Tag Archives: Governor Shumlin

Shumlination

Might seem like an oxymoron, but a radio guy has created the second-best visual representation of Governor Shumlin’s fundraising power. (VPR’s Taylor Dobbs by name.) It’s a simple bar graph: Shumlin’s money totals are indicated by two impressively erect columns reaching for the sky; Scott Milne’s are two thin smears on the bottom line.

I say “second-best” because the best comes from the legendary cartoon “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”

BambiGodzilla

There are a couple of big takeaways from the size of Shumlin’s warchest: (1) He came into 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee re-election. He’ll exit 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee victory in any race he chooses to enter for at least the next four years. And (2) It’s not Lenore Broughton who’s responsible for bringing big money into Vermont politics. It’s Peter Shumlin. And Peter Welch and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

Oh, and (3) a very interesting collision is shaping up for the 2015 legislative session, with VPIRG focusing its energy on campaign finance reform and our top Democrats greatly benefiting from the system as it is.

Let’s go deeper, shall we?

First point: Shumlin departed the 2012 campaign having spent only $346,000 to beat Randy Brock. He had a surplus of $915,000. Which meant he started 2014 with basically a million-dollar head start. That’s more than had ever been spent in any state-level campaign in Vermont with, I believe, three exceptions: Jim Douglas in 2008, and Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin in 2010.

He had a huge lead. And he has continued to raise money. And to spend very little of it. Chances are, he’ll exit 2014 with an even larger kitty — it wouldn’t surprise me if he has $1.5 million in the bank on December 31. If he tries at all, he could make it $2 million or more.

(Scott Milne has talked of Vermonters becoming fatigued by campaigns that cost $2-3 million. Which misses the point because while Shumlin’s campaign might possibly raise that much, it’ll spend only a tiny fraction of that. This will not be anything like a $2 million campaign. It may not even top a half mill.)

Which gives him an even bigger edge next time around, and ensures that he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016 and beyond — or, if he decides to run for something else, he will be the prohibitive favorite for that race.

Unless, of course, he has to run against Peter Welch for any Senate seat that might open up between now and 2020. (Safe to assume Shumlin wouldn’t challenge Pat Leahy or Bernie Sanders, right?) Because Welch has even more money on hand, and even less reason to spend any of it.

My conclusion: the only reason Shumlin is raising money at all is to (a) make it prohibitive for anyone to run for Governor as long as he’s in office and (b) block out any potential competition for a future Senate race.

Bringing me to point #2. Lenore Broughton did her best to influence the 2012 election by spending a million bucks on Vermonters First. It was a complete flopperoo, and if her latest finance filing is any indication, she has no plans to repeat the experiment. Her case is incessantly cited by top Democrats as a rationale for campaign finance reform, but she was an outlier. And a failed outlier at that.

The real, structural change to the financing of Vermont politics is that our Governor and our members of Congress have taken fundraising to a whole new level. They are drawing from the bottomless pool of money at the national level, while everyone else in Vermont is still playing at the state level.

This fact hit home for me when I looked at the latest filing from the Coca-Cola Nonpartisan PAC for Good Government. It’s 29 pages long! The typical filing by a state-level PAC is more like five or six pages. In terms of money, it’s the difference between the Vermont Lake Monstera and the New York Yankees. And, to stretch the analogy further, that’s the field Shumlin et al. are playing on.

So if you want to complain about the influx of money into Vermont politics, don’t complain about Lenore Broughton; complain about Peter Shumlin, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, and yes, Bernie Sanders. No one, Republican, Democrat, or Progressive, could hope to mount a competitive race when the incumbents have such an overwhelming advantage.

Third, VPIRG’s annual summer outreach program is about campaign finance reform. Last summer’s was about GMO foods, and it set the stage for easy passage of a GMO labeling bill this year. If you read the polls, campaign finance reform is a popular cause, just as GMO was. How will Shumlin and the Dems react when VPIRG drums up a groundswell of public support for a ban on contributions by corporations and lobbyists? Should be an interesting legislative battle in the new biennium.

