The purely cosmetic bipartisanship of Vision To Action Vermont

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don't mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don’t mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann (R) and Paul Ralston (D), the busy bees behind Vision To Action Vermont, have been busy indeed these days. They’re releasing endorsements almost every day. And, on the surface, it looks to be a fair mix of Republicans and Democrats.

This figures, since V2AVT portrays itself as a nonpartisan, centrist, practical, “rise above party labels and get stuff done” kind of political action committee. If you listen closely, however, you can hear the business-friendly dog whistles a-blowin’. From its launch announcement:

[V2AVT is] a non-partisan organization that will promote, support and elect strong candidates for political office in Vermont who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.

That’s the entire Dog Whistle Philharmonic in a single sentence: fiscal responsibility, balanced, common-sense, economic prosperity, opportunities, individual liberties and responsibility.

And, despite a thin veneer of bipartisanship, the dog whistles continue to sound throughout V2AVT’s list of endorsements.

As of this writing, V2AVT has endorsed 22 candidates: 11 in the House, 10 in the Senate, plus Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Overall, they’ve endorsed 13 Republicans, eight Dems, and one Independent.

Okay, leaning rightward, but a respectable number of Democrats, right?

Not so much. There’s a strong trend in V2AVT’s endorsements. The higher the stakes, the more Republicans you get. While the House endorsements are split evenly, 5-5-1, the Senate endorsements include seven Republicans and only three Democrats. And then there’s Phil Scott, the group’s only statewide endorsement.

But beyond the mere numbers, there’s this: most of V2AVT’s Republican candidates are in highly competitive races, while their Democratic candidates are either unopposed or in very safe Democratic territory. 

This is especially true in the Senate, where V2AVT has endorsed all the Republicans’ top challengers except Robert Frenier, who’s challenging incumbent Dem Mark MacDonald in Orange County.

Otherwise, it’s like V2AVT and the VTGOP are using the same playbook. Dustin Degree and Norm McAllister in Franklin County, all three Republicans in Rutland County, Pat McDonald in Washington County. Degree, McDonald, and Rutland’s Brian Collamore are the VTGOP’s top three hopes for Senate gains, but they face uphill battles against formidable candidates: ex-Senator Sara Kittell in Franklin, incumbent P/D Anthony Pollina and incumbent D Ann Cummings in Washington (nobody’s beating Bill Doyle), and Rutland’s WIlliam Tracy Carris, son of longtime Senator Bill Carris.

And who are the Democrats supported by V2AVT? The very safe Jane Kitchel and Dick Sears, plus Sears’ Bennington County running mate Brian Campion. There is only one token Republican candidate on the Benn ballot, and Campion is considered a shoo-in.

Oh, and V2AVT also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Joe Benning.

Now let’s look at the House endorsements.

In Chittenden County, V2AVT is backing incumbent Republican Kurt Wright and Repub newcomer Michael Ly in a two-seat district. Wright is safe; the Repubs have hopes for Ly. And in another two-seat district, Chittenden 9-1, V2AVT is supporting the very safe (and centrist) incumbent Democrat Jim Condon and Republican candidate Joey Purvis, who’s hoping to replace retiring Republican Bob Bouchard.

Chittenden 9-1 is a closely contested district. Condon was the top vote-getter by a mile in 2012; Bouchard barely beat Democrat Curt Taylor; Purvis finished a respectable fourth. This is a seat that the Democrats could take.

Up in the perennial battleground of Franklin County, V2AVT is endorsing 26-year incumbent Dem Kathie Keenan and Republican challenger Corey Parent in a two-seat district. Parent is hoping to snag the seat currently held by Dem Mike McCarthy, who won by a mere 20 votes in 2012.

V2AVT’s favorite Independent is Laura Sibilia, a business-friendly type who’s challenging established Democrat John Moran in Windham-Bennington 1. There’s no Republican on the ballot, but Sibilia’s platform is clearly Republican-leaning.

The group has also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Patti Komline.

As for its Democratic endorsements, Jim Condon and Kathie Keenan are well-established incumbents; Clem Bissonnette is running unopposed has no Republican opponent — his challenge is from the Progressive Party; Cynthia Browning is a famously independent-minded Democrat in a safe Democratic district; and Matt Trieber is unopposed in Windham-3.

Overall, of V2AVT’s eight Democratic endorsements, none are in races closely contested by Republicans. Of its 13 Republican endorsements, seven are in races where the VTGOP hopes to gain ground.

That’s not my idea of nonpartisanship. That’s my idea of advancing the Republican cause.

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