Category Archives: Vermont Democratic Party

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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It’s Hard to Overestimate the Impact of Emerge Vermont

This week’s primary was a banner day for Democratic women. Becca Balint. Charity Clark. Sarah Copeland Hanzas. Becca White. Tanya Vyhovsky. Wendy Harrison. Anne Watson. Pending recount, Martine Larocque Gulick. I could go on.

On the statewide level, the only man who defeated a viable woman was David Zuckerman, and he beat Kitty Toll by less than five percentage points. Otherwise, when given a choice, the Democratic electorate seemed to express a built-in preference for female candidates.

(Republicans, on the other hand, were like schoolboys with a NO GURLZ ALOUD sign on their clubhouse. At the statewide level, every female Republican candidate was rejected.)

This is partly because many liberal voters want to eliminate the persistent gender imbalance in Vermont politics. The breaking point may have been when Mississippi elected Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate, leaving progressive ol’ Vermont as the only state never to have sent a woman to Congress.

But the biggest factor is Emerge Vermont. It equips smart, qualified, energetic women and sends them out to conquer new lands. Emerge has ensured that there are top-quality women ready for any electoral challenge. There were 48 Emerge alums on the primary ballot; 44 of them won. Another 13 had just completed an intensive campaign training; 11 were victorious.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Primary

Well, primary night turned out to be quite a bit less exciting than we thought. With a few exceptions, the races that seemed unpredictable weren’t, in the end, very close at all. What follows is a selection of post-midnight thoughts, none of which are about the gubernatorial race because the primaries were uncompetitive.

1. Those unbelievable polls were right about the Democratic primary for Congress. Becca Balint beat the metaphorical pants off Molly Gray. In the end, the margin was 23 percentage points. Remember back in January, when Gray had gotten off to a hot start and Balint was entering the race at the same time she had to manage the Senate Democratic Caucus? Seemed like Gray had the edge. Hell, it seemed like Balint might get squeezed between centrist Gray and progressive Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.

I think Gray did have the edge at the time. So what happened? Balint caught fire with the Democratic electorate while Gray’s bio-heavy, policy-lite approach wore out its welcome. When it became clear that Balint was pulling ahead, Gray started flailing around, presenting herself as a pragmatist (be still, my heart) while depicting Balint as a Bernie Sanders clone. Yes, Bernie, Vermont’s most popular politician. Gray’s attack lines were implausible from the get-go. Did anyone really believe that Balint was an uncompromising ideologue or a captive of shady out-of-state money? No. For an attack to be effective, it has to be plausibly based in a candidate’s real or perceived weaknesses.

2. Everyone involved in Gray’s campaign has some soul-searching to do. Not only because they lost badly despite the very public blessing of St. Patrick Leahy, but also because they burned a lot of bridges in Democratic circles by going negative.

2a. Is this the end of Team Leahy’s dominance in Democratic politics? They bet big on Gray, and she rolled snake eyes. Leahy will remain a beloved figure but a sidelined one. His team, meanwhile, soiled themselves and dragged Leahy down with them. If there was any belief that they had the corner on political savvy in Vermont, well, that balloon has burst.

3. Oh Lord, the Republicans. They emerge from the primary with a statewide “ticket” of Gerald Malloy, Liam Madden, Phil Scott, Joe Benning, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, and H. Brooke Paige. The VTGOP now has a few days to cobble together a slate of candidates to supplant Paige, and none of them will have a prayer of a chance. Besides Scott, Benning is the only winner who’s not a walking, talking joke, and his campaign is operating on a shoestring. He’ll be a decent candidate, but he’s not going to win.

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The VDP Got Its Groove Back

At the beginning of this year, the Vermont Democratic Party was in bad shape. Constant turnover in leadership and staff, low morale, poor fundraising, ineffectiveness in the face of Phil Scott.

Well, that last one hasn’t changed. Yet.

But the other stuff? Things are looking up. The credit, it would seem, belongs to party Chair Anne Lezak and Executive Director Jim Dandeneau. They’re the new leadership team, and they’ve turned things around in a hurry. The money is flowing, party regulars are engaged, they’ve refilled a bunch of staff vacancies, and their latest press release shows a newfound willingness to get in there and mix it up.

At the dawn of 2022, the party had a single staff member. This week, the VDP announced the hiring of its fifth staffer, Finance Director Shelden Goodwin. She joins Dandeneau, Coordinated Campaign Director Elliot Kauffman, Senate Caucus Director Sally Short, and House Caucus Director Cameron McClimans. They’re geared up for the campaign season.

