Tag Archives: Ben Eastwood

Condos v. Eastwood: A surprisingly tame encounter

I had some hopes for VPR’s big Secretary of State debate at noon today. Incumbent Democrat Jim Condos, who also won the Republican nomination on a write-in vote but threw it back like a dead fish, faced off against Progressive Ben Eastwood.

I was expecting some sparks to fly. After all, it was Eastwood who spiked a motion at the Progs’ June convention to endorse Condos, referring to Mr. Secretary as a “crony capitalist.” And Eastwood has shown himself to be a loose cannon in the public sphere. So I was expecting Young Ben to come out with guns a-blazin’.

Well, he didn’t. He was, for the most part, rather passive. Also nervous, occasionally uninformed, and in general gave listeners no real reason to vote for him.

In fact, Jim Condos was the more aggressive of the two, pressing Eastwood on his past characterizations of corporations and lobbyists and Condos himself, and his ability to take on the numerous duties of the office. I’d expected Condos to just sail above the fray and basically ignore his challenger, but apparently some of Eastwood’s criticisms had hit a nerve.

For his part, Eastwood occasionally mentioned his past criticisms of Condos, but mostly in passing — as a way to add a little color to his questions and statements.

He did manage to do one thing that, for instance, Scott Milne failed to do: when given the opportunity to ask his opponent a question, he was ready with a good, solid, pertinent one about using the Secretary’s office to oversee lobbyists. Condos had no trouble answering it, but at least it was a solid effort.

Overall, though, Eastwood didn’t have much to offer. Which figures; he’s a young man with a background as an activist, but little or none as an administrator. And the Secretary of State’s office, more than anything else, is a big honkin’ bureaucracy that requires a steady administrative hand. As a political writer, I interact with one piece of that office — elections and campaign finance. There are four other major divisions: Corporate registration, professional regulation, archives and records, and providing information and advice to local governments. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Eastwood did offer a few ideas, but almost all of them had to do with campaigns and elections, and most are actually outside of the office’s purview. His top priority, he said, would be to create an online information exchange where the public could access legislation, testimony, and other information — and also provide input. A Reddit sort of community marketplace of ideas.

Condos’ rejoinder: that’s something for the Legislature to do online, not the Secretary of State. He has advised the Legislature on updating its website and enhancing transparency, but he can’t create the kind of open forum that Eastwood wants to see.

I could cite other examples, but the point is, Ben Eastwood is young, inexperienced, and enthusiastic. Some of his enthusiasms are germane; many are not. But in this debate, he failed to make a case against Condos, and failed to establish himself as a serious applicant for the job.

He did manage one thing, though: he didn’t embarrass himself or his party.

The Progs’ problem child

As I’ve often said before, I have no patience for the petty disputes and long-held grudges that are often a feature of Dem/Prog relations in Vermont. And although there have been minor offenses aplenty on both sides, I think the Democrats have some additional responsibility to be the adult in the room. They’ve been around a lot longer, and they already rule the roost; the Progs are hardly a threat. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously compared US/Canada relations to an elephant and a mouse sharing a bed, and the same can be said of the Dems and the Progs: The Prog mouse can disturb the Dem elephant (instant mixed metaphor, sorry) by accidentally tickling it. The elephant can disturb the mouse by rolling over and crushing it.

That said, there’s a member of the Progs’ statewide ticket who is, inadvertently, doing all he can to annoy the elephant. That would be Ben Eastwood, Prog candidate for Secretary of State.

Yes, the same Ben Eastwood who shot down a motion to endorse Democratic incumbent Jim Condos by calling him a “crony capitalist” because of his former employment by Vermont Gas Systems. Which also, it must be said, gave Eastwood a clear shot at the Prog nomination.

Well, Eastwood has spent the first couple months of his “campaign” barely addressing the office he’s running for, and making often-incendiary comments on his current fixation: the Israeli military action in Gaza. He’s agin’ it, very strongly. And he has a right to express his opinions, but when I look at his Facebook page of message after message about the Middle East, I wonder if he’s really serious about becoming Secretary of State. The last time he mentioned the campaign on his Facebook page was June 12, when he’d just finished collecting petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Yes, I know he’s not going to win and so does he. But if he accepts a party’s nomination for a high office, he should at least present the appearance of engagement.

Beyond that, he’s been picking a fight with a couple of well-known Democrats over on Green Mountain Daily — Dem state committee alternate member Jack McCullough and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum by name. The details of the argument are many, and if you want to follow it, click on the link. The point is, Ben Eastwood, Progressive Party candidate for Secretary of State, is stirring up trouble with Democrats on an issue that has nothing to do with Vermont politics. He should know better, and he should be more responsible.

After all, this is happening at the very time that Dean Corren, Progressive candidate for Lieutenant Governor, is actively seeking Democratic support — and trying to overcome any bruised feelings that might exist from past Prog-to-Dem insults.

Seeking support from, among others, the colleagues and friends of Jack McCullough.

Here’s a tip, Mr. Eastwood. If you accept the honor of a party’s nomination, you assume responsibility for being a public face of your party and fostering your party’s image and prospects. You have a duty to focus on your own campaign and the office you seek, and temporarily stick a sock in it regarding other issues.

Any member of the Democratic state committee would be well within their bounds if, when called upon by Dean Corren, they asked him about his running mate, Ben Eastwood. It’d be perfectly appropriate for any member of the media to ask Corren if he supports Eastwood.

In addition to the trouble Eastwood is stirring up right now, there’s also the problem of his publicly-available record. He is either a vaccine truther or he’s strongly sympathetic with those who believe that vaccines are poison. He’s vehemently opposed to wind power. And he’s given hints of secessionist leanings.

To top it all off, remember the Progressive gubernatorial primary two years ago, when the Progs chose not to run a candidate and anti-wind extremist Annette Smith launched a last-minute write-in bid to secure the Prog nomination? Party stalwart Martha Abbott agreed to put her name up as a write-in, to keep the nomination from falling into Smith’s hands. After all, it would have been harmful to the Progs’ aspirations to have a person with an extreme and non-Prog agenda as the party’s standard bearer.

Well, Eastwood apparently wasn’t aware of Smith’s candidacy until after the fact, but he then wrote “I wish I’d known about Annette Smith’s write in campaign, and I would have written her in…” 

He would have written in Annette Smith over Martha Abbott? In spite of the clear and obvious wishes of his own Progressive Party?

And now, two years later, he gets one of the top spots on the Progressive ticket?

He certainly isn’t treating that honor, nor the office of the Secretary of State, nor the Progressive Party, nor the Democrats, with the respect they deserve. In so doing, he is hurting the Progs’ case to be taken seriously as a fully-formed, mature party capable of governing. Having someone like Eastwood on the statewide ticket makes ’em look more like a larger Liberty Union Party than a convincing alternative to the Democrats.

Serious-minded Progs, the likes of Corren and Chris Pearson, must be desperately hoping that Eastwood’s candidacy comes and goes without doing too much damage to the Progressive brand they are working so hard to create.