Monthly Archives: August 2022

The Only Thing That Can Beat Vermont Democrats Is Vermont Democrats

Recently, I observed that the Vermont Democratic Party is in a much stronger position now than it was on January 1, 2022. It’s true, but it could create a problem in the general election campaign. The VDP is historically strong; the Vermont Republican Party is weak, disorganized and toxically partisan; and the Progressive Party remains a small presence hoping to make incremental gains at best. The reproductive rights amendment formerly known as Prop 5 should galvanize the Democratic base.

They don’t have a serious rival. That situation breeds complacency. Everybody knows the Dems are going to win, at minimum, every statewide race except for governor. Everybody knows they’re going to retain large legislative majorities. Knowing all that, is everybody prepared for an all-out effort this fall?

They’d better be.

There’s no excuse for failing to maximize this opportunity. They shouldn’t settle for the current level of dominance; the goal should be winning supermajorities in the state House and Senate and, best case, bringing Gov. Phil Scott’s cavalcade of cromulence to an end.

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Already, The Mask Slips

Vermont’s tiny but determined anti-abortion cohort had it all figured out. Instead of the usual frontal attack about baby-killing and “Before I formed thee, I knew thee” and implicit slut-shaming, they were going to make a disguised, indirect attack on Article 22. It was all lies, but at least it was subtle.

To carry this through November 8, however, would require a level of self-restraint not usually present among the committed pro-lifers. And sure enough, they couldn’t even make it to Labor Day before letting the mask slip.

The above is a mailer distributed by “Vermonters for Good Government,” the front organization set up by Right to Life Vermont and their deep-pocketed friends Lenore Broughton, Carol Breuer and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which apparently emerged from the financial crisis of the child sexual abuse scandal with enough scratch to throw $50,000 into the anti-Article 22 dumpster.

The mailer reverts to classic punch-in-the-face anti-abortion style: LATE-TERM ABORTION in 120-point type, fetal images designed to show how innocent and defenseless they are, references to fetuses as “babies,” and a layout that would make a professional designer hang their head in shame.

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Sad Little Elephant

The long decline of the Vermont Republican Party hit another low point last week when the party failed to recruit a warm body to run for state treasurer. Instead, they’re offering a double dose of perennial candidate and Best Dressed Man In Vermont Politics H. Brooke Paige. He’ll run for treasurer and secretary of state, so expect a double dose of big hats in candidate forums this fall.

Also, expect him to lose. Just like all the other statewide Republicans save Phil Scott. The governor could lose, but you can’t expect it the way you can for Gerald Malloy or Liam Madden or Rick Morton or that guy who’s running for attorney general or Paige or Paige.

Joe Benning I put in a different category. I expect him to lose to David Zuckerman but at least he’s a credible candidate, unlike all those other folks.

Errrrr… all those other men.

Before I go on, yes, I did recently write about the Republican primary field, the “usual collection of unknowns, kooks and zealots.” But things have only gotten worse since then, and I wanted to put a bow on the whole verkakte mess.

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No, It Wasn’t the “Dark Money”

Some people just loooooove the taste of sour grapes. Myself, I prefer to let them ripen before consuming, but Molly Gray and some of her devotees simply can’t help themselves. They’re shoveling fistfuls of the bitter things into their mouths like they’re consuming caviar.

And what’s left of Vermont’s political media is feeding this strange hunger by obsessing over the tide of big, out-of-state money spent on behalf of Becca Balint’s Congressional campaign. Seriously, they’ve missed a boatload of good stories about the primary, but they’re chasing this one like a starving dog sniffin’ roadkill.

So let’s start here. No, the last-minute flood of independent money didn’t make the difference. There is no way on God’s green earth that the outside expenditures created a 24 PERCENTAGE POINT MARGIN OF VICTORY. I’m sure they contributed a few points to the margin, but Balint would have won handily without a single outside dime.

