Two Out Of Three Ain’t Great

Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Molly Gray kicked off the new week with an Endorse-O-Rama on the Statehouse lawn. She’s won the backing of 15 Democratic/Progressive Senators, including Senate Majority Leader (and President Pro Tem-in-waiting) Becca Balint.

Which is great. But it means she didn’t get endorsed by eight members of the majority caucus. Not so good.

The abstainers include fully half of Chittenden County’s delegation: unsuccessful Lite-Gov candidates slash grudge-nurturers Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram plus Michael Sirotkin. The rest include some of the most senior and most centrist of Senators: Bobby Starr, John Rodgers, Alice Nitka and Jeanette White.

The final absentee is the most surprising: Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina. I’ve tried to reach him, and will update this post if/when he returns my call.

The roster of Senate abstainers is not a good look. But it has more to do with the foibles of Vermont’s Worst Deliberative Body than it has to do with the merits or demerits of Young Ms. Gray.

The Vermont Senate is a den of seniority. The average age of a senator is well north of 70, and the oldest tend to hog the most powerful committee chairships. It’s practically unheard-of for an incumbent senator to lose a re-election bid; the Senate’s main turnover mechanism is voluntary retirement. These people tend to be captives of tradition who frown at new faces and new ideas.

Here’s my quick take on the Eschewing Eight.

Nitka and White are old and set in their ways. Starr and Rodgers are Democrats in name only, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted for Milne. Ashe and Ingram entered the LG race with strong senses of entitlement, and were clearly upset over the voters rejection of their rightful claims to the throne. Ashe went into hiding on Primary Night when it turned out not to be his shining moment, and Ingram famously endorsed Gray’s opponent, Republican Scott Milne.

Sirotkin, ehhhh. He was appointed to fill a vacancy created by the death of his wife Sally Fox. Since then he’s cruised to re-election just like any Chittenden incumbent not named Chris Pearson. He’s the very epitome of the man born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. And he acts like it. I can fully imagine him looking at a 36-year-old candidate and saying “Wait your turn, young lady.”

Pollina, I have no idea. My only thought is that he preferred Ashe, Ingram or Brenda Siegel*, and/or isn’t ready to embrace the Chosen One of the Democratic establishment.

*I could see him supporting any of the three in the primary, given that no one could have seen Ingram’s heel turn coming.

The other thing about these non-endorsements is that they will make surprisingly little difference at the grassroots level. These people don’t campaign. They don’t need to; they win practically by acclamation. They float serenely above the political fray — unlike state representatives, who have to maintain close ties with their voters. Jeanette White will represent Windham County until her cold, dead body is dragged out of the chamber. But her non-endorsement is unlikely to cost Gray more than a few votes.

Same with the others. They don’t do politics because they don’t have to, and long ago lost the edge off any political talents they once possessed. Even if they can’t stand Gray, are they going to pound the pavement and work the phones to try to defeat her? I don’t see it.

So it’s a bad look, but it doesn’t mean much for Gray’s prospects in November.


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