When you push content out into the ether, you never know what’s going to catch fire and what’s going to vanish forever without a trace. The most viral post I’ve ever written was a silly little thing about a proposal (sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, credit where it’s due) to create a Latin motto for Vermont. A bunch of ignorant conservatives reacted angrily because they didn’t know the difference between Latin and Latin America. It was plenty of fun, but not exactly meat and potatoes.
Anyway, exhibit B in the category of “you never know” is a recent piece observing that treasurer-to-be Mike Pieciak seemed to be destined for higher office. I’d like to make it clear, as if I won’t later in this piece, that I don’t necessarily endorse the idea. I just saw the signs.
The post went live on August 10, the day after Pieciak had waltzed, unopposed, to the Democratic nomination. Three weeks and a day later, VTDigger ran a story that Pieciak was “generating significant buzz” as a potential gubernatorial candidate.
The first bee whose buzz was cited: yours truly. I appreciate that, but in retrospect maybe I should have copyrighted the idea.
To be fair to reporter Lola Duffort, she did a lot of additional digging and put quite a bit of meat on the bones. Pieciak was praised by various notables as “trustworthy,” “charming,” “very smart,” “a serious straight shooter,” “a nice guy.”
And now Vermont Public has jumped on the Pieciak Parade. Twelve days after Duffort posted her story, “Morning Edition” host and Vermont’s human alarm clock Mitch Wertlieb interviewed her about Pieciak’s bright political future. During the chat, Mitch basically stole a line from my original piece, by now a month old, when he noted that a hypothetical Gov. Pieciak “would be the state’s first openly gay governor.”
Glad to have provided some content for you all. But now that I seem to have warmed up the bandwagon, I’m disembarking.
The first warning sign for me is Pieciak’s complete lack of a policy profile. He’s been a wonk, and a top-class one, in the Shumlin and Scott administrations. He’s never had to take public positions on issues. Wasn’t his job.
He has given hints of an active approach to the job of treasurer, not only overseeing the books but leveraging the power of the office to drive policy. But he’s short on specifics. I’d prefer someone who’s taken progressive stances on treasurer-related issues like tolerance for debt, fossil fuel divestment, public sector pensions, and a state bank.
He has addressed most of those issues on his website, but his stances are on the vague side. On pensions, he would “advocate for public sector workers and their dignity in retirement,” which says nothing at all about future benefit reductions. He says that “We must continue to make investment in affordable housing across our state,” which doesn’t commit him to support another housing bond issue. On climate change, he bravely supports “recent efforts by the federal government that would require publicly traded companies to uniformly disclose their carbon impact.”
Disclosure, as you probably know, is the moderate work-around to actually doing something, like, say, divestment.
So it’s like that. I don’t doubt he’s a nice guy and a capable administrator, but I’d like to know where he lies on the Democratic scale.
And I suspect that I already know the answer to that question. To judge by certain aspects of his record and, more immediately, his donor list, he’d be an establishment Democrat. That’d be better than any Republican, but c’mon. When was the last time Vermont had a governor you could characterize as small-P progressive? Madeleine Kunin?
It’s about time to try again, and I don’t think Pieciak is That Guy. I could be wrong, and I will watch is career with great interest.
His lengthy donor list includes a Who’s Who of centrism and Burlington’s establishment. Ernie Pomerleau, Al Gobeille, Howard Dean, Neale Lunderville, David Coates, centrist signifier Ed Adrian, Luke Albee, Eric Farrell, Patricia Moulton, Bissonette Properties, Michael Sirotkin, plus the why-are-they-still-extant campaign funds of Peter Shumlin and Bill Sorrell.
Speaking of Sorrell, the biggest red flag on Pieciak’s resume is his role in Sorrell’s final re-election campaign, in 2012. As Duffort tells it, Sorrell was in trouble. Then- Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan seemed to be on track for a primary upset over Sorrell, but…
Then a young attorney at the Burlington law firm Downs Rachlin Martin planning to move back to New York City, Pieciak agreed to come on as Sorrell’s campaign manager after being introduced by a former aide to Dean, according to Sorrell’s account. They quickly became “joined at the hip,” and Sorrell now says he considers Pieciak family.
Well, isn’t that special.
Sorrell was a frankly undistinguished fellow, but Sorrell’s mother was one of Dean’s staunchest backers. Dean elevated him to AG after a failed attempt to ensconce him on the state supreme court. Sorrell proceeded to win re-election after re-election, for which I called him the Eternal General.
I also once called him, sarcastically, “Vermont’s Two-Fisted Attorney General.” A clueless Sorrell later cited my characterization as a badge of honor.
The idea that it was Mike Pieciak who gave us two more years of Sorrell, and the idea that he is even more of a Burlington insider than Donovan, for God’s sake, gives me real pause.
We didn’t have a choice in the primary because nobody took him on. We really don’t have a choice in November. And if Pieciak minds his P’s and K’s, we’ll probably have no choice when he runs for governor.
He might very well be a good governor. But there are warning signs. I remain skeptical about Pieciak as the heir apparent to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
I’m quite happy at this point to give Mike Pieciak the benefit of the doubt. I think he’ll be a decent treasurer. But the real test will come with fossil fuel divestment. Will he push to align with other government funds such as the state of Maine’s in moving to divest out of fossil fuels (joining other funds globally worth trillions of dollars) — or will he support departing treasurer Beth Pierce’s refusal to divest Vermont out of dirty, polluting fossil fuels? Vermont needs to get out of the business of helping to prop up a business that is destroying the climate.