By Guy Page
The Vermont House Democrat/Progressive supermajority evaporated on Election Day. The axiom that Republican governors have short coattails proved wrong this year. Republican Phil Scott’s ponytailed Democratic/Progressive competitor won fewer votes (27%) than Donald Trump (30%).
Scott’s victory wasn’t a mere landslide. It was an avalanche. Sent tumbling downhill in the debris were enough Democrat and Progressive lawmakers to drop the D/P caucus to 99. A veto override will now require courageous first-vote party loyalty from every member and help from one or two independents.
The Democrat/Progressive merely-a-majority should be grateful it satisfied its supporter base with successful climate change and marijuana bills this past session. In 2021-22, they will think twice before trying to override a veto from a governor with a lofty voter mandate backed by a GOP caucus usually able to find two or three friendly independents to get to 51.
And while they’re licking their wounds, they (and many Republicans as well) could ponder how things might have turned out otherwise without John Klar.
John Klar was the most effective grassroots powerhouse of 2020. Not even BLM, with all of its media and political support and splashy events, accomplished as much in political gains. Ignored by the mainstream press, with no money, but gifted with plenty of drive and a biting gift of gab, the lawyer/farmer/pastor built a campaign to 1) elect himself governor and 2) elect rural, little-known, “outsider” Vermonters to the Legislature. The roster of House and Senate candidates grew to 29, running in every county but Franklin and Grand Isle.
#1 failed, of course. His numbers against Scott were even worse than Zuckerman’s.
But #2 succeeded. Sally Achey of Middletown Springs was a first-time, unknown candidate running not only against incumbent and Progressive Caucus chair Robin Chesnut-Tangerman but against the isolation of the pandemic. A frequent attendee at Klar campaign events, she appeared in several group political photos and press releases, was featured on the Klar campaign website, and received media coverage from True North Reports and Vermont Daily.
Young mom, businessperson, and EMT Samantha Lefebvre of Orange won a GOP primary in the two-seat Orange 1 district and held off Democrats Kate McLean and incumbent Carl Demrow to win Nov. 3. She too appeared at campaign events, was mentioned in Klar-related media coverage, and is listed on the campaign website.
Even some of the “losers” came close, like Mike Kell finishing just 53 votes away from victory in Weathersfield-Cavendish district. Newcomer Zach Lang scored a creditable 39% of the vote against Bradford incumbent, House committee chair, and climate warrior Sarah Copeland-Hanzas. Jon Lynch of Colchester campaigned hard and also managed to help the Secretary of State’s office avoid possibly devastating cyberattacks on the voter portal page. Bill Huff (44%) gave longtime Orange County incumbent Mark MacDonald a tough run. Alice Flanders, African-American granddaughter-in-law of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s nemesis Ralph Flanders, publicly pushed back hard against the intolerance of the BLM movement.
No-one’s saying Klar deserves all or even most of the credit for the success of Achey and Lefebvre. They both campaigned energetically in a challenging campaign year. Vermont GOP officials worked hard to recruit and support strong candidates. Scott’s coattails no doubt helped them too. For that matter so, probably, did Trump’s. Trump won three towns (Wells, Williamstown, and Lefebvre’s hometown of Orange) in their multi-town districts.
On Tuesday, Achey and Lefebvre won by less than 100 votes combined. Might their Klar Konnection have helped them get over the top? Impossible to know for sure – but reasonable to conclude.
And the Bard of Brookfield himself is not going gently into that good night. His recent op-ed includes the following promise: “We will remind voters that instead of balancing the budget in 2020 when it was KNOWN that Vermont was $459 million in the red, the Legislature unconstitutionally expanded governmentpower under the GWSA; granted $5 million to foreigners; awarded COVID relief funds to minority-owned businesses while denying them to white sole proprietors (the definition of systemic racism); favored a political campaign by liberals (under the BLM banner) on public property and in our schools, while excluding any competing voices; called all Vermonters and our ancestors bigots and white supremacists. ALL while ignoring the economic calamity that unfolded.”