Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented phenomenon in Vermont politics. (Someone with longer tenure than I may recall a comp.) In a state where “Wait Your Turn” is the norm, she entered the arena at the age of 36, ran for a statewide office, defeated a strong field in the Democratic primary, and defeated Republican Scott Milne by a comfortable margin in the general election. Considering the dominance of Democratic men in higher offices, her gender makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
Somehow, I don’t think we’ve fully appreciated how rare and special this was. In February 2020, as she was preparing to launch her campaign, she was an almost complete unknown. (Well, she was an assistant attorney general, but there are dozens of those.) Nobody in the Statehouse had a clue, nor did they take her seriously at first. The betting favorite, and it wasn’t close, was then-Senate president pro tem Tim Ashe.
Once in the race, Gray ran a nearly flawless campaign despite having no experience in electoral politics. That’s immensely difficult to do.
But Gray has often received more criticism than credit. (Yes, including from me.) There are good reasons for some of that; but much of it has to do with two things about Gray that are rare in our politics: Her age and her gender. And that’s troubling.
So, only nine months after losing the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in spectacular fashion, former Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe has landed a new gig. He’ll be Doug Hoffer’s deputy state auditor.
I’ve had more than my share of fun at Ashe’s expense (including the irresistible headline above), but I have to say this job is a perfect fit all around. Ashe is good at finances and numbers, and he knows state government as thoroughly as anyone.
And it provides a side-door re-entry into statewide politics, something that seemed unlikely to happen so quickly after he got his ass handed to him in the primary.
OK, I’ll stop mentioning the primary now.
The first thought that crossed my mind is that maybe, after several years of rumors, Hoffer is actually planning to retire next year and he wanted to give his fellow Progressive/Democrat the inside track to succeed him. It makes all the sense in the world, assuming that Hoffer is thinking politically. As he basically never does, so grain of salt and all that.
Another political thought: Ashe might lend a little more Statehouse heft to the auditor’s office. Hoffer has had a hard time getting the Legislature to take him seriously. In my experience, every time Hoffer testifies before a legislative committee, they politely thank him and then ignore what he had to say. Ashe might help, at least in the Senate. He has many friends in Vermont’s most self-regarding deliberative body, especially among the senior Senators who occupy virtually all the committee chairships.
This hire is also good news for the Progressive Party, which saw its two real contenders for statewide office lose badly last year (Ashe and Dave Zuckerman). Ashe now has the opportunity to re-establish himself in Montpelier, and blaze a trail to a second bid for statewide office.
And a reminder: Although it seems like he’s been around for almost ever, Ashe is still only 44 years old. Time is on his side.
But even if you leave politics aside, it’s a good fit for Hoffer, for Ashe, and for the office of auditor. Kudos all around.
Meet Ellie Martin, dedicated Trumper, devout pro-lifer, resident of Underhill, organizer of the CovidCruiser bus that carried 51 Vermonters to the Trump-inspired riot of January 6. Has a passing acquaintance with grammar and spelling. She posted the above message on her Facebook page the day after the Capitol riot.
I’m sure Ellie is a nice person in non-political life. I’ve known people like her, and they’d greet you warmly, be sincerely interested in your problems, bake you a casserole or sincerely offer to pray for you.
But in politics, she’s a nutball inflamed by Trump and far-right media — and by whatever totalitarian impulse lies hidden in many a Christian heart. And if you think “totalitarian” is a stretch, how about this:
That’s the stuff! You think we’re exaggerating the motives of the Capitol storm troopers? You think VTDigger was a little permissive with its article referring to “a friendly mob” and freely quoting from CovidCruiser participants without much of a pushback?
Look, there are always a few crazies willing to believe anything and prepare for The Final Battle. What’s really dangerous is when the “nice people” like Ellie Martin start believing trash like this.
That’s right. Donald Trump, habitual liar, racist, thrice-married cheater, con man, is God’s representative on Earth. Because Jesus just couldn’t cut it with all that “love they neighbor” and “blessed are the poor” weaksauce.
After the jump: More goodies from Ms. Martin’s Facebook page.
