I don’t make a habit of reading “True North Reports,” the right-wing “news” site bankrolled by the famously reclusive Lenore Broughton. But I do dip my toe in its clouded waters from time to time, just because you gotta keep an eye on those Fockers.
I just did so, and mirabile dictu, I found a nugget of news!
On True North Reports!
What is this nugget? Well, at a VTGOP meeting over the weekend, party chair Deb Billado announced that the party would file lawsuits against the cities of Montpelier and Winooski over their Legislature-approved charter changes allowing resident noncitizens to vote. “We’re not sitting still on that particular issue,” she told the assembled. “We believe that it goes directly against the Vermont State Constitution section 42 and we are moving forward with legal action.”
Yeah, that qualifies as news. Congrats to Mike Bielawski for being the first, and so far only, person to report that fact.
Amidst the endless parade of articles bemoaning the plight of poor businessfolk who can’t find enough workers to fill their low-paying, no-bennies jobs, let us take a moment to pour one out for the group that has by far the hardest time finding a few good people: The Vermont Republican Party.
You almost have to feel sorry for the VTGOP. They’re so underfinanced and disorganized, so out of touch and few in number, that their every ticket features a frightening quantity of blank slots. They’ll take almost anybody with a pulse who’s willing to step out in public with an “R” next to their name.
Two cases in point today. First, we have Christopher-Aaron Felker, the surprise entry into Burlington’s special election to fill the seat of former councilor Brian Pine. Second, Gov. Phil Scott’s latest nominee to the Vermont Commission on Women.
There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.
There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.
But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.
Earlier this week, after Liz Cheney was purged by the House’s minority caucus, Gov. Phil Scott was asked about the sorry state of the national GOP. His response, per WCAX: “It appears as there’s a sign that is being placed in the window saying you need not apply and if you don’t adhere to those values or that litmus test, you are no longer welcome.”
A natural follow-up, which went unasked, would have been “In that case, what about the Vermont Republican Party, whose leadership is as intolerant as the national crowd?”
Take, for example, Jay Shepard, Republican National Committeeman and generic Mike Pompeo knock-off. He is one of two VTGOP representatives to the national Republican Committee, which makes him a very big fish in the shallow pool of our conservative politics.
Shepard styles himself a genius of inside politics. He runs Junction Consulting, a conservative firm offering its expertise in campaigns, fundraising and so forth. During the 2018 election cycle, his firm got nearly $200,000 from the Republican State Leadership Council to run ads against select Vermont Democratic lawmakers. Hmm, a Republican committee funneling funds to a Republican committeeman. Sounds a little grifty to me.
Well, Shepard’s got himself a new grift. He’s using the VTGOP email list to pump a national group that he co-founded. So, if you signed up for information about what Vermont Republicans are up to, congratulations. You’re getting Shepard’s fundraising pleas for the group, plus a regular email newsletter from its rhetorician-in-chief.
It was probably inevitable that Kolby LaMarche would resign as chair of the Burlington Republicans. A bit less so that he left the GOP altogether. But here we are.
Whenever she’s asked about extreme elements in the party, VTGOP chair Deb Billado resorts to the “big tent’ analogy. The party, she says, is big enough to include all comers.
Nice theory, but it’s not working in practice. The kind of die-hard Trump supporters who still believe he was cheated out of the election are more than welcome in the party ranks and, what the heck, leadership. But people like LaMarche, who believe the GOP must abandon the Trump delusion, are made to feel so unwelcome that they eventually leave. And the party’s rightward tilt gets that much more pronounced.
If the VTGOP really believes in the “big tent,” then Billado and her colleagues would be pounding the phones, begging LaMarche to give them another chance. Somehow I doubt that’s the case. Because to the chair and her allies, including vice chair Deb Bucknam and national committee members Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield, fealty to Trump is a litmus test for good Republicans. Not to mention local party officials like Ron Lawrence of Essex, co-instigator of the CovidCruiser that went to Washington for Trump’s attempted insurrection on January 6. That’d be the same Lawrence who launched a petition drive to get Gov. Phil Scott to abandon his party affiliation.
Yes, the Phil Scott who is the one and only Republican success story in statewide elections. According to Lawrence and the 2200-odd signers, he’s the real problem in the VTGOP.
Did Billado rush to Scott’s defense? Uhh, no. She “declined comment” on the petition, claiming she hadn’t read the thing and wasn’t involved. No “big tent” references this time.
Things just keep getting better and better for the Vermont Republican Party.
The latest eruption is in the GOP heartland of Burlington, where three members of the city party committee are calling for the removal of city party chair Kolby LaMarche because he’s insufficiently reverential toward Donald Trump.
Because being a Trumpster is such a great way to win elections in Burlington, I guess?
LaMarche sinned against orthodoxy by writing opinionpieces saying that the VTGOP needed to move away from Trump and return to “the Vermont Republican roots that formed the basis of our state party,” in the words of a written statement he released Friday. He had also called for a change in state party leadership; most of the VTGOP’s top officials are dyed-in-the-wool Trumpsters.
The three who want LaMarche removed are Ericka Redic, spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for state Senate in 2020; Gus Klein, a weapons tester at General Dynamics who’s best known as the guy whose Trump flag was vandalized by two teenagers back in 2018; and his wife AnnMarie Klein.
