Toensing: It’s ‘Katie, bar the door’ for progressive agenda following election

Bruce Parker/TNR

POWER SHIFT: The already left-dominated House chamber just lost more Republicans in the midterm election, giving Democrats and Progressives free rein to enact their agendas.

With the dust beginning to settle after Election Day, top Republicans are assessing the damage to their party in lost seats and leverage, including the ability to sustain a veto by Gov. Phil Scott.

In takes 51 votes in the House to sustain a governor’s veto. Following Tuesday’s blue wave in Vermont, Democrats and Progressives combined now have 102 seats, versus just 43 for Republicans. The GOP last legislative session had enough members to sustain Scott’s vetoes of a minimum wage increase, paid family leave, and other left-wing policies.

But going forward Republicans will need help from five independent House members plus some Democrats if they are to uphold any veto from Vermont’s  Republican governor.

Brady Toensing

ANYTHING GOES:  Vermont GOP Vice Chairman Brady Toensing said without the ability to uphold a veto from Gov. Scott, Republicans are virtually powerless to stop the progressive agenda.

Brady Toensing, vice-chair of the Vermont Republican Party, blamed the GOP losses on Scott’s decision to sign S.55, the controversial new gun law that expands background checks, limits magazine capacity and more. He suggested this discouraged party members and may have influenced some to retire.

“This is where the true impact of the magazine ban comes into play,” he said. “It’s [Wednesday], the day after the election when the smoke clears, and you see that there are very few Republicans left. It was totally predictable.”

He added that the Democrats’ hatred of President Donald Trump — despite positive economic developments stemming from his tax cuts — also hurt Vermont Republicans.

“The Democrats were clearly inspired in their irrational hatred of the president and his policies, despite it giving us a $60 million unexpected surplus and an incredible booming economy. It’s really remarkable, but hey, you can’t argue with irrationality.”

Toensing was also critical of the fact that Scott doesn’t give Trump any credit.

“The governor can’t bring himself to credit the national Republicans with this windfall,” Toensing said.

As far as where the Republican party goes from here, with the House chamber no longer able to sustain a veto, Toensing was at a loss for answers.

“I think it’s ‘Katie, bar the door’ for whatever progressive dream they can dream up,” he said.

Lou Varricchio/TNR

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE: Republican leaders such as former House Minority Leader Don Turner are still assessing how difficult it will be for Republicans after losing seats in both chambers this election.

Former House Minority Leader Don Turner agreed that hatred in Vermont toward President Trump may have driven more Democrats out to vote.

“I believe that a lot of people came out to vote against him and that hurt many of our candidates,” Turner said. “I talked to somebody yesterday who said, generally, more people will come out to vote against something than to vote for something. I’ve never really thought of that, but man, it was a lot of people that came out that did not vote Republican.”

On the situation the governor now faces, Turner suggested the next two years are going to be more difficult than the first two.

“Going forward, it’s going to force the governor to negotiate with a lot more than he did historically when he knew that he could veto something,” he said. “He’s going to have to be a lot more willing to move their way than they are going to move his way.”

Turner noted what seems to be a mixed message from voters this election — namely, that they voted in Scott with an apparent mandate to hold down taxes and spending, but then voted for mostly Democrats and Progressives into both chambers who are more likely to push for bigger budgets.

Turner, who lost his race for lieutenant governor, will not be returning to the Statehouse as a representative.

“I’m not gonna say I’ll never run again, but I will say it was an incredible experience,” he said. “ … For me, I’m going to go back and continue to do the job that I really enjoy doing as [Milton] town manager. So I’ll be intent on doing that and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can for the governor or the caucus.”

ONE OF SIX: There are now only six Republicans in the Senate chamber, and one of them is Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, noted the Senate went from seven to six Republicans, but he emphasized the real issue is what happened over in the House.

“One of the most important things that we had in the last session was the ability to limit excesses from the majority because the governor had a veto and we had a sufficient number of Republicans in the House to sustain a veto,” he said.

If progressive policies are pursued and taxes do go up, Brock said, more people will leave the state, and they will leave from across the political spectrum.

“It’s the people who can’t afford to live here who are leaving, and they may be Republicans, they may be Democrats — this is an issue that crosses party lines. If you look at the demographics of the people that are leaving, those are people in their prime working years.”

