Signs of a Backroom Deal

Did Beth Pearce just hand the treasurer’s office to Michael Pieciak? Consider the timing.

April 27: Gov. Phil Scott’s office announces that Pieciak would step down as Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation in mid-May “to pursue other opportunities” of the unspecified variety.

May 4: Pearce announces she will not seek re-election as treasurer. Her decision, she said, was made after being diagnosed with cancer three weeks earlier. Or about two weeks before Pieciak’s departure from the administration.

May 6: Pieciak launches a campaign for treasurer as a Democrat. (He served under Republican Scott, but he was brought into state government by Dem Peter Shumlin.)

Here’s what it looks like: Pearce realizes she’s stepping down and essentially handpicks Pieciak as her successor. How could you look at the sequence of events and think otherwise?

Pearce took a couple weeks after her diagnosis, more than enough time to drop a word to Pieciak. He steps down as commissioner “to pursue other opportunities” only a week before Pearce’s surprise announcement. And he launches his candidacy only two days after Pearce’s announcement.

One more event would clinch this theory: If no other prominent Democrat enters the race, then it would be clear that Pearce and the party have paved the way for Pieciak’s election. (There’s no sign of any well-known, or even little-known, Republican running for the office.)

Pieciak is absolutely qualified for the job. He’s been a top official in the DFR since 2014, and commissioner since 2016. By all accounts, he’s performed well. He also served as Scott’s Covid-19 number cruncher for two years, a high-profile and high-stakes position. There are no signs that he’d be anything less than a good treasurer, and could be a great one.

But.

I don’t like automatic successions. Treasurer is, for better or worse, an elective position. It should be a matter of competition, not coronation. If Pearce did choose Pieciak and help clear the field for him, then she’s treating her office as if it’s her own to bestow. That, I don’t like.

There’s also an attempted succession going on in the Secretary of State’s office, where current Sec Jim Condos has all bur endorsed his deputy Chris Winters to succeed him. Even so, two other worthy candidates (Montpelier City Clerk John Odum and Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas) have entered the race. Winters will have to earn his prize.

If Pieciak remains alone in the Democratic field, or if the only other candidates are little-known, then the office will have been handed to him on a velvet pillow. That’s not right.

2 thoughts on “Signs of a Backroom Deal

  1. Greg Dennis

    It’s not the focus of your article, I recognize, but there’s a more important issue here re: State Treasurer.

    Beth Pearce refused to even consider having the state divest out of fossil fuels. What position will her successor take?

    Will s/he follow the lead of the State of Maine, New York pension funds, UVM — and trillions of other dollars in funds — and get stop investing in dirty fossil fuels? Or will Pearce’s successor continue with the stubborn refusal to put Vermont investments to work in cleaner, greener and more profitable investments?

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I mentioned it in a list of issues on which she was very much NOT a progressive Democrat. Fossil fuels, opposition to a state bank, hawkish attitude toward state borrowing, near-obsession with the bond rating. She was topnotch in doing the job, but she was not a policy leader. Well, except for her staunch opposition to big changes in the public sector pension funds.

      Reply

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