The Chittenden Trap

One of the top items on the Vermont Democratic Party’s to-do list is a makeover of its relationship with the Progressive Party. Nothing drastic, just some overdue maintenance. The core issue: how to deal with Progs running as Dems — and, in some cases, running as Dems and then re-entering the fray as Progs after losing a Democratic primary.

But I would argue that another issue might be more urgent: the party’s increasingly Chittenden-centric orientation.

Writing this post was in the works before today’s news that Rep. Mitzi Johnson has edged out Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas to be the next Speaker of the House. Now, it seems even more pertinent. The leaders of both houses will come from Chittenden County’s sphere of influence: Johnson from South Hero (basically a bedroom community for Burlington), Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe from Chittenden County. And the three members of the Senate’s Committee on Committees all being from Chittenden.

When I say “Chittenden County,” I define it broadly; from the southern half of the Champlain Islands down to Shelburne at least, and southwestward to Richmond if not Waterbury.

Chittenden County itself accounts for one-fourth of Vermont’s population. Its Senate delegation is twice as large as the next biggest county — and in fact, based purely on population, it ought to have one more Senator. (And will certainly get at least one more after the 2020 Census.)

Beyond the mere numbers, Chittenden is home turf for the Democratic Party’s urban-ish, tech-oriented core. And its donor base.

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“But I’m not that kind of Republican”

Every time I talk with a Vermont Republican (which is happening more frequently now, by design), I hear a variation on the same tune: “I’m not that kind of Republican.” Meaning, I’m not like those extreme conservatives on the national level; I’m a moderate, Vermont kind of partisan.

Well, maybe, but what do they mean by that?

It seems to be roughly this: they don’t share national Republicans’ extreme views on social issues, which is a no-brainer; espousing the creeds of the Christian Right is a sure loser in Vermont. They don’t deserve much credit for tolerance on reproductive rights or marriage equality.

Things get fuzzier when it comes to fiscal issues.

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Low-hanging fruit? Check.

Governor-elect Phil Scott’s first round of appointments came on Thanksgiving Eve. And honestly, the announcement was a touch underwhelming.

Nothing against the four appointees. But c’mon, three members of his transition team and the sole staffer in the Lieutenant Governor’s office? Did it really take three weeks to pluck the lowest-hanging fruit?

Would it be churlish of me to point out that in November 2010, Peter Shumlin had his inner circle in place less than ten days after the election, and had begun to fill out his cabinet by this point? Perhaps, but compared to the last Governor-elect, Phil Scott’s off to a slow start.

(Irony Alert: When Shumlin took office, he made it clear that the single focus of his administration wouild be job creation. It’s deja vu all over again, just like last time.)

Also, it’d be reassuring to see at least one appointee who’s not a member of The Usual Suspects.

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Four anti-wind activists ran for the House. They went 0-for-4.

The one-sided votes in Grafton and Windham against the Stiles Brook project were victories for the anti-wind movement. But there were some setbacks that call into question the movement’s political sway.

Four prominent opponents of ridgeline wind were candidates for the State House this year. None were elected.

Each race was different, and generalizing form a small sample size is a mug’s game. But there are a couple of inferences that strike me as valid.

1. The anti-wind movement is not strong enough to have a measurable impact on elections. The results support the movement’s image as noisy and dedicated, but numerically small. There aren’t many voters who are motivated by the issue.

2. The movement is hamstrung by its own political divisions. There are anti-wind activists in all three of Vermont’s major parties*. Two of the four losing candidates ran as Democrats; the other two as Republicans.

*Liberty Union may be a Major Party by Vermont’s very generous legal standard, but it is not a “major party” by any objective measure.

So now, let’s review the four anti-wind losers.

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A tale of two Phils

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, there were two very different Phil Scotts to be inferred. One was the good guy compromiser who wants to get everybody in a room and work everything out in a broadly tripartisan way.

The other? The business owner whose first venture ran afoul of Act 250, whose current company and favorite hobby are both heavily invested in fossil fuels, whose campaign kickoff took place at the annual convention of Vermont road contractors, who sometimes dog-whistled on issues like abortion, and who frequently made reference to consulting business leaders when making policy.

The first, a moderate in the classic mode. The second, a creature of the fiscally conervative business community.

The first, a candidate who attracted quite a few moderate and liberal voters. The second, a target for suspicion in many liberal circles, including this little tiny one. A suspicion fueled by his single-minded focus on reining in the budget without any tax or fee increases, at a time when (1) we might be in for significant federal cutbacks and (2) we still have an antiquated tax system with multiple revenue sources that aren’t keeping up.

So anyway, two Phils.

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A timely outbreak of morality that might just pay off

This is a good week to be a Vermonter. While Donald Trump and many of his followers are acting like sore winners and planning the conservative transformation of our national government, expressions of tolerance are springing up all over official Vermont.

They’re doing the right thing at a critical moment. I’m often cynical about Vermont exceptionalism*, but it’s times like this that remind me that it can, indeed, be a special place.

*Having once, ahem, entitled a post “Kill Vermont Exceptionalism.”

Also, hey, bonus: if we become known as a haven against intolerance, our economy and our population may get a needed boost thanks to an influx of people who experience fear or intolerance in other states.

In no particular order:

— Governor Shumiln and Governor-elect Phil Scott issue a joint statement “of concern and defiance in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.” Full credit to Scott for taking a stand against intolerance and in support of “refugee groups, health centers, immigrant rights activists and schools.”

“We/I thought it was important to show, whether it was the current governor or the incoming governor, Democrat or Republican, that we’re unified on the issue of protecting civil rights,” Scott said.

Couldn’t ask for more than that. Plus, it’s one sign that he wants to govern from the center and be a Governor for all Vermonters. It’s only one, but it’s a good one.

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Sue Minter did worse than I thought

This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.

On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)

But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.

Now, I’m seriously rethinking that notion.

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