Tag Archives: Kesha Ram

Initial Thoughts on a Robust Primary

So many votes, they barely fit

With the exception of the 462-candidate pile-up that was the Chittenden County Democratic Senate primary, it was an election night bereft of drama. The big races turned out to be uncompetitive, and all were called early in the evening. Which is not to say it wasn’t interesting, at least not to political dead-enders like me. So, thoughts in no particular order:

The Laracey Effect is strong. My own invention, the Laracey Effect is named for Mel Laracey, a deputy city treasurer in Ann Arbor, Michigan many moons ago. He decided to run for State House in an extremely competitive primary. It did not go well; he finished in the back of the pack. Because everyone in and around City Hall knew him, he thought that meant everyone knew him. But in truth, the vast majority of voters had no connection to City Hall.

Tim Ashe is well known in Burlington and Montpelier. He and pretty much everyone else thought that made him well known across the state. Not true. And when the pandemic prevented him from campaigning until the end of June, his fate was sealed.

I thought Molly Gray was going to win, but I was far from certain about it. Turned out she won easily. More easily in a competitive four-way race, in fact, than David Zuckerman did in (effectively) a two-way race. Zuckerman beat Rebecca Holcombe by 10,552 votes. Gray beat Ashe by 11,679, and came within 510 votes of Zuckerman’s total.

Ingram, by the way, was an even bigger victim of the Laracey Effect, believing she had a substantial statewide profile. She finished a distant fourth, and was never a factor in the race. So was former legislative counsel Peter Griffin, who ran for the House seat being vacated by Kitty Toll and finished a poor second.

Expanded mail-in voting was a resounding success. Record turnout when neither of our Senate seats were on the ballot, and with little apparent drama in either race for governor. With universal mail voting available in November, we’re on course to set another turnout record. It’s also a strong argument for mail voting everywhere — that is, if you like maximizing participation in our democracy. At least two of our three political parties do.

There was a lot of unhappiness with the Democratic gubernatorial choices. There were 6,569 write-in votes, more than six percent of the total. (Most of them presumably cast for Gov. Phil Scott.) There were 7,739 blank ballots for governor. Think of that: Seven percent of those who bothered to cast votes couldn’t be bothered to choose a gubernatorial candidate. That’s stunning. And seems to reveal a broad dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. One more sign that Zuckerman has some serious work to do.

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For a minute, I thought this was a thing (and other senatorial thoughts)

This is a mailer sent to voters in the Chittenden County Senate district. It features three of the four incumbents who are seeking re-election, running as a ticket.

The fourth? Sen. Phil Baruth.

Hmm. Was he excised, like Trump from that Jeffrey Epstein photo on Fox News? Is he persona non grata?

Nope. No conspiracy, no coup, nothing juicy. In this pandemic season, he explained, “I made a pledge not to raise or spend any money. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for money when everybody’s finances have taken a massive hit.” And since taking part in the joint mailer would have cost a couple thousand dollars or so, he withdrew from the enterprise. In fact, just today he posted a message on Facebook about his decision.

It’s not entirely a selfless decision; two of the six seats are open, which increases the odds that the four incumbents will sail through a crowded Democratic field. Baruth feels confident he will survive the August vote. “If, after five cycles, I haven’t accrued enough goodwill [to win], maybe that’s for the best.”

He’s almost certainly right. I expect the four incumbents to be the top four finishers in the primary. As for the rest of the Chittenden County Senate field, handicapping the primary is a fool’s game. Normal campaigning is off the table, so how do people get their names out there? Judging by the mid-July finance reports, only one candidate has enough money to make a major media push.

Besides, this primary is a mystery. These affairs are usually low-key and low-turnout, but a massive number of Vermonters have requested absentee ballots. We could easily see a record turnout, which makes for an unpredictable election.

