In recent interviews with True North Reports, newly elected chair of the Vermont Republican party Deb Billado and re-elected vice-chair Brady Toensing said their party is focused on the economy, unemployment, education spending, political correctness and more.
The biggest message going for us is the economy,” Billado said in a phone interview. “I think everyone can agree that the economy needs some help, and our message is clearly different from the Democrats’ message.”
Toensing, in a separate interview, echoed the sentiment about the economy.
“It’s going to be the first, second, and third priority,” he said.
What that means for Billado and Toensing is they need to grow the base. Currently, Republicans account for 53 of 150 seats in the state’s House chamber. They occupy only seven of 30 seats in the Senate. The GOP has no representation among Vermont’s congressional delegation.
“I believe there’s a lot of people out there that feel the way most Republicans do but they may not be saying it,” Billado said. “It’s my challenge to bring more of those people to the voting booth as well as elect more candidates to the House and Senate.”
Despite Donald Trump’s landslide victory in November, the Republican Party’s momentum has been called into question after Virginia and New Jersey elected Democrat governors last week. Billado said Vermont often doesn’t follow national trends.
“Politically, I often think that Vermont is its own island,” she said. “Ed Gillespie’s loss in Virginia shouldn’t come as any real surprise to anyone. The last five presidents have lost that state and nothing unusual happened there. I don’t think anyone expected much different in New Jersey, either.”
Billado is no novice when it comes to politics. Prior to replacing outgoing VTGOP Chair David Sunderland, she served as chairwoman of the Chittenden County GOP. She also was a trustee in Essex Junction for 12 years, and was an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. As a former business owner for 25 years, Billado sold clothing, perfumes and more at the Body Shop, also in Essex.
Even so, she says she has never seen such strong division in the country. “I think there’s more than I’ve ever seen before, and a lot of that has to do with people have a difficult time with winning or losing — well, more so with losing, obviously.”
She added that the thinks political correctness is contributing to the divisions.
“I think political correctness has thrown a wet blanket on people’s ability to express themselves,” she said. “And now … those that were trying to suppress people with political correctness are showing how upset they are that people are now speaking out.”
Toensing continues to be at the forefront of politics in Vermont, especially when it comes to transparency issues such as the recently decided Vermont Supreme Court case Toensing v. the Attorney General of Vermont.
“I do my own thing with open records requests and trying to make sure we have a transparent government in Vermont,” he said.
Toensing acknowledges that tensions are high in the nation, but he added that within Vermont there’s more reception to the GOP than one might think.
“Well there’s the national party and then there are state issues,” he said. “I think that people are more receptive to Phil Scott’s message in Vermont. His overwhelming win shows that people are more receptive to his arguments and keeping the state afloat.”
Regarding the economy, Toensing noted that if the latest Republican tax bill passes in Washington, there will more pressure on Vermont to curb its taxes.
“This affordability issue is really going to come to the fore if this tax package passes and state taxes are no longer deductible,” he said. “That’s a big deal for places like Vermont, which benefits from the fact that people are able to deduct their state tax burden.”
Toensing said education spending should continue to be a central issue when it comes to reining in high tax rates. He said he hopes the unions will ease up on demands.
“I think that one of the things that people are going to have to look at is dealing with the teachers unions,” he said. “The issue of these unions both threatening to strike and actually striking at times (is) most hurtful to the communities they are supposed to be serving.”
He added that supervisory unions that oversee Vermont school districts also should probably be cut down a notch.
“Why do we need all these administrators shuffling papers and writing memos back and forth?” he said. “We need educators, we need teachers in the classroom. And every dollar you spend on an administrator is a dollar you don’t spend on a teacher.”