Category Archives: Politics

The cat came back

Hey, remember when Peter Galbraith gave up his bought-and-paid-for State Senate seat last year, to pursue a loftier cause?

The Townshend Democrat said his growing involvement in an informal effort to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war won’t allow him to continue serving as a state senator.

Well, that noble sentiment appears to be inoperative. Or so reports the (paywalled) Vermont Press Bureau:

Will former Windham County Sen. Peter Galbraith join the crowd of candidates hoping to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin? It seems more and more likely. Galbraith has not returned calls regarding that inquiry, but sources say he is actively considering it.

GalbraithOh, good Lord. Longtime readers know how I feel about Galbraith; he spent $50,000 of his oil fortune to grab an open Senate seat in 2010, and quickly made himself a hated figure in the Statehouse because of his immense self-regard (even by Senate standards!) and his habit of loudly promoting his own ideas. Made you wonder how he ever made a living as a “diplomat.”

Well, apparently his ego is getting in the way of his peacemaking impulses. The people of Syria will just have to wait, while he ponders a vanity candidacy for governor.

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Pathways to Electoral Failure, Fringe Republican Edition

We have two stories today touching on a common theme: how not to appeal to the Vermont electorate. One involves a presidential candidate allying himself with a Republican moneybags with deep pockets and imperceptible electoral appeal; the other involves a young lawmaker on the rise who seems to be an acolyte of America’s Crankiest Novelist and America’s Most Notorious Ophthalmologist.

First, the candidate and the moneybags:

Yep, that’s Florida Senator Marco Rubio believing that Skip Vallee will “do great things” for his campaign. (Tweet was first noted by the Free Press’ Emilie Teresa Stigliani.) Well, Skip will probably do great things for Rubio’s bottom line. But as for strengthening his campaign, not so much. Rubio can be forgiven for not knowing the details of Skippy’s political rap sheet, being from Florida and all. But just in case he’s reading this blog, God only knows why, let’s do the numbers.

The high point of Skip Vallee’s political career was when he donated enough money to the Bush 2004 campaign to wangle himself the ambassadorship to the Slovak Republic. Aside from that, Skipper’s political career has been purely a figment of his own imagination. In his only bid for elective office, Vallee lost the 2000 race for State Senate in Chittenden County, despite what must have been the most expensive State Senate campaign in state history: he spent $134,000. And still lost.

Vallee has never run for office again — although he keeps hinting and nosing around, as if he can’t believe his proven unpopularity.

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Julia Barnes steps aside

Political job seekers take note: the Vermont Democratic Party is in the market for a new executive director. Julia Barnes is leaving after 3 1/2 years in a very demanding post.

How demanding? “At 3 1/2 years, I’m the second longest-serving executive director in Vermont Democratic Party history,” she says. (Number 1 is Jon Copans, BTW.)

This is an entirely voluntary decision on her part. “It’s exhausting work,” she says. “We’ve made a ton of progress with the Party, and I’m ready for something new. I’ve loved my time at the Vermont Democratic Party, working with the staff, activists, and elected officials. If I had to go back in time, I’d do it again.”

“Something new” might be pursuit of an advanced degree or something else in politics.

I must observe that this is a good time for an accomplished, successful operative to be on the market. Presidential campaigns are ramping up, and state-level campaigns will be doing so in coming months. With Barnes’ track record, I suspect she’ll have more than one offer. If, that is, she decides to stay in the sausage factory.

And while a superficial reading of the 2014 election might raise questions about her leadership, I think it’s abundantly clear that the Democrats’ fundamental problems were (1) a very unpopular Governor, and (2) a non-Presidential and non-Senatorial year that depressed turnout. A closer reading of the returns would show that the VDP was rowing against some very powerful tides. During Barnes’ time as ED, the party has built and maintained a strong organization.

So yeah, if she wants a job in politics she’ll get one. And her successor will have big shoes to fill.

