John Klar, a man of many talents including authorship of far-right commentaries on True North Reports, and the possessor of a notable chin, has become the first Republican candidate for governor in 2020.
Gov. Phil Scott, the Republican incumbent, has said he won’t announce his intentions until next spring. But he’s gonna run, let there be no doubt.
And he has nothing to fear from Mr. Klar, whose ideology is such a mixed bag that even the Never Scotters may have a hard time flocking to his banner. Klar’s message is roughly equal parts Ethan Allen, Arthur Laffer, and the prosperity gospel on a societal level. That is, he believes if government gets out of the way, everyone will rise out of poverty and into prosperity.
Klar calls himself and his followers “Agripublicans,” adherents to the notion that Vermont has suffered an Edenic fall from its original state of grace due to the excesses of big government and the depredations of flatlanders. In short, he’s the one true advocate for Making Vermont Great Again.
Of course, this golden age of liberty, prosperity and rugged individualism — centered on the life-giving profession of farming — is less a historic reality and more a picture postcard. But hey, a man can dream.
Klar’s biography, in his telling, is admirable. He’s a hard worker, a longtime farmer who’s also been an attorney and a pastor, among other things. He has undertaken significant charitable endeavors. All the while, he has battled health complications of Lyme Disease. He is a man of deep faith who, I have no doubt, sincerely believes that his political vision is the solution for all of Vermont’s problems.
Still doesn’t make him right, though.
The concept of “Agripublicanism” is that the real Vermont is a place of small communities with small state government, local schools and a whole lot of farming. But that Vermont, if it ever existed, just isn’t coming back — no matter how much you lower taxes or cut regulations. Times have changed. And an honest look at history reveals the deep flaws in that Vermont. It was a backward place with a lot of poverty, poor health and lax environmental standards. (If the Green Mountains contained exploitable resources, Vermont would look a lot like West Virginia. See: the clearcutting of the entire state in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.) Farming is under new pressures today, but it’s never been a ticket to prosperity. It has always been an ongoing grind at best, subject to the whims of weather and the marketplace.
Klar writes a lot about “native Vermonters.” This is not strictly a matter of birth, but of adherence to his vision of Vermont’s values. You can move here from Connecticut (as did Mr. Klar himself) or Timbuktu, but as long as you adopt the Vermont “culture of individualism, not government dependency; farming, not commuting; free speech, not stifling autocracy,” congratulations. You’re a native Vermonter. Whereas even if you were born and raised here, if you betray the state’s essential purity you’re a dirty flatlander.
In one of Klar’s commentaries, he slams modern-day Vermont as a haven of “black supremacy.” Here’s how he encapsulates our attempts to reckon with racism:
In Vermont, progressive white strategists have scrounged up a handful of black citizens (mostly recent urban imports) to wield as battering rams against the native population.
One of the chief “battering rams” is former state representative Kiah Morris, a “city mouse who has determined that the country mouse must be silenced, her guns seized, and her rights to an opinion stripped.” He blames Morris and her ilk for fabricating an issue, and guilt-wracked white folks for taking up the cause.
Klar believes that native Vermonters and their culture are untainted by racism. He attributes the high rates of traffic stops and incarceration for black people as solely the byproduct of drug trafficking. Because, you know, drugs and black folks. But nah, he’s not a racist. He merely wrote an essay about how Vermonters are striving to preserve their culture against false charges of racism promoted by outsiders, including that “handful of black citizens.”
I could go on and on and on. Klar has been a prolific writer, which may come back to bite him now that he’s a candidate. On the other hand, his political prospects are so bleak that he might just be consigned to the Keith Stern Memorial Wilderness. So I won’t go on and on; I’ll leave with one more example of The World According To Klar.
He describes himself as a practitioner of “biblical counseling,” which, among other things, advocates reparative therapy (a.k.a. conversion therapy) for gay and lesbian people. That’s right, the therapy that’s been banned in 18 states including Vermont. Oh, and he opposes medical and surgical treatment for transgender persons as comparable to lobotomies and the eugenics movement.
The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors says that the Bible is “a sufficient resource to define and direct all counseling ministry,” and that Biblical counselors “reject any secular counseling intervention that is at odds with Scripture.” This appears to include, for instance, medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders, which Klar opposes.
After Klar’s Monday announcement, Vermont Democratic Party communications guy R. Christopher DiMezzo issued a statement that said Klar’s “downright disgusting rhetoric has no place in our public discourse.” I disagree. He should be free to write whatever he wants and campaign on whatever platform he chooses. I fully expect that the marketplace of ideas will soon enough return Mr. Klar to his self-appointed place in the fetid fields of far-right commentary.