Category Archives: Vermont Democratic Party

This Should Be a Very Good Year for the VDP

Recently I was talking with a couple of friends in the #vtpoli world, and I casually remarked that 2022 should be a good year for the Vermont Democratic Party. I thought it was kind of obvious, but I was met with puzzled looks. So I explained my reasoning. And I thought that if the VDP’s advantage is less obvious than I thought, maybe it needs to be explained in this space.

I’ve got six reasons for seeing a big 2022 ahead for the Dems. Let’s start with their inherent advantage in the Vermont electorate. Statewide, a generic Democrat starts out with at least a 10-point edge over any Republican not named Phil Scott. In the Legislature, the Dems consistently hover right around the two-thirds mark — usually just above in the Senate, just below in the House. But at worst, they can expect to hold more than 60% of all legislative seats. (It must be really depressing to be a Republican lawmaker, knowing you have little influence and no prospects.)

Other factors give the Dems an even bigger edge in this particular year. Like Proposition 5 and the U.S. Supreme Court. When Democrats proposed enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution, it seemed kind of superfluous. I mean, who’s going to ban abortion in reliably blue Vermont? Now, with the high court’s majority trending in a Handmaid’s Tale direction, reproductive rights are in question. Even before Alito Mussolini’s decision was leaked, Vermont Democrats saw Prop 5 as a turnout-booster in a non-presidential election year. Now, reproductive rights are front and center and Prop 5 is, as they say about police procedurals, “ripped from the headlines.” It should galvanize pro-choice voters.

After the jump: Money, organization, an unprecedented campaign season, and a unique Democratic resource.

Continue reading

Hey Wow, the VDP Did Something Right for a Change

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.

Continue reading

Lightning Round!

Well, the shower drain of political news is once again backed up, so it’s time to apply some rhetorical Liquid-Plumr and get the system going again. In today’s installment: the VDP at a crossroads, a really stupid lawsuit from a once-reputable publishing house, a complaint about Peter Welch being too good at fundraising, and maybe the worst political cartoon I’ve ever seen. Let the plunging begin!

The Vermont Democratic Party needs to take a look in the mirror. The VDP is once again looking for an executive director. Claire Cummings lasted about one year on the job before offering her resignation under circumstances unknown. As I wrote upon her hiring, “Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job in less than four years — and the fifth, if you count then-party chair Terje Anderson’s unfortunate tenure as interim ED in 2019.” Well, now they’re looking for their fifth in five years, or sixth if you count Anderson.

It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s a mess. And now the VDP must hire a new ED in the middle of election season. It needs someone who can hit the ground running with deep knowledge of Vermont and of campaigning. And it desperately needs someone with the guts to confront party elders if need be. I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee. No names, because I don’t know where the search is going to go. But i can tell you one thing: If they hire someone from outside the state and/or someone under the age of 25, it’ll mean they’re happy with the status quo. Or, to put it another way, it’ll mean they’re seriously out of touch and full of unwarranted conceit.

Continue reading

Senate Reapportionment, a.k.a. The Incumbency Protection Act of 2022

Random Unrelated Illustration

If there was ever any doubt that the state Senate is a club unto itself, well, a close look at the chamber’s likely reapportionment map will make things perfectly clear.

First, the circumstances: After weeks and weeks of vaguely-defined “discussion,” the committee burped out its map in a 26-minute-long hearing on Thursday. Seriously, before Thursday, the agenda for each of its previous 13 meetings merely said “Committee Discussion.” At least they were open hearings, I guess.

According to VTDigger, the hearing was not warned in advance as required by law, and the map wasn’t made public until after the hearing. A procedural fail to be sure, and a worrying one by a committee chaired by Sen. Jeanette White, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee. You know — the one that deals with open meetings and public records laws?

Aside from process flaws, the map itself is problematic in many ways. At virtually every turn, it bows the knee to incumbency — even when doing so is a setback for the Democratic Party. You know, the party that allegedly controls the process?

