Category Archives: 2014 election

Do the Democrats want to beat Phil Scott?

Stupid question, right?

Ask any Democrat — well, almost any Democrat — and they’ll say of course they want to beat Phil Scott and put one of their own in the corner office.

But I’m not asking any of them.

Instead, I’m looking at their collective actions. And they tell a different story, one full of abject failure to mount competitive races, of convenient excuses for legislative inaction, of top-tier contenders avoiding a tough challenge.

Conventional wisdom says that Scott is a singularly popular Republican thanks to his plain ol’ working-man demeanor and his plausibly moderate stands on the issues. I mean, look: He’s never lost in his 20-year political career. That includes campaigns for state Senate, lieutenant governor and governor. Impressive.

But who has he beaten? How many difficult races has he had to run? How many times did he amble his way to victory?

Short answer: He’s had it about as easy as a politician could hope for.

Scott first ran for Senate in 2000, the year of the great conservative backlash over civil unions for same-sex couples. He secured one of Washington County’s three seats in a race that nearly produced a Republican sweep of the county. (Incumbent Democrat Ann Cummings barely edged out fourth-place Republican Paul Giuliani.)

After that, Scott’s fortunes were buoyed by the super-strong incumbent’s edge in state Senate races. He finished a strong third in 2002. 2004 was the closest call of his entire political career; he won the third seat by a margin of only 230 votes. 2006 and 2008 were easy wins for all three incumbents — Scott, Cummings, and the redoubtable Bill Doyle.

As a reasonably inoffensive Republican, Scott benefited from the good will of Democratic leadership. He served as vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and chair of  Senate Institutions, burnishing his reputation for working across the aisle.

In 2010, Scott ran for lieutenant governor and won, beating then-state representative Steve Howard by 49-42 percent.  That was the closest call he’s had in this entire decade.

As LG, Scott’s reputation for bipartisanship was given a boost by then-governor Peter Shumlin, who included Scott in his cabinet. Not the kind of move you make if you really wanted a fellow Democrat to take Scott’s place.

Unsurprisingly, the potential A-List or B-List candidates for Lite-Gov kept their distance, allowing relative unknowns Cassandra Gekas (2012) and Dean Corren (2014) to mount the altar as sacrificial lambs. Scott beat Gekas by 17 points and Corren by an astounding 26.

And that set the stage for Scott’s elevation to governor in 2016. His Democratic opponent Sue Minter was a former state representative and cabinet official, but she’d never run for statewide office and was little known outside of Montpelier and Waterbury. She lost by nine points. In 2018, the top tier of Democrats was nowhere to be seen; former utility executive Christine Hallquist made history by becoming the first openly transgender person to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination, but she had no chance in November. Scott sailed to a 15-point victory.

Now, you tell me. Who’s more responsible for the remarkable political career of Phil Scott? The man himself — or the Democratic Party that has consistently failed to seriously challenge him, and the Democratic officeholders who’ve consistently given him a hand up?

That also goes for top Democrats who are more than happy to make public appearances with Scott, even during his 2018 re-election campaign. The governor could fill a thousand campaign brochures with photos of himself making nice with Democratic officeholders, from the legislature to statewide officials to members of our congressional delegation.

I know, we’re all proud of Vermont’s tradition of political comity. But at some point, don’t you have to be just a little bit partisan?

Now, let’s look at the Democrat-dominated legislature, where Scott provides a convenient excuse for not getting stuff done. Over and over again in the past three years, the Dems have failed to advance key bills because of the potential for a gubernatorial veto. Just as often, they’ve ended up negotiating against themselves — weakening legislation in hopes of winning the governor’s approval.

Y’know, if they had a progressive-minded Democratic governor, they’d have to actually try to craft effective legislation. This didn’t work out too well with Shumlin’s health care reform push, did it? Much safer to flail helplessly in the face of a Republican governor.

They’ve also reached a comfy non-confrontational position on taxes and spending. There was little dispute over the 2020 budget. There is no real effort to challenge Scott on taxes. VTGOP press releases will tell a different story, chronicling every tax or fee increase proposed by every single Dem or Progressive lawmaker — even though the vast majority were dead on arrival.

During the 2019 session, the Dems undermined much of their own agenda. They spent week after week trying to come up with weaker and weaker versions of key bills. In some cases, that effort prevented bills from gaining legislative approval at all. Scott didn’t have to veto a minimum wage increase, a paid family leave program or a commercial marketplace for cannabis — three high priority issues for the Dems. They also failed to confront the governor on other contentious issues, including legalization of personal possession of buprenorphine. They disappointed their liberal base by failing to seriously address climate change.

