Tag Archives: Paul Ralston

Phil Scott Leadership Watch: Ducking Rubio (UPDATED)

Update: Most of what I wrote here is incorrect. I’ve been informed that Scott’s radio interview was taped in advance. He was, in fact, presiding over the Senate when the Rubio presser was held. My apologies for jumping to a conclusion. I’m keeping the original post intact because I don’t believe in erasing my mistakes. 

It still doesn’t explain why the Republicans held the presser at a time when Scott wasn’t available, and didn’t mention Scott’s name at all. Scott clearly intended for his endorsement of Marco Rubio to gain as little notice as possible. 

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Earlier today, I wrote about Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s arm’s-length, leave-no-fingerprints endorsement of Marco Rubio. You know, the one where he didn’t show up for a unified Republican press conference, at which nobody mentioned his name. The only indication of his endorsement was on a distributed list. He never even issued a statement about it.

Well, now we know where he was.

Yup. Paul Ralston’s vanity project, The Reluctant Pedant (I may have misremembered the title), airs at 1:00 Thursdays on WDEV. The Republican endorsement presser was at 1:00 Thursday in the Statehouse.

I gave Scott too much credit. I figured he was presiding over the Senate’s debate on marijuana legalization, a big issue on which he could have been called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote. But he was nowhere near the Senate. He was in Waterbury appearing on his “friend’s” radio show.

Now, maybe he considered that an unbreakable appointment. But the Republicans could have easily scheduled the presser for another hour, when he could have been on hand.

Nope, he was ducking. What a leader he is.

Repeating above update: Scott’s radio interview was taped earlier on Thursday. He was, in fact presiding over the Senate. Again, I apologize for my error. 

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Paul Ralston’s vanity project

This political season, with its rare turnover in the top ranks, has generated quite a bit of activity from politicos whose aspirations are no surprise — Phil Scott, Bruce Lisman, Matt Dunne, Sue Minter, TJ Donovan, etc. — but it’s also created some real headscratchers. There are people running for high office who cause me to wonder, “Who asked for this?”

So far, this category largely centers on the race for lieutenant governor, which has attracted a pair of high-profile liberal lawmakers and a trio of candidates who seemingly came out of nowhere: Brattleboro-area investment dude Brandon Riker, recently repatriated Washington journalist Garrett Graff, and Rutland-area doctor Louis Meyers. Nothing against these worthies or their noble intentions; but really, who asked for this?

Now comes another would-be candidate from out of nowhere, giving his own distinctive twist to this narrative: former State Representative and Vermont Coffee Company founder Paul Ralston. He has declared his potential candidacy for An Office To Be Named Later, under the banner of A Party To Be Named Later Or Maybe Independent, and created his own weekly radio show as a platform for his amorphous ambition.

Nothing against Paul Ralston; he makes my favorite coffees, a hell of a lot better than that Keurig sludge. But this whole thing strikes me as a vanity project more than anything else.

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Shap the Triangulator

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” 

                      –Lyndon B. Johnson

ICYMI, House Speaker Shap Smith has done something a bit unusual on two key issues, education funding and economic development. He solicited public input, and created special brainstorming committees to evaluate ideas.

Let's… Make… a Deal!

Let’s… Make… a Deal!

The existence of these committees is interesting enough; it smacks of a legislative leader angling for the bigger stage. This process amounts to an informal, back-office policy shop, and gives Smith  a very central role in crafting policy instead of, say, waiting for Governor Shumlin to initiate. His work with the committees also can’t help but endear him to some pretty prominent people.

More evidence of ambition can be found the makeup of the two groups. The education panel included ten current and former lawmakers: Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Good for building nonpartisan street cred.

The economy group included many of The Great And Good of Vermont’s business community, including Betsy Bishop of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Tom Torti of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and (Lord help us) Bruce Lisman of Campaign for Vermont Prosperity. The chair, Paul Ralston, is a former Democratic legislator who alienated many of his caucus mates during his single term*, and ended by partnering with Republican Rep. Heidi Scheuermann in Vision to Action Vermont, a PAC that’s just about as nonpartisan as Campaign for Vermont.

*I’ve heard him described as a junior-grade version of Peter Galbraith for his self-centered ways. Love his coffee, though.  

The group also includes a healthy share of relatively progressive businessfolks, like Andrew Savage of All Earth Renewables, Andrea Cohen of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital. But there was no one from the labor movement, and no one from any progressive or environmental organization.

