Tag Archives: David Sunderland

The Bartley Bonanza: Worse than I thought

My previous post chronicled some of the curious spending decisions taken by Your Party of Fiscal Responsibility, the VTGOP. One item was Jeff Bartley’s compensation as Executive Director.

When he was hired last December, his announced salary was said to be $50,000 a year. But according to party filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Bartley had collected $37,516 by the end of June — which works out to something like $75K/year.

But I overlooked one small detail: That $37,000 is Bartley’s net pay — after taxes. Which means his actual salary has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, right?

Right.

So, questions for VTGOP Chair David Sunderland: What exactly is Jeff Bartley’s salary? And why is it so much higher than the announced figure?

And questions for other top Republicans: How do you feel about Jeff Bartley taking home so much of the VTGOP’s meager resources? And what kind of ROI do you think you’re getting?

Those with an interest in fiscal responsibility want to know.

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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Failing LiberPublican Settles for Vermont

Wow, what a get.

The Vermont Republican Party today announced that U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul will keynote a fundraiser on Monday, August 31, 2015.

Well, well. Acqua Buddha himself will grace our verdant land. Gosh, I hope he brings his chainsaw.

The VTGOP press release strangely promises “more details on the event… in the coming weeks.” Hey guys, you’ve got less than three weeks ’til go-time. Found a banquet hall yet?

Party Chair David Sunderland praised Senator Paul for coming to Vermont “even though we are not an early primary state.” Which, yeah, but that’s less about Paul’s graciousness and more about his desperation. After entering 2015 as a solid contender, the good Senator has faded badly. RealClearPolitics’ national polling average gives Paul less than six percent support. He’s not disappearing like Rick Perry, but he’s stuck in limbo behind Tea Party-oriented candidates like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and of course Donald Trump.

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The political significance of the state [bleep] chair

First it was Seven Days, and now it’s VTDigger, reporting on State Rep. Bob Helm’s hidden-camera appearance in a TV report about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the organization that spreads conservative policy ideas and provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers nationwide.

Helm was attending an ALEC conference when he was buttonholed by someone he didn’t know was a TV reporter. He told her he was “the state [bleep], the state chair of ALEC,” and acknowledged that lobbyists had helped pay the freight for him and numerous other lawmakers.

The reporting raises questions of ethics and influence-peddling; but to this Political Observer, the most interesting aspect is the growing influence of ALEC in Vermont Republican circles.

Helm boasted to VTDigger that “he has ‘revved up’ the ALEC chapter in Vermont and has boosted the number of members to 20, up from four just a few years ago.”

I’d love to see that membership list. I’ve heard, for instance, that Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, who tries very hard to position himself as a moderate, is an ALEC member. That may or may not be true, but Wright did push very hard in this year’s session for a bill banning teacher strikes — an idea that’s been promoted by ALEC in other states.

But the bigger point is, 20 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a substantial fraction of the Republican legislative caucus.

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Super Dave stubs his toe

Pity poor VTGOP chair David Sunderland. He’s constantly on the lookout for ways to score a cheap political point at the expense of the Democrats. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. I guess.

So I guess it’s only to be expected that, once in a while, Sunderland will get it completely wrong. Exhibit A:

The link is to a brief story reporting Shumlin’s opposition to the idea of closing the Vermont Veterans’ Home.

That proposal was on a lengthy list of cuts totaling $29 million, produced last week by the Shumlin administration and the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office. It was meant as an all-inclusive laundry list, with no endorsements implied or expressed. It includes obvious nonstarters like cutting the House from 150 members to 120, eliminating the Vermont Commission on Women*, and reductions to health care premium subsidies.

*I certainly hope that’s a nonstarter. And I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that it was a man who suggested it.

The list was presented as a starting point for discussion — and as evidence of how hard it is to cut the budget.

I see three possible explanations for Sunderland’s wrongheaded Tweet:

— He thought he saw an opening and pounced without thinking it through.

— He actually doesn’t know what the list is, even though it was one of the top political stories of the past week.

