Category Archives: 2022 election

Storm Clouds Above the Statehouse

There is much to be said about Gov. Phil Scott suddenly pulling a voluntary paid family leave program. For instance, that he has never ever pushed this issue at all unless the Legislature is actively considering a universal program. This isn’t a principled position, it’s an artifice meant to draw votes away from the Dem/Prog caucuses.

But something else, something subtler but equally discomfiting, on my mind at the moment.

There are signs that the House-Senate tensions of past years are flaring back up again. If so, key legislation could fail because of differences between the two chambers, real or imaginary. If that happens, they’ll be disappointing the voters who elected record numbers of Dems expecting them to get stuff done.

This tension was minimized if not eliminated in the current biennium, thanks to the efforts of Krowinski and outgoing Pro Tem Becca Balint. It’d be a shame if Balint’s departure triggers a return of the bad old days.

The usual sniping between House and Senate is most often expressed in senators’ apparently innate sense of superiority. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen senators speak of state representatives as if they’re misbehaving kids on a school bus, and treat House legislation as if it’s toilet paper stuck to their shoes.

The most prominent example of the House-Senate tension has been the twin battles over paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The House has preferred the former, the Senate the latter. The result: No paid leave program and woefully inadequate movement on minimum wage. On two occasions the Legislature has passed watered-down versions of a paid leave program and Scott has vetoed them. The inter-chamber differences have done much to frustrate progress toward enacting a strong paid leave program over Scott’s objections.

And now, here we are again with an apparent House-Senate rift on paid family leave.

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VTDigger Coughs Up a Hairball, Calls it Caviar

The headline is dramatic. “Former campaign staffer sues Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel for unpaid wages, expenses.” Wow, sounds serious.

Well, it’s not. In fact, the story is so bereft of substance that it makes you wonder how it got published at all.

For starters, the “former campaign staffer,” Bryan Parks, worked for the Siegel campaign for less than a month. The amount of money in question is less than $600.

Six hundred dollars.

Reporter Sarah Mearhoff, who will not be submitting this shitball for any journalism prizes, gives over the first six paragraphs to Parks’ account, his disillusionment with the candidate, his insistence that it’s not about the money, and how he waited until after the election to file his suit “so as not to appear politically motivated.”

And only then, after Parks is given all that space, do we get Siegel’s response: “No, I don’t owe him any money. He is completely paid up.”

Well, there you go, right? Game, set, match, right?

Er, no.

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Joe Benning Peeks Over the Parapet and Is Met with a Volley of Arrows

Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.

But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.

Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.

Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)

And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.

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The State Senate Approaches a Demographic Tipping Point

Seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the Vermont Senate to undergo a demographic shift. Every two years there’s been talk of a retirement wave, but it never materializes. Senators consider stepping aside, then realize they’re indispensable. (They’re not.) And the voters rarely eject an incumbent except in cases of overt criminality (Norm McAllister) or advanced senescence (Bill Doyle).

The shift has been painfully incremental until this year, when almost one-third of all senators decided to bow out. The nine incomers are younger, five of them are women, and one is a person of color: Nader Hashim joins Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Randy Brock as the three non-white members of the upper chamber.

(The tiny Republican caucus managed to get older and no less male. Its two youngest members, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, will be replaced by a couple of old white men.)

Got more numbers to plow through, but here’s the bottom line. The Senate is on the verge of a historic shift, but it’s happening in slow motion. We might reach the tipping point in two years’ time. We’re not quite there yet.

There are still plenty of tenured members in positions of power. They account for most of the committee chairs. But only — “only” — eight of the 30 senators will be 70 or older. At least 13 will be under 65, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in the Senate it definitely is.

The incoming Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Baruth, straddles the age divide. He’s only — “only” — 60. But he’s entering his sixth two-year term, so he’s familiar with the Senate and the elders are comfortable enough with him to make him their leader. As a senator he’s been a strong policy advocate unafraid to ruffle feathers, but as Pro Tem he’ll know he can’t push his caucus too far too fast.

There are the preliminiaries. Now let’s dive in.

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The Governor Gets a Little Post-Election Workout

Phil Scott didn’t exactly sweat out Campaign 2022. He did spend Election Eve barrelling around the state, touching down in all 14 counties, as is his wont. But before then, it was more like The Campaign That Wasn’t. So I guess it’s no surprise that he needed to flex his muscle after the election with a brisk session of punching a straw man.

His post-election message, “Vermonters Called for Balance and We All Need to Listen,” is classic Phil Scott from beginning to end. He starts with a Reaganesque appeal to our own well-developed self-regard. Referring to that Election Eve tour, he wrote “This 500+ mile tour has a way to put things into perspective. It reinforces how beautiful our state is and how much it has to offer.”

Having established his sunny view of Vermont, he identified one thing we have to do better on. No, it’s not the opioid crisis. It’s not climate change. It’s not universal health care or paid family leave. It’s all about economic opportunity, which is a distinctly Republican view of human fulfillment.

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Vermont’s Reagan

With Tuesday’s historic win, Phil Scott runs his electoral record to 12 wins, 0 losses. That’s combining his runs for state Senate, lieutenant governor, and governor.

That’s… um… rarefied air.

He has often faced weak opposition and benefited greatly from the incumbent’s edge. He’s also enjoyed good timing; his first run was in 2000, an historically good Republican year because of the backlash to civil unions. He ran for governor at the end of Peter Shumlin’s curdled administration, when voters were primed to make a change.

But still. Twelve and 0.

Leaving aside the quality of competition, what makes Phil Scott so popular? Well, you might not associate the plausibly moderate Phil Scott with the transformative conservative Ronald Reagan, but they are more similar than you might think. And that’s the secret sauce. Scott is Vermont’s Reagan.

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A Tip of the Hat

Brenda Siegel the candidate will be remembered, to the extent she’s remembered at all, as a failure. She lost in anoverwhelming fashion to Gov. Phil Scott. She didn’t have much money, she couldn’t afford mass media until the campaign’s closing weeks (and even then, not enough to move the needle). And she lost in what was otherwise a wave election for her Democratic Party.

Consider a post-election VTDigger story about how Phil Scott won the election. The story mentioned Siegel a grand total of once. Maybe that’s for the best because when they did mention Siegel, it was usually in belittling tones. A Digger election night story described her as “a former dance instructor,” which is just ridiculous. In the world of dance alone, it’s ridiculous. She used to run a dance festival, which is a bit more than helping kids pull off their first arabesque.

More to the point, it ignores her years of advocacy in the Statehouse and elsewhere and her effort to build a political career with little support or encouragement, but sure, “former dance instructor.”

In her concession speech, Siegel said “We all need to become brave enough to lose.” And that’s the stone truth. She was the only one brave enough to challenge Scott in 2022. Which alone makes her worthy of respect.

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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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