It’s been a bizarre week or so in Vermont politics, as Our Esteemed Leaders have just been falling all over each other trying not to address the imminent unsheltering of hundreds of Vermonters. (Which will happenon Thursday for those keeping track of such things.) They’re far more interested in positioning themselves and shifting blame than in crafting a humane and eminently doable way out of this mess.
Thursday is the day when some 800 households will lose eligibility for the motel voucher program that’s being allowed to expire for no good reason except, well, as Gov. Phil Scott likes to say, “It’s time.” Another 1,000 or so households will lose their places on July 1 or 29, depending.
The uncertainty stems from the governor’s deft sidestepping of the Democrats’ obvious ploy to trick him into signing the budget (spoiler alert: he vetoed the thing). In so doing, he managed to position himself to the left of the Democrats by allowing a ridiculous 28-day extension for some voucher clients. But not the ones about to lose their accommodations next week, no sirree Bob. The governor’s shift, which flies in the face of his previous insistence that the voucher program just absolutely had to end on schedule, was so hastily put together that this was how VTDigger summarized its impact:
It’s unclear how many people will receive the extra month of shelter. An actual breakdown was not available from state officials on Friday…
To put it another way, it’s just the latest Phil Scott clusterfuck on emergency housing. And yet, he’s in position to look like a hero — relatively speaking — not only for this inadequate extension, but also for the administration’s apparently precipitous issuance of an RFP for creation and staffing of up to 1,000 emergency shelter beds. The Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for their predicament.
Which leads us to the sad figure pictured above: former deputy secretary of state Chris Winters, seen here realizing that his soul is in a sealed jar on Jason Gibbs’ desk.
The Vermont Legislature has a well-established policy of avoidance when it comes to ethical standards. You see it in the weak-ass State Ethics Commission, which has no investigative or enforcement authority. You see it in the House and Senate ethics panels, which conduct their business behind closed doors (when they even bother to meet) and have never, ever taken action against one of their own.
And you see it in the useless financial disclosure rules they set for themselves. This has come to the fore with VTDigger’s multi-part exploration of lawmakers’ disclosures. It finds, no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, that the requirements are so minimal as to negate the purpose of disclosure, which is to reveal potential conflicts of interest.
Also, there’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalties for failing to disclose or failing to file at all. It’s amazing what happens when a group of people gets to set their own rules, isn’t it?
One of the excuses floated for this studied laxness is that Vermont Has A Citizen Legislature and lawmakers shouldn’t be expected to consent to fidiuciary proctoscopies in order to serve. They kinda-sorta have a point, although their citizenship doesn’t prevent abuses or change their obligation to serve the public interest.
But now the Legislature is taking a big step toward professionalism — at least when it comes to pay and benefits. Does this merit a revisit of ethics and disclosure rules? You bet it does.
In a post following the September 1 campaign finance deadline, I noted that “three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line.” It put them in a potentially hazardous position for the general campaign.
Well, it would have if their Republican opponents weren’t all unknown, unfunded, and largely unloved.
I speak of Charity Clark (attorney general), David Zuckerman (lieutenant governor), and Sarah Copeland Hanzas (secretary of state). Zuckerman had $16,771 in the bank on the first of September; Clark actually entered September with a $1,200 shortfall, Copeland Hanzas had about $12,000 on hand, but only because she reported loaning her campaign $14,000. So, according to her own report, she had a $12,000 deficit outside of her own pocketbook.
Well, hold on a minute. According to her campaign manager Lizzy Carroll, that $14,000 number was a mistake. The actual self-loan was $3,500, which is not insignificant but it does make her bottom line look a lot better. The deficit falls from $12,000 to about $1,500. (She carried forward a $1,160 surplus from past campaigns, which would lower her real deficit to less than $400.)
Turns out, three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line. Now they’re strapped for cash entering the general campaign.
That’d be a real problem if their Republican opponents weren’t so utterly hapless.
Charity Clark went on a mass-media spending binge in early August. She spent a massive $81,000 in the month; $64,000 of that was for TV, radio, print, mail, and online advertising. She entered September with a cash deficit of about $1,200. Turned out she didn’t have to do all that spending, as she won her party’s nomination for attorney general over Rory Thibault by a better than two-to-one margin.
Sarah Copeland Hanzas’ war chest (obligatory war chest reference) was scraping bottom as the primary approached. She spent a relatively modest $15,602 in August, not much more than half what her rival Chris Winters spent. Copeland Hanzas had entered the race very late and never caught up in fundraising. She enters September nearly $12,000 in the black, but only because she loaned her own campaign $14,000.
Still, she won — by a scant two percentage points — and that’s what matters most.
David Zuckerman spent $57,149 in August as he sought to ensure victory over Kitty Toll, bringing his campaign spending total well over $200,000. He still has $16,771 in cash on hand, and an extremely large base of small donors who can be tapped for more.
