Daily Archives: July 17, 2014

You never know what’s gonna stick

Funny thing about blogging. You put a lot of stuff out there, and you have no idea what will make a lasting impact and what will sink like a stone. I’ve had my share of stories I thought were important, but saw them vanish without a trace. My cogent analyses of current politics? In one collective ear and out the other.

And then there’s a little offhand thing I posted in January 2013 after a gubernatorial news conference. At the time, Governor Shumlin had just proposed a tax on break-open tickets — those small-stakes lotteries you can find at fraternal societies and many bars around Vermont. A little meaningless chat about bars and beer ensued, featuring Shumlin, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, and Admininstration Secretary Jeb Spaulding…

Heintz: Do you ever play the break-open tickets?

Shumlin: Oh yeah, anyone who drinks beer has played break-open tickets.

Heintz: I drink a lot of beer, and I haven’t played any.

Shumlin: Oh yeah? Well, you’re not drinkin’ in the right place.

Jeb Spaulding: You’re drinking those five-dollar beers.

Heintz: Where do you buy them?

Shumlin: Oh, you can get ’em at any club or bar in Vermont. I’m a Windham County boy, so I’ve played ’em in Windham County. Rockingham, the Elks, the Brattleboro Legion. I can take you there if you want, I’ll even buy you a beer. But you’re not gettin’ that Gucci beer. We’re drinkin’, you know, Budweiser.

Okay, I knew the Governor didn’t really mean it. When he starts droppin’ his G’s, he’s putting on his Good Old Vermonter Boy persona, painting himself as a Man of the People. I, however, seizing the opportunity to stir up a teapot tempest, wrote it up on Green Mountain Daily under the title: BREAKING… URGENT… Shumlin Disses Vermont Beer!!!

Hahaha, very funny. Got a few sideways glances from the Governor after that went viral.

Well, apparently my little jape has legs. Today, the Governor has been putting out a series of Tweets about the honestly impressive Vermont brewing sector, which is not only an artistic success but a growing part of our economy. And Neal Goswami, chief State House scribe for the Mitchell Family Organs, replied thusly…

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I am honored, sir, by my apparent inclusion in the Vermont political lexicon. It was one of the least meaningful things I ever wrote, and it’s had a larger ripple effect than any of my meaty, weighty, serious works of commentary. If I died tomorrow, they might just put “Gucci Beer Guy” on my headstone.

And the Governor might happily toss a shovelful of dirt on the casket.

 

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Cronyism and disloyalty in the State Senate

So the Democrats (and Prog/Dems) have a supermajority in the Vermont Senate. They rule the roost. And they’re almost certain to retain a big edge next year; even the Republicans are hoping to win no more than two or three seats.

Which makes me wonder why the two Democratic members of a key committee, plus the chair of a very important committee, have endorsed a Republican for one of Vermont’s highest offices, and are likely to get away with this bit of disloyalty.

I’m talking about John Campbell and Dicks Mazza and Sears. The first two sit on the Senate’s Committee on Committees along with their favorite Republican, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. Sears chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. All three have endorsed their buddy Scott and turned their backs on the likely Democratic standard-bearer* and only liberal in the race, Progressive Dean Corren, in spite of the fact that Governor Shumlin has given public support to Corren.

*Corren has to win the Democratic primary as a write-in. He should be able to do that, but it’s no sure thing; Mazza’s openly talking of a write-in campaign for Scott. Which would lead to a goddamn embarrassment for Vermont’s dominant party: a Republican in the #2 spot on its ticket. 

If these men keep their privileged positions, it’ll be a disgrace. And, based on past history, it’ll almost certainly happen.

The Committee on Committees is an obscure bit of Senate hierarchy, with one big exception. Every two years, they select all the chairs and members of all the Senate committees. That is one big moment of muscle-flexing for an otherwise quiescent body.

The three members of the CoC are: the Senate President (Lieutenant Governor), the President Pro Tem, and a Senator elected by the entire Senate. For many years now, Dick Mazza has been rubber-stamped into this position — even though this is far from the first time he’s endorsed a top Republican. He supported Brian Dubie for Governor in 2010, and has backed Phil Scott every time he’s run for Lieutenant Governor.

The lopsided Democratic majority could eject Mazza in a hot minute and instead reward a more faithful member of their party. They could also choose a President Pro Tem who’s more in step with the party’s mainstream. And the new CoC could replace Sears on Judiciary. But, given the hidebound, clubby nature of the Senate, I fully expect that all three will retain their influential positions this fall.

