Tag Archives: Kesha Ram Hinsdale

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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Get Ready for Fight Club in the Statehouse

The coming biennium may be the most combative in recent memory. The best comp might be Jim Douglas’ final years in office when he had huge budget battles with the Democratic Legislature and saw his veto of marriage equality overridden.

The stage is set. Phil Scott comfortably won re-election, and can rightly claim the overwhelming support of the Vermont electorate. Legislative leaders can equally assert a mandate, given the fact that the Democratic slash Progressive caucuses are at historic highs. Legislative leadership will have a nice margin for error on veto overrides.

On top of all that, the next couple of budget cycles are going to be tough. The federal tide of Covid relief funds has made it easy to pass budgets — until now. Tight budget times and both sides claiming mandates? That spells trouble by the bushelful.

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Soon to Be the Most Powerful Person in the Vermont Democratic Party

Far too early rampant speculation alert!

Becca Balint’s one-sided primary victory leaves only token obstacles in her path to Congress. This is obvious.

What’s less obvious is that it puts Balint on track to become the most powerful person in Vermont Democratic politics. This is the extra dimension of the primary’s import. It was a hinge moment in the party’s progress.

Follow me, if you will, down a wary-too-soon but perfectly logical rabbit hole.

Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch are extremely powerful presences in the Vermont Democratic Party, more so than is visible publicly. (Bernie Sanders is treated with veneration but as a resolute independent, he doesn’t have the same level of influence.)

Leahy is about to exit the stage and take on an emeritus-equivalent position in the party. He’ll have a say as long as he draws breath, but he won’t have the power of the office anymore. His people took a huge hit in the primary. Most or all backed Molly Gray, or even worked on her campaign. They might never recover, especially given how negative Gray went in the closing weeks of the primary campaign. That won’t endear any of them to Balint.

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This is Kind of Hard to Believe

This Just In from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center: a poll sponsored by WCAX-TV that shows a shockingly one-sided Democratic primary for Vermont’s Congressional seat. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint 63%, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray 21%.

Yikes. Double yikes with nuts.

This is waaaaay outside the margin of error or any reasonable disclaimers you could devise. I mean, there aren’t enough grains of salt on the beach.

I mean, I had the sense that the momentum was with Balint. But 42 percentage points?

Considering that Gray has spent much of her campaign complaining about out-of-state “dark money” (from national LGBTQ+ groups, primarily), I expect she’ll release a statement decrying “out-of-state pollsters.”

Or she’ll grit her teeth and try to ignore it.

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Chittenden Senate: Brother, Can I Spare a Dime?

One thing stands out when you look over the campaign finance filings for the three state Senate districts in Chittenden County: There are lots of candidates, and most of ’em aren’t raising much money anywhere outside of their own pockets. Seems like a potential equity issue; if you can afford a couple thousand bucks or more, or a LOT more, you don’t have to worry so much about fundraising from other people.

Maybe this is a byproduct of splitting up the formerly unified Chittenden district: No longer can candidates raise money from anywhere in the county. Now they have smaller fields to harvest. Likely a bigger factor: There are a lot of contested statewide races consuming a lot of Democratic money, perhaps away from legislative races.)

The king of the self-funders is Erhard Mahnke, affordable housing advocate and longtime Bernie Sanders associate. He dumped a cool $10,000 into his own campaign, and has only raised $666 from anyone else. That gives him a financial lead in the Chittenden Central district, because he hasn’t spent much so far.

Other notable self-funders include Brian Shelden and Irene Wrenner, Democratic candidates in Chittenden North. They’ve given nearly $7,500 to their own campaigns and raised less than that from other people. Meanwhile, the sole Republican, state Rep. Leland Morgan, has barely tried. He’s raised less than $700. Perhaps he’s looked at district demographics and decided he doesn’t really need to try. Or he’s waiting until after the primary.

Back in Chittenden Central, the top three fundraisers have done well from their own pockets and from others, too.

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Game Changer

Balint, casually breaking the fourth wall

If there was any doubt about which Vermont media outlet provides the biggest platform, it was dispelled early this morning when state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale announced — exclusively on Channel 3 — that she was ending her candidacy for U.S. House and endorsing Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Not on VTDigger, not in Seven Days, not on VPR. Because as much as people like me get their news from those three outlets, TV can’t be beat for reaching a wide audience. Specifically WCAX. Although it’s becoming increasingly genericized under Gray Television’s ownership, it’s still the traditional powerhouse of Vermont television.

But enough about that. On to the story itself. Ram Hinsdale folded her tent and filed for re-election to the state Senate, where she might become a real force in a chamber that will have at least 10 new members come January. She may have stumbled this time, but she’s young, smart and hungry. She’ll be back on the statewide ballot.

Ram Hinsdale and Balint were competing for the progressive vote. Balint also had significant credibility in the Democratic mainstream, but she’d staked out policy positions that were as progressive as Ram Hinsdale’s. Balint has now earned the endorsement of her major challenger on the left, and must be considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary.

As much as anything else, this move is evidence of the deep disdain many Dems (and Progs) feel for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. This is an “anybody but Gray” move.

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Molly Gray, Campaign Finance Hypocrite

👏👏👏👏👏 to Seven Days’ Sasha Goldstein for doing what few reporters have bothered to do: He took a deep dive into Congressional candidates’ campaign finance reports. Those filings are more than a month old, but as he discovered, there was still plenty of meat on them old bones. Let him serve as an example to us all.

