Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

#Election 2020: #vtpoli Winners and Losers

We call this “foreshadowing”

As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.

Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.

Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.

If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)

Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.

*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.

Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.

I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.

I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.

After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.

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The Phil Scott Century

Gather ’round, kids. It’s storytime.

Today I’ll tell you a tale of how Vermont Democrats owned themselves into a Phil Scott Senatorship.

We pick it up from the present day, when the Dems have clearly waved the white flag on the 2020 gubernatorial race. In fact, many of them believe Scott deserves a third term because of how he’s handled the pandemic.

They are entitled to their opinion. But they may not like the consequences headed their way.

Let’s assume that Scott wins re-election by double digits, further cementing his reputation as a moderate who can win elections in solid blue Vermont — enhancing his unique value to national Republican forces looking to pick off a safe blue Senate seat.

At the same time, Joe Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats take a majority in the U.S. Senate. Biden opens the floodgates of federal assistance for fighting Covid-19 and rebuilding the economy. Pat Leahy becomes chair of Senate Appropriations, where he can make sure Vermont gets a healthy slice of the pie.

This makes Scott’s third term much easier, as he doesn’t have to close massive budget gaps. But he decides against seeking a fourth term in 2022, and departs the scene as a noble figure who steered the Good Ship Vermont through stormy seas.

After the jump: Governor Donovan, Dem disunity, Bernie the retiree, and Senator Phil Scott.

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Which Side Are You On, VT Dems?

Let the doubts begin! about whether Vermont Democrats really want to defeat Gov. Phil Scott in November.

VTDigger’s Kit Norton reports today that the party is dithering about whether to provide full access to its voter database to its duly nominated candidate for governor.

Full stop. That’s all that matters. I don’t care that the ponytailed pol in question is a longtime Progressive. I don’t care how many loyal Dems are butthurt over the alleged offenses of the Progs — such as daring to win elections that are, I guess, the Dems’ by birthright.

The Dems couldn’t field a stronger candidate than David Zuckerman. They should get over themselves, pull up their pants, and do the right thing.

One of my favorite people in Democratic politics, former executive director Conor Casey, gave the following rationale:

“Until we reach a point where Progressives and Democrats are not running against each other, the Democratic Party also just needs to be cautious with its data and make sure that it stays in the hands of people really underneath the party banner and not a party that is competing against them,” he said.

My advice stands. Pull yer pants up. Sure, you may think it cheeky when Progs run in Dem primaries. And I’d agree with you when Progs do so unsuccessfully and then run as Progs, which they have a habit of doing.

But the Dems are complicit in a system that makes it almost impossible for Progressives to exist purely as Progressives, which I’m sure they’d prefer to do. It’s a duopoly, unless or until we get some form of ranked-choice voting. And the defined-in-state-law primary system is an open one, so Zuckerman ran as a Dem fair and square, just like Bernie. Go ahead and enact a closed-primary system, I dare ya.

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Initial Thoughts on a Robust Primary

So many votes, they barely fit

With the exception of the 462-candidate pile-up that was the Chittenden County Democratic Senate primary, it was an election night bereft of drama. The big races turned out to be uncompetitive, and all were called early in the evening. Which is not to say it wasn’t interesting, at least not to political dead-enders like me. So, thoughts in no particular order:

The Laracey Effect is strong. My own invention, the Laracey Effect is named for Mel Laracey, a deputy city treasurer in Ann Arbor, Michigan many moons ago. He decided to run for State House in an extremely competitive primary. It did not go well; he finished in the back of the pack. Because everyone in and around City Hall knew him, he thought that meant everyone knew him. But in truth, the vast majority of voters had no connection to City Hall.

Tim Ashe is well known in Burlington and Montpelier. He and pretty much everyone else thought that made him well known across the state. Not true. And when the pandemic prevented him from campaigning until the end of June, his fate was sealed.

I thought Molly Gray was going to win, but I was far from certain about it. Turned out she won easily. More easily in a competitive four-way race, in fact, than David Zuckerman did in (effectively) a two-way race. Zuckerman beat Rebecca Holcombe by 10,552 votes. Gray beat Ashe by 11,679, and came within 510 votes of Zuckerman’s total.

