BENNINGTON — A political mailing blaming state Sen. Brian Campion for poverty in Bennington, and calling on voters, in prose and poetry, to cast a ballot for anyone but him, has provoked an angry response from Campion, fellow state Sen. Dick Sears and a number of district voters.
Campion fired back Friday, saying the mailer was “desperate” and reflected the wing of the Vermont GOP loyal to President Donald Trump. “In 10 years in politics,” he said, “I’ve never seen this kind of lashing out or hatred.”
“These aren’t Vermont values. Vermont values are debating issues respectfully and thoughtfully,” Campion said. “This is Donald Trump politics, and I don’t think it’s going to work. I think people are going to see right through it.”
“I don’t believe this is from the Phil Scott-Joe Benning wing of the Republican Party. It’s clearly from the wing that is strongly supporting Donald Trump,” Sears added.
Sears, D-Bennington, a state senator since 1992, also said he had never seen the like in his political career — and that includes the ugliness that surfaced following the passage of the civil union law in 2000.
The mailing, which says in the return address that it was paid for by the Vermont Republican Party, proclaims that “winter is coming” and that county residents will be facing “heat or eat” decisions as a result of bills Campion helped pass. “Because of Brian Campion, it will be colder for blue collar families,” it proclaims.
On the back is a poem painting a Dickensian portrait of life in Bennington, where politicians “play with fire” while families and children shiver and starve. “No jobs, no love, no path to aim higher / Save for tin foil, tiny spoons, and a light,” it concludes in an apparent allusion to heroin use.
While the mailing asks voters to vote for anyone but Campion, it doesn’t at all mention Republican candidates for the district’s two seats, Meg Hansen of Manchester and Mike Hall of Sunderland, or independent candidate Kevin Hoyt of Bennington (who is also running for governor).
On Sunday, Vermont Republican Party Executive Director Deb Billado, reached on social media, confirmed that the state party’s involvement.
“Yes, the state party paid for and approved the mailer,” Billado said via Facebook messenger. She said she would not available Sunday for additional questions.
“It’s just a cheap shot. I don’t know what they’re getting at, to be honest,” Campion said, pointing out that he and Sears have worked on behalf of lower and middle-income county residents. “I think it’s a desperate shot and that’s in part why it doesn’t make any sense.”
Sears thinks it’s an attempt to convince voters to not vote for Sears and Campion as a team. The two are campaigning jointly, as they have in past elections.
Hansen, a communications consultant and health care advocate who finished second in a run for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor this past summer, said she had nothing to do with the mailing.
“No we did not,” Hansen said by email when asked if she was involved in the creation of the mailer or the decision to send it.
“We have sent out a few mailers and created a considerable amount of online content, all of which reflect my personal ethos and by extension that of our campaign,” Hansen said. I haven’t seen physical copies of these pamphlets, but it doesn’t seem like the materials are about me.”
Asked if she thought it might hurt her cause, Hansen said “That decision lies solely in the hands of the electorate. I have always asked to be judged on my competence, record of community service, and how I intend to lift up Vermonters.”
Hall was unaware of the mailer until asked about it by a reporter. Having seen it, he did not agree with its tone. He said if he’d contributed to a mailing, it would have focused on his differences with Sears on criminal justice legislation.
“Do I agree with this content and tone? I don’t agree with the fact that they approved the Global Warming Solutions Act, but certainly I don’t think anybody’s going to starve because of it,” Hall said Saturday. “I don’t think it reflects [Gov.] Phil Scott’s call for civility and politics. I think it just goes a little bit too far with that. But then again, I did not put it out. I don’t have any control over what other people do.”
Campion said he’d heard from “about 100” supporters Thursday and Friday who saw the mailing and emailed, texted or called to lend their support.
“People know who I am. I don’t see this kind of Trump-style stuff working here,” Campion said. “It hurts our opponents more than it hurts us.”
State Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, had also not seen the mailing as of Friday. But she had heard about it.
“In 13 campaigns I never have, nor would I ever, use negative ad campaigning. That doesn’t benefit anyone,” Morrissey said. “I believe you talk about what you can bring to the table.”
In letters to the editor, Banner readers were sharply critical of the mailing.
“What a sad day for Vermont conservatives, to be so shabbily represented,” said Amelia Silver of Pownal.
“I have a great deal of respect for the people who serve in state and local government in Vermont, regardless of their political stripe, and none of them should be subject to this type of shallow and hateful personal attack,” added Jim Sullivan of Bennington, the executive director of the Bennington County Regional Commission.