Category Archives: Vermont Republican Party

Joe Benning Peeks Over the Parapet and Is Met with a Volley of Arrows

Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.

But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.

Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.

Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)

And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.

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Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss

Congratulations to Jarrod Sammis, newly elected member of the Vermont House in the Rutland-3 district…

… and the only one on my long list of far-right Republican candidates who didn’t lose.

For those keeping score, and you bet I am, that’s one win and 23 losses. Which kinda explains my previous post about how the Vermont Republican Party has led itself, with supreme confidence, deep into the political wilderness with no idea what to do next except Keep Striding Forward!

That 1-23 record wasn’t the only bad news for Team Extreme. They also lost a bunch of races featuring far-right candidates I never got around to covering. Remember that 16 of the 21 Republican Senate candidates were extremists? Well, 12 of them lost. They may have picked up one seat at best. In the House, where the Republican ticket had 42 in irregular earth orbit, 35 of them lost. And that included three incumbent representatives who won’t be coming back: Vicky Strong, Sally Achey, and VTGOP Vice Chair Samantha Lefebvre.

Instead of bulking up their ranks and possibly upending caucus leadership, the extremists actually lost ground. It was a thorough rebuke for ultraconservatism in Vermont.

But let’s start with their only bright spot, the guy with a YouTube channel full of inflammatory videos that revealed an unhealthy fascination with guns and a probably-controlled desire to train them on socialists and communists. The channel he quickly deleted when it became public knowledge, claiming he did so to [checks notes] protect his family’s privacy. Sammis eked out a two-point win in reliably conservative territory. Bully for him.

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The Leadership of the VTGOP Should Be Defenestrated Immediately, But It’s Not Gonna Happen

Phil Scott? Untouchable. Every other Republican? Radioactive.

That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know about the 2022 election in Vermont. Scott cruised to victory; the rest of the VTGOP, which followed a Trumpier path, got absolutely steamrolled.

And they leave Scott in a significantly weakened position for the next two years. Barring any late turnarounds, the Dem/Prog caucus in the Senate will stay at 23 out of 30. But the House, oh my God. It’s looking like a net 11-seat pickup for the Dem/Prog caucus, which means they will have more breathing room than they’ve ever had for veto overrides.

As it looks now, the House Republican caucus will be reduced to a paltry 38 seats. Yikes.

It’s absolutely clear why this happened. The voters rejected far-right candidates almost across the board. The vast majority of my “stealth Republicans” lost their races, usually by big margins. The only bright spot for the VTGOP was Franklin County, which also happens to have the sanest of the county committees. Republicans took all but one Franklin County seat in the House and Senate. That’s two of the seven Republican senators and seven of the 38 House Republicans, all from Franklin County alone.

The party’s state leadership is to blame. They followed this path. They recruited a bunch of unelectable candidates. They turned their backs on Phil Scott. They should collectively resign in shame, but they probably won’t. They’re too deep up their own asses to realize that everything they did was wrong.

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The Vermont Republican Party Has Been Assimilated

When I started my series on “stealth conservatives,” i had no idea it would go on so long. Or that I’d get nowhere close to finishing. I’ve done 20 of those pieces and I could do a lot more.

It’s no longer accurate to say the Vermont Republican Party tolerates a few extremist candidates where they have no other options. It’s that extremists account for more than half of all Republican candidates for the Legislature, and the vast majority of the first-time candidates.

The Republican Party of Phil Scott and Jim Jeffords and Bob Stafford and Dick Snelling is dead. It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

The bottom line: By my count the Republicans have a total of 100 candidates for House or Senate, and 58 of them are out on the fringe. Well, really, the fringe has become the center of an extremist Republican Party.

The 58 includes 15 incumbents. The rest have never held state-level office. The new Republican caucuses will swing dramatically to the hard right, with all that that entails for the quality and civility of legislative sessions.

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We Have to Talk About Nathan

This is Nathan, the former employee of Full Moon Farm whose allegations that David Zuckerman is a horrible boss got turned into a Vermont Republican Party attack ad launched in the campaign’s closing days.

Well, guess what.

Nathan is a staunch conservative Republican. And I’ve got receipts.

That, in itself, doesn’t render his claims untrue, but it puts them in a completely different light. Nathan isn’t an objective voice who had a bad time working at Full Moon Farm; he’s a partisan with a clear interest in Zuckerman’s defeat.

The VTGOP identified him only as “Nathan,” which is, indeed, his real first name. I’ve heard that the party is refusing to release any more information about him. Problem is, this is a small state and a lot of people know Nathan. Some of them worked at Full Moon the same time he did. His identity is bound to come out, and when it does, this ad is going to blow up in the VTGOP’s collective face. .

But let’s get to the receipts.

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The Saddest October Surprise Ever

Hey, I hadn’t realized that former VTGOP chair Deb Billado had made a comeback. Congratulations!!

But seriously, the above image is from a nasty little political ad created by the Vermont Republican Party. They waited until now because it’s too late for anyone to make a cogent response. On the other hand, it’s also too late for such a message to sink in, especially since the party can’t afford the kind of advertising blitzkrieg that would punch this message through the noise and smoke of the home stretch.

The 30-second spot features a man identified as “Nathan,” said to be a former employee of David Zuckerman’s Full Moon Farm. “Nathan,” last name not given, is dressed just like a farm worker and stands in front of a suitably well-worn farm-type truck as he unrolls a litany of complaints about Zuckerman as a boss. Low pay, no time off, substandard accommodations, etc.