Brock referenced a VPR poll at the start of the election and noted Vermonters ranked the economy and affordability as the most important issues facing the state.

“That’s why we were emphasizing the issue of affordability so much. … Jobs and the economy were at the top of the list of people’s concerns, by far,” he said.

Despite Republicans focusing in on that issue, it didn’t win enough votes.

“I think there were a number of different things at play, and national politics, I certainly think, had some impact on the races here in Vermont,” Brock said.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR, Brady Toensing and Lou Varricchio/TNR

16 thoughts on “Toensing: It’s ‘Katie, bar the door’ for progressive agenda following election

  1. Mr. Toensing sure has some nerve. When our candidates came to him for help- they got nearly nothing.
    The R party has negative leadership. They backbite their own candidates and spent all of their time trying to get Scott re-elected.
    Im sure they took credit for recruiting all of the candidates who were actually recruited by special interest organizations, but really they only even helped incumbents, even slightly.
    Conservatives need to get together and throw the whole party away!

  2. There are lessons to be learned from this election for the Republican Party, but little to be gained by some of the rhetoric I’ve seen in some of these comments. Take a moment to examine closely the numbers you can easily find in the Secretary of State’s election results. First, this midterm election featured higher turnout than we’ve seen in decades for a similar election. So any claim that Republicans stayed home because they were frustrated with Phil Scott is nonsense. His race featured 278,230 voters casting ballots. Of those, Scott received 151,261 to Halquist’s 110,335. There were just over 4,000 blank ballots cast. Even if those 4,000 were given to Halquist, Scott would have come out well on top. The message: Phil Scott’s knows how to appeal to the vast majority of Vermonters.

    Second, Republicans need to be in every race. A quick perusal of House races features a disturbing number in which there are no Republicans at all. There were no Senate candidates in Bennington, Essex/Orleans or Grande Isle (although there Dick Mazza ran as a D/R) and only half the number for slots available in Addison, Chittenden and Windham. The party simply must do a better job of identifying and producing good candidates, and doing so as soon as possible.

    Third, and this may be the hardest for some on this thread to accept, candidates have got to know their audiences and articulate a message that appeals TO THEM. Like it or not, the vast, VAST majority of Vermonters do not like or appreciate Donald Trump. Entering a race by believing you can turn that around or convince them otherwise is political suicide. Phil Scott stuck to his message on affordability and no new taxes, which is clearly a conservative agenda, and distanced himself from Trump. Vermont voters, that audience that every candidate is speaking to, appreciated that and gave him the election. While Don Turner did the same, Don was running against an incumbent and his position as House Minority Leader left him vulnerable as the most visible obstacle to a liberal agenda. My bet is that if he ran against a fellow first timer Don would have been successful.

    Further down the ticket, Republican candidates running on a hard right and/or single issue (primarily guns) agenda were trounced. The most visible Republican candidate for statewide office was H. Brooke Paige. Brooke’s public image and commentaries are well known. I think it is fair to conclude he is much farther to the right than Phil Scott. Jim Condos received 178,863 votes to Paige’s 79,035. There were 10,455 blank votes in that race. Even if all the blanks were given to Paige, Condos would have defeated him by more than two to one. I do not say this to disparage him, but it is fair to conclude that Paige’s message is not appealing to the vast majority of Vermonters.

    It would be unfair to further analyze races for federal or statewide positions involving candidates who were virtual unknowns entering the race at the last minute and running against entrenched incumbents, so I’ll move on.

    In the House and Senate there are also clear examples of why moderate Republicans do better than those on the right. For instance, in the House Fred Baser, Kurt Wright and Brian Keefe were considered moderates. Yes, they lost, but keep in mind they were running for re-election at a time when Vermont voters were in an anti-Trump mood. All three lost their races in virtual squeakers. Baser had a running mate (Valerie Mullin) who has identified herself as much farther to the right, and she finished a full six percentage points behind Baser. Wright and Keefe had no running mates. (See argument above about having a full slate.) In Caledonia-2, pro-Trump conservative Larry Hamel ran for a second time against Chip Troiano, and lost by over eighteen percentage points. This was a bigger margin than he lost by back in 2016. Conversely, in Caledonia-3, moderate Republican newcomer Brendan Hughes (who distanced himself from Donald Trump) lost to second time running Democrat Scott Campbell by only two percentage points.

