Tag Archives: Jim Condos

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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Not Quite So Many Scofflaws in High Places As It Seemed

As expected, I’ve gotten some blowback from my post naming all the state lawmakers who didn’t file campaign finance reports by the March 15 deadline, and still hadn’t as of a couple weeks later.

I’ve heard from five lawmakers in all. One, Sen. Brian Campion, said I’d mistakenly put him on the list, and he was right. Four others (Sen. Phil Baruth, Reps. Seth Chase, Martin LaLonde and Emily Long) said they’d been advised by the Secretary of State’s office that they didn’t need to file.

And yes, they were right.

Here’s the deal. If you ended the 2020 campaign cycle with nothing in the bank and reported that fact at the time, and you have yet to raise or spend $500 or more in this cycle, you don’t have to report until you reach that threshold.

That was, indeed, the case for the four lawmakers named above. It may be true for others as well (and I’ll add their names to the list if they let me know). But I believe their number is fairly small.

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A Whole Lotta Scofflaws in High Places

Running update: Sen. Brian Campion, named below as having failed to file, did actually file. Four other lawmakers — Sen. Phil Baruth and Reps. Martin Lalonde, Emily Long and Seth Chase — say they zeroed out their accounts after the 2020 election and have neither raised nor spent more than $500 since, so they don’t have to file.

Updated update. I haven’t heard from any more lawmakers (so far), but I’ve written a second post explaining this exemption in more detail.

Well, if Jim Condos won’t do it, and Sarah Mearhoff won’t do it, I guess I have to.

Allow me to explain.

Last Friday, VTDigger’s always informative Final Reading kicked off with an item about lawmakers failing to abide by the law. Specifically, dozens of them have yet to file campaign finance reports that were due on March 15. Secretary of State Condos sent an email to lawmakers asking that they comply but refused to identify the scofflaws, saying “I can’t be their babysitter,” which kind of implies that they need one. Reporter Mearhoff also demurred from naming names, but teasingly said “I know who you are.”

Gee, and here I thought it was a reporter’s job to tell us what they know. Maybe space reasons? After all, the list of noncompliers is 69 names long. That’s almost 40% of the 180 “public servants” in the Legislature. Forty percent.

Mearhoff also reminded us that when the Legislature wrote the law, it refused to include any penalties for failing to file. That’s pretty standard fare for laws touching on their own interests; lawmakers jealously guard their privileges when it comes to campaign finance and ethics and reapportionment and such. Which leaves us with the plastic épée of public shaming, which rarely manages to penetrate a lawmaker’s skin.

Before I get to naming names, I should say that any mistakes are my responsibility and I will gladly make corrections if any of those listed below can show that they did, in fact, file as required by law. Also, this list was made on the morning of April 5; any reports filed after that are not reflected below.

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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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Son Of Hey, Let’s Have Some Fun With the Chittenden Senate District!

After I wrote my post about the Chittenden Senate district, I found out that Sen. Kesha Ram has decamped to the suburbs. Specifically, the tony confines of Shelburne. Her Legislative bio still says “Burlington,” but oh well.

This dramatically changes the calculus for reapportionment, or at least my version of it. Rather than try to amend the original post, I decided to start afresh here.

For those just joining us, Vermont is preparing the once-a-decade task of redrawing legislative districts to reflect population changes. The Legislative Apportionment Board will draw up a proposal in time for the House and Senate to approve it or make changes during the 2022 session.

Thanks to a 2019 law, districts cannot include more than three House or Senate seats. This will mean dismembering the six-seat Chittenden district, which is a good thing. Multi-member districts are basically incumbent-protection schemes.

Because Chittenden County is growing while many other areas are shrinking, the district will get at least one more seat and possibly two. (By sheer population, it warrants 7 1/2.)

Adding a Chittenden seat means taking one away somewhere else, so let’s assume the new district will have seven seats, not eight. That means shifting one sizeable community out of the district. Colchester is currently in the Grand Isle district, and it’s likely to stay there in order to protect eternal incumbent Dick Mazza.

But for purposes of this thought experiment, I’m going to focus entirely on Chittenden County and try to describe districts that would be as even as possible population-wise, and keep communities intact whenever possible. On my map, no district would have more than two seats — and the lines could easily be drawn so that each district would have a single senator.

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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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Why Are Liberal PACs Giving Thousands to Beth Pearce?

Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.

Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.

Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.

During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.

(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)

This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?

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