Tag Archives: Thom Lauzon

The “moderate” VTGOP is a mythical beast

A few interesting things came out of the Vermont Republican Convention on Saturday — besides revealing that Phil Scott can’t take a rhetorical punch.

I thought it shone a harsh and unforgiving light on the idea that Vermont Republicans are a breed apart — the last surviving redoubt of moderate Republicanism. That’s largely a fiction created in a desperate effort to appeal to the liberal Vermont electorate. It takes on the veneer of reality thanks to the thoroughly moderate image of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. But the party ranks are full of garden-variety 21st Century Republicanism. Vermont Republicans may have thrown in the towel on social issues like marriage equality and abortion rights*, but they are a stoutly conservative bunch when it comes to brass-tacks issues like government spending, regulation, and taxation.

*Well, let’s say they are withholding the towel. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts they’d change their tune if they ever achieved political power.

After all, this is a party that eagerly embraced John Kasich, a man whose tax plan would make Ronald Reagan blush with embarrassment. George W. Bush, too, for that matter.

But there were signs aplenty at the Convention that this is a party with a strongly conservative core.

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“Lock ‘em Up” Lauzon

The mayor of Barre is not known for keeping a cool head. Thom Lauzon once tossed the city manager’s cellphone across the room when it rang during a City Council meeting. Then there was the time a guy in a Santa suit threw a pie in then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ face; Lauzon ran him down and engaged in fisticuffs with the perp.

Oh, and he once chased down a hit-and-run driver, stepping in front of the vehicle to get the driver to stop. Guess how the driver reacted? Fortunately, Lauzon received only minor injuries on that one.

He has, to be fair, done a lot of good stuff as well. He is truly passionate about his city, beyond his own self-interest as an investor in downtown real estate. Although he’s a conservative Republican, he hasn’t shied away from using government resources whenever possible to help pull the city out of its decades-long funk. And he’s made substantial progress. It’s just that his passion sometimes gets a little unhinged.

Now, he seems to be channeling the ghost of Nancy Reagan. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson:

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon laid down the hammer on opiate dealers Thursday, saying anyone caught selling should receive an automatic 50-year jail sentence.

… Lauzon said he supports treatment programs and wants to see them expanded even further. But he said a greater deterrence is needed to stop people from selling, which he said would cut the supply.

…Lauzon said his proposal would apply to any amount sold, even small amounts. The only exception, he said, should be if an addict requests treatment, is turned away and then sells to maintain his habit.

Let’s pause for a moment and understand a couple of things. Lauzon loves his city. He has seen the effects of the drug trade. Barre is also weighed down by the fact that a fair number of parolees and ex-inmates end up living there — and sometimes re-offending.

Fair enough. But a fifty-year automatic sentence for selling any amount of drugs?

Batshit crazy.

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A new nominee for the Most Dangerous Republican award

Last December, around the time of the fabled Chris Christie fundraiser for the Vermont Republican Party (projected take, a quarter mill or so; actual take, less than 50K as far as I can tell from the party’s financial filings), I posited that there was one figure in the downtrodden VTGOP who could pose a threat to the Democrats as a statewide candidate. It wasn’t Phil Scott; it was the closest thing we have to a Chris Christie — a short-tempered, get-things-done, “willing to work with both sides” kind of guy named Thom Lauzon, Republican Mayor of Barre. 

I still think he’s a solid potential statewide candidate, should he ever choose to climb the ladder. But another name has been suggested to me, and it’s an excellent choice. In fact, offhand I’d have to say he’s an even better Most Dangerous Republican than Lauzon.

I’ll give you the name, but first it’s Story Time, kids!

Starting in 2002, Craig Benson spent two disastrous years as Republican Governor of New Hampshire. While he was Governor, he appointed a little-known lawyer named Kelly Ayotte to the post of Attorney General. (In NH, the AG is an appointed position with a five-year term.) By the time her first term had come to an end,  John Lynch was Governor. He was a Democrat but he liked to play the bipartisan game, so he nominated her for a second term.

Before she served out that term, she resigned to run for U.S. Senate. And she won. And she’s now the only Republican member of NH’s four-member Congressional delegation.

The key moment in her ascendancy was her renomination by John Lynch. If he’d appointed a Democrat and sent her packing as a one-term Benson functionary, she would’ve had a much harder time continuing her political career. I firmly believe that there would never have been a Senator Kelly Ayotte if not for John Lynch being too clever for his own good.

Thus endeth the lesson. Back to Vermont, and the new nominee for Most Dangerous Republican.

Neale Lunderville.

At one time, he was the chief hothead on Jim Douglas’ team. He and Jim Barnett, who’s gone on to a very unsuccessful career as a balls-to-the-wall campaign manager, were dubbed “the Nasty Boys” by the late great Peter Freyne for their skilled knifework in Douglas’ campaigns.

Since then, little Neale has grown up — and gotten two great big helping hands from Democratic officeholders. Governor Shumlin chose him to be recovery czar after Tropical Storm Irene, and now Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has engineered his hiring as interim head of the Burlington Electric Department.

In the process, the Nasty Boy has acquired a solid nonpartisan reputation as the go-to guy when trouble strikes. He’s been chosen by not one, but two, top Democrats to take on big administrative challenges.

Okay, here’s a hypothetical for you. In the next biennium, the Shumlin administration will unveil its plan for single-payer health care. It’ll be big, expensive, controversial, and a tough sell, even in a lopsided Democratic legislature. Win or lose, Shumlin will expend a lot of his political capital in the fight.

He also faces the whole issue of school funding and organization. Whatever he and the legislature do, more enemies will be made and more people will be alienated.

At best, Shumlin would enter 2016 having fought two extremely tough battles. Even if he wins on single-payer, he’ll be in that very dangerous period between passage and implementation, where everybody will be aware of the cost and the controversy but won’t have experienced any benefit from the new system. And if the implementation process for single payer OR school reform is difficult, contentious, or includes any stumbles, the Governor’s managerial reputation will take more hits.

And now comes, on a shiny white horse, Neale Lunderville.

Well, Lunderville 2.0, New and Improved with a track record for working under Democratic executives and managing the biggest challenges. In short, he’s Vermont’s Mr. Fix-It. The Governor won’t be able to depict Lunderville as a partisan ideologue because, after all, he chose the guy to manage the aftermath of Irene. At the same time, Lunderville will have solid Republican credentials from his tenure in the Douglas Administration. He’ll be more appealing to the conservative base than a Phil Scott will ever be.

The VTGOP won’t be in any shape to challenge the Democrats’ overall  dominance in 2016. But Lunderville could do what Scott Milne can’t do and Randy Brock couldn’t: topple Governor Shumlin.

Farfetched or believable? Just remember, if it happens, you can thank Peter Shumlin and Miro Weinberger for making Governor Lunderville a possibility.