The Progressives are kinda screwed

Whiter the Progressive Party? I don’t know; there isn’t a clear path forward, and obstacles litter the landscape. They’ve gained strength in the legislature, mainly by running candidates on the P/D or D/P tickets; but they’ve just about reached the limits of that tactic, and may have hit a glass ceiling.

The Progs are anxious to make a splash in 2016, having sat out the last three gubernatorial elections in order to give Peter Shumlin a better shot at creating a single-payer health care system, hahaha. His abandonment of that goal, barely a month after his third re-election victory, plus the Dems’ habit of triangulating to the center on a host of issues, has left the Progs in a bitter mood. They’re itchin’ for a fight, and would especially like to field a credible candidate for governor.

That’s looking increasingly unrealistic. For starters, nobody seems to want to run.

This is an unintended side-effect of the Prog/Dem strategy, which has put several Progs in positions of legislative influence. Examples: Tim Ashe chairs the Senate Finance Committee; Anthony Pollina has a bully pulpit in the Senate; organic farmer David Zuckerman is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; and Chris Pearson is vice chair of the House Health Care Committee. One could argue that the Progs have been granted more influence than their sheer numbers would warrant. Or, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats saw it’s better to have the Progs inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

And indeed, it’d be hard to give up that level of influence to make a long-odds, short-funded bid for higher office.

Compounding the difficulty is that any high-profile Progressive would likely depend on public financing. That was a difficult enough pursuit in previous years (just ask Dean Corren or John Bauer). Now, it seems to have become completely untenable.

First of all, in order to seek public financing, a candidate cannot declare or campaign in any way before mid-February. Until this year, that was a reasonable start date. This time, with multiple candidates already on the trail, it’s a full half-year too late.

Even worse, the financial limits would be punishing for a late starter. Gubernatorial candidates can’t use more than $600,000 (combining direct gifts and state funds), and candidates for lieutenant governor max out at $200,000. In past years, that would have been a decent warchest. This time, the fields for governor and lieutenant governor are full of hopefuls with solid fundraising records and connections, plus at least a couple of affluent self-funders. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor each spend $2 million or more.

Which means we need some serious reform of the public financing law. But that won’t happen in time for 2016, so any Progressive prominent enough to mount a credible campaign will almost certainly be smart enough to stay out of the battle. During the spring and summer, I kept hearing rumors that Auditor Doug Hoffer would run for governor. I couldn’t bring myself to believe it; he’s so well-suited to his current job, and he’d have little chance of winning the corner office.

But that didn’t happen. If a Prog does try to move up, the most likely scenario is a Zuckerman run for Lite-Gov. He’d presumably seek public financing, and he’d probably try to win the Progressive nomination and the Democratic primary. Well, his odds just got longer with Democratic State Rep. Kesha Ram’s decision to seek the Senate gavel.

Ram will be a formidable contestant for the Chittenden County vote, which would hurt Zuckerman in a Dem primary. She’s young, but has substantial connections; according to Paul Heintz, her campaign launch was attended by “former governor Madeleine Kunin, two gubernatorial candidates and many of her fellow House Democrats.”

Gee, Paul, you’ve got me on tenterhooks. Which gubernatorial candidates?

(I’m guessing Shap Smith and Sue Minter. Although her platform bears some resemblance to Matt Dunne’s.)

I’m not saying that Ram’s candidacy is aimed at blocking Zuckerman, but it certainly works out that way. (And if you want to go double-agent-level, Ram and Zuckerman could split the liberal/Chittenden vote and clear the way for — ugh — John Campbell, a Windsor County moderate.)

But let’s get out of the deep weeds and move on.

The Progressives back-burnered their ambitions to give Shumlin a chance to enact single-payer. Now that’s gone and Shumlin’s going, but they find themselves facing multi-candidate fields with the prospect of record amounts of money in play.

And one other thing. Their Prog/Dem tactic has yielded significant benefits: they’ve got the Auditor’s office, they’ve elected several notable lawmakers, and they’ve kept their official ballot status by running Prog/Dem candidates for llieutenant governor in 2012 and 2014. But at what cost to their brand?

What does it mean to be a Progressive, when almost every prominent Prog is labeled a Prog/Dem or Dem/Prog? That dual-ballot identity reinforces the perception that Progressives are, basically, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And if that’s how voters see the Progressive Party, a lot of them will decide it’s better to fight for liberal values from within the Democratic Party than to howl into the whirlwind as a Progressive.

Heck, I’m an observer of Vermont politics, and I can’t tell you what the Progs stand for. (Beyond, I suppose, single payer health care.) I’m sure my Prog friends and acquaintances will be quick to supply me with answers. But I follow this stuff more closely than the vast majority of voters, and if I don’t know, then the Progressives have a serious image problem on their hands — created in large part by pursuing Democratic nominations.

A tactic which, again I emphasize, has paid major dividends. But the Progs may have painted themselves into a corner, and I don’t see where they go from here.