They’ve been able to assemble a team because, well, they’ve got the money. Major donors and officeholders are doing their part, and the donor lists are getting longer.

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The Money Race: Secretary of State

Fourth in a series on the July `1 campaign finance reports. Yes, it’s still relevant because the general media coverage of the filings was disgracefully thin. Previously: Lieutenant Governor, Governor, Attorney General. Final installment pending: a look at select legislative races.

The Democratic primary for Secretary of State attracted three very qualified candidates after incumbent Jim Condos decided it was time to retire. One has a clear lead thanks to being the first candidate to declare; the second is catching up in a hurry; the third is lagging far behind.

The first is Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters. He’s been a candidate the longest, plus he had to know long before Condos’ announcement that the position would be vacant. Condos has been thumbing the scale with gusto even before he stepped out of the race, and recently he flouted tradition by formally endorsing Winters.

That should be a substantial intangible factor in Winters’ favor. He also leads in the tangibles, having raised $39,000 in the reporting period and a total of $61,000 for the campaign to date. He has spent $23K so far, which leaves him with $38K in the bank. $5,500 of his spends went to the Vermont Democratic Party: $1,500 for placement at the party’s Curtis-Hoff fundraiser, and $4,000 for access to the VDP’s extortionately priced and indispensable voter database. He also spent $1,500 on yard signs from the Texas-based firm Super Cheap Signs. Union shop, I trust.

Notable donors on Winters’ list: $4175 from Martha Allen, former head of the VT-NEA; $4,210 from the Vermont Association of Realtors; $4,000 from Ernie Pomerleau, Burlington developer and friend of moderate Democrats everywhere; $500 from outgoing Treasurer Beth Pearce; and $101 from former governor Howard Dean.

Second place in the money race is Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, who didn’t announce until late April. She’s done well since then, receiving $39K in donations in a month and a half. She has spent $22K, so she has $17K in cash on hand.

Topping her donor list are a bunch of people named Copeland, presumably family, who gave a combined $11K. She got $1,000 apiece from renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf and former ANR deputy secretary Peter Walke. There’s a gaggle of current and former lawmakers including Shap Smith, John Gannon, Carol Ode, Leslie Goldman, Becca White, Sarita Austin, Amy Sheldon, Maxine Grad, Don Hooper, Mary Sullivan, Janet Ancel, Tony Klein, and Mike Yantachka.

Other notable names: $1,050 from Lisa Senecal, co-host of “We’re Speaking,” a podcast produced by The Lincoln Project; $500 from Democratic donor Billi Gosh and $300 from progressive donor Crea Lintilhac; $500 from Will Raap, founder of Gardeners’ Supply; $300 from former lobbyist turned bluesman Bob Stannard; $500 from the Leonine lobbying firm and $250 from lobbyist Heidi Tringe; and $150 from attorney general candidate Charity Clark. Her expenditure list is topped by $13,463 for postcards (and presumably mailing) from the Print & Mailing Center of Barre.

Finishing a distant third in fundraising is Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who entered the race shortly before the March 15 filing deadline. He raised $13K during the latest reporting period and a total of $20K for the campaign to date. He’s spent $14,494, which leaves him with $5K and some change.

But wait, it gets worse. Odum received $8,400 from Elizabeth Shayne, partner of state Rep. Tiff Bluemle. Now, a donor can’t give a candidate more than $4,210 for the primary. I have to assume that half of Shayne’s money is earmarked for the general election campaign and can’t be spent until after the primary. If that’s true, then Odum only has about $1,000 in cash on hand. He’d better have one crackerjack of a grassroots/field operation, is all I can say.

(Update! The $8,400 was a clerical error. Shayne donated a total of $4,200. Odum’s financial report has been corrected. His amended report indicates that his campaign has about $1,900 in cash on hand.)

Overall, Copeland Hanzas has a clear advantage among Democratic officeholders and party mainstays. Winters has outraised the field and has more cash on hand plus Condos’ imprimatur, but his donor list is short on Democratic stalwarts. Odum is far behind in fundraising and cash on hand; unless he’s got hidden advantages, he’s looking like the third place finisher in the primary.

Otherwise, how do I see the race from here to Primary Day, now less than a month away? Hard to tell. Neither Winters nor Copeland Hanzas has a high profile outside of Montpelier. Winters has Condos behind him; Copeland Hanzas has a lot of lawmakers in her corner, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Members of the House are very plugged in to their districts. Get enough of them in your corner, you’ve got a head start on a statewide network.

So. If anyone claims to know how this is going to turn out, they’re probably blowing smoke.