Tag Archives: Joe Benning

The Money Race: Lieutenant Governor

If you want to encapsulate the Vermont Republican Party’s statewide ballot woes, the latest campaign finance reports spell it out right clear.

The four Democratic candidates took in a combined $110,000 in the period ending July 1.

The two Republicans? $8,000.

It’s even worse when you look at campaign-to-date totals. Democrats: $308,000.

Republicans: $16,000. (Sen. Joe Benning $14K, Grgory Thayer $2K.)

Now, the usual caveat applies: Money is only one way to measure the strength of a campaign. There are other factors — name recognition, a strong network of grassroots support, an ideology that appeals to a significant piece of the electorate. But c’mon. You’ve got to have some money to be competitive. The Republican hopefuls just don’t.

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How Not To Be a Stealth Candidate

Gregory Thayer and John Klar are both running for office this year. Thayer, for lieutenant governor; Klar, for state senator. And as is the current strategery for far-right candidates, they are trying to present themselves as mainstream conservatives.

This can work for a relative unknown like Liz Cady, who lied her way to a seat on the Essex-Westford school board (and resigned earlier this year). But Thayer and Klar? They’ve been in the public eye far too long. What’s more, their hearts and minds really aren’t in it. The cray-cray leaks out all over the place.

Let’s do Thayer first. I thought I’d check in on the trainwreck race for the Republican LG nomination, which features serious human being Sen. Joe Benning versus Thayer, who attended the January 6 insurrection (heck, he helped organize a bus tour to the thing) and put together a nice little anti-critical race theory road show. Both VPR — err, Vermont Public — and VTDigger have hosted LG debates recently. Digger’s suffers from horrible audio quality, so I watched the Vermont Public Ra — cough, sorry — event.

Benning, of course, ran rings around Thayer logically. But Thayer’s demeanor was curiously subdued because he was trying to be someone he’s not.

It didn’t work very well.

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Empty Chairs: Even More Than I Thought

It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.

The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.

Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.

Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.

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Christina Nolan Must Be Questioning Her Life Choices Right About Now

It’s gotten to the point where I feel sorry for Christina Nolan, the drug-enforcin’ former U.S. Attorney turned nudge nudge, wink wink moderate Republican candidate for Pat Leahy’s Senate seat. First, whatever she was promised in terms of financial and organizational support has failed to materialize. Second, she’s going to spend the next several months sharing the stage with a bunch of far-right zealots before like-minded audiences. The crowd and the stage will doubtless include people who don’t believe that Her Kind are entitled to equal rights or, for that matter, existence.

If these events get any coverage at all, they’ll torpedo her effort to campaign as a moderate. She’ll have two choices: play to the crowd and hope not to be quoted in the press, or stick to her campaign’s message and risk getting booed off the stage.

The first stop on this Trail of Tears is on Saturday at the palatial Double Tree Hotel, the flower of South Burlington, where the VTGOP will hold a luncheon (which is what they call “lunch” when they’re trying to sell expensive tickets*) and meeting to discuss and approve the party’s dog-whistly platform, in which the concept of moderation gains no purchase.

“Trying” is the operative word here. Last week, the party was offering a $15 discount off the $55 list price for those who bought tix before this week; then, on Monday and Tuesday it offered the same deal. In fact, on both days it sent an email saying the discount was still available but would end at “midnight tonight.”

And while we’re on the subject of Republican desperation, the party is STILL selling merch from the infamous “Let’s Go Brandon” rally held last November. Paul Dame’s garage must be full of that junk.

Nolan will be forced to have the opportunity to share the stage with the likes of her little-known and veeerrrrryy conservative primary opponent Gerald Malloy and the party’s two hopeless Congressional candidates, Anya Tynio and Ericka Redic. Also sharing in the rubber chicken: the party’s two candidates for lieutenant governor, the estimable Sen. Joe Benning and the execrable Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther and Vermont’s most ardent opponent of whatever he imagines critical race theory is.

