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Everything in Moderation 

Fair Game

Published June 16, 2010 at 8:27 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

In China, it’s the Year of the Tiger. In Vermont? The GOP is counting on the Year of the Elephant.

Unlike Tea Party candidates in other parts of the country, Vermont’s Republicans are reverting to their roots — social moderation and fiscal conservatism — to maintain relevancy in the post-Gov. Jim Douglas era.

“We’re confident about the fall election,” said Erik Mason, the Vermont GOP’s executive director. “We’re feeling pretty good about recruitment.”

Good thing, because since 2002, when Douglas was first elected, the GOP has seen its House and Senate numbers drop precipitously, to 49 out of 150 in the House and seven out of 30 in the Senate. During that time, it also lost control of two statewide offices: treasurer and auditor.

Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington) and businessman Mark Snelling, both social moderates and fiscal conservatives, are vying for the lite-gov post, and each has a strong shot: Snelling comes from a famous political family; Scott, who races stock cars, can count on the Thunder Road crowd.

In the contest for Secretary of State, the GOP has Chris Roy, a longtime party volunteer and elected official in Williston, versus Jason Gibbs, a former spokesman for Gov. Douglas and most recently commissioner of Forest, Parks and Recreation. Either will make a strong candidate in the general election.

Auditor Tom Salmon, who won as a Democrat in 2006 and then again in 2008, switched parties last year. But his propensity to self-destruct may make his reelection iffy.

Former Middlebury College professor Eric Davis says Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch are safe bets for reelection. Republicans haven’t managed to field any challengers that could attract national money.

In the U.S. House race, three Republicans are vying to lose to, er, oppose Welch: businessman Keith Stern, retired businessman John Mitchell and former radio host Paul Beaudry.

Of all the GOP candidates running for statewide office, Beaudry is the most aligned with the so-called “Tea Party” movement.

“It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the primary,” said Davis. “Certainly, as a popular conservative radio host, he has the best name recognition of the three.”

In the U.S. Senate race, former Woodstock businessman Len Britton is the lone GOP voice against popular incumbent Sen. Leahy. Britton is pro-choice, but a fiscal conservative.

In the state Senate, the GOP could pick up two seats: In Chittenden County, Charlie Smith is running; in Lamoille, Rich Westman has thrown his hat in the ring. Smith was a state rep in the late 1970s and, more recently, served as executive director of the Snelling Center for Government. Westman was in the House for 27 years. He’s resigning from his job as tax commissioner in order to run. Both men are well liked by Republicans and Democrats.

The real focus is on GOP gubernatorial hopeful Brian Dubie, who does not fit the “Vermont Republican” mold; his conservative views will make him harder to elect than was Douglas.

Dubie first emerged on the statewide political scene in 2000 as a lite-gov candidate during the “Take Back Vermont” insurgency — our homebrewed “Tea Party” movement of a decade ago fueled by anger over civil unions and Act 60, the statewide education funding law. Dubie opposed both.

He lost that year to incumbent Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, but he’s run — and won — four times since.

“The GOP’s highest priority is to elect Brian Dubie, hold onto the open lieutenant governor’s seat and gain some seats in the legislature,” Davis concludes.

Sounds simple, right?

Deficit Spending

Republican Len Britton believes the country’s anti-incumbent mood could assist him in unseating U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Britton has been stumping for months and this week will host a series of “Downsizing the Deficit” forums around Vermont.

He’s got a clever campaign ad on that subject running on WCAX-TV, which, even before it aired, got 30,000 views on YouTube. A former Hollywood screenwriter, Britton wrote the ad himself, according to campaign manager Jeff Bartley.

The ad is a spoof of the old Publishers Clearing House shtik in which an unsuspecting winner receives an oversized, multimillion-dollar check. In Britton’s ad, a group of dark-suited men holding balloons pull up to a house inhabited by a family expecting a big check. It turns out be an invoice for $168,000 — one family’s share of the national debt.

“That’s a lot of money, mister,” says a boy.

“Better get a paper route, Billy,” responds a dark-suited G-Man.

Britton himself later comes on screen and blames Leahy and his ilk in D.C. for “creating deficits we may never be able to repay.”

If this candidate thing doesn’t work out, maybe Britton has a future writing 90-second ads for other pols?

