Tag Archives: Anne Lezak

The VDP Got Its Groove Back

At the beginning of this year, the Vermont Democratic Party was in bad shape. Constant turnover in leadership and staff, low morale, poor fundraising, ineffectiveness in the face of Phil Scott.

Well, that last one hasn’t changed. Yet.

But the other stuff? Things are looking up. The credit, it would seem, belongs to party Chair Anne Lezak and Executive Director Jim Dandeneau. They’re the new leadership team, and they’ve turned things around in a hurry. The money is flowing, party regulars are engaged, they’ve refilled a bunch of staff vacancies, and their latest press release shows a newfound willingness to get in there and mix it up.

At the dawn of 2022, the party had a single staff member. This week, the VDP announced the hiring of its fifth staffer, Finance Director Shelden Goodwin. She joins Dandeneau, Coordinated Campaign Director Elliot Kauffman, Senate Caucus Director Sally Short, and House Caucus Director Cameron McClimans. They’re geared up for the campaign season.

They’ve been able to assemble a team because, well, they’ve got the money. Major donors and officeholders are doing their part, and the donor lists are getting longer.

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This Should Be a Very Good Year for the VDP

Recently I was talking with a couple of friends in the #vtpoli world, and I casually remarked that 2022 should be a good year for the Vermont Democratic Party. I thought it was kind of obvious, but I was met with puzzled looks. So I explained my reasoning. And I thought that if the VDP’s advantage is less obvious than I thought, maybe it needs to be explained in this space.

I’ve got six reasons for seeing a big 2022 ahead for the Dems. Let’s start with their inherent advantage in the Vermont electorate. Statewide, a generic Democrat starts out with at least a 10-point edge over any Republican not named Phil Scott. In the Legislature, the Dems consistently hover right around the two-thirds mark — usually just above in the Senate, just below in the House. But at worst, they can expect to hold more than 60% of all legislative seats. (It must be really depressing to be a Republican lawmaker, knowing you have little influence and no prospects.)

Other factors give the Dems an even bigger edge in this particular year. Like Proposition 5 and the U.S. Supreme Court. When Democrats proposed enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution, it seemed kind of superfluous. I mean, who’s going to ban abortion in reliably blue Vermont? Now, with the high court’s majority trending in a Handmaid’s Tale direction, reproductive rights are in question. Even before Alito Mussolini’s decision was leaked, Vermont Democrats saw Prop 5 as a turnout-booster in a non-presidential election year. Now, reproductive rights are front and center and Prop 5 is, as they say about police procedurals, “ripped from the headlines.” It should galvanize pro-choice voters.

After the jump: Money, organization, an unprecedented campaign season, and a unique Democratic resource.

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Hey Wow, the VDP Did Something Right for a Change

Less than a month ago, after Claire Cummings’s departure as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, I wrote that the party was at a crossroads and had to think long and hard about its recent administrative failures. Regarding the qualities needed in the next ED, I wrote “I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee.”

Well, glory be, mirabile dictu, heavens to Murgatroyd, they hired that guy!

They did something right? The Vermont Democratic Party?

So it would seem.

The new ED, hired as an interim in order to bypass a lengthy search process, is Jim Dandeneau, lobbyist for Primmer Piper and former VDP staffer. He ran the Dems’ very successful 2018 House campaign and was a staffer on Sue Minter’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, which looks better in retrospect than it did at the time. Before coming to Vermont, Dandeneau spent 15 years in New York politics, a much bigger and more shark-infested political pool. The oft-fraught internal dynamics of the VDP are not going to phase him in the least.

In short, he’s got the goods. His hiring is a sign that VDP leadership realizes how badly they’ve been screwing up, and how much they need a swift kick in the organizational ass. Dandeneau is capable of delivering that kick, and it seems like the party is ready to take it. That’s a very positive sign. He and new party chair Anne Lezak should make a powerful team.

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“Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Give Up Sniffing Glue”

You know, I’d hate to be new Vermont Democratic Party Chair Anne Lezak right about now. She took on the job with hopes of ending a long period of internal turmoil at the ought-to-be-prosperous party.