Nolan and Benning should expect the crowd to be ideologically in sync with the True Believers on stage and skeptical (at best) of their professions of inclusive Republicanism. At least the two can commiserate about waging an uphill battle with no resources and feeling compelled to cozy up to the VTGOP’s far-right base.

After the jump: Coming Soon to a Grange Hall Near You

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Senate Reapportionment, a.k.a. The Incumbency Protection Act of 2022

Random Unrelated Illustration

If there was ever any doubt that the state Senate is a club unto itself, well, a close look at the chamber’s likely reapportionment map will make things perfectly clear.

First, the circumstances: After weeks and weeks of vaguely-defined “discussion,” the committee burped out its map in a 26-minute-long hearing on Thursday. Seriously, before Thursday, the agenda for each of its previous 13 meetings merely said “Committee Discussion.” At least they were open hearings, I guess.

According to VTDigger, the hearing was not warned in advance as required by law, and the map wasn’t made public until after the hearing. A procedural fail to be sure, and a worrying one by a committee chaired by Sen. Jeanette White, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee. You know — the one that deals with open meetings and public records laws?

Aside from process flaws, the map itself is problematic in many ways. At virtually every turn, it bows the knee to incumbency — even when doing so is a setback for the Democratic Party. You know, the party that allegedly controls the process?

If this map is enacted, it will be harder for the Democrats to keep their Senate supermajority. It will help Republicans pick up some ground, but maybe not right away; and the new Chittenden County map is the best thing to happen to the Progressive Party since David Zuckerman became lieutenant governor. (It also gives the Republicans a real shot at a Chittenden seat for the first time since Diane Snelling left the chamber.)

The newly created, three-seat Chittenden Central district includes Winooski and part of Burlington. It seems custom-made to give the Progs a real shot at winning all three seats.

Looking at the committee lineup, this may have been a case of Prog/Dem Sen. Chris Pearson pulling one over on sleepy Democrats’ eyes. He was the only member from Chittenden County, which is weird in itself. There were four Dems on the committee: the barely-there Jeanette White, the almost-a-Republican Bobby Starr, everybody’s friend Alison Clarkson, and quiet second-termer Andrew Perchlik. The two Republicans were part-time Vermonter Brian Collamore and the politically savvy Randy Brock. In sheer political terms, Pearson and Brock could run rings around the other five.

And it sure looks like they did just that.

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This Will Be a Good Test of the State of the VTGOP

In this corner: six-term state Sen. Joe Benning, former Senate Minority Leader and the only Republican to chair a Senate committee.

In that corner: Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther, organizer of the CovidCruiser, anti-critical race theory agitator and head of Vermonters for Vermont, an all-purpose far-right Society for the Airing of Grievances.

These are the two Republicans running for lieutenant governor. It ought to be an easy choice. Prominent lawmaker, articulate, thoughtful conservative versus fringey zealot. And maybe it will be; I make Benning the clear favorite.

But it might not be, and therein lies the problem with today’s VTGOP. There are a lot of Gregory Thayers in the party ranks. Party chair Paul Dame is likely to take a cautiously neutral position because he can’t afford to inflame the far right, even though Benning is clearly the better choice. He’s the only one who’d bring credibility to the ticket, and he’s earned his party’s support through his years of service.

But we’re talking about a VTGOP that’s turned its back on Gov. Phil Scott, the only Republican who’s won a statewide election since 2008. And a VTGOP whose base probably sees Benning as a turncoat.

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Yes, the Legislature Will Challenge Scott’s Vetoes

Sen. Joe Benning addressing the media

It was a little like Old Home Week. Eleven of the 30 state Senators, none wearing a mask, gathered on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday morning for a… live, in person PRESS CONFERENCE. Wowee.

Everyone was happy to be back together, and even happy to see a gaggle of reporters hoping to glean some actual news out of the occasion.

The cause for the gathering was a mutual wankfest recap of the Senate’s legislative record in the past session. Hearty congratulations all around, and seldom was heard a discouraging word. I’m sure the assembled solons would love for me to recap their lengthy list of accomplishments, but, well, not my job.

