Tag Archives: Wendy Wilton

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.