Spring Training? The Ritual of Dem, Prog and GOP Reorganization Meetings | Off Message

Spring Training? The Ritual of Dem, Prog and GOP Reorganization Meetings

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Spring training in September?

That's one way to think of the reorganization meetings that Vermont's major political parties are currently holding in towns around the state.

Like baseball's pre-season exhibition games, these gatherings generally attract only fanatical followers of the sport. And in addition to prepping for the big contests ahead, the teams use these laid-back occasions to honor retired heroes, rev up excitement for the current roster and showcase promising rookies.

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At Burlington's Democratic Party reorganization meeting last night, for example, past stars such as former city councilors Bill Keogh and Ed Adrian schmoozed with members of today's council lineup, including Tom Ayres, Chip Mason, Norm Blais and team captain Joan Shannon. State lawmakers representing Burlington districts, including Joey Donovan (pictured below with Ayres), were on hand to report on their doings in Montpelier.

Mayor Miro Weinberger was hailed as the all-star slugger for the local Dem side. He smiled modestly in response to the ovations he received before, during and after his animated 10-minute pep talk to the 50 or so faithful gathered in Burlington City Hall. The Contois Auditorium spotlight was also aimed briefly at Emily Lee, who almost made the council team in last March's election and seems poised to try again soon.

While attendees clearly enjoy mingling and preening, these esoteric rituals are actually mandated under state law. Title 17, Chapter 45 of Vermont's elections law requires the state's major parties to hold reorganization meetings on a town-by-town basis between September 10 and September 30 of what political pros refer to as off-years. These are the odd-numbered years, such as 2013, when statewide elections are not scheduled.

The meetings may be fun for participants, but they can be a headache for party bosses who work behind the scenes to ensure compliance with provisions of a state elections law with which only technocrats are acquainted. "There's a lot of paperwork involved," says Progressive Party director Robert Millar. "You've also got to try and persuade people to step up and hold meetings in towns."

The law stipulates that a major party must convene reorganization meetings of at least three individuals in a minimum of 15 of Vermont's 246 towns and cities in order to get automatic inclusion on election ballots. No petitioning required. The state's three major parties at present — Democratic, Republican and Progressive — have no trouble crossing that threshold, but the number of meetings each manages to hold serves as a telling indicator of the relative pulling power of the donkey, elephant and moose.

Vermont Democratic spokesman Ryan Emerson boasts that his party expects to hold more than 200 town meetings during the current reorganization cycle. The Republicans are aiming for about 150, says party political director Brent Burns. And Progs may meet in as many as 75 towns, Millar projects.

These meetings lay the foundation for each party's infrastructure. They're as grassrootsy as it gets.

Committees assembled at the town level choose delegates to the parties' county meetings in October, which in turn send reps to state conventions in November.

"If you wish to be among the power-wielders at any level of the party, this is where you start," the state GOP advised red-minded Vermonters in an announcement for its current round of town reorgs. "Those who show up at the town meetings have the potential to attain key party positions at the town and county level."

To comply with the elections law, a town unit of a party has to fill five offices: chair, vice chair, secretary, treasurer and assistant treasurer. It's OK for one individual to hold up to two of those unpaid jobs, which amount to entry-level positions for electoral aspirants, fixes for political junkies and hobbies for retirees.

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The process seldom involves actual competition. At the Burlington Dems' do, for instance, only one person was nominated for each of the five posts. All were then installed by unanimous acclimation, including the candidate for treasurer who was not present at the meeting.

The Queen City's doughty band of Republicans also met last night, at the Miller Center in the New North End. Burlington's Progs are set to assemble on Sunday at the Integrated Arts Academy in their Old North End redoubt. The party is billing its gathering as a "raucous caucus," but it may not be any noisier than the Dems' session. Speakers strained to be heard last night above the blare of bands performing at Red Square, just across Church Street from city hall.

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