Candidate Salmon is running, but not campaigning

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(Host) One Vermont politician is making no appearances and giving no speeches – and it’s not by choice.

State Auditor Tom Salmon isn’t permitted to have anything to do with his own reelection campaign.

That’s because he’s serving in the Naval reserves in Iraq.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) With candidate Tom Salmon thousands of miles away with a construction battalion of Navy Seabees, his campaign manager Jake Perkinson looks pretty relaxed.

Wearing work boots and jeans, Perkinson is sitting in a downtown Burlington coffee shop.

(Perkinson) "Probably every other campaign at Democratic headquarters is envious of my position."

(Zind) With no candidate to answer to, Perkinson is on his own: handing out campaign literature and running radio ads for Salmon.

But the real heavy lifting involves carrying around a thick notebook containing Department of Defense directive thirteen forty four point ten.

(Perkinson) "That’s, I guess, three inches of paper, figuring out whether he could run and what he had to do."

(Zind) The directive lays out the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for a candidate like Salmon, who was called up for active duty last summer. It’s pretty much a list of ‘don’ts’.

(Shumake) "No behind-the-scenes activities. Really ‘nothing’ means ‘nothing’. He just can’t do anything."

(Zind) Army Colonel Shawn Shumake (Shoe-make) is a director of legal policy with the Department of Defense.

Shumake says that unlike full time members of the military, reservists can run for office with the Pentagon’s permission.

But the rules for active duty reservists like the 45 year old Salmon essentially bar them from any involvement in their own campaigns.

(Shumake) "I know that’s sort of like fighting the battle with one hand tied behind your back, but that’s sort of the trade-off, to be allowed to be the candidate while you are on active duty."

(Zind) Perkinson, Salmon’s campaign manager, says he’s careful to abide by the military’s directive. Salmon’s campaign website has been shut down. The campaign literature refers to him in the third person. And Perkinson doesn’t correspond with the candidate, who’s a personal friend, just to avoid the appearance that they’re talking about the campaign.

Perkinson says he understands the need for the military to be apolitical, but he doesn’t think the rules recognize that politicians who are active reservists have to make a living as civilians.

(Perkinson) "If you’re a doctor or any other profession, you can go back to that profession when you’re done. If you’re a politician who has to get reelected it certainly hamstrings your ability to continue in your chosen profession."

(Zind) It’s almost certain Salmon will be reelected. State Republican chairman Rob Roper tried to recruit a party candidate, including former auditor Randy Brock. Brock declined and decided to run for a state senate seat. Roper says none of the prospects relished the idea of criticizing an opponent who’s serving in Iraq.

(Roper) "You’re open to the charge that you’re just bad-mouthing somebody who’s off serving his country."

(Zind) Salmon is listed as the Republican candidate because he was written in by voters in the primary, but Roper says he’s disappointed there’s no bona fide Republican in the race. He says voters should be able to decide whether it’s in Vermont’s interest to have an auditor who’s away from his job for nine months.

The Liberty Union and Progressive Party candidates have also kept low profiles.

Despite the lack of a candidate who can speak for himself, there is a Salmon for Auditor campaign. Salmon’s father, the former Vermont governor sometimes stands in for him at events. So does his wife Leslie.

But for Leslie Salmon any election night celebration of her husband’s victory will be tempered by the fact that he’s is on active duty until next spring – and a feeling she shares with thousands of people with loved ones in Iraq.

(Salmon) "It’s like this black cloud over you. Every minute you’re thinking, gee I hope the phone doesn’t ring. It’s always there."

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot


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