— He knows damn well that Shumlin hasn’t endorsed the list, but isn’t about to let the facts get in his way.

I’m willing to assume the first. The second would betray a surprising level of ignorance; the third is out of bounds, even by the loose relationship to the truth maintained by your average major party chair.

The Republicans? They got nothin’

On Wednesday, two of Vermont’s top Republicans took to the VPR airwaves to make their case to the people. And one of them said this about global warming, really, actually:

I think there’s science on both sides of the issue that both sides use against each other.

The Mystery Voice belonged to VTGOP Chair David Sunderland, who had just finished “explaining” how the VTGOP was different from the national Republican Party — more inclusive, less extreme. He doesn’t set a very good example, does he?

The occasion was VPR’s “Vermont Edition,” and neither Sunderland nor fellow guest Don Turner made much of an impression. They stuck to the standard Republican bromides: burdensome taxes and regulation; Vermont is a sucky place to live, work, and own a business; government is full of waste, but don’t ask us for specifics.

It was not a very inspiring performance. Next time, maybe they should send Phil Scott and Joe Benning instead.

The two men’s appearance consumed about 34 minutes of radio time, but I’ll focus on two key segments. Believe me, I’m not leaving out anything good — just the boring stuff, like their insistence that the VTGOP was a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse thing. Because, I guess, they’ve got a handful of young white men to go with their endless supply of older white men. Anyway, onward.

First, that great Republican bugaboo, out-of-control state spending. Sunderland and Turner performed a lovely bit of rhetorical contortionism, first saying that we can’t fix the budget right away:

Solving a budget deficit that’s been created over a period of four to six years is a tall task to take on in a single year, and I think it will take longer than a single year to overcome it.

And then immediately saying that we can balance the budget, no problem:

I think we need to look at what government programs are truly working and are truly efficient, weed out the waste and the abuse that’s in the current system, make our government more streamlined, get more effective in serving Vermonters. And I think by doing that, we’ll get a long way towards closing that gap and quite hopefully all the way.

The mic then passed to Turner, who first said this:

We have a committee working with our appropriations people, that started before the session began, and have started to scrub and comb through all areas of state government. We’ve initially focused on the high cost areas.

Wonderful! Surely all this scrubbing and combing produced a bumper crop of the “waste and abuse” that Sunderland believes is endemic in the public sector.

We believe that we need to keep spending level-funded. We go to each agency and say, Okay, you had this much money to spend last year, this is how much you’ve got to spend this year, how are you going to address that?

Oh, great Christ almighty. That old chestnut? You’ve been scrubbing and combing the budget, and all you can come up with is across-the-board cuts?

This is how it always goes with Republicans. They talk smack about wasteful government spending, but when asked for specifics, they offer broad generalities.

In other words, they can’t find the alleged “waste and abuse.”

Oh, I should slightly amend that. Turner did offer one specific budget cut, but it’s not a new item. He still wants us to kill Vermont Health Connect and go with the federal exchange. Funny thing, though: when he first announced the idea, he insisted we could save $20 million this year.

On Wednesday, he put the savings at between eight and ten million. Call it the Incredible Shrinking Budget Cut.

Now, let’s turn to a favorite talking point of our rebranded VTGOP: “We’re different from the national Republicans. Just don’t ask us how.” Mr. Turner?

I don’t know a lot about the national platform and I don’t participate in the national level, I participate very little in the national level. I think that’s the party’s role. What I’ve — I’m Don Turner, I represent Milton, and I am a much more moderate Republican than many maybe in Washington, and some in my caucus.

We in Vermont believe in helpin’ our neighbors, we believe in makin’ sure that the most vulnerable are addressed, we want to protect the environment, but we want to make sure people can afford to live here. Sometimes that means compromising on some of these issues, maybe more than we want to.

Yeah, another politician who starts droppin’ his G’s when he wants to be real folks. I am puzzled, though, by his lack of intellectual curiosity about his own party.

But if you thought that was weak, just wait till you get a load of Sunderland’s response:

Vermont is a unique place, Vermonters are a unique people within the nation. Likewise, the Vermont Republican Party is different than the national Republican Party.

