Category Archives: Vermont Democratic Party

Kill the caucuses

I was chatting with a Bernie Sanders supporter recently, and (of course) the subject of superdelegates came up. He, of course, sees them as anti-democratic, a tool for the party hierarchy to exert a measure of control.

I see them as a reasonable way for the party to give weight to its most successful and most stalwart figures, but I have no problem with the Vermont Compromise: allow superdelegates if the party wants ‘em, but tie their first-ballot votes to the result of their state’s primary or caucus.

We also discussed primaries, open vs. closed. He favors open primaries, as the most (small-d) democratic way to choose a candidate.

This is all in accord with the general proposition that more voter participation is better than less. So, fine.

But then we get to caucuses. The Sanders supporter hadn’t given them much thought, but felt that there was a place for them because they reflect the level of “passion” behind a candidate.

This isn’t just one person’s view. Generally, the Sanders camp seems unconcerned with the potential unfairness of caucuses. When, in fact, a caucus is one of the best voter-suppression tools around.

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About that Shumlin approval poll

Bit of a surprise came to us late last week, with news of a survey showing Governor Shumlin had suddenly enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The results were released by Morning Consult, a national polling agency that gave Shumlin a 55 percent approval rating after collecting data online between January and May. Shumlin jumped nearly 10 points from the last time Morning Consult polled Vermonters, in November, when 46 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs up.

"What should I do now, Scotty?" "Ya got me, boss." (Photo from VPR)

“What should I do now, Scotty?” “Ya got me, boss.” (Photo from VPR)

The results are also at odds with a February poll from the Castleton Polling Institute that put the Governor at 37 percent approval, and the previous two Castleton surveys: in September 2015, Shumlin was at 40 percent; in March 2015, it was 41 percent. That’s awfully darn consistent.

The Democratic Party was quick to promote the Morning Consult number. Understandable; it would be the best possible news for the party and its gubernatorial candidate. It would prove broad support for the Democratic agenda, and it would mean the candidate wouldn’t have to create distance between her- or himself and Shumlin.

As for me, well, color me skeptical. After all, what has happened since February — or November — to bolster Shumlin’s popularity? He didn’t score any high-profile victories in the Legislature. And he’s taken quite a hit from the EB-5 imbroglio, since he’d associated himself so prominently with the scandal-plagued developers.

Is there some other counterbalancing factor — some political “dark matter” exerting a positive gravitational pull on Shumlin’s numbers? Or is it just an outlier?

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A possible compromise on superdelegates

For those looking forward to shouting, fist-shaking, and furniture-heaving at Sunday’s state Democratic Convention, well, there’s a chance that good sense and a common carrot-topped foe may carry the day.

A group of folks affiliated with Rights and Democracy, the lefty grassroots organization, have put together a resolution on the contentious issue of superdelegates. And surprise, surprise, it doesn’t demand immediate action and it doesn’t demand that the four Hillary Clinton superdelegates switch over to Bernie Sanders.

The resolution notes the “inherent unfairness” in changing the rules in midstream for this year. Instead, it calls on the state and national parties “to require that superdelegates be bound on a first ballot to cast their votes in the same proportion as the popular vote in their home state primary election or nominating caucus” … “beginning with the 2020 presidential election.”

That strikes me as eminently reasonable. It would allow the party to reward top officials with delegate seats, but would tie first-ballot votes to the express preferences of the electorate. The supers could cast subsequent ballots, and conduct other party business, in accord with their own consciences and beliefs.

As for this year’s four supers who have promised their votes to Clinton, here’s the key passage of the resolution:

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Hey, Bernie: the door IS open

The purpose of this post is not to relitigate the events of the Nevada convention or figure out who insulted whom first or whose outrage is the most righteous. It’s not even to parse the subtle nuances of speeches given extemporaneously before large crowds.

No, the purpose is to point out something Bernie Sanders said Tuesday night that’s just plan nonsense. Here it is.

“The Democratic Party is going to have to make a very, very, profound and important decision. It can do the right thing and open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change. That is the Democratic Party I want to see.” Sanders said.

“I say to the leadership of the Democratic Party: Open the doors, let the people in! Or the other option for the Democratic Party, which I see as a very sad and tragic option is to choose and maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy,” he said.

Now, I am not a party person. I have never been a member of any political party. Sitting through party meetings, which I sometimes do for the sake of this gig, makes me itchy. Also, I’m not a mingler and I’m uncomfortable in rooms full of people. So there’s that.

But I have witnessed party proceedings, and here’s one thing you can take to the bank: The doors of every political party are wide open, all the time, to all comers.

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The VTGOP’s convention dilemma

This coming weekend will feature the Democratic (Saturday Sunday in Barre) and Republican (Sunday Saturday in Burlington) state conventions. The Dems will be trying to accommodate the Bernie Sanders crowd enough to forestall any open warfare; and the four superdelegates who plan to support Hillary Clinton are girding themselves for a Bernie Bro onslaught.

But the real entertainment value is likely to come from the Republican gathering, where party leaders and potential candidates will have to deal with the unpleasant fact of Donald Trump at the top of their ticket.

And the national GOP is sending a clear message to state parties: Bow Down Before The Donald.

Republican activists chose party unity over “never Trump” resistance Saturday, with party leaders in one state after another pressuring their members to fall in line behind the presumptive nominee — and even punishing those who refused.

Eleven states held annual Republican conventions or party leadership meetings Saturday, offering a platform for those who still object to Donald Trump… But at almost every turn, they slammed into state leaders who closed ranks around a candidate who many once said they’d never support.

Interesting moment for Phil Scott, the VTGOP’s shining star and likely gubernatorial nominee. If the convention falls in line with Trump, he’ll be an isolated, neutered figure in his own party.

