Category Archives: Vermont Democratic Party

Get on the bus

I have this crazy notion.

I see a luxury bus, decked out with signs and photos of the Democrats’ statewide candidates. I see it spending a long weekend barnstorming around Vermont, stopping in various towns and cities.

Inside the bus, I see Sue Minter, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, and Bernie Sanders, plus David Zuckerman, TJ Donovan, Jim Condos, Beth Pearce, and Doug Hoffer*. Legislative candidates join them for rallies held within their districts.

*Random order. Please take no offense, Doug.  

The events draw substantial media coverage and energize the party faithful. They showcase liberal politicians united behind a single ticket — and, most crucially, a gubernatorial candidate in an uphill battle against a popular Republican.

What would it do for Sue Minter to have Vermont’s very popular heavyweights actively showing their support? It might just be the thing to put her over the top.

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I’d say these two guys deserve each other

In this corner, wearing the red trunks, a compulsively litigious Vermont attorney who’s a partner in a D.C.-based law firm with a lengthy rap sheet as a conservative attack dog.

In the far corner, in the blue Spandex, Vermont’e Eternal General, who would have passed his sell-by date years ago if not for the voters’ generous attitude toward incumbency AND a last-ditch bailout from out-of-state donors in 2014.

And whoops, there’s the bell, and the guy with the legal authority wins by TKO.

Such was the result of VTGOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing’s most recent complaint against a liberal politician. Attorney General Bill Sorrell brusquely dismissed his argument that Bernie Sanders’ email blast was a material contribution to the State Senate candidacy of Rep. Chris Pearson, and thus subject to campaign finance limits.

But frankly, neither party covered himself in glory here. Toensing is exhibiting a pattern of politically-motivated legal filings, and Sorrell’s dismissal revealed the weakness of his relentless persecution of Dean Corren.

So, a pox on both their houses. May they spend the afterlife in whatever circle of Hell is reserved for lawyers, shackled together in a vat of fire.

Okay, maybe that’s too harsh. How about this: a featureless Limbo where they debate fine legal points for all eternity?

Yeah, that’ll do.

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@VTDems: The Odd Couple, and other observations

Mixed bag on the Democratic ticket: Sue Minter for governor, David Zuckerman for Lite-Guv. Not that there’s usually much coordination between the #1 and #2 candidates, but I expect little to none from this pairing.

Indeed, one question worth asking: Now that Zuckerman is the Democratic nominee, will the party share its voter database with him?

But let’s take a step back and ponder tonight’s results and what they mean for Democratic politics. In no particular order:

A good night for the mainstream Democratic Party. I say so despite Zuckerman’s win; he took a plurality of the vote, nowhere near a majority. If he’d been matched up with Shap Smith alone, he would have lost badly. (Yes, I’m assuming that the bulk of Kesha Ram’s votes would have gone to Shap.)

And, of course, Minter had little trouble outpacing Matt Dunne. Some of this was due to Dunne’s Six Days of Hell, but it’s impossible to know how much.

Bernie’s coattails proved surprisingly short. Dunne believed that turning himself into Bernie Lite was the key to victory. We know how that turned out, don’t we?

Truth is, as we can see from the Lite-Guv totals, much of the Democratic electorate is moderate to liberal, not progressive. Bernie’s popularity is partly a matter of policy, but more a matter of persona. Bernie is extremely popular. It’s yet to be proven that his policies alone are a winning formula in Vermont.

Matt Dunne blew it. Last fall, he seemed the clear favorite. Minter was untested and tied directly to the Shumlin administration. Dunne was the more experienced candidate. He raced out to an early fundraising advantage.

He should have won the primary.

Why didn’t he?

Well, part of it was the Six Days of Hell — his position shift on renewable energy siting, his restatement/retraction of said shift, the blatant hypocrisy of his stand against self-funded campaigns even after he self-funded his own, the scorched-earth tactics of blaming the media and “the establishment” for problems of his own making.

But even before that, I’d argue he blew the primary by deciding not to be himself. There’s a Matt Dunne who could have won this race. It’s the plausibly liberal technocrat with high-tech chops who would have brought managerial know-how and broad experience in government and the private sector. That’s a pretty appealing candidate, especially after the administrative misfires of the Shumlin years.

But he simply wasn’t plausible as Bernie II. He had too much of a track record. His policies were part Bernie, part moderate Dem. His personality was a poor fit. And, to the extent that Bernie and the Vermont Democratic Party have a touchy relationship, his embrace of Berniedom did nothing for his own standing with party regulars.

His late-days mistakes only reinforced his reputation in many minds as an overly ambitious pol willing to say anything to become governor. He is now a three-time loser who burned quite a few bridges; a political comeback is possible but seems unlikely. He might have to be satisfied with being a well-paid Google executive. Such a burden.

Sue Minter has a lot of work to do. She’ll have to unify the party, which should be easier since Matt Dunne prioritized party unity in his concession speech. But she will be the underdog against Phil Scott. She spent heavily to fend off Dunne. She’s got some political seasoning in the primary, but now she’s in the spotlight. It’s a big step up for someone who hasn’t run a general election campaign outside of Waterbury.

I’m sure I will have some thoughts on possible strategy for Minter and the Democrats, but all in due time.

The VTGOP will use Zuckerman to attack Democrats. Actually, that’s not a prediction; it’s already begun.

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Zuckerman’s nomination increases the chances that Randy Brock will be our next Lieutenant Governor. Zuckerman’s still the favorite, but he’ll be a weaker general-election candidate than Shap Smith would have been.

