MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch says he plans to make a decision soon on whether he will give up his seat in Congress to run for governor.
Welch, now in his fifth term as Vermont’s sole congressman, emerged as a potential candidate following Gov. Peter Shumlin’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek a fourth term in 2016. Welch, a former state senator, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990.
Welch, 68, said in an interview Thursday he continues to enjoy serving in Congress. Despite the Democrats’ minority status, Welch said he has recently managed to push legislation into law, including energy efficiency requirements and funding for the National Institute of Health.
“I have a great job and I love doing this job. I find myself part of a group down here that’s trying to make this institution work and I’ve been able to establish good relationships with my Republican colleagues that benefit Vermont,” he said. “I could be very happy continuing to serve Vermonters right here.”
But, “circumstances change,” Welch said. With Shumlin vowing to bow out of politics, a return to Vermont and another bid for governor could be in the best interests of Vermonters and himself, according to Welch.
“It causes me and others to stop and pause and ask the question of what is best for Vermont,” he said. “You deal with the circumstances that exist and the big opportunity in public service is that you get to serve, it’s not that you dictate the terms of how you get to serve.”
Serving as a member of Congress is “a totally different job and totally different situation” than serving as governor, Welch said. But the challenges in Washington, D.C., and Montpelier are similar — “trying to build an economy that works for middle-income families,” he said.
“It’s really hard on middle-income families to make ends meet,” Welch said. “My focus, in all of my political career … has been a focus on trying to make sure the middle income families have a shot. The jobs are different but the objective and the orientation I’ve had has been the same, and that’s been true from the state Senate to Congress.”
A return to living full-time in Vermont could perhaps sway the Windsor County resident to leave Washington and launch a bid for governor.
“Of course I would like to be back in Vermont. Every week when I get home I get off the plane and it’s just relief. My emotional life is in Vermont. I work in Washington, I love my work, but my heart is in Vermont,” he said.
Welch said he has been “fully absorbed” in his current job and had not thought about a gubernatorial bid until Shumlin’s Monday announcement.
“When you step back, you realize that this decision by Gov. Shumlin was stunning and surprising,” he said. “It sets off an anxiety among politicians about who will run for what.”
Most pundits believe that the plethora of Democrats considering a bid, including House Speaker Shap Smith and former state senator and unsuccessful candidate for governor, Matt Dunne, will await Welch’s decision before making theirs. Should Welch decide to run for governor there could be a shift in focus that leads to a mad dash for the congressional seat.
Welch said his decision will come “sooner rather than later.”
“It’s really a personal process of giving consideration to where I can best serve,” he said. “Obviously, talking to my family is a big part of the process.”
Welch said he expects other candidates to determine their own futures regardless of what he does. “We’ve got a lot of good Democrats. We’ll have no shortage of democrats for any office that is open,” he said.