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.
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.)
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.
2022 is looking like a critical campaign season for the Vermont Progressive Party, full of peril and possibilities.
The peril is obvious. The two state senators who identify as Progressive/Democratic, Anthony Pollina and Chris Pearson, are stepping out of elective office. Cheryl Hooker, one of three senators who wear the Democratic/Progressive label, is also retiring. (The others are Phil Baruth and Andrew Perchlik.)
If the Progs don’t pick up seats somewhere, that would leave them with fractions of Baruth and Perchlik as their entire Senate caucus. That wouldn’t be good.
The Progs have some possibilities for shoring up their numbers. They have real hopes in the newly created Chittenden Central district, which includes the liberal parts of Burlington and Essex, and all of WInooski. Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky of Essex is running in the Democratic primary, and should stand a decent chance given the political nature of the district.
Other Democrats could pick up the Dem/Prog label, which would help. At least a couple of Pollina’s potential successors, Anne Watson and Jeremy Hansen, seem inclined to do so. Windham County senate candidate Wichie Artu seems cut from similar cloth.
We may also see, for the first time in years, a slate of Progressive candidates at the top of the ballot.
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.
My recent post about the Vermont Democratic Party drew more reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written… with the notable exception of the Latin Motto controversy. Almost all of it was positive, and much of it came from young folks who feel like they got the cold-shoulder treatment from the party.
At least a couple of people asked me to do the Progressive Party. And while I did briefly address their failings in my post-election “Winners and Losers” piece, there’s more to be said.
Short take: 2020 was a disastrous year for the Progs. They managed to hold onto their seven-seat caucus despite three retirements and one upset defeat, which is noteworthy. But otherwise, the bad far outweighs the good.
Let’s start with the electoral defeats of two prominent Prog-identified pols. Tim Ashe finished a distant second to Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman lost by 41 points to Gov. Phil Scott.
It’s hard to understate how big a setback this is for the Progs. They’ve suffered a huge loss of influence in the Senate, with Ashe’s departure as President Pro Tem and Zuckerman relinquishing the gavel. Also, Ashe and Zuckerman were the Progs’ top two hopes for statewide office. They had built their political careers over more than a decade of success, but they’re off the charts (at least for now).
Also, the magnitude of their losses calls into question whether the Progressive label is statewide electoral poison. Ashe lost by 11 points to Molly Gray, who was a complete political unknown at the beginning of the year. Zuckerman faced impossible odds in taking on Phil Scott during the pandemic; but even so, 41 points???
With the exception of the 462-candidate pile-up that was the Chittenden County Democratic Senate primary, it was an election night bereft of drama. The big races turned out to be uncompetitive, and all were called early in the evening. Which is not to say it wasn’t interesting, at least not to political dead-enders like me. So, thoughts in no particular order:
The Laracey Effect is strong. My own invention, the Laracey Effect is named for Mel Laracey, a deputy city treasurer in Ann Arbor, Michigan many moons ago. He decided to run for State House in an extremely competitive primary. It did not go well; he finished in the back of the pack. Because everyone in and around City Hall knew him, he thought that meant everyone knew him. But in truth, the vast majority of voters had no connection to City Hall.
Tim Ashe is well known in Burlington and Montpelier. He and pretty much everyone else thought that made him well known across the state. Not true. And when the pandemic prevented him from campaigning until the end of June, his fate was sealed.
I thought Molly Gray was going to win, but I was far from certain about it. Turned out she won easily. More easily in a competitive four-way race, in fact, than David Zuckerman did in (effectively) a two-way race. Zuckerman beat Rebecca Holcombe by 10,552 votes. Gray beat Ashe by 11,679, and came within 510 votes of Zuckerman’s total.
Ingram, by the way, was an even bigger victim of the Laracey Effect, believing she had a substantial statewide profile. She finished a distant fourth, and was never a factor in the race. So was former legislative counsel Peter Griffin, who ran for the House seat being vacated by Kitty Toll and finished a poor second.
