Category Archives: Vermont Progressive Party

The Progs demur

The Progressive Party’s State Committee met on Saturday, and decided to stay out of the race for governor. Which strikes me as a small but measurable setback for Peter Galbraith, the self-described progressive choice.

As reported by Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, the Committee did endorse Sen. David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor and the re-election bid of Auditor Doug Hoffer. No surprises there.

But the Committee opted not to endorse any of the three Dems running for governor, even though Galbraith, Sue Minter, and Matt Dunne each addressed the gathering in hopes of earning the nod. There were two major factors in the non-decision, party chair Emma Mulvaney-Stanak told me.

First, the Progs’ 2010 decision to stay out of the gubernatorial race in hopes that Peter Shumlin would deliver on single-payer health care and other key issues. “That left a very bad taste in Progressives’ mouths,” she said, and little enthusiasm for supporting a Democrat.

And second, the Democratic candidates failed to inspire the Committee. “None brought a Progressive ‘wow factor,’” she explained.

Their presentations were pretty similar. They didn’t exactly make a strong case for why the Progressive Party should endorse them. They seemed unwilling to go beyond what the Democratic establishment supports

All three have tried to wrap themselves in the Bernie Sanders mantle. But Galbraith more insistently than the other two. Was Mulvaney-Stanak surprised that Galbraith didn’t impress?

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Toward a more Progressive Senate

I welcome Chris Pearson’s entry into the race for State Senate from Chittenden County. The Progressive state rep is the Progs’ sharpest policy voice in the House, and he should be a formidable candidate for Senate.

For those just joining us, the Chittenden County district elects six Senators, and it’s usually a free ride for incumbents. This time, two of the six seats will be voluntarily vacated; David Zuckerman is running for Lite-Gov, and Helen Riehle (appointed to fill out Diane Snelling’s term) is not running for a full term.

The openings are sure to attract a strong Democratic field, while Republicans are desperately searching for someone who might retain Snelling’s position. Searching in vain, methinks.

But the race on the left will be lively. It’ll be interesting to see how Pearson will fare in fundraising — I suspect he’ll do quite well. He’ll certainly have better name recognition than the Democratic non-incumbents.

And should he win, there is the potential for a real shift in Senatorial power.

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Triangulatin’ Tim

Congratulations to Tim Ashe, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, for shepherding this year’s tax bill to the Senate floor. He managed to find some new money for the budget while keeping true to the intention he stated earlier this week:

“In terms of the major tax areas, my goal is not to have the Senate need to go to those sources,” Ashe said.

The final package emerging from Senate Finance and Appropriations:

The lion’s share of the Senate’s revenue package is generated by the miscellaneous fee bill. The Senate version removes an increase in the employer assessment for uninsured workers, as well as a hike in bank taxes.

The latter two were passed by the House.

My congratulations are tempered with confusion, however. Ashe’s goal would be sensible and reasonable if he were a centrist Democrat in the mold of John Campbell or Dick Mazza, not a Progressive who now lists himself as a D slash P.

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Good Luck Zuck

While existential doubt continues to swirl around Garrett Graff’s proto-candidacy, yet another liberal has stepped into the race for lieutenant governor. So much hankerin’ for Vermont’s very own bucket of warm spit.

This time, it’s David Zuckerman, Dem/Prog State Senator from Chittenden County, confirming what many had expected: he’s in the race. Originally a Progressive, he’s campaigned for Senate on both Prog and Dem tickets, and he plans to enter the Democratic primary.

And in a sign of the Progs’ perilous position, he probably won’t run at all if he can’t get the Dem nom. This is either a high-stakes gamble, or Farmer Dave is tired of the Senate: he’s trading in a sure thing for what looks like a lottery ticket — one entrant in a field that already includes either two or three Democrats, depending on the disposition of Young Graff’s residency issue. And there may be further entrants from the Senate Democratic caucus, although I suspect that when push comes to shove, most (or all) of them will prove unwilling to let go of their comfy Senate perches.

(Really, can you imagine the likes of John Campbell or Dick McCormack entering a race they’d actually have to work hard to win?)

