The VTGOP’s looming crisis of conscience

Sooner or later, the Vermont Republican Party will have to sort through some stuff. Some unpleasant, downright Trumpian stuff swirling around Rutland these days, sparked by the proposed settlement of 100 Syrian refugees.

It won’t be an issue this fall — except in Rutland. And it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Phil Scott has to say about it. To judge by his usual metrics, he’ll come out with a mealy-mouthed thing about taking everyone’s views into consideration and finding common ground.

Instead of, you know, the right thing: condemning the dog-whistle racialism being spewed by opponents of settlement — the likes of Rutland First and its allies.

The real moment of truth is likely to come next March, when the nativists will almost certainly field candidates who would block the settlement and try to defenestrate incumbent Mayor Chris Louras, the primary author of the settlement plan.

That’s when the VTGOP will have to choose sides. Or, you know, duck and cover.

RF held an “informational” meeting on Monday. It was live-Tweeted with great skill by self-described writer, journalist and bartender Jim Sabataso. The Tweet that caught my eye:

That’s Wendy Wilton, Rutland city treasurer and spectactularly unsuccessful candidate for Vermont Treasurer back in 2012, when she got her clock cleaned by first-time candidate Beth Pearce in spite of the generous backing of Lenore Broughton and her short-lived but very costly Vermonters First advocacy group. (Hmm: “Vermonters First”, “Rutland First”. Coincidence, I’m sure.)

(If “group” can be fairly applied to an “organization” consisting of Lenore Broughton and former bagboy Tayt Brooks.)

WIlton was apparently a loud and prominent spokesperson for opponents of settlement, brandishing an “analysis” of the plan that identified truly astounding costs to the city and its taxpayers. Mayor Chris Louras branded her “analysis” a “lie” and asserted that Wilton “is simply making things up to serve her own agenda.”

Sounds like the makings of a pier-six brawl down Rut Vegas way, with the VTGOP’s conservative wing already beginning to line up behind WIlton and Friends.

(Wilton also pulled a fast one on local lawmakers attending the meeting. At the end of the evening, she produced a letter requesting a moratorium on the settlement plan, and asked the lawmakers to sign it.

Faced with a document they hadn’t read or had time to consider, all of them refused. Rightly so; if WIlton had wanted their signatures, she would have handled it more deftly. As it was, she seemed to want confrontation rather than consent. The mark of a demagogue.)

What will the VTGOP do? Will it side with the very successful incumbent Mayor? Will it furiously dog-whistle?

My money’s on careful equivocation with just a hint of dog whistle. You know, “we must be careful and give full consideration to the valid concerns of local residents.”

Residents like the woman braying about Sharia law at a Castleton town meeting? Or like State Rep. Doug Gage, who wondered why we couldn’t choose Syrian Christians because, ahem, they’d fit in better than Muslims.b

Yeah, legitimate concerns my Aunt Fanny.

And how, pray tell, will the potential next Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, address this battle for the soul of Republicanism? Will he hearken to the party’s roots in the fight against slavery and Vermont’s role in liberating escaped slaves?

Or will he so the old soft-shoe and distance himself equally from Mayor Louras and his opponents?

Another occasion for some good old leadership. If a WIlton/Louras campaign develops, we’ll see what kind of a party the VTGOP is, and what kind of leader Phil Scott really is.





22 thoughts on “The VTGOP’s looming crisis of conscience

  1. Seth Hopkins

    Without opining on the resettlement issue, two comments:
    1 Mayor Louras is not a Republican, so why would you write twice that the VTGOP would need to choose sides in a hypothetical/potential Louras vs Wilton mayoral race? It owes no loyalty to Louras.
    2 In 2012, Wendy Wilton, on her own time and with her own expertise, created an analysis of Vermont Democrats’ and Progressives’ single-payer health plan because no one else would. This, too, was called a fabrication by some and a lie by others. Her numbers turned out to be spectacularly accurate, and essentially identical numbers were trotted out by Governor Shumlin when he pulled the plug on the project immediately post-2014-election. Even if her projected resettlement costs are “truly astounding” as you write, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss their veracity. She knows what she’s doing with an abacus.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Don’t know where you’re getting “Louras is not a Republican.” He’s been consistently identified as a Republican in the media throughout his tenure as Mayor. But he’s apparently not YOUR kind of Republican, since you find Wendy Wilton more to your liking. Good luck with that.

