The Life of Brian
Brian Dubie wants to be Vermont's top gun, but can his conservative values withstand enemy fire?
Brian Dubie got a hero’s welcome at a recent campaign rally in his hometown of Essex Junction. Hundreds of supporters, many dressed in forest-green “Dubie Co-Pilot” T-shirts, had crammed into a small building at the Champlain Valley Expo on a rainy Saturday in June to help the Republican lieutenant governor launch his campaign for governor.
The cheering began the moment Dubie stepped inside. Then the screaming and whistling gave way to a thunderous chant.
“BRI-AN! BRI-AN! BRI-AN!” Dubie’s supporters yelled in unison.
The crowd parted and down the center walked Dubie, kissing and hugging his fans as he made his way to the balloon-festooned stage.
Dubie thanked the audience before veering into a tale that combined his years as a fighter pilot and his tenure as the Vermont government’s second in command.
Dubie was in Cuba on a trade mission, at an official dinner, he said, when Cuba’s vice president asked him why he had come to the country.
“I said, ‘I’ll tell ya why. In 1996, your country shot down two civilian aircraft in a rescue incident,’” Dubie began, referring to the occasion when two small planes operated by a Cuban American group looking for refugees on rafts were brought down by Cuban MiG fighters.
“I said, ‘I was sitting in a Vermont Guard F-16 at Langley Air Force [base in] Virginia with two live missiles and a live gun, with orders to come shoot those MiGs down,’” Dubie went on. “I said, ‘I sat in my jet for 10 hours on one-minute scramble status.’ And I got right in his face and I said, ‘I didn’t get the chance to come that night.’”
The crowd at the fairgrounds erupted in applause.
Dubie’s years in the Air Force and the Vermont Air National Guard give him cred most politicians would kill for. After September 11, 2001, Dubie personally procured badly needed radios for the rescue workers at Ground Zero. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, he went there as the Air Force official responsible for getting civilian authorities what they needed.
But Dubie doesn’t have the stereotypical, mirror-shades swagger of a fighter pilot; he comes across as a regular guy, passing the politician’s “backyard barbecue test” with flying colors.
“He’s very genuine, very honest,” says Joe Sinagra, who ran most of Dubie’s campaigns for lieutienant governer and now heads the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont. “Brian was an easy person to sell early on because he was just a nice guy.”
Since 2003, Dubie, 51, has served as lieutenant governor, a part-time job that gave him time to network with Vermont’s business community and retain his job as a commercial pilot for American Airlines.
How in sync are Dubie and Gov. Jim Douglas? “The governor has looked to Brian for help on various projects, included him on cabinet meetings, kept him informed,” according to Kevin Dorn, a longtime friend of Dubie’s who serves as Douglas’ powerful secretary of commerce and community development.
This perception has allowed his Democratic opponents to include him in their criticism of the “Dubie-Douglas administration” and its job-creation record. Democratic candidate Matt Dunne has made the line “Brian Dubie, where have you been?” part of his campaign message.
But, in many ways, Dubie has been his own man even though he and Douglas share the same political party. Early on, he took a pro position on wind power; Douglas is against it. Dubie regularly cites Vermont’s poor business ranking — Forbes magazine called it the fourth worst state in the U.S. — to make a case for lower taxes and less government regulation. But it also makes the current administration look bad.
Now more than ever, Dubie is distancing himself from the Douglas camp in small but detectable ways. Last week, during an interview at his campaign headquarters — in a drab, stucco-façade storefront on Route 2 in Williston — Dubie was asked to name three people who would likely serve in his administration. Placing his hands on the computer keyboard in front of him, he replied, “It’s control, alt, delete for the state. It’s like a reboot. My administration would be my administration. It would really be about a new team, new perspective, new energy and a control-alt-delete kind of thing.”
Dubie doesn’t exactly sound like a computer scientist when he speaks, but those who know him warn against underestimating his smarts.