7 thoughts on “The Progressives are kinda screwed

  1. newzjunqie

    If Zuckerman ran as D or P I think he’d win the primary – at least all the hippies would vote for him as he looks like a refugee right outta Haight. Has a bit more name recognition and I respect him for his lonely heartfelt stance on mandatory vaccination which not only reveals him as a leader but could give him support amongst antivaxers.

    Prog strategy appears to be siege by stealth. Here a D/P there a P/D but really everywhere a P/P as thy are P before D.

    I don’t really support ideologies, ‘platforms’ or doctrinairism of any stripe. Not even totally comfortable calling myself an L though that’s my lean.

    There are good and bad as well as extremists across the political spectrum. And the lines are sometimes rather blurred. In my mind the modern P movement is not Teddy Rooseveltesque nor will ever be. When it’s said and done I see the movement in general as staunch supporters of collectivism which I completely reject. And I believe willing to impose their beliefs and this style of government with a law enforcement mechanism on all. Personally I am live and let live and have no desire to impose my values on others.

    As the Beatles once said you can count me out.

      1. Mark Trigo

        Yes, I had been aware of that. I am not willing to vote for someone who advocates a position based on junk-science that has the result of hurting and/or killing innocent children.

        We mock climate change deniers, yet anti-vaxers get a pass. That makes no sense to me since both positions are based completely on junk science.

  2. Faith Biggs King

    What do Prog’s stand for? The common good. A clean public water system; public schools open to all children; parks; public transit; the interstate highways; public libraries; a higher education accessible to all – and more than that. Basically the whacky idea that we are all in it together. Prog’s are striving to see a society in which we, as a community, agree that it is unacceptable some people in Vermont can’t buy heat. It’s unacceptable that some(many) people in Vermont work full time and still can’t pay their basic living expenses with what they earn. It’s unacceptable that medical care is treated as a product and people, patients are described as “consumers”. It’s unacceptable that so many Vermonters are sleeping outside. In the woods behind Tractor Supply on the Barre-Montpelier Rd, or down the tracks across from the turn off to the Price Chopper and the TJ Maxx…. I dunno if the Prog’s have screwed themselves, for now, in VT. Just dunno. Not a handicapper. For those who don’t have any truck with the common good, well, stay outta the library, the state parks, and off the public highways. Say “no thanks” to social security. I realize your post was more about the ‘insider baseball’ aspect of VT politics. Whose in? Whose out? I’m just more interested in the nitty-gritty.

  3. newzjunqie

    Bernie might be kinda screwed.
    As Bernies campaign has taken off a few question marks reappear in thought bubble. One was the near refusal to makeover or even broaden his message to include more issues relevant to a larger voting bloc more in tune with national election issues. In claiming ‘climate change causes terrorism’ displays no problem tying world events to his message no matter how far-fetched.

    Another ? is the extreme avoidance of the public in general, and visceral hatred for the press of whom some attacks are junkyard dog-like, and faaar in excess of the legendary grouchyness. And, he always angrily barks the same line, that they are not asking “substantive questions” both of which are troubling and a pretext for his gutteral attacks imho. The other ? was stubborness in dismissing BLM – finally discovered there are ppl in this world who will not give his grumpiness a pass and after Sat hopefully sees a few more.

    Although pols have a love-hate relationship with press, they are mostly eager to be quizzed & queried as this is an opportunity to get their own message out while honestly answering as few questions as possible, then dodging every real issue, which has become an art form for both interviewer and interviewee, every news junkie knows this. Which for me yet another ? became increasingly curious — why was Bernie not taking advantage of this huge asset and free publicity for own talking points?

    For me the light came on following the Sat debate. Paris attacks brought an unexpected slight but legitimate change of venue, mere segue to current events. And with the change – opportunity for each candidate to display ability to be flexible, agility in political gear-shifting, showcase foreign policy acumen or…in Bernies’ case…lack of all three which are Poli-Sci 101.

    Bernie oddly averse to veering off own talking points and message. Though not terribly unusual, only comfortable in own zone is not something public officials can easily maintain.

    Fact that the other two had no problem very telling. He and camp still had hours to conjure something – Bernie’s not exactly a political boor. Fighting this pure folly and all the more telling. But the complete ferocity told most of all – discomfort on match with HRC foreign policy discussion and lack of insight. Stubbornly sticking to format foolish move.

    Bernies one-trick-pony grasp of issues and johnny-one-note message reveal a resume that’s extremely thin. This is what I believe to be underneath it all – bluff and bluster serve as cover for inability or unwillingness to talk at the same length and with the same ease as HRC no matter how much of it is actually true – she can at least talk up a good game and has a command of the basic issues and facts.

    Rather than scaring away the press it would behoove Sanders to study up on ”substantive issues” which he’s had plenty of time to do and have ready answers for hard questions. He’s certainly smart enough but time will tell whether he’s up to the challenge. But this will leave him very open and a weakened position if the sleeping dogs awaken.


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