Well, it finally happened. After years and years of Vermont Democratic Party staffers walking out the door at a rapid rate while keeping their mouths shut for the sake of future career prospects, one of ’em finally busted loose.
Last week, Kevin Burgess resigned from his party post, and his resignation letter was full of words like “toxic,” “failure,” “unorganized,” “poorly managed,” “old boys club,” and “no vision, no plan, and no structure.”
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Burgess must have been well and truly fed up, considering that he moved to Vermont less than six months ago — and he knew that sending his letter would ensure that he’d have to move back out of state. Hope he had a short-term lease.
I’ve heard this over and over again, but until now I’ve only heard it off the record. The Vermont Democratic Party succeeds in spite of itself. It’s complacent. It’s not well organized. There’s no coherent push on policy, party-building or fundraising. It’s been a revolving door for staff and party leadership alike.
And if you’ve ever been to a state committee meeting, you’ll know that the VDP’s core demographic is Gray-Haired To Dead. Also, if you’ve ever been to a state committee meeting, you will have heard many an earnest plea to get more young people involved.
Problem is, when young people try to get involved, they quickly tire of the encrusted layers of tradition and the subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways their input is Kevin Burgessed. Remember when then-Rep. Johanna Donovan said that a young Democratic challenger should wait his turn? There’s a whole lot of that.
Burgess came in with a fresh eye, and a track record in organizations that had to be well-organized and energetic because they were waging uphill battles: the Iowa Democratic Party and the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. I trust his view of the VDP more than I trust any insider. Plus, as I said, I’ve heard this (off the record) from every former staffer I’ve talked to. And that’s quite a few.
Will the party take heed? I’m guessing that’s a big fat “No.” First of all, Burgess reportedly asked that his resignation be effective on March 4. The party made it immediate, tossing him out in the cold without any severance. His name was quickly removed from the VDP website. And party spokesperson Asha Carroll gave him the “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors” bullshit as a parting gift.
(When the WWE releases a performer, it always wishes them well in their future endeavors. So much so, that “Future Endeavoring” has become a slang term in the industry, meaning “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”)
On top of all that is my own experience. I used to get along pretty well with party leaders, until I was openly critical of their response to the Brandon Batham embezzlement case. I obnoxiously pointed out that he couldn’t have gotten away with it if party leadership had been paying any attention. After that, I never had a conversation with the party chair again.
So no, the Vermont Democratic Party doesn’t take kindly to criticism. I can’t imagine that anything will change now. Kevin Burgess should be thanked for his on-the-job efforts to change things from within, and for his willingness to step on a professional land mine in an attempt to force the VDP to face its problems.
Instead, I’m sure his name will never be uttered again in party offices or in the state committee. He deserves better.