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Beltway Bound?

Fair Game


Published June 6, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Gov. Peter Shumlin turned heads in March when he told Politico he was running for the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association — one of the party’s most prominent fundraising machines. But according to sources both inside and outside the Beltway, it won’t be much of a race: Shummy’s got it in the bag.

A senior aide to Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, whose name was also floated for the job, tells Fair Game that Malloy is not running — and he’s backing the Green Mountain gov.

“My boss, the governor, is not a contender and is fully supporting Gov. Shumlin,” says Roy Occhiogrosso. “He thinks [Shumlin] has been a good governor, thinks he’s a strong leader and thinks he’ll serve the DGA very well.”

According to DGA executive director Colm O’Comartun, the organization won’t pick a replacement for outgoing chairman Martin O’Malleythe Maryland governor and 2016 presidential aspirant — until December. But, he says, Shumlin “would be a popular choice. The leader is generally picked by consensus, and so I don’t view this as being a contentious selection process.”

Nathan Daschle, a former DGA executive director, puts it more succinctly: “My guess is [Shumlin] will be the next DGA chair.”

Of course, if you ask Shumlin himself, the good governor will tell you he’s too focused on the people’s business to even notice he’s running for anything.

“I’ve made clear to other governors that I’m willing to be the chair and have had discussions with my Democratic colleagues about whether or not it’s a good idea — and that’s been the extent of it,” he says. “All I’m saying is, this is not something I’m focused on. I’m also not focused on a reelection campaign that the press seems to want me to be focused on.”

Oh, snap!

Indeed, though Shumlin admits he’s seeking the DGA chairmanship next year — a job that, you know, requires one to be a governor — Shumlin has been loath to admit he’s running for reelection to his day job, saying campaign season should wait until Labor Day.

When pressed, the gov says this: “Let’s put it this way: I don’t think it’s any secret that I love this job. It’s an incredible privilege to have it, and it’s highly likely I will seek reelection.”

What does the DGA gig entail? For one thing, serving as message guru for Democratic governors. Shumlin showed a propensity for that skill in February, when he got his fellow Dem govs to sport “Cheer Up” buttons around the Beltway. Their message? Republicans’ “doom and gloom” rhetoric flies in the face of improving economic news.

On second thought, that message might need a little tweaking.

Aside from hangin’ with David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” the DGA chair’s principal role is to rake in cash — mostly from heavy-hitting corporations — and dole it out to Dems in need. As an independent, 527 advocacy group, the DGA doesn’t have to abide by federal campaign-finance laws. During the last full election cycle, it raised more than half a million apiece from 15 unions and corporations, including Pfizer, NextEra Energy Resources and AstraZeneca. Last May, the DGA cashed a $50,000 check from Entergy — Vermont Yankee’s owner and Shumlin’s favorite nemesis.

Wonder if he’ll send the check back next year?

So how did a guy only a year and a half into his first term as governor become first in line to snag the chairmanship? Let’s just say there’s a small pool of candidates. As of press time — before the results of Wisconsin’s recall came in — the Democrats held just 20 governorships. Most big-state govs have too much on their plates, while those facing tough reelection fights tend to avoid the distraction, Daschle says. But for a certain kind of ambitious pol, the DGA can be a ticket to the big show.

“If you’re a governor — unless you’re governor of New York or California — it’s almost impossible to break into the national scene from a state capital,” Daschle says.

Just ask Bill Clinton, Bill Richardson, Kathleen Sebelius and Howard Dean — each of whom used the DGA chairmanship as a catapult to the national stage.

“If you think of Vermont as off-Broadway, the DGA is the big time,” says Montpelier lobbyist Kevin Ellis. “It’s a place for him to play on the national stage, a place for [Shumlin] to test out if he has the chops for the varsity team.”

So is a hankering for higher office driving Shumlin’s move?

Former governor Jim Douglas, who himself chaired the National Governors Association — a bipartisan, policy-oriented organization — says it’s sometimes the reverse for those who chair the DGA, the NGA or the Republican Governors Association.

“I often wondered about some of these folks in the past as to whether that ambition preceded, or was a consequence of, their role — because, you know, it’s heady stuff,” Douglas says of hobnobbing in the nation’s capital.

Would Shumlin run for U.S. Senate in 2016 if Patrick Leahy retires? Would he seek a cabinet post in a second Barack Obama administration? Would he — ready your Dean scream — get the idea that a liberal governor from Vermont could run for president?