What did he find? Turns out Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has a f-ton of D.C. lobbyist money behind her campaign for Congress.

I don’t begrudge her raising money wherever she can. Running in a competitive primary for Congress is an expensive proposition, and I don’t really think she’ll be at the beck and call of big-money interests any more than St. Peter Welch has been. He’s taken loads of money from lobbyists and corporate interests. And we know he’s not compromised.

Don’t we?

Anyway. Gray is cashing in on her D.C. connections and her very real ties to the Welch/Pat Leahy orbit. Fine. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale has received max contributions from quite a few AAPI donors, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint has the support of LGBTQ+ contributors and organizations.

They’ve all got their affinity groups. Gray’s happens to be D.C. insiders. But the trouble starts when this recipient of Beltway Bucks attempts to claim the moral high ground on campaign finance. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on, or a pickup truck to ride in.

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A Bucket of Goat Entrails Might be More Predictive

Hey folks! A poll! We’ve got a poll! Dispatch the political reporters immediately! Let them gather quotes from people with axes to grind! Surely We Shall Learn More About the Coming Campaign!

Or nah.

The online survey comes to us from the University of New Hampshire, which has a vibrant polling institute built on the spoils of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. It’s a little creakier than most polls, especially when it comes to the August primary (the margin of error for August races is a whopping 5.9%). That’s a big deal since the race of greatest interest is the August primary for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress.

I mean, we hardly need a poll to tell us that outgoing U.S. Rep. Peter Welch has a gargantuan lead over likely Republican nominee Christina Nolan. Or that Gov. Phil Scott is already being fitted for his fourth-term tiara.

What does the poll tell us about the race for the Democratic Congressional nomination? Basically, that it’s very close and a lot of people haven’t made up their minds.

Now, that’s excitement.

Not that the paid political operatives weren’t out there spinning like dervishes on Red Bull. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign manager Samantha Sheehan takes the prize for highest spin rate. She pointed to slight advantages for her candidate in hypothetical November matchups as evidence that Gray is “best positioned to keep this House seat in the hands of Democrats in November.”

How slight are Gray’s advantages? Couldn’t possibly be slighter.

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When is $2,900 Not Really $2,900?

The answer, in this case, is “when you can’t spend it.”

I’m referring to the maximum allowable individual contribution to a Congressional candidate, which is $2,900 for a primary campaign and another $2,900 for the general election. Candidates can collect both amounts before the primary, but they aren’t allowed to spend the second $2,900 until after the primary.

Well, in most cases it’s $2,900 twice. Some give the full $2,900 for the primary and some lesser amount for the general. All gifts are notated “Primary” or “General” in Federal Election Commission filings. But the gifts earmarked “General” still count towards a candidate’s total haul and cash on hand.

Should it? It’s arguable, but it’s the rules. Let’s set up a second category for primary dollars only and call it “effective cash on hand.”

This is kind of splitting hairs in the case of Republican Senate candidate Christina Nolan, who is the overwhelming favorite to win her primary. As reported previously, $37,700 of her cash on hand cannot be spent until the general election because nine of her donors gave more than $2,900 apiece. But at least she will get to spend that money… eventually.

That is decidedly not the case in the Democratic primary for U.S. House. It appears to be a close and lively contest among three leading candidates: Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale. One of them will get to spend those general election dollars; the other two will not.

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Ram Hinsdale Got the Headline, But Not So Fast

The latest federal campaign finance reports are in, and State Sen Kesha Ram Hinsdale took the headline by winning the first-quarter fundraising race among the Democratic candidates for Congress with $444,213. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint was next with $368,382. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, rather surprisingly, was third with $292,208 in first-quarter takings. (Sianay Chase Clifford isn’t competitive in the money race with a little more than $7,000 in donations. She’ll have to hope for a people-powered David v. Goliath effort.)

But those topline numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they’re downright misleading for a number of reasons. Ram Hinsdale took in the most during the first quarter — but if you look at fundraising for the entire campaign, Gray is first. If you look at cash on hand, Balint is first and Ram Hinsdale is a distant third. And that’s really the most important metric, isn’t it?

(Standard disclaimer: Fundraising is only one measure of a campaign’s strength. As long as you’re competitive, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got. It’s how well you spend it and how strong your grassroots game is. But money is the only campaign metric that’s easily measurable, so we dutifully measure it.)

Another thing. Ram Hinsdale has 56 individual donors who’ve given the maximum $2,900 for the primary campaign. That’s $162,500 of her total, and none of those people can give to Ram Hinsdale again until the general election campaign. Balint, by comparison, has only 23 max donors, worth $66,700 of her total. She has a lot more room to go back to donors and ask for more money. (Gray has 27.)

On the other side of the ledger, Ram Hinsdale has been spending money at a brisk pace, including a boatload on out-of-state consultancies, strategists, and media production outfits. In fact, if you look at her fundraising and spending without knowing whose it is, you’d think you were looking at a big-money corporate Democrat’s campaign, not a self-described champion of working folk.

So let’s look at cash on hand which, to me, is the most important metric going forward. Balint has $432,597. Gray has $404,369. Ram Hinsdale? $218,691. She’s got much less room to fundraise, and she’s got half as much money in the bank. Does that sound like the “winner”?

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