Tag Archives: Joe Benning

Congratulations to the Progressive Party on its Hostile Takeover of Vermont Politics

There seems to be a popular delusion among Republicans in these parts, even the non-fringey types. In the words of outgoing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann,

…the Progressives have taken over the VT Democratic Party.

This same belief was expressed a few months ago by VTGOP Chair Paul Dame, when he compared the Progressive Party to a parasitic horsehair worm that had taken over the Democratic Party from within.

Outgoing Sen. Joe Benning said much the same thing in his post-election post-mortem: “Ideologues in the Democratic/Progressive supermajority,” he wrote, are driving policy that “runs counter to Vermont traditions and fiscal capacity.” At least he put the Democrats first, but still he’s conflating the Dems and the Progs in a way that’s far from the truth. The two parties sing from different hymnals on many of our most contentious issues, and the Dems always sit in the right-hand pew. Top Democrats are fond of styling themselves as small-P progressives, but they are definitely not the capital-P kind. Not at all.

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Joe Benning Peeks Over the Parapet and Is Met with a Volley of Arrows

Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.

But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.

Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.

Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)

And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.

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The State Senate Approaches a Demographic Tipping Point

Seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the Vermont Senate to undergo a demographic shift. Every two years there’s been talk of a retirement wave, but it never materializes. Senators consider stepping aside, then realize they’re indispensable. (They’re not.) And the voters rarely eject an incumbent except in cases of overt criminality (Norm McAllister) or advanced senescence (Bill Doyle).

The shift has been painfully incremental until this year, when almost one-third of all senators decided to bow out. The nine incomers are younger, five of them are women, and one is a person of color: Nader Hashim joins Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Randy Brock as the three non-white members of the upper chamber.

(The tiny Republican caucus managed to get older and no less male. Its two youngest members, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, will be replaced by a couple of old white men.)

Got more numbers to plow through, but here’s the bottom line. The Senate is on the verge of a historic shift, but it’s happening in slow motion. We might reach the tipping point in two years’ time. We’re not quite there yet.

There are still plenty of tenured members in positions of power. They account for most of the committee chairs. But only — “only” — eight of the 30 senators will be 70 or older. At least 13 will be under 65, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in the Senate it definitely is.

The incoming Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Baruth, straddles the age divide. He’s only — “only” — 60. But he’s entering his sixth two-year term, so he’s familiar with the Senate and the elders are comfortable enough with him to make him their leader. As a senator he’s been a strong policy advocate unafraid to ruffle feathers, but as Pro Tem he’ll know he can’t push his caucus too far too fast.

There are the preliminiaries. Now let’s dive in.

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The Leadership of the VTGOP Should Be Defenestrated Immediately, But It’s Not Gonna Happen

Phil Scott? Untouchable. Every other Republican? Radioactive.

That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know about the 2022 election in Vermont. Scott cruised to victory; the rest of the VTGOP, which followed a Trumpier path, got absolutely steamrolled.

And they leave Scott in a significantly weakened position for the next two years. Barring any late turnarounds, the Dem/Prog caucus in the Senate will stay at 23 out of 30. But the House, oh my God. It’s looking like a net 11-seat pickup for the Dem/Prog caucus, which means they will have more breathing room than they’ve ever had for veto overrides.

As it looks now, the House Republican caucus will be reduced to a paltry 38 seats. Yikes.

It’s absolutely clear why this happened. The voters rejected far-right candidates almost across the board. The vast majority of my “stealth Republicans” lost their races, usually by big margins. The only bright spot for the VTGOP was Franklin County, which also happens to have the sanest of the county committees. Republicans took all but one Franklin County seat in the House and Senate. That’s two of the seven Republican senators and seven of the 38 House Republicans, all from Franklin County alone.

The party’s state leadership is to blame. They followed this path. They recruited a bunch of unelectable candidates. They turned their backs on Phil Scott. They should collectively resign in shame, but they probably won’t. They’re too deep up their own asses to realize that everything they did was wrong.

