In a crowded Statehouse meeting room, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that he will not seek re-election next year.
I’d heard of his decision from enough sources that I felt confident in writing it up last week, but I wasn’t entirely certain until he actually said it himself. “Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it’s time to put down the gavel,” he said. “It’s time to come home.”
He received standing ovations at the beginning and end of his statement from a few dozen Democratic bigwigs. The press were shunted off to one side, which did not allow for the slightest bit of social distancing. We were just part of the scenery; Leahy did not take questions from the peanut gallery.
And now the dominos begin to fall. But that’s a story for another day.
Just in case you thought a new party chair meant significant change in the Vermont Republican Party… just in case you bought those media references to the “moderate” incoming chair… Here’s the first initiative birthed by said chair.
Now, that’s just about the loudest dog whistle ever blown.
“Let’s Go Brandon” is, of course, the juvenile chant adopted by rabid right-wingers as a stand-in for “Fuck Joe Biden.” (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here.)
The VTGOP can claim the barest hint of a fig leaf for this nonsense in that (1) Brandon is an actual town, and (2) it’s the hometown of new chair Paul Dame. But we know what’s going on here. We know why the first rally is not in Montpelier or Burlington or St. Albans or Rutland.
It’s in Brandon because Dame’s first instinct — and/or his only option — is to appeal to the base. (The party is selling a wide array of “Let’s Go Brandon” merchandise, too. Cashing in on far-right hatred is such a good look.)
A major tectonic shift in the Vermont political world seems to be underway. If you listen closely, you can hear the rumblings.
According to the very active political grapevine, Sen. Patrick Leahy will not seek re-election, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch will run for his Senate seat, and at least three prominent Democrats are rushing to fundraise and assemble a team to run for Welch’s seat.
I’ve also heard from one good source that Gov. Phil Scott won’t run for re-election either. I’m not sure if I believe that; there’s no way he’d lose in 2022 unless the pandemic goes hog-wild (which is at least a possibility after the last two days’ case counts). But then, Scott isn’t your typical politico and isn’t motivated by the usual political impulses. Could be he’s feeling the strain of managing the pandemic for the better part of two years.
We’ll leave that aside for the moment and go back to Leahy. I’d expected him to run for another term for several reasons: He’d set the all-time record for Senate seniority in his next term, he’s at the pinnacle of power, and as chair of Senate Appropriations he can ensure a steady supply of federal dollars to Vermont.
Also, cynically, an elderly Senator can be propped up by a reliable staff, which Leahy has. But I don’t know his personal situation; looming health issues for him or wife Marcelle could easily lead him to step aside. Or maybe he just wants to enjoy some retirement time. Or maybe he thinks the Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2022. That’d make another term a lot less appealing.
Another week, another series of disappointing Covid numbers. Not only the high daily case counts but also hospitalizations, deaths, and a test positivity rate that’s creeping back up toward 3.
Still, I fully expect Gov. Phil Scott to come out swinging at his Tuesday briefing. I’d be shocked if we don’t get a rehash of carefully selected statistics, bland assurances that everything will be just fine anytime now, and denials that any policy changes whatsoever are in order.
After all, Scott spox Jason Maulucci told the Boston Globe on Friday that mask mandates are off the table. His… shall we say… creative reasoning? A mandate would undermine public confidence that Covid vaccines work.
Oh, you want it in his words? Here you go.
“We’re promoting mask wearing, but we don’t want to do anything that would damage the public belief that vaccines work.”
After a very good performance for the first 15 months of the pandemic, Scott’s response to the Delta variant has been stubborn, unyielding, and dismissive of all criticism. He has also, as far as I can remember, failed to express any sympathy or concern for those who have died or become seriously ill or their loved ones. That’s uncharacteristic of him. Would a brief call-out at the top of every presser be too much to ask? Perhaps even a visit to a hospital or a grieving family? He should be capable of that, and it would be a powerful reminder of the essential humanity that’s made Scott an appealing figure to so many.
