By Guy Page
Tomorrow, at the Delta Hotel on Williston Road in South Burlington, the Vermont GOP will choose a new chair to replace Deb Billado, who chose to not seek re-election due to the demands of her job.
So far, two Essex Junction men have thrown their hats into the ring: Paul Dame and Jim Sexton.
The factions of today’s Grand Old Party of Vermont resemble the Capulets and Montagues of Romeo & Juliet’s Verona. On one side of this long-running conflict are fiscally conservative and socially moderate-to-liberal Republicans, of whom Gov. Phil Scott is a paragon if not a very active party standard-bearer. On the other side you’ll find many fiscally conservative Republicans who also insist party candidates hew to the GOP’s historically pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and family-empowering platform.
This family squabble is nothing new. But in an era when both a progressive, activist Legislature and Donald Trump influence Republican party politics, patience is wearing thin on both sides.
Amid their bickering are many candidates, party workers, and voters with mixed sympathies and platforms, Mercutios muttering “a plague on both of your houses”
Billado did her best to reconcile both parties for the greater good. Time will tell whether her strategy was sound and her work fruitful. Of the two candidates, Paul Dame more closely resembles Billado as prospective leader. A longtime party worker, candidate and elected official, he is a calm, thoughtful team player who has friends in both camps and will not overturn the status quo apple cart of “how things are done.”
Which is why Jim Sexton is an appealing candidate to some Vermonters who are pro-life, pro-2A, and skeptical of Phil Scott’s claim that Vermont is systemically racist. I’ve known Jim since seventh grade at Colchester Junior High School. Back then, he was a plucky kid who would stand up to the Big Man on Campus when he thought he was wrong. Even if he stood alone. The son of a police officer, he is viscerally pro-law enforcement. He is viscerally a lot of things. You know where he stands and where he doesn’t. If you don’t, just ask, he’ll tell you. Especially if you ask about whether Phil Scott should remain in the VT GOP (he shouldn’t, according to Jim).
Both men are plenty smart. Both have life experiences that have convinced them that big, intrusive government does more harm than good. Both are highly principled and will work hard to do what’s best for the GOP, according to their lights.
The bottom line: Dame is the Insider, seeking to build on what’s already there in hopes of reinvigorating the old and attracting the new. Sexton is the Outsider who will try to energize new candidates and voters for whom the present GOP holds little appeal.
My two cents.