Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

Writer, editor, sometime radio personality, author of "Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives."

Get Ready for Fight Club in the Statehouse

The coming biennium may be the most combative in recent memory. The best comp might be Jim Douglas’ final years in office when he had huge budget battles with the Democratic Legislature and saw his veto of marriage equality overridden.

The stage is set. Phil Scott comfortably won re-election, and can rightly claim the overwhelming support of the Vermont electorate. Legislative leaders can equally assert a mandate, given the fact that the Democratic slash Progressive caucuses are at historic highs. Legislative leadership will have a nice margin for error on veto overrides.

On top of all that, the next couple of budget cycles are going to be tough. The federal tide of Covid relief funds has made it easy to pass budgets — until now. Tight budget times and both sides claiming mandates? That spells trouble by the bushelful.

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Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss

Congratulations to Jarrod Sammis, newly elected member of the Vermont House in the Rutland-3 district…

… and the only one on my long list of far-right Republican candidates who didn’t lose.

For those keeping score, and you bet I am, that’s one win and 23 losses. Which kinda explains my previous post about how the Vermont Republican Party has led itself, with supreme confidence, deep into the political wilderness with no idea what to do next except Keep Striding Forward!

That 1-23 record wasn’t the only bad news for Team Extreme. They also lost a bunch of races featuring far-right candidates I never got around to covering. Remember that 16 of the 21 Republican Senate candidates were extremists? Well, 12 of them lost. They may have picked up one seat at best. In the House, where the Republican ticket had 42 in irregular earth orbit, 35 of them lost. And that included three incumbent representatives who won’t be coming back: Vicky Strong, Sally Achey, and VTGOP Vice Chair Samantha Lefebvre.

Instead of bulking up their ranks and possibly upending caucus leadership, the extremists actually lost ground. It was a thorough rebuke for ultraconservatism in Vermont.

But let’s start with their only bright spot, the guy with a YouTube channel full of inflammatory videos that revealed an unhealthy fascination with guns and a probably-controlled desire to train them on socialists and communists. The channel he quickly deleted when it became public knowledge, claiming he did so to [checks notes] protect his family’s privacy. Sammis eked out a two-point win in reliably conservative territory. Bully for him.

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The Leadership of the VTGOP Should Be Defenestrated Immediately, But It’s Not Gonna Happen

Phil Scott? Untouchable. Every other Republican? Radioactive.

That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know about the 2022 election in Vermont. Scott cruised to victory; the rest of the VTGOP, which followed a Trumpier path, got absolutely steamrolled.

And they leave Scott in a significantly weakened position for the next two years. Barring any late turnarounds, the Dem/Prog caucus in the Senate will stay at 23 out of 30. But the House, oh my God. It’s looking like a net 11-seat pickup for the Dem/Prog caucus, which means they will have more breathing room than they’ve ever had for veto overrides.

As it looks now, the House Republican caucus will be reduced to a paltry 38 seats. Yikes.

It’s absolutely clear why this happened. The voters rejected far-right candidates almost across the board. The vast majority of my “stealth Republicans” lost their races, usually by big margins. The only bright spot for the VTGOP was Franklin County, which also happens to have the sanest of the county committees. Republicans took all but one Franklin County seat in the House and Senate. That’s two of the seven Republican senators and seven of the 38 House Republicans, all from Franklin County alone.

The party’s state leadership is to blame. They followed this path. They recruited a bunch of unelectable candidates. They turned their backs on Phil Scott. They should collectively resign in shame, but they probably won’t. They’re too deep up their own asses to realize that everything they did was wrong.

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W2W4

Planning on a very short or nice long evening, sitting in front of my desktop hitting REFRESH on the Vermont vote count. Here are the things I’ll be watching for, in roughly descending order:

The #1 thing is whether the Democrats and Progressives can add to their supermajorities. They’ve already got a comfortable margin in the Senate, but they barely clear the bar in the House and could use a few more seats. More on that below; for now let’s go to the top of the ballot.

Scott/Siegel. Everybody expects Gov. Phil Scott will win a fourth term. Democrat Brenda Siegel has run a strong campaign, but it’s been underfunded and she’s had to climb a very tall mountain. The polls say Scott will win a majority of the Democratic voters which, need I repeat, means that those voters are not serious about advancing their party’s agenda.

I still give Siegel a puncher’s chance. If she does pull up short, I’ll be very interested in the margin of victory for Scott. How close can Siegel make it? How much of a dent has she put in Scott’s Teflon? Has she created a template for a future candidate with deeper pockets?

Otherwise, the statewide races are not going to be close. It’s hard to see anything but a Democratic sweep of U.S. Senate, Congress, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer. Bragging rights go to the Democratic candidate with the biggest win. I suspect that will be Mike Pieciak.

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Scary Eagle Man Election Eve Anecdote FAIL

Gerald Malloy made the customary Election Eve rounds of all 14 Vermont counties today. The antepenultimate stop was in Rutland, where his visit sparked a touching memory of an early encounter that fortified him for the long road ahead.

