One of These Things Is Not Like The Other, Or Even Like Itself

Gov. Phil Scott must be feeling extra invulnerable right now. On Monday he decides not to appoint new state’s attorneys in two counties because it’s too close to the next election; on Wednesday he appoints a new Attorney General even though Election Day is even closer. He’s not even bothering to be subtle about it.

Scott declined to appoint anyone to the SA vacancies in Addison and Rutland Counties because there’s not enough time left in the SA’s term. It would create continuity issues, supposedly. Instead, the current interim occupants will serve out the remainder of the time.

Meanwhile, Scott is parachuting administration stalwart Susanne Young into the attorney general’s office to serve out the remainder of TJ Donovan’s term even though Donovan’s chief deputy Joshua Diamond is right there in place to, um, provide continuity. In a much more important and complex office.

So what is Scott doing here? Hell if I know, but I have a guess or two.

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Here’s a New One: Juneteenth is a Holiday for White Republicans

Man, oh Manischevitz. Paul Dame has outdone himself.

Last time it was implying that the schools are the root cause of school shootings because of whatever they’re doing to alienate young white men. Now? He’s spun a twisted tale of slavery’s end that puts white Republicans at the center of Juneteenth and elides the unrelenting grimness of post-slavery life for black Americans.

And, of course, omits the GOP’s own complicity in abandoning the newly-freed Black folk for the sake of short-term political advantage.

For those just joining us, VTGOP chair Dame puts out a brief weekly email blast that makes you yearn for the clear thinking and deathless prose of Ben Shapiro. The latest edition is entitled “Juneteenth: A Promise Kept,” which gives you a foretaste of what’s to come.

It’s deeply, offensively stupid.

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Didja Ever Think That Maybe School Shootings Are the Schools’ Fault? Hmm?

VTGOP chair Paul Dame, that rhetorical blunderbuss who thinks he’s a surgical instrument, is at it again. In one of his recent Deep Thoughts, Dame offered some half-baked, wrong-headed theorizing on mass shootings in schools. It would have been pathetic if it wasn’t so damn offensive.

Republicans have been scrambling, post-Uvalde, to skirt the real issue around mass shootings, which is THE GUNS. Not the handguns or shotguns or single-shot rifles, but the murder machines we let pretty much anyone buy, possess, and deploy against the innocent.

But Dame doesn’t ape the usual Republican talking points of mental health or lax security. He’s had a brainsplosion of his own: It’s the schools’ fault.

Oh, he doesn’t come right out and say so. He questions. He implies. He earnestly ponders. He evokes the “sense of shock and frustration” that he clearly doesn’t share, or he wouldn’t be using the tragedy to make a stupid, inaccurate political point.

Time to dig into this manure pile and see if there’s a pony in there. (Spoiler alert: There isn’t.)

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Something Happening Here

If anybody is still saying “It can’t happen here,” I’ve got breaking news for you. It’s already happening here, and it’s only going to get worse. Vermonters are living in fear or getting the F out, and we’re only an eyeblink away from a violent incident.

We could start with the post-Uvalde spate of school threats which, so far, have been caught in time or turned out to be noise. But that roulette wheel keeps a-spinnin’, and eventually it’s going to land on double zero. And even if the threateners were gormless copycats, they still create a climate of fear in our schools and our families.

The worst of the school threats happened in Canaan, where extremist parent Shane Gobeil said he would “show up and kill somebody” if his child was approached by a transgender person or a drag queen. The schools were shut down for two days, and prosecutors obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Gobeil, which means he can’t possess or purchase firearms for the next six months.

And then what? Gobeil is well-known in town for being a potentially violent extremist who seems to have swallowed the most vile of the far-right fairy tales. I mean, “drag queen” is the latest conservative bugbear, so at least he’s up to date. Many Canaanites feel perpetually threatened by him. By himself, he creates a chilling atmosphere in the community.

How many Gobeils do we have in Vermont? How long until someone grabs a gun before opening his mouth?

He’s not alone. And it only takes one.

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Super PACs: A Necessary Evil. And Not Always Evil.

I wrote something near the end of my recent post about Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s negative campaigning that bears closer attention. Gray has been attacking her primary opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, for maybe accepting, or inviting, or leaving the door open to Super PAC spending in the campaign.

Her attacks are greatly exaggerated, and I hope to God they don’t pay off in the August primary. (I’m not against Gray as a candidate, I’m just against the negative bullshit.) But there may be knock-on effects for future Vermont Democratic campaigns. Gray is poisoning the well regarding Super PACs and, I’m sorry, but in our current campaign finance landscape, we can’t live without them. As I wrote previously,

Progressive Super PACs have been a necessary addition to the political armory as a counterbalance to all the conservative Super PACs that litter the post-Citizens United landscape. To forswear all Super PAC money is to disarm yourself in the middle of a gunfight.

Super PACs were created after a 2010 court ruling. In the words of OpenSecrets.org, “Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” Super PACs cannot donate directly to candidates or coordinate in any way with candidates.

