VTGOP chair throws his own people under the bus

UPDATE: I was mistaken when I wrote this post. The opinion piece was not written by Sunderland; it was a Times Argus editorial. See this new post for details.

Vermont Republican Party chair David Sunderland, having been eerily quiet during the bulk of this year’s legislative session, is now throwing around boilerplate press releases and opinion pieces like there’s no tomorrow.

A recent missive, published in the May 27 Times Argus, castigates H.361, the education reform bill, as “a mess of a bill,” a “coercive regime,” the result of a “panicked” legislature. He claims the bill “will raise property taxes” (nonsense) and introduce inequity to what he called the “painstaking and thorough quest” that resulted in the adoption of Act 60 in 1997.

Which is funny in itself, because Republicans have been loudly beating the drum for repeal of Act 60 and its 2003 amendment, Act 68. Sunderland may be too young to recall that Act 68 was adopted because of severe problems with Act 60. But hey, if he views the halcyon days of Act 60 through rose-colored glasses, that’s his right. Of course, he may be completely alone in his nostalgia.

But that’s not the real story here. The most significant, nay stunning, aspect of his essay is that H.361 was a bipartisan bill. It was a cooperative effort of Democrats and Republicans in the House Education Committee, and it passed the Legislature with substantial Republican support. In the House, 23 Republicans — almost half the caucus — voted for H.361, including House Minority Leader Don Turner and Assistant Leader Brian Savage.

Sunderland avoids this detail through the bulk of his essay; his rebuke of the GOP caucus is largely unspoken — until the last paragraph:

In the meantime, Republicans who are not wedded too firmly to the idea that Montpelier ought to force cost controls on local school districts are in a good position to challenge this flawed and damaging example of political overreach.

See what he did there? It’s subtle but unmistakable: he’s publicly criticizing any Republican who voted for H.361 — those Republicans who were “wedded too firmly” to a rushed, flawed, and generally bad piece of legislation. Don Turner, for example.

I’ve been told that there’s a fair bit of dissatisfaction among Republican lawmakers regarding the VTGOP’s performance during the session. There were chances aplenty to slam the Democrats; more often than not, the VTGOP failed to capitalize. Or do much of anything to support its elected officials.

I’m sure Sunderland’s essay won’t help him rebuild any bridges.

6 thoughts on “VTGOP chair throws his own people under the bus

  1. NanuqFC

    It should be noted that the ACLU of Vermont has expressed doubts about the constitutionality of H. 361, because it penalizes low-spending districts trying to “catch up” to the state average, with a potential impact on the “substantially equal education” concern originally brought by the ACLU to the Vermont Supreme Court in the 1997 Brigham case. Quoting VT ACLU Director Allen Gilbert’s legislative round-up: “Despite insistence by legislators that no damage was being done to equity provisions [in H.361], a gouge was made in the principle of towns’ equal access to school funds through penalty provisions levied on all towns once they spend beyond an ‘allowable growth rate.’ … [T]he spending caps in H. 361 prevent low-spending towns from catching up with higher-spending towns – unless they pay a heavy financial penalty. That’s the very definition of inequity …”

    Not that Sunderland’s criticisms are all rational or well-delivered on behalf of his party … but you know the saying about stopped clocks (although the frequency indicated in the saying is a bit high for strict application here), and I could add one about fusillades of shots in the dark — one might actually hit something by chance or mistake.

  2. Robert Maynard

    John, if you follow the link to the Times Argus article, you wll notice that it is an Editorial, not a submission from Sunderland. I went to the GOP website and saw no such press release.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      You’re wrong there, but I can understand the confusion. In its online product, the Times Argus doesn’t clearly label its op-eds and editorials, and for some reason it leaves off the bylines. But that piece was written by Sunderland. I first received it in an email blast from the VTGOP.

  3. Robert Maynard

    You sure that the e-mail was not one of the “In case you missed it” items? These e-mail blasts often cite articles when the GOP is mentioned, but the articles are not necessarily written by GOPers. The stuff that Sunderland puts out himself usually is posted on the VTGOP website. I just do not see the article in question as reflective of his cautious style. It is not that I mind criticism of the GOP when it is warranted, and I think that some criticism of H.361 is warranted, but I am really having a hard time seeing him as the person doing that criticism.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Robert: Upon further review, you were right and I was wrong. The press release wasn’t terribly clear, but I failed to exercise due diligence. I’ve updated the original post and posted a retraction and apology. Thanks for your persistence.


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