And the stakes are high in that race. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, sits on the influential Committee on Committees, and casts tie-breaking votes. Brock would be a strong conservative presence; On the other hand…

If Zuckerman does win, we could have a very different Senate. Zuckerman as presiding officer, potentially Tim Ashe as President Pro Tem, and Chris Pearson a very capable lawmaker. Although Zuckerman has been in the Senate for a while, I can’t see him supporting the status quo. He’d have very little patience for the niceties and obscure mores of the Senate.

And whither the omnipresent Dick Mazza? The perennial kingmaker will have to adapt to — or try to conquer — a changed landscape. Will he continue to serve on the influential Committee on Committees? How would he get along with Zuckerman and Ashe as the other two members?

I know one thing. I’m voting for Zuckerman, if only for the entertainment value.

No sign of the Energy Rebellion much touted by the likes of Annette Smith and Mark Whitworth. Peter Galbraith is pulling less than 10 percent of the vote. One might presume that some of Matt Dunne’s 37 percent was due to his last-days revision of his renewables siting policy, but that seems a stretch. Smith and Galbraith loudly denounced Dunne after he re-explained his revision. It’s unlikely that their core supporters would have stuck with Dunne.

Whither Shap? I have no idea, but I’d be shocked if this was the end of his political career. He entered the Lite-Guv race very late, and he was hampered by Kesha Ram’s presence in the race. She’d garnered quite a few endorsements from the House Dem caucus, and many of them stuck with her.

Shap’s young enough to regroup and restart. He remains very popular in Democratic circles. He is highly respected for his shepherding of the House caucus. I doubt he’ll be tagged as a loser; he finished a strong second after a late entry, and he’ll get a lot of credit for that.

If Phil Scott wins the governorship, Shap ’s the early favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2018 — or maybe he’d wait until 2020, a presidential year.

The question will be, what role does he play in the near future? I don’t know, and I doubt that he knows right now. If Minter wins, he could probably have his pick of cabinet posts. Otherwise, he could run silent, run deep: continue to build relationships across the state and prepare for his next political venture.

I think that’s about enough for primary night. I’l turn to the Republicans next.

Minter’s haul

Endorsements don’t generally move the needle much. They’re mainly of note to the political media, good for a quick space-filler on a slow newsday, quickly forgotten.

Labor unions are an exception to some extent, because if the endorsement rings true with the rank and file, the union can deliver a batch of votes — especially important in a low-turnout primary.

But when one politico endorses another, it’s not much of a deal.

(It’s a bigger deal when one politico fails to deliver an expected endorsement, as in numerous Republicans not backing Trump.  As commenter David Ellenbogen pointed out, Bernie Sanders has not endorsed David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor. Bernie’s open support for Chris Pearson was a financial windfall for Pearson’s Senate campaign. But no love for Zuckerman. Interesting.)

A limited exception to the no-big-deal rule can be found in the case of Sue Minter’s announcement yesterday that she has the backing of dozens of current and former state lawmakers, including many key players in the Legislature.

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Progressive Party: sovereign entity or barnacle?

Here’s an interesting factoid. Voters in the August 9 primary will have their choice of three ballots — Democratic, Republican, and Progressive.

The latter will be available statewide in printed form. And in most of our precincts, the entire Progressive ballot will contain precisely one name: Boots Wardinski, Capital City Farmers Market stalwart and Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor. He’s run for Lite-Guv twice before, both times on the Liberty Union ticket, with minimal result.

We are all paying (by one account, $80,000*) to put Boots Wardinski’s name on ballots that will be largely ignored by voters. Most Progressives won’t take a Progressive ballot because so many Progs are running in Democratic primaries. Like, for instance, real live actual Progressive David Zuckerman, running as a Dem for lieutenant governor — in a tough race against Democrats Shap Smith and Kesha Ram. How many Progs are going to pass up a chance to influence that race just to cast a vote for Boots Wardinski?

*According to the Secretary of State’s office, the total cost of this year’s primary ballots is roughly $160,000. One-third of that would be $53,333.33. So there’s your Boots Tax.)

Beyond the unfortunate use of public funds for all those straight-to-the-shredder Wardinski ballots, this raises an existential issue about the Progressive Party.

Is it gradually ceding its sovereignty, and turning into nothing more than a barnacle on the Democrats’ underside?

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The Paige Exclusion

Congratulations to the Vermont Democratic Party for giving perennial fringe candidate H. Brooke Paige more publicity in a few days than he could possibly earn on his own this entire year.

The VDP did so by ordering his banishment from all party events, reportedly due to impertinent and offensive comments posted by Paige on Facebook.

Mixed feelings about this. I don’t have much use for perennial fringe candidates; as far as I’m concerned, it’s too easy for people to get on the ballot and even grace the occasional debate stage without proving they hold the least bit of appeal or interest for the electorate. Waste of time and space. Detracts from direct confrontations among candidates who actually matter. That goes for Paige and for Emily Peyton and Cris Ericson and the entire Diamondstone clan.

Paige is an irritant* in all senses of the word. He runs for at least one office every cycle, sometimes as a Republican, sometimes as a Democrat, and I think as independent on occasion. He has also fomented birther claims against not only President Obama, but also Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. I can see why the Democrats would want to be rid of him. And, after all, it’s their party and they can make their own rules. Or even cry if they want to.

*Irritants produce distress, annoyance, and the occasional pearl. 

That said, their reaction seems unduly stiff.

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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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