Tag Archives: Peter Welch

#Election 2020: #vtpoli Winners and Losers

We call this “foreshadowing”

As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.

Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.

Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.

If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)

Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.

*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.

Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.

I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.

I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.

After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.

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What if that poll was hot garbage?

For the entirety of our general election season, there will be only one public opinion poll that took the temperature of the race. That would be the September VPR/VPBS poll, conducted by the estimable Rich Clark.

The results of said poll, released about two weeks ago, were very good for Republicans. Gov. Phil Scott had a commanding 21-point lead over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. In a hypothetical 2022 matchup with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Scott had a rather stunning four-point lead. In the Lite-Gov race, Scott Milne was a little behind Molly Gray; the latter two results were within the poll’s margin of error. Also, the governor had a higher approval rating than any of Vermont’s three members of Congress — even Bernie.

This poll looms large in the narrative of the campaign because, well, it’s the only one. But what if the poll missed the mark? There’s reason to think that it significantly underestimates support for Democrats. We won’t know for sure until the votes are counted, but here’s the case for That Poll Was Hot Garbage.

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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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The superdelegate schmozz

Having proven its electoral mettle in the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign is apparently now just realizing that the Democratic Party’s nominating process is not entirely, well, democratic. 

Of the nearly 4,500 delegates who will cast a vote at next July’s Democratic National Convention, an estimated 713 of them are so-called “superdelegates” — party muckety-mucks who can vote however they please.

And surprise, surprise: a lot of the muckety-mucks are backing Hillary Clinton. Resulting in this seeming contradiction:

Bernie Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and won by a landslide in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton has amassed an enormous 350-delegate advantage over the Vermont senator after just two states.

That’s because more than half of the unelected superdelegates have endorsed Clinton — although they are under no legal obligation to vote for her at the convention.

All of which prompts outrage in the Sanders camp. Outrage you might expect me to share.

Well, sorry, but I don’t.

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Paul Heintz turns over a rock

For almost a year now, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist has been carrying the ball on Eternal General Bill Sorrell’s squicky-if-not-illegal campaign and fundraising activities, while the rest of Vermont media has been slow-playing the whole thing — either ignoring the story, or helping Sorrell paint it as a partisan witch-hunt. (Their reporting emphasizes VTGOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing’s role, while downplaying or omitting Heintz’ journalism, which provided the substance of Toensing’s complaint.)

And yesterday, Heintz dropped another toothsome tidbit — catching Sorrell’s duplicity regarding a 2014 campaign event that featured Sorrell and then-Lite Gov candidate Dean Corren.

I’m not going chapter-and-verse on that. You should read Heintz’ post for yourself. But I am going to highlight a tangential sidelight in the piece that exposes the seedy underbelly of Vermont politics. Or at least one crucial aspect, regarding the most quietly powerful man in Vermont politics, Dick Mazza.

He is not the most powerful, mind you. But he enjoys by far the highest ratio between official position (just another Senator, cough) and his actual influence.

Among a trove of Sorrell emails obtained by Seven Days was a juicy little number from Tom Torti, the well-connected president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, warning Sorrell that there might be consequences to his appearance with Corren.

“I’m sure you have heard about the level of displeasure Mazza feels about you standing with Corren,” Torti wrote, referring to Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle). “Just wanted to pass on what was mentioned to me.”

Before you chew and swallow, let that roll around on your tongue for a moment. Savor the essence: that Bill Sorrell, the politically untouchable Attorney General, should have reason to fear the wrath of a single State Senator.

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Bob Kinzel, Stenographer to the Stars

Earlier this week, even as Vermont Public Radio was (once again!) asking people to send money in support of its uniquely valuable programming, it squandered two minutes and twelve seconds of airtime on a useless bit of puffery. I’m sure Peter Welch appreciated it, but it kind of undercut the message of the fund drive.

The story, reported by Bob Kinzel, related Congressman Welch’s thoughts on the then-pending Iran nuclear treaty vote. Kinzel gave a shallow, uninsightful retelling of the background, which provided Welch a handy platform to air his views.

This is not journalism; it is stenography. It essentially served the same purpose as a press release or constituent newsletter.