    In the Rutland senatorial district, one of the two strongest Republican counties in Vermont, the Senate race featured a full contingent of Republicans. Of those three, the most conservative was Ed Larson, who fell 669 votes short of the lowest successful candidate. In Windsor and Washington counties Republicans had a full slate of candidates, virtually all of whom were identified by their opposition as primarily concerned about 2nd amendment rights. Each was soundly defeated.

    The point of all this is that, for the Republican party to survive as a major political party, the 2020 election has to feature a full slate of candidates who can articulate the same conservative message that Phil Scott has been successfully doing through seven elections. Calling each other names does little to attract voters. Keep turning hard right and we will lose the audience.

    • Wow Joe you certainly are blinded by the truth. Scott did get 151K votes while Turner running in tandem and popular with Republican voters for the most part received 108K. Taking into account the number of Republicans who refused to vote for Scott there were about 60K Democrats who voted for Scott. Why was that, because of his conservative message? Laughable considering his signing of gun legislation and the individual mandate while having taxpayers and ratepayers foot the bill for EV owners’ electricity.
      The message by conservative candidates was lost due to inept leadership, lack of a unified message, and Scott being at the top of the ticket. If our candidates including Turner could have tapped into those 60K Democrats then the results would have been different. So in other words if they were Democrats like Scott maybe the numbers in the legislature would be different. But the results would basically be the same, more progressive bills signed by Scott.

      • Sorry Keith, I disagree. For my response, I turn again to the numbers. This requires a close look at the official results of your race during the primary. I begin by noting that party leadership, which you blame as partly responsible for our losses in the general election, was not involved in the primary (they aren’t supposed to be) so they cannot be used as an excuse. We also cannot use “lack of a unified message” as an excuse because it is each individual candidate’s job to create that message and sell it to the party members directly.

        So let’s look at the primary numbers. The total Democrat vote count was 70,007; the total Republican vote count was 36,987. The loudest discussion during that time was about Phil Scott’s vote on gun legislation. It is impossible to believe those motivated by this issue stayed home in disgust during the primary. Assuming Republicans were motivated by that issue to come out and vote, where did they go to do so? They would have voted for either you or John Rodgers.

        Phil Scott received 24,142 votes. You received 11,669 votes. John Rodgers was not on either ballot, so for him we will have to assume he was written in. Let’s give him credit (for the purpose of this discussion) for ALL write-in votes on both the Republican and Democrat ballots. (Whether write-in voters on the Democrat ballot were Democrats or Republicans doesn’t matter if we give him credit for both.) Republican write-ins totaled 404; Democrat write-ins totaled 4,143. Thus the most we can credit Rodgers for is 4,547. If we add your votes to Rodgers and assume all of those votes were Republicans angry with Phil Scott, you still have only 16,216 votes to Phil Scott’s 24,142.

        The point of all this? The message Phil Scott sells is appreciated by not only the vast majority of Vermonters, but also by the vast majority of Republicans. That fact continues to be ignored by some in our party, especially those angry with him on guns and cannabis legalization. But every poll I’ve seen indicates a majority of Vermonters agree with him on both issues.

        If we ignore these “truths” again in 2020 by turning further right, a time when the Trump factor will be front and center, my money says Republicans will be in serious trouble. I cling to the belief that the principles embodied in our parties’ platform are appreciated by a majority of Vermonters. But they must be articulated by candidates who don’t get caught on the wrong side of a national debate that most Vermonters are pretty clear about. I don’t want to see that happen. We do ourselves a great disservice if we keep ignoring the “truth” these numbers prove. They may be hard to swallow, but they are the only “truth” out there and I respectfully submit I’m not blind.

  3. Be interesting to see how the folks will react in the next election if the dem/prog/lib faction goes crazy with their hair brained schemes which will result in higher taxes and higher unemployment.

  4. I was astounded that Chittenden’s Farrell urged “give me ONE of your 6 votes for senate”
    Have you/he never heard of bullet voting? Don’t \vote for the best of the worst to “Use up” your 6 votes!
    you just defeated your best up and coming candidate. Vote ONLY for the best candidates – if there are only 1 or 2, just vote them – Don’t vote for 6 just because!