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Joe Benning Shows Up in Surprising Company

Note: Sen. Benning has weighed in with a comment. It’s in the Comments, but I’ve also added it to the end of this post.

So there’s this right-wing fringe organization called Vermont Stands Up which you’ve probably never heard of, and neither did I until a couple days ago. It’s a freedom-lovin’, vaccine-hatin’, government-shrinkin’, gang o’ rascals who say the most pressing issues facing Vermont are “the COVID crisis of the past two years, the ensuing mandates, sanctioned discrimination against the unvaccinated, and threats to informed consent and bodily autonomy.” I’m sure we all agree.

VSU also promises “to provide authoritative resources, guidance, and outlets of support for community action.” We’ll get to their idea of “authoritative resources” shortly, and you won’t want to miss it, but first…

The organization’s website has a page called Freedom Champions. It’s a long list of approved candidates. Many of these Champions have appeared in my “stealth conservative” list and others await their time in the spotlight. John Klar is on the list, naturally. Stephen Bellows, 9/11 truther and graphene eradicator. Lynn and Lloyd Dike, two of the rabid clan of Republican candidates in Addison County. Rebecca Pitre, who sees Drag Queen Story Hour as “an atrocity.” Rob North, who says we could end Lake Champlain pollution by unleashing the farmers. Nichole Loati, who believes the housing crisis could be solved by unleashing the landlords. To name just a few.

And there, right in the middle of this list of VSU-approved candidates, is Sen. Joe Benning, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor who’s often referred to in the press as a moderate. Not true; he’s very conservative, but he’s not a nut.

So how is it that he appears on this list of Vermont Stands Up-approved Freedom Champions? It can’t be just because he opposes mandatory motorcycle helmets.

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LIe Down With Dogs…

Ah, what a happy group of Republicans! There’s Gov. Phil Scott, Lite-Gov candidate Sen. Joe Benning, and U.S. Senate candidate Gerald Malloy. I can’t identify all of the other people, but I know quite a few.

Next to the governor is state Sen. Russ Ingalls, almost certainly the most conservative person in the Senate. The people in the back row behind Benning are House candidates Lloyd and Lynn Dike, state Rep. (and VTGOP vice chair) Samantha Lefebvre, and House candidate Joe Gervais. Front row, yellow shirt, state Senate candidate and far-right rabble-rouser John Klar, who posted the picture on his Facebook page. The three on the right are three House candidates: Rob North, James McClay, and Jon Christiano. (North is the subject of an upcoming “steath conservative” post.)

That’s a whole bunch of extremists in the company of Smilin’ Phil.

I previously wrote that the extremists have taken over the Vermont Republican Party. They’re in party leadership, they’re on the state and county committees, and they constitute a goodly share of the Republican ticket.

Until now, Scott has kept his distance. Not any more. He has made common cause with the nutbars. Phil Scott owns this Republican Party and should be made to answer for every one of the people in this photograph.

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Does Anybody Else Find It Interesting That Phil Scott is Under 50%?

So, the poll.

The headlines blare “Scott and Zuckerman have double-digit leads.” True enough. But I find my eye drawn to Gov. Phil Scott’s 48% support in the WCAX-commissioned survey. That seems low for a guy who got 69% of the vote two years ago. Has he really lost that many people?

(The same poll has 63% of respondents approving of his job performance. Why do 15% like his performance but don’t plan to vote for him? Bad breath?)

This is not to avoid the core fact, which is that Scott has a 17-point lead on Democrat Brenda Siegel. He remains the heavy favorite, and the poll contains a fair bit of bad news for Siegel. She has fought and clawed her way up to 31% from basically nothing and nearly doubled her name recognition despite a TV-free campaign. The electoral arc is bending in her direction, but Election Day is coming fast. And many voters will cast their ballots long before November 8. She’ll have to sweep the undecideds plus convince more than a few Scott voters to change sides, and do it in a real hurry.