The piece included two voices: Kinzel’s and Welch’s. There was no attempt to include other viewpoints. This is the simplest kind of public radio story. There are places where it’s appropriate, such as a profile piece or first-person account; in this context, it’s just a lazy way to kill a couple of minutes.

Kinzel’s been around a long time, and he does some good work. Unfortunately, he is also VPR’s go-to guy for these two-minute service pieces for members of our Congressional delegation. They follow a cookie-cutter format: Kinzel relates some background information and the Congressman or Senator provides some boilerplate sound bites.

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Matt Dunne lays down a marker

There are still many reports yet to be filed, but it looks like the big news from today’s midyear campaign finance deadline will be Matt Dunne’s hefty, and heavy-hitting, finance report. The former State Senator and onetime gubernatorial candidate reports $115,000 in fundraising — but since the report was prepared, he says, he’s added another 20K to the total, bringing his tally to $135,000.

Which is particularly impressive when you consider that he’s done almost all of that work in the last ten days. “Governor Shumlin made his announcement [of non-candidacy] only four or five weeks ago,” he said. After that, Dunne deferred to his political mentor, Congressman Peter Welch, who announced he would not run for governor on June 26 — the very day that Dunne was going out of town for “a long-planned family vacation.”

And yes, if you scan his list of contributions, the earliest date you’ll see is July 6. And the first names on the list: the heavy Dem donors Jay and Caroline Canning. Jay owns the upscale Hotel Vermont. Dunne kept his virtual rolodex* spinning as he contacted well-heeled Vermonters and his many acquaintances in Silicon Valley; Paul Heintz has many of the details in his “Fair Game” column. Suffice it to say that he’s cut a swath through the roster of deep-pocketed Democrats. (A couple names not mentioned by Heintz: Will Raap of Gardeners Supply, the Growald family of Woodstock, and from across the river, former Democratic Party National Committeeman Peter Burling and members of the Taylor family. Dunne’s wife is the author Sarah Stewart Taylor [hi, Sarah]; it’s always nice when you can marry well.)

*Come on, you don’t think a Google executive has an actual Rolodex, do you?

It’s hard to interpret this as anything but a strong marker — a sign to other potential candidates that Dunne is dead serious and has a lot of support, in spite of his nearly five-year absence from statewide politics. Absence, at least as a visible part of the process; he says he’s been heavily involved in various endeavors in Vermont that have kept him very much in circulation.

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Mark Donka steps very close to the edge

Random thoughts on a Monday afternoon in July, the weather is warm, the sun high in the sky… and some people’s thoughts turn apocalyptic.

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 1.17.29 PM

That cheery idea comes from the brain of the likely Republican nominee for Congress in Vermont. Mark Donka faces two equally rabid conservatives in the GOP primary, but he should have a name-recognition edge from his disastrous 2012 bid to unseat Democrat Peter Welch.  I assume he will win the nomination.

To be fair to Mr. Donka, I really don’t take this Tweet as an authentic wish for a catastrophic attack on America — although he clearly opens the door to such an interpretation. But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, this is so wrong in so many ways. (For starters, let’s run it by the families of 9/11 victims.) I wouldn’t want anyone who thinks like this anywhere near a position of authority. And of course, he knows deep down that he’s never going to be a Congressman, so he’s free to spout whatever hurtful nonsense he likes.

But let’s leave aside the moral dimensions of this offensive remark, and focus for a moment on the practical.

Did 9/11″light the fuse of change”?  Well, I guess you could say it did. It ushered in the Bush Administration’s two disastrous wars, the building of a huge security apparatus and the exercise of broad new government powers, and the explosion of federal deficits (as Bush chose to cut taxes even while prosecuting two wars).

But considering that Mark Donka describes himself as a limited-government conservative who wants to rein in federal authority, cut spending, and pay off the debt, it’s interesting that he should believe that another 9/11 would promote his kind of change, instead of the precise opposite.

Mark Donka: dangerously wrong. And, assuming victory in the primary, one of the top names on the Vermont Republican ticket. Be proud, VTGOP.

 

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.)