Tag Archives: Wendy Wilton

Sad Little Elephant

The long decline of the Vermont Republican Party hit another low point last week when the party failed to recruit a warm body to run for state treasurer. Instead, they’re offering a double dose of perennial candidate and Best Dressed Man In Vermont Politics H. Brooke Paige. He’ll run for treasurer and secretary of state, so expect a double dose of big hats in candidate forums this fall.

Also, expect him to lose. Just like all the other statewide Republicans save Phil Scott. The governor could lose, but you can’t expect it the way you can for Gerald Malloy or Liam Madden or Rick Morton or that guy who’s running for attorney general or Paige or Paige.

Joe Benning I put in a different category. I expect him to lose to David Zuckerman but at least he’s a credible candidate, unlike all those other folks.

Errrrr… all those other men.

Before I go on, yes, I did recently write about the Republican primary field, the “usual collection of unknowns, kooks and zealots.” But things have only gotten worse since then, and I wanted to put a bow on the whole verkakte mess.

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If Lenore Broughton Had a Clue, She Could be Dangerous

Reclusive Montgomery Ward heiress Lenore Broughton, who must be referred to as “reclusive heiress” under the immutable laws of journalism, is by a longshot the most generous conservative donor in Vermont.

She is, of course, a modestly-sized frog in a tiny pond. She’s nowhere near the DeVoses or Uihleins of the world. But in Vermont, she’s got enough muscle to move our political center of gravity to the right.

Fortunately, she has no idea how to effectively spend her money. She wastes a lot of it on fruitless ventures, outmoded ideas, and candidates who are far too conservative to make any difference in public office even if they win. (What should she do instead? Read on, my friend.)

Most recent example: Broughton donated a cool $100,000 to Vermonters for Good Government Action, the thinly-veiled anti-abortion group trying to defeat Article 22. In a year when 59% of voters in goddamn Kansas refused to open the door to abortion restrictions, what hope is there of prevailing in deep blue Vermont?

You might chalk that up to unshakable belief. Broughton probably can’t help but spend heavily against reproductive rights. But how do you explain her bankrolling True North Reports, that seldom-read outpost of conservative commentary and “news”? There’s no way to know how much she spends on TNR because it’s a private venture, but it must be quite a lot. The return isn’t a bang for her bucks; it’s more like a wet fart.

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The Unlikeliest Superhero

When Jeb Spaulding became newly-elected governor Peter Shumlin’s top cabinet official in January 2011, his little-known deputy was chosen to serve out the remainder of his term.

That deputy went on to become, arguably, the most popular officeholder in the Vermont Democratic Party. She routinely got loud, sustained ovations at VDP gatherings, and was at the top of many Democrats’ wish lists as a candidate for governor. But she had no interest in being anything other than Treasurer.

And now Beth Pearce has announced her retirement as Treasurer at the end of her term, when she will have served 12 years in the office.

First and foremost, all the luck in the world to Pearce as she battles cancer. Having watched Pearce in action, I have to say cancer has no idea what it’s in for.

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Christina Nolan Must Be Questioning Her Life Choices Right About Now

It’s gotten to the point where I feel sorry for Christina Nolan, the drug-enforcin’ former U.S. Attorney turned nudge nudge, wink wink moderate Republican candidate for Pat Leahy’s Senate seat. First, whatever she was promised in terms of financial and organizational support has failed to materialize. Second, she’s going to spend the next several months sharing the stage with a bunch of far-right zealots before like-minded audiences. The crowd and the stage will doubtless include people who don’t believe that Her Kind are entitled to equal rights or, for that matter, existence.

If these events get any coverage at all, they’ll torpedo her effort to campaign as a moderate. She’ll have two choices: play to the crowd and hope not to be quoted in the press, or stick to her campaign’s message and risk getting booed off the stage.

The first stop on this Trail of Tears is on Saturday at the palatial Double Tree Hotel, the flower of South Burlington, where the VTGOP will hold a luncheon (which is what they call “lunch” when they’re trying to sell expensive tickets*) and meeting to discuss and approve the party’s dog-whistly platform, in which the concept of moderation gains no purchase.

“Trying” is the operative word here. Last week, the party was offering a $15 discount off the $55 list price for those who bought tix before this week; then, on Monday and Tuesday it offered the same deal. In fact, on both days it sent an email saying the discount was still available but would end at “midnight tonight.”

And while we’re on the subject of Republican desperation, the party is STILL selling merch from the infamous “Let’s Go Brandon” rally held last November. Paul Dame’s garage must be full of that junk.

Nolan will be forced to have the opportunity to share the stage with the likes of her little-known and veeerrrrryy conservative primary opponent Gerald Malloy and the party’s two hopeless Congressional candidates, Anya Tynio and Ericka Redic. Also sharing in the rubber chicken: the party’s two candidates for lieutenant governor, the estimable Sen. Joe Benning and the execrable Gregory Thayer, 2020 election truther and Vermont’s most ardent opponent of whatever he imagines critical race theory is.