Point being, the fear of a veto was powerful juju, turning the Dem/Prog supermajority into so many zombies. And leaving potential 2020 gubernatorial candidates with precious little material to run on. For the sake of anyone willing to challenge Scott, the legislature had better come prepared next January to hold the governor’s feet to the fire. Force him to make difficult choices. Show that there’s a real difference between the Democrats and the Republican governor.

Or, well, just sit back, relax, let some schmo lose to Scott by double digits, and get back to the established routine of shadowboxing the big bad governor.

The null-set campaign

If you’ve got 30 seconds to spare, why not skip on over to the Scott Milne For Senate campaign website? I’ll wait here.

… You back?

Not much to see, is there? Four stinkin’ pages: Home, Join Our Team, Contact, and Donate.

No “Issues”, no “News”, no “Events”, nothing of substance whatsoever.

It’d be downright weird if it wasn’t (a) Scott Milne we’re talking about, and (b) a perfect match for the campaign he’s run to date.

Which is to say, virtually substance-free.

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Early voting reaches modern high

As of yesterday afternoon, nearly 20,000 Vermonters had submitted ballots for today’s primary election. The actual number, per Secretary of State Jim Condos: 19,904. With one full day to go. (More than 25,000 voters requested early ballots, so there’s room for the record total to grow.)

The old record was 18,210, set in the year 2010 when we had a red-hot five-way Democratic primary for governor.  So, a healthy pre-primary turnout and one more indication that the concept of “Election Day” is becoming less relevant. (At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a list of primary turnout figures from 2000 through 2014, prepared by none other than Mr. Condos.)

So, let’s trot out the old abacus and see what we might be looking at for total turnout. To err on the side of caution, we’ll assume that no additional ballots arrive before the deadline, 5:00 p.m. today.

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Scott Milne be Scott Milne

2014 The gubernatorial campaign of Scott Milne had one distinguishing feature: Scott Milne did what Scott Milne wanted to do and said what he wanted to say. In an odd sort of way, it reminds me of one Donald J. Trump.

Appear grossly unprepared in public forums? Check.

Give long, meandering, stream-of-consciousness answers to questions? Check.

No attempt at all to hew to Republican orthodoxy? Check.

No attempt to open or maintain communication with the VTGOP? Check.

No effort to raise money or build a campaign infrastructure? Check.

His inner circle basically consisting of family members? Check.

Propensity to grind personal axes on the campaign trail? Check.

Donald Trump without the energy and Brut-drenched charisma, you might say. Better hair, tho.

He’s pursuing the same contrarian course in his present challenge to eternal incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy.

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Strange bedfellows

Just saw Peter Galbraith’s first TV ad. The most interesting thing in it was the last line:

“Roger Allbee, Treasurer.”

Hmm. Roger Allbee. Lifelong Republican. Agriculture Secretary in the Jim Douglas administration. In 2014, he became a Democratic candidate for State Senate in WIndham County — without actually becoming, you know, a Democrat.

He was effectively running to fill the vacancy opened by Peter Galbraith’s decision not to seek re-election. He enjoyed Galbraith’s endorsement.

He also committed a world-class gaffe at a candidates’ forum:

Whoever is elected represents all the people, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, they’re colored, they have alternative preferences, we represent everyone in the county. Everyone. We represent every citizen.

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The ghost of 2014 walks the earth

Ruh-roh. I’ll bet Pat Leahy is quaking in his boots.

Either that, or snickering in his tumbler of single malt. The Valley News via VTDigger:

Milne Travel, the Barre-based travel agency owned by former Vermont GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, has sold a controlling stake in the company to the New York-based travel management giant Altour International Inc.

Milne, who acknowledged he is weighing a run later this year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Patrick Leahy, said the joint venture with Altour places his firm on a solid financial footing “should I get lucky … it gives me the ability to step back for six years.”

That’s right, Senator. Vermont’s own Giant Killer has you squarely in his crosshairs.

Hahaha.

Well, to be fair, Milne’s name recognition should allow him to outpace Len Britton, who earned 31% of the vote in 2010 as Leahy’s most recent Republican opponent. But can Milne repeat his David V. Goliath act against Vermont’s Senior Senator?

Naah.

I suppose I should explain, since I was equally dismissive of Milne’s chances in 2014, when he came within an eyelash of unseating Shumlin. So why am I confident in laughing off his chances this time?