A resolution condemning the Capitol riot of January 6 and calling for President Trump’s resignation or removal passed the Vermont House today on a one-sided vote. Seven Days reported the tally as 130 to 6. VTDigger reported 130 to 16. But it was a voice vote, so I’m not sure where the numbers come from. All the “No” votes were cast by Republicans, but represent a small percentage of the GOP caucus.
There was apparently no floor debate. But there was some discussion of the resolution earlier in the day, at a House Republican caucus meeting captured on video. A total of eight lawmakers spoke in opposition, which again calls into question the 130 to 6 tally. Those eight do not include Rutland Rep. Tom Terenzini, who didn’t speak in caucus but opposed the measure as well. I count at least nine “No” votes.
So who are they? Reps. Lisa Hango, Patrick Brennan, Carl Rosenquist, Brian Smith, Lynn Batchelor, Vicky Strong, Mark Higley, Rodney Graham and Terenzini. (Two members, Reps. Bob Helm and Art Peterson, made remarks that did not disclose how they would vote.) We’ll get to their statements after the jump.
Several Republicans voiced strong support for the measure, most notably Reps. Felisha Leffler, Scott Beck, Lynn Dickinson and Scheuermann. Referring to the rioters, Scheuermann said, “What they were doing was appalling. I was ashamed. I thought it critical for us to do this as a body.”
Finally, after five years, we have identified the point where Republicans (well, some of them at least) start feeling a sense of shame.
It took an invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of agitated conspiracy theorists, egged on by our president, to make some Republicans realize that maybe things have gone too far. Notable among their number is a healthy serving of GOP elected officials, from Gov. Phil Scott to House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy to Sen. Corey Parent to former VTGOP executive director Jeffrey Bartley, and I apologize for anyone else I left out. You did the right thing.
It wasn’t anything new for Scott or many other Vermont Republicans, who have never approved of what the president was doing to the party they loved. But for most Republicans, the remorse was extremely belated. They didn’t draw the line at “rapists and murderers,” or “grab them by the pussy,” or his habit of hurling base insults at his political opponents, or the consistent groveling at the feet of Vladimir Putin, or a foreign policy that favored dictators and punished our longstanding allies, or hush money payments to a porn star, or Trump’s refusal to release his financials, or tearing refugee families apart at the border, or otherwise punitive immigration policies, or “good people on both sides,” or the Trump Foundation self-dealing, or the rank nepotism of his administration, or the shameless profiteering at taxpayer expense, or the disastrous response to Hurricane Maria, or his persistent efforts to bend the justice system to his will, or the efforts to get dirt on Joe Biden, or the commission of clearly impeachable offenses, or the revolving door of imcompetent sycophants and ideologues who populated his administration, or the catastophically bad response to Covid-19.
Nope, it took a direct invasion of the Capitol at the instigation of Donald Trump. So it turns out that Republicans aren’t quite completely shame-free after all. Good to know.
The image above says everything that needs to be said about the events of January 6. As former state representative and chief American History fanboy Dylan Giambatista pointed out on Twitter, the guy is carrying a Confederate battle flag past a portrait of Vermont’s own Justin Morrill, stalwart Republican member of Congress from Civil War days. It was an inadvertent middle finger aimed at anyone who has fought to preserve the union.
Congratulations to Vermont’s conservative nutcases, who managed to fill the better part of a bus to Washington, D.C. for Wednesday’s hopeless Trump rally. The above is a screenshot taken from a Facebook video, which shows a bunch of proud right-wingers stuffed into a bus with nary a trace of masks or social distancing.
It’s a 10-hour ride to Washington, a full day of rallying with other anti-maskers, and then a 10-hour ride back to Vermont, trapped in this mobile superspreader. If there’s a single speck of coronavirus on board, they’re all getting the Covid.
I’d just be satisfied with calling them anti-social idiots, but you know, I’m old and have existing conditions that put me at high risk for Covid, so I take this personally. These people are dangerous. I hope to Hell that none of them live anywhere near my neck of the woods. Or near anybody you might care about.
