Tag Archives: Vermont Republican Party

About that Shumlin approval poll

Bit of a surprise came to us late last week, with news of a survey showing Governor Shumlin had suddenly enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The results were released by Morning Consult, a national polling agency that gave Shumlin a 55 percent approval rating after collecting data online between January and May. Shumlin jumped nearly 10 points from the last time Morning Consult polled Vermonters, in November, when 46 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs up.

"What should I do now, Scotty?" "Ya got me, boss." (Photo from VPR)

“What should I do now, Scotty?” “Ya got me, boss.” (Photo from VPR)

The results are also at odds with a February poll from the Castleton Polling Institute that put the Governor at 37 percent approval, and the previous two Castleton surveys: in September 2015, Shumlin was at 40 percent; in March 2015, it was 41 percent. That’s awfully darn consistent.

The Democratic Party was quick to promote the Morning Consult number. Understandable; it would be the best possible news for the party and its gubernatorial candidate. It would prove broad support for the Democratic agenda, and it would mean the candidate wouldn’t have to create distance between her- or himself and Shumlin.

As for me, well, color me skeptical. After all, what has happened since February — or November — to bolster Shumlin’s popularity? He didn’t score any high-profile victories in the Legislature. And he’s taken quite a hit from the EB-5 imbroglio, since he’d associated himself so prominently with the scandal-plagued developers.

Is there some other counterbalancing factor — some political “dark matter” exerting a positive gravitational pull on Shumlin’s numbers? Or is it just an outlier?

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The mudwashing of the Sorrell case

Hey, I invented a new word: it’s the opposite of “whitewashing” — the deliberate fouling of something previously spotless.

The legal troubles of Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell have two progenitors. Well, three if you count Clueless Bill himself. But the two I’m thinking of are (1) journalistic and (2) legal/political.

The former is good ol’ Paul Heintz, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist. He made public records requests for Sorrell’s emails and other materials, and ferreted out the unseemly details of the AG’s campaign finance carelessness and his overly cozy relations with the designated AG-handlers at some big national law firms. He posted his first story on April 1, and a follow-up with fresh details on May 11.

Heintz’ reporting, it must be said, was met with a very curious silence from the rest of our political media.

The other progenitor is Brady Toensing, vice chair of the VTGOP, who used Heintz’ reporting as the basis of a formal complaint against Sorrell, filed on May 20. That complaint somehow transmuted Heintz’ previously ignored reporting into a story that other media finally felt obliged to pick up. Toensing’s complaint, in turn, led to the appointment of independent investigator Tom Little.

But the media have reported it as a matter between Toensing and Sorrell, removing Heintz (and the journalistic underpinnings) from their narratives. I’d expect this sort of convenient reasoning from Sorrell himself:

“I enjoy the work. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Toensing assaults on my personal integrity and that I would abuse the integrity of the office. I’m not a masochistic person and that is not fun, whatsoever.”

Oh good, I can stop trying to imagine Bill Sorrell in leather restraints and a ball gag.

[Purell break.]

Sorry. The point is, it’s clearly in Sorrell’s political interest to depict this whole mess as a partisan attack. But why should our distinguished political media carry that water for him?

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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.

Just what we need: another centrist bipartisan group in Vermont

Well, looky what’s cluttering up the ol’ inbox: a press release announcing a new organization, “Vision to Action Vermont,” or, for short, the catchy V2AVT. It’s the brainchild of Republican State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe and Democratic State Rep. Paul Ralston of Middlebury.

Two of the more property-rich communities in Vermont, of course. But that may be simple coincidence.

V2AVT’s stated goal is to “put partisanship aside and advocate for balanced, common-sense public policy in Montpelier.” When I hear those words, I immediately think “center-rightists trying to court the moderate vote.” Indeed, it’s not far removed from the surface rhetoric of the Vermont Republican Party, seeking always to “restore balance” and re-establish “common-sense public policy.”

It’s also interesting that Scheuermann has been one of the leading lights of Vermont’s other notable centrist reform organization, Campaign for Vermont. Might also be simple coincidence that Scheuermann founds a new group with a similar mission, not long after she (a) considered a run for Governor until (b) CFV founder Bruce Lisman undercut her potential candidacy with open musings about his own.

