Tag Archives: Paul Dame

Lightning Round!

As the Legislature winds down, the political news is coming thick and fast. Got several items worthy of comment including Gov. Phil Scott’s generic condemnation of persons unknown, a better use for the state’s “extra” money, three potentially interesting House races, and a depressingly rote report on last night’s Congressional debate. Let’s GOOOO!!!

Scott condemns… somebody. Perhaps because of the killing of Fern Feather, the governor (or his comms staff) took to Twitter and amped up his language condemning hate speech in the political arena. He cited “disturbing hostility toward the transgender community” and lamented that Vermont “is not immune to this.” It was a good statement, as far as it went.

But he failed to mention the source of all the hostility: his own Republican Party. He also failed to name the two individuals responsible for bringing the hate home: VTGOP chair Paul Dame and Burlington Republican Committee chair Christopher-Aaron Felker. As long as the governor refrains from identifying those responsible and refuses to step into his own party and deal with this garbage, his words are sadly empty, In the vernacular, it’s time for him to grow a pair.

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This Is Your Vermont Republican Party

Christopher-Aaron Felker, spectacularly unsuccessful Burlington City Council candidate and chair of the burning wreck of the city Republican committee, caused quite the stir Monday on the Twitter machine. He tagged the “groomer” label on Democratic and Progressive lawmakers who’ve sponsored a bill to allow minors to seek gender-affirming treatment without parental consent.

There’s hardly a more despicable word you could use to tar a political opponent. You’re basically calling them pedophiles.

It’s beyond the pale. It ought to make Felker persona non grata in polite circles. And in the Republican Party as well.

But it won’t.

It won’t because, Phil Scott notwithstanding, This Is Your Vermont Republican Party. The governor isn’t merely an outlier in his own party; he’s the lone inhabitant on an island that’s slowly sinking under the waves.

Felker took it beyond the pale, but the illustration and the talking point came straight from the VTGOP. Its chair, Paul Dame, might be a bit more restrained than Felker, but he’s operating out of the same defamatory playbook, fearmongering a bill that’s already dead for the session.

So why should we expect the party to punish Felker over one simple additional word?

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The VTGOP’s Little Oligarchs

I’ve written before of the delicate high-wire act between moderates and far-righters that VTGOP chair Paul Dame is perfectly unsuited to carry out. He’s got to try to encompass the Phil Scott camp and all the ultraconservatives who litter the party apparatus.

Turns out, he also has to play nice with a coterie of big donors ($1,000 or more apiece) who are keeping the party above water, and most of them tilt strongly rightward.

The VTGOP has had fundraising trouble since I started tracking #vtpoli back in 2011. They still do. A check of the party’s FEC filings shows that, from January 2021 through February 2022, total party fundraising added up to $94,081. They got another $14,350 from the Republican National Committee, bringing total takings to $108,431.

That’s less than $10,000 a month, even with the RNC’s pity money.

Compare that to the Vermont Democratic Party, which raised almost $300,000 from individual donors in the same period — at a time when the party was seriously disorganized and suffering frequent turnover among leadership and staff. But that’s just the beginning; the VDP took in another 300K from other organizations. Almost two-thirds of that came from the Democratic National Committee. Most of the rest came from Democratic politicians’ campaign funds and members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation as well as a couple of big labor unions and, for some reason, $500 apiece from sports-gambling giants FanDuel and DraftKings.

Add it all up, and it’s more than $600,000 in the same period when the VTGOP barely cleared $100,000.

So the VTGOP is scrambling for any dollar it can find. And of its fundraising total, $42,670 — more than 45% — came from big-dollar donors. Well, big-dollar by Vermont standards anyway. But clearly, they make up enough of the VTGOP’s donor base that they have to be catered to. Now, let’s look at who they are.

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VTGOP Chair Blows the Gender Panic Dog Whistle As Loudly As He Can

Paul Dame has struck again. The VTGOP chair knows that he can’t follow the national Republican playbook verbatim because it’d be a losing proposition in Vermont, so he tries to roll out shaded, nuanced, softened versions of the hard-right talking points.

