Tag Archives: Becca Balint

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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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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Strange bedfellows

Just saw Peter Galbraith’s first TV ad. The most interesting thing in it was the last line:

“Roger Allbee, Treasurer.”

Hmm. Roger Allbee. Lifelong Republican. Agriculture Secretary in the Jim Douglas administration. In 2014, he became a Democratic candidate for State Senate in WIndham County — without actually becoming, you know, a Democrat.

He was effectively running to fill the vacancy opened by Peter Galbraith’s decision not to seek re-election. He enjoyed Galbraith’s endorsement.

He also committed a world-class gaffe at a candidates’ forum:

Whoever is elected represents all the people, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, they’re colored, they have alternative preferences, we represent everyone in the county. Everyone. We represent every citizen.

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Welp, the mouse died.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the marijuana debate entitled “They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse.”

Turned out I was overly optimistic, because the mouse didn’t make it.

No legalization. No grow-your-own. And as for the House’s idea of a study commission (thx to Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, who never would’ve gotten this into the Free Press):

“Fuck the commission,” a frustrated Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said after his effort to create a public advisory vote failed. “The commission was unnecessary.”

Agreed. Especially since the commission would have apparently been funded with money diverted from opioid treatment. Sheesh.

The only good thing about this: the House’s brilliant idea of a new saliva test for buzzed driving also failed. That’s the test with no clear scientific basis, according to a state-sponsored study.

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Return of theVPO Media Crossover Event!!!

Prepping for another hosting spot on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show Monday morning. Also Thursday, Friday, and next Monday the 29th. Here’s the lineup for tomorrow and some notes on the rest of the week…

9:00 Monday: State Rep. Corey Parent, R-St. Albans. He was one of eight freshman state lawmakers chosen for the Canadian Embassy’s “Rising State Leaders” program, which included a tour of eastern Canada. We’ll talk about his trip and his reflections on his first year in the Legislature. And since he’s from Franklin County, I’m sure I’ll ask him about Sen. Norm McAllister.

10:00 Monday: Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a group that trains aspiring women to enter the political arena. (Vermont has rarely elected women to statewide office, and has never sent a woman to Congress.) We’ll talk about the ongoing shakeup in Vermont politics and whether it creates chances for women to move up the ladder.

And later in the hour, we’ll catch up with State Sen. Becca Balint. She was a 2014 graduate of Emerge Vermont, who went on to win a Senate seat from Windham County. She’ll talk about what the program did for her, and her thoughts on Year One in the legislature.

As for my other upcoming days…

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We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39!

A survey of women’s representation in elective office came out a few days ago, and it found good old progressive liberal hotbed Vermont way down in 39th place among the 50 states.

And who was number one? That neighboring hotbed of retrograde conservatism, New Hampshire. Best in the nation. 38 places ahead of us.

The survey comes from a group called Representation 2020, which is working toward gender parity in public office. It measured each state by proportion of women in Congressional delegations, statewide elective offices, state legislatures, mayoralties, and county executive positions. (Oops, Vermont doesn’t have any of those.) And it assigned a score to each state, on a scale of 1 to 100. A score of 50 would indicate gender parity.

No state got there, naturally. The top six states managed to get into the 30s.

Vermont? To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, we go all the way to eleven.

Eleven. 

We get top marks in one category — women in the lower house of the legislature. 42% of our state representatives are women; we earned ten points for that. Which means, of course, that we really suck at everything else. The only other point we got was for State Treasurer Beth Pearce. To tick off some of our dismal statistics:

— We’ve never elected a woman to Congress.

— We’ve only had one female governor, Madeleine Kunin.

— Although we do very well in the state House, we don’t do so well in the Senate: only eight women out of 30, roughly 26%.

— None of our five largest cities has ever had a female mayor. EVER.

— Currently, only one of our eight cities has a female mayor.

So, House of Representatives aside, why is Vermont politics such a pickle party? I spoke with Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a nonprofit whose goal is “identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected, and to seek higher office.” The most notable graduate of EV’s first training round is Windham County Democrat Becca Balint, who’s virtually assured of a seat in the state Senate after finishing second in the party primary. (Two seats up for grabs; no Republicans running.) She will replace the departing Peter Galbraith, which I mention only because I never get tired of saying “the departing Peter Galbraith.” Tee hee!

McCall says Vermont has a “great track record” in the House, but there seems to be a glass ceiling above that. She identifies a number of factors limiting women’s upward mobility:

— Small state, small number of high-level seats.

— “No term limits,” and “incumbency is very strong in Vermont.”

— A lack of women in the positions that usually feed into high office: mayoralties, and the State Senate.

McCall describes the next few years as a critical time, because the members of our Congressional delegation will retire sooner or later, and Governor Shumlin will likely move on after another term or two. “Madeleine Kunin thought there’d be women following in her footsteps,” she says, but there were none. We lost a whole generation. Now, “we’re building the pipeline, making sure we have women in position, ready to go, when opportunities open up.”

Of course, they’ll face a challenge from the men of the next generation, who’ve been biding their time waiting for our gray-haired solons to retire. I suppose it’d be too much to ask those men to set aside their own political aspirations for the sake of some equity.

And before anyone starts yammering about “affirmative action” and “choosing the most qualified,” here are a few words on that subject from Ms. McCall.

She says there’s a “misconception” that women need to beef up their resumes to be competitive. It’s the other way around, in fact: “Women are usually more qualified, because they believe that they need to be overprepared before running for office.”

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in the ranks of the clergy: just about every female minister/pastor/priest/rabbi/etc. I’ve ever met has struck me as extremely qualified: learned, intelligent, and empathetic. It’s because a woman still has to jump through a lot of hoops to get into the clergy, so only the best and most determined get in.

Emerge Vermont, by the way, is currently seeking applicants for its second round of training. The application deadline is November 10, and the training starts in January. Prepare now, to run in 2016!

Also, EV is having its big annual celebration on Wednesday, October 15 at the Shelburne Museum. They’ll be honoring Madeleine Kunin on the 30th anniversary of her election as Governor. Information on all this good stuff at EV’s website.

I wish them well. We could certainly use a lot more gender equity in Vermont. In this category at least, New Hampshire puts us to shame. How ’bout we start closing the gap?