Tag Archives: Rebecca Holcombe

The Dems’ Campaign Begins With a (Literal) Bang

Besides that, Mr. Sullivan, how did you like the play?

When outgoing state Rep. Mary Sullivan agreed to emcee this morning’s post-primary Democratic unity rally, I doubt that she realized she was taking her life into her hands. But there, right in the middle of her introductory remarks, came a-tumblin’ the state flag of Vermont, crashing down within inches of her head, rattling the podium on its way to the earth.

Undaunted, Sullivan continued to speak. Although afterward, there might have been some sharp words for whoever set up that flag.

That wasn’t the only cock-up of the morning. The microphone was not correctly tied into the Facebook Live feed of the proceedings, so most of the speakers could barely be heard. A note must also be passed to whoever wrangled that podium, which was too tall for a couple of the speakers — Sen. Debbie Ingram and President Pro Tem In Waiting Becca Balint. They looked like old drivers peeking over the wheel to get a glimpse of the road.

The speakers’ list was comprehensive. The winning and losing candidates for governor and lieutenant governor were there (except for Carcajou), as were the rest of the party’s candidates for statewide office, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, designated hitters for our two U.S. Senators, and legislative caucus leaders.

All the speakers touted unity. Not all were specific about their calls. In fact, it wasn’t until the sixth speaker that someone actually endorsed the party’s nominee for governor, Progressive/Democratic Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. It was Attorney General T.J. Donovan who broke the ice, “proudly” endorsing Zuckerman and lite-guv nominee Molly Gray and devoting the bulk of his remarks to praise for the Democratic ticket.

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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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On (Whining About) The Media

In my almost-a-decade following #vtpoli, one of the recurring themes is how losing candidates carp about media coverage. If only the press had taken me seriously… if only they’d done an expose of my opponent… if only they’d focused on ideas instead of the horse race… if only.

You mostly hear it from marginal types, including just about any Republican not named “Phil Scott” running for statewide office, ideological extremists, or Vermin Supreme-style perpetual candidates.

The latest entry in this parade is Brenda Siegel, doughty Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. She’s gone so far as to call a press conference for Wednesday morning “to discuss the frontline communities and forgotten voices that have continually been marginalized in recent elections across the country, including the current Vermont Lt. Governor’s race.”

I’ll bet you a shiny new dime that she’ll point to herself as one of those “forgotten voices that havbe continually been marginalized.” It’s true that campaign coverage has mainly focused on the supposed front-runners, Molly Gray and Tim Ashe. And lately, has focused on attacks, counterattacks and fundraising rather than issues.

As a progressive policy advocate and single mom, Siegel comes from a decidedly unconventional background. And yes, that means she doesn’t get taken as seriously as Ashe, a veteran pol, or Gray, a newcomer who’s wowed the Democratic establishment. This, despite Siegel’s decent showing in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, where she finished third in a weak field.

Does she have a point? Well, kinda. But mostly no.

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Aside From the Pandemic, It’s a Great Time to be Phil Scott

The last pre-primary campaign finance reports are in, and the big winner is… yep… Your Governor, Phil Scott.

Not that he raised much money. In fact, he raised so little that it’s clear he feels no urgency whatsoever. (Of course, he’s spending minimal time campaigning as long as the pandemic still hovers, but c’mon, if he had to raise money he’d find ways to do it.)

The latest fundraising reports cover the month of July, basically. During that time, Scott raised a mere $19,000 — bringing his campaign total to $99,000. (Numbers of more than four figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.) Even more telling is how much money he spent: A measly $1,133 for the entire month.

(Interesting entry in Scott’s “Expenses” column: $218.44 in fees to ActBlue. Which means the Democrats’ number-one online fundraising tool is serving as a conduit for Phil Scott?)

Scott is not afraid of John Klar. He’s not afraid of Rebecca Holcombe or David Zuckerman. He’s not afraid, period.

The other gubernatorial reports reinforce Scott’s apparent bulletproofness. Whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to emerge with little or no money in the bank, and the national Democratic donors aren’t coming to the rescue.

After the jump: The Dems’ respective hauls and the race for Lite-Guv.

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The Anti-Maskers Emerge

Spotted on a Montpelier bulletin board

It was inevitable, but it’s still disappointing.

“Citizen scientists.” Really.

Impartial seekers of the truth, putting out a one-sided “survey” in a transparent effort to gin up some “evidence” to support their preconceived notion. This is, must I say it, a disgrace.

And to judge from the rhetoric and approach, I’ll bet you a shiny new quarter that the Venn Diagram of “Mask Survey” and “Anti-Vaxxers” is a single circle.

