Tag Archives: Phil Baruth

Where Are The Ashes Of Yesteryear?

Objects In The Mirror May Be Fuzzier Than They Appear

The following was written in 2003. I’d ask you to guess the author, but I’ve already given away that game.

I should be a Democrat. From Massachusetts, mother a teacher and father a civil servant, family of Kennedy-philes… I’ve got a long life of political activism ahead of me. My loyalties are to ideas and not a party, so if my energies are not going to the Dems, they’ll be going somewhere else.

… Younger people like myself can understand the importance of getting the message to different types of voters. But we also understand the nature of a chameleon, and we don’t want to vote for a leaf and elect a reptile.

That’s a short excerpt from “Letter from a Democratic Party Pooper, and it was indeed penned by Young Tim Ashe, progressive firebrand. The letter was included in Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, written in 2003 by the future governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. (This tidbit came to my attention courtesy of urban archeologist and Twitter buddy Ed Adrian.)

In the letter, Ashe bemoans the Democratic Party’s habit of tacking to the center. He certainly sounds like a former Bernie Sanders staffer and future Progressive Party officeholder. He doesn’t sound much like Ashe the Senate President Pro Tem, who’s known for cosseting the chamber’s old guard, a cadre of change-averse centrists.

So. Which Tim Ashe is running for lieutenant governor?

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For a minute, I thought this was a thing (and other senatorial thoughts)

This is a mailer sent to voters in the Chittenden County Senate district. It features three of the four incumbents who are seeking re-election, running as a ticket.

The fourth? Sen. Phil Baruth.

Hmm. Was he excised, like Trump from that Jeffrey Epstein photo on Fox News? Is he persona non grata?

Nope. No conspiracy, no coup, nothing juicy. In this pandemic season, he explained, “I made a pledge not to raise or spend any money. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for money when everybody’s finances have taken a massive hit.” And since taking part in the joint mailer would have cost a couple thousand dollars or so, he withdrew from the enterprise. In fact, just today he posted a message on Facebook about his decision.

It’s not entirely a selfless decision; two of the six seats are open, which increases the odds that the four incumbents will sail through a crowded Democratic field. Baruth feels confident he will survive the August vote. “If, after five cycles, I haven’t accrued enough goodwill [to win], maybe that’s for the best.”

He’s almost certainly right. I expect the four incumbents to be the top four finishers in the primary. As for the rest of the Chittenden County Senate field, handicapping the primary is a fool’s game. Normal campaigning is off the table, so how do people get their names out there? Judging by the mid-July finance reports, only one candidate has enough money to make a major media push.

Besides, this primary is a mystery. These affairs are usually low-key and low-turnout, but a massive number of Vermonters have requested absentee ballots. We could easily see a record turnout, which makes for an unpredictable election.

Even the campaign finance filings are harder than usual to interpret. Some candidates, like Baruth and Rep. Dylan Giambatista, who’s running for Senate, have eschewed fundraising. Many others have shifted to passive mode, accepting donations that come in but doing little or nothing to solicit funds.

But hey, the reports are there, so let’s give ’em a look.

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No Gurlz Alowd

Early next week, the State Senate Democratic caucus will hold its organizational meeting for the new biennium. They will elect a new President Pro Tem to replace John Campbell; a new Majority Leader to replace Phil Baruth; and they will name the three members of the organizationally crucial Committee on Committees, which will later dole out committee memberships and appoint chairs and vice chairs.

Scuttlebutt has it that Sen. Tim Ashe has the Pro Tem job wrapped up, and that Windham County’s Becca Balint will succeed Baruth.

And it seems inevitable that Dick Mazza will retain his spot on the CoC, in spite of his long and loud advocacy for Republican Phil Scott’s gubernatorial bid. (And before that, Brian Dubie’s.) Honestly, Mazza might as well have spent 2016 just flipping the bird to the Democratic Party.

But all indications are that he’ll be reappointed. Which is weird in a lot of ways. First, the aforementioned display of apostasy.

Second, the other two members of the CoC are the President Pro Tem and the Lieutenant Governor. When that was John Campbell and Phil Scott respectively, they were like peas in a pod with Mazza.