At this point he was interrupted by host Jane Lindholm, who asked for a specific difference.

I think in, in Vermont we’ve tried very hard over the last 15, 16 months or so to really broaden the base of the party, to be open to different ideas, ah different viewpoints, and to welcome people we may not agree with 100% of the time, but we would agree with 80% of the time. And I think as long as we can agree that the focus of our state right now needs to be on growing our economy and creating jobs, making Vermont more affordable, bringing balance back to the discussion in Montpelier, then there’s a place for you in the Vermont Republican Party.

Okay, so. Sunderland completely punts on specifics. And his idea of an “inclusive” party is one that only insists on 80% loyalty instead of 100%.

At this point, immediately after Sunderland’s previous response, Lindholm took a question from a caller, who wanted to know about the VTGOP’s stand on global warming. Turner was, again, an ostrich with his head in the dirt.

You know, I have not spent a lot of time on global warming. I understand that this is a big issue nationally and so on. Vermont is so far ahead of the rest of the country on measures to help with this issue that I don’t think it should be a tip-top issue for us when we have all these other problems.

Well, those who are actually serious about global warming would say that it’s an existential threat to our species, and deserves to be “tip-top” in any list of issues. But what do I know.

This is where Sunderland weighed in with his Koch Brothers-approved know-nothingism.

I think there’s science on both sides of the issue that both sides use against each other. What I think is most interesting is, regardless of your opinion about it, there certainly is a market that Vermont can and should be exploiting to create jobs and grow our economy to address those very issues. So I think regardless, there’s a variety of different opinions within the party and outside the other parties about global warming, man’s impact on climate change, but I would like to see us focus on how our economy and how our state here in Vemront can grow and reflect the values of Vermonters.

There’s a hot mess if I ever saw one. He won’t acknowledge the reality of climate change, but he wants us to somehow capitalize on it even though it might not exist. He then casts another coating of doubt on the science, and finishes with an appeal to “the values of Vermonters.”

Good grief. I’m not particularly happy with what the Democrats are doing these days — weaksauce incrementalism, failing to squarely face serious challenges, and squandering the political capital they’ve gained over the last six years. But the Republicans? Judging by that performance, they have precious little to offer beyond the usual twaddle.

Top Vermont Republican traveling to Israel on hate group’s dime

A big hairy mess exploded today in conservative political circles. One of the most prominent far-right Christian spokesmen was suddenly fired.

Bryan Fischer had been the front man for the American Family Association for years. He holds some very extreme views: he has equated Islam to the Ebola virus and claimed that the Holocaust was conducted by gay Nazis, because gays were the only Nazis vicious enough to take such extreme measures.

He has also said that religions other than Christianity are not protected by the Bill of Rights.

Because of the views held by him and the organization, it’s been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Fischer has been saying hateful stuff like this for years. But he suddenly became political poison after the Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported that the AFA was funding an all-expenses paid trip to Israel for top Republicans, and related — for its Israeli and global Jewish readership — Fischer’s incendiary remarks. The group is scheduled leave on Saturday for a nine-day visit, and the AFA is picking up the tab.

It seems the AFA suddenly realized that Fischer might be a colossal embarrassment, and he was let go.

Fischer’s departure doesn’t absolve the group; its new spokesman, David Lane, told Haaretz that “America was founded by Christians for the advancement of the Christian faith.” Which might also prove embarrassing, especially if the Israeli media start questioning the AFA’s representatives and their Republican guests.

Those guests include roughly one-third of the Republican National Committee. And according to the Haaretz report, one of those eager to suck at the AFA teat is one Susie Hudson, prominent Vermont Republican who was just elected Secretary of the RNC.

Which brings us to the question: Ms. Hudson, how do you justify accepting the American Family Association’s hospitality? And do you agree with its views, which include the imposition of its brand of Christianity on American culture and politics, denial of equal rights for the LGBT community, opposition to reproductive rights, and climate change denialism?

I’m sorry, you’re probably too busy packing to answer such impertinent questions. Enjoy your time in the Holy Land and the hospitality of a far-right hate group.