Zuckerman’s candidacy begins with inconvenient questions about fundraising. He says he may pursue public financing — but Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck reports that he may already be disqualified from that very restrictive process because of his early announcement. (The rules say no campaigning, period, before February 15. Which is far too late in the unprecedentedly early Vermont campaign season.)

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The Progressives are kinda screwed

Whiter the Progressive Party? I don’t know; there isn’t a clear path forward, and obstacles litter the landscape. They’ve gained strength in the legislature, mainly by running candidates on the P/D or D/P tickets; but they’ve just about reached the limits of that tactic, and may have hit a glass ceiling.

The Progs are anxious to make a splash in 2016, having sat out the last three gubernatorial elections in order to give Peter Shumlin a better shot at creating a single-payer health care system, hahaha. His abandonment of that goal, barely a month after his third re-election victory, plus the Dems’ habit of triangulating to the center on a host of issues, has left the Progs in a bitter mood. They’re itchin’ for a fight, and would especially like to field a credible candidate for governor.

That’s looking increasingly unrealistic. For starters, nobody seems to want to run.

This is an unintended side-effect of the Prog/Dem strategy, which has put several Progs in positions of legislative influence. Examples: Tim Ashe chairs the Senate Finance Committee; Anthony Pollina has a bully pulpit in the Senate; organic farmer David Zuckerman is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; and Chris Pearson is vice chair of the House Health Care Committee. One could argue that the Progs have been granted more influence than their sheer numbers would warrant. Or, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats saw it’s better to have the Progs inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

And indeed, it’d be hard to give up that level of influence to make a long-odds, short-funded bid for higher office.

Compounding the difficulty is that any high-profile Progressive would likely depend on public financing. That was a difficult enough pursuit in previous years (just ask Dean Corren or John Bauer). Now, it seems to have become completely untenable.

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The curious incident of the Prog in the night-time — UPDATED

UPDATE: The Senator in question has spoken to WCAX. Details below, after the jump.

So here’s a heartening piece of party unity: the elective officeholders of the Progressive Party got together this week and enthusiastically endorsed Bernie Sanders for President.

The gang’s all there, from the four Progs on Burlington City Council, Robert Millar of Winooski City Council, the Party’s seven members of the House, State Auditor Doug Hoffer, and both of the Progs’ state senators.

Wait, what did I just say?

“…both of the Progs’ state senators.”

Hey, aren’t there three of ’em? I thought so.

Well, there’s Anthony Pollina… and David Zuckerman…

Hmm. Where’s Triangulatin’ Tim Ashe, the most nakedly ambitious of all the Progs?

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Burlington Mayoral Race Cools Down

(In honor of the hackneyed campaign headline, “_________ Race Heats Up,” the favorite of unimaginative headline writers desperate to gin up a little reader interest. And yes, the Free Press deployed it during the campaign for mayor of Burlington, which was never, ever, ever close.)

Well, if there’s any widespread revolt over Miro Weinberger’s alleged secret plot to pave the open spaces and fill the city with skyscrapers, it sure didn’t show itself on Town Meeting Day. Weinberger won a second term with 68% of the vote; the two challengers beating the anti-development drum managed less than 30%.

So, Monday Morning Quarterback, what does it mean? Glad you asked.

The accusations against Weinberger didn’t stick because (1) anti-development sentiment in Burlington represents a loud minority; most residents, I think, would like to see reasonable growth, (2) Weinberger consistently presented a reasonable approach and hasn’t given the voters any big reason to mistrust him, and (3) by all appearances, he ran the city competently in his first term. And after the Bob Kiss Experience, voters were happy to see simple managerial competence.

Corollary to point 3: the Burlington Progs are still suffering from the aftereffects of the Kiss Experience. Especially when their candidate is a hippie-lookin’ holdover from past Progressive administrations. It’ll take them a while longer to win back the trust of Queen City voters.

The Progs’ candidate, Steve Goodkind, refused to admit that Weinberger might actually be popular, heaven forfend; he credited the mayor’s “great machine.” By which he presumably meant Weinberger’s massive fundraising advantage.