But I have to credit the bravery of the “citizen scientists” behind this flyer. They’re right up front owning their beliefs and accepting the conseq— oh wait, sorry. They actually provide no identifying information or means of two-way contact; only a gmail address and, on its website, a P.O. box in Marshfield.

Nowhere on flyer or website do they cite any of the “research” that “shows there are likely to be disadvantages” to wearing masks. I like the qualifiers: “likely” meaning “fuzzy and unproven,” “disadvantages” in place of “hazards” or “dangers.” In plain English, “undisclosed research that shows a possibility of inconveniences in wearing masks.”

Of course there are “disadvantages.” Masks are a little annoying, they make my glasses fog up, people can’t see your facial expressions, it is a little harder to communicate. The rest of it is bullshit of a particular type — the conspiracy-minded worried-well contingent that makes up most of the anti-vaxxer movement.

And now they’re coming after masks.

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Everything’s Coming Up Phil

Speaking in purely political terms, things could hardly be going any better for Gov. Phil Scott.

His solid record on Covid-19, while flawed in some respects and overstated by him and his officials, continues to receive widespread praise. He dominates the political news with his thrice-weekly marathon briefings. His popularity appears to be as high as ever, and many Democrats have already — quietly — conceded his re-election.

And now, the July 1 campaign finance filings are full of good cheer for Scott and bad news for his would-be opponents.

Scott’s own campaign barely raised any money between March 15 and July 1 — a mere $8,000. (He’s raised only $80,000 for the entire campaign cycle.) Not surprising, since he has said he won’t campaign or fundraise until the pandemic is over… which may be sometime in 2024, by the looks of things.

But while he is refraining from the dirty business of politics, his campaign is humming right along. It is deficit spending, mainly to pay Optimus Consulting, a D.C. firm that has done all his strategerizing and media buys in each of his gubernatorial campaigns, a cool $114,500 for its services this year. That represents the bulk of total Scott spending.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association waits in the background to inject however much money is needed to ensure a Scott victory. So far, the RGA has funneled $126,000 into its “independent PAC,” A Stronger Vermont. It can easily pump in enough money to overwhelm all other bankrolls in the race, as it did in 2016, when Scott first ran for governor. The RGA spent more than $3 million that year, and effectively knocked Democrat Sue Minter out of contention with a late-summer/early-fall ad blitz. That’s chump change by RGA standards.

(The RGA’s expenditures are purely independent of Scott’s campaign, but paid for so much TV time in 2016 and 2018 that Scott barely had to run any ads of his own.)

And now we know where Scott’s Democratic challengers stand money-wise. It’s not a pretty picture.

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Holcombe Tabs Familiar Face for Campaign Manager

Cameron Russell is ready to give it another try. He served as campaign manager for Christine Hallquist’s gubernatorial candidacy in 2018; now he’s accepted the same post in Rebecca Holcombe’s bid to unseat Republican Gov. Phil Scott in 2020. Russell had previously been a staffer in the Vermont Democratic Party from 2014 through 2016.

“There is no one in the state better positioned to take on this role,” Holcombe commented in a press release, “and I am fortunate to have his experience and knowledge of Vermont’s communities and political landscape as part of my campaign.”

Holcombe began her campaign with staff from outside the state, but had been hoping to attract a manager with Vermont experience. And honestly, there aren’t many of those around.

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VT Dems go trolling for candidates

So, according to VTDigger, the Vermont Democratic Party is conducting a poll to see how well Attorney General TJ Donovan and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman would do in hypothetical matchups with Gov. Phil Scott.

I have no inside information on this, but here’s how it looks from my view.

It’s a sign of desperation and a waste of money. Also, Donovan and Zuckerman are still Hamletting it up.

Let’s take desperation first. I’m assuming that party leaders initiated this poll, not Donovan or Zuckerman. If so, it says that leadership — whatever their public protestations — fears what will happen if former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe is the party’s nominee, because (a) they think she’d lose badly and (b) might actually hurt their prospects in legislative races.

Well, it’s really (b) they’re most concerned with. The experiences of Peter Clavelle, Scudder Parker, Gaye Symington, Sue Minter and Christine Hallquist show that the party is perfectly content to toss a nominee off the sled when the wolves are closing in.

They’d much rather go to battle in 2020 with Donovan or Zuckerman leading the charge. Which is understandable, given that Holcombe is untested in the political arena and virtually unknown outside policy circles. But when party leaders are willing to spend scarce party resources — at a time when they’re not exactly swimming in money — they reveal a certain unseemly desperation. This is a Hail Mary pass: If the poll shows unexpected weakness for Scott, or significant strength for one of the two Hamlets, then one or both might be enticed to make a run.

