Category Archives: Vermont Democratic Party

Shall We Call This “The Zuckerman Rule”?

This item is almost too petty to report. But if it was that petty, then why did the Vermont Democratic Party do it?

I’m referring to a change made last year to the party bylaws that seems to be aimed squarely at Progressive/Democratic Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

Follow me into the weeds. The VDP allows its top officeholder at the state level to appoint a nonvoting member to the party’s executive committee. Under the former bylaw, that would be Zuckerman. But the appointment was, in fact, made by Treasurer Mike Pieciak.

That’s because the bylaw now specifies that it’s the top officeholder with “D” as their only or first party designation. Used to be, Zuckerman’s “P/D” would qualify. Indeed, during his first tenure as LG he named Ed Cafferty to the committee. (And Cafferty is, in fact, a loyal Democrat of long standing.)

This rule change didn’t matter when Democrat Molly Gray was LG. But it does now that Zuckerman is back in office.

Now, this is small potatoes to be sure. It’s a nonvoting member of a party committee. But again, if this is so trivial, why bother making the change? We’re talking about the sequence of two capital letters here. Is P/D really that different from D/P?

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Lezak to Depart as VDP Chair

Anne Lezak is about to step aside as chair of the Vermont Democratic Party after a very consequential year-plus on the job. She’s doing so of her own free will, in order to carry on with her work in Uganda. She and her husband Dr. Harry Chen, currently interim commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, spent a year in Uganda in 2017. He helped establish the country’s first residency in emergency medicine, and she worked for Hospice Africa Uganda, one of the continent’s leading training centers and providers of palliative care.

Lezak recently became chair of the board of HAU’s American arm, Hospice Africa USA. She and Chen have been aiming to return to Uganda for some time, and they plan to do so in early March. They will leave their current positions by the end of February. “We are both returning to beloved organizations we were working with,” Lezak said. “It was amazing. It was life-changing.”

Still, she wouldn’t leave the VDP if she wasn’t certain that it was “in very good hands.” She pointed to numerous accomplishments: a historically successful 2022 campaign season, the building of a strong and cohesive party staff, and party vice chair David Glidden, “a great partner throughout,” whom she has endorsed as her successor. That will be decided at a state committee meeting in late February. Lezak calls Glidden “the future of the Vermont Democratic Party in every good way.”

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Broke. Destitute. Insolvent. Beggared. Strapped. Bust. Pauperized. Skint. Embarrassed. Down at Heel.

The Vermont Republican Party doesn’t have much money to spend right now, but here’s a suggestion: Invest in a metal detector. You might improve your fortunes by finding some spare change and, who knows, maybe a pirate doubloon or two.

This isn’t exactly new for the perpetually impecunious VTGOP. But if anything, it’s gotten worse — especially when compared to the Vermont Democratic Party, which had a gangbusters 2022 by comparison.

The latest Federal Elections Commission filings covered the month of November. It’ll be a few days before we get the year-end reports. But I doubt the situation will change all that much, and the situation merits exploration right now.

(Reminder: Although the VDP and VTGOP are state parties, the vast majority of their financial activity is under federal jurisdiction. The figures that follow are all from FEC filings.)

The VTGOP ended November with a paltry $2,204 in cash on hand. The Dems: $207,060, nearly 100 times as much. And that was after generous Democratic expenditures in the run-up to Election Day. The VDP’s goal was to enter the off-cycle period with enough resources to avoid post-campaign staff cuts. They’ll have to maintain a solid fundraising pace to accomplish that, but so far things are looking good.

Meanwhile, the VTGOP just suffered its worst legislative defeat ever and couldn’t sniff a statewide victory for any candidate not named “Phil Scott.” They need some serious rebuilding, and they have no resources to even begin the work. The numbers tell the tale.

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Congratulations to the Progressive Party on its Hostile Takeover of Vermont Politics

There seems to be a popular delusion among Republicans in these parts, even the non-fringey types. In the words of outgoing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann,

…the Progressives have taken over the VT Democratic Party.

This same belief was expressed a few months ago by VTGOP Chair Paul Dame, when he compared the Progressive Party to a parasitic horsehair worm that had taken over the Democratic Party from within.

Outgoing Sen. Joe Benning said much the same thing in his post-election post-mortem: “Ideologues in the Democratic/Progressive supermajority,” he wrote, are driving policy that “runs counter to Vermont traditions and fiscal capacity.” At least he put the Democrats first, but still he’s conflating the Dems and the Progs in a way that’s far from the truth. The two parties sing from different hymnals on many of our most contentious issues, and the Dems always sit in the right-hand pew. Top Democrats are fond of styling themselves as small-P progressives, but they are definitely not the capital-P kind. Not at all.

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Someone Feeling a Little Bit Grudgy?

The Democratic primary for U.S. Congress ended in a decisive victory for Becca Balint. She enjoyed a 23.6 percentage point margin of victory in what was expected to be a close contest. She cemented her status as a leading figure in the Vermont Democratic Party, and put herself in prime position to become the future leader.

There are a disgruntled few, however, who can’t seem to put the primary behind them. Meaning certain members of Team Molly Gray.

I hear this whenever I talk with anyone in Democratic circles or the state policy sphere. Malcontented Gray backers are, in the words of one advocate, “salting the earth.” They’re taking names and doling out threats as if they, um, actually run this joint. Which, having badly lost the primary, they decidedly don’t.

