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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

An Unknown, 28-Year-Old Lt. Gov. Candidate Has Deep Pockets

Peter Hirschfeld
/
VPR
Brandon Riker, 28, of Marlboro, has put up nearly $60,000 of his own money so far to fund his Democratic campaign for lieutenant governor.

He’s 28 years old and he’s never served in public office. But Brandon Riker wants to be the next lieutenant governor of the state of Vermont. And the young Democrat is ready to spend time, and lots of his own money, to make it happen.

On a recent Tuesday evening, Lamoille County Democrats gathered in the parking lot of the Hyde Park Town Hall. When it became apparent no one had a means to unlock the front door, it was decided the meeting would be held instead at a nearby pizza joint.  

Brandon Riker had already driven two and half hours to meet with the group, so he was more than happy to make the extra 10-minute drive to downtown Johnson. Once everyone was seated, and the pizza ordered, Riker launched into his pitch.

“My name is Brandon Riker, I’m from Marlboro. I went to Twin Valley high School and I’m running for lieutenant governor,” Riker said.

Formal introductions like this are going to commonplace over the next 16 months for Riker, because very few people know who he is. The Marlboro resident turned heads in political circles last month when his campaign-finance disclosure revealed a $100,000 war chest – an unheard of sum for a down-ticket race this far in advance of an election.

About $60,000 of it came from Riker’s own bank account; most of the rest of it was from family members. “I know it’s early and people are like, 'Wow, we just finished an election, why are you doing this?'” Riker said.

Riker says the executive branch needs a leader with the vision to reshape the Vermont economy. And he says Vermont sorely lacks one right now.

Brandon Riker turned heads in political circles last month when his campaign-finance disclosure revealed a $100,000 war chest - an unheard of sum for a down-ticket race this far in advance of an election.

“I think there’s been quite a bit of disappointment, from health care to infrastructure, certainly a little bit on education, that we haven’t gotten done what we need to do to set the state up,” Riker said. “There is a big disconnect between the governor is saying and what is actually happening Vermont, and it’s time for a new direction.”

Riker has cast himself as an anti-establishment outsider ready to take government by the horns and make it work for middle-class Vermonters. He’s made broadband Internet access the centerpiece of his nascent campaign platform. And he says the Internet speeds available in most towns can’t sustain the small entrepreneurial businesses he envisions as the foundation of a 21st-century Vermont economy.

“So people can feel like they can have a home business in their home town and not only have to live in Chittenden County, but they can live anywhere in this state and have a career and have a successful business,” Riker said.

Riker says tax incentives to broadband providers will spur the infrastructure growth needed to improve internet speeds.

He also wants to ramp up investments in education, including full-time kindergarten for all children, and more money for state colleges.

“We have to increase the funding not just for the students, but also to make sure there’s job training,” Riker said.

Riker has cast himself as an anti-establishment outsider ready to take government by the horns and make it work for middle-class Vermonters.

Riker, a self-professed progressive, isn’t taking a tax-the-rich approach to generating the revenue needed to institute his plans, however. 

“The problem with revenue increases is it’s only a short term solution. You can only raise taxes so high,” Riker says. “We have to expand the tax base.”

Riker’s says it’s what he’d with the money netted from expanded tax base that make him a progressive.

“I view that the reason you need tax revenue is to support progressive policies,” such as full-time universal pre-K and increased state aid to colleges, Riker said. 

Asked if a 28-year-old with no experience in government is ready to be a heartbeat away from the governorship, Riker doesn’t skip a beat. 

“Yes. It’s not about years in government that make you prepared for a position. It’s about, can you identify the issues that real people are facing, will you do the work to come and meet with them, and then can you help guide to a solution that will help alleviate some of the issues they’re having,” Riker said.

"It's not about years in government that make you prepared for a position. It's about, can you identify the issues that real people are facing, will you do the work to come and meet with them, and then can you help guide to a solution that will help alleviate some of the issues they're having?" - Brandon Riker

Riker works for his family’s financial services firm, called Teucrium Trading, and says his salary and shrewd money handling have given him the means to fund his campaign. While he hasn’t run for office himself before, he worked for the Obama presidential campaign in New Hampshire in 2007, and worked on Democratic U.S. Senate campaigns in Montana and Alaska.

“And that’s where my love of grassroots campaigning started,” he said. 

Riker, who has a Master of Science from the London School of Economics, said he’s fortunate to be in the financial situation he’s in. But he says his campaign will be about grassroots appeal and retail politicking, not the big-money expenditures generally associated with self-funded campaigns.

“What the filing showed was that I already have 75 percent of my donors under $100, and I’ve never held office before,” said Riker.

Donations of $100 or less account for less than 3 percent of Riker’s overall fundraising. 

Riker told the Lamoille County Democrats that he’s ready to make the long drive to their region again, whenever they’ll have him.

“If you want to have five, six friends over, I’ll come and speak to them,” Riker said.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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