As if it needed any more emphasis, the September 1 campaign finance reports starkly illustrate the difference in fortune between the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties. In case you need to be told, the Dems’ war chest is on the left; the VTGOP’s is on the right. The exception is Gov. Phil Scott, who seems to finally be taking the campaign seriously. Maybe he’s a little worried about Brenda Siegel?
Fundraising numbers to date for statewide races besides governor:
Lieutenant Governor: David Zuckerman $236,687, Joe Benning $38,546. That’s the good one for the Republicans.
Treasurer: Mike Pieciak $126,500, H. Brooke Paige 0.
Secretary of State: Sarah Copeland Hanzas $74,078, H. Brooke Paige 0.
Attorney General: Charity Clark $129, 835, Mike Tagliavia 0.
Auditor: Invincible incumbent Doug Hoffer $100 plus a $1,115 surplus from 2020, Rick Morton 0.
While we wait for the final September 1 campaign finance reports to trickle in, here’s a little thing I noticed. Bruce Lisman, failed (and self-funded) candidate for governor, founder of Campaign for Vermont, and former Bear Stearns executive who may have been portrayed as a real dummy in the movie version of “The Big Short,” has made a total of three donations* to Vermont candidates so far this year.
*Update! Phil Scott just reported a $1,000 contribution from Lisman. So, four.
Together, they could serve as the dictionary definition of “mixed bag.” Let’s see if you can discern a pattern here.
He gave $500 to Sen. Joe Benning’s campaign for lieutenant governor. Not surprising at all.
He gave $500 to Patricia Preston’s hopeless bid for LG as a sort of centrist.
So far we’ve got what used to be called a mainline Republican and a moderate Democrat. *Plus a putatively moderate Republican.
The third fourth gift? $1,000 to “Farmer” John Klar’s campaign for state senate.
Well, primary night turned out to be quite a bit less exciting than we thought. With a few exceptions, the races that seemed unpredictable weren’t, in the end, very close at all. What follows is a selection of post-midnight thoughts, none of which are about the gubernatorial race because the primaries were uncompetitive.
1. Those unbelievable polls were right about the Democratic primary for Congress. Becca Balint beat the metaphorical pants off Molly Gray. In the end, the margin was 23 percentage points. Remember back in January, when Gray had gotten off to a hot start and Balint was entering the race at the same time she had to manage the Senate Democratic Caucus? Seemed like Gray had the edge. Hell, it seemed like Balint might get squeezed between centrist Gray and progressive Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.
I think Gray did have the edge at the time. So what happened? Balint caught fire with the Democratic electorate while Gray’s bio-heavy, policy-lite approach wore out its welcome. When it became clear that Balint was pulling ahead, Gray started flailing around, presenting herself as a pragmatist (be still, my heart) while depicting Balint as a Bernie Sanders clone. Yes, Bernie, Vermont’s most popular politician. Gray’s attack lines were implausible from the get-go. Did anyone really believe that Balint was an uncompromising ideologue or a captive of shady out-of-state money? No. For an attack to be effective, it has to be plausibly based in a candidate’s real or perceived weaknesses.
2. Everyone involved in Gray’s campaign has some soul-searching to do. Not only because they lost badly despite the very public blessing of St. Patrick Leahy, but also because they burned a lot of bridges in Democratic circles by going negative.
2a. Is this the end of Team Leahy’s dominance in Democratic politics? They bet big on Gray, and she rolled snake eyes. Leahy will remain a beloved figure but a sidelined one. His team, meanwhile, soiled themselves and dragged Leahy down with them. If there was any belief that they had the corner on political savvy in Vermont, well, that balloon has burst.
3. Oh Lord, the Republicans. They emerge from the primary with a statewide “ticket” of Gerald Malloy, Liam Madden, Phil Scott, Joe Benning, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, H. Brooke Paige, and H. Brooke Paige. The VTGOP now has a few days to cobble together a slate of candidates to supplant Paige, and none of them will have a prayer of a chance. Besides Scott, Benning is the only winner who’s not a walking, talking joke, and his campaign is operating on a shoestring. He’ll be a decent candidate, but he’s not going to win.
Well, the lively Democratic primary contests for attorney general and secretary of state continue to be lively, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
…with one sad exception. To judge by his campaign finance filing, Montpelier City Clerk John Odum has pretty much folded his bid for secretary of state. He’d been trailing in the money race with his two competitors, Deputy Secretary Chris Winters and Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, but in July he fell off a cliff. Odum raised $375 (from four donors) and spent $653. His only donation of more than $100 came from Montpelier property owner Fred Bashara, who kicked in $250.
As for the front-runners, Winters has modest edges on Copeland Hanzas with one exception: He has more than $25,000 in cash on hand to SCH’s $4,545. What he’s going to accomplish with that money between now and next Tuesday, I don’t know. If he loses, he may regret opportunities missed. The winner, after all, won’t need much of a bankroll to defeat whoever the Republicans dig up. And unspent cash won’t do the loser any good at all.
From the top: Winters raised $13,100 in July for a campaign total of $73,763. Copeland Hanzas netted $12,004 to reach $51,116 for the campaign. Not bad considering that she got a late start in the race.
