Category Archives: Matt Dunne

The Chittenden Trap

One of the top items on the Vermont Democratic Party’s to-do list is a makeover of its relationship with the Progressive Party. Nothing drastic, just some overdue maintenance. The core issue: how to deal with Progs running as Dems — and, in some cases, running as Dems and then re-entering the fray as Progs after losing a Democratic primary.

But I would argue that another issue might be more urgent: the party’s increasingly Chittenden-centric orientation.

Writing this post was in the works before today’s news that Rep. Mitzi Johnson has edged out Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas to be the next Speaker of the House. Now, it seems even more pertinent. The leaders of both houses will come from Chittenden County’s sphere of influence: Johnson from South Hero (basically a bedroom community for Burlington), Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe from Chittenden County. And the three members of the Senate’s Committee on Committees all being from Chittenden.

When I say “Chittenden County,” I define it broadly; from the southern half of the Champlain Islands down to Shelburne at least, and southwestward to Richmond if not Waterbury.

Chittenden County itself accounts for one-fourth of Vermont’s population. Its Senate delegation is twice as large as the next biggest county — and in fact, based purely on population, it ought to have one more Senator. (And will certainly get at least one more after the 2020 Census.)

Beyond the mere numbers, Chittenden is home turf for the Democratic Party’s urban-ish, tech-oriented core. And its donor base.

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Sue Minter did worse than I thought

This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.

On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)

But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.

Now, I’m seriously rethinking that notion.

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On the VPR Poll

Must have been some soiled britches at VTGOP headquarters when the news came out: a new poll shows the race for governor is a statistical dead heat.

If it’s accurate, of course. Usual caveats apply. Doesn’t help that this is the only pre-election poll we’re going to get, since VPR is the only media organization putting up money for surveys this year.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s reasonably on target.

There were reasons to believe the race would be close, but the almost universal assumption (me included) was that Phil Scott was the front-runner because of his name recognition, his inoffensive image, and Vermonters’ presumed post-Shumlin fatigue with liberal policymaking. Minter, by comparison, was known (to the extent she was known at all) mainly as a Shumlin underling, which meant she would struggle to create a profile of her own.

Instead, here we are, with Scott at 39 percent, Minter at 38, and a rather surprising 14 percent undecided.

So why is this race so close? Assuming, again, that the poll is accurate.

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Phil Scott’s magical population boom

Throughout his campaign for governor, Phil Scott has tossed out the notion that Vermont’s population must grow. He offers an ambitious target: a total population of 700,000 within 15 years. That’s roughly 75,000 more people.

Which is ridiculous, impossible, absurd. But that won’t stop him from saying it.

(Matt Dunne said the same thing in the primary race; it was just as ridiculous coming from him.)

Let’s start with the fact that he’s swimming against very powerful national tides. America’s population has been growing in southern and western sectors, and staying the same or shrinking in the midwest and northeast. There are a number of reasons for this, among them being climate, natural resources, and far greater immigration in the south and west.

Now, a couple of points made by VTDigger’s Jon Margolis in an essay posted earlier this year. For starters, there’s the fact that such growth is unprecedented without a tangible underlying cause:

States experience that kind of growth only after a discovery of natural resources (such as the California Gold Rush of 1849 or North Dakota’s Bakken Shield oil and gas in 2006) or when the federal government decides to invest billions in military, aerospace or energy projects.

In all its history, Vermont has had but one period of rapid population growth. It was in the 1960s and 1970s. The federal investment that made it possible was completion of interstates 89 and 91. Vermont’s version of “gold” was lots of cheap land…

That ain’t happening again, especially if Scott’s Republican buddies take control in Washington. Indeed, if the federal budget were to endure anything like the cuts the GOP would like to impose, small rural states like Vermont and its hypothetical Governor Scott would be royally screwed.

Moving on.

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And in the morning, the boulder’s back at the bottom of the hill

You could understand if Phil Scott and Sue Minter find themselves sympathizing with the plight of Sisyphus. Having won their respective primaries, they now face the task of refilling their nearly-empty warchests, and ASAP if you please.

The major-party nominees raised an ungodly (by Vermont standards) amount of money, and spent almost all of it just to get through their primaries.

The grim totals: Minter raised more than a million dollars — and spent all but $54,000 fending off the weaker-than-expected candidacies of Matt Dunne and Peter Galbraith.

Scott enters the general campaign with $158,000 in the bank. But he entered the primary race with $95K left over from his previous walkovers for lieutenant governor. Without that cushion, he’d be dead even with Minter in cash on hand. In terms of money raised during the current campaign, he actually trails both Minter and Dunne.

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@VTDems: The Odd Couple, and other observations

Mixed bag on the Democratic ticket: Sue Minter for governor, David Zuckerman for Lite-Guv. Not that there’s usually much coordination between the #1 and #2 candidates, but I expect little to none from this pairing.

Indeed, one question worth asking: Now that Zuckerman is the Democratic nominee, will the party share its voter database with him?

But let’s take a step back and ponder tonight’s results and what they mean for Democratic politics. In no particular order:

A good night for the mainstream Democratic Party. I say so despite Zuckerman’s win; he took a plurality of the vote, nowhere near a majority. If he’d been matched up with Shap Smith alone, he would have lost badly. (Yes, I’m assuming that the bulk of Kesha Ram’s votes would have gone to Shap.)

And, of course, Minter had little trouble outpacing Matt Dunne. Some of this was due to Dunne’s Six Days of Hell, but it’s impossible to know how much.

Bernie’s coattails proved surprisingly short. Dunne believed that turning himself into Bernie Lite was the key to victory. We know how that turned out, don’t we?