“Dolores Luebke,” hmmm….

Would that be the Dolores Luebke who’s served as chair of the Pawlet Republican Committee? The Dolores Luebke who’s a Second Amendment absolutist? The Dolores Luebke who has repeatedly made baseless accusations of election fraud against former state representative Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, who’s now running to retake his old seat?

Yeah, if that’s the kind of “substance” Malloy possesses, allow me to fervently hope he loses by a truly embarrassing margin.

Receipts!

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The Vermont Republican Party Has Been Assimilated

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.

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Why is the Scott Campaign Trying All of a Sudden?

Gov. Phil Scott’s re-election campaign has been sleepwalking through the 2022 campaign, barely bothering to raise money and spending very little.

Until now.

The Scott campaign’s recent financial disclosures show that, with very little time remaining, Team Scott has seriously kicked it into overdrive.

Between October 27 and November 4, the Scott campaign filed five Mass Media spending reports, totaling $63,471. That’s more than they’d spent on mass media in the entire cycle before then. The media buys break down like this: $45,086 for TV, cable and streaming ads, $1,142 for Facebook ads, and $7,513 for newspaper ads.

In the six weeks before that big splurge, the Scott campaign had spent less than $10,000 on mass media.

Why spend so much so late? In fact, almost too late? The impact will be limited because so many have already voted. Did they get a bad poll?

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We Have to Talk About Nathan

This is Nathan, the former employee of Full Moon Farm whose allegations that David Zuckerman is a horrible boss got turned into a Vermont Republican Party attack ad launched in the campaign’s closing days.

Well, guess what.

Nathan is a staunch conservative Republican. And I’ve got receipts.

That, in itself, doesn’t render his claims untrue, but it puts them in a completely different light. Nathan isn’t an objective voice who had a bad time working at Full Moon Farm; he’s a partisan with a clear interest in Zuckerman’s defeat.

The VTGOP identified him only as “Nathan,” which is, indeed, his real first name. I’ve heard that the party is refusing to release any more information about him. Problem is, this is a small state and a lot of people know Nathan. Some of them worked at Full Moon the same time he did. His identity is bound to come out, and when it does, this ad is going to blow up in the VTGOP’s collective face. .

But let’s get to the receipts.

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The Saddest October Surprise Ever

Hey, I hadn’t realized that former VTGOP chair Deb Billado had made a comeback. Congratulations!!

But seriously, the above image is from a nasty little political ad created by the Vermont Republican Party. They waited until now because it’s too late for anyone to make a cogent response. On the other hand, it’s also too late for such a message to sink in, especially since the party can’t afford the kind of advertising blitzkrieg that would punch this message through the noise and smoke of the home stretch.

The 30-second spot features a man identified as “Nathan,” said to be a former employee of David Zuckerman’s Full Moon Farm. “Nathan,” last name not given, is dressed just like a farm worker and stands in front of a suitably well-worn farm-type truck as he unrolls a litany of complaints about Zuckerman as a boss. Low pay, no time off, substandard accommodations, etc.

There is no way to verify Nathan’s identity or his story. The VTGOP, as far as I know, has made no attempt to back up his assertions. He might be a former employee with an ax to grind, justifiably or otherwise. (Any employer will eventually rub some people the wrong way.)

He might also be a Young Republican who’s never gotten dirt under his fingernails.

The cherry on top: The person behind the ad appears to be Republican National Committeeman (and lamprey on the underbelly of Vermont Republicanism) Jay Shepard. His business, Junction Consulting, has been paid $14,450 since October 28 for “Media – TV,” according to party filings with the secretary of state*. The party has reported no other expenditures on mass media.

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Stealth Conservatives: The Angry Chiropractor

Meet Matthew Stralka, Thetford resident and chiropractor whose shingle hangs across the river in Hanover. He’s also the Republican candidate for House in the Windsor-Orange-2 district, currently represented by Democrat Jim Masland.

Almost forgot: Stralka is a Covid denialist of a particularly fulminant strain. And he thinks Gov. Phil Scott is a TRAITOR.

Funny that they’re now on the same ticket, but that’s what the Vermont Republican Party has been reduced to in the Year of Our Lord 2022.

The Republicans failed to recruit a candidate in the district. Stralka ran a last-minute write-in campaign, as did quote a few Republican nominees, and managed to snag the nomination. He appears to have done nothing whatsoever in terms of actual campaigning since. No campaign website or Facebook page, He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report since August 1 when he reported receipts of $682.50, all from himself, and zero expenditures. No filing on September 1 or October 1 or October 15.

Now, that’s a commitment to stealth.

He’s a blank slate with one exception. Stralka has a Twitter account. Not much of one; he has zero followers. He’s never Tweeted on his own. He has, however, occasionally replied to other people’s tweets, and done so in a remarkably incendiary manner.

The most frequent target of his ire is Governor Nice Guy. Let’s get to it!

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