Tag Archives: John Odum

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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Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

The big takeaway from the first campaign finance deadline of 2022 (for state candidates only, not federal) is that the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is going to be a heated affair. All four candidates raised respectable amounts of money, with a couple of them clearly rising to the top.

Disclaimer: Fundraising is not the only measure of a campaign’s health. Organization and grassroots appeal are also key, but it’s very hard to measure those and very simple to read financial filings, So we look for the missing keys under the streetlight where we can see.

Leading the pack is former state Rep. Kitty Toll, widely believed to be the choice of most party regulars. She raised $118,000, which is quite a lot for this early in an LG race. She had 323 separate donors, 227 of them giving less than $100 apiece.

Coming in a sollid second is former LG David Zuckerman, with $92,000. Patricia Preston, head of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, raised $89,000 with a big fat asterisk: $23,000 of her total came from in-kind donations. That’s a very high total, and it means she has far less cash on hand than it appears at first glance. Rep. Charlie Kimbell is a distant fourth with $44,000 raised.

You want deets? We got deets.

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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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R.I.P. GMD

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… Green Mountain Daily, which was for many years Vermont’s most influential political blog, has officially joined the Choir Eternal. Site founder John Odum did the honors on Saturday, in a post that recalled some of the site’s finer moments.

GMD was a group effort involving a small number of activists, political insiders and sharp-eyed observers. During its prime, GMD did yeoman’s work in keeping liberal politicos honest (well, a bit more honest) and reining down mockage on those who deserved it. The site also broke news more often than you might think. It was taken seriously by Our Betters and was widely read in political/journalistic circles.

And it had a significant impact on the arc of my own, such as it is, career.

For better and for worse, I wouldn’t be doing this Political Observer thing if it wasn’t for GMD. Way back in 2011, during a spate of underemployment, I started posting occasionally on the site. My posts were often promoted to the main page, which encouraged me to continue. (Posts by regulars automatically hit the top of the queue; posts by guests would go into a box along the side, but could be promoted to the queue by any of the regulars.)

After a few months of this, Odum contacted me about becoming a regular. At the time, I still had pretensions of resuming a career in journalism, and I thought that joining GMD would probably kill any chance I had. But after a few months, I decided to sign on.

And boy, did I have fun. I didn’t make a dime, but I could write whatever and whenever I wanted. and I was good at it.

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Change of address

 

 

On a hill under a raven sky
I have no idea exactly what I’ve drawn
Some kind of change, some kind of spinning away
With every single line moving further out in time

— Brian Eno, “Spinning Away”

It’s been a hell of a ride.

I started blogging almost exactly five years ago, out of a kind of professional desperation. There’d been some dead ends, a seeming lack of opportunity in the ever-shrinking media landscape. So, on the invitation of John Odum, I joined the gang at Green Mountain Daily and started blogging about Vermont politics.

And I loved it. I loved using my brain and my experience to reflect on the political scene. I loved playing with language and form. So I just kinda kept on doing it, slowly building a reputation and an audience.

In the summer of 2014 I went solo, launching this blog out of a feeling that I was too dominant a voice at GMD. Too much of me, not enough of the variety of viewpoints that the blog was designed to provide.

And I wanted to captain my own ship.

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False equivalencies on renewable energy

VTDigger’s commentary page recently featured a call to Kumbaya by Brian Tokar, UVM lecturer and board member of 350Vermont. His argument is that our debate over renewable energy has been toxified by extreme positions taken by both sides:

On one hand, groups like VPIRG and Renewable Energy Vermont have staked out a position that any possible limitations on large-scale projects represent an existential threat to our appropriately ambitious renewable energy goals. On the other side are those who view all utility-scaled developments as an assault on our precious lands and wildlife habitats, among other concerns.

His characterization of pro-renewable advocates is 100% pure bullshit. Nobody from VPIRG or REV or Iberdrola or The Secret Blittersdorf Cabal is opposed to “any possible limitations” on renewable siting. In fact, they just spent a laborious 2016 legislative session working with all interested parties on a revised siting bill that allows for local input.

