Tag Archives: Sue Minter

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.

TJ, We Hardly Knew Ye

Return with me now to the halcyon days of 2012, when Peter Shumlin was still popular and a fresh-faced young prosecutor from up Burlington way took on the seemingly impossible task of challenging Vermont’s Eternal General Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary. Sorrell had held the office of attorney general since 1997 and had been repeatedly re-elected, as is our general custom with statewide officeholders other than governor. Many believed that by 2012, ol’ Billy was long past his sell-by date. Others thought he wasn’t particularly qualified in the first place, but those people are obvious malcontents. (Like, for instance, the late Peter Freyne.)

Ultimately, thanks to a last-ditch infusion of cash on Sorrell’s behalf from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, TJ Donovan’s bid to unseat the incumbent came up just a little bit short. Sorrell won the primary by a puny 714 votes out of more than 41,000 cast.

But Donovan was widely hailed for his chutzpah and, more to the point, for very nearly pulling it off.

So let me ask you this. Whatever happened to that brave, headstrong young man with a limitless political future?

I mean, there’s A Guy named TJ Donovan around. In fact, he became AG in the 2016 election, after Sorrell retired. He looks a lot like the ambitious young pol of 2012, but as time goes by, he’s acting more and more like his predecessor.

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Do the Democrats want to beat Phil Scott?

Stupid question, right?

Ask any Democrat — well, almost any Democrat — and they’ll say of course they want to beat Phil Scott and put one of their own in the corner office.

But I’m not asking any of them.

Instead, I’m looking at their collective actions. And they tell a different story, one full of abject failure to mount competitive races, of convenient excuses for legislative inaction, of top-tier contenders avoiding a tough challenge.

Conventional wisdom says that Scott is a singularly popular Republican thanks to his plain ol’ working-man demeanor and his plausibly moderate stands on the issues. I mean, look: He’s never lost in his 20-year political career. That includes campaigns for state Senate, lieutenant governor and governor. Impressive.

But who has he beaten? How many difficult races has he had to run? How many times did he amble his way to victory?

Short answer: He’s had it about as easy as a politician could hope for.

Scott first ran for Senate in 2000, the year of the great conservative backlash over civil unions for same-sex couples. He secured one of Washington County’s three seats in a race that nearly produced a Republican sweep of the county. (Incumbent Democrat Ann Cummings barely edged out fourth-place Republican Paul Giuliani.)

After that, Scott’s fortunes were buoyed by the super-strong incumbent’s edge in state Senate races. He finished a strong third in 2002. 2004 was the closest call of his entire political career; he won the third seat by a margin of only 230 votes. 2006 and 2008 were easy wins for all three incumbents — Scott, Cummings, and the redoubtable Bill Doyle.

As a reasonably inoffensive Republican, Scott benefited from the good will of Democratic leadership. He served as vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and chair of  Senate Institutions, burnishing his reputation for working across the aisle.

In 2010, Scott ran for lieutenant governor and won, beating then-state representative Steve Howard by 49-42 percent.  That was the closest call he’s had in this entire decade.

As LG, Scott’s reputation for bipartisanship was given a boost by then-governor Peter Shumlin, who included Scott in his cabinet. Not the kind of move you make if you really wanted a fellow Democrat to take Scott’s place.

Unsurprisingly, the potential A-List or B-List candidates for Lite-Gov kept their distance, allowing relative unknowns Cassandra Gekas (2012) and Dean Corren (2014) to mount the altar as sacrificial lambs. Scott beat Gekas by 17 points and Corren by an astounding 26.

And that set the stage for Scott’s elevation to governor in 2016. His Democratic opponent Sue Minter was a former state representative and cabinet official, but she’d never run for statewide office and was little known outside of Montpelier and Waterbury. She lost by nine points. In 2018, the top tier of Democrats was nowhere to be seen; former utility executive Christine Hallquist made history by becoming the first openly transgender person to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination, but she had no chance in November. Scott sailed to a 15-point victory.

Now, you tell me. Who’s more responsible for the remarkable political career of Phil Scott? The man himself — or the Democratic Party that has consistently failed to seriously challenge him, and the Democratic officeholders who’ve consistently given him a hand up?

That also goes for top Democrats who are more than happy to make public appearances with Scott, even during his 2018 re-election campaign. The governor could fill a thousand campaign brochures with photos of himself making nice with Democratic officeholders, from the legislature to statewide officials to members of our congressional delegation.

I know, we’re all proud of Vermont’s tradition of political comity. But at some point, don’t you have to be just a little bit partisan?

Now, let’s look at the Democrat-dominated legislature, where Scott provides a convenient excuse for not getting stuff done. Over and over again in the past three years, the Dems have failed to advance key bills because of the potential for a gubernatorial veto. Just as often, they’ve ended up negotiating against themselves — weakening legislation in hopes of winning the governor’s approval.

Y’know, if they had a progressive-minded Democratic governor, they’d have to actually try to craft effective legislation. This didn’t work out too well with Shumlin’s health care reform push, did it? Much safer to flail helplessly in the face of a Republican governor.

They’ve also reached a comfy non-confrontational position on taxes and spending. There was little dispute over the 2020 budget. There is no real effort to challenge Scott on taxes. VTGOP press releases will tell a different story, chronicling every tax or fee increase proposed by every single Dem or Progressive lawmaker — even though the vast majority were dead on arrival.