There is no way to verify Nathan’s identity or his story. The VTGOP, as far as I know, has made no attempt to back up his assertions. He might be a former employee with an ax to grind, justifiably or otherwise. (Any employer will eventually rub some people the wrong way.)

He might also be a Young Republican who’s never gotten dirt under his fingernails.

The cherry on top: The person behind the ad appears to be Republican National Committeeman (and lamprey on the underbelly of Vermont Republicanism) Jay Shepard. His business, Junction Consulting, has been paid $14,450 since October 28 for “Media – TV,” according to party filings with the secretary of state*. The party has reported no other expenditures on mass media.

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Stealth Conservatives: The Angry Chiropractor

Meet Matthew Stralka, Thetford resident and chiropractor whose shingle hangs across the river in Hanover. He’s also the Republican candidate for House in the Windsor-Orange-2 district, currently represented by Democrat Jim Masland.

Almost forgot: Stralka is a Covid denialist of a particularly fulminant strain. And he thinks Gov. Phil Scott is a TRAITOR.

Funny that they’re now on the same ticket, but that’s what the Vermont Republican Party has been reduced to in the Year of Our Lord 2022.

The Republicans failed to recruit a candidate in the district. Stralka ran a last-minute write-in campaign, as did quote a few Republican nominees, and managed to snag the nomination. He appears to have done nothing whatsoever in terms of actual campaigning since. No campaign website or Facebook page, He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report since August 1 when he reported receipts of $682.50, all from himself, and zero expenditures. No filing on September 1 or October 1 or October 15.

Now, that’s a commitment to stealth.

He’s a blank slate with one exception. Stralka has a Twitter account. Not much of one; he has zero followers. He’s never Tweeted on his own. He has, however, occasionally replied to other people’s tweets, and done so in a remarkably incendiary manner.

The most frequent target of his ire is Governor Nice Guy. Let’s get to it!

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Stealth Conservatives: A Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots, But It Can Try to Pass as a Cheetah

Meet Kathi Tarrant, mom, musician, teacher, and Republican candidate for the Vermont House in the Washington-Chittenden district currently represented by two Democrats, Tom Stevens and Theresa Wood.

Ms. Tarrant might not like it that I topped this piece with a picture of her at the August 2021 Patriot Rally on the steps of the Statehouse. The event was captured on video by the good folks at Orca Media, and you can see several speakers talking about the poor attendance. And you can see Tarrant talking about the federal lawsuit she filed against Gov. Phil Scott over his mask mandate. Yep, she’s one of them.

But that’s not how she’s presenting herself in the race for House. Instead, she’s donned the garb of a garden-variety conservative — to the right of Phil Scott, but not quite off the deep end. In a candidates’ forum sponsored by ORCA and another of my former employers, The Bridge, she managed to avoid subjects like the Covid vaccine and climate change denialism (“CO2 is NOT a pollutant”) and weather conspiracy theories and her membership in 802Freedom, the online community of anti-vaxxers and their ilk.

Instead, we got anodyne language about carbon taxes, ballot security, supporting law enforcement, fixing the housing shortage by unleashing the landlords, doubts about cannabis legalization, Second Amendment absolutism, and opposition to Article 22 over its wording, not its intent.

Now, it’s possible that she’s completely changed her political orientation in the past year. But it’s much more likely that she’s trying to pass as a standard conservative when in fact she’s way out on the fringes of political discourse.

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Un-Stealth Conservatives: The Wild Bull of Bennington-1

This… THIS… is the photo that Bruce Busa chose as his campaign portrait. Sadly, it’s a decent reflection of his politics.

Busa is the Republican candidate for Vermont House in Bennington-1, currently represented by Democrat Nelson Brownell. This isn’t Busa’s first run for office; in 2018 he was an independent candidate for U.S. Senate. Bernie Sanders won with more than two-thirds of the vote. Busa finished ninth out of nine candidates with 914 votes, or a whopping 0.34% of the total.

So here he is again. He’s not a “stealth conservative” because he makes no bones about who he is. But his candidacy is yet another stain on the Republican brand in Vermont.

High-, or lowlights. Busa believes that the combination of Article 22 and the Global Warming Solutions Act could lead to state-mandated abortions. He thinks school shootings are the schools’ fault. He wants creationism taught alongside evolution. And of course he’s dead set against the Covid vaccine.

Oh, almost forgot. He attended the January 6 insurrection, and he thinks it was a false flag operation incited by Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

He also endorses the platform of the Bennington Republican Committee which, I didn’t realize they had one. Of course I was curious.

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Stealth Conservatives: The Guileful Apiarist

Hey, it’s another Essex Republican! To be specific, Roger Drury, retired member of the Vermont National Guard, proud dad, hunter, maple sugarer, and beekeeper. Now, those are some impressively Vermonty bona fides! Almost as good as fermenting your own kombucha!

Aamong all the stealth conservatives I’ve profiled in this series, Drury comes closest to actually pulling it off: Maintaining a veneer of reasonable conservatism and keeping the extreme stuff safely hidden.

But he can’t quite do it. Spend enough time looking at his record and public statements, you start to see stuff. He’s a climate change denialist, he’s against abortion, he thinks our southern border is wide-open, he’s in favor of parents getting into the weeds of school curriculum, he thinks a lack of “personal responsibility” is the cause of high health care costs.

Oh, and he thinks cannabis legalization may be a cause of our opioid crisis.

Yeah, there’s actually quite a lot.

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