Margolis: The Vermont GOP’s secret weapon remains an unknown quantity

The Vermont Republican party has a mystery man.

Or perhaps a mystery woman.

And who is this mystery person?

It’s a mystery. Were he (or maybe even she) to be identified, it would no longer be a mystery, would it now?

So we have here a classic case in which those who will discuss the matter don’t know, whereas those who do know (assuming they exist) refuse to discuss the matter.

But whoever this mystery person is, he or she will be the Republican candidate for governor this year.

So say some Republicans who ought to know, most specifically Rep. Don Turner of Milton, the minority leader of the House of Representatives.

Asked if he was worried that no Republican has yet come forward to run for governor, Turner said he “would be if there weren’t somebody coming along to run.”

Turner said he did not know who that “somebody” might be, but that “the party people” had assured him that there was a person who had not simply expressed interest but who had made a commitment to run for governor.

The “party people” weren’t talking, or at least not saying much.

State Chairman David Sunderland declined (via email) to “confirm or deny anyone’s interest in running for any public office,” adding that he was “confident that Vermont Republicans will field a strong slate of candidates.”

Rep. Don Turner, minority leader of the House.

Rep. Don Turner, minority leader of the House.

Like Turner, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who repeated that his plan to is run for re-election, said he understood someone was running, but his version left open the possibility that there was more than one mystery person. But he also said he had been informed that “there will be a candidate” for governor on the Republican line.

A slightly different account came from party Treasurer Mark Snelling, who said “several people” are still considering the race, and acknowledged that he was one of them.

But even if Turner was the only one willing to say so in plain language, there did seem to be an understanding among several Republicans that one potential contender had made something closer to a firm commitment than the others.

Both Turner and Scott (and a few other Republicans who didn’t want to be identified) suggested that the mystery person does not now hold public office, and is more likely a business person. But that, they said, is all they know.

The mystery, then, remains, and with it a question.

No, two questions. The first, of course, is: Who is it? The second is: Does it matter? Because as certain as it is that there will be a Republican candidate for governor, it is almost as certain that he or she will lose to incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin.

Yeah, yeah, it’s politics. Anything can happen. Beware of predictions. All that stuff. A major Shumlin administration scandal could explode. Or this Republican mystery person could be someone who is already well-known and widely admired, like, say, a Vermonter who stars for the Red Sox but is beloved even by opposing fans and players, sort of a Boston version of Derek Jeter.

Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott presides over the Senate on opening day. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott presides over the Senate on opening day. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Except – have you noticed? – there ain’t no such person.

So in this Democratic state the chances are slim that any Republican is going to give Shumlin much of a race, even in what might be considered an ideal Republican year – no presidential race, neither popular Democratic (or de facto Democratic) senator on the ballot, Shumlin’s image a bit tarnished by the initial technological incompetence of “Vermont Health Care Connect.”

The chances get slimmer because this mystery person who probably comes from the private sector is not likely to be well known. Name recognition can be bought, but it takes both money and time, and time is not waiting for the Republicans and their mystery candidate. For months, Republicans have been assuring themselves and others that it was too early to worry about not having a candidate.

It isn’t any more. And as Scott said, “It’s getting late if the candidate is unknown.”

One possible “mystery person” who is a bit less unknown is Snelling, the son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and the brother of Chittenden state Sen. Dianne Snelling.

But Richard Snelling died in office in 1991, a long time ago in the context of political memory. Both Snelling and Scott acknowledged that Vermonters rarely unseat incumbent governors, and any Republican would have an uphill battle.

Even more uphill because the Vermont Republican Party remains a troubled institution. Thanks to Sunderland, it is no longer as organizationally dysfunctional as it was a few months ago. Thanks in part to revenue from a fundraising dinner featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (then political phenom, now on his way to becoming a political footnote), the Vermont Republicans are no longer broke.

But that still doesn’t make it an effective political apparatus. Otherwise, it would not have undercut its only statewide office-holder and most popular official (Scott) by passing a resolution urging all its candidates to “publicly oppose single payer/government run health care.”

The problem here is that Scott is a “skeptic” but not a firm opponent of Shumlin’s universal health care plan. He said he has discussed with party leaders the wisdom of clearing future resolutions with elected officials. That would include him.

Not that it makes no sense for Vermont Republicans to emulate their nationwide counterparts by stressing their opposition to Democratic health care plans. But like most political strategies, this opportunity comes with a risk. Most polls indicate the federal Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) remains unpopular, and sentiments in Vermont are unlikely to be that different. Change is disconcerting.

