Stealth Conservatives: Who’s the Stealthiest One of All?

Ohh, there he is again, Smilin’ Phil just having a grand old time with another stealth conservative. Starting to be a pattern.

Except in this case, not only did the governor pose for a photo, he met with the candidate “to discuss campaign strategies.”

The gentleman on the right, photographically and ideologically, is Rob North, Republican candidate for House in the Addison-3 district currently represented by Democrats Matt Birong and DIane Lanpher.

North is thought to be the VTGOP’s best hope of avoiding a complete shutout in Addison County, and you can tell he listened to the governor because his campaign is swaddled in a thick protective coating of performative moderation. Also, for some reason, North has virtually no online footprint. He’s got a completely anodyne campaign Facebook page, but no personal social media accounts at all.

Unfortunately, there are cracks in the façade. He went and opened his yap at a candidates’ forum and showed himself to be an opponent of climate action, a free-market absolutist, and possessor of some rather… unique… views on water pollution. Also, North sent Birong and Lanpher a couple of rabidly anti-abortion emails last winter, before he became a candidate. Also also, North is an active member of a far-right evangelical denomination that bars women from church leadership, prohibits divorce, and believes the Earth is 6,000 years old.

But first, his campaign website. You know how Republicans like to run on “restoring balance” to the Statehouse? Well, North’s website is “balancedvermont.com”. He’s all about the balance. In an odd way it makes sense; he’s far right enough to cancel out a couple dozen Democrats.

This is where we’re at. Phil Scott would rather have a misogynistic Young Earth climate denier in the House than deal with a Democratic supermajority.

North’s homepage, like those of other stealth conservatives, is loaded with inoffensive verbiage, covering the extremism like a thick, rich gravy. He will “support your ideas, fight for the needs of our community, and earn your respect,” and he “truly cares for our community.” He will bring “Common Sense, Trust, and Transparency to Vermont Government.”

The dog whistles are there, but they are subtle. The Legislature is unbalanced because “Democrats are duty-bound to vote with their far-left progressive leadership.” He wants to “adequately fund police, fire, EMS, military, and veterans.” (The state doesn’t “fund” veterans, Rob.)

The loudest dog whistles are in a section called “Preservation of Vermont values,” because we all know what that means, right? Make Vermont Great Again. He’s in favor of our constitutional freedoms, locally controlled education, and “Pro-Family.”

If you’ve been reading this series, you know the code words. “Family” means no abortion and no marriage equality. “Locally controlled education” means parental oversight of curricula and activities. “Constitutional freedoms” means the Second Amendment.

Speaking of police, here’s a nice little photo from his website’s gallery.

Say, isn’t that Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel? In a city police vehicle? Seemingly endorsing a political candidate?

Nah, couldn’t be.

Moving on.

North outed himself as a conservative evangelical Christian in an email with a constituent who shared it with a source I trust who shared it with me. North rattled off his experience as an engineer, a volunteer soccer coach, school board secretary, and… “President of the Elders at my church*, President of local chapter of Gideons International, Chairman of East Coast Church Plant Committee for URCNA.”

*Presumably the New Haven United Reformed Church.

Let’s unpack. Gideons is the organization that places Christian Bibles in hotel and motel rooms. It’s also exclusively male; the women serve in an Auxiliary. “Church Plant” is an evangelical effort to start new churches in areas that are relatively unchurched or insufficiently pure about their churchedness. For more, see this 2019 Seven Days article about a church planting effort that began about ten years ago in Vermont.

At the time, the evangelical movement was faith-oriented. During the Trump years, once they got over the shock of “Grab ’em by the pussy,” white evangelicals became hyper-politicized. What used to be a spiritual battle against evil has become an earthly battle with liberals and other tools of the devil. As you might imagine, this brings a sharp edge to their politics.

Finally, the URCNA is the United Reformed Churches in North America, a very conservative denomination. It was founded a mere 26 years ago by members of the Christian Reformed Church who believed that the CRC was insufficiently pure. Which is ironic because the CRC was itself a 19th Century breakaway from the Reformed Church, which CRC members considered insufficiently pure. (The CRC is, by mainline Protestant standards, a quite conservative church.)

The URCNA out-pures the CRC in a number of ways. The U wants no part of women in the ministry or in church governance. It forbids divorce. It believes the Christian Bible is the unredacted inerrant Word of God. It believes evolution is a heresy. (Yep, these people are Young Earthers.) Worst of all, some in the CRC dared to question the absolute inerrancy of Scripture.

So that’s Rob North. Funny, there’s no mention of his faith on his campaign website and he kept quiet about it at the candidates’ forum. Brave soldier for Jesus.

Speaking of the forum, it was sponsored by the Addison County Farm Bureau and featured all (or almost all) the candidates for House and Senate in the county. It was unwieldy, to say the least. Only a few questions were asked before time ran out, and most of those were about agriculture. Sadly for North, one was about the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The other candidates spoke extemporaneously. North read exclusively from notes, rarely even looking up.

Nice tie.

North said he’s against pretty much the entire GWSA. It’s too costly, it “puts the cart before the horse” because alternative energy sources aren’t developed enough, and…

…it takes the focus off the real, local problem, which is that our waters, protecting our precious lakes and waterways is an environmental priority.

He didn’t come right out and say “global warming is a hoax,” but he sure doesn’t want to take any action about it whatsoever.

In answering a question about farming, North addressed efforts to reduce farm runoffs. Prepare yourself.

Did you know that only 40% of the phosphorus that goes into Lake Champlain actually comes from farms? That’s the same percentage that comes from wetlands, streams and forests. Interesting, isn’t it?

Yeah, “interesting.” I guess he agrees with Trump that we need to rake the forests? In reality, North is talking about the pre-existing nutrient load that’s within the lake’s capacity to handle. It’s the excess, human-caused effluents that create the problem. But adding in that 40% from the natural world does make agriculture’s contribution look a lot less problematic, doesn’t it?

North does propose a solution to reduce farm runoff. Unleash the farmers!

They don’t need the government coming in and telling them how to farm. The farmers community, they want to succeed. It’s in their best interest to succeed as well as everybody else’s. We just need to get out of the way and give ‘em a chance.

In other news, the solution to highway safety is to get the cops off the streets and give drivers the freedom to sort it all out.

Our final entry in the unmasking of Rob North is a pair of emails he sent to Birong last February, when the House was considering Proposition 5 (now Article 22) and before he was a candidate. Sadly for North, Birong posted the emails on his Instagram page. The emails reveal North as desperately, passionately opposed to Prop 5. In the first email note the ALL CAPS, always a sign of reasoned, dispassionate argumentation.

Birong responded in part by noting that Prop 5 had the support of 70% of Vermonters. North was unimpressed.

Hey, Rob. Did you know that almost the entire Addison County delegation consists of Democrats? Yeah, your county is about as liberal as any other.

The email continues with a recitation of the anti-abortion crowd’s laundry list of fabricated horrors: The amendment would “impose late-term abortion and even partial birth abortion… elimination of any safety oversight of abortion facilities… and even open the door for legalized prostitution and sex trafficking.”

None of that is true, but it is in the fevered imagination of Rob North. Who is just the kind of candidate Phil Scott is happy to spend time with.

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