by Aubrey Weaver, Community News Service
Earlier this month, In a backyard overlooking Spear Street, dozens of Vermont Republicans watched a four-part performed history of patriotic songs and munched on barbecue beneath an American flag the width of a two-car garage in the leadup to Independence Day.
It was the state GOP’s third-annual summer cookout, an evening featuring speakers such as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas.
Notably absent was Gov. Phil Scott — something that lined up with the uncertainty and frustrations of a party with one of the country’s most popular chief executives but practically no power in its statehouse.
Coming off the back of particularly upsetting legislative and veto override sessions for Republican-sponsored policy, some attendees were heated about the direction of state politics.
“We’re angry for a reason, and that’s because we’re completely left out of every conversation,” said Samuel Douglass, chairman and founder of Vermont’s Young Republicans branch and a state Senate candidate in Orleans County for 2022. “Republicans do make up a percentage of the voters. So you know, if you completely ignore how we feel or our opinions on things then of course we’re going to be a little demoralized.”
Brianna Morgan, a member of the Young Republicans national committee who lives in Vermont, sounded disenchanted about the GOP’s representation in the Statehouse. “It’s hard to watch our legislators go down there and how defeated they are when they get home,” she said.
Said Douglass: “I don’t understand why our legislature is so intent and so eager to overturn the vetoes of the most popular governor. Yeah, my guess would be that there’s no consequence for them.”
Eli Chevalier, a 32-year-old from St. Albans at the barbeque, shifted some of the blame for Republican policy failure in Montpelier away from legislators: “This also goes to Phil Scott to some degree because he could be out there way more than he is trying to bring awareness to the terrible laws being passed.”
Attendees said Scott had not made an appearance at the barbeque in the three years it has gathered.
“He’s not a good leader. That’s where I’ll stop myself,” said Chevalier, joking that if he continued the interview would become a Scott “bashing fest.”
Community News Service reached out to Scott’s office repeatedly by phone and email seeking comment for this story but received no reply.
Sentiment against Scott was shared by some other barbeque attendees. Kathleen Dwinell said the governor “does not have enough of a backbone.”
“He doesn’t have Vermont at heart, he isn’t strong,” she said, pointing to policies supported by state Democrats that Scott has signed.
Dwinell said she wants state lawmakers “to wake up and pay attention to what’s happening, especially with our children, with transgenderism and (diversity, equity and inclusion) being taught in schools, which is a Biden thing. I just get more aggravated every day, and we need to have some backbone here.”
Some attendees indicated they would rather see legislators do less than more these days. “With where we’re at numbers-wise, really the best thing that we can hope for is a whole lot of nothing,” said Morgan, the Young Republicans committee member, “which is not what we’re going to see.”
Douglass is hoping for “nothing,” too. “(Democrats) don’t give Republicans the time of day, they don’t care about Republicans and don’t care about Republican voters. They want what they want, and they’re going to get what they want.”
Paul Dame, chair of the state GOP and a former Vermont House representative, had more optimism for Republican lawmakers and the governor, as he explained in an interview with Community News Service before the event.
“As we move into the 2024 legislative session, we are still looking to address the housing crisis by making it easier to build housing that is affordable,” Dame said. “We think that it was unfortunate that the housing bill that got passed removed important reforms to Act 250.”
Dame stressed the GOP’s goal to advance policy for tax relief, in particular for veterans, and a broader paid leave program.
“The governor has already kind of taken the lead on that. He’s already put into place a voluntary paid leave program that is already going to be in effect with Vermont state employees,” said Dame.
But Dame leveled about the challenges GOP lawmakers face in Vermont. “Unfortunately, we just don’t have enough Republicans serving in the Legislature to help the governor’s vetoes be successful. And that’s certainly something we’re looking at improving on as we get ready for the 2024 election.”
In the ever-expanding GOP primary at the presidential level, former President Donald Trump continues to lead national polling among Republicans, but at the cookout in Vermont, people were open to alternatives.
There was strong hesitancy about voting for former President Trump again in 2024 among barbeque attendees interviewed. “Yeah, he might not be the perfect Republican candidate. There’s a reason ‘South Park’ insulted both (Biden and Trump,)” said Douglass.
Dwinell described “giving consideration” to a lot of the new primary candidates. “I like DeSantis. I thought about Nikki Haley, but I just don’t think she has what it takes.”
Though like many, if the former president wins the primary, she’ll support him. “I know Trump is a mouth, but he sure did a good job running this country,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing him again.”
Chevalier agreed that Trump comes with baggage as a candidate. “His numbers are only going up, and it’s unfortunate because a lot of people would prefer not him because his mouth’s out of control,” he said.
“But part of me,” he added, “says, ‘You know, maybe we should put him in because he’s going to flip over some tables.’ And like, I think everybody is pretty much anti-establishment at this point.”
Dame, the state chair, suggested the Vermont party is keeping an open mind about primary options. “We are definitely not universally backing the former president,” said Dame.
He added: “I think one of the things that more and more people are considering is that one of the downsides to electing Trump this time is going to be that he’s only going to be able to serve one term. Republicans have to evaluate whether or not they want to nominate a president who will be a lame duck as soon as he gets elected, or look at a new face who has the potential to serve for eight years.”
The Community News Service is a Vermont news source offered by the University of Vermont that pairs students with professional editors to provide news to small local newspapers at no cost.