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Know Your Parasites

There’s a notion prevalent among Vermont Republicans that the Progressives are secretly controlling the Vermont Democratic Party.

Now, you run that by any Progressive and the response will be a bitter laugh. They only wish.

This idea recently came at me from two directions: VTGOP Chair Paul Dame in one of his weekly “newsletters” sent to the party’s email list. I would have ignored Dame, but then it was repeated in the comments section of this here blog by none other than H. Brooke Paige, Republican candidate-at-large.

Dame’s version was the more colorful, by which I mean revolting. He chose a horsehair worm (seen above), which grows inside the body of a cricket or other large insect and drives a host’s behavior in ways beneficial to itself.

See, the Progs are the worm and the Dems are the hapless host.

(Also, side issue, but is Dame hoping to win friends and influence people by talking about disgusting parasites in his essays? He refers to it as “a fascinating creature,” so maybe he thinks everybody would be equally fascinated rather than repelled.)

Again, bitter laugh from any Prog who sees this.

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A Tale of Two Treasuries

Obligatory “War Chest” Reference

As if it needed any more emphasis, the September 1 campaign finance reports starkly illustrate the difference in fortune between the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties. In case you need to be told, the Dems’ war chest is on the left; the VTGOP’s is on the right. The exception is Gov. Phil Scott, who seems to finally be taking the campaign seriously. Maybe he’s a little worried about Brenda Siegel?

Fundraising numbers to date for statewide races besides governor:

Lieutenant Governor: David Zuckerman $236,687, Joe Benning $38,546. That’s the good one for the Republicans.

Treasurer: Mike Pieciak $126,500, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Secretary of State: Sarah Copeland Hanzas $74,078, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Attorney General: Charity Clark $129, 835, Mike Tagliavia 0.

Auditor: Invincible incumbent Doug Hoffer $100 plus a $1,115 surplus from 2020, Rick Morton 0.

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The Only Thing That Can Beat Vermont Democrats Is Vermont Democrats

Recently, I observed that the Vermont Democratic Party is in a much stronger position now than it was on January 1, 2022. It’s true, but it could create a problem in the general election campaign. The VDP is historically strong; the Vermont Republican Party is weak, disorganized and toxically partisan; and the Progressive Party remains a small presence hoping to make incremental gains at best. The reproductive rights amendment formerly known as Prop 5 should galvanize the Democratic base.

They don’t have a serious rival. That situation breeds complacency. Everybody knows the Dems are going to win, at minimum, every statewide race except for governor. Everybody knows they’re going to retain large legislative majorities. Knowing all that, is everybody prepared for an all-out effort this fall?

They’d better be.

There’s no excuse for failing to maximize this opportunity. They shouldn’t settle for the current level of dominance; the goal should be winning supermajorities in the state House and Senate and, best case, bringing Gov. Phil Scott’s cavalcade of cromulence to an end.

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The Great VDP Reboot of 2022

When you add up a number of things previously reported in this space — new leadership at the Vermont Democratic Party that seems to know what it’s doing for a change, the emergence of Becca Balint and Mike Pieciak as formidable political forces — plus a few more, a clear picture emerges. The Vermont Democratic Party has risen from a long dismal period and is now moving from strength to strength. If the Republicans thought they might be closing the gap in any meaningful way, well, they are sadly mistaken.

The party’s internal organization is stronger than it’s been for years. Fundraising has improved greatly. And now there’s an impressively deep bench with numerous officeholders capable of climbing the ladder. In addition to Balint and Pieciak, there’s also Attorney General-in-Waiting Charity Clark and All But Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas. And we should not forget House Speaker Jill Krowinski, no sirree.

(Say, has the Vermont Republican Party found some patsies to run statewide yet? No? Yes? Does it matter?)

(UPDATE! They found guys for auditor and attorney general, still looking for treasurer. And no, it doesn’t matter.)

This is a stark change from the stasis of the past decade, when some really good people with no political upside held these offices. Plus TJ Donovan. (Well, Beth Pearce had political upside but she didn’t want it.)

The latest fundraising figures, studiously ignored by the tattered remnants of the political press, show the VDP continuing its upward trajectory. In July, the party took in $84,121 and spent $56,833, improving its cash balance to $267,095. At the beginning of 2022, the VDP had a mere $43,238 in the bank. And boosting their reserves is a real accomplishment when simultaneously gearing up for an election campaign.

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Soon to Be the Most Powerful Person in the Vermont Democratic Party

Far too early rampant speculation alert!

Becca Balint’s one-sided primary victory leaves only token obstacles in her path to Congress. This is obvious.

What’s less obvious is that it puts Balint on track to become the most powerful person in Vermont Democratic politics. This is the extra dimension of the primary’s import. It was a hinge moment in the party’s progress.

Follow me, if you will, down a wary-too-soon but perfectly logical rabbit hole.

Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch are extremely powerful presences in the Vermont Democratic Party, more so than is visible publicly. (Bernie Sanders is treated with veneration but as a resolute independent, he doesn’t have the same level of influence.)

Leahy is about to exit the stage and take on an emeritus-equivalent position in the party. He’ll have a say as long as he draws breath, but he won’t have the power of the office anymore. His people took a huge hit in the primary. Most or all backed Molly Gray, or even worked on her campaign. They might never recover, especially given how negative Gray went in the closing weeks of the primary campaign. That won’t endear any of them to Balint.

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