Jason Gibbs; Charles Merriman for Secretary of State nominations

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, Vermonters will head to the polls to nominate candidates for a variety of public offices, who will then in turn compete in November's general election. The Journal will be making a series of endorsements for those offices in our next issue, the last one that will be published prior to the primary.

We wanted to start off our series of endorsements for one of those statewide offices which is often overlooked, or relegated to a secondary tier. That's been due in part to the fact that in recent years, Deb Markowitz, the long-term incumbent who has held down the post of Secretary of State, has cruised to easy victories against token opposition.

But this year Markowitz opted to throw her hat into the crowded Democratic ring for Governor, leaving the Secretary of State office up for grabs. Four candidates, two from each major political party, have joined in what has turned out to be one of the more spirited primary battles, on both sides, to win the right to succeed her.

Of those four, we have narrowed our choices down to two. Among the Republicans, we are happy to endorse Jason Gibbs, the former commissioner of the state's Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. For the Democrats, we're giving our nod to Charles Merriman.

We base our choice of Gibbs on the strong record he has built up since arriving on the state scene in 2002 as Gov. Jim Douglas' press secretary, which was followed by his tenure at the helm of the Forests, Parks and Recreation department. Gibbs displayed strong managerial and budgetary acumen while piloting that department, and this hands-on style of governance is one we firmly believe will be one of the hallmarks of his service at the State Department.

Beyond that, Gibbs was a reliable and effective spokesman for Gov. Douglas while he served as communications director during the governor's first three terms. He could always be counted upon to return phone calls and get out the available information. This approach of accessibility and candor are also characteristics of what we're confident his leadership would be like at the Sate Department should he prevail in the general election.

While we're less familiar with both of the Democratic candidates, we like Charles Merriman's detailed analyses of the state secretary's job that appear on his Web site and his approach to what the office could do, especially with reference to abuses of executive session in connection with the state's open meeting law. While we don't think this is a crisis in Vermont, we like the idea of someone who takes that provision seriously and will serve as a watchdog over the occasional attempts to skirt the letter and spirit of the laws here.

A race between Jason Gibbs and Charles Merriman will be a spirited and issues-driven one that will serve the voters of Vermont well, and elevate the profile of this important post that is too often of interest mostly to town clerks, journalists, and those in need of a state permit.


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