Less than a month ago, after Claire Cummings’s departure as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, I wrote that the party was at a crossroads and had to think long and hard about its recent administrative failures. Regarding the qualities needed in the next ED, I wrote “I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee.”
Well, glory be, mirabile dictu, heavens to Murgatroyd, they hired that guy!
They did something right? The Vermont Democratic Party?
So it would seem.
The new ED, hired as an interim in order to bypass a lengthy search process, is Jim Dandeneau, lobbyist for Primmer Piper and former VDP staffer. He ran the Dems’ very successful 2018 House campaign and was a staffer on Sue Minter’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, which looks better in retrospect than it did at the time. Before coming to Vermont, Dandeneau spent 15 years in New York politics, a much bigger and more shark-infested political pool. The oft-fraught internal dynamics of the VDP are not going to phase him in the least.
In short, he’s got the goods. His hiring is a sign that VDP leadership realizes how badly they’ve been screwing up, and how much they need a swift kick in the organizational ass. Dandeneau is capable of delivering that kick, and it seems like the party is ready to take it. That’s a very positive sign. He and new party chair Anne Lezak should make a powerful team.
It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.
The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.
Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.
Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.
Note: In the few hours since I posted this piece, even more retirements have been made public. I have written a separate post with the new names; read it here.
The state House has 15 standing policy committees. One-third of them, at minimum, will have new chairs next session.
First to announce departure was Government Operations Chair Sarah Copeland Hanzas, now running for Secretary of State.
Then, as the 2022 session was in its closing days, four influential chairs announced their retirements. Health Care’s Bill Lippert, Human Services’ Ann Pugh, Education’s Kate Webb, and most recently, Ways & Means’ Janet Ancel. That’s a huge amount of experience to lose all at once. And we may have more retirements announced in coming days, as the May 26 filing deadline for major-party candidates is less than two weeks away.
You know, I wrote a piece last summer about how the Senate had a huge seniority issue. At the time, the average senator was 63.4 years old. And the average age of committee chairs was a remarkable 72.1. Some wires must have gotten crossed because clearly the message was delivered to the House, not the Senate.
How much experience is the House losing? Let us count the years.
Did Beth Pearce just hand the treasurer’s office to Michael Pieciak? Consider the timing.
April 27: Gov. Phil Scott’s office announces that Pieciak would step down as Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation in mid-May “to pursue other opportunities” of the unspecified variety.
May 4: Pearce announces she will not seek re-election as treasurer. Her decision, she said, was made after being diagnosed with cancer three weeks earlier. Or about two weeks before Pieciak’s departure from the administration.
May 6: Pieciak launches a campaign for treasurer as a Democrat. (He served under Republican Scott, but he was brought into state government by Dem Peter Shumlin.)
Here’s what it looks like: Pearce realizes she’s stepping down and essentially handpicks Pieciak as her successor. How could you look at the sequence of events and think otherwise?
Pearce took a couple weeks after her diagnosis, more than enough time to drop a word to Pieciak. He steps down as commissioner “to pursue other opportunities” only a week before Pearce’s surprise announcement. And he launches his candidacy only two days after Pearce’s announcement.
2022 is looking like a critical campaign season for the Vermont Progressive Party, full of peril and possibilities.
The peril is obvious. The two state senators who identify as Progressive/Democratic, Anthony Pollina and Chris Pearson, are stepping out of elective office. Cheryl Hooker, one of three senators who wear the Democratic/Progressive label, is also retiring. (The others are Phil Baruth and Andrew Perchlik.)
If the Progs don’t pick up seats somewhere, that would leave them with fractions of Baruth and Perchlik as their entire Senate caucus. That wouldn’t be good.
The Progs have some possibilities for shoring up their numbers. They have real hopes in the newly created Chittenden Central district, which includes the liberal parts of Burlington and Essex, and all of WInooski. Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky of Essex is running in the Democratic primary, and should stand a decent chance given the political nature of the district.
Other Democrats could pick up the Dem/Prog label, which would help. At least a couple of Pollina’s potential successors, Anne Watson and Jeremy Hansen, seem inclined to do so. Windham County senate candidate Wichie Artu seems cut from similar cloth.
We may also see, for the first time in years, a slate of Progressive candidates at the top of the ballot.
Charity Clark stepped down today as Attorney General TJ Donovan’s chief of staff. The remarkably coy announcement of the move said she “has stepped down from her post to explore new opportunities” and would “make an announcement about her plans in the near future.”