Even the campaign finance filings are harder than usual to interpret. Some candidates, like Baruth and Rep. Dylan Giambatista, who’s running for Senate, have eschewed fundraising. Many others have shifted to passive mode, accepting donations that come in but doing little or nothing to solicit funds.

But hey, the reports are there, so let’s give ’em a look.

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@VTDems: The Odd Couple, and other observations

Mixed bag on the Democratic ticket: Sue Minter for governor, David Zuckerman for Lite-Guv. Not that there’s usually much coordination between the #1 and #2 candidates, but I expect little to none from this pairing.

Indeed, one question worth asking: Now that Zuckerman is the Democratic nominee, will the party share its voter database with him?

But let’s take a step back and ponder tonight’s results and what they mean for Democratic politics. In no particular order:

A good night for the mainstream Democratic Party. I say so despite Zuckerman’s win; he took a plurality of the vote, nowhere near a majority. If he’d been matched up with Shap Smith alone, he would have lost badly. (Yes, I’m assuming that the bulk of Kesha Ram’s votes would have gone to Shap.)

And, of course, Minter had little trouble outpacing Matt Dunne. Some of this was due to Dunne’s Six Days of Hell, but it’s impossible to know how much.

Bernie’s coattails proved surprisingly short. Dunne believed that turning himself into Bernie Lite was the key to victory. We know how that turned out, don’t we?

Truth is, as we can see from the Lite-Guv totals, much of the Democratic electorate is moderate to liberal, not progressive. Bernie’s popularity is partly a matter of policy, but more a matter of persona. Bernie is extremely popular. It’s yet to be proven that his policies alone are a winning formula in Vermont.

Matt Dunne blew it. Last fall, he seemed the clear favorite. Minter was untested and tied directly to the Shumlin administration. Dunne was the more experienced candidate. He raced out to an early fundraising advantage.

He should have won the primary.

Why didn’t he?

Well, part of it was the Six Days of Hell — his position shift on renewable energy siting, his restatement/retraction of said shift, the blatant hypocrisy of his stand against self-funded campaigns even after he self-funded his own, the scorched-earth tactics of blaming the media and “the establishment” for problems of his own making.

But even before that, I’d argue he blew the primary by deciding not to be himself. There’s a Matt Dunne who could have won this race. It’s the plausibly liberal technocrat with high-tech chops who would have brought managerial know-how and broad experience in government and the private sector. That’s a pretty appealing candidate, especially after the administrative misfires of the Shumlin years.

But he simply wasn’t plausible as Bernie II. He had too much of a track record. His policies were part Bernie, part moderate Dem. His personality was a poor fit. And, to the extent that Bernie and the Vermont Democratic Party have a touchy relationship, his embrace of Berniedom did nothing for his own standing with party regulars.

His late-days mistakes only reinforced his reputation in many minds as an overly ambitious pol willing to say anything to become governor. He is now a three-time loser who burned quite a few bridges; a political comeback is possible but seems unlikely. He might have to be satisfied with being a well-paid Google executive. Such a burden.

Sue Minter has a lot of work to do. She’ll have to unify the party, which should be easier since Matt Dunne prioritized party unity in his concession speech. But she will be the underdog against Phil Scott. She spent heavily to fend off Dunne. She’s got some political seasoning in the primary, but now she’s in the spotlight. It’s a big step up for someone who hasn’t run a general election campaign outside of Waterbury.

I’m sure I will have some thoughts on possible strategy for Minter and the Democrats, but all in due time.

The VTGOP will use Zuckerman to attack Democrats. Actually, that’s not a prediction; it’s already begun.

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Zuckerman’s nomination increases the chances that Randy Brock will be our next Lieutenant Governor. Zuckerman’s still the favorite, but he’ll be a weaker general-election candidate than Shap Smith would have been.