It smacks of triangulation, the favored strategery of upwardly mobile Democrats and the bane of liberals. And it smacks of building networks of support among the deep-pocketed donor class. Which tends to lead to centrist policymaking, not to mention one of Gov. Shumlin’s favorite pastime, kicking the hippies.

I’m not ready to call Smith a sellout. A recent report on VPR lists some ideas emerging from the job-creation committee, and they actually sound pretty good: identifying ways to unlock capital for small businesses and startups, matching technical-school curricula with the needs of Vermont tech companies. Also, Cross is quoted as saying that Vermont’s business climate has more to do with quality of life and a clean environment than the old bromides of tax breaks and deregulation.

That sounds like a relatively progressive approach to economic development. And truth be told, there’s a need for a strategy that cuts through the standard liberal/business debate — that encourages job growth without abandoning liberal principles.

For instance, there is probably room for — and please don’t shoot me — some modest reform in the permitting process. The very phrase “permit reform” has been uttered by so many Republicans for so many years, it raises immediate hackles in the liberal community. Can we find a way to ease the process for the kinds of enterprise that create good jobs and contribute to our economic vitality without simply greasing the skids for strip malls and subdivisions? We probably can, and maybe — just maybe — Smith is trying to break the usual pattern and find a third way.

I’m willing to wait and see what emerges before passing judgment on the process and on Smith’s motivations.

As for the political question: Is Shap Smith running for governor? I don’t know. And at this point, he probably doesn’t either. But he’s certainly developing relationships and laying the groundwork for a future run, should he decide to do so.

The purely cosmetic bipartisanship of Vision To Action Vermont

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don't mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don’t mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann (R) and Paul Ralston (D), the busy bees behind Vision To Action Vermont, have been busy indeed these days. They’re releasing endorsements almost every day. And, on the surface, it looks to be a fair mix of Republicans and Democrats.

This figures, since V2AVT portrays itself as a nonpartisan, centrist, practical, “rise above party labels and get stuff done” kind of political action committee. If you listen closely, however, you can hear the business-friendly dog whistles a-blowin’. From its launch announcement:

[V2AVT is] a non-partisan organization that will promote, support and elect strong candidates for political office in Vermont who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.

That’s the entire Dog Whistle Philharmonic in a single sentence: fiscal responsibility, balanced, common-sense, economic prosperity, opportunities, individual liberties and responsibility.

And, despite a thin veneer of bipartisanship, the dog whistles continue to sound throughout V2AVT’s list of endorsements.

As of this writing, V2AVT has endorsed 22 candidates: 11 in the House, 10 in the Senate, plus Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Overall, they’ve endorsed 13 Republicans, eight Dems, and one Independent.

Okay, leaning rightward, but a respectable number of Democrats, right?

Not so much. There’s a strong trend in V2AVT’s endorsements. The higher the stakes, the more Republicans you get. While the House endorsements are split evenly, 5-5-1, the Senate endorsements include seven Republicans and only three Democrats. And then there’s Phil Scott, the group’s only statewide endorsement.

But beyond the mere numbers, there’s this: most of V2AVT’s Republican candidates are in highly competitive races, while their Democratic candidates are either unopposed or in very safe Democratic territory. 

This is especially true in the Senate, where V2AVT has endorsed all the Republicans’ top challengers except Robert Frenier, who’s challenging incumbent Dem Mark MacDonald in Orange County.

Otherwise, it’s like V2AVT and the VTGOP are using the same playbook. Dustin Degree and Norm McAllister in Franklin County, all three Republicans in Rutland County, Pat McDonald in Washington County. Degree, McDonald, and Rutland’s Brian Collamore are the VTGOP’s top three hopes for Senate gains, but they face uphill battles against formidable candidates: ex-Senator Sara Kittell in Franklin, incumbent P/D Anthony Pollina and incumbent D Ann Cummings in Washington (nobody’s beating Bill Doyle), and Rutland’s WIlliam Tracy Carris, son of longtime Senator Bill Carris.

And who are the Democrats supported by V2AVT? The very safe Jane Kitchel and Dick Sears, plus Sears’ Bennington County running mate Brian Campion. There is only one token Republican candidate on the Benn ballot, and Campion is considered a shoo-in.

Oh, and V2AVT also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Joe Benning.

