Tag Archives: Chris Winters

Signs of a Backroom Deal

Did Beth Pearce just hand the treasurer’s office to Michael Pieciak? Consider the timing.

April 27: Gov. Phil Scott’s office announces that Pieciak would step down as Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation in mid-May “to pursue other opportunities” of the unspecified variety.

May 4: Pearce announces she will not seek re-election as treasurer. Her decision, she said, was made after being diagnosed with cancer three weeks earlier. Or about two weeks before Pieciak’s departure from the administration.

May 6: Pieciak launches a campaign for treasurer as a Democrat. (He served under Republican Scott, but he was brought into state government by Dem Peter Shumlin.)

Here’s what it looks like: Pearce realizes she’s stepping down and essentially handpicks Pieciak as her successor. How could you look at the sequence of events and think otherwise?

Pearce took a couple weeks after her diagnosis, more than enough time to drop a word to Pieciak. He steps down as commissioner “to pursue other opportunities” only a week before Pearce’s surprise announcement. And he launches his candidacy only two days after Pearce’s announcement.

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To Resign… or Not to Resign. That is the Question.

Charity Clark stepped down today as Attorney General TJ Donovan’s chief of staff. The remarkably coy announcement of the move said she “has stepped down from her post to explore new opportunities” and would “make an announcement about her plans in the near future.”

Yuh-huh. She’s running for AG. She’s hinted as much, and it’s the most obvious reason for her sudden departure, which (a) apparently took immediate effect and (b) came only four days after Donovan announced he would leave office at the end of his term or possibly before.

I guess it ends all speculation that Clark might be elevated to acting attorney general should Donovan depart before Election Day, thus giving her the kinda-sorta incumbent’s edge. If so, it’s a noble and selfless move.

And it raises questions about Chris Winters, deputy secretary of state, who remains in office nearly three months after he announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, Jim Condos.

If Clark thought it best to resign before she even opened the doors on her campaign, why hasn’t Winters?

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The Enjoyable Weight of Massive Talent

Vermont’s Democratic electorate is yet again spoiled for choice. Not only do we have multiple credible candidates for U.S. Congress; now we have a three-way race for the party’s Secretary of State nomination among candidates with differing, but equally impressive, qualifications and political associations.

Yesterday, State Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas entered the fray, joining Montpelier City Clerk John Odum and Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters in the running to succeed the retiring Jim Condos. Each would make a great nominee and a worthy successor to Condos.

Each also has a different set of experiences and political associations. The latter will likely have the most impact in a party primary, and I frankly don’t know how the political stuff will play out. So let’s bullet-point the three of ’em, shall we?

Winters. Pluses: Top deputy to Condos, who turned out to be a strong and capable Secretary. Winters knows the job, and ought to have a handle on where the office needs to go next. Condos isn’t endorsing, but he’s made no secret that he wants Winters to succeed him, and Condos is very popular. Nice guy.

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Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

The big takeaway from the first campaign finance deadline of 2022 (for state candidates only, not federal) is that the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is going to be a heated affair. All four candidates raised respectable amounts of money, with a couple of them clearly rising to the top.

Disclaimer: Fundraising is not the only measure of a campaign’s health. Organization and grassroots appeal are also key, but it’s very hard to measure those and very simple to read financial filings, So we look for the missing keys under the streetlight where we can see.

Leading the pack is former state Rep. Kitty Toll, widely believed to be the choice of most party regulars. She raised $118,000, which is quite a lot for this early in an LG race. She had 323 separate donors, 227 of them giving less than $100 apiece.

Coming in a sollid second is former LG David Zuckerman, with $92,000. Patricia Preston, head of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, raised $89,000 with a big fat asterisk: $23,000 of her total came from in-kind donations. That’s a very high total, and it means she has far less cash on hand than it appears at first glance. Rep. Charlie Kimbell is a distant fourth with $44,000 raised.

You want deets? We got deets.

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Bon Voyage, Jim (UPDATED w/another candidacy rumor)

As the rumor mill had predicted, Secretary of State Jim Condos has announced he will not seek a seventh term in office. The 71-year-old Condos has been a quietly influential figure in state politics. He was the champion vote-winner in three successive elections (2012-16), when the Republicans failed to even field a candidate to oppose him.

You never know what you’re going to get when a politician becomes Secretary of State. It can be a sinecure for an aging pol or a mischief-making opportunity for a real partisan, but Condos did neither. He fulfilled his duties with honesty and a minimum of politics, and did his best to make the office run more efficiently in all aspects.

He was also unafraid to take stands unpopular with his old friends in the Legislature. I’ll always appreciate his advocacy for ethical standards and campaign finance reform, which are uncomfortable topics in the Statehouse.