Especially if his challenger Bruce Lisman chooses that moment to finally endorse Trump — which he’s almost certain to do sometime.

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A departure not to be overlooked

A new name has joined the growing list of political departures in Vermont. Last night, Rep. Tim Jerman informed constituents in Essex that he would not seek re-election to the House. He’s been in the House for twelve years, and has been a valued player in the Democratic caucus leadership team.

Nothing dramatic in his announcement; “It’s time to pass the torch,” he wrote in a message to his email list. “We have a strong bench locally to keep us moving forward.”

Tim’s not flashy or self-promoting. He’s what I call a glue guy, one of those people who tries to make the party and the system work better. Those people don’t grab headlines, but they play a crucial role in the political process. The job of the next House Speaker just got a little bit harder.

He’s a vice chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. For the past several years, he has served as the liaison between the House Democratic caucus and the state party executive committee. Myself, I hope he sticks around in his party role; it can use good people like him, people with more principle than ego.

The Democrats still have the money

Ever since Brian Dubie lost his race for governor in 2010, the Vermont Republican Party has lagged badly in political finance. With the exception of Phil Scott’s budget-friendly runs for lieutenant governor, Republican candidates for top offices (when they exist at all) have been at a tremendous disadvantage financially.

And need I remind you of the chronic penury of the VTGOP itself?

Well, 2016 is a new cycle and the Republicans have their Great White Hope running for governor, but one thing remains the same: the Democrats still have the money.

Just look at the campaign finance filings for governor. Setting aside Bruce Lisman’s generosity to himself, the two Republican candidates lag far behind their Democratic counterparts. Yes, even Phil Scott.

Matt Dunne and Sue Minter have combined to raise an astounding $1,055,026.

Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman (minus the latter’s donations to himself): $593,188.

I realize that Lisman’s own cash will buy just as many consultants and pre-processed Tweets as contributed funds. The point is, Vermont Republicans cannot match the Democrats in fundraising prowess. Not even Phil Scott.

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Bernie’s Trickle-Down Politics

In the aftermath of the Vermont primary, in which Hillary Clinton failed to reach the 15 percent threashold needed to qualify for convention delegates, there’s been more pressure on superdelegates who back Clinton to switch to Bernie Sanders. Because to vote for Clinton, the story goes, would be to ignore the wishes of the electorate.

Which fails to consider the disenfranchisement of the 13.6 percent who voted for Clinton. I’m not making that complaint; I have said the parties have the right to determine rules for choosing a presidential candidate, and I stick by that. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy, that’s all. Both candidates benefit, and lose, in different ways that roughly cancel out.

What I am here to say is there are very good reasons for Pat Leahy and Peter Shumlin and Billi Gosh to support Hillary. They may believe she’s the stronger general-election candidate. They might value her long and loyal service to the Democratic Party, contrasted with Bernie-come-lately who has been harshly critical of the party but has also benefited, throughout his political career, from his arm’s-length affiliation with the Democrats.

And here’s another one, a big one, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:

Hillary Clinton has raised $26 million for the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties so far this campaign. And Sanders? $1,000.

That’s no typo. Clinton is doing more to boost the party’s 2016 prospects than Sanders by the proportion of 26,000 to 1.

… Clinton has pledged to rebuild the party and has begun to make good on that promise. Sanders, by contrast, has shown little concern for the very real crisis the party faces beneath the presidential level.

Let me pause here and state, clearly, that I don’t blame Bernie for making this strategic choice. He has a revolution to build, and that costs money. His first priority is fully funding a presidential campaign, which is a very costly undertaking. He is doing what he needs to do.

However, as Milbank documents, the Democratic Party structure is in critical condition.

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A bit of an own goal by the Minter campaign

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

— Revelation 3:16

One of the minor sidelights of our state campaign season is the issue of endorsements, especially on the Democratic side. Do you support the hometown favorite, or the party stalwart? The one who wants to be the 44th male president, or the one who wants to be the first female?

You can sense the pressure in the way things filter out. Established officeholders who don’t have to face the electorate? Peter Shumlin and Pat Leahy go for Hillary Clinton. Officeholder who will be on the ballot this year? Peter Welch is studiously neutral.

Non-officeholders contending for top Democratic nominations? Matt Dunne, Dave Zuckerman, and Kesha Ram have all endorsed Bernie.*

*As a correspondent informed me, I made a quick-draw mistake there. Zuckerman and Ram are officeholders, of course. I wrote in haste, and I apologize to Zuckerman and Ram for the attempted impeachments.

And then there’s Sue Minter, who hadn’t said anything publicly about the race until this week, when she half-heartedly indicated a preference in an interview with WCAX’s Kyle Midura. It wasn’t pretty.

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A tale of two troubled campaigns

Over the weekend, when I realized that much of the Vermont political media corps had decamped for Iowa, I jokingly Tweeted an alert to politicians: this would be an ideal time to dump some bad news, because it would likely be under-reported by our depleted media corps.

Well hey, turns out I was right. Because not one, but two Democratic candidates for statewide office took the opportunity to fire their campaign managers: gubernatorial hopeful Sue Minter, and Rep. Kesha Ram, running for lieutenant governor. (Technically, Minter reassigned her campaign chief, but that’s so transparent it fails the laugh test.) The news was broken by one of the only political scribes who didn’t decamp to Iowa, Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck.

I think we’ve just achieved a great deal of clarity on the likely Democratic ticket. I don’t know for a fact that the Minter and Ram machines are in the ditch, but I do know that this is something that only happens when a campaign is in deep trouble.  It’s like a baseball team going into a new season with a new manager — and then firing the poor bastard on Memorial Day. It doesn’t happen unless there are exigent reasons, such as a 12-30 record and dead last in the standings.

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