“Phil Scott? Meh.” And other tidbits from Jack Lindley

The Vermont Republican Party exits 2012 with tiny minorities in the Legislature and only one statewide officeholder — who is also the only Republican on the horizon with any broad popularity or name recognition: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. It’s almost universally assumed that he will run for Governor someday; the speculation is mainly whether he’d run as a Republican or as an independent. In a recent interview with WDEV’s Mark Johnson, (link to audio podcast) Scott did nothing to close the door on leaving the Republican Party.

Well, today, VTGOP Chair Jack Lindley was a guest on the Mark Johnson Show. And he didn’t exactly make a strong plea for Scott to remain in the party.

Every candidate has their rights, and their own political instincts. My sense is that with the exception of Bernie sanders, there really hasn’t been any strong independents elected statewide in Vermont. [If Scott were to leave,] I would wish him well. He’s a great candidate. I think he really belongs on the Republican ledger, on our side, but if he chose to go in another direction, I can’t prevent that from happening.

Mark’s rejoinder: “You’d let him go that easily, huh?” To which Lindley didn’t respond at all; he simply changed the subject:

Well, you know, my job as chairman is to make sure that we have a strong Legislature and a strong — that’s where our bench comes from is the Legislature, and if we don’t have strong candidates out there who are willing to take some time to help our state out of the mess that it’s going into and that it’s in, then we all have a real problem.

Ol’ Jack isn’t always good on finishing the sentences he starts, but does he really believe that a party chair isn’t concerned with the statewide slate — and particularly with the gubernatorial candidate?

Lindley isn’t quite coming out and saying “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” but it’s pretty darn close. I would have expected something like “Phil is the leading figure in Republican politics, and I believe he will be the next Republican Governor of Vermont.”

Not so much, apparently. The message seems to be that Phil Scott needs the VTGOP more than the party needs Phil Scott, which seems remarkably deluded to me. I guess it’s not just my imagination that Scott is too moderate for current Republican tastes.

Otherwise, the most interesting characteristic of Lindley’s interview was its civility.  

He did the obligatory amount of lipsticking the pig, of course, and some of that included sideswipes at the Dems, but nothing especially outrageous. Other items of interest:

The state of the VTGOP. He said that, over the past few years, the county and town structure of the party had fallen apart, which is a pretty stark thing to say. He blamed it on party faithful who have had to step back from the party and turn their full attention to their livelihoods. (Which isn’t a problem for the Democrats, who are living in the same economic times, but whatever.)

He also noted that when he came on board as chair in February, the party was “pretty much broke.” He said fundraising has picked up since then, although there’s been very little sign of that in the party’s financial reports.

He also acknowledged some “branding issues.” Which, as I’ve said before, sounds less like “we’ve got to reassess ourselves and our policies” and more like “we need more lipstick on this pig.” He talked about specifically branding the VERMONT Republican Party (as opposed to those national dipwads, I suppose) as the party of thoughtful, practical, disciplined governance. (As opposed to those national dipwads.)

The impact of PACs. This interested me, because there may be broad consensus in favor of requiring more transparency in political action committees. Lindley says he’d like to see limits on PACs, but acknowledged that the Citizens United decision restricts possible reforms:

Full and timely reporting is probably the only thing that the courts will allow us to do toward curbing the excesses of PACs.

That would seem to indicate a strong bipartisan base for campaign finance reforms — at least in the area of disclosure. Given the gaps and flaws in Vermont’s current reporting requirements, enhanced disclosure would be a very good thing.  

The VTGOP’s future. He estimated that it would take two full election cycles for the party to come all the way back. Which, on the one hand, seems awfully optimistic; and on the other, he’s basically conceding the 2014 election, at least at the top of the ticket. That’s a striking statement coming from any party chair.

I think we need to make sure that in the next election, we have the organization and technology in place that we need in order to pick up more than half the distance we’re down. I’m optimistic we can do better than that, but we will probably need to make one more run after that.

His own future. Mark cheekily noted that if Lindley were a baseball manager he would have been fired by now, and asked him more than once if he was really the right person for the job. Lindley said he is committed to serving out his term, which expires in November 2013, and indicated a willingness to run for another term.

And when asked for, I think, the third time, if he was really the right guy, he said:

Well, if I can find somebody else. at my age, I don’t necessarily need to hang in there. If I could find somebody young and brighter than a tack, and has the great ability to put things together, I’m more than willing to step aside. But at this point in time, I’m going to give it the old college try.  

Rah, rah, rah!

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