But two guys who came out of the Progressive Party making common cause with Mazza? What that says to me is that Ashe and Zuckerman are more invested in the institution of the Senate than in advancing progressive policies.

Third, they’d all be from Chittenden County. Shouldn’t we be interested in a little geographic balance?

Fourth, and most striking to me, is that they’re all men.

Seriously? This doesn’t trouble Ashe or Zuckerman in the least?

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Two incumbent Senators fail to make the environmental grade

Yet another slate of endorsements graces my inbox today. This time, from Vermont Conservation Voters, the nonprofit organization that lobbies the Legislature and educates voters on its environmental priorities.

VCV’s list focused on contested primaries in the House and Senate, “looking for candidates with demonstrated leadership on environmental issues,” according to VCV political director Lauren Hierl.

My cynical eye immediately turned to the absences on the list, and there are a couple of notable ones.

The group is not endorsing incumbent Democratic Senators Phil Baruth and Alice Nitka.

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Toward a more Progressive Senate

I welcome Chris Pearson’s entry into the race for State Senate from Chittenden County. The Progressive state rep is the Progs’ sharpest policy voice in the House, and he should be a formidable candidate for Senate.

For those just joining us, the Chittenden County district elects six Senators, and it’s usually a free ride for incumbents. This time, two of the six seats will be voluntarily vacated; David Zuckerman is running for Lite-Gov, and Helen Riehle (appointed to fill out Diane Snelling’s term) is not running for a full term.

The openings are sure to attract a strong Democratic field, while Republicans are desperately searching for someone who might retain Snelling’s position. Searching in vain, methinks.

But the race on the left will be lively. It’ll be interesting to see how Pearson will fare in fundraising — I suspect he’ll do quite well. He’ll certainly have better name recognition than the Democratic non-incumbents.

And should he win, there is the potential for a real shift in Senatorial power.

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Ding Dong, the Pro Tem is Dead

(And by “dead” I mean in the purely political sense.) 

Yes, one of my political betes noires is leaving us. Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell today told VTDigger’s Mark Johnson that he will not run for re-election. Which almost certainly means he won’t be Pro Tem next year, although with the Committee on Committees being what it is, that’s not a sure thing.

Campbell will become chief of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs “soon after this year’s legislative session concludes,” in Johnson’s words. He does not specify, but this sounds like he would resign in May. Would that leave a vacancy for the rest of the term? Would Governor Shumlin get to name Campbell’s successor? Inquiring minds want to know. Update: Johnson’s story indicates that Campbell will not resign; so he’ll apparently work both jobs from May till next January. 

Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about Campbell. He’s been a lousy leader, often ineffective and kept afloat by an expanded office staff. He almost got turfed in 2012 after his first stint as Senate leader; since then, the unrest has been muted but the results have remained pretty much the same: the Senate is the body most likely to break down into turf battles and legislative scrums. The most recent example was last week’s out-of-control debate over S.230, the energy siting bill.

If you don’t believe me, just check out the Praising With Faint Damns treatment he’s getting from one of his closest colleagues.

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Senate ethics discussion devolves into farce

Well, now we know why the Senate Rules Committee likes to meet behind closed doors. Because yesterday, with reporters in the room, things got so badly out of control that they had to abruptly pack up and leave. Fortunately, VTDigger’s Mark Johnson was on hand to chronicle the chaos. His report is a classic case of “this would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.”

Senate Rules, a committee designed to defend the status quo, has been forced by events to take up the issue of ethics regulation — the very idea of which seems to offend at least three of the panel’s five members.

The saddest thing? The shambolic performance didn’t even concern a really tough issue. To anyone hoping for genuine ethics reform — like, for example, a state Ethics Commission — yesterday’s meeting was a knife in the back. The five Senators couldn’t even handle the much less impactful idea of an in-house Ethics Panel using the House’s toothless joke of a watchdog as a model.

Instead, they got stuck in the weeds of disclosure requirements.

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A child’s treasury of thoughts about David Zuckerman

Hey Dave, I went to the Burlington Winter Market on Saturday. Bought some of your fine veggies, but you weren’t there. Presumably spending a happy Saturday at the Senate Dems’ Convocation of Cowards. Maybe next time.