“I haven’t spent any time thinking about that,” Shummy insists.

The way Ellis sees it, Vermonters shouldn’t begrudge the gov for spreading his wings and singing Vermont’s praises to the wider world. “Instead of telling that story to the Times Argus, he gets to tell that to the New York Times and other governors all the time,” he says.

After all, Ellis adds, “It’s better than sitting in Montpelier all day running state government.”

Charlie’s Angel

Tough times are growing tougher for U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the Harlem Democrat whose campaign-finance violations cost him the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee — not to mention his dignity. A year and a half ago, you’ll recall, Rangel became the first House member in nearly 30 years to be formally censured by his peers for, among other offenses, failing to pay taxes on the rental income he earns from his Dominican Republic villa.


With his influence diminished and electoral opposition enhanced, Rangel now faces a new problem: a dearth of campaign contributions. In the first quarter of 2012, the former chairman raised a mere $60,000.

Never fear! As the New York Times reported last week, more than a dozen Democratic colleagues in the House are riding to Rangel’s rescue — donating thousands each to the embattled congressman’s campaign committee.

Among them: Vermont’s own U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, whose campaign account forked over $1000 to Rangel’s on March 28, according to Federal Election Commission records.

“Charlie never asked me directly,” Welch tells the Times. “I don’t remember if I heard from another colleague that Charlie needed help. But I was not going to make Charlie come to me.”

It’s not the first time Welch and Rangel have tangoed.

Back when “Charlie” was in charge, the senior Dem donated $19,000 to Welch’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns — a small portion of the $2 million Rangel raised to help retake the House. In 2009, Welch was tapped to sit on the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating Rangel — so he returned all $19,000 to the chairman. In November 2010, Welch and his committee colleagues voted 9-1 to censure Rangel; the full House followed suit the next month, voting 267 to 146 to censure him.

(Disclosure: I worked for Welch from November 2008 until March 2011.)

So why did Welch, after finding Rangel guilty of campaign-finance violations, pony up cash to support his reelection?

Welch’s office declined to answer specific questions but provided a statement citing Rangel’s Korean War service and calling him “a decent man who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and fought his way to the right side.

“He has been appropriately punished for his transgressions: He was censured by the House and removed from chairing a powerful committee,” Welch said in the statement. “Whether he remains in Congress is a decision his constituents will make, but I am happy to help him in this tough reelection fight.”

All Aboard

A week and a half before the filing deadline for November’s elections, the field for Chittenden County’s six-member senate district is growing clearer.

Former Burlington House member David Zuckerman — a Progressive who chaired the House Agriculture Committee — said Tuesday he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for senate from his new home in Hinesburg. The self-proclaimed “P/D” also hopes to nab the Progressive nomination as a write-in candidate.

Of the district’s six incumbents, only Democratic Sen. Hinda Miller is stepping down. Newcomers include Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian and Vermont Interfaith Action executive director Debbie Ingram, both of whom are going for the Dem nod. Former Burlington mayor Bob Kiss plans to run as an independent; Richard Jeroloman is running as a Prog; and Shelley Palmer is running as a Republican and Tea Party member.

State Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington), who lost a Burlington mayoral bid in March, tells Fair Game he has decided not to run for the Senate. Instead, he’ll seek reelection to his New North End House seat.

Media Notes

It’s a girl! Last Tuesday, regular Fair Game columnist Andy Bromage and his wife, Alison Moncrief Bromage, welcomed to the world Lark Virginia Bromage. She clocked in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces and infinite cuteness. Big ups to the happy family!

Speaking of happy families, the state’s scribes gathered in Montpelier last Thursday for the annual meeting of the Vermont Press Association. Green Mountain journos talked plenty about open-records laws and heard from Gov. Shumlin. More importantly, the VPA showered its members with prizes: The Burlington Free Press took home 13 awards and mentions, including the Mavis Doyle Award for political writer Nancy Remsen. The Valley News and Addison Independent each earned nine honors, while this weekly rag snagged six. The Rutland Herald and the Commons of Windham County won awards for general excellence, and the Milton Independent’s Jacqueline Cain won Rookie of the Year.

Though the Freeps’ editorial board was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, it didn’t make the grade back home, earning just an honorable mention in the VPA’s editorial category.

Hey, at least it wasn’t a tie!

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