If this map is enacted, it will be harder for the Democrats to keep their Senate supermajority. It will help Republicans pick up some ground, but maybe not right away; and the new Chittenden County map is the best thing to happen to the Progressive Party since David Zuckerman became lieutenant governor. (It also gives the Republicans a real shot at a Chittenden seat for the first time since Diane Snelling left the chamber.)

The newly created, three-seat Chittenden Central district includes Winooski and part of Burlington. It seems custom-made to give the Progs a real shot at winning all three seats.

Looking at the committee lineup, this may have been a case of Prog/Dem Sen. Chris Pearson pulling one over on sleepy Democrats’ eyes. He was the only member from Chittenden County, which is weird in itself. There were four Dems on the committee: the barely-there Jeanette White, the almost-a-Republican Bobby Starr, everybody’s friend Alison Clarkson, and quiet second-termer Andrew Perchlik. The two Republicans were part-time Vermonter Brian Collamore and the politically savvy Randy Brock. In sheer political terms, Pearson and Brock could run rings around the other five.

And it sure looks like they did just that.

Continue reading

Siegel Joins Racine in Mulling Circle

Two-time statewide candidate Brenda Siegel is “seriously considering” another run for governor, joining former lieutenant governor Doug Racine in the Mulling Circle(TM Pending). Siegel is a citizen Statehouse advocate on poverty, substance use and other issues, known for her seemingly endless energy and willingness to ruffle feathers along the way — a trait rarely in evidence in the polite world of #vtpoli.

“We’re not going to out-nice the Nice Guy,” Siegel said. “Phil Scott has to be off balance. When you ask yourself who’s been able to put him off balance, I think the answer is pretty clear.”

Is that a veiled reference to Racine, also a famously nice guy? Uh, I believe so.

Besides, she added, “I know what it takes to beat the governor. I’ve done it twice.” Siegel was referring to last year’s fight to decriminalize possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, which Scott signed reluctantly, and last fall’s renowned protest in which Siegel and some allies slept on the Statehouse steps for 27 nights until they won major changes in the state’s emergency housing program — changes Scott had stoutly resisted.

Continue reading

“Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Give Up Sniffing Glue”

You know, I’d hate to be new Vermont Democratic Party Chair Anne Lezak right about now. She took on the job with hopes of ending a long period of internal turmoil at the ought-to-be-prosperous party.

And now, at the beginning of campaign season, she’s dealing with something of a staff exodus. Three party employees have left in recent weeks, leaving only three paid staffers who have a combined tenure of less than one year. Executive Director Claire Cummings came on board in April 2021; Senate Caucus Aide Sally Short was hired in January; and Data Director Madison Thomas joined the staff less than two weeks ago. And speaking of brief tenures, a reminder that Lezak herself just became party chair in December. They’re probably still wearing name tags at the party offices.

The good news, kinda-sorta: This doesn’t seem to be a case of stampeding to the lifeboats or disappearing in shame, as has happened at VDP HQ in the recent past. Rather, all three have left the VDP for better professional opportunities.

Still, their departures are a big setback for the VDP’s campaign machine at a critical time.

The departees: Party finance chair Kate Olney, who’s given notice that she’s taking a job in VTDigger’s fundraising operation; Spencer Dole, who coordinated the Dems’ House campaign for the last two election cycles, is now field director for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s Congressional campaign; and party comms chief Asha Carroll, who’s landed a gig with a national nonprofit organization.

“We’re actively looking to fill all three vacancies as quickly as possible to maintain our momentum,” said Cummings.

Continue reading

The VDP’s New Chair Seems the Ideal Choice for the Job

Vermont’s Democratic and Republican parties selected new state chairs this fall. We have previously dealt with the Republican, Paul Dame, former state lawmaker and the “brains” behind that lamentable “Let’s Go Brandon” rally (btw, the VTGOP is offering leftover LGB merch at big discounts, heh) and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of his one-man YouTube commentaries.

Now, let’s meet the other new chair. Anne Lezak stepped quietly into her leadership role at the VDP. While Dame’s election drew some coverage and he has since made news a couple of times for dubious reasons, I don’t recall a single story about Lezak. Indeed, she is so not in the news that it’s hard to find a photograph of her. The image at the top of this column is from the VDP’s website.