Now let’s look at the House endorsements.

In Chittenden County, V2AVT is backing incumbent Republican Kurt Wright and Repub newcomer Michael Ly in a two-seat district. Wright is safe; the Repubs have hopes for Ly. And in another two-seat district, Chittenden 9-1, V2AVT is supporting the very safe (and centrist) incumbent Democrat Jim Condon and Republican candidate Joey Purvis, who’s hoping to replace retiring Republican Bob Bouchard.

Chittenden 9-1 is a closely contested district. Condon was the top vote-getter by a mile in 2012; Bouchard barely beat Democrat Curt Taylor; Purvis finished a respectable fourth. This is a seat that the Democrats could take.

Up in the perennial battleground of Franklin County, V2AVT is endorsing 26-year incumbent Dem Kathie Keenan and Republican challenger Corey Parent in a two-seat district. Parent is hoping to snag the seat currently held by Dem Mike McCarthy, who won by a mere 20 votes in 2012.

V2AVT’s favorite Independent is Laura Sibilia, a business-friendly type who’s challenging established Democrat John Moran in Windham-Bennington 1. There’s no Republican on the ballot, but Sibilia’s platform is clearly Republican-leaning.

The group has also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Patti Komline.

As for its Democratic endorsements, Jim Condon and Kathie Keenan are well-established incumbents; Clem Bissonnette is running unopposed has no Republican opponent — his challenge is from the Progressive Party; Cynthia Browning is a famously independent-minded Democrat in a safe Democratic district; and Matt Trieber is unopposed in Windham-3.

Overall, of V2AVT’s eight Democratic endorsements, none are in races closely contested by Republicans. Of its 13 Republican endorsements, seven are in races where the VTGOP hopes to gain ground.

That’s not my idea of nonpartisanship. That’s my idea of advancing the Republican cause.

Just what we need: another centrist bipartisan group in Vermont

Well, looky what’s cluttering up the ol’ inbox: a press release announcing a new organization, “Vision to Action Vermont,” or, for short, the catchy V2AVT. It’s the brainchild of Republican State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe and Democratic State Rep. Paul Ralston of Middlebury.

Two of the more property-rich communities in Vermont, of course. But that may be simple coincidence.

V2AVT’s stated goal is to “put partisanship aside and advocate for balanced, common-sense public policy in Montpelier.” When I hear those words, I immediately think “center-rightists trying to court the moderate vote.” Indeed, it’s not far removed from the surface rhetoric of the Vermont Republican Party, seeking always to “restore balance” and re-establish “common-sense public policy.”

It’s also interesting that Scheuermann has been one of the leading lights of Vermont’s other notable centrist reform organization, Campaign for Vermont. Might also be simple coincidence that Scheuermann founds a new group with a similar mission, not long after she (a) considered a run for Governor until (b) CFV founder Bruce Lisman undercut her potential candidacy with open musings about his own.

On the other hand, the two groups could cooperate rather than competing. V2AVT is a political action committee “that will promote, support and elect strong candidates,” as opposed to CFV’s policy and lobbying focus. But otherwise this looks an awful lot like CFV; their preferred candidates are the kind…

“… who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

Yeah, that sounds exactly like CFV’s right-leaning definition of “nonpartisanship.” That one sentence is full of code words and dog whistles from the lexicon of Republicans seeking moderate support. “Common-sense” in particular is an awfully damn tired phrase in these parts.

Ralston, who’s not running for re-election and thus has no bridges to burn with the Democrats, has been described to me as an outsider in the Democratic ranks. Think Cynthia Browning with a lower profile. And in V2AVT’s press release, he echoed the pseudo-Republican talking points, emphasizing economic growth above all else:

“Heidi and I have worked together for four years to implement policies that foster greater economic activity in Vermont…  We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy.”

Smells like Republican spirit.

So far, the V2AVT website includes only two items — the press release and an introductory statement. Plus some really cheesy masthead graphics. And a biography of “Heidi” (but none for “Paul”) strongly emphasizing her connections to the late Jim Jeffords. The same can be said, of course, for Darcie Johnston, so Scheuermann gets few points for a Jeffords connection that’s ten years in the past.

We shall see what becomes of this attempt at growing a “nonpartisan” movement. It’ll be interesting how much money they put behind Republican candidates as opposed to Dems or Progs. That’ll be a telling sign of their true devotion to nonpartisanship and balance.