Had a new experience this weekend: for the first time in my life, I attended a meeting of the Democratic State Committee. Open to the public and media, although I was the only attendee in the latter category.
Sounds tedious, but I actually learned some newsworthy stuff. And, in spite of the occasional outburst of procedural blah-blah, it was a positive experience. The room was full of people who’d voluntarily given their time to help build and maintain a political party. They are Democrats, who believe strongly in the party’s principles and put their belief into action. It was inspiring, really.
(I’m sure I’d get the same impression from a Progressive Party meeting. And maybe even from a Republican Party meeting, if only I could ignore the content and focus on the people.)
(I say “mostly” friendly because I had a heated confrontation with one attendee who vehemently disagrees with my views on a couple of issues. More on that another time, maybe.)
There are a couple of items I plan to write up separately, but here’s a collection of Stuff I Learned:
Look for an early-August primary. Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell told the committee that Vermont’s primary would be moved back, most likely to August 8. In recent years, delays in finalizing primary votes have caused problems with getting ballots to military personnel in time for their votes to count. “We’re stuck,” he said. “If we don’t move it, the feds will.” He pointed to other states that will now have primaries in June as a result of federal law. He doesn’t want to move it back that far, because it would force a much earlier start to campaign season.
We have a red-hot hopeful for Lieutenant Governor. John Bauer is the only declared Democratic challenger to Phil Scott; the party is still open to other candidates, but he gave a strong presentation to the committee. “People seem to think it’s unwinnable,” he said. “‘Phil Scott’s a nice guy with a nice car, and he can’t be beaten.’ But we have a strong party.”
Bauer’s got lots of energy — and enough one-liners to publish a Phil Scott Jokebook. “I look forward to challenging Phil Scott on his views — once I can figure out what they are.” Ba-DUMP-bump. “He’s got a race car and I’ve only got a canoe — but he’s driving around in circles, and I’m moving forward.” Rimshot!
He’s also got a serious vision for the office: a sort of “civic R&D department” that could develop ideas to make our economy and our government work better. Sounds like an improvement on Phil Scott’s “Job For A Day” grandstanding.
If Bauer is the nominee, he’ll need his energy and his jokes, because he won’t have a big budget. Bauer said he will use the public-financing system, which means a $50 limit on individual gifts. I think the party would like to find a higher-profile candidate, but we could do a lot worse than John Bauer.
After the jump: a telecom rumor, a warning against complacency, and a fix is coming for a public-sector pension shortfall.
An interesting piece of telecom gossip. Campbell was peppered with questions about broadband access in Vermont; committee members from rural areas are hoping the Administration isn’t content to declare victory and stop trying. One committee member, whose name I didn’t get, cited rumors that Fairpoint is “hemorrhaging money” and might have to (again) declare bankruptcy. If true, he said, the telecom firm would be in no position to build more broadband capacity. (And you have to wonder about its ability to deliver any kind of reliable service.)
There was no response to the rumor; Campbell and administration officials assured the committee that broadband-expansion efforts are continuing.
Bracing for battle in November. Party chair Dottie Deans (who kept a firm hand on the proceedings) warned against complacency in 2014. It went without saying that the Dems’ majority isn’t seriously challenged and Governor Shumlin will almost certainly be re-elected; but Deans noted that “when Democrats vote, the Democrats win” — something that doesn’t always happen in non-Presidential years. She said the party will be emphasizing voter registration and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts.
For his part, John Campbell stressed the importance of the Coordinated Campaign. Every Democratic candidate is supposed to pay into the fund, but he said that some are reluctant — particularly those who face no serious opposition in their own races. He noted that the party has built quite an electoral machine, but added that “sometimes people take the machine for granted.” Of paying into the Coordinated Campaign: “I say you’re not doing it just for your race; you’re doing it because you’re a Democrat. It’s essential that we continue with the Coordinated Campaign, especially since the Republicans are doing it now.”
The notion that the VTGOP is showing signs of life was a common theme. The Dems’ data guru John Faas reported that the Republicans have added “about 200 more town committee members. They’re doing stuff at the town level,” which will begin to energize the party from within. Faas also said he’s working to identify possible pickup opportunities in the Legislature and races where incumbent Dems may be in trouble.
Statewide, Deans predicted a strong Republican effort to unseat Secretary of State Jim Condos because of the GOP’s focus on voter registration and access issues.
Public sector pension underfunding. Campbell noted that for years, the state has failed to adequately pay into public-sector funds, and efforts are continuing to close the resulting shortfalls. He reported that State Treasurer Beth Pearce “has come up with an ingenious way” to close the sizeable gap in the fund for retired teachers’ health insurance. He didn’t give specifics, because details are still being finalized and discussions with the teachers’ unions are still underway.
That’s it for now. If any attendees think I got anything wrong, feel free to post a comment below.