Unlike many of my friends on the left, I don’t see many signs that the money is having a corrupting effect on the Administration. But it sure does look bad, especially when the Governor does something like strongly opposing a tax on soft drinks and then rakes in thousands of dollars from Coca-Cola, as the Burlington Free Press’ Terri Hallenbeck Tweeted today. I will say this: if you believe Shumlin is being corrupted by big money, what about Pat Leahy and Peter Welch? (I’ll give Bernie a pass on corporate donations, since he’s gotten most of his money in small amounts from individuals. But he’s still playing with millions, while most Vermont politicians get by with a few thousand at most.)

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Holy moly, are Dick Mazza’s knickers in a twist

Crossposted at Green Mountain Daily.

Apparently the race for Lieutenant Governor won’t entirely be the Prog/Dem kumbaya sing that seemed likely when Governor Shumlin endorsed Progressive Dean Corren. Because here comes Dick Mazza, putative Democrat and close friend of Phil Scott, pissing in the communal punchbowl.  Peter “Mr. Microphone” Hirschfeld:

Among Corren’s Democratic detractors is state Sen. Dick Mazza, a political power broker from Grand Isle who will attempt to use his sway to thwart Corren’s bid for the nomination.

… After Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin expressed support for Corren’s candidacy last week, Mazza says he was flooded with calls from angry pro-Scott Democrats. The result is a newly sprouted coalition of Democrats that Mazza says will work hard to deliver Scott to a third term.

Mazza is talking about an active organization to raise money for Scott and even write him in on the Democratic primary ballot.

Which would be an absolute disgrace.

I detect two strains of thought behind Democrats’ prospective betrayal. First, and relatively understandable, is that some moderate Dems would feel more ideologically at home with Phil Scott than Dean Corren. I can accept that.

What I can’t stomach is the other thing: that some Dems just hate the thought of supporting a Prog, even if there’s broad agreement on the issues.

Look, I realize I’m not a member of this Mutual Aggravation Society that some Dems and some Progs are part of. Because of past slights, real or imagined, they just can’t stand the other guys. A couple years ago a local Democrat wrote a letter to the Times Argus complaining that Shumlin had had the gall to appoint a Progressive to some state commission, and that this Dem would never again vote for Shumlin.

That kind of attitude astounds me.

Maybe if I were part of the long history of the Dem/Prog competitive coexistence I’d get it. But in this day and age, when the two parties work closely together on many issues — and many campaigns — it seems remarkably retrograde. Which is as good an adjective as any to describe Dick Mazza, Senator For Life and Friend Of Phil.

 

When cold comfort is the only comfort you’ve got

Ah, the sweet stench of desperation is emanating from the Vermont conservative camp.

First, the political consultant who hasn’t won anything since unhitching her wagon from Jim Jeffords more than a decade ago, Darcie “Hack” Johnston has responded to my previous post about her Tweets supporting Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian candidate for Governor. He of the typo-riddled website.

Well, I Tweeted about the post, and the Hack replied:

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First of all, let me say I am humbled and honored that the Hackster has taken notice of my existence on this earth. Second, yuh-huh, sure, tons of Vermonters will be joining the Feliciano parade. About the time there’s a snowball fight in Hell. And third, if Feliciano’s campaign had the tiniest hint of hope about it, Johnston has officially given him the kiss of death.

Now let us turn to “Super Dave” Sunderland, occupier of the most thankless job in Vermont, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. With virtually no reason to think his party can unseat Governor Shumlin, he’s resorted to touting the results of a new “poll” indicating widespread dissatisfaction with the Guv:

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Mmmm, about that “poll.” First, it was an online survey, and we all know how useless those things are. And second, it was posted on the Vermont Business Journal website, and we all know which way the VBJ’s readership leans politically. Also, while the “poll” was in progress, Sunderland was touting it on Twitter, which further skewed the results. Actually, it’s surprising how many “A” grades the Governor got.

But hey, Vermont conservatives find themselves with nothing but a big basket of sow’s ears, so I can’t really blame them for trying to make a silk purse.

