The Vermont Progressive Party on Sunday reelected its chair, Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, who said his long-term goal for Progressives is to “supplant” Republicans and eventually become the second largest major party in the state.
The party, which was formed in Vermont 20 years ago, has never had more elected representatives in office than it does now.
Out of the 150 members in the Vermont House, there are 12 lawmakers affiliated with the Progressive Party. In the Senate, seven of 30 members split their party affiliation between the Progressive and Democratic parties.
Progressives in the Senate already outnumber Republicans, who hold six seats in the upper chamber. But the party would have to gain a lot of ground to overtake the GOP in the House, where Republicans have 43 seats.
Pollina, who has served as the party’s chair since 2017, said that going forward, the Progressive Party will look to be more selective with who it allows to use its party label, and may only endorse candidates who agree to vote certain ways and back certain issues.
“Because right now there have been D/Ps who are not necessarily involved or associate themselves with the party in a concrete way and we’d like to change that,” Pollina said.
“How we grow the party is by being consistent on issues, whether it’s climate change or minimum wage, those kinds of issues,” he said. “It’s important to see the Progressive Party as being very strong and very consistent.”
In 2018, the Progressive Party declined to endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist. At the time, Pollina said that while she shared progressive values, party members got “mixed messages” from Hallquist on taxes and health care.
Pollina declined to name the Progressives he feels have distanced themselves from the party.
But he said that in general, some Progressives have been slow to back some proposals like bills to establish free college tuition in the state or restructure Vermont’s education finance system so that the wealthy pay more.
Pollina was elected unanimously Sunday, alongside a slate of candidates including Marielle Blais as vice chair, Robert Millar, a former executive director of the party, as treasurer, former treasurer Martha Abbott as assistant treasurer, and Chris Brimmer as treasurer.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, said that he believes the elected officials with Progressive labels have been “pretty darn strong” on the issues important to the party.
But he said that as running with the label becomes more popular, candidates may start to use it for “political purposes,” but may not be prepared “to put their status within the Democratic Party at risk” by voting on proposals like the $15 minimum wage, or larger investments in climate change
“If people start running with a Progressive label but don’t vote for amendments or bills that represent significant movement then it dilutes the value of that label for everybody who carries it,” Zuckerman said.
Next year, a major priority for Progressives and Democrats will be sweeping legislation to address climate change.
Before Pollina and the Progressive Party’s other executive committee members were elected Saturday at the Old Labor Hall in Barre, Progressive lawmakers walked dozens of party officials and members through the climate legislation they will be pushing for in January, when legislators reconvene.
Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, described the Global Warming Solutions Act, a bill she sponsored that would align Vermont’s short-term emissions goals with those of the Paris Agreement.
It would also require state agencies to adopt rules to reduce emissions, and require Vermont to meet the reduction goals under law.
“If we don’t meet the goals as a state, you can take the state of Vermont to court and hold us accountable,” Colburn said.
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, who was at the party’s election proceedings Sunday, said he believes that for the Progressive Party to grow, it needs to recruit more candidates in rural districts.
“I think our danger is that we get branded as a — and to some degree we are — a Chittenden County elite party,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.
“And so it’s really important to have people who are not from Chittenden County and are deeply rooted in their district communities.”
Many of the Progressive legislators in the House, including Reps. Sandy Haas from Rochester, Zachariah Ralph from Hartland and Mollie Burke from Brattleboro come from districts outside Vermont’s largest county.
But Chesnut-Tangerman said if the party is going to overtake the GOP as the second largest political party in Vermont, it needs to expand in rural areas.
“I think we need to push that hard, and then we’ll be second,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on politics. And in case you can't get enough of the Statehouse, sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.