our fingers, if we don't get much better at working together, and that is my highest priority.
The other issue is energy and how the energy affects the economy. As you said, I'm a renewable energy professional. I won MIT's Solve award for business models that innovate on the sustainability realm. And that’s something I prioritize in my working life. It's been one of the themes the core values of my life is protecting this planet and having it being through an economy that that actually meets everybody's needs.
Liam, before I let you go, can you tell me a little bit about how you celebrated your win last night?
Pretty low key. It was at a community pizza night. Happens every Tuesday here in my neck of the woods. And I was with my family, and we were just checking the polls like everybody else, and I drank a pear Woodchuck cider. And was just totally thrilled and honored to be given this really sacred responsibility.