Truth is, as we can see from the Lite-Guv totals, much of the Democratic electorate is moderate to liberal, not progressive. Bernie’s popularity is partly a matter of policy, but more a matter of persona. Bernie is extremely popular. It’s yet to be proven that his policies alone are a winning formula in Vermont.

Matt Dunne blew it. Last fall, he seemed the clear favorite. Minter was untested and tied directly to the Shumlin administration. Dunne was the more experienced candidate. He raced out to an early fundraising advantage.

He should have won the primary.

Why didn’t he?

Well, part of it was the Six Days of Hell — his position shift on renewable energy siting, his restatement/retraction of said shift, the blatant hypocrisy of his stand against self-funded campaigns even after he self-funded his own, the scorched-earth tactics of blaming the media and “the establishment” for problems of his own making.

But even before that, I’d argue he blew the primary by deciding not to be himself. There’s a Matt Dunne who could have won this race. It’s the plausibly liberal technocrat with high-tech chops who would have brought managerial know-how and broad experience in government and the private sector. That’s a pretty appealing candidate, especially after the administrative misfires of the Shumlin years.

But he simply wasn’t plausible as Bernie II. He had too much of a track record. His policies were part Bernie, part moderate Dem. His personality was a poor fit. And, to the extent that Bernie and the Vermont Democratic Party have a touchy relationship, his embrace of Berniedom did nothing for his own standing with party regulars.

His late-days mistakes only reinforced his reputation in many minds as an overly ambitious pol willing to say anything to become governor. He is now a three-time loser who burned quite a few bridges; a political comeback is possible but seems unlikely. He might have to be satisfied with being a well-paid Google executive. Such a burden.

Sue Minter has a lot of work to do. She’ll have to unify the party, which should be easier since Matt Dunne prioritized party unity in his concession speech. But she will be the underdog against Phil Scott. She spent heavily to fend off Dunne. She’s got some political seasoning in the primary, but now she’s in the spotlight. It’s a big step up for someone who hasn’t run a general election campaign outside of Waterbury.

I’m sure I will have some thoughts on possible strategy for Minter and the Democrats, but all in due time.

The VTGOP will use Zuckerman to attack Democrats. Actually, that’s not a prediction; it’s already begun.

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Zuckerman’s nomination increases the chances that Randy Brock will be our next Lieutenant Governor. Zuckerman’s still the favorite, but he’ll be a weaker general-election candidate than Shap Smith would have been.

And the stakes are high in that race. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, sits on the influential Committee on Committees, and casts tie-breaking votes. Brock would be a strong conservative presence; On the other hand…

If Zuckerman does win, we could have a very different Senate. Zuckerman as presiding officer, potentially Tim Ashe as President Pro Tem, and Chris Pearson a very capable lawmaker. Although Zuckerman has been in the Senate for a while, I can’t see him supporting the status quo. He’d have very little patience for the niceties and obscure mores of the Senate.

And whither the omnipresent Dick Mazza? The perennial kingmaker will have to adapt to — or try to conquer — a changed landscape. Will he continue to serve on the influential Committee on Committees? How would he get along with Zuckerman and Ashe as the other two members?

I know one thing. I’m voting for Zuckerman, if only for the entertainment value.

No sign of the Energy Rebellion much touted by the likes of Annette Smith and Mark Whitworth. Peter Galbraith is pulling less than 10 percent of the vote. One might presume that some of Matt Dunne’s 37 percent was due to his last-days revision of his renewables siting policy, but that seems a stretch. Smith and Galbraith loudly denounced Dunne after he re-explained his revision. It’s unlikely that their core supporters would have stuck with Dunne.

Whither Shap? I have no idea, but I’d be shocked if this was the end of his political career. He entered the Lite-Guv race very late, and he was hampered by Kesha Ram’s presence in the race. She’d garnered quite a few endorsements from the House Dem caucus, and many of them stuck with her.

Shap’s young enough to regroup and restart. He remains very popular in Democratic circles. He is highly respected for his shepherding of the House caucus. I doubt he’ll be tagged as a loser; he finished a strong second after a late entry, and he’ll get a lot of credit for that.

If Phil Scott wins the governorship, Shap ’s the early favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2018 — or maybe he’d wait until 2020, a presidential year.

The question will be, what role does he play in the near future? I don’t know, and I doubt that he knows right now. If Minter wins, he could probably have his pick of cabinet posts. Otherwise, he could run silent, run deep: continue to build relationships across the state and prepare for his next political venture.

I think that’s about enough for primary night. I’l turn to the Republicans next.

“Can you believe that fucker?”

Matt Dunne has achieved the impossible: he’s made me feel sympathy for Peter Galbraith.

The latter, whom I once dubbed “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” for his narcissistic rampages through the fields of parliamentary procedure, is the author of this post’s headline. Galbraith was speaking of Dunne, who continued a series of stunning, unforced errors that has almost certainly landed his once-promising political career in the dustbin of history.

And to think that one week ago none of this had happened, and I was actively pondering which Democrat to vote for in the primary. Seriously, I didn’t vote early because I couldn’t make up my mind.

The latest in Dunne’s cavalcade of blunders concerned his late decision to loan his own campaign some $95,000, as he desperately tried to pull his candidacy out of a self-inflicted tailspin.

The problem, as Seven Days‘ Paul Heintz first reported, is that Dunne had stated throughout his campaign, as a matter of high principle, that he would not use his own money to fill his campaign coffers. The statement is still on his campaign website: 

I will personally be adhering to the contribution limits set for an individual Vermonter, and will not be self funding the campaign above those limits.  

And we’re calling on all the other candidates in the race to do the same and abstain from self-funding their campaigns.   

The bold print is Dunne’s.

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