Category Archives: Vermont State Senate

Where Are The Ashes Of Yesteryear?

Objects In The Mirror May Be Fuzzier Than They Appear

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?

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For a minute, I thought this was a thing (and other senatorial thoughts)

This is a mailer sent to voters in the Chittenden County Senate district. It features three of the four incumbents who are seeking re-election, running as a ticket.

The fourth? Sen. Phil Baruth.

Hmm. Was he excised, like Trump from that Jeffrey Epstein photo on Fox News? Is he persona non grata?

Nope. No conspiracy, no coup, nothing juicy. In this pandemic season, he explained, “I made a pledge not to raise or spend any money. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for money when everybody’s finances have taken a massive hit.” And since taking part in the joint mailer would have cost a couple thousand dollars or so, he withdrew from the enterprise. In fact, just today he posted a message on Facebook about his decision.

It’s not entirely a selfless decision; two of the six seats are open, which increases the odds that the four incumbents will sail through a crowded Democratic field. Baruth feels confident he will survive the August vote. “If, after five cycles, I haven’t accrued enough goodwill [to win], maybe that’s for the best.”

He’s almost certainly right. I expect the four incumbents to be the top four finishers in the primary. As for the rest of the Chittenden County Senate field, handicapping the primary is a fool’s game. Normal campaigning is off the table, so how do people get their names out there? Judging by the mid-July finance reports, only one candidate has enough money to make a major media push.

Besides, this primary is a mystery. These affairs are usually low-key and low-turnout, but a massive number of Vermonters have requested absentee ballots. We could easily see a record turnout, which makes for an unpredictable election.

Even the campaign finance filings are harder than usual to interpret. Some candidates, like Baruth and Rep. Dylan Giambatista, who’s running for Senate, have eschewed fundraising. Many others have shifted to passive mode, accepting donations that come in but doing little or nothing to solicit funds.

But hey, the reports are there, so let’s give ’em a look.

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The Most Annoying Man in Montpelier

It would be unfair to straight-up call John Rodgers an asshole.

However… if you took an anonymous poll of Statehouse regulars, asking them “Which lawmaker most deserves to be called an asshole?”, Rodgers would finish very near the top.

The Kingdom Democrat is obstinate, obstreperous, obstructionist, obnoxious, obsessive, obdurate, and by his obnoxiousness is often worthy of objurgation. He has one of the Senate’s highest ratios of self-regard to actual accomplishment — and that’s some stiff competition. He’s right up there with Rep. Cynthia Browning as someone willing to derail a floor debate over a point of principle discernible by no one else.

Rodgers’ latest offense against the polity came last week, when he reacted to criticism of his committee attendance record with an untargeted slam against a “snippy little bitch” daring to criticize him. The phrase could be interpreted as a direct attack on two fellow members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Sens. Chris Bray and Brian Campion. The latter is openly gay, and the former carries an air of professorial tweeness about him.

Rodgers later apologized — but he in turn demanded an apology from Campion and from Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, who had upbraided The Last Remaining Proponent of the Salad Bowl Haircut for name-calling and “impugn[ing] the motives and integrity” of fellow senators.

Which makes Rodgers seem like the snippy little bitch, but I digress.

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Our Sclerotic Senate [UPDATED]

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

Note: In the original version of this post, I failed to include Ron Horton in the Essex-Orleans district. This post is now updated to include him.

The Vermont state Senate, our most self-absorbed deliberative body, is a study in stasis. Turnover is rare. Incumbents are virtually assured of re-election, usually without much effort. (The last sitting senators to lose were Bill Doyle and Norm McAllister in 2016 — but Doyle was 90 years old, quite frail and had a reputation for nodding off during meetings, and McAllister faced a daunting array of criminal charges at the time. That’s about what it takes for an incumbent to lose.

Anyway.)

This year promises to be same song, new verse. A rough and semi-educated review of the field of candidates shows that 27 of the 30 senators are strong or prohibitive favorites to win re-election — and that includes one incumbent who didn’t bother filing his candidacy papers, and will have to run a write-in campaign. The forgetful fellow is NEK Democrat and snippy little bitch John Rodgers, who represents the two-seat Essex-Orleans district along with perpetual incumbent Bobby Starr, who did manage to file — along with “Democrat” Ron Horton, who ran this race under the banner of the American Party in 2018.

The American Party, FYI, is a fringe conservative organization that traces its roots back to the American Independent Party founded by hardcore segregationist George Wallace. Horton finished a distant third in 2018 behind Starr and Rodgers. He stands a puncher’s chance in this year’s primary because his name is on the ballot and Rodgers’ is not. But Rodgers’ cavailer attitude toward the simple act of filing papers (and this year he didn’t even need to gather signatures) precisely illustrates the problem: Senate incumbents are virtually bulletproof.

I said 27 of the 30 are favorites. The other three — Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram of Chittenden County and James McNeil of Rutland — are voluntarily giving up their seats. Indeed, voluntary retirement is just about the only way there’s ever any turnover in the Vermont Senate.

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The deal went down

Aww, crap on a cracker.

Precisely as it was foreseen in the sacred portents, Tim Ashe will succeed John Campbell as Senate President Pro Tem.

That’s not the bad part. The bad part is the other half of the presumed backroom deal, which allows Democrat In Name Only Dick Mazza to keep his plum post as the third member of the Senate’s Committee on Committees.