Of course, the poll is unlikely to provide that kind of evidence. Scott has done nothing to diminish his popularity — nor have legislative Dems done anything to push him in that direction — and his two potential rivals are much less well-known statewide. (Those of us inside the #vtpoli bubble vastly overestimate the public’s engagement in state politics.) Donovan lacks a policy profile outside of law enforcement, and both men lack any significant record outside of their jobs.

Both are better positioned than Holcombe to overcome Scott’s lead because they are statewide officeholders, and that’s by far the best launch pad for a gubernatorial bid. (The last six Vermont governors were either statewide officeholders or top legislative leaders before assuming the top job.) Both also have better fundraising potential: Donovan because of his political lineage and national connections, and Zuckerman as the state’s leading Bernie Bro.

Right now, I doubt their poll numbers would be much different from Generic Democrat. What they do have is a chance at being competitive, after running a vigorous statewide campaign for a solid year. So I don’t expect the poll will provide any real insight. Hence, waste of money.

And if Donovan and Zuckerman, in the middle of very successful political careers, lack the self-confidence to make that decision without a marginally meaningful poll, then they’re really not cut out to carry the banner.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When last I left you, I signed off with

Vermont already has an oversupply of cautious Democrats.

Let’s pick it up from there. Now, I could be talking about legislative leadership, which has developed a habit of scoring own goals in its “battles” with Gov. Phil Scott. But in this case, I’m talking about campaigns for governor, in which the Democrats have not exactly covered themselves in glory.

Over the past 20 years, the Vermont Democratic Party has nominated a top-shelf candidate for governor a mere five times — incumbent Howard Dean in 2000, Doug Racine in 2002 and Peter Shumlin in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

(I’m calling the 2014 Shumlin “top shelf” only because he was the incumbent. Otherwise he was a deeply flawed candidate who came within an eyelash of losing to Scott Milne, objectively the worst major-party gubernatorial candidate in living memory.)

Otherwise it’s been a parade of worthies with good intentions but few resources and no real hope. Whenever a popular Republican occupies the corner office, the Democrats’ A-Team scurries away like cockroaches when the light goes on.

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George W. Bush’s education time bomb

Some of our former President’s policies were clearly and obviously dumb, like the two wars that have left two countries in ruins, or his refusal to raise taxes to pay for those wars, or the laissez-faire attitude toward high finance that opened the door to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

A few of his policies looked good, at least on the surface. But it seems as though there’s a worm inside every apple. Medicare Part D helped seniors get their prescriptions, but it was unnecessarily complicated and barred the government from negotiating on drug prices; thus it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. On his watch, many standards and regulations were relaxed (or ignored), but acceptable cholesterol levels were lowered significantly; again, a giveaway to Big Pharma.

And then there was No Child Left Behind, an idea that actually brought Bush and Ted Kennedy together. But there was a time bomb hidden in the workings of NCLB:

Each year for the past 13 years, the NCLB Act has lowered the allowable percentage of students whose test results suggest they are not proficient in math or language arts. This year, that percentage became zero.

In effect, all it takes for a school to labeled as low performing is for a single student to fail to reach a score of proficient.

This, from a story published in the journalistic Dead Zone of the Saturday papers. The Mitchell Family Organ and the Freeploid both reported on what this means for Vermont schools; I’m quoting from the former.

The focus of the story is a letter written last week by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeking to explain the fact that virtually every school in the state has been labeled “low performing” by the remorseless federal standard.

Most other states took advantage of a loophole in NCLB; they got federal waivers in exchange for agreeing to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers and principals. Why didn’t Vermont do likewise?

Holcombe said Vermont did not apply for the waiver because research has shown standardized tests to be unreliable for teachers in classrooms with 15 or fewer students, which compose nearly half of the classrooms in the state.

“It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools,” Holcombe wrote.

Some other states have belatedly realized that the waiver is a bad deal, and are backing out. The problem is, NCLB sets draconian penalties for low-performing schools, potentially including the wholesale firing of school staff, the conversion of a “failing” school to a charter school, or even turning the whole thing over to the state or to a private education company.

Far from a real effort at improving education, No Child Left Behind is a real-life version of the old frog-in-a-pot-of-water meme. If you put a frog in hot water, so the story goes, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will stay put and die. If NCLB had tossed the system into a boiling pot, there would have been instant reaction. Instead, it slowly and steadily turned up the heat. Whichever option the states chose — performance or waiver — school systems are right and truly screwed.

Kudos to Secretary Holcombe for pointing out the inherent absurdity in the situation, and how the system “does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being.”

It’s just another rotting apple in the Bush-el. Worst… President… Ever.

Postscript. Let the record show that Your Two U.S. Senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted “No” on the final version of NCLB. They were two of only ten Senators to do so.