Nolan and Benning should expect the crowd to be ideologically in sync with the True Believers on stage and skeptical (at best) of their professions of inclusive Republicanism. At least the two can commiserate about waging an uphill battle with no resources and feeling compelled to cozy up to the VTGOP’s far-right base.

After the jump: Coming Soon to a Grange Hall Near You

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Sooner or later the VTGOP will have to address Rutland

Got a lot of blowback on my recent post about the Syrian refugee debate in Rutland. More than one correspondent kindly pointed out that I had misidentified Mayor Chris Louras as a Republican.

They were right and I was wrong. He switched to independent several years ago.

But contrary to their claims, my argument still stands. The refugee proposal is likely to be the dominant issue in next March’s city elections, and if opponents put up candidates who would reject the plan, then the Vermont Republican Party and its hypothetical Governor Phil Scott would face a critical choice:

Do they support the refugee plan, or do they embrace the Trumpian fear tactics of the opponents?

That doesn’t change because Chris Louras is an independent, and I’ma tell you why.

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The VTGOP’s looming crisis of conscience

Sooner or later, the Vermont Republican Party will have to sort through some stuff. Some unpleasant, downright Trumpian stuff swirling around Rutland these days, sparked by the proposed settlement of 100 Syrian refugees.

It won’t be an issue this fall — except in Rutland. And it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Phil Scott has to say about it. To judge by his usual metrics, he’ll come out with a mealy-mouthed thing about taking everyone’s views into consideration and finding common ground.

Instead of, you know, the right thing: condemning the dog-whistle racialism being spewed by opponents of settlement — the likes of Rutland First and its allies.

The real moment of truth is likely to come next March, when the nativists will almost certainly field candidates who would block the settlement and try to defenestrate incumbent Mayor Chris Louras, the primary author of the settlement plan.

That’s when the VTGOP will have to choose sides. Or, you know, duck and cover.

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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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Shumlin waves the white flag

The governor’s number-one public policy goal is no more.

At a news conference today, Governor Shumlin pulled single payer health care off the table, saying the numbers simply don’t add up. Instead, he promised a continued effort to improve access to, and lower the cost of, health care in Vermont.

“This is the greatest disappointment of my political life,” he said, and that nails it. Single payer was one of the foundations of his initial run for governor in 2010. His promise to push for single payer set him apart in a crowded Democratic field and helped overcome doubts about his liberal bona fides.  That promise kept the Progressive Party on the sidelines in 2012 and 2014.

And now, it’s not gonna happen.

Oh, he promised a continued fight for a fairer and more accessible system, starting with the 2015 legislative session. But single payer is out until further notice. When asked, “If not in 2017, when?” he only answered in generalities.

As for the timing of the announcement, only six weeks after the election, Shumlin claimed that his team had just finished working the numbers last Friday and confirmed the bad news on Monday.

The numbers were unacceptably bad. Morgan True of VTDigger had reported that the financing mechanism would be based on an 8% payroll tax and a consumer premium imposed on a sliding scale. But the way the numbers shook out, the actual payroll tax would have to be more like 11.5%, and the premiums would have to be higher than expected. The result could punish the economy and leave many Vermonters with higher health care costs.

He cited several factors that moved single payer out of reach. Federal subsidies were not going to be as generous as hoped. The sluggish economic recovery meant fewer dollars coming into the treasury. That had led to state cuts in Medicaid payments that reduced federal support.

Also, the administration had decided a three-year phase-in for small businesses that don’t currently provide insurance was necessary to cushion the shock of a payroll tax. That phase-in meant substantially lower payroll tax revenue for the first three years.

Shumlin was clearly sensitive to the concerns of the business community. That, and his woodshedding in the November election. He saw single payer as a huge gamble that he was unlikely to win, and now is not the time to stick his neck out.

He also acknowledged that the troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect cost him credibility on building a new health care system. “We must show we can deliver,” he said. “Vermonters have reason to question us, given the troubles with Vermont Health Connect.”

He emphasized all the hard work that’s been done to create Vermont Health Connect, bend down the cost curve, and lay the groundwork for a better system. And he promised a continued, all-out effort to improve the system. But single payer was his signature deal, and now he’s had to forego it.

Even if the delay is relatively brief — say, two years — single payer is almost certainly unattainable during his tenure in office.  The failure of single payer will be a big part of his legacy, and will significantly hamstring his ability to win back liberal and Progressive voters who’ve been skeptical of him.

Fair or not, today’s announcement confirms that skepticism. Let’s accept that the numbers are honest and the timing was just the way things worked out. Even so, the optics are bad.

There are many liberals who never believed Shumlin was serious about single payer. They will see their cynicism as confirmed.

This retreat will also lend great comfort to the foes of health care reform. A determined Democratic governor, with all the resources he could want, spent three years researching single payer, only to conclude that it wouldn’t work. The revised cost estimate for single payer — $2.6 billion a year — is almost exactly what Wendy Wilton, then-Republican candidate for Treasurer, estimated two years ago.

And the abandonment of single payer strips the governor of his signature issue. Aside from Tropical Storm Irene, his administration has been marked by incremental gains on a number of issues and blocking tax hikes. There haven’t been any high-profile accomplishments — which is why one of Shumlin’s re-election ads focused on GMO labeling, an issue he didn’t support until the last minute. And why a recurring theme in other ads was Irene recovery, something that happened in his first term.

