A Bit of a Kerfuffle at the Ethan Allen Institute

Hey everybody, meet Myers Mermel, the new president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

For those unfamiliar, EAI is Vermont’s most prominent conservative “think tank,” best known for such influential operations as the seldom-heard Common Sense Radio and a steady supply of seldom-read opinion pieces. It was headed for many years by former vagabond John McClaughry, who remains a prolific writer of those opinion pieces. After he stepped out of leadership in 2013, former VTGOP chief Rob Roper took the reins. Roper retired last March, and was replaced by serially unsuccessful political candidate Meg Hansen.

Well, Hansen didn’t even last a year. She’s been ousted in an apparently messy process that culminated last night in Mermel’s razor-thin election to the presidency. The vote of the EAI board was reportedly five for Mermel, four for Hansen, and two abstaining.

Here I must pause to delineate established fact from informed hearsay. Mermel has confirmed he is now EAI’s president. He would not otherwise comment. Everything else I’m about to write comes from a single anonymous source, because official mouths are firmly zippered shut chez EAI.

Hansen became president in a contest with Wendy Wilton, former Republican candidate for treasurer. Wilton is better connected to Vermont’s conservative establishment, some of whom never seemed to accept Hansen.

Mermel joined the EAI board in October and began touting himself as a better leader than Hansen. By early December he was convinced he had enough support to win the presidency, so much so that on December 5 he sent an aggressive and downright insulting email to Hansen giving her two choices: Resign “citing family or health reasons” to save face, or stick it out and lose with the concomitant public embarrassment. The full email is… really something; I’ve included it below.

The single-source account continues. Hansen’s response was to contact every board member and share Mermel’s email with them. This triggered the resignation of board member Lawrence Reed, and led to the departures of Roper and Dr. Robert Letovsky as well.

Reed’s departure is especially noteworthy. Throughout its history, EAI’s leadership has been drawn from the very small and stagnant pond of Vermont conservatism. Reed was a very prominent outsider. He’s president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, a conservative/libertarian outfit. He’s a former head of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is the EAI equivalent in Michigan except that the Mackinac Center is well-known and influential in conservative circles. Reed had only served on the board since October.

So his departure was a blow, and should have been a giant red flag that EAI was on a self-destructive course. That didn’t stop Mermel, and it didn’t stop five trustees from supporting him.

So, who is this guy Mermel? He’s a Vermont native — and a descendant of one of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys — who graduated from UVM in 1984 and moved out of state to pursue career opportunities. He did so with considerable success, becoming an investment banker and real estate mogul in New York City. He’s been entangled in his share of tax disputes and civil suits, but that’s kind of SOP for titans of NYC real estate. I can’t say with certainty that he was better or worse than his fellows.

Mermel has been very involved in Republican politics since at least 2008, when he was a national finance chair for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. In 2010 Mermel ran for governor of New York; he failed to win the backing of the state party committee, and dropped out of the race before the primary. (That was the year that Tea Party republican Carl Paladno got shellacked by then-attorney general Andrew Cuomo.)

The following spring, the Albany Times Union published a short piece entitled “Myers Mermel Crashes Party Meeting.” It was a closed meeting, and he was asked to leave. His own account:

I asked [NYGOP chair] Ed [Cox] if I could listen to the meeting, after the losses we took at a state level, and I want to be sure to be able we can raise funds,” Mermel said. “I have some concern about the leadership of the party and whether we’re able to be strong and effectual going forward.”

Mermel added that he thought it was “time for new leadership” in a party that had received a thorough drubbing in the 2010 election, although he denied that he wanted the job for himself. Even so, the incident does seem to be a precursor to his EAI insurgency.

Mermel moved back to his home state in 2015. He ran for U.S. Senate last year and finished third in the Republican primary. He was the “other” candidate in a race that featured Ms. Mayonnaise Christina Nolan and Gerald “Deploy” Malloy.

And now he’s head of Vermont’s leading conservative think tank, which is kind of like being the fastest turtle in a 100-meter dash. He has reportedly touted his out-of-state connections and his ability to raise money for an organization that suffers from shallow pockets. He got what he was after; now he’ll have to deliver.

As promised, here’s the full Mermel email. Jack McMullen is the guy best remembered as “Six Teats” for his embarrassing answer to the question, “How may teats on a milk cow?” That question was posed by the legendary Fred Tuttle at a Tuttle/McMullen debate during the 1998 U.S. Senate campaign. Tuttle beat McMullen in the Republican Senate primary. McMullen is now a member of the EAI board.

___________________________________________________________

From: “M. Myers Mermel”
Sent: Monday, December 5, 2022 12:08pm
To: “Meg Hansen”
Cc: “Jack McMullen”
Subject: Leadership of Ethan Allen Institute

Meg,
 
On Sunday evening, I was called by Jack McMullen. He told me that you would call me, but having failed to hear from you, I am sending this email.
Jack told me that he notified you that I have received eight written proxies for the upcoming annual meeting vote for President of EAI. This is a majority and it seems likely that I will be able to receive even more votes in the actual election, potentially ten or more. Regardless, the eight votes which are now in hand will make me the President, so the election of January 5th, 2023 is already decided.
  It is clear that the Board does not see you as a good fit for the job going forward. If this is a surprise, it should be an indication to you of how separated you have allowed yourself to become from the Board.
  At this point, you have two options. The first option is to resign the position of President and resign your Board seat immediately, citing family or health reasons. If you resign now I will make sure my proxies ensure you are paid through January 5th effectively giving you an extra month of paid leave. The second option is to wait until the annual meeting and election on January 5th. In that meeting I will vote my proxies and you will lose in a more public fashion. There will be no more leave available if you choose to wait for the election.
  I am indifferent to which option you select, as I do not believe either option damages or affects the reputation of the EAI. The first option may give you the ability to present to the public a different story than just a loss, but it is up to you.
  Regardless of which option you choose, professionalism demands that you provide an accounting of your activities. Accordingly please email me a memo with the number and contact information of the website vendor. Additionally please include a status update of every open ask to any donor or grant maker with the current state of discussions and contact information for them.  
  I am offering you until 5:00 pm this Thursday December 8th to choose the option to resign. If Jack and I do not receive your resignation via email by that time, I will act proactively to safeguard the reputation of EAI with its vendors, members, donors, grant makers, and partners by informing them that you cannot make ANY commitments on EAI’s behalf without the approval of the Board and that your term will end on January 5th. If Thursday December 8th passes without your resignation, your public separation narrative will be what it will be.
 
I wish you well in coming endeavors. 
 
Sincerely,
 
M. M. Mermel

__________________________________

5 thoughts on “A Bit of a Kerfuffle at the Ethan Allen Institute

  1. Mary Bouchard

    Brenda Siegel is a “serially unsuccessful political candidate.” But you won’t reduce her achievements and existence to her 3 failed public campaigns for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

    Reply
      1. Mary Bouchard

        Going by how pathetic, petty, outdated, irrelevant, broken and broke the VT GOP is, Meg Hansen “not being competitive” in that dumpster fire is a compliment to her. As a professional leftist, it has to make a skin crawl to see a bright, talented, medically trained, honest and bold woman of color with immigrant roots exists in Vermont –> on the right. Don’t kid yourself that she isn’t influential, doesn’t have an ardent following, and won’t make an indelible mark. Not in Burlington. Maybe not in racist lily white Vermont. But America is bigger than the little bubble you call your new home.

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