And now, at the beginning of campaign season, she’s dealing with something of a staff exodus. Three party employees have left in recent weeks, leaving only three paid staffers who have a combined tenure of less than one year. Executive Director Claire Cummings came on board in April 2021; Senate Caucus Aide Sally Short was hired in January; and Data Director Madison Thomas joined the staff less than two weeks ago. And speaking of brief tenures, a reminder that Lezak herself just became party chair in December. They’re probably still wearing name tags at the party offices.

The good news, kinda-sorta: This doesn’t seem to be a case of stampeding to the lifeboats or disappearing in shame, as has happened at VDP HQ in the recent past. Rather, all three have left the VDP for better professional opportunities.

Still, their departures are a big setback for the VDP’s campaign machine at a critical time.

The departees: Party finance chair Kate Olney, who’s given notice that she’s taking a job in VTDigger’s fundraising operation; Spencer Dole, who coordinated the Dems’ House campaign for the last two election cycles, is now field director for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s Congressional campaign; and party comms chief Asha Carroll, who’s landed a gig with a national nonprofit organization.

“We’re actively looking to fill all three vacancies as quickly as possible to maintain our momentum,” said Cummings.

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The VDP’s New Chair Seems the Ideal Choice for the Job

Vermont’s Democratic and Republican parties selected new state chairs this fall. We have previously dealt with the Republican, Paul Dame, former state lawmaker and the “brains” behind that lamentable “Let’s Go Brandon” rally (btw, the VTGOP is offering leftover LGB merch at big discounts, heh) and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of his one-man YouTube commentaries.

Now, let’s meet the other new chair. Anne Lezak stepped quietly into her leadership role at the VDP. While Dame’s election drew some coverage and he has since made news a couple of times for dubious reasons, I don’t recall a single story about Lezak. Indeed, she is so not in the news that it’s hard to find a photograph of her. The image at the top of this column is from the VDP’s website.

The lack of coverage is a shame because Lezak is far more likely than Dame to have a significant impact on Vermont’s political scene. She’s the best qualified Democratic chair in years. By her resumé, she possesses all the skills and experience you’d want in a party chair. She has every chance to end the game of musical chairs at the top of the organization and put the party in a much stronger position.

Let’s start with this. The job of a party chair is not to make headlines or develop policy. It’s the dirty, thankless, unglamorous work of building a strong organization, raising the necessary funds, fostering a sense of unity in a party that’s famously fractious, and making sure that everyone is doing their jobs. If you don’t see Lezak in the news, well, that’s because it’s not her job to be in the news and she knows it.

Lezak is an organizational consultant who has worked mainly with mission-driven organizations. She’s created strategic plans, raised money, and advised on the nuts and bolts of running an organization. She’s also a former chair of the Rutland County Democrats and a three-time campaign manager who won all three races.

Ticks all the boxes, right?

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The Human Dog Whistle

Vermont’s two major parties (sorry, Progs, I don’t buy the legal definition) have chosen new chairs. The Democrats won the big prize with Anne Lezak, an organizer and fundraiser by trade and a successful party builder. (Upcoming post will feature a deeper dive on Lezak.)

The Republicans got… this guy. Paul Dame, financial planner and former one-term state lawmaker. Dame’s party building strategy is two-pronged: Posting commentary videos on YouTube with all the professionalism on display in the above screenshot, and blowing all the dog whistles as hard as he can.

Yeah, while Lezak is actually doing her job, Dame is out here trying to “win the news cycle” with bad videos and cutely-worded statements. Which, considering how many Vermonters actually pay attention to this stuff, is slightly more effective than howling into the void. (He’s posted four videos on YouTube; they’ve averaged 82 views apiece as of this writing. Wow.)

Dame’s first big dog whistle was the first event under his chairship: the “Let’s Go, Brandon” rally, supposedly a nod to his hometown but actually a thinly-veiled callout to the most childish instincts of conservative Republicanism. It worked, insofar as it got him a spot on the Howie Carr Show and some coverage in the Pavlovian political press.

Now he’s blowing the dog whistle for the conspiratorial Flavor of the Month, critical race theory.

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