One can only hope that his ability to wreak mischief with committee appointments will be reined in by Ashe and the CoC’s third member, Lt. Gov-elect David Zuckerman.

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No Gurlz Alowd

Early next week, the State Senate Democratic caucus will hold its organizational meeting for the new biennium. They will elect a new President Pro Tem to replace John Campbell; a new Majority Leader to replace Phil Baruth; and they will name the three members of the organizationally crucial Committee on Committees, which will later dole out committee memberships and appoint chairs and vice chairs.

Scuttlebutt has it that Sen. Tim Ashe has the Pro Tem job wrapped up, and that Windham County’s Becca Balint will succeed Baruth.

And it seems inevitable that Dick Mazza will retain his spot on the CoC, in spite of his long and loud advocacy for Republican Phil Scott’s gubernatorial bid. (And before that, Brian Dubie’s.) Honestly, Mazza might as well have spent 2016 just flipping the bird to the Democratic Party.

But all indications are that he’ll be reappointed. Which is weird in a lot of ways. First, the aforementioned display of apostasy.

Second, the other two members of the CoC are the President Pro Tem and the Lieutenant Governor. When that was John Campbell and Phil Scott respectively, they were like peas in a pod with Mazza.

But two guys who came out of the Progressive Party making common cause with Mazza? What that says to me is that Ashe and Zuckerman are more invested in the institution of the Senate than in advancing progressive policies.

Third, they’d all be from Chittenden County. Shouldn’t we be interested in a little geographic balance?

Fourth, and most striking to me, is that they’re all men.

Seriously? This doesn’t trouble Ashe or Zuckerman in the least?

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Freeway Vermont, Two-Lane Vermont

Something struck me in last night’s election returns. Specifically, the two-seat switch from R to D in the state senate, the Republicans losing their last remaining seats in Chittenden and Washington Counties.

Those two seats had been held for years by moderate Republicans Diane Snelling and Bill Doyle. In the absence of those popular stalwarts, it’s hard to see the R’s being competitive in Chittenden or Washington anytime soon. Meanwhile, the VTGOP strengthened its grip in Franklin and Rutland Counties, which used to be prime D/R battlegrounds.

I see a clear political topography emerging. There’s Freeway Vermont, which stretches along I-89 from northern Chittenden County to White River Junction, and along I-91 from Thetford or thereabouts all the way to the Massachusetts border. That’s solid Democratic territory, with Republicans struggling to even recruit candidates, let alone win.

Then there’s Two-Lane Vermont, the back roads and small towns plus a few cities that have been, to a large extent, left behind by the tide of progress. Rutland is the prime example. I include St. Johnsbury, St. Albans, and Barre in that number.

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So, predictions.

Let’s get something out there up front. I suck at predictions. I’m not particularly plugged into The People or the political establishment of either party. I’m not a statistical expert; I can’t evaluate the polls for insights and/or flaws. I tend to let my heart get in the way. (Yes, I do have a heart. I’ve been tested.) In 2014, I confidently foresaw an easy re-election win for Peter Shumlin. Which is about the only real test for a would-be prognosticator in my roughly five years of being a Vermont Political Observer.

So stack up the disclaimers like firewood before I take a timorous tiptoe out on a short limb and say…

I think Sue Minter is our next governor.

It’ll be close. Might even need to be affirmed by the Legislature, should Bill Lee draw enough votes to keep her under 50 percent.

Up until three weeks ago, I thought Phil Scott would win. Since then, the momentum is all Minter’s.

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Skunk at the party

The abrupt end of Norm McAllister’s first trial on sex-crime charges — a case of prosecutorial overreach, malfeasance, or cowardice, or a combo platter of all three — creates a world-class headache for Franklin County Republicans.

DoonesburyGuiltyMcAllister’s second trial is vaguely scheduled for sometime this fall, and will be conducted by the same legal Dream Team that flushed the first case down the sewer. Between now and then, we’ve got ourselves a primary vote and maybe a general election. McAllister has filed for re-election, and there’s nothing to stop him from carrying on.

Well, shame, perhaps. But he’s already proven he has precious little of that commodity. Remember the Franklin County Legislative Breakfast in January, when the recently suspended McAllister not only showed up, but tried to chair the meeting?

There will be a three-way Republican primary for two Franklin County ballot spots, featuring incumbent Dustin Degree, incumbent in-limbo McAllister, and State Rep. Carolyn Branagan.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, at all, if the esteemed ranks of Franklin County Republicans renominated McAllister despite the massive and unmistakable aroma surrounding him. Vermonters are, after all, strongly inclined to support incumbents — or too lazy to do their homework, take your pick.

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Chris Pearson gets a big assist

The Democratic race for six Senate nominations in Chittenden County will be an all-out affair, with two vacancies in a district that tends to automatically re-elect incumbents. But State Rep. Chris Pearson, the Progressive hopeful, just got a big dose of good news.

(Note: Hallenbeck later issued a correction. It’s eight candidates, not seven.)

Yep, Bernie is starting to open his fundraising apparatus to more candidates — which is the best way for him to build a progressive movement.

In a crowded Democratic primary that could get expensive, this makes Pearson a front-runner. Because “expensive” by Vermont standards is “piddling” almost anywhere else.

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