This item is almost too petty to report. But if it was that petty, then why did the Vermont Democratic Party do it?
I’m referring to a change made last year to the party bylaws that seems to be aimed squarely at Progressive/Democratic Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.
Follow me into the weeds. The VDP allows its top officeholder at the state level to appoint a nonvoting member to the party’s executive committee. Under the former bylaw, that would be Zuckerman. But the appointment was, in fact, made by Treasurer Mike Pieciak.
That’s because the bylaw now specifies that it’s the top officeholder with “D” as their only or first party designation. Used to be, Zuckerman’s “P/D” would qualify. Indeed, during his first tenure as LG he named Ed Cafferty to the committee. (And Cafferty is, in fact, a loyal Democrat of long standing.)
This rule change didn’t matter when Democrat Molly Gray was LG. But it does now that Zuckerman is back in office.
Now, this is small potatoes to be sure. It’s a nonvoting member of a party committee. But again, if this is so trivial, why bother making the change? We’re talking about the sequence of two capital letters here. Is P/D really that different from D/P?
Anne Lezak is about to step aside as chair of the Vermont Democratic Party after a very consequential year-plus on the job. She’s doing so of her own free will, in order to carry on with her work in Uganda. She and her husband Dr. Harry Chen, currently interim commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, spent a year in Uganda in 2017. He helped establish the country’s first residency in emergency medicine, and she worked for Hospice Africa Uganda, one of the continent’s leading training centers and providers of palliative care.
Lezak recently became chair of the board of HAU’s American arm, Hospice Africa USA. She and Chen have been aiming to return to Uganda for some time, and they plan to do so in early March. They will leave their current positions by the end of February. “We are both returning to beloved organizations we were working with,” Lezak said. “It was amazing. It was life-changing.”
Still, she wouldn’t leave the VDP if she wasn’t certain that it was “in very good hands.” She pointed to numerous accomplishments: a historically successful 2022 campaign season, the building of a strong and cohesive party staff, and party vice chair David Glidden, “a great partner throughout,” whom she has endorsed as her successor. That will be decided at a state committee meeting in late February. Lezak calls Glidden “the future of the Vermont Democratic Party in every good way.”
The Vermont Republican Party doesn’t have much money to spend right now, but here’s a suggestion: Invest in a metal detector. You might improve your fortunes by finding some spare change and, who knows, maybe a pirate doubloon or two.
This isn’t exactly new for the perpetually impecunious VTGOP. But if anything, it’s gotten worse — especially when compared to the Vermont Democratic Party, which had a gangbusters 2022 by comparison.
The latest Federal Elections Commission filings covered the month of November. It’ll be a few days before we get the year-end reports. But I doubt the situation will change all that much, and the situation merits exploration right now.
(Reminder: Although the VDP and VTGOP are state parties, the vast majority of their financial activity is under federal jurisdiction. The figures that follow are all from FEC filings.)
The VTGOP ended November with a paltry $2,204 in cash on hand. The Dems: $207,060, nearly 100 times as much. And that was after generous Democratic expenditures in the run-up to Election Day. The VDP’s goal was to enter the off-cycle period with enough resources to avoid post-campaign staff cuts. They’ll have to maintain a solid fundraising pace to accomplish that, but so far things are looking good.
Meanwhile, the VTGOP just suffered its worst legislative defeat ever and couldn’t sniff a statewide victory for any candidate not named “Phil Scott.” They need some serious rebuilding, and they have no resources to even begin the work. The numbers tell the tale.
At the beginning of this year, the Vermont Democratic Party was in bad shape. Constant turnover in leadership and staff, low morale, poor fundraising, ineffectiveness in the face of Phil Scott.
Well, that last one hasn’t changed. Yet.
But the other stuff? Things are looking up. The credit, it would seem, belongs to party Chair Anne Lezak and Executive Director Jim Dandeneau. They’re the new leadership team, and they’ve turned things around in a hurry. The money is flowing, party regulars are engaged, they’ve refilled a bunch of staff vacancies, and their latest press release shows a newfound willingness to get in there and mix it up.
At the dawn of 2022, the party had a single staff member. This week, the VDP announced the hiring of its fifth staffer, Finance Director Shelden Goodwin. She joins Dandeneau, Coordinated Campaign Director Elliot Kauffman, Senate Caucus Director Sally Short, and House Caucus Director Cameron McClimans. They’re geared up for the campaign season.
They’ve been able to assemble a team because, well, they’ve got the money. Major donors and officeholders are doing their part, and the donor lists are getting longer.
Recently I was talking with a couple of friends in the #vtpoli world, and I casually remarked that 2022 should be a good year for the Vermont Democratic Party. I thought it was kind of obvious, but I was met with puzzled looks. So I explained my reasoning. And I thought that if the VDP’s advantage is less obvious than I thought, maybe it needs to be explained in this space.
I’ve got six reasons for seeing a big 2022 ahead for the Dems. Let’s start with their inherent advantage in the Vermont electorate. Statewide, a generic Democrat starts out with at least a 10-point edge over any Republican not named Phil Scott. In the Legislature, the Dems consistently hover right around the two-thirds mark — usually just above in the Senate, just below in the House. But at worst, they can expect to hold more than 60% of all legislative seats. (It must be really depressing to be a Republican lawmaker, knowing you have little influence and no prospects.)
Other factors give the Dems an even bigger edge in this particular year. Like Proposition 5 and the U.S. Supreme Court. When Democrats proposed enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution, it seemed kind of superfluous. I mean, who’s going to ban abortion in reliably blue Vermont? Now, with the high court’s majority trending in a Handmaid’s Tale direction, reproductive rights are in question. Even before Alito Mussolini’s decision was leaked, Vermont Democrats saw Prop 5 as a turnout-booster in a non-presidential election year. Now, reproductive rights are front and center and Prop 5 is, as they say about police procedurals, “ripped from the headlines.” It should galvanize pro-choice voters.
After the jump: Money, organization, an unprecedented campaign season, and a unique Democratic resource.
Less than a month ago, after Claire Cummings’s departure as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, I wrote that the party was at a crossroads and had to think long and hard about its recent administrative failures. Regarding the qualities needed in the next ED, I wrote “I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee.”
Well, glory be, mirabile dictu, heavens to Murgatroyd, they hired that guy!
They did something right? The Vermont Democratic Party?
So it would seem.
The new ED, hired as an interim in order to bypass a lengthy search process, is Jim Dandeneau, lobbyist for Primmer Piper and former VDP staffer. He ran the Dems’ very successful 2018 House campaign and was a staffer on Sue Minter’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, which looks better in retrospect than it did at the time. Before coming to Vermont, Dandeneau spent 15 years in New York politics, a much bigger and more shark-infested political pool. The oft-fraught internal dynamics of the VDP are not going to phase him in the least.
In short, he’s got the goods. His hiring is a sign that VDP leadership realizes how badly they’ve been screwing up, and how much they need a swift kick in the organizational ass. Dandeneau is capable of delivering that kick, and it seems like the party is ready to take it. That’s a very positive sign. He and new party chair Anne Lezak should make a powerful team.