When I started my series on “stealth conservatives,” i had no idea it would go on so long. Or that I’d get nowhere close to finishing. I’ve done 20 of those pieces and I could do a lot more.
It’s no longer accurate to say the Vermont Republican Party tolerates a few extremist candidates where they have no other options. It’s that extremists account for more than half of all Republican candidates for the Legislature, and the vast majority of the first-time candidates.
The Republican Party of Phil Scott and Jim Jeffords and Bob Stafford and Dick Snelling is dead. It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.
The bottom line: By my count the Republicans have a total of 100 candidates for House or Senate, and 58 of them are out on the fringe. Well, really, the fringe has become the center of an extremist Republican Party.
The 58 includes 15 incumbents. The rest have never held state-level office. The new Republican caucuses will swing dramatically to the hard right, with all that that entails for the quality and civility of legislative sessions.
In actual fact, there are almost certainly more than 58 extremists on the ticket. I haven’t had time to sort through all these people’s social media presences and debate appearances. And it seems like every time I turn over a rock, a couple more scuttle out.
Some details about my method. I counted Republican and Republican/Libertarian candidates but not Republican/Democratic ones. The former are chosen ideological identities; the latter are usually cases where the Dems didn’t put up a nominee and the Republican gets the Dem nomination with a few write-ins.
My definition of “extremist” is someone who holds some or all of these positions: Anti-vaxxer, Covid denier, climate change denier, 2020 election truther, Second Amendment absolutist, transphobe, believer in conspiracy theories about critical race theory or Black Lives Matter, or believer that Democrats are Socialists in disguise. That’s an inexact but reasonable measuring stick.
The fanaticization of the VTGOP is moving quickly and will continue. Mainstream Republicans like Heidi Scheuermann and Corey Parent are leaving office. Few are stepping forward to replace them. According to the polls, most Republicans don’t support their only statewide winner, Phil Scott. And once Scott leaves the scene, would anyone who seeks to follow his path be able to win the party base? Ask Christina Nolan about that.
This trend is especially stark in the Senate, where the Republicans have 21 candidates and 16 of them fall under my definition of extremist. The House ticket includes 79 candidates, 42 of whom are extremists. I didn’t get around to 15 others, so 42 is likely an undercount.
In case you think I’m exaggerating, here are a few people I haven’t had time to profile.
Sarah Toscano, House candidate in Chittenden-4 (against Dem Phil Pouech), is a hard core Second Amendment absolutist. She was a speaker at the 2018 Patriot Rally held in front of the Statehouse a few days after Gov. Phil Scott signed three gun bills into law. She claims to be an ex-Democrat: “The Democratic party told me I could not protect my family with a gun, and that’s when I walked away.” Which is bullshit. At most, the Dems might bar you from protecting your family with a military-grade assault weapon. That leaves plenty of guns.
Washington County Senate candidate Paul Bean opposes any mandatory health measures including masks and vaccines. He would convert all elementary schools and maybe also middle schools into good old-fashioned one- or two-room schoolhouses. In an appearance on Second Vermont Republic agitator Rob WIlliams’ interview show “Plan V-TV,” Bean said “We put our kids into these schools, and they’re our most valuable commodity, asset, whatever you want to call them.” Allow me to introduce you to my daugher Commodity and my son Asset.
Caledonia County’s J.T. Dodge hopes to supplant Democrat Jane Kitchel in the Senate. Dodge believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has clamped down on Vermonters’ free speech rights, that instead of fighting climate change we should support “diversity in fuels,” that we should “freeze new expenditures while focusing on paying debts,”* and that the Secretary of State should conduct “an exhaustive, top to bottom financial audit.” Say, isn’t there another state office tasked with doing that? I think it’s called “Auditator” or “Auditician” some such.
*Unlike the federal government, Vermont doesn’t have debts other than the carefully planned bonding that pays for infrastructure projects. I guess we should stop all of that?
Cindy Laskevich, House candidate in Rutland-6 opposing Democrat Mary Howard, ran for school board last spring on a ticket of candidates who wanted to restore the Raider mascot at Rutland High. She also has a big ol’ fruit salad of a Facebook page. She believes the mainstream media are “run to promote power for the dems” (if only), called Article 22 “a trojan horse amendment,” and complained about alleged shadow banning by social media companies. She twice posted links to stories in the right-wing “satirical” Babylon Bee as it they were true. And she enthusiastically accepted the endorsement of Vermont Stands Up, an anti-vaxxer group.
Eva Ryan is running for House in the Windham-Windsor district against Democrat Heather Chase. In a video posted on her Facebook page (“Eva Ryan for House Representative”), she repeated the far-right canard that CO2 is actually good for the planet. She claimed that renewable energy would fill our hills and fields with wind turbines and solar panels platformed on acres of “cement.” And she said we should investigate “solar flares, magnetic fields, and where we are in the Solar System” as the root causes of climate change.
Finally, Lynn Kuralt, running against incumbent Dem Mike Mrowicki in Windham-4. In a short Q&A in the Brattleboro Reformer, Kuralt expressed something akin to pride in her ignorance. Just about every Republican says “common sense” once or twice; in a brief Q&A, Kuralt said it five times — and made it clear that she was employing “common sense” in lieu of knowledge.
As a first-time candidate, I hesitated to respond to the Reformer’s request to answer questions about issues where my knowledge is limited. However, I do have many thoughts and opinions concerning these issues, therefore will respond from what I believe to be everyday actionable common sense.
She hopes to hold an office of significant responsibility, representing thousands of Vermonters in the Statehouse, but she was afraid to answer a few basic questions? And what, pray tell, is “actionable” common sense?
On the opioid crisis, “common sense” tells her to tear down everything we’re doing now and replace it with… something else. “Common sense” says if government tries to solve the housing crisis, we’ll all wind up living in “clustered developments.” And of course “common sense” reveals that the wording of Article 22 “could be spun to endorse whatever sexual trend may be popular at the time.” Kuralt’s idea of “common sense” is quite uncommon, indeed.
Time to stop beating a dead parrot. Point is, if not for the fact that Election Day is upon us, I could have kept writing these pieces for weeks.
This is the stuff that most Republican candidates are made of. This is what the Vermont Republican Party has been reduced to. Many of these candidates are running in deep-blue districts with no chance of winning (Rohan St. Marthe, who announced his campaign during a worship service at the right-wing evangelical Ignite Church, is running a hopeless race for Senate in Chittenden County), but many will win their races and show up in the Statehouse ready to disrupt the legislative process with their conspiracy theories, ignorance of lawmaking, and odd varieties of “common sense.”
This is what the VTGOP is offering the people of Vermont. Not garden-variety conservatives who want well-managed limited government, but ideologues out of touch with reality. Until I wrote this series, I hadn’t realized just how far this assimilation has gone in a just a few short years. It’s shocking. And Phil Scott hasn’t done a thing to stop the degradation of the party he claims to love.