During the 2019 session, the Dems undermined much of their own agenda. They spent week after week trying to come up with weaker and weaker versions of key bills. In some cases, that effort prevented bills from gaining legislative approval at all. Scott didn’t have to veto a minimum wage increase, a paid family leave program or a commercial marketplace for cannabis — three high priority issues for the Dems. They also failed to confront the governor on other contentious issues, including legalization of personal possession of buprenorphine. They disappointed their liberal base by failing to seriously address climate change.

Point being, the fear of a veto was powerful juju, turning the Dem/Prog supermajority into so many zombies. And leaving potential 2020 gubernatorial candidates with precious little material to run on. For the sake of anyone willing to challenge Scott, the legislature had better come prepared next January to hold the governor’s feet to the fire. Force him to make difficult choices. Show that there’s a real difference between the Democrats and the Republican governor.

Or, well, just sit back, relax, let some schmo lose to Scott by double digits, and get back to the established routine of shadowboxing the big bad governor.

Senate Tweaks Doomed Program

Well, huzzah. The State Senate has approved a change in the public financing law. Currently, a candidate who wants public financing has to wait until February 15 to say or do anything campaign-related. Given the current fashion in extra-early campaign launches, that’s a significant handicap.

Tne new bill would start the clock “as soon as a privately financed candidate raised or spent up to $2,000 on a gubernatorial or lieutenant gubernatorial campaign — up to one year before Election Day,” reports Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

This solves the too-late problem without ensuring ever-earlier campaign launches. Good idea.

However, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the deadline is far from the biggest problem with the public financing system. The biggest problem is the skyrocketing cost of statewide campaigns and the paltry sums on offer through the public funding system.

Currently, a gubernatorial hopeful who earns enough small donations gets to (a) keep that money and (b) get enough public dollars to bring their campaign total to $450,000. For lieutenant governor, the figure is $200,000.

And those are absolute limits. Not a penny more, from any source. Not even a mention in a party’s email blast.

These days, that’s simply not enough to support a competitive campaign.

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The VPR Poll: the gubernatorial race

Big day in Vermont politics. VPR commissioned a wide-ranging poll from the Castleton Polling Institute. During today’s “Vermont Edition,” there was a painstakingly thorough (read: boring) examination of the presidential results, which contained no real surprises*. What I was most interested in is the gubernatorial race: as far as I can tell, this is the first real poll taken since the field took its current shape.

* Bernie’s whompin’ Hillary; Trump has a big lead over Rubio and Kasich, with Cruz in fourth.

The poll also contains some striking findings on issues, which I’ll address in a separate post. Preview: several “hot-button” issues don’t seem to concern the electorate very much.

First, a note on the gubernatorial numbers. All respondents are included in both the Democratic and Republican races. The question is: “Of the two candidates running for the [Democratic/Republican] nomination for Governor, which do you prefer?” Republicans got to weigh in on the Democratic race, and vice versa. So the results may be a little funky — although to be honest, the Dem/Repub/Indy breakdowns aren’t substantially different from the overall numbers. Still, take these results with a small grain of salt.

Topline for the gubernatorial findings: Phil Scott is way out in front, and will be difficult to catch.

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A bit of an own goal by the Minter campaign

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

— Revelation 3:16

One of the minor sidelights of our state campaign season is the issue of endorsements, especially on the Democratic side. Do you support the hometown favorite, or the party stalwart? The one who wants to be the 44th male president, or the one who wants to be the first female?

You can sense the pressure in the way things filter out. Established officeholders who don’t have to face the electorate? Peter Shumlin and Pat Leahy go for Hillary Clinton. Officeholder who will be on the ballot this year? Peter Welch is studiously neutral.

Non-officeholders contending for top Democratic nominations? Matt Dunne, Dave Zuckerman, and Kesha Ram have all endorsed Bernie.*

*As a correspondent informed me, I made a quick-draw mistake there. Zuckerman and Ram are officeholders, of course. I wrote in haste, and I apologize to Zuckerman and Ram for the attempted impeachments.

And then there’s Sue Minter, who hadn’t said anything publicly about the race until this week, when she half-heartedly indicated a preference in an interview with WCAX’s Kyle Midura. It wasn’t pretty.

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With friends like these, who needs EMILY’s?

The Sue Minter campaign is hoping to win the support of EMILY’s List, the high-powered PAC for liberal women. Minter recently replaced her in-state campaign manager, Sarah McCall, with Molly Ritner, an outsider reportedly handpicked by the EMILY’s folks. When asked if an EMILY’s endorsement is in the works, Ritner replied cryptically, “They are actively engaged.”

EMILY’s support would be a Big Biden Deal for Minter. It’d go a long way toward overcoming Matt Dunne’s early lead in fundraising. But while she has yet to receive EMILY’s imprimatur, she has managed to gain the support of “Maria’s List,” a Massachusetts-based EMILY’s wannabe.

Maria’s List has scheduled a fundraising event for Feb. 29 at the Boston-area home of its founder, Maria Jobin-Leeds. That’s the good news; the bad news is the invitation letter for that event may be the most ineptly-drafted piece of political mail I have ever seen. It’s full of typos, bad grammar, and factual errors. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

When asked about Maria’s List, Ritner offered this noncommittal reply by email:

As you might know, Maria’s List is an organization that supports “progressive candidates who stand by their values and who run viable campaigns.”  They have decided to support Sue in her campaign and are hosting an event on her behalf.

As for the email specifically, the content was not approved by the campaign.

Well, that’s good. Because the content is awful. The letter in full, after the jump.

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