  2. Scott Garren

    Wendy Wilton has a great imagination. I was impressed when she arrived at a recent meeting in Rutland aimed at starting a local NAACP chapter. Wendy enthused about here experience at the Republican National Convention. She was excited by the diversity of the Republican delegates she saw there. In fact there were all, of 18 African American delegates at the convention, roughly 0.7 percent of the 2,472 national delegates in Cleveland. That compares with 2004, 167 African Americans delegates attended the RNC convention as President George W. Bush was renominated, 2008, 36 African Americans attended as delegates as Sen. John McCain was nominated to run against then-Sen. Barack Obama, and, when 2012 there were 28 African American delegates as Mitt Romney was nominated. I see a trend there. The Republicans nationally are as open and welcoming as they are here in Rutland.

  3. Wendy

    Clarification: the legislators knew before the meeting a draft letter would be proposed to them on Monday. The legislators were also given–a few days ahead of the meeting–proof the resettlement contractor, USCRI/VRRP, skirted the application requirements of DoS for a new site requiring involvement of the local governing body and a letter of support from the body. This is a serious oversight and compliance concern in addition to the transparancy problem. The secrecy around Rutland’s resettlement proposal starts with Louras and goes all the way to Leahy’s office according the emails we received by FOIA.

    I stand by my projection. It is based on the experience of Burlington which experienced a 100% increase in their school budget from 2008 to 2016 ($42 million to $84 million) during the period that refugees came to BTV in significant numbers, 200 per year. 50% of the increases were due to ELL. Why would Rutland have a different experience based on the huge scale proposed for Rutland, a community one third the size of BTV?

    1. scottfree43

      Rutland is the second oldest county in the second oldest state. Some projections show our population shrinking up to 15% in the next twenty years. We desperately need young families with children if we are to continue to be a vibrant community with viable businesses and institutions.

    2. Sherman Schman

      Jumping to the conclusion that it was refugees who drove any increase in the Burlington budget over an 8 year period does not pass the laugh test. Ms Wendy fails to provide any evidence, even one little thread of evidence, that refugees cause increased taxation at any level. She simply makes an uninformed assumption. Her presentation is a best and an attempt to scare the citizenry at worse.

  4. Wendy

    Louras left the GOP after he left the statehouse in 2006. Counter to Jim Sabataso’s claim I am not running for mayor. Glad I could impress Jim with my presentation style.

    Louras agreed to the resettlement program without the backing of the Board of Aldermen as required in the DoS solicitation for funding, nor the consultation of the Board as also required. The Board and some of our legislators have asked for a copy of the full application for Rutland only to stonewalled. Louras and the federal contractor, USCRI/VRRP, perpetuated a veil of secrecy that went all the way to Leahy’s office according to the FOIA documents received. The application is incomplete and insufficient. Such shortcomings would be a reason for the state or Feds to reject a grant application from a municipality. So why was USCR/VRRP treated differently? Is it because they are a $50 million outfit based in Alexandria, VA with lots of lobbying influence in the beltway?

    If anyone would like to see the emails we received from the FOIA just contact me at

  5. Robert Haskins

    There is nothing Republican about Chris Louras leadership. Yeah he ran as an R years ago when he was in the House of Reps, but if you spoke to any Rutland County R’s, none would tell you he’s a stalwart of any conservative kind. John, there are many fine people who are part of Rutland First who are wholly upset at the complete secrecy Louras and his close knit resettlement cronies hid this from the general public. As such a strong advocate for transparency John, you should open both eyes looking at the situation in Rutland and don’t be so fast to judge those questioning the process.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Too bad the mayor doesn’t meet your Republican purity test. As for the honest concerns of opponents, I might believe that if they could just stop slurring Muslims and raising unreasonable fears. Those people would be just as upset if Louras had been fully open and transparent from the very beginning.

    2. ApacheTrout

      Rutland First’s facebook page is filled with comments describing the horrors of Muslims and their abilities to damage western civilization forever. When Rutland First’s leadership begins to denounce these commentators, I’ll begin to believe that they are truly concerned about ‘process’ instead of using it as a smokescreen to hide their bigotry.

  6. Jack R.

    RE: “Those people would be just as upset if Louras had been fully open and transparent from the very beginning.”

