BRATTLEBORO — A pair of veteran lawmakers are coming under attack by a national organization whose top 10 contributors include the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Altria, Wal-Mart and Koch Industries.
According to the Vermont Secretary of State's Office, the Republican State Leadership Committee is spending cash on ads aimed to unseat 22 Democratic legislators from the Vermont State House, including Mike Mrowicki, of Puntey, and David Deen, of Westminster.
"I'm honored that my values and beliefs would be seen by the Koch Brothers as in such opposition to theirs, that they'll spend this kind of money to try and defeat me," Mrowicki told the Reformer. "I trust Vermont voters will send a loud message to the Koch Brothers, et al, on election day."
According to the Secretary of State's Office, the RSLC is spending $50,000 on online advertising in its attempt to defeat the 22 legislators. Those advertisements include the website ShumlinLegacy.com, and popups on third-party websites such as the Boston Globe.
"The Republican State Leadership Committee will not defeat me or Mike or any of their other targeted House members because they misunderstand Vermont," Deen told the Reformer. "Here in Vermont, elections are not about the people as much as about the ideas of protecting the young, the elderly, the environment and the equality of all our citizens. In spite of how base the agenda of the RSLC, they are welcome to spend as much money as they want in Vermont though."
Mrowicki said he believes he and Deen are being targeted in particular because of their support for universal background checks for those who would like to purchase firearms.
"In 1988, David was running for re-election after being elected to the Vermont Senate. Two weeks before the election, the National Rifle Association launched a media blitz against David, as he had submitted a bill requiring universal background checks.
Deen and Mrowicki now serve in Vermont's House of Representatives. They are being challenged by Ed Cutler, a co-founder of Gun Owners of Vermont, who lives in Westminster, and Bonnie Depino, of Westminster West. She is the wife of the vice president of Gun Owners of Vermont
In June, Cutler told the Reformer he co-founded Gun Owners of Vermont in 1997 because of "changes in the Legislature." Gun Owners of Vermont prides itself as being an organization "committed to a no-compromise position on firearms ownership rights."
"Vermont is the safest state in the country, lowest murder rate, lowest violent crime rate, with people in the State House who want to confiscate all types of firearms," Cutler told the Reformer in June.
Cutler led the opposition to Vermont legislation that banned the sale of ivory, claiming the legislation was a back-door attempt at gun control because it banned lead bullets for hunting. The legislation was sponsored by Deen and Rep. James McCullough, of Williston, who is also being targeted by the RSLC, and presented by Mrowicki.
Mrowicki told the Reformer in June the legislation was passed to protect children from lead paint in the environment, and has nothing to do with the lead in bullets.
ShumlinLegacy.com attempts to link the legislators to Shumlin, which the website claims "isn't just taking away local control, he is taking more money from your paychecks. In the last year alone, Governor Shumlin has approved over $207 million in tax increases, meaning that a family of four will need to send $1,325 more to Montpelier this year than it did last year. These tax increases and other regulatory burdens are devastating the economy of the Green Mountain state."
Even though Shumlin is not seeking re-election, notes ShumlinLegacy.com, "the Democrat legislators who stood behind him have to answer for his legacy. Because of the Shumlin Democrats' reckless choices, too many people especially young workers, have no other choice than to leave Vermont. While Peter Shumlin might be done serving Vermont, the problems he's leaving need to be cleaned up by the Legislature."
Despite the ads being run by the RSLC, Mrowicki said he and Deen plan to submit a bill requiring universal background checks during the 2017 legislative session, which is dependent upon them retaining their seats in the Legislature.
"We are expecting a media blitz against us, and even more money being dumped into Vermont in the last two weeks of the campaign season," said Mrowicki. "We've seen this in the past and when outside money like this comes in it usually backfires. I expect the same will be true this election."
Deen noted that this past weekend, during the Source to Sea's annual river cleanup, sponsored by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, he was approached by a couple from France at the covered bridge in Dummerston. Deen, who is a river steward with the CRWC, was told by the couple that they were astounded by the Vermont countryside and the people and their attitudes about themselves and visitors to the state.
"Now us political types can get all puffed up about what 'we have done,'" Deen told the Reformer, "but when you hear someone visiting Vermont for the first time go on the way they did about their experience here, you understand that together we are on the right track here in Vermont."
"Nothing surprises me anymore," said Shumlin, who told the Reformer he has not seen ShumlinLegacy.com "I don't have much patience for big-money, out-of-state Republicans posting garbage on the web."
Shumlin said the legacy of his administration and the Legislature that worked with him over the past six years, including adding 18,000 new jobs, having the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the nation and balancing six consecutive budgets without raising the sales, income or rooms and meals taxes.
"And Vermont is a great state to live in and raise a family," he said.
Shumlin said that legislators such as Deen and Mrowicki have contributed to the state's success.
"Windham County is a long way from Montpelier, but David Deen was the leader in passing the toughest clean water bill in the state, which will help clean up Lake Champlain and the rest of the state's waterways. And Mike Mrowicki is more passionate than anyone about fighting for low-income Vermonters who have been getting kicked in the teeth during these economic times. I believe Vermonters will reward them with an overwhelming landslide in November."
Shumlin said one just needs to look at states that are being run into the ground by Republican governors and Republican legislatures to understand how well Vermont has fared since the Wall Street crash.
"Vermont's Democratic party reflects the values of Vermonters — inclusive, caring and decent. We want to take care of our neighbors while we grow the economy and balance the budget. Contrast that with some other places where they are turning their backs on refugees, burning coal and oil, couldn't care less about early childhood intervention and refuse to invest in roads, bridges and schools."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top 10 donors to the RSLC include: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $3,162,790; Reynolds American, $1,547,631; the Las Vegas Sands, $1,150,750; Blue Cross/Blue Shield, $1,010,409; Altria Group, $731,023; Devon Energy, $650,000; the Rent Stabilization Association of New York, $600,000; Wal-Mart Stores, $464,887; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, $432,156; and Koch Industries, $389,835.
The other legislators listed by the Secretary of State's Office as being targeted by the RSLC include John Scott Rodgers, Robert A. Starr, Mark MacDonald, Diane Lanpher, David Sharpe, Steven E. Berry, Cynthia Browning, Catherine Beattie Toll, Jim McCullough, Terry Macaig, George Till, Ann Pugh, Jim Condon, Mitzi Johnson, Mark Woodward, Avram Patt, Samuel Robert Young, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and John Bartholomew.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.