In the last week or so, Republicans have gotten help from an unexpected source: the supposedly neutral (if not supposedly liberal) press corps. In Washington, many reporters accepted the Republican assessment that a study by the Congressional Budget Office projected that under the health care law “millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced,” in the the words of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

That’s not what the CBO report said. So informed, some respected Washington journalists replied that the truth was less important than the potential political effectiveness of distorting the truth.

Ah, the joys of living in a decadent society.

Then Vermont’s health care plan was the subject of a very long article in Newsweek (now an online-only publication) which included the assertion that one day last July, Shumlin administration officials got snookered into thinking the Vermont Health Connect website was working well, when in fact it was not.

“People weren’t technologically sophisticated enough to understand what was actually going on,” said the source for this information.

It was the only source, and unnamed, which led some Vermonters – not all of them Democrats – to question whether this tale was entirely kosher.

But assume its accuracy for the nonce. The political implications would seem to be … well, not much. So some public officials were technologically unsophisticated. So are some private officials, or those hackers wouldn’t have been able to break into Target’s system. It’s a new, complicated world. Voters probably understand that.

Especially because both nationally and in Vermont, the websites are now working. People are signing up for health insurance. The websites are not working perfectly. In Vermont, for instance (as the Newsweek article made much of), some people still have to use pen, paper, and the U.S. Postal Service to apply for health insurance.

The horror. The horror.

The danger of putting all your political eggs in one basket is: What happens if the bottom of that basket gets blown full of holes?

Jon Margolis

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  • Jon Margolis

    Mark Snelling called Monday to say he is not going to run for governor. He had earlier said he was “not ruling it out,” but made it clear Monday morning that he is not going to be a candidate this year.

  • Mark Snelling

    I spoke to Jon Margolis on Friday in response to an email from him. I told him I knew of several people considering running for Governor as Republicans. He asked if I was one of them. I said no, I was not looking in to it and that I had other projects that I was working on at the moment. He asked if I would rule it out, and I said, “as someone in politics” and he said “never say never” and I agreed with him.

  • Jonathan Willson

    Lisman doesn’t spring to mind immediately?

  • Kim Fried

    Boy a Snelling or a Scott would be wonderful and help repair some of this Governor’s damage. Even a disgusted Democrate that is sich of the shell games being played by Shumlin. Personally I’m just waiting for this Governor’s house of cards to start collapsing and it will. Too bad we will continue to experience the damage waiting.

  • I am not running for Governor as a Republican

    • Fred Woogmaster

      How about on the Garden Party ticket, Rama?

      A non partisan salad, wouldn’t that be refreshing?
      Bipartisanship, a product of bifurcation, one entity divided into two.
      Independents compose more than 50% of the electorate.
      The Garden Party – it’s time has come.

      • Ron Pulcer

        Rama, Fred,

        Rather than a Garden Party, I propose that we have two replacement parties in Vermont.

        Let’s replace the Vermont Republican Party and Vermont Democratic Party, respectively with the Vermont Conservative Party and the Vermont Liberal Party. The members could remain as they are, but in the new parties. The new parties would disassociate themselves from the national RNC and DNC and their funding.

        Vermont’s Second Republic might be achieved by the two state parties seceding from their national parties and creating true “State” parties.

        That way Vermont House Reps and Senators could better represent their constituents by disassociating from the influence and money from RNC and DNC and in turn their funders (Wall Street and Corporatocracy).

        But unfortunately, most of the Two-Party Members are going backwards as far as campaign finance reform, except for Rep. Cynthia Browning, and maybe a few others.

  • Jamie Carter

    Mr. Margolis has a short memory… like most voters when he states that Shumlin’s image is only a little tarnished by the VT Health Connect. Anyone who runs against Shumlin need only list the occurences that have gone on… Jerry Dodge… VT Health Connect… Blaming education spending on the School Boards (VNEA ought to love that one)… calling state workers bone heads…

    Shumlin’s image is more then a little tarnished, you have to be wearing blue colored glasses or have amnesia to not see that Shumlin is a poor governor. The Democrats would be better served running someone against Shumlin.

