Is this the best they can do?

Well hey, the race for chair of the Vermont Republican Party is heating up. So says our political media, which (following up on an initial post by Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz, although only VTDigger gave him any credit) has jumped on the emergence of two candidates like a house cat on a wounded bird. (After all, it’s a rare day when there’s any relevant, or even halfway relevant, news about the VTGOP. And the political media desperately want to cover the Republicans whenever they can, to “prove” their objectivity.)

Said emergence came, not coincidentally I’m sure, at the same time as sidelined party chair “Angry Jack” Lindley’s recovery from a grave illness. (And I am truly happy to hear he’s doing better. Get well soon, A.J.) After all, it would’ve been unseemly to launch a candidacy to replace a guy while he’s still in intensive care.

But time’s a-wastin’, with the VTGOP set to elect a chair on November 9. And so, we have two candidates — plus, Angry Jack himself has not ruled out a re-election bid. (I seriously doubt he’ll actually run. His health is too big an unknown, and his leadership was in question even before his illness.) I can categorize them as: The No-Hoper, and The Alleged Fresh Young Face.

The No-Hoper is our friend, John “Mr. MacGoo” MacGovern, last seen trying desperately to dig himself out of debt from his failed candidacy for U.S. Senate. You know, the one he lost to Bernie Sanders by a nearly 3-1 margin.

Last time I checked, MacGovern had managed a truly rare feat: he increased his campaign debt in the first half of 2013, spending $13,454 while raising only $11,324, while not actually running a campaign. And he was, once again, begging for money from his head-of-a-pin donor base.

And now, this guy wants to chair the Vermont Republican Party. Balls of steel, I tell ya.

We can dismiss his candidacy out of hand, I think. Not because he’s a complete failure in Vermont politics; no, considering the track records of folks like Darcie “Hack” Johnston and Jeff Bartley, failure is no barrier to upward mobility in the VTGOP. MacGoo is a nonstarter for one simple reason: he’s Not From Around Here. House Minority Leader Don Turner, in VTDigger:

Asked about MacGovern, Turner confessed, “I don’t really know much about him.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said pretty much the same thing about MacGoo, and in a small place like Vermont, being unfamiliar is a greater liability than being a failure.

(By the way, what does it say about the VTGOP that its top elected leaders “don’t know much about” the man they nominated to be a U.S. Senator? Pretty damn sad, if you ask me.)

Yeah, I think we can safely consider John MacGovern doomed to roam the barren wasteland of his unrequited ambitions, and safely turn our attention to the only plausible candidate: David Sunderland.  

Sunderland’s an engineer at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and a former State Representative from the Republican redoubt of Rutland Town. He was first appointed by Governor Jim Douglas to fill a vacancy in the House, and later won two terms on his own (in a district so lopsided that a Republican candidate would have to be a confessed serial ax murderer to lose) before stepping out of politics to concentrate on his day job. (Which begs the question, how will he have time to be an effective chair of a party with very little paid staff?)

Sunderland is being touted as a fresh young face: he’s only 48, which is downright pubescent in Republican terms. He’s the Chosen One of the Phil Scott-led “moderate” wing of the VTGOP, but he’s getting rave reviews from the “other” wing as well. No one is willing to openly endorse a candidate, out of respect to Angry Jack and to the process, but the party’s top two lawmakers, Turner and Sen. Joe Benning, are both saying nice things about Sunderland. And Jeff Bartley has recused himself from the race and thrown his support, FWIW, to Sunderland.

Now, I cannot speak to Sunderland’s potential as a party builder. He may be terrific at organizing, fundraising, and convincing good Republicans to run for office. But a moderate, a harbinger of a new era at the VTGOP? Not so much.

In his letter seeking support for the chairmanship, Sunderland harkened to the Douglas era, calling for politics done “the Vermont Way,” a phrase Douglas used.

Oh goodie. In the words of Firesign Theater, “Forward… Into the Past!”

I sympathize with Vermont Republicans who hearken back to the halcyon days of Smilin’ Jim, because they’ve had an unbroken series of failures since he left office. But then Sunderland said this:

“The lack of balance in Montpelier has allowed the extreme left of the Democratic Party to take us in the wrong direction.”

He’s referring to the “extreme left” of people like Peter Shumlin, Jeb Spaulding, John Campbell, and Shap Smith. Yup, a buncha bomb-throwers if I ever saw any.

If David Sunderland thinks of the Shummy Bunch as “extreme left,” that shows you his perspective on the political spectrum. But wait, there’s more.

Sunderland’s Twitter account (@DASunderland) is basically a series of anti-health care reform and anti-government messages like these:

Sound like a voice of moderation to you?

I also found an opinion piece by Sunderland, posted on VTDigger in June 2013, ripping the “Shumlin Gas Tax.” Republican boilerplate, n’est-ce pas?

The lopsidedly Democrat Legislature argues that our crumbling state infrastructure can only be fixed through a regressive tax hike that particularly impacts the middle class.

Please note the use of the pejorative “Democrat” beloved of Republicans everywhere. But not cool if you’re trying to present yourself as a “moderate.” Anyway, Sunderland’s argument is that Shumlin should have cut the General Fund budget instead of raising taxes — ignoring the fact that failing to raise the gas tax would have cost Vermont $60 million in federal transportation funding.

Nope, Sunderland is a hard-liner on taxes. And on health care.

If this is Phil Scott’s idea of “moderation,” then I have to ask: who, exactly, is Phil Scott? And what does he actually stand for?

Again, I have no idea if Sunderland is a skilled organizer and team builder. If he is, then he’ll be a good chairman. But in terms of policy? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  

2 thoughts on “Is this the best they can do?

  1. treatment of a fellow Republican, who in fact appears to be serving with no real paycheck, faithfully keeping the lights on at the headquarters of VT GOP until recent hospitalization for life-threatening illness. I personally would not be surpised to see them lose major party status in VT, so a labor of love for AJ.

    No need to be elbowing & clawing ones way to the top seat when the top dog is barely out of a coma. Sheesh! Shooting the wounded is a specialty usually reserved for the opposition.

    Nature of the beast I suppose.  

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