I Seem to Have Sparked a Mike Pieciak Boomlet

Lookin’ kinda sweaty there, Mike

When you push content out into the ether, you never know what’s going to catch fire and what’s going to vanish forever without a trace. The most viral post I’ve ever written was a silly little thing about a proposal (sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, credit where it’s due) to create a Latin motto for Vermont. A bunch of ignorant conservatives reacted angrily because they didn’t know the difference between Latin and Latin America. It was plenty of fun, but not exactly meat and potatoes.

Anyway, exhibit B in the category of “you never know” is a recent piece observing that treasurer-to-be Mike Pieciak seemed to be destined for higher office. I’d like to make it clear, as if I won’t later in this piece, that I don’t necessarily endorse the idea. I just saw the signs.

The post went live on August 10, the day after Pieciak had waltzed, unopposed, to the Democratic nomination. Three weeks and a day later, VTDigger ran a story that Pieciak was “generating significant buzz” as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

The first bee whose buzz was cited: yours truly. I appreciate that, but in retrospect maybe I should have copyrighted the idea.

To be fair to reporter Lola Duffort, she did a lot of additional digging and put quite a bit of meat on the bones. Pieciak was praised by various notables as “trustworthy,” “charming,” “very smart,” “a serious straight shooter,” “a nice guy.”

And now Vermont Public has jumped on the Pieciak Parade. Twelve days after Duffort posted her story, “Morning Edition” host and Vermont’s human alarm clock Mitch Wertlieb interviewed her about Pieciak’s bright political future. During the chat, Mitch basically stole a line from my original piece, by now a month old, when he noted that a hypothetical Gov. Pieciak “would be the state’s first openly gay governor.”

Glad to have provided some content for you all. But now that I seem to have warmed up the bandwagon, I’m disembarking.

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The Fearmongering Continues Apace

Shit’s flyin’ these days around the subject of crime in Burlington. In spite of the actual crime statistics, and in spite of the voters’ thorough rejection of Law ‘N Order Lite candidate Ted Kenney, the news can’t stop hyping the largely imaginary epidemic of lawlessness in the Queen City.

Yes, there’s been a substantial jump in gun incidents, and although three fatal shootings may be just another Tuesday afternoon in big cities, it’s a lot by Burlington standards. Nobody wants a hail of bullets from their Welcome Wagon. Otherwise, though, Burlington has quite a bit less crime — including violent crime — now than, say, ten years ago.

But some people, prominent white people, feel unsafe. And if prominent white people have a feeling, it must be a real problem, right?

I mean, we’ve got Moderate Nice Guy Phil Scott out here lying about defunding the police: “…with all due respect to Burlington, they defunded the police. They did that.”

Nnnnnope.

Not unless you think “defunding” means “a modest temporary reduction.” Which it doesn’t. Look, if we’re going to ceaselessly demagogue every cut to the police budget, criminal justice reform is gonna be a long time coming.

Last Friday, a gaggle of conservatives under the rubric of “Keep Vermont Safe” held a Panel Of Grievance in Burlington City Hall. VTDigger, for some reason, sent a reporter and a photographer to cover the event. And cover it they did, despite a pitifully small turnout. “Roughly two dozen,” Digger reported. There were almost that many people on stage.

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Dan French Rides Again

Hey kids, if you’ve never seen Tim Conway’s infamous dentist sketch, take a minute and watch it now.

Got it?

Now you know why, when they film The Dan French Story, they need to fire up the time machine and bring back Tim Conway to play the lead. Because man oh man, if that isn’t Dan French on a platter, I don’t know what is.

We’ve covered the misadventures of our Education Secretary in these spaces before, oh so many times before. And now he’s back for another round.

French’s latest is yet another twist in the Gotthard Pass that is the Scott administration’s Covid policy for schools. For months, his agency had strongly discouraged schools from imposing mask mandates — even to protect students at high risk for Covid complications.

Well, now he’s kinda-sorta walking it back, but also not. Take it away, VTDigger:

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It’s Like a Cat Toying With a Mouse, Except the Mouse Thinks It’s a Dog

We’re in for a lot of this, aren’t we? The higher reaches of our ballot feature grossly one-sided contests between able, experienced Democrats and unknown, untested Republicans whose long residencies in the Fox News bubble are plain for all to see.

Last night’s Welch/Malloy debate was… a bit of a letdown. Gerald Malloy was the boring kind of ultraconservative, not the entertaining kind. He was Mike Lee, not Paul Gosar. Instead of a guy verbally stepping on rakes á la Sideshow Bob, we got a flavorless plate of boiled meat with a side of willful ignorance.

It wasn’t as much fun as I hoped. I think we’ll get better results next week, when Libertarian-of-convenience Ericka Redic brings her unique brand of acerbic egotism to a debate with Becca Balint and mock Republican Liam Madden. If Malloy was stepping on rakes, Redic will march blissfully through a minefield.

Peter Welch was, well, Peter Welch. Always on top of his rhetorical game and incredibly energetic for a mid-septuagenerian*. Impressive, in short. Well, not to the 35% of the electorate that will see Malloy as a military hero answering the call of duty to clean up Washington, D.C. But they don’t matter. He did nothing last night that could push his share of the vote past the mid-30s.

*Seriously. I’ve written that he might be one-and-done in the Senate but the way he looks and speaks, he might keep going for three or four terms.

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Vermont Republicans Are Trying to Sneak Their Way Into Election Oversight

How much time do you spend researching your local candidates for Justice of the Peace? I follow politics closely and try to learn about the people on the ballot. But do I pay attention to JP races? Nope, can’t say that I do. Does anybody?

Well, the Vermont Republican Party is giving us a reason to care. One of the items on its website concerns running for the resolutely obscure office.