  5. The Republican name should be recognized for what it is and that is an anchor around each candidate’s neck with a few rare exceptions. The liberals have done a remarkable job of distorting the truth and the party has done nothing to set the record straight.
    There is no real leadership and they keep using the same stale, failed tactics. The promotion, organization and leadership is very minimal.
    Finally, I warned the party members that Scott at the top of the ballot was going to lead to big losses for the other candidates because it would keep real republicans and conservatives from voting after seeing that he is a democrat disguised as an R.

  6. In his first term our Governor squandered his opportunity to be a leader, by now even a slow learner must realize after the next two years there will be no one following him.

  7. Now, at least, we’ll know for certain who is (and what policies are) responsible for Vermont’s success or failure. This is not to say that the super-majority or their appointees will accept that responsibility…likely not…because that is the nature of politicians on either side of the aisle. After all:

    “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” George Bernard Shaw.

  8. Governor Phil Scott disappointed many voters, primarily his Republican base, by signing S.55 and by signing H.511 and that could have discouraged some to the point that they decided not to vote and even led some legislators to retire. Scott’s failure to give President Trump any credit for the great things that are happening in America since his election, may have added to the discouragement (it has for me but I voted even so), but while all of this might have contributed to some of the losses, it is unlikely that such discouragement would have led to Scott’s election and, at the same time, the defeat of so many House candidates and one Senate candidate as suggested by Brady Toensing, vice-chair of the Vermont Republican Party. If Don Turner’s suggestion that people voted this way to punish Republicans because of President Trump, that is a silly thought for if that were so they would have likely punished Scott as well. Don Turner added to the discouragement out there by his flip-flopping on issues of principle that he once held.

    Could it be that the blame should rest with the Vermont Republican Party itself? Why were Republicans put in the position not having a choice for four statewide offices in the primary? Even if you were thankful for that one man who stepped in to fill that void and led to candidates on the ballot in November, they surely had no likelihood of being successful under the circumstances. Why were only 75 of the 150 House seats contested? What did the party do or not do to make those things happen? You be the judge of that but from what I have experienced and observed, the Republican Party was awol and is at fault. The weakness has even created the climate that led Scott to do what he did just to be re-elected.

    As for a loss for answers as to where the Republican Party is to go, our vice-chair “was at a loss for answers”. Well, here are a couple suggestions. Start right now to recruit candidates for 2020. Make yourself known to those who want Vermont to be the conservative little state that she once was. Do things to re-energize the base and reach out to make sure we have a full slate of candidates in the next election. Reach out to those who lost and figure out what could have been better done. Find out if these people will run again and then work with them to improve on their performance.

    I am not a gambler, but I have heard it said of the lottery that you can’t win if you don’t play and the same applies to fielding candidates and supporting them, so they can win. Our party was not in the game and I heard that from candidates and voters.

    • “I am not a gambler”…

      You are if your still claiming VT as a resident. Bottom line those left in the state are going to TAKE IT ON THE CHIN.

      • And the punch will come from the out of state part time residents, the trust-fund baby boomer idealists, and the pony-tailed Marxist-in-suit millionaires who’ll be putting up windmills in every town on the properties they own, paid for by state, to deliver power to Massachusetts and Connecticut. We of curse can wait on them in the restaurants and ski lifts and stores. But they might be difficult concerning using your guns around their windmills and solar panels. One other thing: we can breath in the toxicity from used solar panels and windmill parts near the landfills.

  9. All I can say after this screwy election is that it really feels like we’re living in the Twilight Zone here in Vermont.

    • Two of the interplanetary creatures effecting us are also called “Zuck” and “Bern.”

      Think about it.

  10. The recent election, the current politico/social situation, brings to mind a cartoon by Gahan Wilson, an artist with a trenchant Kafkaesque sense of humor: He depicts an intersection in an old town peopled by numerous characters engaged in quotidian daily activities save for a central character, proclaiming something like “Vampires! They’re all around us! And no one believes me!” In the background, a couple workmen are carrying a large mirror that reflects the empty intersection, peopled only by the proclaimant of fact. No other individual is in the reflection. We are surrounded by Progressives – and far too few people recognize them as the vampires they are. .

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