There’s no good reason for this. The explanation, of course, is the mutual respect of Senators and their unwillingness to publicly embarrass a colleague. Which is not a good reason, just a dearly-held rationale in the hearts of our solons.

Campbell, Mazza, and Sears do not deserve to be rewarded for their disloyalty. If there’s anything like party discipline within the one-sided majority, the Senate’s Committee on Committees will get a makeover. And, ideally, somebody else will wield the gavel come January.

But, as I said, I don’t expect it to happen. The Senate’s too damn clubby for that.

(It’s not often these days that Vermont Republicans get to enjoy a laugh at the Dems’ expense. They must be blowing chortle-bubbles in their Scotch glasses over this.)

Republican county committees: part of the solution, or part of the problem?

As we all know, the Vermont Republican Party has been chronically short of funds for quite a while. Right now, they’re either just above water or actually in the red — at a time when major parties ought to be flush with cash to spend on campaigning.

But as I was poring over Tuesday’s campaign finance report filings, I noticed something that struck me as a little odd. Or more than a little.

While the state party is desperately clipping coupons and searching the sofa cushions for spare change, some of the local and county party organizations seem to be going through quite a bit of cash. And what are they spending it on?

Well, a lot of it goes to food, drink, and entertainment for themselves. Very little seems to go toward party-building or candidate support. In fact, virtually no money has been given to candidates with one exception, listed below.

State Republican leaders have openly talked about their grassroots organizations being in terrible shape, and needing to rebuild at the town and county level in order to compete with the very well-organized Democrats. But some of the GOP’s local branches seem to have the resources; they’re just frittering the dollars away on keeping themselves fat and happy.

The term “circle jerk” comes to mind.

Let’s look at some figures. (All donation totals are for the campaign cycle, not just the most recent period.)

The Barre Town Republican Committee reported raising $7,841 and spending $3,443. Virtually all of that — $3143 — was spent on “meals” at the Elks Club.

The Caledonia County Republican Committee raised $3,675 and spent $3,545 — including $2,050 at the Elks Club.

The Washington County Republican Committee has raised $17,800 and spent $10,870. No sign of gifts to candidates; but they did blow about $2,500 at a single restaurant — an old-fashioned meat-and-potato joint called The Steak House.

The Windsor County Republican Committee raised $6,400 and spent $2,500, almost all of it on food and drink. Including $528 for a Super Bowl party at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction.

The Orange County Republican Committee raised $3,150. About $800 went to a spaghetti dinner and a golf tournament. However, they did spend a fair bit of their money on a booth at the Tunbridge Fair and materials to hand out there. That’s a tangible party-building activity — but one of only a few.

The Rutland County Republican Committee has raised $3,020 and spent $2,455, including $805 on a “campaign kickoff dinner.” Most of their other expenses seem reasonable: postage, signs and mailers, advertising.

I will admit, right here and now, that I’ve never been involved in a county or town party committee, and I don’t know what goes on there. Maybe at these gatherings, a lot of folks are writing checks directly to their local politicos or the state GOP. (If they were writing checks to the local organization, it’d show up in the finance reports.) But looking at it from the outside, quite a few of the local Republican committees seem to be burning through decent amounts of money for very little in return — aside from their own satiation.

Are these functioning political machines, or are they Old Boys’ Clubs? It seems an especially pertinent question when the state party is going begging for money and is at a profound disadvantage at the grassroots level.

I could find only one local or county Republican organization that’s carrying substantial weight for the VTGOP, and that’s the Rutland GOPAC. It’s raised nearly $18,000 and spent over $15,000, and the bulk of that spending was on direct support to area candidates for House and Senate. So, good on ya, Rutland GOPAC. Considering GOPAC’s spending and the relatively on-point activity of the Rutland Republican Committee, can it be a coincidence that Rutland is one of the few Republican strongholds in the state?

The rest of the guys maybe need a shakeup. I don’t know how you do that with such an entrenched and tradition-bound bunch of folks. (“Give up our Steak House dinners? Never!”) And again, there may be more to this picture than I’m seeing in black and white. But I think this is part of the VTGOP’s problem. It’ll be a challenge to fix.

A little star power in Windham County

In one of my campaign-finance day posts, I noted that Democratic State Senate candidate Becca Balint had received a $1,000 donation from a Jane Lynch in Los Angeles, California. And I asked, here and in a Tweet, if that was the “Jane Lynch” from Glee, etc.

Yep:

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Well, hooray for Hollywood!

I’d claim a scoop, except the last time I did that in an obviously facetious way, a humorless commenter raked me over the coals for overhyping myself. So I’ll just leave it at, congratulations to Ms. Balint for having friends in high places — and for having a very successful first fundraising period.