Walters: The Political Fringes Are Blooming | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Walters: The Political Fringes Are Blooming


  • Aaron Shrewsbury
  • Randy Quaid
Vermont Republicans may still be searching for a candidate willing to take on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) next year — and Democrats are still looking for an alternative to James Ehlers and eighth-grader Ethan Sonnenborn for their gubernatorial nomination — but things are poppin’ on the fringes of our political scene.

In recent days, we’ve had two potential challengers to Sanders surface: one a political unknown, and the other a famous Hollywood figure whose candidacy would be the subject of a reality TV show. And a brand-new political party has announced itself to the world.

Let's start with the second one first: On December 1, renowned actor turned backwoods Vermonter Randy Quaid announced in a (since deleted) tweet that he’d been approached by “some very powerful people representing a super pac” about running against Sanders. The entertainment news site reported that the Quaid candidacy is the subject of “a reality show pitch …making its way around town.”

As reported by Seven Days' Mark Davis, Quaid wound up living in Lincoln after a series of legal misadventures. He and his wife, Evi, were being sought by California authorities for alleged financial misdeeds; they moved to Canada and lived there for five years. When they sought to return to the U.S. at the Vermont border, they were detained for extradition. But a Franklin County judge voided the California warrants, and the Quaids headed for Lincoln, where Evi's father lives.

The report identified the outfit behind the pitch as Public Spectacle Media, which is co-owned by Len Britton and Bradford Broyles. Britton was the Republican challenger to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in 2010; he now lives in California. Broyles, who remains a Vermont resident, confirms that his company is pursuing the project. He refused to comment further until plans are more developed.

On the confirmed candidacy front, Essex attorney Jasdeep Pannu is running for U.S. Senate. He announced his bid in a Wednesday morning appearance on WVMT Radio’s “Charlie + Ernie + Lisa” program. Pannu plans to seek the nomination of the People’s Party — although he might change affiliation or run as an independent.

The People’s Party is a new entity that hasn’t been active in Vermont. Its membership includes former supporters of Sanders’ 2016 run for president — and the party is trying to draft Sanders as its presidential candidate for 2020.

The centerpiece of Pannu’s platform is a plan to legalize, regulate and tax all drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin. “The war on drugs is dangerous, deadly and dumb,” he says. “I call it Prohibition, round two.”

He would convert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to the Child Trafficking Enforcement Administration, calling that “a huge industry” that’s worthy of a concerted effort.

The revenues from taxation, he says, would be more than enough to pay for his other plans — free college and postgraduate education, free health care and an ambitious infrastructure program.

He would also limit welfare benefits to one child per family, in order to “eliminate incentive-based pregnancies.” There would be exceptions for pregnancies caused by sexual assault, and for twins and other multiple births.

Other planks in his platform include reducing the U.S. military role as “world police,” term limits for members of Congress, a ban on personal electronic devices in schools until fifth grade and the addition of Braille onto American currency.

“I don’t want to be a politician,” he says, “but it shocks me that no one has advocated these ideas.”

Pannu is sure to face questions about a dark chapter in his legal career: he was found guilty of criminal contempt of court and fined $2,000 (a ruling upheld by the Vermont Supreme Court) and publicly reprimanded by the Vermont Professional Responsibility Board for his conduct in a 2009 trial.

Pannu represented 30-year-old James Spearman, who was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Pannu tried to introduce evidence of the victim’s sexual activity; the judge barred that under Vermont’s rape shield law. After numerous warnings, Pannu broached the subject during cross-examination of a police witness, which led to the contempt ruling.

Pannu says he welcomes the opportunity to discuss the case. He argues that he was simply doing his job as defense attorney; he saw exceptions in the rape shield law that should have allowed him to introduce the evidence. He still believes he was right.

The case, and his platform, are sure to get a full airing if his candidacy lasts. And while he may be running for a brand new minor party nomination, his campaign kickoff hints that there’s some money involved. He’s holding the event Friday, December 8, at the Hilton Burlington on the waterfront. The proceedings will include appetizers and “a limited cash bar,” he says. His campaign website,, should be live by the time the first drink is poured.

Finally, on Friday morning, Seven Days received an email announcing the formation of the Green Mountain Party. The missive came from Waitsfield resident Neil Johnson, who has registered the party with the Secretary of State’s Office; the email included an image of a brochure outlining the party’s positions.

Its guiding principle is ethics and openness in government. “Bring Vermont ethics from a D-minus to an A-plus,” it says. The brochure calls for getting big money out of politics, cutting health care costs and taxes by unspecified means, finding new ways to combat the scourge of drugs, and boosting jobs and housing.

Clean government, the brochure claims, is the core issue. “Good ideas don’t need million-dollar lobbyists, but bribes do, inside deals most certainly do,” Johnson wrote in the flyer. The party also emphasizes local control, citing Vermont’s town meeting tradition and local governance of public schools.