Ingram, by the way, was an even bigger victim of the Laracey Effect, believing she had a substantial statewide profile. She finished a distant fourth, and was never a factor in the race. So was former legislative counsel Peter Griffin, who ran for the House seat being vacated by Kitty Toll and finished a poor second.

Expanded mail-in voting was a resounding success. Record turnout when neither of our Senate seats were on the ballot, and with little apparent drama in either race for governor. With universal mail voting available in November, we’re on course to set another turnout record. It’s also a strong argument for mail voting everywhere — that is, if you like maximizing participation in our democracy. At least two of our three political parties do.

There was a lot of unhappiness with the Democratic gubernatorial choices. There were 6,569 write-in votes, more than six percent of the total. (Most of them presumably cast for Gov. Phil Scott.) There were 7,739 blank ballots for governor. Think of that: Seven percent of those who bothered to cast votes couldn’t be bothered to choose a gubernatorial candidate. That’s stunning. And seems to reveal a broad dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. One more sign that Zuckerman has some serious work to do.

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On (Whining About) The Media

In my almost-a-decade following #vtpoli, one of the recurring themes is how losing candidates carp about media coverage. If only the press had taken me seriously… if only they’d done an expose of my opponent… if only they’d focused on ideas instead of the horse race… if only.

You mostly hear it from marginal types, including just about any Republican not named “Phil Scott” running for statewide office, ideological extremists, or Vermin Supreme-style perpetual candidates.

The latest entry in this parade is Brenda Siegel, doughty Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. She’s gone so far as to call a press conference for Wednesday morning “to discuss the frontline communities and forgotten voices that have continually been marginalized in recent elections across the country, including the current Vermont Lt. Governor’s race.”

I’ll bet you a shiny new dime that she’ll point to herself as one of those “forgotten voices that havbe continually been marginalized.” It’s true that campaign coverage has mainly focused on the supposed front-runners, Molly Gray and Tim Ashe. And lately, has focused on attacks, counterattacks and fundraising rather than issues.

As a progressive policy advocate and single mom, Siegel comes from a decidedly unconventional background. And yes, that means she doesn’t get taken as seriously as Ashe, a veteran pol, or Gray, a newcomer who’s wowed the Democratic establishment. This, despite Siegel’s decent showing in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, where she finished third in a weak field.

Does she have a point? Well, kinda. But mostly no.

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Free advice for the last people on Earth who would take it

So, over at journalismjobs.com there’s an intriguing listing from my former employer:

Award-winning, locally owned Seven Days newspaper is on the hunt for a political columnist or a news reporter to join our state government team.

That’s either/or. They’re going to hire one or the other. Which means they haven’t made up their minds whether they’re keeping “Fair Game.” It’ll depend, one must assume, on the inclination of the best applicants.

Before I begin the uninformed speculation and free advice, let me make one thing clear. I have no inside information. At this point, I have less insight into the inner workings of Seven Days than I do for True North Reports, the ha-ha “news” site bankrolled by reclusive moneybags Lenore Broughton.

When I got the ziggy, I didn’t know whether they intended to keep the column going or kill it. In recent years, Seven Days has sought to distance itself from its hippie-dippie alt roots. Maybe the Peter Freyne Memorial Chair no longer fit in with the highfalutin aspirations of Vermont’s largest organ.

On the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Seven Days without “Fair Game.” Back in the bad old days, Peter Freyne was their only news guy, to use the term very loosely. The column has been a staple of the paper since practically day one.

Also, at this point it occupies a singular place in Vermont’s news ecosystem. There are no other political columnists, besides the part-time ruminations of VTDigger’s Jon Margolis. “Fair Game” remains incredibly popular — a must-read for anyone in Vermont politics or news media. That’s a lot of legacy and pageviews to surrender. Also, Vermont politics needs a good shitkicker. It’s far too comfortable a space right now.

But if they’re going to keep “Fair Game,” they need to make some decisions about what exactly it is and what their expectations are. Otherwise it’s not fair to the new hire. It sure wasn’t fair to me.