Anyway, organic farmer and state senator Dave Zuckerman is now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, running in the Democratic primary and seeking the Progressive nomination as well. I didn’t attend his kickoff event last Thursday; but here are a few thoughts on Zuckerman and the Lite-Gov race.

The most interesting participant in Thursday’s festivities, per media reports, was Senate Minority Leader Phil Baruth, who gave a hearty endorsement — “come hell or high water” — of the Prog/Dem Zuckerman. This was a big surprise to me; given the level of Dem>Prog antipathy up Burlington way, I assumed that area Democrats would stand behind Kesha Ram. Without regard to quality; just on the basis of not wanting to help a Progressive win.

Baruth’s stated reasoning boiled down to “I trust him,” a phrase he repeated at least three times. So, he doesn’t trust Kesha Ram?

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Your next lieutenant governor might just be an anti-vaxxer

Note for those freshly landing on this page: Please also see subsequent post with response from Rep. Kesha Ram.

Interesting factoid about the Democratic candidates to succeed Phil Scott. One, Garrett Graff, is in day three of radio silence following reports that he may not qualify to run. One, Brandon Riker, must prove he can be competitive despite a lack of experience and little name recognition. As for the other two?

They each voted “No” on the bill that removes the philosophical exemption to childhood vaccinations.

State Sen. David Zuckerman’s opposition was widely noted, as he made a last-ditch maneuver to derail the bill in the Senate, asserting that the science on vaccine safety is “disputed.”

Well, I guess he’s right that it’s “disputed.” But not by the broad scientific consensus and decades of real-world experience.

Less noted at the time was the “No” vote cast by State Rep. Kesha Ram. As far as I can tell, she kind of went under the radar with her opposition.

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Plus c’est la même chose, plus c’est la même chose

If you’d been harboring any faint hopes for change in the State Senate leadership, you were quite reliably disappointed by Saturday’s Democratic caucus.

With only the tiniest hint of dissent, the status quo was maintained in Our Most Stagnant Deliberative Body. John Campbell? Yep, President Pro Tem again, along with Phil Baruth as majority leader, Claire Ayer as whip, and… the earth would tremble and the skies would be rent asunder if they failed to re-elect Dick Mazza as “third member” on the organizationally influential Committee on Committees, where he will rejoin the Phil Scott Fan Club with Campbell and Scott himself.

Maybe someday there’ll be a real Democrat on that panel.

Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, ever the pot-stirrer, introduced me to Mazza before the caucus convened. And the Eternal Member gave me a hearty greeting, making it clear that he knew what I’ve written about him and that it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Baseball players used to refer to beat reporters as “flies,” and that’s how Mazza sees me: a fly buzzing around his shit. Didn’t even bother to flick me away.

So the fix was in. There were no competing nominees for any of the four posts, and there was only the slightest bit of dissent: Anthony Pollina voted “no” for Campbell and Mazza without explanation. Afterward, he spoke to Heintz:

“I would like to see the ability for more people to be involved in leadership, quite frankly, and I think that it would be more healthy for the caucus to have some conversation about who’s going to be the leader, and we don’t seem to have that conversation.”

Yeah, we certainly don’t. The organizational meeting was a hearty session of hands-around-the-campfire, we’re-all-friends-here. Any ill feelings were kept resolutely in check. In fact, there was one moment of unintentional gallows humor, when a senator who I didn’t recognize* nominated Mazza for “third member” by praising the past work of the Committee on Committees; he said that everyone had been happy with the committee assignments made by the CoC.

*Subsequently ID’d as Tim Ashe, putative Prog/Dem and studious ass-kisser to the Senate power structure. Gah. 

Somehow, Ginny Lyons and Ann Cummings didn’t scoff loudly. Both veteran lawmakers were screwed out of committee chairmanships by the CoC last time around. Lyons was replaced on Natural Resources by climate change skeptic Bob Hartwell, and Cummings was removed from Finance, presumably because she had the temerity to stage a brief challenge to Campbell’s leadership in 2012.