This time, in his weekly email blast, he turned his attention to the big conservative bugaboo of the news cycle: GENDER PANIC!!!!!!!

The missive is entitled “Progressive Democrats Try To Strip Parental Consent.” In it, Dame waves the bloody shirt over H.659, a bill that would allow nonsurgical, gender-affirming care for minors without parental consent. The bill’s lead sponsors are Reps. Taylor Small and Tanya Vyhovsky, which Dame spells “Vyyhovsky.” Oops.

See, in the Vermont political environment, Dame can’t come right out and advocate a ban on gender-affirming treatment or discussion of gender in the schools because he’d risk alienating too many voters. So he has to aim lower. He sees “parental consent” as a hittable target. It’s also the VTGOP version of fighting abortion rights; they can’t possibly win on banning abortions, so they circle the wagons around parental consent.

But even though Dame has smoothed off the extreme edges of the argument, his piece is built on a lie and gets worse from there.

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VTGOP Chair Dog-Whistling With All His Breath

At times I feel sorry for Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont Republican Party, seen here on one of his seldom-watched YouTube thingies (posted 2/18, racked up 40 views since). But then he goes and opens his mouth, and the sympathy evaporates.

Dame has a staff of no one, and he’s got the thankless task of cosseting the Trumpites and the QAnon types without alienating the center and center-right voters necessary for electoral success. He carries out that delicate endeavor with all the grace of a rhinoceros on a high wire.

Take his reaction to Tuesday’s Town Meeting results, in which almost every right-wing fanatic lost their bid for local office. In an email to Seven Days, he claimed that the results had nothing to do with ideology; they were simply a matter of incumbent’s advantage.

Yeah, well, that might be true for races with actual incumbents, but it leaves out all the other contests that saw non-incumbent, non-extremist candidates absolutely mollywhop their far-right opponents. But I guess Dame has to find an explanation besides “Vermont voters are sickened by extremism.” That wouldn’t play well with the base.

He then went on to blame Emerge Vermont (!!!!!) for politicizing local elections.

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This Will Be a Good Test of the State of the VTGOP

In this corner: six-term state Sen. Joe Benning, former Senate Minority Leader and the only Republican to chair a Senate committee.

In that corner: Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther, organizer of the CovidCruiser, anti-critical race theory agitator and head of Vermonters for Vermont, an all-purpose far-right Society for the Airing of Grievances.

These are the two Republicans running for lieutenant governor. It ought to be an easy choice. Prominent lawmaker, articulate, thoughtful conservative versus fringey zealot. And maybe it will be; I make Benning the clear favorite.

But it might not be, and therein lies the problem with today’s VTGOP. There are a lot of Gregory Thayers in the party ranks. Party chair Paul Dame is likely to take a cautiously neutral position because he can’t afford to inflame the far right, even though Benning is clearly the better choice. He’s the only one who’d bring credibility to the ticket, and he’s earned his party’s support through his years of service.

But we’re talking about a VTGOP that’s turned its back on Gov. Phil Scott, the only Republican who’s won a statewide election since 2008. And a VTGOP whose base probably sees Benning as a turncoat.

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Wow, It Must Have Been a Bad Year for the VTGOP

Paul Dame, freshly squeezed Vermont Republican Party chair (pictured above in his natural state), has put out an end-of-year best-of list designed to buoy VTGOP spirits. But when you read it, well, it’s kinda sad.

In his latest weekly email blast, which I get in my inbox So You Don’t Have To, he offers the party’s “Top 5 Moments of 2021.” (It was also posted on Vermont Daily Carbuncle because they need all the free content they can get, and you can find it there if you care to.) And I tell ya, the strain really shows. He had to dig pretty darn deep to get all the way to five.

And one of those five had nothing to do with Vermont. At all.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott’s management of Covid-19 doesn’t make the list. This, despite the fact that Scott managed things quite well for the first seven months of the year and since then, has hewed to Republican principles in refusing to impose new mandates despite the worsening of the pandemic. You’d think that would count for something, but not in VTGOPland. Scott famously has as little to do with his party as possible; apparently the feeling is mutual.