No sooner did he announce his decision in a YouTubed press conference than the speculation began about his successor. The first question was whether Condos would endorse his deputy, Chris Winters, to succeed him. Condos praised Winters’ performance, but declined to issue an endorsement. “I will deal with that at the appropriate time,” he said.

I can add a couple of names to the potential candidate pool. The Republican grapevine sings the name “Dustin Degree,” former state senator and top adviser to Gov. Phil Scott who’s now deputy labor commissioner. Among potential Dems, Montpelier city clerk John Odum, who tells me he is “seriously considering an SoS run and will make a decision within the next couple weeks.”

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“Condos & Winters,” Eh?

There’s nothing new in Secretary of State Jim Condos penning an op-ed for Vermont news outlets. Does it all the time. But there’s something different with his latest: He lists deputy SoS Chris Winters as co-author. And earlier this month, Condos’ office announced the creation of an Elections “Myth vs. Fact” page on the Secretary’s website. Specifically, it announced that Condos and Winters had created the page.

This would be mere trivia except for one thing. The Democratic rumor mill is rife with word that Condos will not seek a seventh term in office, and that he will endorse Winters as his successor. In that context, it makes all the sense in the world for Condos to be elevating Winters to kinda-sorta coequal status in the public business of the office.

Condos’ endorsement would be a huge plus for the politically untested Winters, but it would be far from dispositive. There would be other entries in the race, possibly from two distinct spheres: (1) the technocrat class, with experience in running elections and such, and (2) Democratic politicos looking to climb the ladder. I don’t have specific names in either category besides Winters in Column A, but the opening would be a big fat juicy opportunity.

The statewide offices, generally speaking, are the best perch for those seeking to reach the highest levels of Vermont politics. They get your name before a statewide audience. They get voters accustomed to filling in the oval next to your name. (I was going to say “pulling the lever,” but I need provide no additional proof that I’m old.) A statewide post is a far better launchpad than any position in the Legislature, and I’m including Speaker and Pro Tem in that calculation. Most people, even most voters, just don’t pay much attention to the Statehouse.

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Hey, We’ve Got an Election Truther on the Committee That Oversees Elections

This isn’t going to matter in the end, because the House Government Operations Committee is going to approve some version of S.15, a bill to improve voter access and the electoral process. But one of the three Republicans on the committee is making a fool of herself by injecting the kind of conspiracy thinking that’s normally absent from legislative debate or mainstream Vermont politics.

All three Republicans are trying to throw cold water on the idea of mail-in ballots, drop boxes and other provisions that drove voter turnout to historic levels last year. Absurd hypotheticals were bustin’ out all over. But first-term Rep. Samantha Lefebvre (R-QAnon) is lapping the field in persistent nuttiness.

(By the way, we’ve got Lefebvre this year instead of defeated Democrat Carl Demrow, which is about as bad a tradeoff as Art Peterson for Dave Potter. 2020 was a sneaky bad year for House Democrats.)

On at least two separate occasions, Lefebvre floated a serious accusation that somebody heard on a call-in radio program without being able to offer any specifics.

So, the details. Apparently, somebody called in to WVMT’s “The Morning Drive with Marcus and Kurt” and said that a Middlebury landlord had seen Middlebury College students collecting and filling out unclaimed absentee ballots. I’m going to reproduce her question in full below, because it’s a real beaut.

The guest on the show was Secretary of State Jim Condos. He urged the caller to file a report so it could be investigated.

This didn’t stop Lefebvre from flogging this third-hand anonymous accusation of something that allegedly happened six months ago as proof that mail-in ballots are an open invitation to vote fraud.

And, of course, neither the caller nor the landlord nor anyone else on God’s green earth ever filed a report with Condos’ office. Hey, it’s easier to push a conspiracy theory if you don’t have to provide actual evidence.

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Mailed Ballots: A Study in Legislative Timidity

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved S.15, a bill that would mandate mail-in ballots for November elections. On Wednesday, the panel was presented with an opportunity to make the mandate universal, applying to general elections, primaries, and Town Meeting Day.

(The only exception: Communities that hold actual town meetings would be exempt. Towns that use the Australian ballot for TMD questions would have to provide mail service to all voters.)

And the committee couldn’t back away fast enough. Members used every delaying tactic in the book, from straw-man punching to red herrings to gross exaggeration. It was so sad that the panel even balked at the last refuge of legislative delay, appointing a study committee!

Now, there was a bit of political gamesmanship involved on the part of Republican Sen. Corey Parent, who offered the amendment to S.15. If he was completely serious about the idea, he could have proposed it sooner. The deadline for policy bills to pass the Senate is this Friday, and it’s a stretch to think his amendment could get due consideration in Gov Ops and on the Senate floor.

But he did have a serious point, and I have to say I agree with him.

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