On the other hand, the two groups could cooperate rather than competing. V2AVT is a political action committee “that will promote, support and elect strong candidates,” as opposed to CFV’s policy and lobbying focus. But otherwise this looks an awful lot like CFV; their preferred candidates are the kind…

“… who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

Yeah, that sounds exactly like CFV’s right-leaning definition of “nonpartisanship.” That one sentence is full of code words and dog whistles from the lexicon of Republicans seeking moderate support. “Common-sense” in particular is an awfully damn tired phrase in these parts.

Ralston, who’s not running for re-election and thus has no bridges to burn with the Democrats, has been described to me as an outsider in the Democratic ranks. Think Cynthia Browning with a lower profile. And in V2AVT’s press release, he echoed the pseudo-Republican talking points, emphasizing economic growth above all else:

“Heidi and I have worked together for four years to implement policies that foster greater economic activity in Vermont…  We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy.”

Smells like Republican spirit.

So far, the V2AVT website includes only two items — the press release and an introductory statement. Plus some really cheesy masthead graphics. And a biography of “Heidi” (but none for “Paul”) strongly emphasizing her connections to the late Jim Jeffords. The same can be said, of course, for Darcie Johnston, so Scheuermann gets few points for a Jeffords connection that’s ten years in the past.

We shall see what becomes of this attempt at growing a “nonpartisan” movement. It’ll be interesting how much money they put behind Republican candidates as opposed to Dems or Progs. That’ll be a telling sign of their true devotion to nonpartisanship and balance.

 

Republican county committees: part of the solution, or part of the problem?

As we all know, the Vermont Republican Party has been chronically short of funds for quite a while. Right now, they’re either just above water or actually in the red — at a time when major parties ought to be flush with cash to spend on campaigning.

But as I was poring over Tuesday’s campaign finance report filings, I noticed something that struck me as a little odd. Or more than a little.

While the state party is desperately clipping coupons and searching the sofa cushions for spare change, some of the local and county party organizations seem to be going through quite a bit of cash. And what are they spending it on?

Well, a lot of it goes to food, drink, and entertainment for themselves. Very little seems to go toward party-building or candidate support. In fact, virtually no money has been given to candidates with one exception, listed below.

State Republican leaders have openly talked about their grassroots organizations being in terrible shape, and needing to rebuild at the town and county level in order to compete with the very well-organized Democrats. But some of the GOP’s local branches seem to have the resources; they’re just frittering the dollars away on keeping themselves fat and happy.

The term “circle jerk” comes to mind.

Let’s look at some figures. (All donation totals are for the campaign cycle, not just the most recent period.)

The Barre Town Republican Committee reported raising $7,841 and spending $3,443. Virtually all of that — $3143 — was spent on “meals” at the Elks Club.

The Caledonia County Republican Committee raised $3,675 and spent $3,545 — including $2,050 at the Elks Club.

The Washington County Republican Committee has raised $17,800 and spent $10,870. No sign of gifts to candidates; but they did blow about $2,500 at a single restaurant — an old-fashioned meat-and-potato joint called The Steak House.

The Windsor County Republican Committee raised $6,400 and spent $2,500, almost all of it on food and drink. Including $528 for a Super Bowl party at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction.

The Orange County Republican Committee raised $3,150. About $800 went to a spaghetti dinner and a golf tournament. However, they did spend a fair bit of their money on a booth at the Tunbridge Fair and materials to hand out there. That’s a tangible party-building activity — but one of only a few.

The Rutland County Republican Committee has raised $3,020 and spent $2,455, including $805 on a “campaign kickoff dinner.” Most of their other expenses seem reasonable: postage, signs and mailers, advertising.

I will admit, right here and now, that I’ve never been involved in a county or town party committee, and I don’t know what goes on there. Maybe at these gatherings, a lot of folks are writing checks directly to their local politicos or the state GOP. (If they were writing checks to the local organization, it’d show up in the finance reports.) But looking at it from the outside, quite a few of the local Republican committees seem to be burning through decent amounts of money for very little in return — aside from their own satiation.

Are these functioning political machines, or are they Old Boys’ Clubs? It seems an especially pertinent question when the state party is going begging for money and is at a profound disadvantage at the grassroots level.

I could find only one local or county Republican organization that’s carrying substantial weight for the VTGOP, and that’s the Rutland GOPAC. It’s raised nearly $18,000 and spent over $15,000, and the bulk of that spending was on direct support to area candidates for House and Senate. So, good on ya, Rutland GOPAC. Considering GOPAC’s spending and the relatively on-point activity of the Rutland Republican Committee, can it be a coincidence that Rutland is one of the few Republican strongholds in the state?