It was the other side that refuses to come to the table, insists on nothing less than full veto power for local governments, and depicts anyone who disagrees with them as corrupt toadies of rich, powerful, foreign interests.

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A child’s treasury of thoughts about David Zuckerman

Hey Dave, I went to the Burlington Winter Market on Saturday. Bought some of your fine veggies, but you weren’t there. Presumably spending a happy Saturday at the Senate Dems’ Convocation of Cowards. Maybe next time.

Anyway, organic farmer and state senator Dave Zuckerman is now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, running in the Democratic primary and seeking the Progressive nomination as well. I didn’t attend his kickoff event last Thursday; but here are a few thoughts on Zuckerman and the Lite-Gov race.

The most interesting participant in Thursday’s festivities, per media reports, was Senate Minority Leader Phil Baruth, who gave a hearty endorsement — “come hell or high water” — of the Prog/Dem Zuckerman. This was a big surprise to me; given the level of Dem>Prog antipathy up Burlington way, I assumed that area Democrats would stand behind Kesha Ram. Without regard to quality; just on the basis of not wanting to help a Progressive win.

Baruth’s stated reasoning boiled down to “I trust him,” a phrase he repeated at least three times. So, he doesn’t trust Kesha Ram?

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How to kill a political career in one easy step

Ruh-roh, Raggy. Looks like a budding politico is in danger of failing to get out of the starting gate.

Following the news that D.C. journalist (and Vermont native) Garrett Graff was coming home to run for lieutenant governor, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz pointed out the elephant in the room: State law requires candidates for the state’s top two offices to “have resided in this State four years next preceding the day of the election.”

Secretary of State Jim Condos felt the need to consult with the Attorney General’s office over that tortuous bit of legalese. Well, he has, and in a follow-up post by Terri Hallenbeck, the news isn’t good for Young Graff.

…Condos said that after studying residency requirements for candidates in the Constitution of Vermont and consulting with the Attorney General’s Office, “We are not sure how Mr. Graff could meet this.”

Hoo boy. This could be the biggest political boner in Vermont since “Six Teats.”

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Vile overreaction at Goddard College

Well, you knew that inviting Mumia Abu Jamal to speak would prompt a backlash. Especially when the professional ragemongers at Fox News got hold of it. (Seriously, Rupert Murdoch should make a donation to Goddard for giving his minions some raw meat to chew on.)

And, as we might have guessed, the reaction is thoroughly despicable. Goddard staff are getting obscenely violent emails and voice mails. My old colleague John Odum has written it up at his new outpost, POVt.net, and I suggest you check it out. I’ll give you just a sample here, and apologies for the language. This is not the worst one, by the way.

“Hey, if I rape one of your students and slit her throat – can I become a Graduation Day Speaker?”

Yes, there’s worse than that. According to John, the college has contacted the Vermont State Police. For those unfamiliar, this is a small college out in the boonies with a very roomy and impossible-to-secure campus. The commencement ceremonies are small affairs, with each program getting its own; the group that invited Mumia has only 23 students. It’d only take one nutjob to turn commencement into a crime scene.

I hope the VSP takes this seriously and provides appropriate security. I hope the troopers set aside their understandable feelings about Mumia and do their jobs like professionals.

And no, in no way does inviting Mumia Abu Jamal mean that Goddard “deserves” this kind of reaction.

The Progs’ problem child

As I’ve often said before, I have no patience for the petty disputes and long-held grudges that are often a feature of Dem/Prog relations in Vermont. And although there have been minor offenses aplenty on both sides, I think the Democrats have some additional responsibility to be the adult in the room. They’ve been around a lot longer, and they already rule the roost; the Progs are hardly a threat. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously compared US/Canada relations to an elephant and a mouse sharing a bed, and the same can be said of the Dems and the Progs: The Prog mouse can disturb the Dem elephant (instant mixed metaphor, sorry) by accidentally tickling it. The elephant can disturb the mouse by rolling over and crushing it.