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With friends like these, who needs EMILY’s?

The Sue Minter campaign is hoping to win the support of EMILY’s List, the high-powered PAC for liberal women. Minter recently replaced her in-state campaign manager, Sarah McCall, with Molly Ritner, an outsider reportedly handpicked by the EMILY’s folks. When asked if an EMILY’s endorsement is in the works, Ritner replied cryptically, “They are actively engaged.”

EMILY’s support would be a Big Biden Deal for Minter. It’d go a long way toward overcoming Matt Dunne’s early lead in fundraising. But while she has yet to receive EMILY’s imprimatur, she has managed to gain the support of “Maria’s List,” a Massachusetts-based EMILY’s wannabe.

Maria’s List has scheduled a fundraising event for Feb. 29 at the Boston-area home of its founder, Maria Jobin-Leeds. That’s the good news; the bad news is the invitation letter for that event may be the most ineptly-drafted piece of political mail I have ever seen. It’s full of typos, bad grammar, and factual errors. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

When asked about Maria’s List, Ritner offered this noncommittal reply by email:

As you might know, Maria’s List is an organization that supports “progressive candidates who stand by their values and who run viable campaigns.”  They have decided to support Sue in her campaign and are hosting an event on her behalf.

As for the email specifically, the content was not approved by the campaign.

Well, that’s good. Because the content is awful. The letter in full, after the jump.

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Energize Vermont’s cockamamie political analysis

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know.

Widespread unrest over the state’s renewable energy policy was responsible for Governor Shumlin’s near-defeat in 2014.

Actual piece of anti-wind propaganda from Ireland. I'm more afraid of Giant Baby than the turbines. But maybe the vibrations turned him into Babyzilla.

Actual piece of anti-wind propaganda from Ireland. Personally, I’m more afraid of Babyzilla than the turbines. But maybe the vibrations turned him into Babyzilla. Hmm.

Well, that’s the story being peddled by our buddies at Energize Vermont, an anti-renewable nonprofit whose funding sources are entirely opaque. They’re branding it as “The Vermont Energy Rebellion,” which allegedly poses an existential threat to the Democrats in 2016.

But let’s go back to 2014, the year that Scott Milne allegedly surfed the wave of anti-renewables anger to within an eyelash of the governorship. The fevered imagination of Energize Vermont focuses on the key constituency of Craftsbury, population 1,206.

Hey, you in the back: stop laughing!

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Just shoot me now.

Vladimir: What do we do now?
Estragon: Wait.
Vladimir: Yes, but while waiting.
Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. …
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!”
― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I don’t honestly get the political media’s fascination with former Wall Street tycoon Bruce Lisman. Yes, he founded (and funded) a vanity proj — er, advocacy group, Campaign for Vermont, to peddle his particular brand of biz-frendly pseudo-centrism. Ever since, the media have been Waiting For Lisman, ever anticipating his supposedly inevitable run for Governor.

And here to brighten up your Monday morning comes VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld with another round of “Who Asked For This?”

As Shumlin’s Approval Numbers Fade, Bruce Lisman Finds His Political Voice

Awww crap.

By “political voice,” Hirschfeld apparently means “Lisman is finally criticizing Governor Shumlin by name instead of in code.” There is little or no evidence that Lisman has found an authentic political self — an identity that can attract broad support.

Until Shumlin’s near defeat in November, Lisman had mostly refrained from personal attacks on the governor, or no-holds-barred criticism of initiatives undertaken under his watch.

“We really were a high-road, certainly nothing that smacked of political action – more policy action,” Lisman says.

Yuh-huh, stop right there, boss. From day one, Lisman’s Campaign for Vermont has consistently been critical of Gov. Shumlin and legislative Democrats. But he never said “Shumlin” or “Democrat” — instead making reference to “Montpelier.” For which, as a resident of Montpelier, I say “thank you for using my town as an epithet.”

Lately though, Lisman has assumed a more contentious tone. And it comes after a close election that Lisman characterizes as a “rebuke” of the sitting governor.

Take cover, boys! Sheriff Lisman’s coming to town!

Let’s be blunt. Lisman’s only political credentials are his Wall Street fortune and his willingness to spend a small fraction of it on a political group that has, as far as anyone can tell, failed to draw much support outside of the narrow band of elites who believe they have evolved beyond mere politics into a higher plane of enlightened self-interest.