Our sclerotic Senate

In my most recent rant about the State Senate, our most dysfunctional and ego-driven deliberative body, I tossed out a back-of-the-envelope figgerin’ of the Senate’s electoral stasis:

A quick overview of our 30 senators shows at least 26 who are virtual locks for re-election as long as they want to run. And one of the other four is Norm McAllister, who would have been number 27 if only he could have kept it in his pants.

That, I should note, is a generous calculation. You could just as easily argue that if all the sitting Senators ran for re-election in 2016, McAllister is the only one who’d be seriously vulnerable. Almost all the districts lean heavily to the left or to the right. That’s a bad thing, and helps create a Senate that’s full of overinflated egos and smothered in a sense of entitlement.

In case you think I’m overstating the political reality of the Senate, I thought I’d run down the list. In alphabetical order by county:

Addison. Democrats Claire Ayer and Chris Bray romped to re-election in 2014, with no Republicans even bothering to try.

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Story Time, 2010 Primary Edition: in honor of Deb Markowitz

Well, the briefest of gubernatorial trial balloons has settled to the floor, like the birthday balloon that got a half-shot of helium. Deb Markowitz, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary throughout the Shumlin administration, has taken her name out of the running. In an email to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, she wrote:

“I will not be running for Governor this time around. I want to be able to continue to fully focus on the important work of the agency to address the important environmental, energy and economic issues facing Vermont.”

Fair enough. It kinda seemed like she was a token woman on everybody’s list rather than a real top tier contender. Which is a shame, because she could very easily have been Governor instead of Peter Shumlin. And the way his administration has turned out, we might have been better off with Markowitz.

We’ll never know, of course. But let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane, just to show how close we came to that particular alternate reality. And how a possible bit of trickeration (the Nixon folks called it ratf*cking) might have kept her out of the corner office.

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The political significance of the state [bleep] chair

First it was Seven Days, and now it’s VTDigger, reporting on State Rep. Bob Helm’s hidden-camera appearance in a TV report about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the organization that spreads conservative policy ideas and provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers nationwide.

Helm was attending an ALEC conference when he was buttonholed by someone he didn’t know was a TV reporter. He told her he was “the state [bleep], the state chair of ALEC,” and acknowledged that lobbyists had helped pay the freight for him and numerous other lawmakers.

The reporting raises questions of ethics and influence-peddling; but to this Political Observer, the most interesting aspect is the growing influence of ALEC in Vermont Republican circles.

Helm boasted to VTDigger that “he has ‘revved up’ the ALEC chapter in Vermont and has boosted the number of members to 20, up from four just a few years ago.”

I’d love to see that membership list. I’ve heard, for instance, that Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, who tries very hard to position himself as a moderate, is an ALEC member. That may or may not be true, but Wright did push very hard in this year’s session for a bill banning teacher strikes — an idea that’s been promoted by ALEC in other states.

But the bigger point is, 20 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a substantial fraction of the Republican legislative caucus.

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The vultures gather with unseemly haste

If Norm McAllister thinks he still has any friends in the political world, he should give it another think.

At last check, McAllister was technically still a member of the Senate. He has yet to submit his resignation, if that is indeed what he will do.

However, the lack of a vacancy hasn’t stopped some very ambitious folks from putting their names forward to replace him.

Out of, you understand, a selfless concern for the good people of Vermont.

"Pick me! I've even got a mascot!"

“Pick me! I’ve even got a mascot!”

Foremost among this unsavory horde is a guy who ought to posess a bit more sensitivity: Randy Brock, former state senator and auditor and candidate for Governor. Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

“If [McAllister] resigns, I would certainly be interested in filling the seat, because I think it needs to be filled and I think it needs to be filled by someone who can get to work immediately, who’s up on the issues,” Brock said. “So I’m willing to serve, yes.”

“Willing to serve,” pssssh. “Desperately jonesing for a return to politics,” I’ll buy.

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