That said, there’s a member of the Progs’ statewide ticket who is, inadvertently, doing all he can to annoy the elephant. That would be Ben Eastwood, Prog candidate for Secretary of State.

Yes, the same Ben Eastwood who shot down a motion to endorse Democratic incumbent Jim Condos by calling him a “crony capitalist” because of his former employment by Vermont Gas Systems. Which also, it must be said, gave Eastwood a clear shot at the Prog nomination.

Well, Eastwood has spent the first couple months of his “campaign” barely addressing the office he’s running for, and making often-incendiary comments on his current fixation: the Israeli military action in Gaza. He’s agin’ it, very strongly. And he has a right to express his opinions, but when I look at his Facebook page of message after message about the Middle East, I wonder if he’s really serious about becoming Secretary of State. The last time he mentioned the campaign on his Facebook page was June 12, when he’d just finished collecting petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Yes, I know he’s not going to win and so does he. But if he accepts a party’s nomination for a high office, he should at least present the appearance of engagement.

Beyond that, he’s been picking a fight with a couple of well-known Democrats over on Green Mountain Daily — Dem state committee alternate member Jack McCullough and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum by name. The details of the argument are many, and if you want to follow it, click on the link. The point is, Ben Eastwood, Progressive Party candidate for Secretary of State, is stirring up trouble with Democrats on an issue that has nothing to do with Vermont politics. He should know better, and he should be more responsible.

After all, this is happening at the very time that Dean Corren, Progressive candidate for Lieutenant Governor, is actively seeking Democratic support — and trying to overcome any bruised feelings that might exist from past Prog-to-Dem insults.

Seeking support from, among others, the colleagues and friends of Jack McCullough.

Here’s a tip, Mr. Eastwood. If you accept the honor of a party’s nomination, you assume responsibility for being a public face of your party and fostering your party’s image and prospects. You have a duty to focus on your own campaign and the office you seek, and temporarily stick a sock in it regarding other issues.

Any member of the Democratic state committee would be well within their bounds if, when called upon by Dean Corren, they asked him about his running mate, Ben Eastwood. It’d be perfectly appropriate for any member of the media to ask Corren if he supports Eastwood.

In addition to the trouble Eastwood is stirring up right now, there’s also the problem of his publicly-available record. He is either a vaccine truther or he’s strongly sympathetic with those who believe that vaccines are poison. He’s vehemently opposed to wind power. And he’s given hints of secessionist leanings.

To top it all off, remember the Progressive gubernatorial primary two years ago, when the Progs chose not to run a candidate and anti-wind extremist Annette Smith launched a last-minute write-in bid to secure the Prog nomination? Party stalwart Martha Abbott agreed to put her name up as a write-in, to keep the nomination from falling into Smith’s hands. After all, it would have been harmful to the Progs’ aspirations to have a person with an extreme and non-Prog agenda as the party’s standard bearer.

Well, Eastwood apparently wasn’t aware of Smith’s candidacy until after the fact, but he then wrote “I wish I’d known about Annette Smith’s write in campaign, and I would have written her in…” 

He would have written in Annette Smith over Martha Abbott? In spite of the clear and obvious wishes of his own Progressive Party?

And now, two years later, he gets one of the top spots on the Progressive ticket?

He certainly isn’t treating that honor, nor the office of the Secretary of State, nor the Progressive Party, nor the Democrats, with the respect they deserve. In so doing, he is hurting the Progs’ case to be taken seriously as a fully-formed, mature party capable of governing. Having someone like Eastwood on the statewide ticket makes ’em look more like a larger Liberty Union Party than a convincing alternative to the Democrats.

Serious-minded Progs, the likes of Corren and Chris Pearson, must be desperately hoping that Eastwood’s candidacy comes and goes without doing too much damage to the Progressive brand they are working so hard to create.