You need a good sense of humor to take on a well-financed incumbent like Leahy — especially since Britton has promised not to take any special-interest or political-action-committee money.

Britton’s April campaign finance report indicates he raised a mere $43,000 in the last quarter and racked up more than $70,000 in debt. About a third of the latter is owed to his former campaign manager, Dan Riley.

Meanwhile, Leahy has more than $3 million on hand — and no debts.

Despite the lackluster fundraising, Bartley notes, he expects things to pick up this summer. “We’ve been able to stay on budget. All vendors are in good standing.”

That was news to Riley.

“Mr. Bartley and Mr. Britton are well aware that [the] Castle Group has tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid consulting invoices,” said Riley. “However, we are very optimistic these invoices will be paid in light of the fact that the campaign now has enough funds to run expensive TV ads.”

Fine and Dandy

Scooped! reported last week that the Vermont Democratic Party paid a $2500 fine to the Federal Election Commission in April for violating campaign-finance reporting rules.

As “Fair Game” noted last fall, an internal investigation requested by Lamoille County Democrats found the party had filed incorrect reports with the FEC for nearly two years. The party corrected the mistakes, and hired professional staff to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

“We hadn’t had the resources invested before to do it right, and we got what we paid for, ultimately,” said Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Robert Dempsey. “We’ve now fixed it, and we’re moving on.”

Holy Breakneck Speed, Batman!

The Hill ranks U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy among the 25 “hardest-working lawmakers” in Congress.

“The breakneck pace at which the Senate Judiciary Committee moves is due to the legislative direction of its chairman, Leahy,” writes the D.C. paper. “He deftly moved the nominations of Attorney General Eric Holder and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor through the panel. Both attracted bipartisan support on the Senate floor. Next up for Leahy: the high-court nomination of Elena Kagan.”

What a Long, Strange Trippi It’s Been

Can campaign consultant Joe Trippi do it for Doug Racine? News of his hiring came as a surprise, because Trippi tends to back centrist-left Democrats who aren’t afraid to knock a few heads in the primary. That’s not what comes to mind when you think of Racine.

In his official announcement, the Vermont gubernatorial candidate noted Trippi’s role in the presidential campaign of former Gov. Howard Dean. Trippi is credited with the strategy that made Dean a household name.

But Racine failed to note that when he ran for governor in 2002, he hired Trippi’s former firm — Trippi, McMahon & Squier — to handle his ads.

Trippi didn’t personally handle Racine’s media buys. That job fell to Steve McMahon, who worked with Dean and Racine throughout the 1990s.

Another alum from Dean’s presidential team is involved in the Democratic race for gov: Kate O’Connor is Sen. Peter Shumlin’s campaign treasurer.

Small world, eh?

Progressive Discipline

Democrat, Progressive — no, wait! Democrat Anthony Pollina may have a harder time securing a seat in the Vermont Senate than some political observers initially thought.

For starters, he may not be welcome in the party he has often called GOP-lite. Worse, in 2008, he got more votes than Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington. That hurt.

Pollina will have to best several longtime Washington County Democrats in a five-way primary for three seats: incumbent Sen. Ann Cummings, former State Rep. Donny Osman, attorney Kim Cheney and environmental scientist Laura Moore.

Pollina may have competition on the Prog ticket, too: Michael Colby, an activist and horse logger who lives in Worcester, is running as a Progressive.

All the News?

Burlington Free Press associate editor Pat Garrity wasn’t happy with last week’s “Fair Game,” in which we took the state’s largest daily to task for ignoring a press conference prompted by published praise from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, along with other awards bestowed upon the Queen City.

We weren’t the only ones to notice the paper’s absence. A reader posed a similar question on the Freeps’ website.

“We felt the news was worthy of reporting when we became aware of it. We didn’t feel it was necessary to report it all over again,” Garrity replied to the online reader.

As a result, the Freeps missed some good exchanges between the media, Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold about Burlington Telecom’s finances.

In response to “Fair Game,” Garrity sent a cut-and-pasted May “story” about the Kiplinger’s award, a six-paragraph brief buried in its business section.

A rewritten press release shows exactly how much the Freeps cares about its namesake city.

Got a news tip? Email Shay at [email protected]

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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