Yet another can of lighter fluid has been tossed on the roaring fire that is the Vermont Republican Party. This time the perp is Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex Republicans and co-organizer of the CovidCruiser excursion to the January 6 Capitol riot.
Lawrence, whose town is rapidly transitioning from purple to deep blue, has taken to Change.org to post a petition calling on Gov. Phil Scott to leave the Republican Party.
That’s right, Lawrence believes that the VTGOP would be better off without the only member who’s managed to win a statewide office since 2010.
For those keeping score, that’s Phil Scott, undefeated with a 6-0 record running for LG and governor. The rest of the party from 2010 onward? A sterling one win, 29 losses. (Turncoat Tom Salmon is the one. He won another term as state auditor on the Republican ticket in 2010 after originally winning the office as a Democrat.)
That’s a winning percentage of .033. )The 1962 New York Mets, the measuring stick for futility, had a winning percentage of .250.) Any statistician will tell you that’s… not good.
Obviously, there are two separate VTGOPs. There’s the party hierarchy, which is full of Donald Trump loyalists such as Lawrence, and its elected officials. With the exception of a few dead-enders, Republican officeholders realize that to win elections in Vermont, they have to tack to the center. Like Phil Scott.
I don’t think Deb Billado is planning to resign anytime soon.
The Vermont Republican Party chair made that clear when she devoted her most recent weekly newsletter to a very fringey speech made by the very fringey South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. It was a shot across the bow of Republican lawmakers who recently called for her resignation — and a slap in the face to Gov. Phil Scott.
You see, Scott and Noem are polar opposites on Covid-19 policy. Scott has proceeded with great caution, erring (mainly) on the side of public safety. Noem has kept her state wide open — including the granddaddy of all superspreaders, the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
The result: Vermont has a death rate of 27 per 100,000 residents, the second lowest among the states. South Dakota has lost 189 out of every 100,000, the seventh worst death rate in the nation. In total Covid-19 cases, Vermont is the best in the nation at 1,654 per 100K, while South Dakota is second-worst at 11,958 per 100K. How about testing? Vermont has conducted 133,174 tests per 100K — more than one test per resident. South Dakota? Way near the bottom, at 44,827 tests per 100K.
So, Vermont is doing far better at tracking the virus, keeping people healthy, and keeping them alive. I can’t say that Billado endorses South Dakota’s Covid “strategy,” but she went out of her way to highlight Noem’s views in a message to all Vermont Republicans. Now, maybe Billado didn’t intend it as direct criticism of Vermont’s govenror, but I bet you dollars to donuts that Team Scott sees it that way.
Beyond that, there’s the issue of Billado calling a collection of QAnon-adjacent nutbaggery a “thoughtful speech.” We’ll run it down after the jump.
You have to feel a little bit sorry for Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. She’s been working hard for three years now, trying to build a functioning machine out of spare parts and duct tape. But her Trumpian worldview makes her an ineffective advocate for the kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate organization the VTGOP needs to be.
Now it’s all coming apart, thanks to the January 6 insurrection triggered by President Trump. While Republican Gov. Phil Scott came right out with a call for Trump’s removal from office, Billado issued a statement condemning the violence without mentioning the President at all.
On Tuesday, Billado issued another statement, this one urging people not to take part in a January 17 Statehouse rally in support of Trump. She began, oddly, with this:
It has come to my attention through various vague media reports that there is a rumor of some kind of protest planned at the capitol building in Montpelier this weekend.
The Vermont Republican Party is a dysfunctional mess. For pretty much as long as I’ve been writing about #vtpoli — 10th anniversary coming up this year — the party has struggled in fundraising, organizing, candidate recruitment, and choosing an ideological lane. There’s been tension between its elected officials, who recognize that they have to appeal to the center in order to win, and the party faithful, who are profoundly conservative.
During the Trump years, that split has gotten wider. Gov. Phil Scott has essentially divorced himself from the party since November 2017, when he backed Mike “Not The Reporter” Donohue for party chair, only to see incumbent Deb Billado narrowly re-elected by the state committee. (Donohue is pretty conservative but he’s a realist, not a fanatic.) The party hierarchy is now full of Trump true believers, including Billado, vice chair Deb Bucknam (last seen filing a nutty lawsuit over Gov. Scott’s Covid-19 policies), and the two national committee members, Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield.
Well, now the VTGOP’s split is going public. Rep. Scott Beck of St. Johnsbury is calling for the resignation of party officials who refuse to advocate for Trump’s removal from office, and he’s gathering support among Republican electeds.
“I have had some pointed comments at VTGOP leadership, and I have said to them, ‘If you cannot cross these bridges, I think it’s time for you to move on,’” Beck told Seven Days on Tuesday.
Sen. Corey Parent and Rep. Anne Donahue have joined the call for Billado to resign, after she issued a mealy-mouthed condemnation of the January 6 Capitol riot that didn’t mention Trump at all.
Beck et al. are clearly right about this; the current VTGOP is doomed to permanent minority status. But if they’re serious, it’s going to be a long, hard struggle. Things would get a lot worse before they start getting better, and “getting better” is not a sure bet. Because if they succeed in dislodging the hard-core Trumpers, there will hardly be anything left.