Expanded mail-in voting was a resounding success. Record turnout when neither of our Senate seats were on the ballot, and with little apparent drama in either race for governor. With universal mail voting available in November, we’re on course to set another turnout record. It’s also a strong argument for mail voting everywhere — that is, if you like maximizing participation in our democracy. At least two of our three political parties do.
There was a lot of unhappiness with the Democratic gubernatorial choices. There were 6,569 write-in votes, more than six percent of the total. (Most of them presumably cast for Gov. Phil Scott.) There were 7,739 blank ballots for governor. Think of that: Seven percent of those who bothered to cast votes couldn’t be bothered to choose a gubernatorial candidate. That’s stunning. And seems to reveal a broad dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. One more sign that Zuckerman has some serious work to do.
The following was written in 2003. I’d ask you to guess the author, but I’ve already given away that game.
I should be a Democrat. From Massachusetts, mother a teacher and father a civil servant, family of Kennedy-philes… I’ve got a long life of political activism ahead of me. My loyalties are to ideas and not a party, so if my energies are not going to the Dems, they’ll be going somewhere else.
… Younger people like myself can understand the importance of getting the message to different types of voters. But we also understand the nature of a chameleon, and we don’t want to vote for a leaf and elect a reptile.
That’s a short excerpt from “Letter from a Democratic Party Pooper, and it was indeed penned by Young Tim Ashe, progressive firebrand. The letter was included in Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, written in 2003 by the future governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. (This tidbit came to my attention courtesy of urban archeologist and Twitter buddy Ed Adrian.)
In the letter, Ashe bemoans the Democratic Party’s habit of tacking to the center. He certainly sounds like a former Bernie Sanders staffer and future Progressive Party officeholder. He doesn’t sound much like Ashe the Senate President Pro Tem, who’s known for cosseting the chamber’s old guard, a cadre of change-averse centrists.
So. Which Tim Ashe is running for lieutenant governor?
Remember my pre-election post about Vermont’s Two-Biters? The Progressives who ran in Democratic primaries, lost, and then ran as Progressives?
Well, one of them cost the Democrats a seat in the House.
Up in the two-seat Lamoille-Washington district, which stretches from Morrisville to Worcester along Route 12, Democrat David Yacovone and Republican Gary Nolan were elected. Incumbent Democrat Avram Patt finished a close third.
Prog-turned-Dem-turned-Prog Marci Young siphoned off more than enough votes to elect the Republican Nolan. The final returns:
Patt lost by 219 votes, roughly one-fourth of Young’s total. I think we can safely assume that without Young in the race, he would have picked up enough additional votes to finish second.
I just realized that it’s been a long time since I’d given any thought to the Progressive Party as a force in state politics.
What reminded me was Terri Hallenbeck’s piece about the Stanaks, “a family divided over a Vermont election.” It’s the story of a stalwart progressive (and Progressive) family that’s gone in different directions this cycle. Paterfamilias Ed Stanak, motivated by opposition to ridgeline wind, is backing Phil Scott. Daughter Lluvia Stanak is working on the Sue Minter campaign. Her sister Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, is officially neutral.
That’s because the Progs opted to sit out the gubernatorial race, failing to field a candidate of their own and refusing to endorse anyone else. I vaguely recall knowing that at some earlier point, but I’d managed to completely forget it until now.
The non-endorsement kinda made sense at the time. Sue Minter looked like an offshoot of the Shumlin administration, which had burned the Progs twice over by snagging their endorsement in 2010 and 2012 and then bailing on their number-one issue, single-payer health care. The Progs were, understandably, twice bitten and thrice shy.
It looks a lot worse now, what with Prog stalwart David Zuckerman fully on board with the Democratic ticket and Bernie Sanders going all-out to boost the Minter campaign. Indeed, the Progressive Party looks out of touch and almost irrelevant.