What Scott Milne should do

The New Candidate For A New Millennium, Scott “Mr. Bunny” Milne, is off to an inauspicious start. He doesn’t have a campaign website yet, so there’s no established way for supporters to, like, give him a campaign contribution. He has yet to hire a single staffer. And he acknowledges that he has yet to formulate positions on some key issues.

Plus, at last Saturday’s VTGOP confab, he was a tad underwhelming. The Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck:

He then launched into a story about raising rabbits as a kid and how his out-of-state relatives enjoyed watching them breed, prompted by the premise that he got his rabbit cages in Wolcott, the town where Berry lives. In the parking lot afterward, Milne wondered how well the rabbit story had gone over with his audience. He has three months before the primary to weed the rabbits out of his political speeches.

Aww, bunnies.

So the novice candidate is off to a bumpy start. Understandable, but time is a commodity in short supply chez Milne. So what should he do? How can this longshot candidate elevate his slim-to-none chance of upsetting Governor Shumlin, or at least help to promote a new, more inclusive type of Vermont Republican Party? I’ve got ideas, and as usual, I doubt he’ll take ’em.

First thing: attach himself at the hip to popular Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Do joint campaign appearances as often as possible. Announce common initiatives and policy ideas. Scott usually likes to hoe his own row, but he should be amenable to a little partisanship this year, since Governor Shumlin done left him at the altar and endorsed Progressive Dean Corren.

He should spend a lot of time talking with key business leaders. But not the Usual Suspects, no sirree. I’m talking about Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. I’m talking about some of the relative centrist business types who’ve abandoned the VTGOP in favor of Shumlin. I’m talking about Bruce Lisman; for all his faults, he does have a solid good-government orientation. Heck, he even has a few good ideas. Milne ought to make an overt play for the Campaign for Vermont crowd, and point out where the Shumlin Administration has fallen short on their key issues.

In terms of policy, he’s done a good thing by proclaiming himself a single-payer skeptic instead of an outright opponent. He would do well to refine his message by taking a stand in favor of universal coverage as a goal in some form or other. He should talk more about that, and less about cost concerns.

There’s lots of room for criticism of Governor Shumlin on health care. But it should be put in terms of managerial competence, not the usual tax-and-spend bumpf. Milne can legitimately question Shumlin’s ability to deliver, based on past and current track record. He can position himself as a champion of responsible governance in the tradition of George Aiken. That’s the true heart of moderate Republicanism, and it’s a message that could appeal to centrists and independents.

On many issues, I’d argue that Milne doesn’t have to develop specific proposals. As a general principle, he can position himself as a competent manager willing to work with the almost certain Democratic majority to find solid, responsible solutions. This is different than the VTGOP’s constant call for “balance in Montpelier.” This is a call for a new, inclusive approach to government.

Milne could even slip to Shumlin’s left on taxation. The Governor is a resolute foe of raising taxes on the wealthy. Milne could outline a thorough tax-reform plan including the school funding mess and a rebalancing of the entire system. Some new revenues could be drawn by cutting loopholes and deductions for top earners. If those revenues are balanced by lower taxes elsewhere (a plan promoted by the Democratic legislature in 2013 but blocked by the Governor), Milne would probably offend some of the dead-enders, but he’d gain respect across the board.

And yes, as I’ve written before, the wealthy get off relatively cheaply in Vermont’s current tax structure. If you include all taxes on working-age Vermonters, the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their incomes in taxes than any other group — including the bottom 20%.

On some issues, Milne can articulate a more traditionally conservative view if he establishes himself as an independent thinker in other areas. For instance, he could posit a more balanced cost/environmental approach to renewable energy — but only if he acknowledges the truth of climate change and our responsibility to address it in tangible, concrete ways.

He can continue the good-management theme on a variety of smaller trouble spots, such as the current DCF mess (but please don’t talk about Challenges for Change) and the whistleblower brouhaha: part of being a good, sharp-eyed manager is to welcome the input of employees with valuable perspective.

Any of these suggestions can be modified or swapped out for better-fitting parts. But I think I’ve outlined a way for Scott Milne to establish himself as a credible alternative to Governor Shumlin, and as the harbinger of a new and more appealing VTGOP.