Is this the worst moment in Gov. Phil Scott’s nearly five years in office? I’d have to say yes. Now, there haven’t been that many bad moments. Maybe the time he vetoed not one but two state budgets and nearly triggered a government shutdown. But that turned out to be a blip on the radar.
This? This could be the first time he suffers real political damage. He’s taking simultaneous hits on three fronts: The continuing Covid surge, his administration’s erratic Covid policy in the schools, and yet another retreat on the emergency housing program. In all three cases, he looks less like a compassionate moderate and more like a stubborn conservative.
I’m not saying he’s vulnerable in 2022. He isn’t yet, but the bloom is coming off the rose.
He’s had to abandon his optimism on the Delta variant and admit he doesn’t know what’s happening. Our seven-day rolling average of new cases is still near record highs, and hospitalizations, deaths, and test positivity rate are all distressingly high. Still, Scott continues to signal no change in policy. The longer he does so, the more embarrassing his inevitable comedown will be. Unless he gets lucky and the Delta variant goes away.
The school situation is not getting better anytime soon. The “test to stay” program is still being rolled out more than six weeks into the school year. The administration has touted the program’s success in Massachusetts, but there’s a big difference. In Massachusetts, the program was implemented in late July. There was time for planning and adjustment before the doors opened to students. Up here, Education Secretary Dan French is like an auto mechanic working on a car while it’s being driven.
Actually, since he hasn’t offered any resources to schools, it’s more like he’s in the passenger seat telling the driver to work on the engine while the car is in motion.
Hey, it’s time for hardcore #vtpoli folks to get their nerd on. After an unprecedented delay (caused by Trump administration incompetence/attempted sabotage), we’ve finally got the U.S. Census numbers for 2020!
This means that the most nerdly of all political processes, redistricting, can finally get serious. (The best place to geek out is the state’s Center for Geographic Information, which has already whacked out a whole bunch of Census breakdowns.) And now I return to my playground of barely-informed speculation on what the Census means for Vermont legislative districts.
The state’s total population of 643,000 was something of a surprise. That’s a 2.8% increase from 2010, and belies our reputation as a place that people are fleeing from. (Our growth rate is a far cry from the U.S. overall, which grew by 7.4%, but still, we’re growing.)
The population gains were concentrated in the northwest. The only counties that gained residents were Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille and Orleans. The driver of Vermont population growth is Burlington; as its housing situation gets tighter and tighter, people are buying homes farther and farther away from the Queen City.
The two counties that saw the biggest declines: Windham (down 6.98%) and Rutland (down 6,83%).
Chittenden County now has enough people to warrant eight Senate seats, up two from its current allotment. That’s bad news for the VTGOP. If Chittenden does, as it should, gain two seats, they will almost certainly come at the expense of Republican areas like the Northeast Kingdom and Rutland County. And the Republican presence in Chittenden is vanishingly small. The county’s current allotment of 36 state representatives includes 33 Dems (or Dem/Progs or Prog/Dems), and only three Republicans. All six senators are either Dems, Dem/Progs or Prog/Dems, and the GOP is simply uncompetitive. You can assume that any new seats will be filled by Dems or Progs.
And by the way, Chittenden County deserves two more House seats because of its growth.
Also by the way, since many towns in Franklin, Grand Isle and Lamoille are becoming bedroom communities for Burlington, those counties will almost certainly trend blue. Windham and Franklin aside, Vermont’s population declines are in Republican-leaning areas, while the growth is in Democratic counties.
Here’s a little bad news for those who think Vermont’s political processes are above reproach. The nonpartisan group RepresentUs, which opposes political abuses of the redistricting process, has rated Vermont as at “high risk” for such abuse. Along with such bulwarks of clean politics as Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Florida. Not exactly stellar company.
To be clear, RepresentUs isn’t ranking states by the likelihood of gerrymandering or the historical record or the mendacity of a state’s politicians. It simply considers the legal framework of the process. In practice, Vermont’s redistricting process has been fairly clean. But state law leaves the door open to partisan abuse.
