My recent post about the Vermont Democratic Party drew more reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written… with the notable exception of the Latin Motto controversy. Almost all of it was positive, and much of it came from young folks who feel like they got the cold-shoulder treatment from the party.
At least a couple of people asked me to do the Progressive Party. And while I did briefly address their failings in my post-election “Winners and Losers” piece, there’s more to be said.
Short take: 2020 was a disastrous year for the Progs. They managed to hold onto their seven-seat caucus despite three retirements and one upset defeat, which is noteworthy. But otherwise, the bad far outweighs the good.
Let’s start with the electoral defeats of two prominent Prog-identified pols. Tim Ashe finished a distant second to Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman lost by 41 points to Gov. Phil Scott.
It’s hard to understate how big a setback this is for the Progs. They’ve suffered a huge loss of influence in the Senate, with Ashe’s departure as President Pro Tem and Zuckerman relinquishing the gavel. Also, Ashe and Zuckerman were the Progs’ top two hopes for statewide office. They had built their political careers over more than a decade of success, but they’re off the charts (at least for now).
Also, the magnitude of their losses calls into question whether the Progressive label is statewide electoral poison. Ashe lost by 11 points to Molly Gray, who was a complete political unknown at the beginning of the year. Zuckerman faced impossible odds in taking on Phil Scott during the pandemic; but even so, 41 points???
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.
Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Molly Gray kicked off the new week with an Endorse-O-Rama on the Statehouse lawn. She’s won the backing of 15 Democratic/Progressive Senators, including Senate Majority Leader (and President Pro Tem-in-waiting) Becca Balint.
Which is great. But it means she didn’t get endorsed by eight members of the majority caucus. Not so good.
The abstainers include fully half of Chittenden County’s delegation: unsuccessful Lite-Gov candidates slash grudge-nurturers Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram plus Michael Sirotkin. The rest include some of the most senior and most centrist of Senators: Bobby Starr, John Rodgers, Alice Nitka and Jeanette White.
The final absentee is the most surprising: Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina. I’ve tried to reach him, and will update this post if/when he returns my call.
The roster of Senate abstainers is not a good look. But it has more to do with the foibles of Vermont’s Worst Deliberative Body than it has to do with the merits or demerits of Young Ms. Gray.
State Sen. Debbie Ingram brought her political career to a close, whether she meant to or not, when she endorsed Republican Scott Milne for lieutenant governor today. The progressive Democrat had finished a distant fourth in a four-person race for her party’s LG nomination. bagging less than nine percent of the vote.
And honestly, it’s hard to see her move as anything more than sour grapes.
After all, she followed up her primary loss with an intemperate opinion piece blaming her candidacy’s failure on the media for ignoring “diversity candidates.”
So her solution is to support a white cis man over a Democratic woman? And to posit Milne as the right man for the job because of his business experience? That seems entirely out of bounds for one of the more progressive members of the Senate — one who made her political bones as an advocate for social equity of all kinds.
Then again, she did pledge last year to support Congressional term limits, a longtime conservative talking point. (I don’t remember this at all; it came up in a Google search today.) So maybe she is less conventionally progressive than she seemed.
But the Milne endorsement, combined with her post-defeat opinion piece, certainly opens the door to a “sour grapes” interpretation.
After the jump: The media and “diversity candidates”
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.
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?
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.
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.
This is, as I tweeted the other day, the most hilarious development of the #vtpoli season. Tim Ashe, who rose to the position of Senate President Pro Tem by making nice with the chamber’s most entrenched senior members, is now presenting himself as the outsider in the race for lieutenant governor, The Man Of The People not beholden to “the political elite.”
Does he mean elites such as Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, who serves as the Ashe campaign’s treasurer? Or Senate Finance Chair Ann Cummings, now in her 23rd year in office and so immune from challenge that she hardly bothers to campaign at all?
Look, here they are now.
I sense the distinctive odor of flop sweat.
Ashe, who seemed like the obvious odds-on favorite to succeed David Zuckerman as lieutenant governor, has recast himself as Mr. Outside because he’s in danger of being Wally Pipped by a young woman who had precisely zero profile in Statehouse circles a mere six months ago.
It has to have been quite galling for him to watch Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray rack up endorsement after endorsement from top Vermont Democrats, and follow it up with a truly impressive fundraising performance that has left Ashe in the financial dust.
It was, honestly, one of the best debates I’ve ever seen.
The VPR/VPBS debate (viewable online here) moved along quickly. There was quite a bit of substance, and candidates were unafraid to challenge the credentials and positions of others — which is a legitimate part of a good debate. No one interrupted anyone else, and not once did a candidate exceed their time limit or interrupt anyone else. All four candidates performed well. The 45-second limit forced them to stick to their main points, and kept the empty posturing to a minimum.
Which is not to say that it was flawless, but it showcased the quality of the candidates. Voters have four good options in the LG race.
Before I get to specifics, a note about production values. In this year of Zoompaigning, candidates need to have a handle on visual and audio presentation — as do the producers/broadcasters of such events. There’s no excuse for distracting backgrounds, bad lighting or bad sound. All four backdrops were fine; the worst actually belonged to moderator Jane Lindholm. She seemed to be stuck in a featureless closet. Sen. Debbie Ingram was too close to the mic and camera; her voice was sometimes distorted as a result.
Anyway, note to all concerned for future reference: Make sure your shit is tight.
Back to substance. I guess it’s not surprising that all four candidates were well-prepared. They’ve gotten plenty of practice in a series of lower-profile forums hosted by county party committees. They also had to be aware that, in Our Plague Year, the VPR/VPBS debate was likely the most crucial event of the entire primary campaign.