She beat Gray fair and square. The longer Gray and her minions keep beating this drum, the longer it will take to rehabilitate her political reputation in Democratic circles. She’s already at serious risk of never eating lunch in this town again.

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If Lenore Broughton Had a Clue, She Could be Dangerous

Reclusive Montgomery Ward heiress Lenore Broughton, who must be referred to as “reclusive heiress” under the immutable laws of journalism, is by a longshot the most generous conservative donor in Vermont.

She is, of course, a modestly-sized frog in a tiny pond. She’s nowhere near the DeVoses or Uihleins of the world. But in Vermont, she’s got enough muscle to move our political center of gravity to the right.

Fortunately, she has no idea how to effectively spend her money. She wastes a lot of it on fruitless ventures, outmoded ideas, and candidates who are far too conservative to make any difference in public office even if they win. (What should she do instead? Read on, my friend.)

Most recent example: Broughton donated a cool $100,000 to Vermonters for Good Government Action, the thinly-veiled anti-abortion group trying to defeat Article 22. In a year when 59% of voters in goddamn Kansas refused to open the door to abortion restrictions, what hope is there of prevailing in deep blue Vermont?

You might chalk that up to unshakable belief. Broughton probably can’t help but spend heavily against reproductive rights. But how do you explain her bankrolling True North Reports, that seldom-read outpost of conservative commentary and “news”? There’s no way to know how much she spends on TNR because it’s a private venture, but it must be quite a lot. The return isn’t a bang for her bucks; it’s more like a wet fart.

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Well, This Would Be An Improvement

That just about sums up the brief, undistinguished legislative career of ultraconservative state Rep. Sally Achey. Which means it’s extremely heartening to see former representative (and Prog caucus chief) Robin Chesnut-Tangerman stepping back into the fray,

The news was first reported by Guy Page at the Vermont Daily Chronicle, which ought to be a little bit embarrassing for what’s left of the Vermont political press. I mean, Guy Page, Progressive insider?

Chesnut-Tangerman was chosen by the district Democratic Party committee after Democratic primary winner Chris Hoyt withdrew for family reasons. Smart choice.

In 2020, Chesnut-Tangerman lost to Achey by a mere 32 votes out of 2,809 cast. Achey was a Klar Klan ReKruit, a member of “Farmer” John Klar’s merry Agripublican band of extremists. Her victory was a calamity for the Progressive Party and for the district, since Achey has achieved nothing in her two years in office except sitting on the House Energy & Technology Committee, which seems like somebody’s idea of a bad joke, and complaining about climate change legislation.

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The Great VDP Reboot of 2022

When you add up a number of things previously reported in this space — new leadership at the Vermont Democratic Party that seems to know what it’s doing for a change, the emergence of Becca Balint and Mike Pieciak as formidable political forces — plus a few more, a clear picture emerges. The Vermont Democratic Party has risen from a long dismal period and is now moving from strength to strength. If the Republicans thought they might be closing the gap in any meaningful way, well, they are sadly mistaken.

The party’s internal organization is stronger than it’s been for years. Fundraising has improved greatly. And now there’s an impressively deep bench with numerous officeholders capable of climbing the ladder. In addition to Balint and Pieciak, there’s also Attorney General-in-Waiting Charity Clark and All But Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas. And we should not forget House Speaker Jill Krowinski, no sirree.

(Say, has the Vermont Republican Party found some patsies to run statewide yet? No? Yes? Does it matter?)

(UPDATE! They found guys for auditor and attorney general, still looking for treasurer. And no, it doesn’t matter.)

This is a stark change from the stasis of the past decade, when some really good people with no political upside held these offices. Plus TJ Donovan. (Well, Beth Pearce had political upside but she didn’t want it.)

The latest fundraising figures, studiously ignored by the tattered remnants of the political press, show the VDP continuing its upward trajectory. In July, the party took in $84,121 and spent $56,833, improving its cash balance to $267,095. At the beginning of 2022, the VDP had a mere $43,238 in the bank. And boosting their reserves is a real accomplishment when simultaneously gearing up for an election campaign.