Vermont gets low grades on two points: Political officeholders have the final say on redistricting, and the law doesn’t require transparency. You can see how those points could allow politicians to game the system.
By and large, they don’t. Well, they don’t do outrageous things; they don’t create districts that look like abstract art or imaginary amphibians. But partisanship can, and sometimes does, affect the process.
In fact, we might see a more partisan flavor in Vermont’s 2022 redraw, especially in the Senate.
This obligatory session-ender by VTDigger’s Xander Landen was so sticky-sweet that it should have had a warning label for diabetics. Everybody’s just getting along so well. Kind words all around, regardless of party.
Gov. Phil Scott, who has so far issued only one veto — an historic low for him — praised House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint: “It’s been a good dialogue, good discussion, very open, and they adhere to their word and everything’s been working fine.”
Balint said that she and Krowinski made progress on “establishing healthier patterns” in working with Scott, and she’s feeling “optimistic” about carrying the Kumbaya over to a 2022 session that will involve some touchy issues. Sen. Phil Baruth noted “historic” levels of tripartisan cooperation.
(There’s also a love-in involving Scott, Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. At his Tuesday presser, Scott all but endorsed Leahy for re-election in 2022, and Welch recently credited Scott with doing an “absolutely tremendous job” on Covid-19.)
Scott, Balint and Krowinski are right to feel satisfied. They avoided the intra- and inter-party battles of the past, and dealt with a number of issues successfully. And they had to do it remotely, which was tough on everyone.
But they also ducked some tough issues. Balint and Krowinski made a conscious effort to avoid sending Scott bills he was likely to veto. That might be a good short-term strategy for the pandemic session, but it’s the kind of thing that has made the Democratic majorities seem toothless throughout Scott’s governorship.
So, a good collegial session in 2021 probably won’t carry over to next year unless legislative leadership is willing to set aside a whole bunch of issues. And for strictly political reasons, that will be harder to do in an election year than in this extraordinary session.
It’s almost a given in #vtpoli circles that Gov. Phil Scott will run for U.S. Senate. The question is when — in 2022, against Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here], or 2024 against Bernie Sanders or [insert Democrat here]. Many believe Scott would be unbeatable against anyone but St. Patrick or Bernie. Or even including St. Patrick and Bernie.
It’s the best available speculative topic we’ve got, given the placidity of our political scene. We just had the least contentious legislative session in years, and it’s left Scott and the Democrats practically singing “Kumbaya.” There’s no fun in handicapping the 2022 race for governor, assuming Scott wants a fourth term. The biggest “drama” about the next election cycle is whether Doug Hoffer will retire as auditor and clear the way for his newly-minted deputy Tim Ashe, but that’s not exactly clickbait, no offense.
So, speculation abounds. And all of it is likely to remain just that. Because it says here Scott isn’t running for Senate next year or anytime thereafter.
The usual caveat: I’ve got a spotty record as a prognosticator, to put it kindly. Grain of salt. But I do have reason to believe.
Well, it’s Monday, and once again we’ve got a full crop of stupidity in the public sphere. I didn’t intend for this to be a weekly feature, but hey, if they keep serving up the meatballs, I’ll keep swinging for the fences.
This week, the stupid was strong in positions of prominence. We’ve got a U.S. Senator, a State Senate committee, a state’s attorney, and not one but two agencies in the Scott administration. So let’s not keep these important slash self-important folks waiting.
To begin, we’ve got our first-ever Provisional Veepie and our first-ever Sub-Veepie. The P.V. is the I’ma Throw Everybody Under the Bus Award, which goes to none other than St. Patrick Leahy. It’s provisional because it’s about an anonymous second-hand quote from Politico, so there’s a chance that Leahy didn’t say, or mean, this. But if he did, what a doozy.
The article reports that Leahy is expected to run for re-election next year. It includes this line: “The 81-year-old has also indicated to them that he believes he’s ‘the only Democrat that can win the seat,’ said a person briefed on the conversations.”
Woof. Way to simultaneously diss every Democrat in Vermont, Senator.