Top adminsitration official moonlights as campaign surrogate

As part of its annual convention last evening, the union representing Vermont’s nurses invited candidates for political office to share with its membership their “health care priorities.”

The Vermont State Nurses Association drew several statewide hopefuls to the event, including Randy Brock, Cassandra Gekas, Bill Sorrell, Jack McMullen and… Steve Kimbell?

Kimbell isn’t running for office, of course. But the commissioner of financial regulation has apparently assumed a role as political surrogate for Peter Shumlin.

“It was after normal working hours and the campaign asked me if I was available and I said yes,” Kimbell said today.

Kimbell said he checked with state lawyers first to make sure it’s okay for him to stand in at candidate forums on behalf of his boss.

“Apparently, if you’re a state employee, what you do on your private time in the political world is your own business,” Kimbell said.

Kimbell, former principal at the Statehouse lobbying firm KSE Partners (it was Kimbell, Sherman Ellis until he left), is no stranger to politics. And while he has since made the leap to government service, Kimbell says navigating politics remains a key component of his role as one of the administration’s point-people on health care reform.

“This is the true blending of policy and politics,” Kimbell said of his role now. “That’s always been true of health care, of major education finance. I don’t think of one world or the other as bad or good. They’re just different worlds, but they overlap.”

Since assuming his cabinet-level position in the Shumlin administration, Kimbell said he’s seen political support for single-payer strengthen, in spite of efforts by opponents like Randy Brock.

“I know everybody thought that health care reform was going to be a big issue in this campaign,” Kimbell said. “But I don’t think there was much traction be had, particularly when the U.S. Supreme Court let the air out of the hopes of folks who thought they would strike down the law. What I’m sensing is people are now in the frame of mind of, let’s quit arguing about it, let’s do it.”

After helping shepherd the single-payer law through the Legislature in 2011, will Kimbell be staying on for another two-year tour with Shumlin, assuming the incumbent gets the nod from voters Nov. 6?

“That’s not my call,” Kimbell said. “The governor has been really good about telling people to hang in there and after the election we’ll talk about who will be where.”

But, if he’s asked to, will Kimbell stay on?

“I will certainly think about it long and hard,” Kimbell said. “Then I’ll sit down with my family, and talk about what makes sense.”