“He’s very intelligent, and that doesn’t necessarily come across in his aw-shucks kind of attitude,” says Dorn. “People trust him. When he sits down and talks to people, they believe what he’s telling them and, in the political world today, trust ... is huge.”
With the Democrats fighting among themselves, Dubie has been able to keep a low public profile and concentrate on raising money — almost $1 million so far — and building a base of grassroots supporters. That’s allowed him to remain vague about his plans for lowering taxes and creating jobs; he says he will unveil a detailed proposal after the August 24 primary election.
It’s also protected him from questions about what could prove to be his biggest liability: his opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Dubie is downplaying his social conservatism in favor of talking about the economy, but when pressed he says he “generally favors” laws restricting abortion.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are doing their best to remind voters where Dubie stands on those hot-button social issues in hopes it will bring down the popular Republican fighter pilot.
Born in 1959, the middle of seven children, Dubie is a fifth-generation Vermonter. His father, Clem, was a colonel in the Vermont National Guard, where he worked full time in human resources. His mother, Janice, worked as an operating-room nurse at what is now Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Dubie’s interest in aviation developed early. His father used to take the family to the airport to watch the Vermont Guard planes taking off and landing. Today, Dubie’s younger brother Michael is the top commander at the Vermont National Guard.
When they were in high school, the “Dubie brothers” spent their free time buying, fixing and selling old cars — 17 in all, Dubie says.
“The first car we bought was a pickup truck,” he says. “We got it for free because someone was going to junk it. It ran when we got it and, when we got done working on it, it didn’t run, and we sold it for $50.”
Dubie graduated from Essex High School in 1977 and enrolled in the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The flight from Vermont to Colorado was his first time aboard an airplane. Midway through his third year, though, he left the academy to return home and join the Vermont Air National Guard — a highly unusual move for a third-year cadet, according to sources familiar with the Air Force Academy.
“There’s been some people that don’t quite understand that, but it’s very consistent with what my father did for us,” Dubie says. “My father was given an opportunity to go for higher income to New York City and said, ‘You know, I got six kids and I don’t think I’m going to do that.’ When you graduate from the academy, which I really wanted to do, it’s, like, a 12-year commitment. So it’s really not just about graduating from the academy, it’s about serving for 12 years after you go to pilot training.”
While he was home from school on breaks, Dubie had started flying with the Vermont Air National Guard and says his commander there offered him a slot flying an F-4 Phantom if he joined.
“I went back to the colonel, Col. Jackson at the Air Force Academy, and I said, ‘I would like to join the Guard, but if it falls through, I’d like to stay at the academy,’” Dubie recalls. “And this colonel said, ‘Well, it sounds to me like you want to have your cake and eat it, too.’”
Eventually, Dubie says, the academy agreed to give him leave, though he never went back. “In retrospect, toughest decision I ever made, best decision I ever made,” Dubie says.
Back in Vermont, Dubie enrolled at the University of Vermont, graduating in 1981 with a BS in mechanical engineering. His first job out of school was at Goodrich Aerospace in Vergennes, where customers included the Israeli military.
Dubie met his wife playing horseshoes on a quasi blind date when he was 24. A mutual friend brought Penny to the Dubie family camp at Porters Point in Colchester. The couple married three years later and had four children: Emily, 22; Jack, 21; Matthew, 20; and Casey, 18.
In 1995, when the older kids were in school, Dubie ran for a seat on the Essex Junction school board, called the Prudential Committee, and won. The next year, he was elected chairman, a leadership post he held until he left the board in 2000 to run for lieutenant governor.
Articles in the Essex Reporter from that time period paint Dubie as both an innovator and a determined cost cutter — even in good economic times. In his first year, he moved to slash $19,000 in funding for English as a second language programs, even though educators said that amount was “not significant” in the budget. In 1997, five well-liked athletic coaches abruptly quit when their stipends were reduced as a cost-cutting measure. The savings were minuscule — a coach would get a raise of $1180 instead of $1200 — but apparently the gesture angered them enough to leave.
