Hey, is Jim Douglas getting crotchety in his old age? Is he sporting a tinfoil hat these days? First he turns his back (in a very limited, unimpactful way) on his alma mater Middlebury College for removing the name of eugenicist Vermont Governor John Mead from a campus chapel. Now he’s gone and given his imprimatur to state Senate candidate and certified extremist John Klar.
You know, the guy who ran against Gov. Phil Scott in the Republican primary two years ago? The guy who wants to recast the VTGOP as an ultraconservative, white supremacist-adjacent organization? That guy. “We need balance in Montpelier,” Douglas wrote of Klar. “We need real-world experience. John Klar has the energy and the background to tackle our problems.”
We’ve got a disturbing trend on our hands: Small-town officials coming under heavy pressure from small groups of loud people. Or even one single person.
I’ve written at length about stealth conservatives running for local office, rabble-rousing over critical race theory and Black Lives Matter, and arguing over school mascots. But three more incidents have recently come to the fore: the Chester library board suspending Drag Queen Story Hour, the Canaan school board facing demands to remove books from the school library, and the Randolph school board voting to take down a “Black Lives Matter” flag.
This isn’t going away anytime soon. The American Library Association says it’s getting more reports of attempted book banning than ever before. The head of the ALA, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, says “It’s a volume of challenges I’ve never seen” in her 20 years in the organization.
“When you have organizations like Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance publishing materials that instruct parents on how to challenge books in the school library or the public library, right down to a challenge form enclosed in the booklet so they can just fill it out, you’re seeing a challenge to our democratic values of free speech, freedom of thought, freedom of belief.”
It’s never been easy to be a local official. It’s a lot of work. You’re always on call. When things go wrong, you get the blame. But these organized movements present a new level of difficulty. Local boards of all kinds are facing loud, insistent demands from tiny cohorts of The Aggrieved.
Our local public servants don’t need any more headaches. But they’ve got ’em, and they’ll have to respond.
We take you now to the Mill River Unified School District, where a small number of very loud white people are trying to take over the school board. And they may do just that on Town Meeting Day. Voters should be aware of who’s on the ballot, because some of these people are stealth candidates hiding behind bland statements about quality education and transparency and parental involvement. I previously mentioned one of them: Ingrid Lepley, a QAnon believer whose online jewelry business used to offer a bunch of Q-inspired pieces before she partially scrubbed it upon launching her campaign. (And like many of these people, she refused interview requests from Seven Days and the Rutland Herald.)
For the last few years, these folks have been making life miserable for board members, school staff and anyone who tries to watch a meeting with their yammering about critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, and the alleged misbehavior of members who don’t buy their agenda.
This all started in 2020, when the board approved the flying of the Black Lives Matter flag outside Mill River Union High School. This raised the hackles of those who believe that racism doesn’t exist, and that it’s used as a pretext for social engineering by, uh, you know, educators and the elites, and what the heck, maybe George Soros as well. The BLM flag was the original trigger, but the disaffected have added a laundry list of allegations to their agenda.
The electoral landscape isn’t easy to wrap your head around because the district includes four towns (Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford) that independently elect board members. But the bottom line is this: The Congregation of the Aggrieved currently hold four of the eleven seats, and could potentially net another three on Town Meeting Day. That’d give them a solid majority.
Oh, maaaan. I hear and read a lot of outlandish stuff while checking out the far-right zealots clogging up Town Meeting Day ballots around Vermont, but this one takes the cake.
According to the gent pictured above, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George “may have been funded by George Soros. I don’t know that for a fact, but she isn’t doing her job.”
Ah yes, the globalist conspiracy, dipping its toes into the Chittenden County justice system for who knows what nefarious purpose.
This man, who doesn’t know how to center himself on a Zoom call, is David Xavier Wallace, candidate for Winooski City Council, speaking at an online candidates’ forum earlier this week. Seriously, he spent almost the entire event looking downward.
I don’t know why he’s running for office in progressive, cosmopolitan Winooski, of all places. He’s got about as much chance of winning as David Foster Wallace.
Mr. X, as we might call him, makes no bones about his beliefs. But the voters of Winooski should know that he has a much subtler kindred spirit on the ballot: Chad Bushway, who loosely wears the cloak of Concerned Moderation but whose true colors show through from time to time. We’ll consider him in a moment. First, let’s hear more from David Xavier Wallace.