That certainly didn’t hurt, but if we’ve learned anything from recent gubernatorial elections, it’s that Money Can’t Buy You Love. If there was widespread disaffection with Weinberger, the voters would have scrambled to the nearest available Scott Milne, no matter how underfunded or dubiously qualified. It’s tough to argue with 68% support.

On the other hand, there’s the City Council vote, which saw the Democrats lose ground and the Progs gain, probably leading to a Progressive council president. Was this a mixed verdict by the voters?

Yes and no, but mostly unclear. If the voters were convinced by the anti-development argument, it seems to me that they would have concentrated their ire on Weinberger. Also, and more saliently, the council results are tough to interpret because of the massive overhaul of ward boundaries. You’d really have to do a deep analysis of the vote, comparing it to previous elections.

One example: a new ward was created in student-dominated precincts. Students, as they are wont to do, stayed away in droves. (Overall turnout was 25%, but in Ward 8 it was under 10%.) As a result, Prog-leaning independent Adam Roof beat the Democrat despite getting less than 200 votes. That total would have earned him a brutal defeat in any other ward.

So the Progs had an unearned edge in Ward 8. I have no idea if that’s true across the city because I’m not a deep-numbers guy. I’ll leave that task to the experts.

The result does leave Weinberger facing a divided City Council with the Progressives likely enjoying a narrow organizational majority. He’ll have to work with the Progs and independents, which could mean a slightly more measured approach to development.

Of course, I’m not convinced that Weinberger ever had a secret plan to pave Burlington. By all indications, he wants to pursue a measured approach anyway. For the crowd that thinks “developer” is a dirty word, his intentions will always be suspect. But that crowd suffered a pretty thorough defeat in Burlington yesterday.

Single payer: a third party is heard from

I’ve been wondering when this would come. A statement, with the title in ALL CAPS, from the Progressive Party:

SHUMLIN’S DECISION TO SCRAP SINGLE PAYER A BETRAYAL OF VERMONT’S WORKING FAMILIES

And no, the Progs don’t usually go ALL CAPS.

The reaction is understandable; the Progs had put their statewide ambitions largely on hold for the sake of single payer.

The Vermont Progressive Party dis not run Progressive challenges against Governor Shumlin in the last three cycles, in large part because of his unwavering promise to lead on single payer.

If the Progs had run a candidate this year, no matter how perfunctory, we’d almost certainly be talking Governor-elect Milne right now.

The anger continues:

While we are outraged by Shumlin’s broken promises, we are not terribly surprised. … rather than work through [the] issues or scale back the project, Shumlin decided to scrap it entirely (and with it, many Vermonters’ hopes of a just and accessible healthcare system).

Indeed, it’s easy to conclude that the Governor put his thumb on the single payer scale in order to make it seem more unattainable than it already was. He opted for a top-level plan (94 Actuarial Value) instead of more modest coverage (80 AV), which increased costs. He insisted on a three-year phase-in of the payroll tax for small businesses, which slashed revenues. (His team also suddenly realized that those long-touted “administrative savings” weren’t going to happen.) Those may have been reasonable policy choices, but when you have Shumlin’s reputation for slickness and hippie-kicking, it’s not hard to assign the worst possible motive: the Governor wanted to squirm out of his promises, so he stacked the deck against single payer.

Governor Shumlin only seems concerned about the projected future economic burden to businesses, not the burden that working people are bearing right now.

Yup. His announcement was chock-full of references to financial realities and business concerns — and reminders of his own personal pain, awww — while conspicuous by their absence were any mentions of equity, accessibility, or the burdensome nature of the current system. And he sure as hell didn’t call health care a “human right.”

The Progs’ release includes a not-so-veiled threat of a Progressive candidate for Governor in 2016. Imagine, if you will, this scenario:

Shumlin has spent his third term tamping down expectations, cutting programs to balance the budget, pursuing incremental rather than transformational progress. The Republicans nominate Phil Scott, who doesn’t look much different ideologically than Shumlin, has a much more attractive personality, and can win back the business donors who’ve been backing Shumlin.  And the Progs challenge from the left.