And the stakes are high in that race. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, sits on the influential Committee on Committees, and casts tie-breaking votes. Brock would be a strong conservative presence; On the other hand…

If Zuckerman does win, we could have a very different Senate. Zuckerman as presiding officer, potentially Tim Ashe as President Pro Tem, and Chris Pearson a very capable lawmaker. Although Zuckerman has been in the Senate for a while, I can’t see him supporting the status quo. He’d have very little patience for the niceties and obscure mores of the Senate.

And whither the omnipresent Dick Mazza? The perennial kingmaker will have to adapt to — or try to conquer — a changed landscape. Will he continue to serve on the influential Committee on Committees? How would he get along with Zuckerman and Ashe as the other two members?

I know one thing. I’m voting for Zuckerman, if only for the entertainment value.

No sign of the Energy Rebellion much touted by the likes of Annette Smith and Mark Whitworth. Peter Galbraith is pulling less than 10 percent of the vote. One might presume that some of Matt Dunne’s 37 percent was due to his last-days revision of his renewables siting policy, but that seems a stretch. Smith and Galbraith loudly denounced Dunne after he re-explained his revision. It’s unlikely that their core supporters would have stuck with Dunne.

Whither Shap? I have no idea, but I’d be shocked if this was the end of his political career. He entered the Lite-Guv race very late, and he was hampered by Kesha Ram’s presence in the race. She’d garnered quite a few endorsements from the House Dem caucus, and many of them stuck with her.

Shap’s young enough to regroup and restart. He remains very popular in Democratic circles. He is highly respected for his shepherding of the House caucus. I doubt he’ll be tagged as a loser; he finished a strong second after a late entry, and he’ll get a lot of credit for that.

If Phil Scott wins the governorship, Shap ’s the early favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2018 — or maybe he’d wait until 2020, a presidential year.

The question will be, what role does he play in the near future? I don’t know, and I doubt that he knows right now. If Minter wins, he could probably have his pick of cabinet posts. Otherwise, he could run silent, run deep: continue to build relationships across the state and prepare for his next political venture.

I think that’s about enough for primary night. I’l turn to the Republicans next.

Progressive Party: sovereign entity or barnacle?

Here’s an interesting factoid. Voters in the August 9 primary will have their choice of three ballots — Democratic, Republican, and Progressive.

The latter will be available statewide in printed form. And in most of our precincts, the entire Progressive ballot will contain precisely one name: Boots Wardinski, Capital City Farmers Market stalwart and Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor. He’s run for Lite-Guv twice before, both times on the Liberty Union ticket, with minimal result.

We are all paying (by one account, $80,000*) to put Boots Wardinski’s name on ballots that will be largely ignored by voters. Most Progressives won’t take a Progressive ballot because so many Progs are running in Democratic primaries. Like, for instance, real live actual Progressive David Zuckerman, running as a Dem for lieutenant governor — in a tough race against Democrats Shap Smith and Kesha Ram. How many Progs are going to pass up a chance to influence that race just to cast a vote for Boots Wardinski?

*According to the Secretary of State’s office, the total cost of this year’s primary ballots is roughly $160,000. One-third of that would be $53,333.33. So there’s your Boots Tax.)

Beyond the unfortunate use of public funds for all those straight-to-the-shredder Wardinski ballots, this raises an existential issue about the Progressive Party.

Is it gradually ceding its sovereignty, and turning into nothing more than a barnacle on the Democrats’ underside?

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Shap Sweeps House Honchos

House Speaker Shap Smith has put out an impressive, if not exactly unexpected, list of endorsements in his bid for lieutenant governor. They include the House Majority Leader, the Assistant Majority Leader, plus the chairs of twelve House committees. He already had the backing of a thirteenth chair — himself, head of House Rules.

The only two Shapstainers are Agriculture Committee chair Carolyn Partridge and Republican Transportation chair Patrick Brennan.

Two of the Shapbackers, Tony Klein and Bill Botzow, had previously endorsed Rep. Kesha Ram, but that was before Smith entered the race.