The rest of the guys maybe need a shakeup. I don’t know how you do that with such an entrenched and tradition-bound bunch of folks. (“Give up our Steak House dinners? Never!”) And again, there may be more to this picture than I’m seeing in black and white. But I think this is part of the VTGOP’s problem. It’ll be a challenge to fix.

Vermont Republicans quickly becoming incoherent

Looks like the Vermont Republican Party has decided a guns-a-blazin’, all-out hysterical attack on “the stagnant Shumlin economy” is their ticket to the meager legislative gains they’re hoping for in November.

And, naturally, they’re doubling down on the “F” grade supposedly given Vermont in a national survey of small business owners. Not only are they repeating their earlier claims, they’re getting the facts even wronger.

The VTGOP’s latest news release again refers to “a report by highly respected national magazine The Economist which ranked Vermont among 5 states receiving a grade of ‘F’ for their small business friendliness.”

Okay, where do we begin.

It’s not a “report,” it was a survey. An unscientific survey in which thousands of questionnaires were sent to business owners nationwide.

It wasn’t by “The Economist,” it was by Thumbtack.com.

The Economist isn’t a “national magazine.” It’s a global one, and its headquarters are in Great Britain.

And, once again, Vermont did not receive a grade — at all — in this year’s survey. The “F” came out of the 2012 survey. Thumbtack didn’t receive enough responses from Vermont businesspeople to include the state in this year’s grades.

This is like a game of telephone with only one player — who, even so, manages to thoroughly garble the message as it passes from mouth to ear and on to brain. Ironically, the VTGOP’s news release includes this line:

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing and accurately defining the problem itself.

Uh-huh. And by “accurately defining the problem,” the GOP apparently means “relying on two-year-old figures from an unscientific survey.” Not to mention “exaggerating the issue with overheated rhetoric.”

This whole schemozzle shows how desperate the Republicans are for messaging material, that they have to keep on hammering over and over again on a discredited talking point. It’s embarrassing.

The news release goes on to depict Vermont’s economy as in “crisis,” which it clearly is not. We have our troubles, but crisis? No — “crisis” is what George W. Bush left us with. And President Obama and Governor Shumlin have been trying to dig out from under the Bush rubble ever since.

The Republicans also assert that “Vermont Democrats denied there were any problems with Vermont’s… economy,” which is also patently untrue. I don’t think there’s a Democrat in the state who would argue that we don’t have our share of problems and issues, and the Shumlin Administration has been trying — in its own way, whether you agree with it or not — to make things better. When you consider how awful things were in 2008-09, plus the severe blow of Tropical Storm Irene in the summer of 2011, things in Vermont have gotten a whole lot better.

Republicans are already in danger of losing touch with reality, and losing credibility with undecided and centrist voters. Hysterical, over-the-top rhetoric won’t convince anyone that we’re on the cusp of apocalypse.

Speaking of doubling down, the news release concludes with a challenge for a debate on the economy between party chairs “Super Dave” Sunderland and Dottie Deans “in a neutral forum.” This bit of red-flag theatricality is completely meaningless. The Republicans hope that Deans ignores the challenge, so they can accuse her of ducking the issues.

In fact, the job of the party chair isn’t to take part in debates; that’s what candidates do. Party chairs are supposed to spend their time managing and organizing their parties. And that, in itself, is at least a job and a half.

At least it is for Deans, who leads an active, vibrant organization. Super Dave, on the other hand, has a paid staff of ONE to oversee, a sickly grassroots network, and a meager budget. Maybe he has time for pointless media events, but Deans has work to do.

Meet Windham County’s Favorite Republicrat

One of the bigger surprises of last month’s filing deadline was the appearance of an old face in a new place: Roger Allbee, Ag Secretary under Jim Douglas and self-described “liberal Republican,” is running for the State Senate in Windham County.

… as a Democrat.

Well, last Wednesday I guest-hosted the Mark Johnson Show on WDEV*, and I booked Allbee as one of my guests. I thought it worthwhile to try to pin him down on his move to the Democratic side.

*For those unfamiliar with the show, Mark frequently does in-depth interviews with key figures in politics and government. He posts his more noteworthy interviews in an online podcast, available anytime for people outside of WDEV’s range or who can’t listen live between 9-11 a.m. because they, y’know, have to work and stuff. The podcast is a bit out of date right now because Mark’s been on vacation. But it’s worth bookmarking. 