The CoC’s smackdown had its intended effect, as no one rose to challenge the same-old, same-old. The Three Kings will soon return to their secret undisclosed location to dole out the committee goodies. We’ll see if they behave themselves this time — but only after the fact, since Campbell has declared that the CoC is not subject to open meetings law. Paul Heintz, last February:

When Seven Days happened upon its three members — Lt. Gov Phil Scott, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) and Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) — convening to discuss the matter last Thursday in Scott’s Statehouse office, Campbell declared, “It’s not a public meeting.”

“My understanding,” he elaborated, “is it’s a private, deliberative meeting of one of the committees of the Senate and therefore, you know, not open to the public.”

“So committees can just close the doors when they’re deliberating?” Seven Days asked.

“I believe this one, yeah,” Campbell said. “My opinion is that.”

Following that dismal exchange, the CoC held a closed-door confab with Senate Secretary John Bloomer and chief legislative counsel Luke Martland, who then produced a convenient bit of legal mumbo-jumbo to cover Campbell’s backside. When asked why Senate rules, which strictly limit closed committee meetings, don’t apply to the CoC, this laughable exchange took place:

Said Bloomer, “This, in my opinion, doesn’t apply because these are standing committees. The Committee on Committees has no function to take evidence.”

Added Campbell, “The Committee on Committees is totally different. It’s kind of a misnomer using that name, ‘committee.’”

The Committee on Committees isn’t a committee, eh?

Pardon me if I feel completely justified in my cynicism about the CoC.

Let me somewhat belatedly make clear that I have no beef with Ayer or Baruth, aside from their willingness to be part of a leadership team with an inconsistent record for upholding the principles (and candidates) of the Democratic Party. Baruth offered a tepid explanation for the lack of change, telling me that it was going to be a difficult session, so continuity of leadership would be a positive.

“We can’t change captains now,” said the First Mate. “The Exxon Valdez is in trouble.”

Campbell introduced his new aide, former Shumlin Administration functionary Erica Wolffing, fresh off her gig at the Democratic Governors Association.  And he made brief reference to his poor performance as Pro Tem in 2011, which led to Cummings’ challenge and the hiring of Rebecca Ramos as his top aide/nanny. Wolffing will now fill that role, helping him lift that big heavy gavel, and she’ll probably be very good. She’s likely to keep communication lines open between Campbell and the administration, and help keep things running smoothly in the Senate chamber.

After his re-election, Campbell gave a short speech laying out the top four priorities for the coming session, which he said would be “one of the most difficult bienniums in decades.” Which, he added, means “there’s a chance the work we do will be historic.”

Mm. The Hindenburg was historic.

Three of Campbell’s Big Four priorities were predictable:

— Health care. Trying to overcome his past public skepticism about single payer, he promised a full and open consideration of Shumlin’s plan. “We have an obligation to the administration to hear what they have to say, and to the public to deal with the rising cost of health care.”

There’s also that social-justice part of it, but Campbell didn’t mention that.

— The budget. He said the likely $100 million deficit was “not pie in the sky,” and lawmakers will have to look closely at revenues and state functions, prioritize services, and look for efficiencies and duplications. By funding too many “good ideas,” he said, “we’ve spread ourselves very thin.” He called for a tight focus on “what is our obligation to business and to citizens,” as opposed to what we’d like to do. (Yes, he said “business” first.)

In short, No New Taxes. And don’t expect any new money for anything.

— Education funding and governance. “We will have to look at what we need to educate our kids, and what we don’t.”

The fourth priority was a bit surprising:

— Lake Champlain, which he first called an “economic driver” and then called it “iconic.” Priorities.  “It’s not just because the EPA has said we must act; we have an obligation.” What that means remains to be seen, with all the talk of cutting government and focusing on the essentials and no new spending. It was nice to hear Campbell put Champlain at the top of the list, but I suspect we’re not going to get much more than lip service or possibly tokenism.

It’s looking like a dispiriting biennium for liberals. The Senate remains safely in the death grip of The Usual Suspects, now armed with what they see as an electoral mandate to cut and cut and cut. Shumlin himself, in remarks to the House and Senate caucuses, made it clear that his response to his near-defeat will be a predictable tack to the center. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

And so we beat on, boats against the current and all that.