Vermont’s former financial regulation commissioner makes run for state treasurer, prompting speculation about future gubernatorial bid
Mike Pieciak is a name that many Vermonters came to know pretty well during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. As commissioner of Vermont's Department of Financial Regulation, he oversaw the state's banking and insurance industries.
But he is perhaps better known for his regular appearances at Gov. Phil Scott's media briefings to provide updates on the state's COVID modeling.
And now Pieciak is making the run to be the state's next treasurer. He'll face Republican candidate H. Brooke Paige in the November general election.
Pieciak has never run for public office before. He was appointed to his position as financial commissioner, and his run for treasurer is sparking some speculation in Vermont's political community. Is the Democratic Party positioning Pieciak for a potential gubernatorial bid in the future? And he would become Vermont's first openly gay governor if he did make such a run successfully.
Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with VTDigger political reporter, Lola Duffort, who has been writing about this recently. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: First of all, what are people saying to you about Mike Pieciak and his future in the Democratic Party? What's the general buzz here?
Lola Duffort: I think the general buzz is that he would probably, likely make a good candidate for higher office. I think a lot of people are thinking specifically about the governor's office. But I can say I wouldn't be entirely surprised if I saw him run for something else as well. I think people are thinking about the governor's office because he fits the profile of a lot of successful gubernatorial candidates in the past. But that's what I'm hearing a lot of — people are excited about him.
Let's talk about his campaigning, his fundraising efforts. He has pledged to visit every town and city in the state in a tour that will conclude in the town of Victory. He's also raised a significant amount of money from some well-known Democratic names. What do you find so interesting about his approach to this campaign for treasurer?
It's interesting just how vigorous it is. And also, the insiders, the power-players that have kind of coalesced around him, and that seem to be very excited about him and donating rather large amounts. He has raised more money than basically any other candidate running for a lot of other offices, including governor so far.
And is that the reason you think that there is all this speculation then about maybe he is actually using this, I don't want to say as a stepping stone, but perhaps seeking higher office, because he really doesn't have to raise that much money or run such an aggressive campaign, given the fact that, you know, this is a very blue state. This is Vermont, and H. Brooke Paige has mostly run unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for these kinds of offices before.
I think it's a little bit of a chicken-and-the-egg thing. I don't know if he did so well and so people started thinking like, "Oh, actually, he might be positioned well to run for something else." Or if there was a hope from the start. That's kind of hard to suss out. But I think, at this point, it is obvious that he is kind of well-positioned, and that he has attracted a lot of support and excitement, particularly within Democratic circles.
"I think, at this point, it is obvious that he is kind of well-positioned, and that he has attracted a lot of support and excitement, particularly within Democratic circles."Lola Duffort, political reporter for VTDigger
And he's not really new to campaigning — I understand that he had a role in the former Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell 2012 primary campaign. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah, that was a really kind of interesting part for me, because I think a lot of people know and think of Mike Pieciak as this very smart, kind of wonky, jack-of-all trades, who can do basically any sort of difficult technical job in state government. But he has been in the thick of a really, really difficult and contentious campaign, and he won. And what I thought was interesting about his role in the campaign is that not only is he credited kind of on all sides with basically winning that campaign for Bill Sorrell, but that he doesn't seem to have really alienated anyone. He's been able to serve two very different administrations and been tasked with some kind of difficult, sometimes politically contentious projects, and has been able to do that without making any enemies and remaining generally really well-liked.
And to be clear, Mike Pieciak has not said anything about his political future beyond this run for state treasurer in November.
Yes, yes. You know, I asked him, "Hey, are you thinking about running for anything else, including for governor?" And he said, "I'm 100% focused on this race, and I don't rule anything out, but I'm focused on the here and now."
And finally, Lola, I mentioned in the lede, that if he were to run for governor — again, this is speculation here — but if he were to run, if he did win the governorship in Vermont, he would be the state's first openly gay governor. Does he speak much about being an openly gay candidate? Or is that something that he doesn't emphasize much, but it's known?
I guess I don't know how absolutely central a part of his political message it is. But I think he's aware that this is increasingly important for a large part of the electorate, to have different types of people who run for office and who are new who represent constituencies that have historically not been represented.