They did manage to make some news amidst all the mutual back-slapping. “We’ll be back for a veto session,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, ending all doubt on that score. She said the House and Senate are likely to try to override all three (and counting) of Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes. Also, if time allows, the Legislature may try to pass a few bills that came just short of the finish line before adjournment. Balint didn’t offer any particulars; she was due to meet with House Speaker Jill Krowinski Wednesday afternoon to plan the session, which would probably happen later this month.

I’m glad to see that the Kumbaya stuff has its limits. Legislative leadership made a point of trying to maintain a good relationship with Gov. Phil Scott during the session, and that’s fine. It’s even better that they know there’s a time for the Kumbaya to end. And Scott struck the first blow with his three questionable vetoes. Good to see leadership respond appropriately. If they can actually override all three, they’ll be sending a strong message to the fifth floor.

Other news came courtesy of Senate Institutions Committee chair Sen. Joe Benning. He talked of preparations for reopening the Statehouse for the 2022 session.

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Bangs and Whimpers

The Senate Judiciary Committee did it again Friday morning. After having put up a royal fuss about a bill that passed easily in the House, members quickly folded their tents and moved the bill along with maybe a change or two.

This time it was H.225, the bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of buprenorphine. The House had passed it overwhelmingly, but its fate in the Senate seemed uncertain. Now, suddenly, it looks like clear sailing.

The committee didn’t take a formal vote, because technically the bill is in the purview of the Rules Committee. But all five Judiciary members indicated support for H.225 with the addition of a two-year sunset provision. The bill would take effect upon passage and expire on July 1, 2023. Sens. Dick Sears and Joe Benning insisted on the sunset, because they have concerns about how the bill would work in real life.

Which is a bit absurd. The Legislature is always free to revisit any law that isn’t working as intended.

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Welp, Looks Like I Closed Out the Veepies a Bit Too Soon

Break out the tiny violins for Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, who’s just getting run ragged because the House has passsed sooooo many law and justice related bills.

After just a few minutes of discussion around the best language to use to redefine consent in Vermont, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, trailed off mid-sentence, “to be honest with you, I’m fried,” he said.

My first reaction was “Aww, poor baby.” But given the quality of Judiciary’s work lately, it might be best if they simply shut down for the year. The panel’s recent actions have made them worthy of The Kids in the Hall Award for Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Series.

Sears’ comment was reported by VTDigger’s Ellie French on Friday evening, shortly after I’d closed the books on the first ever Veepie Awards for Outstanding Stupidity on Public Display. The context was Judiciary’s struggles over H.183, which would enact several steps aimed at better enforcement of sexual violence.

The bill is such a tough nut to crack that the committee is threatening to basically gut it. Sen. Phil Baruth complained that “It’s not unusual for the House to put us in a position where we get things that are controversial or tough to deal with.”

Yeah, it was so controversial that it passed the House on a voice vote. Sheesh.

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It Shouldn’t Have Been This Hard

At the end of it all, the final vote was a formality.

On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a very brief session on H.128, the bill that would ban the so-called “gay panic” defense in criminal trials. You know, the bill that passed the House 144 to one?

After many hearings full of farfetched hypotheticals and occasional racist-adjacent argumentation, the committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate floor.

So, a victory that shouldn’t have been so difficult to achieve. But in Senate committees with five members, one or two can really gum up the works.

The Thursday hearing was brief. There were two votes. The first was on an amendment to H.128 that would bar the defense at all phases of a criminal proceeding. The unamended version applied the ban only to the trial phase, still allowing for use of the defense at sentencing.

The amendment passed on a 3-2 vote, Sens. Joe Benning and Jeanette White voting “no.” Then the committee held a vote on the bill as amended, and that vote was unanimous.

The bill will almost certainly clear the full Senate with no trouble. But the committee dragged this out in a way that was hurtful to many. (Likely including Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, a member of the affected community.)

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