Yuh-huh. She’s running for AG. She’s hinted as much, and it’s the most obvious reason for her sudden departure, which (a) apparently took immediate effect and (b) came only four days after Donovan announced he would leave office at the end of his term or possibly before.
I guess it ends all speculation that Clark might be elevated to acting attorney general should Donovan depart before Election Day, thus giving her the kinda-sorta incumbent’s edge. If so, it’s a noble and selfless move.
And it raises questions about Chris Winters, deputy secretary of state, who remains in office nearly three months after he announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, Jim Condos.
If Clark thought it best to resign before she even opened the doors on her campaign, why hasn’t Winters?
Well now. One day after Beth Pearce announces she will not seek re-election, along comes Attorney General TJ Donovan to say he’s stepping aside. Might not even finish his term, in fact. Already his top deputy, Charity Clark, has taken to Twitter to announce she’s considering a run to succeed him.
That’s four, count ’em, four, openings out of our six statewide offices, and six out of nine if you include Congressional seats.
Anything you’re not telling us, governor? Auditor Hoffer?
Besides the lieutenant governor vacancy in 2020, it’s been a long time since any Democrat could see a way to move up the ladder. Now, it’s not so much a ladder as a single step onto a boundless plateau. Who’s got next?
Besides Clark, I have no idea. I’d love to see Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George give it a shot, but she seems uninterested. She told VTDigger she will run for re-election instead because she’s more interested in criminal law than in the civil cases that make up the bulk of the AGO’s work. Otherwise, I’m sure there are boatloads of people contemplating a run for AG or Treasurer.
This is going to be one hell of an August primary.
Well, that’s a look at my political crystal ball, hopelessly opaque like a furiously shaken snowglobe. But there are still a few things to say about Mr. Donovan and the odd specifics of his departure.
Our Democratic “leaders” have been studiously avoiding the long-odds task of running for governor against Phil Scott. The Dems have made a habit of this — not only during Scott’s tenure, but also under Jim Douglas. The top Democrats ducked and covered until Douglas decided to step down, and then there was a land rush of suddenly-eager candidates.
For the party that otherwise rules the roost in these parts, it’s a disgraceful history.
But now, finally, in early May for Pete’s sake, we have a Democrat in the race: Brenda Siegel, activist, advocate, two-time candidate for statewide office and, as she likes to say, the only person to beat Scott in the public arena. You may recall the epic sleep-out on the Statehouse steps that shamed the governor into reversing course on emergency housing.
Siegel braved the onset of winter. She stared down the governor. That’s the famously genial guy who never bothered to step outside his office and meet with Siegel and her allies. It’s no surprise that she’s willing to go where no other Democrat is willing to go: into the arena with Phil Scott.
She deserves all the credit in the world for that. And other potential candidates, who are clearly waiting for Scott to retire, deserve their share of scorn.
When Jeb Spaulding became newly-elected governor Peter Shumlin’s top cabinet official in January 2011, his little-known deputy was chosen to serve out the remainder of his term.
That deputy went on to become, arguably, the most popular officeholder in the Vermont Democratic Party. She routinely got loud, sustained ovations at VDP gatherings, and was at the top of many Democrats’ wish lists as a candidate for governor. But she had no interest in being anything other than Treasurer.
And now Beth Pearce has announced her retirement as Treasurer at the end of her term, when she will have served 12 years in the office.
First and foremost, all the luck in the world to Pearce as she battles cancer. Having watched Pearce in action, I have to say cancer has no idea what it’s in for.
Words can barely express how inexplicable this is. Why did Gov. Phil Scott veto the public sector pension deal? Well, I know his stated reasons, but they’re stupid. He has expect an override, so his veto won’t accomplish anything except make him look needlessly obstructionist.
There’s more, a lot more, but let’s take ’em one at a time.
This deal came at the end of a years-long search for common ground on how to make the pensions fiscally sound. Last year, the Legislature set up a committee to recommend a way out of the mess. The panel included members of the Legislature and Scott’s administration, and the unions. It worked diligently for months.
At no point did Scott or any of his officials sound the alarm.
The committee brought its recommendation to the Legislature. It went through the entire process of committee hearing after committee hearing, amendments major and picayune, floor debates and floor votes.
At no point did Scott raise a hand and say the deal was unacceptable.
The votes in the House and Senate were UNANIMOUS. Every single goddamn Republican voted in favor of it.
At no point before the votes did Scott think to warn his legislative allies that he didn’t like the deal. Some of them would have happily voted “No” if they thought he had a problem.