In your absence, perhaps VTGOP Chair David Sunderland or Executive Director Jeff Bartley could take a swing at those questions. Hmm?

Is the VTGOP going forwards or backwards?

Or, possibly, both at the same time?

VTDigger’s Laura Krantz dug up (yes, I did it) quite a few tasty tidbits about recent changes in the Vermont Republican Party in a story posted on Monday. Most of which concern the installation of Jeff Bartley as VTGOP Executive Director.

Before I go on, I’d like to note that just as Bartley was getting the job, his father was rushed to the hospital with lung cancer, and things aren’t looking too good. (I’m not disclosing a secret here, because Bartley himself has been Tweeting about it.) That really and truly sucks for Bartley; on a personal level of course, but it’s gotta be taking his attention away from his new and very challenging position. I can’t say I respect Bartley’s political skills, but as a fellow human being, I feel for his plight.

Still, back in the salt mines of politics, life goes on. And, per Krantz, Bartley’s nomination created some hard feelings within the party.

Bartley was chosen in a last-minute election announced slightly more than 24 hours before the Dec. 1 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.

Would this be the same party that often hits on Gov. Shumlin over transparency? Yeah, thought so.

Bartley’s nomination was met with ambivalence at best, hostility at worst, and led to an unusually close executive committee vote on his hiring: six votes in favor, four against. Not exactly a stirring mandate.

The four “no” votes included three very prominent conservative Republicans who have been openly skeptical of Phil Scott’s party-broadening initiatives: outgoing treasurer Mark Snelling, Wendy WIlton, and Randy Brock. The fourth, Kevin Beal, was last seen in the blogosphere in  November 2013 when he ran for the “Chair of chairs” post (basically, a liaison between county chairs and the state party) against… wait for it…

… Jeff Bartley.

Okay, then.

I don’t think I’m overreaching to interpret the 6-4 vote as a defeat for the conservative wing of the party. Especially in light of this note from True North Reports’ Robert Maynard in my comments section:

Jeff Bartley is not a conservative and it should come as no surprise that conservatives would not het (sic) behind him as their candidate for party chair. He burnt a lot of bridges with consertavives (sic) and Tea Party types during the Len Britton campaign by telling the that his model for a Republican office holder was Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe. (At least that is what I am told by the Tea Party members who worked on the campaign)

And if we know anything about “consertavives,” it’s that they have long memories for political slights.

According to Krantz’ article, Bartley was seen as party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland’s pick for the job. As for the rushed and secretive nature of Bartley’s hiring, it looks designed to forestall organized opposition and perhaps even prompt a walkout by top conservatives. Like Snelling, for instance.

And even Bartley backers were, uh, kinda lukewarm about it. Jackie Barnett and Stephen Webster, who both supported the hire, basically laid it at the feet of Sunderland.

Barnett: “My personal feeling is the chair (David Sunderland) should have whomever they want working for them.”

Webster: “This is David’s choice, and I’ve been supportive of David.”

Neither committee members had anything to say about Bartley’s political acumen.

It’s not exactly an ideal situation. Bartley is taking the helm of a party that, November gains notwithstanding, still has a hell of a long way to go. Quite a few influential party members, and perhaps an entire wing of the party, view him with suspicion if not hostility. Given his record, there are legitimate questions about his preparedness for the job. And he’s doing it all while his dad is in the hospital with a life-threatening illness.

I can’t say I have high expectations for Bartley, but I wish him luck.

Super Dave stands pat

The state board of canvassers met this morning. Also, the sun rose.

Nothing unexpected; Gov. Shumlin’s margin over Scott MIlne is 2,434 votes.

Afterward, VTGOP chair “Super Dave” Sunderland spoke to the media. He couldn’t say whether Milne would ask for a recount; he’d have to do so by the end of the day today. Milne, as expected, wasn’t there.

On the larger question, Sunderland kept alive the Repbulican narrative that the Legislture might well choose to elect Milne instead of Shumlin. Indeed, he went so far as to say that if he were still in the legislature, he’d vote for Milne.

More details later.