The lack of coverage is a shame because Lezak is far more likely than Dame to have a significant impact on Vermont’s political scene. She’s the best qualified Democratic chair in years. By her resumé, she possesses all the skills and experience you’d want in a party chair. She has every chance to end the game of musical chairs at the top of the organization and put the party in a much stronger position.

Let’s start with this. The job of a party chair is not to make headlines or develop policy. It’s the dirty, thankless, unglamorous work of building a strong organization, raising the necessary funds, fostering a sense of unity in a party that’s famously fractious, and making sure that everyone is doing their jobs. If you don’t see Lezak in the news, well, that’s because it’s not her job to be in the news and she knows it.

Lezak is an organizational consultant who has worked mainly with mission-driven organizations. She’s created strategic plans, raised money, and advised on the nuts and bolts of running an organization. She’s also a former chair of the Rutland County Democrats and a three-time campaign manager who won all three races.

Ticks all the boxes, right?

Continue reading

We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.

We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.

This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:

  • All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
  • No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
  • The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
  • The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”

So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?

The answer is, we’re way too polite and insular.

Continue reading

The Vermont Democratic Party Continues to Disappoint

In April, when the Vermont Democratic Party hired Claire Cummings as its executive director, many an eyebrow was raised. Not that any of us knew beans about Cummings or could render informed judgment on her qualifications, but we did know two facts: She was very young, and she hadn’t been in Vermont politics very long. Less than a year, in fact.

The track record of parachuted political talent is pretty dismal. You’re far more likely to succeed if you have some experience of Vermont politics and the tangled thickets of the VDP. Still, she got the gig, so maybe she was the best one.

But from what I know now, her hiring seems even more of a stretch. There were at least two finalists for the job with much longer resumes and greater political accomplishments, and with far deeper experience in Vermont and party politics. I did not hear about this from either of them, but from a bunch of folks associated with the party. Who, presumably, are dissatisfied with the hire or they wouldn’t be spilling the beans.

I won’t name the two, because they’ve gotten on with their lives and they didn’t leak the news. But rest assured, their qualifications are rock solid.

I have no knowledge of Cummings’ personal qualities or her performance on the job so far. But the VDP is a dysfunctional snakepit. Or, as an exiting staffer said last winter, the party suffers from a “toxic environment” and “a lack of willingness… to address systemic issues.” It will take a strong hand to whip this organization into shape. And it’s difficult to wield a strong hand when you’re usually the youngest person in the room and you aren’t familiar with the powers and principalities of the party.

If you want a sense of how difficult this job is, Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job since 2018. (The party has also had four chairs since 2017. Not great.)

Continue reading

New Jockey, Same Ride

Belated best wishes and condolences to Claire Cummings, the new executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. I trust she has an idea of what she’s walking into, since she worked on the VDP’s 2020 campaign.

You know how it seems like a certain storefront or commercial building seems to be cursed? One business after another opens up, gives it a shot, and then vanishes? Well, that’s the leadership of the Vermont Democratic Party.

Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job in less than four years — and the fifth, if you count then-party chair Terje Anderson’s unfortunate tenure as interim ED in 2019. (The five, in chronological order: Conor Casey, Josh Massey, Terje Anderson, Scott McNeil, and now Cummings.) The VDP has also seen chronic turnover in staff positions. The “senior” staff member is Spencer Dole, who was hired in February 2019.

Party chair has also been a revolving door of late as well. The VDP is on its fourth chair in five years. (Dottie Deans, Faisal Gill, Anderson and current occupant Bruce Olsson.)

The casual observer might expect the VDP to be a powerhouse, given the party’s dominance in state politics. But no. If anything, it’s fat, lazy and stuck in a rut. You hear a lot of talk about energizing the VDP, winning back the governorship, and opening the door to young Democrats and BIPOC Vermonters. But when it comes time to put words into action, it’s pretty much the same ol’, same ol’.

Continue reading