Fourth in a series on the July `1 campaign finance reports. Yes, it’s still relevant because the general media coverage of the filings was disgracefully thin. Previously: Lieutenant Governor, Governor, Attorney General. Final installment pending: a look at select legislative races.
The Democratic primary for Secretary of State attracted three very qualified candidates after incumbent Jim Condos decided it was time to retire. One has a clear lead thanks to being the first candidate to declare; the second is catching up in a hurry; the third is lagging far behind.
That should be a substantial intangible factor in Winters’ favor. He also leads in the tangibles, having raised $39,000 in the reporting period and a total of $61,000 for the campaign to date. He has spent $23K so far, which leaves him with $38K in the bank. $5,500 of his spends went to the Vermont Democratic Party: $1,500 for placement at the party’s Curtis-Hoff fundraiser, and $4,000 for access to the VDP’s extortionately priced and indispensable voter database. He also spent $1,500 on yard signs from the Texas-based firm Super Cheap Signs. Union shop, I trust.
Notable donors on Winters’ list: $4175 from Martha Allen, former head of the VT-NEA; $4,210 from the Vermont Association of Realtors; $4,000 from Ernie Pomerleau, Burlington developer and friend of moderate Democrats everywhere; $500 from outgoing Treasurer Beth Pearce; and $101 from former governor Howard Dean.
Second place in the money race is Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, who didn’t announce until late April. She’s done well since then, receiving $39K in donations in a month and a half. She has spent $22K, so she has $17K in cash on hand.
Topping her donor list are a bunch of people named Copeland, presumably family, who gave a combined $11K. She got $1,000 apiece from renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf and former ANR deputy secretary Peter Walke. There’s a gaggle of current and former lawmakers including Shap Smith, John Gannon, Carol Ode, Leslie Goldman, Becca White, Sarita Austin, Amy Sheldon, Maxine Grad, Don Hooper, Mary Sullivan, Janet Ancel, Tony Klein, and Mike Yantachka.
Other notable names: $1,050 from Lisa Senecal, co-host of “We’re Speaking,” a podcast produced by The Lincoln Project; $500 from Democratic donor Billi Gosh and $300 from progressive donor Crea Lintilhac; $500 from Will Raap, founder of Gardeners’ Supply; $300 from former lobbyist turned bluesman Bob Stannard; $500 from the Leonine lobbying firm and $250 from lobbyist Heidi Tringe; and $150 from attorney general candidate Charity Clark. Her expenditure list is topped by $13,463 for postcards (and presumably mailing) from the Print & Mailing Center of Barre.
Finishing a distant third in fundraising is Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who entered the race shortly before the March 15 filing deadline. He raised $13K during the latest reporting period and a total of $20K for the campaign to date. He’s spent $14,494, which leaves him with $5K and some change.
But wait, it gets worse. Odum received $8,400 from Elizabeth Shayne, partner of state Rep. Tiff Bluemle. Now, a donor can’t give a candidate more than $4,210 for the primary. I have to assume that half of Shayne’s money is earmarked for the general election campaign and can’t be spent until after the primary. If that’s true, then Odum only has about $1,000 in cash on hand. He’d better have one crackerjack of a grassroots/field operation, is all I can say.
(Update! The $8,400 was a clerical error. Shayne donated a total of $4,200. Odum’s financial report has been corrected. His amended report indicates that his campaign has about $1,900 in cash on hand.)
Overall, Copeland Hanzas has a clear advantage among Democratic officeholders and party mainstays. Winters has outraised the field and has more cash on hand plus Condos’ imprimatur, but his donor list is short on Democratic stalwarts. Odum is far behind in fundraising and cash on hand; unless he’s got hidden advantages, he’s looking like the third place finisher in the primary.
Otherwise, how do I see the race from here to Primary Day, now less than a month away? Hard to tell. Neither Winters nor Copeland Hanzas has a high profile outside of Montpelier. Winters has Condos behind him; Copeland Hanzas has a lot of lawmakers in her corner, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Members of the House are very plugged in to their districts. Get enough of them in your corner, you’ve got a head start on a statewide network.
So. If anyone claims to know how this is going to turn out, they’re probably blowing smoke.
There’s something about immortality, about escaping the finite bounds of a lifetime. If not in corporeal form, at least in lasting impact. Making a mark, leaving a legacy, your name remembered long after your contemporaries have returned to the dust. Escaping the curse of Adam and Eve. It’s an almost universal human yearning, reflected in the appeal of religious belief and, well, superhero comics.
Well, you didn’t come here for the warmed-over philosophy. Let’s get to Jim Condos.
The outgoing Secretary of State put his thumb on the sca — I should say, smashed his fist on the scale and jumped up and down on it with all his considerable weight* when he endorsed his deputy Chris Winters to succeed him when he leaves office.
He wants that legacy, doesn’t he? He wants his impact on the office to last beyond his physical tenure. He wants one final validation from the voters, who have treated him kindly over the years.