Tag Archives: Patrick Leahy

The Poll: A Wake-Up Call for Vermont Dems

Obligatory Vermont Exceptionalism jerkoff question.

The big news in the just-released VPR/VTPBS Poll was below the topline. I mean, the size of Gov. Phil Scott’s margin over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was a shock but not a surprise, if that makes sense. Unless something truly dramatic occurs in the next six weeks, Scott’s gonna win, but not by as much as the poll suggests.

For Dems, the alarm bells ought to be ringing loudly over the result of the race for lieutenant governor, which shows Dem Molly Gray with a slight lead, and the hypothetical Scott/Pat Leahy matchup in 2022, which puts Scott in the pole position.

Neither are a cause for panic, but both should inspire the Democrats to stop screwing around and get serious about this politics thing.

As for the LG race, I actually see it as bad news for Republican Scott Milne. He’s been on the statewide ballot twice before and almost became governor in 2014, plus he headed a high-profile business and comes from a storied family of moderate Republicanism. In name recognition alone, he should have an edge on Gray, who didn’t enter the political realm until about eight months ago.

Milne’s 31% shows that he’s enjoyed little carry-forward from his previous sallies. Plug any generic Republican into the LG slot, and they’d get 31%.

Which points to the even bigger problem for Milne: The Republican base is far too small to elect anyone, and he has yet to crack into the centrist/Democratic ranks — his two Dem endorsements notwithstanding. I suspect that all it will take to render a knockout blow to Milne is the likely outcome of the debates. Milne is an awful debater, and whatever you think of Gray, she’s got game.

Still, the Dems can’t be complacent about the race.

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The Phil Scott Century

Gather ’round, kids. It’s storytime.

Today I’ll tell you a tale of how Vermont Democrats owned themselves into a Phil Scott Senatorship.

We pick it up from the present day, when the Dems have clearly waved the white flag on the 2020 gubernatorial race. In fact, many of them believe Scott deserves a third term because of how he’s handled the pandemic.

They are entitled to their opinion. But they may not like the consequences headed their way.

Let’s assume that Scott wins re-election by double digits, further cementing his reputation as a moderate who can win elections in solid blue Vermont — enhancing his unique value to national Republican forces looking to pick off a safe blue Senate seat.

At the same time, Joe Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats take a majority in the U.S. Senate. Biden opens the floodgates of federal assistance for fighting Covid-19 and rebuilding the economy. Pat Leahy becomes chair of Senate Appropriations, where he can make sure Vermont gets a healthy slice of the pie.

This makes Scott’s third term much easier, as he doesn’t have to close massive budget gaps. But he decides against seeking a fourth term in 2022, and departs the scene as a noble figure who steered the Good Ship Vermont through stormy seas.

After the jump: Governor Donovan, Dem disunity, Bernie the retiree, and Senator Phil Scott.

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The Issueless Candidate

@thevpo1, Vermont’s Trusted Source for Unfair Screengrabs

Early contender for Best Inadvertent Laugh Line, 2020 General Election Edition, comes to us from Sen. Corey Parent, who’s got such a tough re-election fight on his hands that he’s devoting his spare time to managing Scott Milne’s bid for Lite-Guv. Fortunately for him, VTDigger has no laugh track, so the line is presented as if it were… serious:

Parent also said Milne “has always run campaigns based strictly on the issues.”

Corey’s a seasoned pro at this point, so it’s not too surprising that he managed to get through that line without breaking character. But still, congrats on a job well done.

Truth is, Milne is about the most issue-free major party candidate in recent memory. His two previous runs for office have featured a lot of snark, plenty of criticism for the incumbent, and virtually no actual positions or proposals on the issues.

In support of his assertion, Parent references Milne’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign: “Scott famously nearly defeated Peter Shumlin on the issue of health care.”

Well, yeah, I suppose. But Milne didn’t actually take a position on health care. He simply tried to make hay out of the disastrous rollout of Vermont Health Connect and Shumlin’s failure to enact a single-payer system. Just as he tried to make hay out of Shumlin’s other failings.

During the 2014 campaign, Milne kept promising to release a platform for his candidacy — and then delaying any announcements.

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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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Scott Milne, Nonviable Republican

“He squints inquisitively when he speaks and has an easy crooked smile.”

I dunno, I’ve never found crooked smiles all that beguiling.

Time to saddle up. Apparently I have to revisit the undistinguished electoral career of Scott Milne, now that he’s been dubbed “a viable Republican” by the wise heads at VTDigger in a profile that shows him in the best possible light and ignores all his defects and shortcomings.

Starting with the idea that his performance in the 2014 gubernatorial election proves his statewide viability — so much so that his absolute drubbing by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2016 somehow provides more evidence of his political magnetism.

