by Kevin Joseph Ryan
There’s a new sheriff in town at Vermont Democratic Party headquarters this year. Not entirely new, as he’s been in that position since last September’s biennial reorganization of the Democratic Party, but this summer and fall will be Jake Perkinson’s first election cycle at the helm. With the Democrats in control of 94 of 150 seats in the Vermont House and 22 seats of 30 in the Vermont Senate, plus the Governor’s Office, one might think the Democrats could rest easily this year. However, Perkinson is rarely a man who rests easily anywhere.
Only a few days into his tenure as Democratic Party Chair, Perkinson immediately took the opportunity to lash out at Vermont Republicans as “disastrous” and “corrupt.” In a press statement, Perkinson said, “The Republican Party has consistently illustrated that it is completely out of touch with Vermont voters…. Vermont Republicans demonstrate that they intend to lead Vermont down the disastrous trail blazed by their national counterparts.” This was in response to a dinner invitation the VTGOP had made to a sitting United States Congressman who Perkinson apparently did not care for.
Since graduating in 1995, Perkinson has practiced as a litigation attorney and worked with the Securities & Exchange Commission and started his own political consulting company, Theseus Associates. He has also pursued a political career in the meantime, failing to get elected to Burlington’s City Council, but succeeding at election as first Chittenden County Democratic Chair, then Statewide Vice-Chair and finally to State Chairman last September as the only candidate for that position. Since last September, Perkinson has made the most of his position, either participating in, or starting, nearly every political crisis that Vermont has seen since.
In November of 2011, following Hurricane Irene, former GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald had called for the State Government to consider a 4% spending cut to insure money was set aside for Irene recovery. Perkinson had the following reaction: “While most of Vermont are working together to overcome stronger than before Irene, Vermont, the Republican Party leadership is focused on scoring political points, posing a false dilemma between helping victims recover and provide services to Irene Vermont’s population.” November was not a good month for Perkinson, as he also picked a fight with the Vermont State Employee Association over their efforts to get overtime pay for Irene cleanup. The Lamoille County Democrats had passed a resolution supportive of VSEA, which Perkinson refused to hear at the Dems Statewide Committee meeting. Then Lamoille County Democratic Chairman Peter Burgess responded by saying he was shocked and disgraced at Perkinson’s actions.
At the end of March of 2012, President Barack Obama made his first visit to Vermont since his election, and left the state owing $6300 to the South Burlington and Burlington Police for security. The stop was campaign related and it is not clear if this debt has yet been repaid. However, when asked at the time if the money should be repaid by Obama’s re-election campaign, Perkinson’s answer to Fox News was, “I don’t think there’s any credible reason to be nickel and diming the security of the President of the United States or his family.”
More recent events have not gone well for Perkinson, either. In February of this year, Perkinson filed a complaint against Bruce Lisman and Campaign for Vermont, a political community group, citing that they had broken state campaign finance laws by asking for less spending in Vermont and not registering as a PAC. State Attorney General and fellow Democrat Bill Sorrell did not agree and dismissed the complaint.
Perkinson made national headlines in May after a fallout with Freedom to Marry, who had listed Vermont’s Chairman as supporting gay marriage as a Democratic Party plank, after he told them he was supportive of gay marriage. Perkinson said the issue was that he “hadn’t been given the opportunity to sign off” on the press release.
Most recently, as of last week, Perkinson issued a statement accusing Republican Treasurer Candidate Wendy Wilton violating campaign finance law by not filing her Bank Designation and Treasurer Appointment form within a 10 day statutory limit. As it turns out, there is no such limit. Perkinson had it confused with a limit which exists for political action committees and parties, but not for candidates. The irony is, the Democratic Party’s own candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Cassandra Gekas had not filed her form, either.
Earlier this month, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor) had agreed to be quoted on the webpage of Vermont Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott (R-VT) saying that Scott worked as a non-partisan. Perkinson was not happy, starting yet another imbroglio, this time with Campbell. Campbell’s reaction in a letter to the Democrat Chairman was, “In my situation, people jumped to conclusions, made incorrect assumptions and chose to brand me a political heretic without the courtesy of reaching out to me personally.” Perkinson said to the Burlington Free Press, “Certainly, it would be extremely disappointing if an elected Democratic official endorsed a Republican.”
Much of the issue with Perkinson and the continual conflicts that seem to surround him, both with political opponents and within his own party itself, seem to stem from Perkinson’s long-time habit of lashing out quickly at perceived slights, even before taking the time to consider his own previous positions on the same issues.
Meanwhile, on July 19th, Republican State Auditor Candidate Vince Illuzzi held a campaign fundraiser in Burlington, sponsored by Democratic Senators Dick Mazza (D- Chittenden) and Senator Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden). It has only been a scant four years since Perkinson himself managed the campaign for State Auditor of Tom Salmon, who joined the Republican Party shortly after his election. One wonders if Jake would still be supportive of his former client.
It doesn’t look as if the silver foot will be coming out of Perkinson’s mouth anytime soon. He recently described Vermont Gubernatorial Candidate and Senator Randy Brock as “…a failure as auditor, has failed to distinguish himself as a state senator, and will fail in his bid for governor.” Then again, that seems to be Perkinson’s style. Perkinson recently hired Jason Stanford, a Texas based consultant, to conduct opposition research on Brock. Stanford focuses on negative campaigning. Stanford’s slogan was “Sure, we serve Republicans. Would you like them skewered, roasted or deep-fried?” Jake Perkinson has said negative campaigns are important to Vermont. And he would be the expert.