    Also there are plenty of republican’s in VT with name recognition that could jump in and run if they choose to do so. Hypothetically, Tarrant for example could come in with name recognition and money to run. Dubie could make a second run… Lisman could run as mentioned … heck maybe Douglas could come out of retirement, GMD is mentioning Skip Vallee…

  • Jon, your piece does a good job at hacking away at a single tree in the forest or the problem the Republicans have in this heavily Democratic state when running a gubernatorial candidate.

    While diligently focusing on the tree, you fail to recognize that the real problem is the forest or absolute Democrat control of the state. It is Vermont that has the problem, a state controlled by a single party with little viable opposition to halt misguided policies.

    Governor Shumlin, with the full support of a Democratic House and Senate, has accumulated a notable resume of ill considered initiatives in only three years. Without a loyal opposition to check what’s going on in Democrat controlled Vermont, we’re all going to have problems, not just the Republicans.

    The Republicans will soon be saying we told you so, once the Shumlin policies start to mature and the bottom of Democrat’s basket gets blown full of holes.

  • Ron Pulcer

    Jon, if you can get a list of donors who paid $1000 to hear Gov. Christie speak at the December 11th “private reception”, I think you might be able to narrow down the list for the “Mystery Candidate”.

    Note: This Vermont GOP Gala event happened about 3 months after the “Time for Some Traffic Problems” event in Fort Lee, NJ. Before the event at the Champlain Valley Expo, maybe it was Chris Christie himself who was arranging the orange cones in the parking lot.

    “The fundraiser is being held at the Champlain Valley Expo on Dec. 11. The price of admission is $50 per person. Cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m., and dinner begins at 7 p.m. For access to a private reception beforehand, the price is $1,000 per couple.”

  • Phil Lovely

    Did Mr. Margolis mention the Democrats’ flawed renewable energy program (90% renewable by 2050…) and the several communities pushing back on big business driven ridgeline destruction?

    It is not that our governor has made big mistakes; his abrasive style has effectively alientated a wide range of constituents with caustic remarks, obtuse comments and a tone-deafness to the real dissatisfaction expressed by those who have voted for him once but now have walked away.

  • David Dempsey

    I think most people would agree that only one person has a chance of beating Shumlin. Hint-he races the #14 late model at Thunder Road and his initials are PS.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Timing is everything!
      Given no future shocking revelations, Phil Scott will be Governor one day not too far in the future.
      He is not yet ready – and he seems to know that. Good for him.
      Wishful thinking will not push him to prompt a premature candidacy.
      When he is ready, perhaps he will join the ranks of the (I)’s (the enlightened center).

  • Paul Lorenzini

    I would recommend the Republicans focus on local elections and let the democrat progressive socialists take full ownership of the economic problems they are creating. Focus on positions like auditor and treasurer because those positions will have the most ability to reveal the true economic path we are on.

  • The basket will be shot at whenever it is revealed, so why rush? Too much shooting will be done.

  • Republican candidacy announced
    For Immediate Release:
    Peyton announces Republican Primary Candidacy for Governor.
    Emily Peyton, veteran of two campaigns for Governor announces her Republican Primary
    Candidacy. Reduction of beauraucratic waste and corporate money in politics is her theme as she
    presents policies to increase collective health, wealth, happiness, and well-being. After the
    primary she will continue as an Independent for Governor representing De Udder Party; a
    pretend political party to honor Vermonter Fred Tuttle R.I.P.
    Her party lacks funding, is randomly organized, and growing like a weed. A non-smoker herself,
    Peyton believes marijuana cannabis growth and use should be as legal as alcohol, drug use should
    be treated rather than criminalized and stricter oversight for psychiatric prescription practices
    and reduction of the same is sorely needed. Property and IRS taxation is essentially
    unconstitutional according to Emily Peyton, who insists an overhaul of US monetary systems is
    needed. Peyton calls for a nationwide constitutional convention. AS Governor she will institute
    statewide a public political debate system that ends censorship of candidates to remove money in
    VT politics.
    For Vermont she introduces new Perma-Farm policy and State-owned agricultural hemp
    processing equipment available for cooperative use by VT farmers. She calls for a budget
    appropriation support AG hemp R & D in VT Colleges and Universities to create future demand
    for the crop now that the Federal Prohibition is over.
    Her administration will be seeking a full integration of indigenous environmental wisdom in
    policy reformation as well as sustainable best practices gleaned from around the world. In a
    nutshell, she leads through going small in a big way, including integration of the people’s direct
    will using internet capabilities as the next frontier in politics.
    mail: PO Box 821 Putney

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