Candidates lining up for GOP leadership post
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | October 27,2013
MONTPELIER — At least two candidates have stepped forward to take the helm of a politically divided Vermont Republican Party ahead of its reorganization next month.
The Vermont GOP, handed sweeping electoral defeats in the past two election cycles, has ceded complete control of state government to Democrats, who control the governor’s office and hold a super majority in the Legislature.
John MacGovern, who lost a bid to unseat independent Sen. Bernard Sanders last fall, said Wednesday he is looking to replace current GOP Chairman Jack Lindley. Former Rutland state Rep. David Sunderland announced his own candidacy for the party’s leadership post Thursday.
It’s unclear if Lindley, who has been hospitalized at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., with an undisclosed illness since last month, will run again. Lindley has drawn fire from moderates within the party who believe he has aligned the state party too closely with the national Republican Party, which tends to be viewed more negatively in Vermont even by faithful Republicans.
In a letter to supporters, MacGovern touted his electoral experience — and even his electoral failures — as requisite experience to lead the party.
“In 2014, we will need to work on maintaining the statewide offices we currently hold and to increase the number of representatives and senators in Montpelier. All that starts by finding and supporting quality candidates,” he wrote.
“We need to have a chair who understands what it takes to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work, to get out in the trenches and become a candidate for the first time. We need a chair who knows both victory and defeat and what it takes to overcome initial defeats and to come back to run for a second and third time.”
Sunderland, who served five years in the House after he was appointed by former Gov. James Douglas, said the Vermont GOP must be strengthened to help shape policy in the areas of jobs, health care, education and the cost of living.
“On these issues Vermonters deserve a Republican Party that listens, can speak on their behalf and will work to elect candidates who vigorously, yet respectfully, offer a Vermont way to move our state forward. That is my vision for the Vermont Republican Party and it is why I respectfully ask for your vote on November 9th,” Sunderland wrote in his own letter announcing his candidacy.
Sunderland quickly received the backing of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott who, along with a small group of Republicans widely viewed as moderate, have been looking to re-brand the Vermont GOP.
“I’ve publicly endorsed David Sunderland at this point,” Scott, the GOP’s only statewide officeholder, said Friday on Vermont Public Television’s “Vermont Edition.” “I’ve always been impressed with the way he’s treated people.”
Scott said on the radio program that the party needs to “define who we are.”
“Vermont Republicans are different than national Republicans,” he said. “I guess you’d naturally distance yourself by setting a tone that’s different than nationally. I’ve always tried to do that.”
Scott said he is hoping to take the party more in the direction of its forebears, like former Sens. George Aiken and Robert Stafford.
“I’m probably a different breed of Republican than is found throughout the country,” Scott said. “There’s a long, long line of pragmatic Republicans that have served the state.”
In a telephone interview this week, Sunderland said he was pleased to receive the backing of Scott but declined to label himself either a moderate or conservative.
“I don’t know that I would label myself any way. I am what I am. I’m certainly concerned about the fiscal state and fiscal direction of Vermont, concerned that it is less and less affordable for Vermonters,” Sunderland said. “I’ll let others decide where that puts me into the labeling system.”
He also downplayed the schism that has developed within the state party in recent years over its direction.
“I don’t know that there’s factions. I think there’s certainly people within the Republican umbrella that have different views on different subjects,” he said.
Sunderland said he views the chairmanship as a vehicle to ensure Republicans “unite around our core values and our central issues that most pertain to working, everyday Vermonters.
“Those issues that I think we can all agree on are the cost of living in Vermont, the concern over ever-increasing taxes, and, I think, a general concern with the direction of government-run, taxpayer-funded single-payer health care. I think those are issues that Vermont Republicans can unite around,” he said
Lindley currently draws no salary as chairman. Sunderland, an engineer with Green Mountain Coffee, did not rule out the possibility that he will look to receive a salary if elected.
“I think we need a first-rate, top-notch staff for the Vermont GOP. I think that’s the No. 1 thing. We have a lot of work to do and we need to get the team of staff who are able to the things that we need to do,” he said. “Beyond that I think it’s a matter of how the fundraising goes and what the budget for campaigning looks like.”
With just 45 seats in the House and seven in the Senate, the party has plenty of ground to make up to once again be a viable force in the Statehouse. MacGovern, who could not be reached for comment, listed several steps in his letter to supporters that he would undertake as chairman to boost the party.
According to MacGovern, the GOP needs to enhance its digital and social media presences to better communicate its message. He wrote that he also wants to focus on building the party’s county committees to better help local candidates.
Other plans include:
n Improving the party’s fundraising mechanism;
n Working on party-building by focusing on the grass roots and town committees;
n Increasing the use of technology for fundraising, communications and database management;
n Working with Republican leaders in the House and Senate to win policy fights.