It’s certainly true that Milne was given no shot at beating then-incumbent governor Peter Shumlin. His loss by a mere two thousand-odd votes was a shock to the #vtpoli world, this blogger included. But 2014 was no ordinary year. Shumlin had squandered all his political goodwill on his doomed venture into health care reform, and an ill-conceived land deal with a neighbor had reinforced a view of Shumlin as a shifty opportunist.

Compare 2014 with 2012. That year, Randy Brock was thoroughly trounced by Shumlin. Brock received 110,970 votes.

Two years later, Milne pulled his magician act, taking Shumlin to the limit. Milne’s vote total: 87,075 votes.

Shumlin, meanwhile, lost almost half his support. He earned 170,767 votes in 2012 — but only 89,509 in 2014. Shumlin had lost his mojo, and Milne was the lucky beneficiary. If the Republicans had nominated a halfway decent candidate, Shumlin would have been shitcanned.

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Trial Balloon Of The Day — UPDATED

Warning: This is pure speculation. It’s not even a rumor. No substance whatsoever. But it’s irresistible. And somewhat believable.

Update: It’s not pure speculation anymore; a prominent backstage figure in Vermont politics has openly put it out there. See below.

So I was talking with an administration functionary about, y’know, this and that, and talk inevitably turned to who might run for governor next year. And a name came up that I hadn’t even thought of, but that makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Peter Welch.

The longtime Congressman would immediately sweep aside the rest of the field. Even Phil Scott wouldn’t dare. No Democrat would challenge him; they’d all immediately stampede to the congressional race.

But why would Welch do this? He can stay in Congress as long as he wants to.

Well, let’s make the case. Entirely my speculation here, but follow along, just for the heck of it.

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How long will our pickle party go on?

For a very liberal state, Vermont’s got a surprisingly lousy record on electing women to our highest offices. We’ve got the #1 state legislature for gender equity, but there’s a distinct glass ceiling above that. A recent survey ranked Vermont a dismal 39th in the nation on gender equity in political office, thanks to women’s under-representation from the state Senate and top mayoralties, their almost complete absence from statewide offices, and their complete absence from our Congressional delegation.

Dismaying, then, to read the recent words of Seven Days’ Paul Heintz in speculating on the “next generation” of Democrats who might seize the next opportunity to move up the ladder should, say, Sen Patrick Leahy retire from office:

The most obvious contenders would be Congressman Welch, 67, and Gov. Shumlin, 58, though both men feign disinterest, perhaps out of respect for Leahy. If either was to leave his current job to run for Senate, that would provide openings for the next generation of Vermont politicos — including, presumably, Speaker Smith, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

No offense to any of those worthies, but four names, four men.

Sigh.

I checked in with Heintz to see if his list was meant to be comprehensive in any way, and he responded thusly:

That list definitely wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. I included a few up-and-coming officeholders whose names are frequently mentioned as potential statewide candidates. But there are plenty of others who would be equally strong candidates, including a number of women.

There’s no question that Vermont has elected too few women to statewide office. It’s pretty shocking that we’re one of just four states to have never sent a woman to Congress. I would certainly hope that Vermont’s next crop of congressional candidates is more reflective of our population than the current crop of incumbents.

Unfortunately, when you get down to it, the longer list of ambitious Democratic politicos is almost entirely male as well. The most prominent woman on the list, and just about the only one, is former State Rep. and current Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, while the amount of testosterone on that longer list would be enough to gag a goat.

Not sure what that means, but I’ll carry on.

When that gender equity report came out, Sarah McCall of Emerge Vermont, a group trying to encourage and train female candidates, expressed concern that the next few years are a critical time. If the upcoming round of political retirees are replaced by more men, she noted, we might have to wait another generation for female leaders to take their rightful place. And we’ve already lost a generation since Madeleine Kunin was our one and only female Governor.

In response to Heintz’ list — and really, to the unbalanced reality behind it — McCall offered these comments:

…this is certainly a conversation that Vermont politicos will be having frequently between now and 2016. In Vermont, we are lucky to have such strong leaders in our federal delegation and statewide offices; and whoever follows in Senator Leahy’s footsteps has some very big shoes to fill.

… I have no doubt that there are qualified female leaders in this state who aspire to serve our state in Washington, DC and Emerge Vermont will continue to train female leaders so that women running for public office at all levels of government becomes more commonplace.

It’s a hard thing to ask a qualified male to limit his own ambitions for the sake of equity. But breaking Vermont’s glass ceiling is long overdue. And I’d ask this of Vermont Democrats: Do we have to depend on the Republican Party, which might very well feature Heidi Scheuermann on its 2016 ticket? Or are you going to actively seek to remove the glass ceiling instead of simply bemoaning its existence, while allowing Business As Usual to continue?

