Tag Archives: Howard Dean

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When last I left you, I signed off with

Vermont already has an oversupply of cautious Democrats.

Let’s pick it up from there. Now, I could be talking about legislative leadership, which has developed a habit of scoring own goals in its “battles” with Gov. Phil Scott. But in this case, I’m talking about campaigns for governor, in which the Democrats have not exactly covered themselves in glory.

Over the past 20 years, the Vermont Democratic Party has nominated a top-shelf candidate for governor a mere five times — incumbent Howard Dean in 2000, Doug Racine in 2002 and Peter Shumlin in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

(I’m calling the 2014 Shumlin “top shelf” only because he was the incumbent. Otherwise he was a deeply flawed candidate who came within an eyelash of losing to Scott Milne, objectively the worst major-party gubernatorial candidate in living memory.)

Otherwise it’s been a parade of worthies with good intentions but few resources and no real hope. Whenever a popular Republican occupies the corner office, the Democrats’ A-Team scurries away like cockroaches when the light goes on.

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Sue Minter did worse than I thought

This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.

On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)

But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.

Now, I’m seriously rethinking that notion.

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EB-5: the tar baby of Vermont politics

I was wondering when a candidate would dip his hand into the EB-5 cookie jar. It’s easy pickin’s if you want to criticize Democratic leadership of state government. And here we go, Phil Scott’s dug in for some sweet treats.

After positing his support for EB-5 “with proper oversight,” he laid into the Shumlin administration on a specific point:

I was disappointed to learn… that the Shumlin Administration enabled the owners of the EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom… to continue to solicit investors for months after the SEC had suspended that permission for Jay Peak. … By the Administration’s own admission, it was a ‘calculated risk.’  Yet, they’ve not yet explained why they took this risk or why they allowed the problem to continue to grow.

Now, here’s the problem.

The Shumlin administration made that decision in the spring of 2015. (More on that in a moment.) In June of that year, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway broke the news that federal authorities were investigating Jay Peak.

For months after that, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott expressed his wholehearted support for Jay Peak. Indeed, in November he criticized the administration for inserting itself into the process, thus delaying payments to contractors.

Despite the issues at Q Burke, Scott says he still supports Vermont’s EB-5 program. He added that he sympathizes with [Jay Peak contractor] PeakCM, as he owns his own construction company.

So, hypocrite. But wait, there’s more.

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The race for governor will offer a stark contrast

This year’s election will trigger a turnover at the top perhaps unprecedented in Vermont history. A new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and new heads of the House and Senate will all be in place by next January. And heading into the campaign, Vermont’s two major parties are offering completely different visions of the state of our state and the mood of its people.

Republicans see Vermonters as tired of high taxes, government intrusion, and the restless reformism (as they see it) of the Shumlin administration.

You’d expect Democrats to be treading cautiously. They are in the tightrope position of simultaneously defending their tenure in power, and crafting a distinctive profile going forward. Not to mention its persistently strong incrementalist tendencies.

However. Driven by Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming success in our primary, the party is moving leftward. There is a sense that Vermonters are ready for even more decisive change, even more government, a more aggressive push to lift up the downtrodden and blunt the sharp edges of capitalism.

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The superdelegate schmozz

Having proven its electoral mettle in the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign is apparently now just realizing that the Democratic Party’s nominating process is not entirely, well, democratic. 

Of the nearly 4,500 delegates who will cast a vote at next July’s Democratic National Convention, an estimated 713 of them are so-called “superdelegates” — party muckety-mucks who can vote however they please.

And surprise, surprise: a lot of the muckety-mucks are backing Hillary Clinton. Resulting in this seeming contradiction:

Bernie Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and won by a landslide in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton has amassed an enormous 350-delegate advantage over the Vermont senator after just two states.

That’s because more than half of the unelected superdelegates have endorsed Clinton — although they are under no legal obligation to vote for her at the convention.

All of which prompts outrage in the Sanders camp. Outrage you might expect me to share.

Well, sorry, but I don’t.

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The Eternal General bows to the inevitable

It only took him about five months to figure it out, but Bill Sorrell finally announced today that he will not seek an eleventy-billionth term as Vermont’s Attorney General.

The end has been obvious to all since the early May appointment of former State Rep. Tom Little to head an independent investigation of Sorrell’s illegal (or at least thoroughly squicky) campaign finance activities.

