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.
The Progressive Party doesn’t have much of a ticket this year. Many of its candidates are running as Democrats because they stand a better chance of winning. Smart tactics in the short term, and something of a worry for Dems. They’re seeing previously “safe” seats peeled off by the Progs, potentially weakening their legislative caucuses.
This year, we have a new twist on that technique: Progressives running as Democrats, losing the primary, and then refiling as Progs for the same contest.
There are four such candidates (that I know of), all running for the House, and all in “safe” Democratic districts. The Two-Biters:
— Jill Charbonneau, Addison-1
— Steve May, Chittenden-1
— Marci Young, Lamoille-Washington
— Carl Etnier, Washington-5
This is of direct interest to me, because I live in one of those districts.
Each person must make up their own mind. Me personally, I’m disinclined to vote for a Two-Biter.
On the one hand, yeah, the Progressives are well within their rights to point out unsavory (from their POV) behavior by Vermont Democrats. On the other, the timing seems just a wee bit off, considering that…
— Pretty much all the Progressive candidates are running as Democrats, taking advantage of the Democratic brand while seeking to undercut its value. And threatening their own purity in the process: taint by association is hard to remove.
— Their boy David Zuckerman just gained access to the fabled and much-desired Democratic Party voter database*, which has taken years and many dollars (some from corporate sources) to assemble.
*Correction: The Dems and the Zuckerman campaign reached agreement on resource-sharing and a coordinated campaign, but if does not include full access to the database.
At the very least, they might have waited a few days after Zuckerman’s organizational victory to start taunting the party that’s tangibly propping up their own prospects. And what did they gain? The fleeting satisfaction of sending a Mean Tweet.
As the scorpion sank beneath the waves, he belted out a hearty chorus of “My Way.”
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?