Tag Archives: Bruce Lisman

The Phil Scott conundrum

Two truisms at war:

1. Vermont faces big challenges, and Vermonters are hungry for a new direction.

2. Phil Scott is the apparent front-runner for governor.

Does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture?

Just about everyone agrees that we face a bunch of big problems. Some solutions are in process, more or less successfully (Lake Champlain, school reorganization, health care reform) and others lie squarely in front of us (the annual budget gap, an outmoded tax system, soaring Medicaid costs, bad demographics, wage stagnation).

Vermont Republicans offer an apocalyptic vision of a Vermont bankrupted by Democratic mismanagement and prodigality. Democrats and Progressives acknowledge a long list of challenges we face.

And yet Phil Scott, a man who’s made his political bones by being inoffensive, and whose “platform” so far is about as radical as a bowl of oatmeal, looks to be leading the field. And those Republicans, who view Vermont as teetering on the brink of disaster and in need of far-reaching, fundamental change, would be perfectly happy to elect good ol’ Phil.

Er, that’s the same Phil Scott who happily served in Governor Shumlin’s cabinet and worked with the administration on a variety of issues. At least, he happily did so until he got the gubernatorial itch himself, and started distancing himself from the incumbent.

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A handful of numbers, signifying not much

Today’s big political news is yesterday’s release of a new poll from the Castleton Polling Institute. It measured name recognition and favorability for the declared gubernatorial candidates. The headline number, that Phil Scott has 77% name recognition, is not a surprise at all. He’s the only one in the field who’s run statewide general-election campaigns, and he’s done so each of the last three times. He’s also held numerous high-profile events, such as his Job For A Day Tour and the annual Wheels for Warmth charity drive. It’d be a shock if he wasn’t the most widely recognized.

(The importance of statewide campaigns in building familiarity can be seen by Scott Milne’s very strong 74% and Randy Brock’s respectable 60%.)

Overall, it’s so early in the campaign that the poll is largely meaningless except as a baseline for future polls. That’s exactly the word chief pollster Rich Clark used in characterizing the survey; he downplayed “any sort of predictive value.” Indeed, there’s nothing here that a good candidate can’t overcome in the 11 months until the primary. But hey, the goat’s been slaughtered, so let’s read the entrails.

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The cat came back

Hey, remember when Peter Galbraith gave up his bought-and-paid-for State Senate seat last year, to pursue a loftier cause?

The Townshend Democrat said his growing involvement in an informal effort to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war won’t allow him to continue serving as a state senator.

Well, that noble sentiment appears to be inoperative. Or so reports the (paywalled) Vermont Press Bureau:

Will former Windham County Sen. Peter Galbraith join the crowd of candidates hoping to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin? It seems more and more likely. Galbraith has not returned calls regarding that inquiry, but sources say he is actively considering it.

GalbraithOh, good Lord. Longtime readers know how I feel about Galbraith; he spent $50,000 of his oil fortune to grab an open Senate seat in 2010, and quickly made himself a hated figure in the Statehouse because of his immense self-regard (even by Senate standards!) and his habit of loudly promoting his own ideas. Made you wonder how he ever made a living as a “diplomat.”

Well, apparently his ego is getting in the way of his peacemaking impulses. The people of Syria will just have to wait, while he ponders a vanity candidacy for governor.

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Brainstormin’ with Mr. Google

The candidate works the room.

The candidate works the room.

Matt Dunne, former state senator, current Google exec and Democratic candidate for governor, is slow-rolling his campaign unveil with a series of Community Forums around the state. On Tuesday night, he made a stop in downtown Montpelier; about 20 people gathered in the upstairs offices of Local 64, a coworking space. (Appropriately trendy location, yes?) Some nibbly snacks were on offer, as well as appropriately local beer. (Your Reporter contented himself with an excellent iced tea purchased at the North Branch Cafe downstairs.)