    Your blog is proof of how desperately you wanna prove your moral greatness over “ignorant lesser Vermonters.” But, let’s put aside your arrogant assumptions about others you don’t know personally for a minute.

    Answer this: Do the ends justify the means? Irrespective of what Rutlanders would’ve or wouldn’t have said, doesn’t Louras owe it to them to be transparent and honest? If you say no, then you’re no better than any other ol’ tyrannical dictator that insists he knows best. Who died and made you the god of Rutland? Why and how do you know what’s best for Rutland?

    Check your apologies for Islamism. Hate on Vermonters who aren’t blind to the real threats of radical Islamism, have legitimate concerns about their limited financial resources, and won’t have some politician abuse democracy to push his agenda all you want. But no amount of hating others will prove to Mommy or anyone else for that matter what a special snowflake you are.

    You clearly need to put others down using made up accusations to feel good about yourself. Ain’t no one buying it buster.

  7. Jack

    Dude, can’t you read the evidence that Louras is no longer affiliated with the GOP. He says so himself! Face it. This whole post is based on your wishful thinking and fact free rambling.

  8. Sen. Joe Benning

    Interesting that you feel the VTGOP faces a “crisis of conscience” on the Rutland refugee question. As Senate Minority Leader and someone fairly involved in the VTGOP platform committee, I can say with some authority that the VTGOP hasn’t been involved in this discussion at all. Far as I know, neither the Republicans, Progressives, Democrats or any other party have been asked to weigh in on this local conversation. Is it your impression that there are no Independents, Progressives or Democrats who are members of Rutland First? How do you figure this is a party issue? I know it is your blog, but it appears you are simply trying to stir up party polarization here.

    I really got a kick out of you predicting that Phil Scott will need to be chastised for attempting to get compromise into the situation. Isn’t that what governors are SUPPOSED to do? Or do you prefer a dictatorial approach like that exhibited by the present administration in other events? I’ll at least give you credit for recognizing that Phil Scott will be our next governor.

    Let’s add some perspective. I think we both know that the sudden introduction of 100 individuals with language and cultural hurdles into a community the size of Rutland rises to the level of a major decision. Ignoring local pockets of bigotry or paranoia for the moment, a decision of this type seems to demand a lot of people working together to make it successful. Reading from afar (up here in the wilderness of the Kingdom) the news reports imply that the mayor made a unilateral decision that bypassed the Aldermen/public comment process. Is it your preference that local politicians not become involved in investigating those claims? I know this particular contingent of local state senators happens to be Republican, but couldn’t you at least have given them credit for refusing to sign a letter demanding cessation?

    I suspect most Vermonters agree that our foreign entanglements are at the bottom of the refugee crisis and that we share a responsibility to minimize the plight of those fleeing for their lives. But polarizing this issue into party “crisis” mode will only work to create more problems for those we need to help. Just my two cents.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      As I wrote in the post, the issue hasn’t hit statewide yet, but when it does, it will be largely a Republican issue. I can’t swear there are no Dems or Progs in Rutland First, but I’ll bet mortgages to donuts they’re a tiny minority. And Rutland’s politics are resolutely Republican. And if there is a challenge to Mayor Louras, it’ll come from the right.

    2. scottfree43

      This from the 2016 Vermont Democratic Party Platform (approved but not yet up on the web):

      The Vermont Democratic Party is committed to creating economic opportunities for all Vermonters, giving focused attention to building and maintaining a strong middle class and attracting and keeping young adults in Vermont. We will create economic opportunity within a framework of sustainability, diversification, creativity and social responsibility. We reject the Republican rhetoric of hostility to immigrants. We welcome refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants to our communities and value their contributions to local economies.

      1. Sen. Joe Benning

        You are citing the Vermont Democratic Party platform. You will find no “rhetoric of hostility to immigrants” in the Vermont Republican Party platform which has just been finalized in draft form. While there may be individual Republicans in Vermont who have uttered words interpreted by some to be “rhetoric of hostility to immigrants,” that is neither condoned or encouraged by the VTGOP. I stand by my observation that no party, that I am aware of here in Vermont, has been asked to weigh in on what is happening in Rutland right now.

      2. John S. Walters Post author

        I don’t know. Does it matter? All he did was offer a passage from the VT Democrats’ platform. Also, a lot of people choose to post comments under pen names, including your most vociferous colleagues in the anti-wind movement.

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