In that scenario, Shumlin is well and truly screwed.

The absurd extremities of the public financing law

The Vermont Democratic Party, having lopsidedly endorsed Prog/Dem Dean Corren as its candidate for Lieutenant Governor, seems to be doing all it can to strip away any value from that endorsement.

The Vermont Democratic Party this week sent glossy color mailings to reliably Democratic voters, urging them to vote for its slate of statewide candidates. But Corren wasn’t mentioned.

Dean Corren at the Democratic State Committee meeting in September.

Dean Corren at the Democratic State Committee meeting in September. Photo courtesy of… well… me.

When the Democratic State Committee endorsed Corren, party officials made it clear that there were significant restrictions on their ability to offer him any tangible support — voter data, Coordinated Campaign, etc. — because by accepting public financing, Corren had to forswear all other fundraising avenues. Including in-kind support. Indeed, they said they would have adhered to the same limits if the Democratic hopeful, John Bauer, had qualified for public financing.

The Dems were advised by their lawyers to steer clear of anything that might run afoul of the law. Which allowed them to circumvent questions about the wisdom of sharing the party’s legendary database with a Progressive, who might then share it with his party. A valid concern, when the Progressive Party often runs candidates against Democrats.

But to exclude any mention of Dean Corren from mailings? To me, that seems an excess of caution. And a serious handicap for his campaign.

And while Corren was in full agreement with the Dems on their withholding of voter data and the Coordinated Campaign, he seems less satisfied with this move:

Corren said he’s prevailing upon Democratic officials to include him on the next round of mailings.

“The conversations go on,” Corren said. “We’re in the midst of conversations. So it’s not like it’s a one-shot deal.”

Corren has dutifully played nice, and I commend him for that. But excluding Corren from a mass mailing, to me, is stretching the legal point. It raises doubts about the Dems’ real motives.

I’ve been told that the Dems don’t want to turn “tangible assistance” into an issue for Phil Scott; but issues like that are inside baseball, and have little or no effect on voters. Maybe the risk is small enough to merit the potential reward.

At the very least, it points out a serious shortcoming with the public financing law. The qualification standards need to be loosened, so more candidates can qualify. And, apparently, there needs to be a better definition of “tangible assistance” so that parties don’t have to pretend that one of their own doesn’t exist, just because s/he qualified for public financing.

You can put it on the board: Dean Corren will be the Democratic nominee

Notwithstanding efforts by certain determined Phil-o-philiacs, the extant signs and portents indicate that Progressive Dean Corren will win the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor, and will appear on the November ballot as a Prog/Dem. A fashionable outfit these days, no?

To recap: Corren had actively sought support from the Democratic State Committee and campaigned for write-in votes in yesterday’s primary. Counterpunching were some supporters of incumbent Republican Phil Scott; they urged Democratic write-in votes for Scott.

No official count will come until Tuesday, but everything I’m hearing points to a fairly easy Corren win. There are counts from a few scattered communities, all with lopsided Corren totals. There’s the feeling among top Democrats not named John Campbell or Dick Mazza, that Corren’s won the thing. And there’s this from a Corren banner ad on Green Mountain Daily:

There were thousands of write-in votes so we won’t know the official outcome for a few days, but it looks good.

Which is about as close as a candidate can come to shouting “Whoopee!” before the count is official.

Assuming all this holds true, and I’m bettin’ it does, the next step will be securing an endorsement from the Democratic State Committee. And that also looks to be in the bag. He got a very positive reception at the DSC’s last meeting, but there was no move to endorse before the primary. If Corren does indeed win the vote, the state committee is almost certain to go along. Personally, I’d strip out the conditional: he will get the state committee endorsement.

He may not get a lot of tangible support beyond that, however. Because Corren qualified for public financing, he can’t accept additional donations — and that seems to include participation in the statewide Coordinated Campaign. But Corren has the means to run a competitive campaign on his own. And the most important thing, by far, is securing the Democratic line on the November ballot. You can put it on the board: he’s done it.