Tag Archives: Mark MacDonald

Wanted: A Few New State Senators. Or a Lot.

Well, I guess there’s at least one group with a worse seniority problem.

The Vermont Senate, as has been noted in this space, is a temple of tenure. It’s almost impossible to defeat a sitting senator; the only time we get a new one is when someone voluntarily retires. That rarely happens and, as a result, the Senate just keeps getting older and older.

How old? Average age of the 30 senators is 63.4 years. There are only five senators under age 50; there are 14 over 70, and 11 who are 75 and older. There are two others in their late 60s, which means we have a Senate majority past retirement age.

And the oldest wield the most power. The average age of the 11 policy committee chairs is 72.1. Brian Campion is the only policy chair under 64. Yep, that chamber loves it some seniority.

This has some unfortunate effects. First, there’s often an airless quality to the Senate’s work. It is an entity apart from the real world — or even those rambunctious young’uns in the House. (Senators often treat the House with open contempt.) Second, senators are often out of touch when discussing issues of concern to young people like digital technology, child care, substance use, rental housing, and workforce development. Third, well, it’s really hard to get the Senate to take a fresh look at anything or contemplate a change in How We’ve Always Done It.

Sure, tenure has its benefits. They know their way around the building, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some, including Dick Sears, Bobby Starr, and Jane Kitchel, bring decades of experience and deep knowledge of their policy beats.

But in any organization, you want a mix of young and old, new and tenured. The Senate is terribly skewed toward age and seniority. It’s long past time for some serious turnover. Will 2022 be the year we get it? I sure hope so.

After the jump: Naming some names.

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Our Sclerotic Senate [UPDATED]

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

Note: In the original version of this post, I failed to include Ron Horton in the Essex-Orleans district. This post is now updated to include him.

The Vermont state Senate, our most self-absorbed deliberative body, is a study in stasis. Turnover is rare. Incumbents are virtually assured of re-election, usually without much effort. (The last sitting senators to lose were Bill Doyle and Norm McAllister in 2016 — but Doyle was 90 years old, quite frail and had a reputation for nodding off during meetings, and McAllister faced a daunting array of criminal charges at the time. That’s about what it takes for an incumbent to lose.

Anyway.)

This year promises to be same song, new verse. A rough and semi-educated review of the field of candidates shows that 27 of the 30 senators are strong or prohibitive favorites to win re-election — and that includes one incumbent who didn’t bother filing his candidacy papers, and will have to run a write-in campaign. The forgetful fellow is NEK Democrat and snippy little bitch John Rodgers, who represents the two-seat Essex-Orleans district along with perpetual incumbent Bobby Starr, who did manage to file — along with “Democrat” Ron Horton, who ran this race under the banner of the American Party in 2018.

The American Party, FYI, is a fringe conservative organization that traces its roots back to the American Independent Party founded by hardcore segregationist George Wallace. Horton finished a distant third in 2018 behind Starr and Rodgers. He stands a puncher’s chance in this year’s primary because his name is on the ballot and Rodgers’ is not. But Rodgers’ cavailer attitude toward the simple act of filing papers (and this year he didn’t even need to gather signatures) precisely illustrates the problem: Senate incumbents are virtually bulletproof.

I said 27 of the 30 are favorites. The other three — Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram of Chittenden County and James McNeil of Rutland — are voluntarily giving up their seats. Indeed, voluntary retirement is just about the only way there’s ever any turnover in the Vermont Senate.

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Good Ol’ Norm: The gift that keeps on giving

The news arrived on Friday and got buried under the end-of-session avalanche: State Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister will face two separate trials on multiple sex-crime charges. Trial was slated to begin today, but the first of the two proceedings has been postponed until June 15. That’s the one regarding McAllister’s former “assistant,” which will feature testimony from McAllister’s legislative colleagues. That’ll be a real get-your-popcorn moment. (The second trial has yet to be scheduled.)

But that wasn’t the most interesting point.

No, the most interesting point is that McAllister is actively mulling a run for re-election. He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, “I probably will file anyway. I can always change my mind and decide not to run later.”

No surprise to me. I’ve been saying all along that there’s nothing to stop McAllister from seeking re-election. Indeed, there’s nothing in state law to bar him from returning to the Senate if he wins in November — even if he’s convicted and facing prison time. The Senate does have authority to determine if someone is fit to join their august body, and it wouldn’t be hard to exclude him — if, indeed, he is convicted. If he’s acquitted, on the other hand, the Senate would be hard-pressed to banish him. He’d make everyone horribly uncomfortable, but that doesn’t constitute grounds for exclusion.

In Other News, the Republican Slimy Lies Committee — er, sorry, Republican State Leadership Committee — is back with a despicable ad targeting legislative Democrats.

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The apotheosis of Norm

It’s only six days into the new year, but I think we have a front-runner for Dumbest Political Statement Of The Year. Take it away, State Senator Dick McCormack:

“Adjudication is not supposed to be democratic,” he said. “Jesus was put to death by the will of the majority. Socrates was put to death by the will of the majority.”

That is how the Orange Windsor County Democrat explained his vote against the expulsion of Norm McAllister, self-admitted sex criminal.

Jesus.

Socrates.

Oh my.