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Phil Scott Might Not Enjoy a Fourth Term So Much

Gov. Phil Scott has, in many ways, lived a charmed life in the corner office. There haven’t been any scandals — or at least none that have been uncovered by our anemic press corps. He has, by general acclamation, kept his image as Gov. Nice Guy in spite of his outbreaks of verbal dyspepsia in press conferences and All Those Vetoes. And his greatest challenge has come with an incredible upside.

That would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions but was actually a strong net positive for the Vermont economy. A flood tide of federal relief aid meant there was no need for tough budget battles in the Statehouse and there was plenty of capacity for new investments. The money had the usual multiplier effect on disposable income, economic activity, and tax receipts. The latter eliminated any budget pressure that might have been left over from the direct federal infusions.

He had to make some tough calls on controlling the pandemic, for which he got plenty of praise and almost none of the criticism he, at times, deserved. Overall, the pandemic made his job a hell of a lot easier.

This isn’t the first time a crisis has elevated a governor. The high point of Peter Shumlin’s tenure was the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when he got to look strong and resolute and was able to throw money around and be a hero without anyone asking any inconvenient questions. Given the rest of his record, I wonder what we’d find if somebody did a deep dive on the Irene response, but that’s water under the bridge, pun intended. And Dick Snelling is fondly remembered for accepting tax hikes in order to pull Vermont’s economy out of the gutter, and not so much for being an asshole.

But that tide of federal aid is starting to recede, and budgets are about to get very tight around these parts.

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Soon to Be the Most Powerful Person in the Vermont Democratic Party

Far too early rampant speculation alert!

Becca Balint’s one-sided primary victory leaves only token obstacles in her path to Congress. This is obvious.

What’s less obvious is that it puts Balint on track to become the most powerful person in Vermont Democratic politics. This is the extra dimension of the primary’s import. It was a hinge moment in the party’s progress.

Follow me, if you will, down a wary-too-soon but perfectly logical rabbit hole.

Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch are extremely powerful presences in the Vermont Democratic Party, more so than is visible publicly. (Bernie Sanders is treated with veneration but as a resolute independent, he doesn’t have the same level of influence.)

Leahy is about to exit the stage and take on an emeritus-equivalent position in the party. He’ll have a say as long as he draws breath, but he won’t have the power of the office anymore. His people took a huge hit in the primary. Most or all backed Molly Gray, or even worked on her campaign. They might never recover, especially given how negative Gray went in the closing weeks of the primary campaign. That won’t endear any of them to Balint.

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The Clown Show Goes Into Overtime

The primary campaign was a rough one for the Vermont Republican Party. While the Democrats had enough good candidates to populate several robust primary contests, the Republicans offered the usual collection of unknowns, kooks and zealots in such low numbers that H. Brooke Paige reprised his ever-popular “run for a bunch of offices” ploy just to prevent Democrats from winning Republican nominations via handfuls of write-in votes.

Well, primary day has come and gone, and somehow things have gotten even worse for the VTGOP. First, we have the usual aftermath of the Paige maneuver: As he has done before, he withdrew from all but one race to allow the party to choose replacement candidates. Second, we have a Republican Congressional nominee who’s treating the nomination like it’s dogshit on the bottom of his shoe.

Back to the Paige situation. The VTGOP now has to scramble to find people willing to fill out the ticket even if they have no chance of winning and will barely even try. These are people who didn’t want to run in the first place. They’ll get a terribly late start on what will surely be underfunded, low-wattage efforts that might bear the slightest of resemblances to real, functional campaigns.

This has become SOP for the VTGOP, but it should be seen as the disgrace that it is. In a system with only two parties competing statewide, this Republican failure is not only bad for the party, it’s bad for democracy.

In addition to that, we have the embarrassment of a top-ticket nominee who wants nothing to do with the VTGOP.

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