The result, such as it was, has earned Allbee a nickname: The Artful Roger.

He bobbed and weaved, ducked and parried, and determinedly changed the subject at every opportunity. In a very genial way, I should add. It wasn’t at all contentious; he simply wouldn’t say much about it. If you’re a Windham County Democrat wondering about the sincerity of his party switch, well, you can keep on wondering. The Artful Roger didn’t lay any doubts to rest. Indeed, my conclusion is that he hasn’t changed a bit: he’s still a moderate Republican, and his positions are more or less in line with the likes of Phil Scott.

His case for his candidacy as a Democrat: “People who know me know that I have always worked in a very bipartisan manner, and even when I was Secretary, to bring things together.”

Want more?

I’m passionate about Vermont and the values of our community, and believe that with my knowledge of the state and my reputation for working with people on all sides of the aisle in a very bipartisan way, that I can bring my great passion and knowledge to the Senate. I know how it works, and have been there as Secretary and think that my values, my skill and my background can help make a difference.

Prospective slogan: “Vote for Allbee: He’s Very Bipartisan.” Alternatively: “Allbee: ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Democrats.'”

He says he hasn’t moved, but the GOP has moved away from him:

When I grew up in Brookline many years ago, party labels really didn’t mean much. People voted for the individual, and for what the individual believed in. I still believe that, but the Republican Party that I’ve known in the past, the Aiken party, the Dick Snelling party, that party has certainly moved in a way that it doesn’t represent my views today.

True enough, but with Phil Scott trying to make the party more inclusive, this seems like exactly the wrong time for a liberal Republican to jump ship. Allbee replied that he respects Scott, but still believes his views “haven’t been included as much as they should be” in the party. Which doesn’t really answer the question.

Then again, he gave no indication that he has actually jumped ship. When I asked about switching to the Democratic Party, he replied, “I can’t say I really did switch parties.”

As quickly as he could, The Artful Roger launched into a lengthy explication of what he sees as the three big issues facing Vermont: Health care reform, the public school system and how to fund it, and economic development. An explication that lasted more than five minutes.

And it sounded like the kind of stuff you’d hear from Phil Scott (or, Lord help us, Bruce Lisman): long on exploration, short on specifics, plenty of talk about “concerns” with current policies but no outright criticism, and invocations of a more balanced approach to stuff like taxes and regulation.

I redirected the conversation by noting that Allbee should expect skepticism about his candidacy, and asked him to convince me it wasn’t sheer opportunism — his only way to win in a very liberal constituency. His answer was more of the same.

I think people who know me and know what I’ve done and how I’ve worked collaboratively with others and know my personality and my values, know that it’s not opportunism, but it’s using my experience. Obviously there will be some who say that. So be it. I think I have a history of working with all sides, and supporting candidates like Pat Leahy and Peter Welch and working with them, even Bernie Sanders. Governor Shumlin asked me to stay on [as Ag Secretary], because I had the reputation of being collaborative and working on the issues. So some will say that, but my history demonstrates otherwise.

“Even Bernie Sanders.” Nice touch.

My conclusion: Allbee’s a nice enough guy with a lot of experience and knowledge. I think he’s more or less honest about running as a Democrat, although there’s clearly an element of opportunism at work. He’s running in a solidly Democratic county at a time when one of the two incumbents is stepping down, leaving an open seat.

Still, he’d be a fine Republican candidate — from somewhere else, like Rutland or Caledonia. But Windham? One of the most liberal counties in the state shouldn’t be represented by a neo-centrist.

Besides, the State Senate already has too many of these types, both Democrats and Republicans: centrists or center-rightists who’ve helped block a lot of progressive legislation during the Shumiln years. We really don’t need another Dick Mazza, do we?

Postscript. There hasn’t been any coverage of the Windham County race in the statewide media (except my own stuff on Green Mountain Daily), which surprises me. I realize the primary isn’t until late August, but this is a slow time for political coverage and Allbee’s entry sets up perhaps the most intriguing primary race in Vermont: a four-way run for two Democratic nominations, including one incumbent (Jeanette White), two newcomers (Becca Balint and Joan Bowman), and Allbee. And with no declared Republican candidates, the winners of the Dem primary will waltz their way into the Senate.