You know, if the first rule of political discourse is “Take it easy on the Hitler talk,” then Rule Two ought to be “Think twice before comparing anyone to Jesus.”

I mean, c’mon. First of all, to compare Norm McAllister, in any way, shape, or form, to two of the great men* of history is, well, let’s just say unfortunate.

*Or one great man and one God in human form, take your pick.

But even leaving aside that rhetorical absurdity, I’m afraid McCormack has a foundational problem and a historical problem as well.

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Shumlin may have lost the center, but the worst damage was on his left

Much of the post-election analysis has concluded that Governor Shumlin’s extremely narrow apparent victory is a repudiation of his more progressive policies (esp. health care) and that, in response, he’ll have to move toward the center.

There’s some truth in that. On health care, for instance, I really believe he’s got to get Vermont Health Connect up and running before he can expect anybody to support any kind of single-payer plan.

It'll take more than  free food to win back the base.

It’ll take more than free food to win back the base.

However, there’s ample evidence in the unofficial election returns for a very different analysis: the Governor would have sailed to an easy re-election if he hadn’t lost the left wing. There were sizable numbers of liberal voters who (1) stayed home or (2) cast protest votes for Scott Milne, Dan Feliciano, or a write-in. (They felt safe doing so because Milne was such a weak candidate, ha ha, that nobody felt the need to cast a defensive vote for Shumlin.)

As for #1, turnout hit an all-time record low. ‘Nuff said. Conservative voters were motivated, liberal voters were uninspired. The rest of this post will explore #2.

Previously, I cited the vast difference between Shumlin’s vote total and Congressman Peter Welch’s. In the final unofficial results (posted Saturday on the Secretary of State’s website), Welch received a total of 123,349 votes.

Shumlin got 89,509.

That’s a difference of nearly 34,000 votes. To put it another way, more than one-quarter of all Welch voters did not vote for Peter Shumlin.

That’s a stunning figure. But wait, there’s more.

I checked Shumlin’s totals in four Democrat-friendly state Senate districts: Bennington, Windham, Orange, and Washington.

In the Bennington district, Gov. Shumlin got 6,522 votes. He badly trailed Dem incumbent Dick Sears, who got 7,965 votes. That’s over 1400 Sears supporters who did not vote for the Governor.

In the solid blue Windham Senate district, the Governor’s home turf, he was outpolled by Sen. Jeanette White, the top vote-getter for two Senate seats, by a margin of 7777 to 6758.

More than a thousand votes lost, in the county he’s lived almost his entire life.

In Orange County’s Senate district, Shumlin trailed incumbent Democrat Mark MacDonald by 561 votes — MacDonald’s 3797 to Shumlin’s 3236. Which was virtually identical to MacDonald’s margin of victory over his Republican opponent, Bob Frenier.

In fact, if Frenier had equalled Scott Milne’s total and MacDonald had equalled Shumlin’s, the Senate seat would have flipped to the Republicans. So a sizeable number of Orange County voters split their tickets, opting for the Milne/MacDonald combo platter.

In the three-seat Washington County district, Shumlin drew 9,173 votes. That’s almost 2,000 behind top Democrat Ann Cummings (11,167) and 1300 behind Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina (10,474).

Reminder: The Prog/Dem Pollina was, by far, the most liberal of the Senatorial candidates in Washington County. He was believed to be vulnerable to a strong challenge from Republican Pat McDonald. In the end, Pollina was re-elected by a substantial margin.

Governor Shumlin trailed Anthony Pollina, ardent supporter of single-payer health care and higher taxes on the wealthy, by 1300 votes. Those numbers undercut the dominant narrative, that this election’s message was to go slow and move to the center. Pollina ain’t moving to nobody’s center.

Add those four districts, and Governor Shumlin lost more than 5,000 votes compared to the top Democratic Senate candidates.

In short, if the Governor had simply held onto his base, nobody would be talking about a Scott Milne squeaker.

In addition to all these numbers, I can tell you that every liberal I’ve heard from since Tuesday has told me stories about diehard Democratic voters who simply could not bring themselves to vote for Shumlin. That’s anecdotal evidence, but there’s a lot of it around.

I’m sure the Governor lost plenty of votes in the center. But he shouldn’t take this election as a mandate to shy away from progressive policies, and Republicans should be cautious about claiming 2014 as a mandate for them. This election was less about ideology than it was about disappointment in and distrust of Governor Shumlin.

The left wing of the Democratic Party has had its doubts about Shumlin from day one. He was seen as more of an opportunist, a triangulator, than other Democratic contenders in 2010. He placated the left by touting his opposition to Vermont Yankee and promising an all-out push for single-payer health care. During his two terms in office, he has done little to earn the respect of the left, and done much to forfeit their trust. His 2013 push to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit was seen as a betrayal on the left, as was his continual opposition to any sort of tax hikes on top earners. The awful performance of Vermont Health Connect is a mortal threat to single-payer.

If he wants to make a comeback, establish a legacy for his governorship, and perhaps try to run for a Congressional seat one day, he would be well advised to make peace with Vermont liberals instead of turning himself into Phil Scott Lite.

p.s. Yeah, I know, there are lots of liberals who already see him as Phil Scott Lite. Particularly “lite” on the perceived honesty and integrity of our Lieutenant Governor.