The takeaway: ehh, it was a perfectly cromulent way to low-key a campaign launch. Nothing wrong with the idea. But I have to admit, I take these kinds of events with a massive grain of salt.

First, it’s not exactly a new concept. Bruce Lisman reintroduced himself to Vermonters with a Listening Tour, and Phil Scott spent a few nights last winter holding Economy Pitches. If Matt Dunne is trying to present himself as a different kind of candidate, borrowing chapters from the Phil Scott Playbook isn’t the best way to make that case. (Nothing against Phil, he’s just not a cutting-edge kind of guy.)

Second, when I walk into a room containing oversized pads of white paper on easels and a goodly supply of Sharpies, something inside me shrivels up a little. I guess it’s all those idea sessions I sat through in my previous working lives. The assembled are addressed with great earnestness, we offer ideas, they get written down on the white pads, the full pages get taped to the walls, everybody leaves, and — in my experience — nothing much comes of it.

Dunne promised otherwise. “The whole list will be posted online,” he said at the event’s conclusion. After seeking further input, he said, the ideas gathered at the forums “will be incorporated into our platform.”

I kinda hope not. But we’ll get to that later.

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Look who crashed the pickle party

The most likely gubernatorial contenders have all made the same calculation: get in early, or get left out. It’s still 14 months until Decision 2016, but the field grew to five today with the entry of soon-to-be-former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter.

‘Bout time we got a woman in the running, I say. And I don’t mind declaring that, if all else is equal, I’d have a preference for Minter due to the simple fact that women have been woefully absent from the top tiers of Vermont politics.

“If all else is equal” is a huge qualifier, but so far I see the Democrats having three strong candidates of roughly equivalent abilities. If I had to vote today, based on the little that I know now, I’d probably vote for Minter.

Fortunately, I don’t have to vote today.

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More nuggets from the party of fiscal responsibility

Writing my most recent post on the continuing troubles inside the Vermont Republican Party brought me back to a subject I’d been ignoring: the VTGOP’s monthly finance reports to the Federal Elections Commission. Even though the VTGOP is a state party, most of its activities are now classified as “federal” under FEC rules.

The last time I looked over the filings was a few months ago. There have been three new reports since then, and some curiosities emerge after close examination.

Remember when Jeff Bartley was hired as VTGOP Executive Director last December? Them’s was good times.

Bartley was chosen in a last-minute election announced slightly more than 24 hours before the Dec. 1 [state Republican Committee] meeting. Insiders say the decision was rushed to leave no time for other candidates to come forward or for a search process to take place. Bartley was confirmed by a 6-4 vote of executive committee members.

Three of those “No” votes came from prominent conservatives with ties to former party chair Jack Lindley: Mark Snelling, Wendy Wilton, and Randy Brock. After the vote, Snelling resigned as party treasurer.

At the time, VTDigger reported that Bartley would draw an annual salary of $50,000.

Funny thing about that. As of the end of June, according to FEC filings, Bartley had already drawn $37,516 in salary. That projects out to an annual salary of about $75,000.

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Whistling past the graveyard with the VTGOP

Here’s a happy headline in the Burlington Free Press.

Primary shows GOP ‘is very much revitalized’

The claim, from various party bigwigs, is that the emergent Phil Scott/Bruce Lisman primary “brings energy that we haven’t had” and “shows that the Republican Party in Vermont is very much revitalized.”

Well, pardon me, but I don’t buy it.

The party’s one and only viable statewide politician, Phil Scott, is finally running for governor. And a rich guy has talked himself into a candidacy. That’s it.

The fact of a gubernatorial primary proves nothing about the state of the VTGOP. Now, if they come up with viable candidates for the other statewide offices, then I’ll start listening. And if they put together a foolish slate of quality candidates for the Legislature, I’ll be impressed.

But the real test of a “revitalized” party is its ability to field a competitive organization. And on that score, the VTGOP lags far behind the Democrats.

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