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Shap Smith Drops Out Of Race For Governor, Citing Family Issues

Peter Hirschfeld
Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith held a press conference on the steps of Statehouse Tuesday to announce that he's suspending his campaign for governor.

House Speaker Shap Smith has withdrawn from the governor’s race, saying his family needs him after his wife Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Smith – one of three candidates for the Democratic nomination – made the announcement Tuesday from the steps of the Statehouse. Smith says he will serve out his remaining term as speaker through the 2016 legislative session.

Smith said he would not seek re-election to the House.

Update 4:30 p.m.

Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith declared his candidacy for governor back in August. Shortly after the announcement, however, his wife, Melissa, was diagnosed with breast cancer. And on Tuesday, the Morristown representative said he’s withdrawing from the race to take care of his family.

A press release from Smith’s campaign manager arrived in reporters’ inboxes at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday. It said the four-term Democratic speaker would be making an "important campaign announcement" on the steps of the Statehouse that afternoon. 

In the intervening hours, it became readily apparent what Smith was going to announce. And when he strode to the podium, the mood among lobbyists, advocates and fellow lawmakers who’d gathered to witness the event was somber.

“Good afternoon. I’ve asked you here today to share some difficult news,” Smith said. “As of today, I am suspending my campaign for governor.”

Smith briefed reporters privately earlier this fall to inform them of his wife’s diagnosis. The four-term speaker said then that doctors were hopeful that a surgical intervention would cure the cancer.

“But the doctors have told us that more treatment is necessary to ensure a full recovery,” Smith said he learned last week. “As so many Vermonters know, a diagnosis like this reshapes one’s priorities. This is a time when Melissa and the kids need me most.”

Smith and his wife have a 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

“Frankly, Melissa did not want me to suspend the campaign,” Smith said.

"A diagnosis like this reshapes one's priorities. This is a time when Melissa and the kids need me most." - House Speaker Shap Smith

But Smith says the division of labor they’d previously envisioned is no longer realistic, and he says his responsibilities as a husband and father preclude a gubernatorial campaign.

“We made some decisions about who was going to shoulder the burden on the home front, and who was going to get the kids to practice and who was going to get the kids to the game and their activities on their weekends,” Smith said. “And Melissa was going to do that during the campaign, and that was what we had agreed to. And, you know, she can’t.”

Smith said it’s exceedingly unlikely that he will reenter the race.

The announcement elicited a public outpouring of support from politicians, including the two Democrats Smith had until today been facing in the party’s gubernatorial primary. Former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter says her thoughts are with Smith and his family.

“Shap is a good friend and I really admire him, and it’s not surprising to me that he’s putting his family ahead of everything else,” Minter said.

Former Windsor Sen. Matt Dunne said he’d called Smith to offer whatever support he could provide.

“I have always had deep admiration for Shap, and it only got deeper today,” Dunne said.

While he’s dropping out of the race for governor, Smith says he plans to finish out his fourth term as speaker of the House. Smith says he will not run for reelection in 2016.

“The body is full of people who step up to the plate. I don’t have a transition plan and I don’t think that will be necessary,” Smith said.

House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas was on hand for Smith’s announcement, and said that lawmakers stand ready to support Smith when the session begins in January.

“The best that we will be able to do for [Smith and his family] right now is buckle down and make sure that we get prepared for a legislative session and prepared to take on some of the burden, so that he will have time come January to be home on weekends, and not be making a ton of phone calls to move legislation,” Copeland-Hanzas said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement that he’s confident the Smith family “will get through this with the help of their loved ones as well as all of us in their extended Vermont family.”

Senate President John Campbell said his thoughts are with Smith.

“I know that the Speaker did not make this decision lightly and in all the years I have known Shap, he has always been a tremendous legislator, friend, and most importantly, husband and father,” Campbell said.

David Sunderland, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said in a release that members of the GOP are saddened to hear of the reasons for Smith’s withdrawal.

“While we disagree on political issues, we admire the love and dedication to family that is the basis for his decision,” Sunderland said. “We will keep Speaker Smith, his wife Melissa and their young children in our thoughts and prayers and we wish them a full and speedy recovery.”

Update 2:30 p.m. This story has been updated to include reactions from Gov. Peter Shumlin, Matt Dunne and Sue Minter.

Smith’s announcement came nearly three months to the day after he became the first to announce his candidacy for governor at an event in his hometown of Morrisville.

The 49-year-old lawyer, who has served as House speaker since 2009, was expected to face former lawmaker Matt Dunne and former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter in the primary. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman are seeking the Republican nomination.

Both Minter and Dunne shared reactions to the announcement on Twitter:

“Shap is a dear friend," said Gov. Peter Shumlin in a statement. "While I know this was a difficult decision for him to make in light of the passion he has for serving his state, I also know that as a husband and father this was not at all a difficult decision. I have an incredible amount of respect for Shap as a leader and person, for all he has done for his state, and for all he will continue to do on behalf of Vermonters.”

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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