Shumlination

Might seem like an oxymoron, but a radio guy has created the second-best visual representation of Governor Shumlin’s fundraising power. (VPR’s Taylor Dobbs by name.) It’s a simple bar graph: Shumlin’s money totals are indicated by two impressively erect columns reaching for the sky; Scott Milne’s are two thin smears on the bottom line.

I say “second-best” because the best comes from the legendary cartoon “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”

BambiGodzilla

There are a couple of big takeaways from the size of Shumlin’s warchest: (1) He came into 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee re-election. He’ll exit 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee victory in any race he chooses to enter for at least the next four years. And (2) It’s not Lenore Broughton who’s responsible for bringing big money into Vermont politics. It’s Peter Shumlin. And Peter Welch and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

Oh, and (3) a very interesting collision is shaping up for the 2015 legislative session, with VPIRG focusing its energy on campaign finance reform and our top Democrats greatly benefiting from the system as it is.

Let’s go deeper, shall we?

First point: Shumlin departed the 2012 campaign having spent only $346,000 to beat Randy Brock. He had a surplus of $915,000. Which meant he started 2014 with basically a million-dollar head start. That’s more than had ever been spent in any state-level campaign in Vermont with, I believe, three exceptions: Jim Douglas in 2008, and Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin in 2010.

He had a huge lead. And he has continued to raise money. And to spend very little of it. Chances are, he’ll exit 2014 with an even larger kitty — it wouldn’t surprise me if he has $1.5 million in the bank on December 31. If he tries at all, he could make it $2 million or more.

(Scott Milne has talked of Vermonters becoming fatigued by campaigns that cost $2-3 million. Which misses the point because while Shumlin’s campaign might possibly raise that much, it’ll spend only a tiny fraction of that. This will not be anything like a $2 million campaign. It may not even top a half mill.)

Which gives him an even bigger edge next time around, and ensures that he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016 and beyond — or, if he decides to run for something else, he will be the prohibitive favorite for that race.

Unless, of course, he has to run against Peter Welch for any Senate seat that might open up between now and 2020. (Safe to assume Shumlin wouldn’t challenge Pat Leahy or Bernie Sanders, right?) Because Welch has even more money on hand, and even less reason to spend any of it.

My conclusion: the only reason Shumlin is raising money at all is to (a) make it prohibitive for anyone to run for Governor as long as he’s in office and (b) block out any potential competition for a future Senate race.

Bringing me to point #2. Lenore Broughton did her best to influence the 2012 election by spending a million bucks on Vermonters First. It was a complete flopperoo, and if her latest finance filing is any indication, she has no plans to repeat the experiment. Her case is incessantly cited by top Democrats as a rationale for campaign finance reform, but she was an outlier. And a failed outlier at that.

The real, structural change to the financing of Vermont politics is that our Governor and our members of Congress have taken fundraising to a whole new level. They are drawing from the bottomless pool of money at the national level, while everyone else in Vermont is still playing at the state level.

This fact hit home for me when I looked at the latest filing from the Coca-Cola Nonpartisan PAC for Good Government. It’s 29 pages long! The typical filing by a state-level PAC is more like five or six pages. In terms of money, it’s the difference between the Vermont Lake Monstera and the New York Yankees. And, to stretch the analogy further, that’s the field Shumlin et al. are playing on.

So if you want to complain about the influx of money into Vermont politics, don’t complain about Lenore Broughton; complain about Peter Shumlin, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, and yes, Bernie Sanders. No one, Republican, Democrat, or Progressive, could hope to mount a competitive race when the incumbents have such an overwhelming advantage.

Third, VPIRG’s annual summer outreach program is about campaign finance reform. Last summer’s was about GMO foods, and it set the stage for easy passage of a GMO labeling bill this year. If you read the polls, campaign finance reform is a popular cause, just as GMO was. How will Shumlin and the Dems react when VPIRG drums up a groundswell of public support for a ban on contributions by corporations and lobbyists? Should be an interesting legislative battle in the new biennium.

Unlike many of my friends on the left, I don’t see many signs that the money is having a corrupting effect on the Administration. But it sure does look bad, especially when the Governor does something like strongly opposing a tax on soft drinks and then rakes in thousands of dollars from Coca-Cola, as the Burlington Free Press’ Terri Hallenbeck Tweeted today. I will say this: if you believe Shumlin is being corrupted by big money, what about Pat Leahy and Peter Welch? (I’ll give Bernie a pass on corporate donations, since he’s gotten most of his money in small amounts from individuals. But he’s still playing with millions, while most Vermont politicians get by with a few thousand at most.)