Two bites of the apple

The Progressive Party doesn’t have much of a ticket this year. Many of its candidates are running as Democrats because they stand a better chance of winning. Smart tactics in the short term, and something of a worry for Dems. They’re seeing previously “safe” seats peeled off by the Progs, potentially weakening their legislative caucuses.

This year, we have a new twist on that technique: Progressives running as Democrats, losing the primary, and then refiling as Progs for the same contest.

There are four such candidates (that I know of), all running for the House, and all in “safe” Democratic districts. The Two-Biters:

— Jill Charbonneau, Addison-1

— Steve May, Chittenden-1

— Marci Young, Lamoille-Washington

— Carl Etnier, Washington-5

This is of direct interest to me, because I live in one of those districts.

Each person must make up their own mind. Me personally, I’m disinclined to vote for a Two-Biter.

I think there needs to be some level of commitment to a party. And it’s a quirk of the system that makes the move possible: the Dems choose their candidates in the primary, but the Progs wait till afterward and can choose candidates in (often very sparsely attended) district caucuses. In one case, so I hear, a candidate lost the Dem primary and then wrangled a Progressive nomination in an eight-person meeting.

The candidates, I’m sure, would have explanations for their actions. In some cases, they offer the voters a real left-wing alternative that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

They might also argue that primary turnout is very low, thus leaving the choice in the hands of a few. (In Chittenden-1, it only took 407 votes to win.) Sure, but caucuses are even less representative.

Finally, on a practical level, they might say these districts are so liberal that there’s no chance they might throw the election to a Republican.

All true, but it strikes me more as rationalization than as sound reasoning.

But let’s look at the particulars, and you can make your own call.

Addison-1 (Middlebury): Two seats, currently held by Democrats Betty Nuovo and Amy Sheldon. Nuovo is retiring. Three people ran in the primary: Sheldon got 925 votes, Robin Scheu 632, and Charbonneau 581.

There are no other candidates on the ballot. Charbonneau has the best case of the four P-turned-D-turned-P’s; she finished a strong third in the primary, and without her there’d be no competition on the ballot. Still, two bites.

Chittenden-1 (Richmond): Incumbent Democrat Anne O’Brien is stepping down. Three people ran in the Dem primary: Marcia Gardner won with 407 votes; Scott Lowe was second with 219, and Steve May was third with 187.

There is no Republican on the ballot, but Gardner is challenged by May on the Progressive ticket and independent Alex Holcomb. May has a weak case for his second bite; Gardner won a majority of the primary vote, May finished a distant third, and Holcomb’s agenda is very similar to the Progs’: livable wage, access to healthcare, marijuana legalization, renewable energy, early childhood education. Hard to see how May brings much added value, and he was pretty soundly rejected in the primary.

Lamoille-Washington (Morrisville, Elmore, Woodbury, Worcester): Two-seat district currently represented by Democrats Shap Smith and Avram Patt. Smith is retiring, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so. There was a six-way Democratic primary; David Yacovone, former head of the Department for Children and Families, finished first with 789 votes; Patt was second with 587. Young came in third with 375.

The November ballot is more populated than the previous two; Patt and Yacovone are joined by Republican Gary Nolan, independent Don Valentine, and Young as a Progressive.

Based on her tepid primary showing, Young doesn’t have the strongest case for a second bite. Mitigating factors: she is the only woman in the race, so there’s that. Valentine is a conservative independent, so she does offer an alternative to the left of the Dems.

In terms of actually throwing a seat to the Republicans, it seems unlikely. The race was competitive in 2014, with Patt securing the second seat by a mere 102 votes; but that was an historically bad year for the Dems. In 2012, the Republican was not really competitive.

Washington-5 (East Montpelier, Middlesex): Longtime Democrat Tony Klein is stepping down, presumably to assume control of the secret Iberdrola/Blittersdorf?Gaz Metro/Shumlin/Recchia global conspiracy. A five-way Democratic primary was surprisingly uncompetitive; Kimberlly Jessup took the nomination with 423 votes; Etnier finished a weak second with 204.

The fall ballot features Jessup, Republican Dexter Lefavour, independent Matt Swenson, and Etnier as a Prog.

Etnier’s electoral case, I’m guessing, is that Jessup won the primary with a “mere” plurality. Fair point, but she did beat her closest competitor by more than two to one. Swenson’s platform is hard to pin down: liberal on some issues (health care, living wage, marijuana) and less so on others (term limits, property tax). Not Progressive by any means. Overall, Etnier’s case isn’t too strong.

This year’s crop of two-biters is unlikely to make much difference at the ballot box; the Democratic candidates seem to be heavy favorites. But the idea of running in the Dem primary and then switching (back?) to the Progs seems a little bit sneaky to me. And if this is the beginning of a trend, it could cause the Democrats trouble.

Myself, I think there oughta be a law against running consecutively on two separate tickets for the same seat in the same year. Or maybe just a party policy. I’d expect the Dems to take a closer look at the issue if the phenomenon begins to spread.


1 thought on “Two bites of the apple

  1. Sherman Schman

    The problem is easily solved. Simply change the law so that the only way to get on the ballot is to run in the primary and you can run in only one party.


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