Under Dubie’s tenure, the district overhauled its K-8 math curriculum, leading to several years of test scores that were significantly better than the state average for fourth, sixth and eighth graders. Voters approved every school budget passed by the board during Dubie’s chairmanship.
Marla Durham, who served on the Essex Junction school board with Dubie, says he was passionate about education and would use layovers between flights to tour school districts around the country, looking for ideas he could bring home.
“We needed, at the time, an Internet policy, and no school system in Vermont was coming up with one,” Durham recalled. “Brian called me from Arizona one evening and said, ‘I just toured a school district in Arizona and found our Internet policy. We’re going to have to tweak it, but I got it.’ He brought back the policy that we used as our basis.”
It was on the school board that Dubie forged his relationship with Dorn, who was then board vice chair. Dorn says Dubie helped Essex Junction taxpayers understand the implications of Act 60, the education-cost-sharing law passed in 1997. Concerns over Act 60, which wound up being a losing proposition for Essex, played a part in getting the veteran school board chair to seek statewide office.
In 2000, Dubie ran for lieutenant governor and lost to incumbent Democrat Doug Racine, now one of five Democrats running for the open governor’s seat. Two years later, Dubie tried again and won with 42 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Progressive Anthony Pollina and Democrat Peter Shumlin, who is also a candidate for governor this year.
In Montpelier, Dubie took a strong interest in Vermont’s businesses, visiting them whenever he could and emailing reports back to Dorn in the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
“It’s not unusual for me to get three or four of these a week,” Dorn says. “They’d say, ‘I just met with such and such company. They have some permitting issues. Can you give him a call?’ He was very active with us.”
In addition to being the governor’s understudy, the lieutenant governor is the Senate’s tiebreaker. Dubie has only been in that position three times, according to Senate records. He voted “yes” in 2007 to exempt towns from paying state fees associated with taking over storm-water permits from developers; he voted “no” that same year on a bill pertaining to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority; and in 2009, he voted “yes” on a controversial move to let assistant judges serve as probate judges — a provision later stripped from the final bill.
On social issues, Dubie is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage — a fact his Democratic would-be opponents use to argue that he’s out of step with mainstream Vermonters.
Dubie opposed civil unions when the legislature, under court order, was debating how to provide marriage equality in Vermont. Video from a public hearing on January 25, 2000, shows Dubie, dressed in a blue pullover, urging a panel of lawmakers to protect “our traditional” marriage. Our families are delicate, Dubie told lawmakers. “They’re under stress in this state, in this country. And if we’re going to break new ground, then we should stick with what our framers said and amend the constitution and give it more than two nights of public input and really study this thing.”
Over the years, Dubie has been a darling of the conservative Vermont Right to Life Committee. The group has advocated for Dubie’s reelection in mass mailings and donated money for “phone calling” on his behalf, according to campaign reports. He’s a familiar face in the organization’s quarterly newsletter.
Asked about what informs his views on abortion and same-sex marriage, he sidesteps the question and puts the focus back on jobs.
“I’m pro-life. The agenda that I’m running on for governor is to grow jobs in our state,” Dubie says. “That’s pretty much who I am and what I’m about.”
When pressed about whether he would support laws requiring parental notification or parental consent for minors seeking abortions, Dubie replies, “I’m supportive of involving parents in everything as it relates to their children … I would generally be supportive of that legislation.”
Dubie takes a similar tack on the issue of marriage equality. He has denied he would seek to repeal same-sex-marriage legislation, but when asked whether he would promise not to pursue a repeal, he dodges the question.
“The marriage legislation is passed,” Dubie says. “My agenda is about growing jobs and looking forward.”
After eight years in state government’s second-highest office, “Vermonters know who I am,” Dubie says. “When I say my agenda is to grow jobs, they take me at my word.”