Anyway, let’s get to Dame’s chosen top five.

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The VDP’s New Chair Seems the Ideal Choice for the Job

Vermont’s Democratic and Republican parties selected new state chairs this fall. We have previously dealt with the Republican, Paul Dame, former state lawmaker and the “brains” behind that lamentable “Let’s Go Brandon” rally (btw, the VTGOP is offering leftover LGB merch at big discounts, heh) and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of his one-man YouTube commentaries.

Now, let’s meet the other new chair. Anne Lezak stepped quietly into her leadership role at the VDP. While Dame’s election drew some coverage and he has since made news a couple of times for dubious reasons, I don’t recall a single story about Lezak. Indeed, she is so not in the news that it’s hard to find a photograph of her. The image at the top of this column is from the VDP’s website.

The lack of coverage is a shame because Lezak is far more likely than Dame to have a significant impact on Vermont’s political scene. She’s the best qualified Democratic chair in years. By her resumé, she possesses all the skills and experience you’d want in a party chair. She has every chance to end the game of musical chairs at the top of the organization and put the party in a much stronger position.

Let’s start with this. The job of a party chair is not to make headlines or develop policy. It’s the dirty, thankless, unglamorous work of building a strong organization, raising the necessary funds, fostering a sense of unity in a party that’s famously fractious, and making sure that everyone is doing their jobs. If you don’t see Lezak in the news, well, that’s because it’s not her job to be in the news and she knows it.

Lezak is an organizational consultant who has worked mainly with mission-driven organizations. She’s created strategic plans, raised money, and advised on the nuts and bolts of running an organization. She’s also a former chair of the Rutland County Democrats and a three-time campaign manager who won all three races.

Ticks all the boxes, right?

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The Human Dog Whistle

Vermont’s two major parties (sorry, Progs, I don’t buy the legal definition) have chosen new chairs. The Democrats won the big prize with Anne Lezak, an organizer and fundraiser by trade and a successful party builder. (Upcoming post will feature a deeper dive on Lezak.)

The Republicans got… this guy. Paul Dame, financial planner and former one-term state lawmaker. Dame’s party building strategy is two-pronged: Posting commentary videos on YouTube with all the professionalism on display in the above screenshot, and blowing all the dog whistles as hard as he can.

Yeah, while Lezak is actually doing her job, Dame is out here trying to “win the news cycle” with bad videos and cutely-worded statements. Which, considering how many Vermonters actually pay attention to this stuff, is slightly more effective than howling into the void. (He’s posted four videos on YouTube; they’ve averaged 82 views apiece as of this writing. Wow.)

Dame’s first big dog whistle was the first event under his chairship: the “Let’s Go, Brandon” rally, supposedly a nod to his hometown but actually a thinly-veiled callout to the most childish instincts of conservative Republicanism. It worked, insofar as it got him a spot on the Howie Carr Show and some coverage in the Pavlovian political press.

Now he’s blowing the dog whistle for the conspiratorial Flavor of the Month, critical race theory.

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Still a Dumpster Fire

Just in case you thought a new party chair meant significant change in the Vermont Republican Party… just in case you bought those media references to the “moderate” incoming chair… Here’s the first initiative birthed by said chair.

Now, that’s just about the loudest dog whistle ever blown.

“Let’s Go Brandon” is, of course, the juvenile chant adopted by rabid right-wingers as a stand-in for “Fuck Joe Biden.” (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here.)

The VTGOP can claim the barest hint of a fig leaf for this nonsense in that (1) Brandon is an actual town, and (2) it’s the hometown of new chair Paul Dame. But we know what’s going on here. We know why the first rally is not in Montpelier or Burlington or St. Albans or Rutland.

It’s in Brandon because Dame’s first instinct — and/or his only option — is to appeal to the base. (The party is selling a wide array of “Let’s Go Brandon” merchandise, too. Cashing in on far-right hatred is such a good look.)

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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