These people will almost certainly come back to Vermont with loads of coronavirus coursing through their veins. It’s probably too much to ask for the bus to be stopped at the state line. But maybe the State Police facial recognition experts could do a close analysis of this video so they can get a headstart on contact tracing. We’re gonna need it.
I wrote previously about this trip, which bore the imprimatur of the Chittenden County Republicans. That’s a great way to make political inroads in Vermont’s most liberal county.
The video was posted by a group I’d never heard of: Vermonters for Vermont, which is a nomenclatural ouroboros if I’ve ever seen one.
I mean, who could pass up a trip to D.C. on a bus full of Trump fanatics, who will presumably not be complying with Covid-19 recommendations on mask wearing and social distancing? Just think: You could have the chance to get Jay Shepard’s spittle on your shirt!
(That’s probably not true. If Shepard is going to D.C., he won’t ride a bus with the plebes. He’ll fly.)
Nice to know that the Chittenden County Republicans are supporting the #TreasonForTrump excursion. They’re right in step with the politics of their county, yes?
The grim details of this Road Trip To Hell And Back: The bus departs Tuesday evening from South Burlington, makes a stop in Rutland, and then heads south on a 10-hour, all-night-long bus trip to Washington, D.C. Travelers are urged to “bring a blanket and pillow” so they can get a good night’s sleep on a freaking bus. They’ll arrive in Washington early Wednesday morning, participate in futile pro-Trump rallies outside the Capitol, and then it’s back on the bus for another 10-hour all-nighter.
My recent post about the Vermont Democratic Party drew more reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written… with the notable exception of the Latin Motto controversy. Almost all of it was positive, and much of it came from young folks who feel like they got the cold-shoulder treatment from the party.
At least a couple of people asked me to do the Progressive Party. And while I did briefly address their failings in my post-election “Winners and Losers” piece, there’s more to be said.
Short take: 2020 was a disastrous year for the Progs. They managed to hold onto their seven-seat caucus despite three retirements and one upset defeat, which is noteworthy. But otherwise, the bad far outweighs the good.
Let’s start with the electoral defeats of two prominent Prog-identified pols. Tim Ashe finished a distant second to Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman lost by 41 points to Gov. Phil Scott.
It’s hard to understate how big a setback this is for the Progs. They’ve suffered a huge loss of influence in the Senate, with Ashe’s departure as President Pro Tem and Zuckerman relinquishing the gavel. Also, Ashe and Zuckerman were the Progs’ top two hopes for statewide office. They had built their political careers over more than a decade of success, but they’re off the charts (at least for now).
Also, the magnitude of their losses calls into question whether the Progressive label is statewide electoral poison. Ashe lost by 11 points to Molly Gray, who was a complete political unknown at the beginning of the year. Zuckerman faced impossible odds in taking on Phil Scott during the pandemic; but even so, 41 points???
On the surface, the Vermont Democratic Party did just fine this election. Sure, Phil Scott cruised to re-election and they lost a few legislative seats. But Scott was virtually unbeatable thanks to his patient, measured response to the pandemic. Besides, it wasn’t one of their own who took the bullet, it was David Zuckerman, a Prog/Dem with the emphasis on Prog. And they elected a bright new hope, Molly Gray, to the lieutenant governorship, held onto the other statewide offices, and held on to lopsided majorities in the House and Senate.
But when you take a closer look, this was a sneaky bad year for the Dems. They once again let Scott steal their lunch money. This was a bad year to take him on, but they’ve barely tried to beat Scott in the last several cycles. Since the 2010 race for lieutenant governor, they’ve put up a parade of under-resourced first-timers against Scott, and he’s barely had to break a sweat.
Gray’s victory is nice, but she was up against a terrible Republican candidate. As for the Legislature, if this wasn’t the year to rack up gains, I don’t know what is. They had the benefit of widespread anti-Trump animus to drive support for down-ballot races, and failed to capitalize.
I didn’t realize how much the Vermont Dems were resting on their structural advantages until I listened to a pair of podcast interviews from the fine folks at Crooked Media. The first featured Ben Wikler, head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, the second was with Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, founder of of Project Fair Fight. Both have taken state parties that faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and both have turned those states into Democratic success stories.
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.