(Example: Lisman, who presumably invests a large share of his fortune, has advocated cuts in capital gains taxes. Self-interested much? And he has issued a Mitt Romney-like call for everyone to have “skin in the game,” i.e. pay income tax. Which is an astoundingly regressive position for a “centrist.”)

Here’s what I said the last time I was forced to consider Lisman’s electoral prospects:

Bruce Lisman will never be Governor of Vermont. He’s not terribly well known, in spite of his travels around the state; he’s a lousy campaigner and public speaker; and most importantly of all, Phil Scott stands squarely in his path. Scott is a much better advocate of pretty much the same policy ideas. He’s far better known, he’s a more effective speaker and a proven fundraiser, and he has a major party structure behind him.

Still true. And here’s another: Bruce Lisman has the political instincts of a concrete block. He has dillied and dallied with the notion of running for governor to the frequent detriment of those who share his worldview. One example: In the spring of 2014, when his fellow CFV-er Heidi Scheuermann was mulling a race for governor, there suddenly came word from Lisman that he might just make a run himself.

I can’t say for sure that his brief and pointless flirtation elbowed Scheuermann aside, but it sure didn’t help. And then, as suddenly as he’d encouraged the speculation, Lisman quelled it, leaving the VTGOP to the tender mercies of Scott Milne. If that’s an example of the political acumen we can expect from Lisman, then I see him stumbling out of the gate. That is, if he ever finally decides to get IN the gate. He seems to have a hard time making that call.

I won’t go through the rest of Hirschfeld’s piece in detail because, frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with a hot poker. But I will point out some examples of Bruce Lisman’s downright squicky faux-humility. On running for governor:

“I don’t give it a lot of thought,” Lisman says. “I guess I’m in the same place I’ve been. I don’t give it a ton of thought. Thank you. It’s nice of you to ask it in that way.”

Eeeewwwwww.

“And lots of people have post-election said to me, gosh you should have run, or I hope you run next time,” Lisman says. “And that’s nice. I mean it’s a nice thing to hear. It’s very flattering.”

Bleuuuurrrrrgh.

And finally, what could ol’ Bruce do to put a topper on this cavalcade of self-regard? Oh yeah, he could go third-person.

“Do we need a payroll tax? We think not.”

Ugh. Just threw up in my mouth a little.

But after all this, here’s my message for Bruce Lisman: Go ahead. Run for governor. Pull out all the stops. You won’t win, but at least our media will be able to stop camping out on your metaphorical doorstep.

Estragon: I’m going.
[He does not move.]

The punishment fit the crime

Here’s something that’s by-the-books, letter of the law… but makes absolutely not a bit of sense.

Our dogged hero of law enforcement, Eternal General BIll Sorrell, is in hot pursuit of the scoundrel Dean Corren for a campaign violation. Seems the Democratic Party sent an email blast supporting Corren’s candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, and Sorrell deems this a violation of the public financing law.

Estimated value of the blast: $255.

The penalty Sorrell seeks: $72,000.

Sorrell says, and I understand, that he is simply following the law. which requires repayment of public funds still in Corren’s kitty at the time of the violation, plus a $10,000 fine for each of two violations (accepting the email, and failing to report it).

But holy Hell, I don’t care what the law says. $72,000 for a $255 violation is like a ten-year sentence for a speeding ticket. Does Sorrell have no flexibility whatsoever, or is he choosing to be a right bastard about this?

Also, this: I know for a fact that there was an ongoing, vigorous discussion within Democratic Party circles and the Corren campaign over what the party could do and couldn’t do on his behalf. The Democrats were very careful about it — so much so, that some liberals (including yours truly) wondered if they really wanted him to succeed. It’s hard for me to imagine that the Dems suddenly abandoned their caution in a spasm of Corren-love and sent out that email in a moment of blind passion, followed by headaches and regret the next morning.

Maybe so, because the Dems have responded to Sorrell’s onslaught like an abashed libertine trying to reform:

“To avoid the cost of litigation and move forward, both for the benefit of the Party and the State, the VDP decided to settle with the Attorney General’s Office,” the statement said.

As part of the settlement, VDP will agree to cooperate with Sorrell’s office in its investigation and litigation against Corren.

That’s nice. I’m sure it only appears that the Dems are throwing Corren under the bus.

Given the party’s SOP in dealing with Corren, I’m sure the email blast had to have been vetted by its legal staff. But that won’t do Corren any good now; he’s facing Mr. Prosecutor all by his lonesome.