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Bedazzling the bucket

The three contenders for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary got together Tuesday night to talk about the job and how they might make it a little more useful. Or a little less useless, perhaps.

The relatively powerless second-in-command is, as far as I know, an oddity of American politics. (Do other countries’ governments sport institutionalized appendices?) A heartbeat away from executive power, but trapped in an unglamorous treadmill of boredom famously dubbed “a bucket of warm piss” by one of its occupants.

You could say the lieutenant governorship is what you make it, but it’d be more accurate to say that it’s what other people let you make it. Peter Shumlin gave Phil Scott a seat in his Cabinet, a generous gesture that Scott has repaid by strenuously denouncing anyone who calls attention to it.

Still, at the very least, the office can be used as a bully pulpit. You can advocate for your causes. You can engage in backroom politics in the Senate, where you do wield a bit of authority. Or you can set off on a gimmicky, photo-op-friendly Jobs Tour.

Oh wait, that one’s been taken.

The three candidates’ images of the job, to a large extent, mirror their separate capabilities and interests.

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The two triangles

With the entry of Shap Smith into the race for lieutenant governor, the two high-profile Democratic primaries have assumed weirdly parallel dimensions.

Each has three candidates.

Each has two men and one woman.

Each has two figures from the Democratic mainstream (one man and one woman), plus one man with a more independent streak.

(Matt Dunne may argue about the “mainstream” characterization,but let’s put it this way. He’s been a Democrat for quite a while. He held elective office as a pure-D Democrat. He’s not a narcissistic cuss like the other man in the gubernatorial race.)

There are parallel dynamics and uncertainties. Each woman is, obviously, in a position to capitalize on the pro-woman vote. (A lot of us want to improve Vermont’s woeful record on electing women to high office.) If she can do so and her two opponents split the “male” vote, she has a path to victory.

Each woman has also gotten off to a rocky start, and (so far) failed to galvanize broad support. Not that any of the men has been setting the world on fire.

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So, Shap.

The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.

At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.

… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.

He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.

Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.

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Senate Tweaks Doomed Program

Well, huzzah. The State Senate has approved a change in the public financing law. Currently, a candidate who wants public financing has to wait until February 15 to say or do anything campaign-related. Given the current fashion in extra-early campaign launches, that’s a significant handicap.

Tne new bill would start the clock “as soon as a privately financed candidate raised or spent up to $2,000 on a gubernatorial or lieutenant gubernatorial campaign — up to one year before Election Day,” reports Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

This solves the too-late problem without ensuring ever-earlier campaign launches. Good idea.

However, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the deadline is far from the biggest problem with the public financing system. The biggest problem is the skyrocketing cost of statewide campaigns and the paltry sums on offer through the public funding system.

Currently, a gubernatorial hopeful who earns enough small donations gets to (a) keep that money and (b) get enough public dollars to bring their campaign total to $450,000. For lieutenant governor, the figure is $200,000.

And those are absolute limits. Not a penny more, from any source. Not even a mention in a party’s email blast.

These days, that’s simply not enough to support a competitive campaign.

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High stakes for a low-heeled job

It may be Vermont’s “bucket of warm piss,” in the unexpurgated words of John Nance Garner, but the campaign for Lieutenant Governor is going to absolutely shatter all previous records. In fact, the record will almost certainly fall before the party primaries in August.

Two years ago, Phil Scott and Dean Corren combined to spend about $433,000 on their respective campaigns. That set a new high water mark for the post. So far this year, about $400,000 has been contributed to Lite-Guv hopefuls. And for goodness’ sake, it’s only March!

Democrat Brandon Riker managed to raise $188,000 before dropping out, which tells you something right there. A newbie candidate raises almost as much by March 15 as Phil Scott did for all of 2014 — and feels compelled to withdraw in spite of his bankroll.

The remaining Democratic candidates, Kesha Ram and David Zuckerman, are closing in on the $200,000 mark combined, with no end in sight.

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