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.
No one in Democratic circles should think electing Brenda Siegel is an impossibility. Yes, she’s an underdog, but she’s running a smart, creative campaign and can win of the party gets behind her. I mean, really gets behind her. Scott Milne 2014 means you never say never. If the Republicans had taken that race seriously, Peter Shumlin’s governorship would have ended then and there. Phil Scott is no more invincible than Shumlin.
But if Scott does win another term, the Democrats will need big enough majorities that they can override his vetoes without all the stress and drama — and frequent failure — we’ve seen in the past six years.
That’s a big ask, even with all the winds at their back. The Democrats already have all the easy gets. The pickup opportunities are in districts that usually go Republican, and winning them will require a real effort to drive Democratic turnout. Well-organized party structure, well-funded candidates, plenty of volunteers pitching in from now until the polls close.
The Dems could really use several more seats in the House. RIght now they have 91, the Republicans 46, and the Progs seven. There are five independents who tend to lean Republican. (The seat formerly held by the late Warren Kitzmiller is still vacant.)
The Dems need 100 to override. That’s a very heavy lift. They need every Democrat and Progressive on board plus a couple of independents. Offhand, I can recall at least three attempts to override a Scott veto that failed by a single vote because one member went astray. (Lookin’ at you, Thomas Bock.)
The next two years will require some real action on climate change. Scott’s had it relatively easy on that front because of all the available federal cash, but he’s going to be a roadblock on climate when the going gets tough.
Ideally, the Dems would take at least 100 seats by themselves. That means winning in places like, say, Franklin-6, which has been represented by Republican James Gregoire for the past two terms. It’s not a safe Republican seat, but it definitely leans that way. It’ll take an energetic campaign and a real GOTV push to beat him.
That’s the kind of district the Dems have to win to build a solid House supermajority, and it won’t happen if their voters, leaders, interest groups and activists aren’t absolutely committed.
In the Senate, the combined Dem/Prog caucus holds 23 of 30 seats. They could lose a couple and still retain a supermajority, but it would still be a big blow. A 21-member caucus means you’ve got to have every member save two (a) present and (b) ready to override. That includes Sen. Dick Mazza, Scott’s biggest fan, and a few other decidedly moderate types.
The Republicans do, in fact, have a good shot at gaining two Senate seats. They ought to win Chittenden North, and they could take back the Rutland County seat currently held by the retiring Cheryl Hooker. On the other hand, the Dems could hold serve and add another seat or two, perhaps in Franklin County where Corey Parent is retiring. But again, that will take an energetic, unified push.
If Scott wins and the Dems fail to win a House supermajority or see their Senate majority dwindle, it’d be a missed opportunity of historic proportions. It’d also consign Vermont to two more years of incremental progress at best. At worst, if the state’s economy and tax revenues decline as expected, executive/legislative standoffs would be even more likely. Given that Scott has already shattered the all-time record for vetoes, you don’t want to see that getting any worse.
If you’re going for a world record in a footrace, it really helps to have real competition. Otherwise you have nothing to measure yourself against, nothing to push you to your limits. That’s where Vermont Democrats find themselves.
The greatness of Usain Bolt was his ability to be far ahead and still keep his foot to the floor. He could have coasted here; instead he set a world record in the 200-meter.
That’s the kind of effort the Vermont Democratic Party needs this fall.