Justices of the Peace are best known for officiating at weddings. But in Vermont they also play a significant role in overseeing local elections. And that’s what the Republicans are interested in. They want election truthers to run for JP so they can get in there and raise hell.

Well, that’s not what they’re saying out loud. But it’s clearly what they mean. Here’s the dog whistle:

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Know Your Parasites

There’s a notion prevalent among Vermont Republicans that the Progressives are secretly controlling the Vermont Democratic Party.

Now, you run that by any Progressive and the response will be a bitter laugh. They only wish.

This idea recently came at me from two directions: VTGOP Chair Paul Dame in one of his weekly “newsletters” sent to the party’s email list. I would have ignored Dame, but then it was repeated in the comments section of this here blog by none other than H. Brooke Paige, Republican candidate-at-large.

Dame’s version was the more colorful, by which I mean revolting. He chose a horsehair worm (seen above), which grows inside the body of a cricket or other large insect and drives a host’s behavior in ways beneficial to itself.

See, the Progs are the worm and the Dems are the hapless host.

(Also, side issue, but is Dame hoping to win friends and influence people by talking about disgusting parasites in his essays? He refers to it as “a fascinating creature,” so maybe he thinks everybody would be equally fascinated rather than repelled.)

Again, bitter laugh from any Prog who sees this.

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It Was All So Easy Back Then

I dunno, sounds like socialism

There is still much more to be written about the Scott administration’s VERAP mess. (Whether our ever-diminishing political press will cover it or not, we’ll see. Anyone filed a public records request yet? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?)

What’s clear so far is that the administration somehow failed to discover that the emergency rental assistance program was running out of money until drastic action was required to prevent it from going immediately bust. Or possibly they discovered it earlier and covered it up until it was too late for anything other than emergency action. (That’s what a public records request could determine. Bueller?)

But there’s another whole dimension to this situation, and it has to do with the perils of bounty. Remember way back in 2021 and 2022, when Vermont was (metaphorically) flooded with federal Covid relief funds? Yeah, those were good times.

And what happens in good times? Prudence is abandoned. Abundance seems endless even when you know damn well it’s not. Policymakers in the administration, with buy-in from the Legislature, made a bunch of choices about how to spend all that money.

In retrospect, some of those choices look awfully unwise.

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No Money, No Problems

Turns out, three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line. Now they’re strapped for cash entering the general campaign.

That’d be a real problem if their Republican opponents weren’t so utterly hapless.

Charity Clark went on a mass-media spending binge in early August. She spent a massive $81,000 in the month; $64,000 of that was for TV, radio, print, mail, and online advertising. She entered September with a cash deficit of about $1,200. Turned out she didn’t have to do all that spending, as she won her party’s nomination for attorney general over Rory Thibault by a better than two-to-one margin.

Sarah Copeland Hanzas’ war chest (obligatory war chest reference) was scraping bottom as the primary approached. She spent a relatively modest $15,602 in August, not much more than half what her rival Chris Winters spent. Copeland Hanzas had entered the race very late and never caught up in fundraising. She enters September nearly $12,000 in the black, but only because she loaned her own campaign $14,000.

Still, she won — by a scant two percentage points — and that’s what matters most.

David Zuckerman spent $57,149 in August as he sought to ensure victory over Kitty Toll, bringing his campaign spending total well over $200,000. He still has $16,771 in cash on hand, and an extremely large base of small donors who can be tapped for more.

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Looks Like Maybe We Got Ourselves a Race

There were no competitive primaries for governor last month, but there were definite signs that business is picking up. Gov. Phil Scott and challenger Brenda Siegel increased their fundraising from their previous very modest levels. In fact, it seems as though Scott actually began putting some effort into it last month, which is something he famously doesn’t like to do. Conventional wisdom has it that Scott will win in a walk. Do the August numbers suggest he’s getting a bit concerned about Siegel?

As of July 31, Scott had raised a total of $49,989. In August alone he upped that to $54,580, bringing his campaign total north of $100,000. He also has a $272,000 surplus from previous campaigns, so he’s not cash-poor by any means.

Siegel, meanwhile, took in $44,259 in August, which made it her best month to date. She’s raised a total of $103,195, a few thousand less than Scott. And of course, she doesn’t have a handy-dandy surplus to fall back on.

There are a couple of notes that make Siegel’s performance better than the sheer total. First, she had a burst of fundraising in the last few days of the month. If that momentum carries forward, she’ll do fine. She won’t match Scott dollar for dollar, but her campaign won’t live or die on money alone.

It’d also help if Scott kicked a few more balls into his own net, as he did this week with the announcement that an emergency rental assistance program was virtually out of money — something his officials failed to notice or predict. As a result, thousands will lose rental support at the end of this month, and thousands more at the end of November. You know, just when it’s getting seriously cold?

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A Tale of Two Treasuries

Obligatory “War Chest” Reference

As if it needed any more emphasis, the September 1 campaign finance reports starkly illustrate the difference in fortune between the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties. In case you need to be told, the Dems’ war chest is on the left; the VTGOP’s is on the right. The exception is Gov. Phil Scott, who seems to finally be taking the campaign seriously. Maybe he’s a little worried about Brenda Siegel?

Fundraising numbers to date for statewide races besides governor:

Lieutenant Governor: David Zuckerman $236,687, Joe Benning $38,546. That’s the good one for the Republicans.

Treasurer: Mike Pieciak $126,500, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Secretary of State: Sarah Copeland Hanzas $74,078, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Attorney General: Charity Clark $129, 835, Mike Tagliavia 0.

Auditor: Invincible incumbent Doug Hoffer $100 plus a $1,115 surplus from 2020, Rick Morton 0.

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