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The Dem Statewides Are Doing Just Fine, Thanks

In a post following the September 1 campaign finance deadline, I noted that “three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line.” It put them in a potentially hazardous position for the general campaign.

Well, it would have if their Republican opponents weren’t all unknown, unfunded, and largely unloved.

I speak of Charity Clark (attorney general), David Zuckerman (lieutenant governor), and Sarah Copeland Hanzas (secretary of state). Zuckerman had $16,771 in the bank on the first of September; Clark actually entered September with a $1,200 shortfall, Copeland Hanzas had about $12,000 on hand, but only because she reported loaning her campaign $14,000. So, according to her own report, she had a $12,000 deficit outside of her own pocketbook.

Well, hold on a minute. According to her campaign manager Lizzy Carroll, that $14,000 number was a mistake. The actual self-loan was $3,500, which is not insignificant but it does make her bottom line look a lot better. The deficit falls from $12,000 to about $1,500. (She carried forward a $1,160 surplus from past campaigns, which would lower her real deficit to less than $400.)

So, where are the three of them now?

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I Seem to Have Sparked a Mike Pieciak Boomlet

Lookin’ kinda sweaty there, Mike

When you push content out into the ether, you never know what’s going to catch fire and what’s going to vanish forever without a trace. The most viral post I’ve ever written was a silly little thing about a proposal (sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, credit where it’s due) to create a Latin motto for Vermont. A bunch of ignorant conservatives reacted angrily because they didn’t know the difference between Latin and Latin America. It was plenty of fun, but not exactly meat and potatoes.

Anyway, exhibit B in the category of “you never know” is a recent piece observing that treasurer-to-be Mike Pieciak seemed to be destined for higher office. I’d like to make it clear, as if I won’t later in this piece, that I don’t necessarily endorse the idea. I just saw the signs.

The post went live on August 10, the day after Pieciak had waltzed, unopposed, to the Democratic nomination. Three weeks and a day later, VTDigger ran a story that Pieciak was “generating significant buzz” as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

The first bee whose buzz was cited: yours truly. I appreciate that, but in retrospect maybe I should have copyrighted the idea.

To be fair to reporter Lola Duffort, she did a lot of additional digging and put quite a bit of meat on the bones. Pieciak was praised by various notables as “trustworthy,” “charming,” “very smart,” “a serious straight shooter,” “a nice guy.”

And now Vermont Public has jumped on the Pieciak Parade. Twelve days after Duffort posted her story, “Morning Edition” host and Vermont’s human alarm clock Mitch Wertlieb interviewed her about Pieciak’s bright political future. During the chat, Mitch basically stole a line from my original piece, by now a month old, when he noted that a hypothetical Gov. Pieciak “would be the state’s first openly gay governor.”

Glad to have provided some content for you all. But now that I seem to have warmed up the bandwagon, I’m disembarking.

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No Money, No Problems

Turns out, three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line. Now they’re strapped for cash entering the general campaign.

That’d be a real problem if their Republican opponents weren’t so utterly hapless.

Charity Clark went on a mass-media spending binge in early August. She spent a massive $81,000 in the month; $64,000 of that was for TV, radio, print, mail, and online advertising. She entered September with a cash deficit of about $1,200. Turned out she didn’t have to do all that spending, as she won her party’s nomination for attorney general over Rory Thibault by a better than two-to-one margin.

Sarah Copeland Hanzas’ war chest (obligatory war chest reference) was scraping bottom as the primary approached. She spent a relatively modest $15,602 in August, not much more than half what her rival Chris Winters spent. Copeland Hanzas had entered the race very late and never caught up in fundraising. She enters September nearly $12,000 in the black, but only because she loaned her own campaign $14,000.

Still, she won — by a scant two percentage points — and that’s what matters most.

David Zuckerman spent $57,149 in August as he sought to ensure victory over Kitty Toll, bringing his campaign spending total well over $200,000. He still has $16,771 in cash on hand, and an extremely large base of small donors who can be tapped for more.

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