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The Paige Exclusion

Congratulations to the Vermont Democratic Party for giving perennial fringe candidate H. Brooke Paige more publicity in a few days than he could possibly earn on his own this entire year.

The VDP did so by ordering his banishment from all party events, reportedly due to impertinent and offensive comments posted by Paige on Facebook.

Mixed feelings about this. I don’t have much use for perennial fringe candidates; as far as I’m concerned, it’s too easy for people to get on the ballot and even grace the occasional debate stage without proving they hold the least bit of appeal or interest for the electorate. Waste of time and space. Detracts from direct confrontations among candidates who actually matter. That goes for Paige and for Emily Peyton and Cris Ericson and the entire Diamondstone clan.

Paige is an irritant* in all senses of the word. He runs for at least one office every cycle, sometimes as a Republican, sometimes as a Democrat, and I think as independent on occasion. He has also fomented birther claims against not only President Obama, but also Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. I can see why the Democrats would want to be rid of him. And, after all, it’s their party and they can make their own rules. Or even cry if they want to.

*Irritants produce distress, annoyance, and the occasional pearl. 

That said, their reaction seems unduly stiff.

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So, Shap.

The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.

At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.

… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.

He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.

Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.

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Randy Brock puts on the red light

Note: This post would not exist but for the work of “BP,” one of the regular contributors to Green Mountain Daily. Several weeks ago, he wrote an insightful piece looking at the dark side of the captive insurance business, which has found a receptive home in Vermont. Now, with Randy Brock citing captive insurance as a model for state policy, it’s important that we have a clear picture of the pluses and minuses of such relationships. 

Randy Brock, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, recently threw out a tantalizing hint of a forthcoming policy initiative. He claims this great idea will create $100 million a year in new state revenue.

Brock said Thursday that he was looking to promote ideas that are similar to the push the state made to corner the captive insurance market. The state created a regulatory environment to make Vermont a leader in that industry.

… In addition to captive insurance in Vermont, he pointed to examples in other states, such as Delaware, which has laws that are friendly to corporations so many register there. South Dakota, he said, has created a niche for the credit card businesses.

Brock’s call had previously been made in even broader terms, but to little notice, by gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott:

The state has enjoyed significant benefits from the renewable energy industry and captive insurance, he said. “Imagine if we had a governor’s office that treated every sector in the same way,” Scott said.

That is, frankly, a radical idea that didn’t make it through our media’s Phil Scott Filter.

I’m not sure we want to emulate South Dakota and the credit card industry, especially not in an across-the-board fashion. A “welcoming” state regulatory climate has been responsible for some outrageous, predatory practices by credit card issuers. One could also cite Liberia as a flag of convenience (and cover for outrageous practices) in international shipping, but discretion was the better part of embarrassment there.

And that’s the problem with this kind of regulatory carve-out for a certain  niche business: it’s an open invitation to a “race to the bottom,” because the most relevant enticement a state can offer is a business-friendly approach to regulation and enforcement.

The captive insurance industry looks like a great thing for Vermont. And it is portrayed as an unvarnished good by politicians of all stripes. But there is, in fact, a dark side to the industry that is rarely mentioned in polite circles.

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Terms and conditions

Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman have spent this week trying to define their positions on admitting Syrian refugees. The issue is a sure-fire hit in Republican constituencies across the country, but here in Vermont the blowback seems to outweigh the benefit.

The topline for both men is pretty much identical — a “pause” in the refugee program until we can be reassured about security safeguards. But the devil, don’tcha know, is in the details. And if you take them both at face value, they want to put the program on the shelf for a long time.

Scott makes happy noises about “a nation of immigrants” and our values and the Statue of Liberty. But look closely at his terms and conditions he presented in his essay on the subject:

…my goal is to ensure the federal program moves forward with security protocols Vermonters, and all Americans, can have confidence in.

And there’s the deal-breaker. If Scott means what he wrote, he wants the refugee program shelved until every American is satisfied. That will never happen. How can you possibly convince people who think Obama is a Kenyan and see Islam as a religion of hate?

Lisman’s position is essentially the same, but his rhetoric is angrier and his conditions are more overtly unreachable.

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