Now we can now look forward to more incremental gains and belt-tightening. His downsized proposals for the 2015 legislature on health care were purely incremental in nature. None will generate headlines or fuel a grassroots movement.

The governor’s gonna have to pull a rabbit out of a hat somewhere to restart his political career. And his biggest hat is now empty.

The biggest winner of the Vermont election

You can probably guess. It’s Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Not just because he cruised to an easy victory over Dean Corren. Not just because he leaves the campaign with almost $100K in cash on hand for whatever he wants to do next.

Not just because the decks are clear for him to be a very dangerous candidate for Governor in 2016.

No, on top of all that, there’s this: the results of the election ought to cement his control of the Vermont Republican Party. The true believers ought to be marginalized by the impressive success of Scott Milne as a moderate Republican candidate and the dismal failure of their pet project, Dan Feliciano.

Hey, remember when two of the VTGOP’s top four officers, Brady Toensing and Mark Snelling, openly supported Feliciano in the Republican primary? Brady Toensing and Mark Snelling were the two holdovers from the Jack Lindley era who retained their offices last fall in a patched-together compromise with the Phil Scott people.* At the very least, their views ought to take a back seat. At the very most, Scott and party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland ought to feel free to replace them with more like-minded people.

*Correction: I mischaracterized the VTGOP’s leadership race last fall. Toensing was not a holdover from the previous admin; originally, according to Paul Heintz, the conservatives wanted Toensing as chair and David Sunderland as vice chair, while the Phil Scott camp wanted them switched. In the end, the party unanimously went with Scott’s pairing. 

And, lest we forget, prominent conservatives Wendy Wilton and John McClaughry also jumped into the Feliciano lifeboat, only to see the S.S. Milne sail on blissfully without them.

And if there’s any justice, this ought to be the death knell for Darcie “Hack” Johnston as a serious political voice. She piloted Feliciano’s campaign straight into the Randy Brock Memorial Iceberg. As far as I can tell, she represents nobody but herself. Her true-believer approach to politics is a proven loser, a dead end for the VTGOP. She might keep on being quoted in the media because she’s an easy get, but as a political strategist? Nope.

For all his faults as a campaigner, Scott Milne succeeded where nobody has since Jim Douglas: he convinced a lot of centrists, independents, and even Democrats to abandon their standard bearer. Part of that is circumstance; a lot of it is a loss of faith in Governor Shumlin; but it also had to do with a Republican candidate who was not an ideologue, who even entertained the notion that some Democratic ideas might be acceptable.

Future Republican candidates would do well to learn the art of public speaking better than Milne, but they would also do well to follow the moderate Republican playbook.

And that’s the biggest win of all for Our Lieutenant Governor.

Dan Feliciano invests in himself; nobody else does

Nice little discovery by the Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck: apparently, Dan Feliciano’s had a little trouble with the mechanics of the Secretary of State’s new online campaign finance system, and mistakenly underreported his own donations to his campaign.

Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian candidate for governor, has contributed $30,000 to his own campaign — or nearly three-quarters of his campaign’s money — though that information was unclear on campaign finance reports filed with the state.

Selling trinkets in the park: a vital cog in the Feliciano money machine.

Selling trinkets in the park: a vital cog in the Feliciano money machine.

That’s $30,000 out of his fundraising total of less than $41,000. He’s also received $1,153 from two people named Aja, which is his wife’s maiden name.

Add it up: Feliciano has raised less than $10,000 from people outside his immediate family. For the entire campaign.

So the question remains: what happened to the Feliciano groundswell? To, ahem, #Felicianomentum? To judge by his finances, his would-be challenge to the political establishment has been a damp fizzle.

Even the notable Republicans who publicly backed his candidacy, like Brady Toensing and Wendy Wilton and Patricia Crocker and Jim Peyton and Becky Amos and Tom Burditt and Chet Greenwood, don’t appear on Feliciano’s donor list. Mark Snelling gave one gift, a munificent $200. GOP House candidate Paul Dame chipped in $101. Darcie Johnston hasn’t given any money, but she has been acting as Feliciano’s unpaid campaign manager.

Which, judging by her past record, may have a cash value of less than zero.

The point is, the right wing of the Republican Party may have raised their voices for Feliciano, but when it comes to money, they’ve left him to fend for himself.

A great deal was made of Feliciano’s showing in the Republican primary: he took 15% of the vote as a write-in candidate. As a percentage, that’s impressive. But it’s 15% of a very small total: about 2,100 votes. At the time, many thought Feliciano would build on that showing and provide a real challenge to Scott Milne, if not Governor Shumlin.

Now, looking at his financials, I wonder if that 2,100 doesn’t represent a high-water mark. Oh, he’ll probably get more votes in the general election — but he’s not getting anywhere near 15%. I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll even crack the magic 5% number that would give the Libertarians major-party status in the next cycle.

Because considering the latest news about the extent of his self-dependence, his campaign looks weaker than ever.