Ladies and germs, allow me to introduce you to Stephanie Stoodley, very angry member of the Rutland City School Board. The image quality is horrible thanks to the worst streaming of a public meeting I’ve ever seen. But it fits her to a tee: Lacking focus, out of control, and kinda scary.
Thanks to her performance at a January 11 school board meeting, Stoodley has become a top contender for Worst School Board Member in Vermont. Essex-Westford’s Liz Cady remains the front-runner followed by Mill River’s Todd Fillmore, but Stoodley has the potential to out-yammer them all.
Stoodley was one of six trustees to vote in favor of restoring the high school’s old nickname “Raiders,” but she was the most obnoxious of them all. She repeatedly interrupted trustees on the other side, she had trouble getting out coherent sentences, she said the same buzzwords over and over, and she made it clear that she didn’t give a tinker’s damn for anyone’s opinion but her own.
Background: The previous board adopted “Ravens” after a lengthy process, on the grounds that “Raiders” and the arrowhead were offensive to Native Americans. In last March’s school board election, enough pro-Raider trustees were elected to create a one-vote majority in favor of racism. Stoodley is one of those new trustees.
The board’s action also clearly violated Robert’s Rules of Order, which the board had voted to follow in their meetings. The Rules only allow reconsideration of a past measure under certain circumstances (which didn’t apply here) and they don’t allow a measure that contradicts a previously adopted one. But pro-Raiders board chair Hurley Cavacas refused to consult Robert’s, and trustee Charlene Steward asserted that “semantics about Robert’s Rules have been suppressing our vote.” Yeah, they were not about to let “semantics” get in the way of bringing back the Raider name and arrowhead logo.
But let’s get back to Stoodley’s performance, which was miles beyond anyone else’s.
It appears that there will be a push in the state Legislature to end qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity makes it almost impossible to sue officers for use of excessive force; it’s become a target for reformers in the post-George Floyd era of, well, at least talking about police accountability.
It has the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Sears, the single most influential gatekeeper on justice-related legislation. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint is also signed on, another big positive.
Michael Schirling, on the other hand, is here to tell you it’ll happen over his dead body.
At the Tuesday Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Scott fielded a question about ending QI by immediately tossing it to Schirling, his public safety commissioner and former chief of police in Burlington.
Schirling, speaking on behalf of the administration, made his position quite clear.
“We are gravely concerned about the impact of that potential legislation, and we’re working with a variety of partners and stakeholders to craft a cogent and comprehensive assessment for the Legislature of the potential impacts and downsides of proceeding in that fashion.”
You don’t usually get an administration official cranking it all the way up to “gravely concerned” at this point in the session. It’s usually something milder, like “we have concerns, but we’ll see where it goes.” In this case, Darth Schirling has been sent forth by Emperor Philpatine to make sure the bill never sees the light of day.
Hey, remember when a couple of QAnon-ish Trumpers ran for Barre City Council because they were upset over the flying of the “Black Lives Matter” flag? Well, we got us another BLM hater.
Meet Liz Cady, candidate for Essex Westford School Board (election 4/13). Her brand of fringe politics is more subtle than the Barre Boys, but it’s pretty out there. Since the Essex Reporter’s bland ‘n boring candidate profile didn’t dig into her anti-BLM advocacy, it falls to this here blog to fill the gap.
Cady is running against two-term incumbent Liz Subin. And if you carefully read the above campaign mailer, you’ll see quite a few plausibly deniable conservative dog whistles. But let’s get to a couple of telling details first.
Cady doesn’t say so on the flyer, but both of her children are in private school. She tries to elide this inconvenient fact on the flip side of her mailer, which starts “Like all parents, I want my two school-age children to receive the best education possible.”
She’s a district resident and (presumably) a taxpayer, so there’s nothing wrong with her running for school board. But if I were a district voter, I’d think twice about electing someone who has pulled her kids out of the schools.
But the bigger deal is her antipathy toward Black Lives Matter. Last year, after more than 100 students signed a petition to fly the BLM flag, the school board voted to do so. Last September, Cady spoke to the school board during public comment time and unleashed an often ungrammatical screed that, I am not kidding, called BLM a carbon copy of the Nazi movement. (Meeting is archived online; her comments start at about the 18:50 mark.)