After that court ruling, a whole bunch of conservative Super PACs sprung into being. They threatened to throw our entire political system off kilter through the sheer power of virtually unlimited money.

Then, Democratic and progressive groups started organizing their own Super PACs. They managed to reset the balance — at the cost of setting fire to colossal amounts of cash.

And Molly Gray wants to give up that advantage for the short-term sake of her political fortunes.

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Into a Conservative Cul-de-Sac and Out Again

We all know that the world of Vermont conservative politics is a small one. Recently, I was doing some campaign finance research when I came across an example of exactly how small a world it really is.

The object of my research was far-right megadonor Lenore Broughton. I’m tracking her state and federal campaign contributions for an upcoming post.

Most of Broughton’s activity is on the federal level, and she supports exactly the kind of politicians you’d expect: Donald Trump, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Ron Johnson, etc. But that’s a tale for another day. On the state level in the 2020 election cycle and the 2022 cycle (so far), she’s made four separate donations.

She gave $5,000 to the Vermont Republican State Committee. She gave $500 to the Rutland County Republican Committee. And she cut two checks totaling $8,050 to something called Right for Vermont.

This is where we turn into the cul-de-sac. It’ll be a short but entertaining ride.

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Red Box, Black Ops

You know, I’ve been complimentary of Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the past. I’ve called her a history-making candidate who managed to win her very first election in a statewide contest. That’s an extremely rare feat. And now she’s a credible candidate for a seat in the U.S. Congress who’s earned the support of many party luminaries. Not bad at all.

But now? I’ve about had my fill.

Last night I wrote about her misleading attack on her closest rival, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Well, today Gray doubled down on the bullshit.

A reminder that this is about Super PAC money, which both candidates have forsworn. But Balint has been slammed for having a “red box” on her website. A red box is a link to talking points and images that could be used by Super PACs who want to run pro-Balint ads of their own. (The red box seems to be gone from Balint’s site; instead, there’s a link to a “digital toolkit” of talking points and images meant to be used by Balint supporters and not, I suppose, by any Super PAC that happened to wander by.)

Red box or no, Gray isn’t letting up. In fact, her campaign sent out a fundraising email blast today that fired all the rhetorical guns. You can see the full email at the end of this post.

It begins by accusing “our opponent” of “inviting dark money Super PACs into this primary.” Which is a stretch at best. But then it gets worse.

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In Pursuit of Performative Purity

A kerfuffle has seized the attention of #vtpoliland. It’s over the acceptance of Super PAC money, or connivance with those entities, by Democratic candidates for U.S. House.

And I’m here to tell you it’s fake news.

At a candidates’ forum last week, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray pestered Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint over accepting donations from Super PACs. The exchange ended with Balint forswearing such funds.

This week, we got Phase 2 of the kerfuffle, as both VTDigger and Seven Days posted stories about “redboxing” on Balint’s campaign website. That’s the practice of posting content meant to signal Super PACs about preferred messaging in any independent ads the organizations run. Nudge nudge wink wink, don’tcha know.

The fact that both outlets ran the same story on the same day tells me that they were likely tipped off by the Gray campaign, which sees this issue as a way to counter the impression that Gray is the establishment candidate. Which, to me, is a sign that Team Gray is a little desperate, going negative against the apparent front-runner.

Here’s the thing. Not all Super PACs are created equal, and it’s a fallacy to say that all Super PAC money is inherently evil. There are Super PACs run by giant corporations and oligarchs; there are others run progressive organizations, by labor unions, by LGBTQ+ groups.

Bernie Sanders has accepted Super PAC money from such groups, for Pete’s sake. So Neither Pat Leahy nor Peter Welch have had any previous qualms about such money. The latter has found religion this year as he tries to advance to the U.S. Senate, but he’s never seen Super PACs as universally problematic before.

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I Guess That’s the End of the Mayonnaise Videos

Christina Nolan announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate almost four months ago, but her campaign hasn’t been able to name any paid staff until last Friday, when she finally hired a campaign manager.

Timely, that. Two months until the primary, five months before the election, she’s up against Peter Welch, the well-known and -liked and ridiculously well-funded U.S. Representative seeking to make the leap to the Senate. Given her dismal first-quarter fundraising haul, one suspects that the hiring delay was more financially motivated than anything else.

And of course, with no time for a new staffer to get a feel for the quirky politics of Vermont, she hired a complete outsider: Jake Monssen of the Mississippi-based consultancy Triumph Strategies.

I don’t need to remind you that outsiders who parachute into our brave-ish little state have a record of helming generic campaigns that fail to resonate. Who’s gonna ask him how many teats on a Holstein?

Monssen is touted as an experienced conservative campaign operative. But his resumé includes no blue states, or even purple ones. Until now, he has operated entirely in deep red precincts.

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Governor Nice Guy Is Channelling His Inner Asshole Again

Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.

As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.

Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.

Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.

The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.

Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”

Well, la di da, Mr. Perfect.

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