SorrellZevonReally, the end has been all but obvious since Sorrell’s disastrous decision last March to throw the book at Dean Corren for an insignificant-at-best violation of the public financing law. Sorrell had alienated a lot of people over the years with his overzealous prosecution of campaign finance law and his underzealous pursuit of just about everything else in his purview. L’affaire Corren left him friendless in Montpelier and in Democratic and Progressive circles (he long ago lost the Republicans), with the possible exception of Sorrell’s political godfather, Howard Dean.

Today, the end came not with a bang, but an emailed whimper. Paul Heintz:

For a man who has spent much of his adult life in public service, Sorrell made his announcement in a remarkably low-key fashion. Rather than holding a press conference, he delivered the news in a terse, five-sentence statement emailed to reporters Monday afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t see any advantage to be gained from taking questions at his own political funeral.

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It’s time for an outside probe of our Eternal General

Brady Toensing, D.C. attorney and vice chair of the VTGOP, has sometimes operated as the political equivalent of an ambulance chaser — taking legal actions with an obvious partisan motive. He comes by it honestly; his mother and stepdad are notorious conservative attack dogs.

But this time, I’m with him 100%. Toensing has sent a letter to Eternal General Bill Sorrell, asking him to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Sorrell’s campaign activities.

SorrellRehabThis is the second time Toensing has made this request. The first was in October 2012, in the midst of the election campaign — which was reason enough to dismiss it as a partisan stunt. But now, the time has come. There’s enough smoke around Sorrell’s campaign activities to warrant an objective fireman. Especially since Vermont’s campaign finance law makes Bill Sorrell the sole judge and arbiter of whether Bill Sorrell has violated the law. Which Bill Sorrell assures us is not the case. Indeed, he has already rejected Toensing’s request, insisting again that he’s done nothing wrong. We just have to take his word for it, I guess.

This stinks, and if any situation required an outside probe, it’s this one.

Toensing cites four allegations:

— “Coordinated expenditures” in the hotly-contested 2012 primary. Sorrell received a late blast of money (200 G’s) from the Democratic Attorneys General Association (by way of a third party superPAC). As Toensing’s letter says: “This record-setting expenditure was controlled and directed by former Governor Howard Dean, who, at the same time, was an active, high-level agent of your campaign.”

That money was almost certainly the deciding factor in Sorrell’s whisker-thin victory over TJ Donovan. And as Toensing notes in his complaint, one month before the primary, Sorrell “revers[ed] his office policy to allow PACS to accept contributions in excess of the state limit of $2000 and still make unlimited campaign expenditures in Vermont. This action cleared the way for the unprecedented expenditures made on General Sorrell’s behalf during the primary.”

— Failure to comply with campaign finance disclosure laws mandating that a candidate report “each expenditure listed by amount, date, to whom paid, for what purpose.” As Paul Heintz has reported, Sorrell’s reports for personal-expense reimbursement have included numerous vague and incomplete entries.

— A joint appearance with Dean Corren, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, on September 15, 2014. While Sorrell has aggressively pursued Corren for accepting an email blast from the Vermont Democratic Party, he has denied any wrongdoing in his appearance with Corren. He has, in fact, claimed that the appearance was not a campaign event — which is laughable to the point of bitter tears.

— Sorrell has routinely given state business to outside law firms that have contributed heavily to his re-election campaigns. Sorrell denies any quid pro quo, but Toensing cites legal precedent that indicates “In cases involving government officials, a jury can infer guilt from evidence of benefits received and subsequent favorable treatment.”

By that standard, Sorrell’s own denials are clearly inadequate. Given his refusal to investigate himself, as Toensing says, “the appointment of an independent counsel is necessary to restore and maintain the integrity of your office.”

I fully expect Bill Sorrell to refuse this very reasonable request for an objective probe of Bill Sorrell. At that point, we will turn to other Democratic officeholders for leadership. Governor Shumlin has repeatedly ducked questions about Sorrell’s activities, while Secretary of State Jim Condos has said his office lacks the standing to investigate.

Well, standing or no, Shumlin and Condos have their bully pulpits. It’s time to put them to use. They don’t have to throw Sorrell under the bus; all they have to do is say “There are questions that deserve answers, and the only way to restore public trust is through an independent counsel.”

Heck, if they want to, they can even throw in a gratuitous “I’m sure the investigation will show that General Sorrell acted properly.” The important thing is, it’s time to put the heat to Sorrell’s backside and get answers to all of these questions.

Governor? Mr. Secretary? Mr. Speaker? Mr. Pro Tem? We’re waiting.