There’s been a cluster of news items this week that point in the same direction: Vermonters are really uncomfortable with racial issues. To wit:
Rutland Aldermen split on a resolution condemning the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
Barre Council puts divisive flag measure on Town Meeting ballot
Business owners of color feel unwelcome in the Chamber of Commerce
House Republicans introduce a bill that would prohibit public schools from flying the “Black Lives Matter” flag
The Vermont Senate’s first woman of color says Vermont has a retention problem with people of color rather than a recruitment problem.
First, we go to Rutland, a city with a habit of shooting itself in the foot. This week, Aldermen worked themselves into a tizzy — and ultimately held a tie vote — on a measure condemning the events of January 6 and blaming President Trump for triggering the riot. A couple of racist or racist-adjacent Aldermen led the charge against it.
Tom DePoy offered a substitute resolution to condemn the Capitol riot, but also the Black Lives Matter movement. Apparently he thought of this as a way to unify the community. It was voted down by the panel. Paul Clifford, who has a history of racist social media posts, voted against the original resolution. Sam Gerusso courageously walked away from his computer before the vote, saying “I shut off my camera and volume and went and used the restroom, got the mail, checked on my wife.”
I must infer that the Ethan Allen Institute is hurting for money. How else to explain the fact that an EAI fundraising plea ended up in my mailbox? And yes, it was addressed to me personally, not to “Occupant.”
The hardy-har-har political “cartoon” above was part of the solicitation. It poses the ludicrous proposition that the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion, Antifa and the 1619 Project all spring from the poisoned well of Marxism.
BLM and Extinction Rebellion are nonviolent protest movements. “Antifa” is basically a right-wing boogeyman; it’s decidedly not an organization, let alone one capable of overthrowing the global political order. And for God’s sake, the 1619 Project was conducted by the New York Times. Which is, need I remind you, a for-profit corporation.
No Marxists there, except in the fevered imagination of EAI President Rob Roper, who signed this thing.
So let’s take a look at the rest of the thing. The letter begins with a dire warning:
The nation and Vermont are at a tipping point. We have to decide if we are going to maintain the Constitutional freedoms set in place by our founders — the ideas and principles that made us the greatest country in the world — or abandon them for a path toward socialism, speech codes, and McCarthyite blacklisting of citizens who expreess anything other trhan obedience to a single-party agenda.
Referring to the Democratic Party, presumably. Which is hogwash. The party, nationally and in Vermont, is a broad coalition that can barely agree on a common agenda, let alone threaten the overthrow of the American way of life. Nothing the Democrats espouse would pave the way for socialism. Nothing would impose speech codes or a “McCarthyite blacklist.”
Which, need I remind you, was a Republican invention.
I realize you have to grab the reader’s attention with fiery rhetoric, but this is deliberate pandering to the Trump/tea party/Proud Boys wing of the conservative movement.
The Barre City Council deliberated for months on a proposal to fly the “Black Lives Matter” flag in City Hall Park, a measure first proposed last spring. They finally resolved the matter in a way that only an all-white group of desperate politicians could devise. They decided the BLM flag would fly through the end of December, and that for January it would be replaced by the “Thin Blue Line” banner, a bastardized version of the American flag that’s favored by the pro-police crowd.
Talk about both-sidesing an issue.
The only thing stupider than the final resolution was its original version, which would have seen 22 different flags displayed for one month apiece. That roster included the flags of England, Italy and France, as well as the Star of David, an Autism Acceptance banner and the flag of the Green Mountain Boys.
Talk about 22-sidesing an issue.
That idea was floated by Councilor John Steinman, a very conservative dentist who once ran unsuccessfully for the House. I couldn’t hazard a guess as to why he chose England, Italy and France (white people white people WHITE PEOPLE WHITE PEOPLE!!!!), or why he cast his net so widely, but somehow that proposal was actually adopted by Council at its November 17 meeting — only to be replaced by the two-flag plan the following week, presumably after an outpouring of laughter and derision.
I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s such an affront to tie those two flags together, but let’s give it a shot, shall we?