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September 12, 2013

Lindley Facing Likely Challenge for Leadership of Vermont GOP

LindleyIf he runs for reelection this fall, Vermont Republican Party chairman Jack Lindley can expect a battle.

According to several top GOPers, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and his merry band of moderate Republicans have been beating the bushes in recent months to drum up a challenger to Lindley (Pictured at right)

"I think we need a change," Scott says, before dropping the inevitable stock-car metaphor. "It's nothing against Jack. I think he's tried to do the best he can, but it's almost like a change in crew chiefs on a racing team or a change in coaches or managers on a baseball team. Sometimes you need to change things up to get better results."

So who might challenge Lindley?

"There's a few people that have shown some interest, and I don't think we've decided right now," Scott says. "But obviously I think there are a number of people who would like to see some changes in the party, so we're hoping to have a candidate."

Among the names Seven Days has heard bandied about are Chittenden County Republican Party chairman Jeff Bartley, former Chittenden representative Jim Eckhardt, former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland and 2012 Franklin County state senate candidate Joe Sinagra.

And what about Lindley? Will he seek a full two-year term when the party's state committee meets this November? (Lindley took over from former state representative Pat McDonald in February 2012 after she resigned the post for personal reasons.)

"I get an awful lot of phone calls about that, but it's just too early at this point in time to make any decisions," Lindley says. "No final decisions have been made one way or the other."

The infighting between the Scott and Lindley camps is nothing new.

As the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld reported back in April, the LG and his allies have been wrestling for control of the party since Lindley presided over tough losses in the 2012 election. Team Scott sees Lindley as a tone-deaf parrot of the national GOP, while Lindley has referred to Scott and other moderates as "Democrat-lite."

The problem for Scott is that nobody really wants to run the party.

"It's not easy, to be honest," the LG says of the candidate recruitment process. "It's a position that takes a great deal of work and without a lot of reward, I think, so it's hard to find people."

BartleyOf the rumored candidates, Bartley's name comes up the most in Republican circles. A MyWebGrocer marketing analyst and Colchester resident, the 28-year-old has dabbled in Vermont politics for several years. He says he's considering running, but has "not really reached a decision."

"I'm one of a number of names that have been talked to," he says. "I haven't really committed to anything. It's obviously a big change in lifestyle, and I'm talking it over with my wife. Nothing's for sure."

Bartley says that, were he to run, it would be "less about not being happy with Jack Lindley and more about trying to take the party in a different direction."

But a Bartley candidacy would come with some baggage, as Lindley himself noted.

"He's got a speckled past. Last I knew, he was in court down in Rutland County," Lindley said of his potential challenger. "He was suing a Republican senate candidate over something."

That's a reference to Bartley's long-running lawsuit against 2010 Republican senate candidate Len Britton, who lost a bid to unseat Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Bartley served briefly as the candidate's campaign manager and later claimed Britton reneged on $30,000 in pay.

In 2006, Seven Days' Peter Freyne discovered Bartley was behind a supposedly nonpartisan campaign blog created to discredit then-senate candidate Bernie Sanders. At the time, he was working for the campaign of Republican senate candidate Richard Tarrant.

Bartley says the Britton lawsuit was a legitimate contractual dispute that has "nothing to do with Republican politics or the Republican Party." And he chalks up the blogging incident to the youthful indiscretion of a "naive" 20-year-old seeking to please his new boss.

Both Scott and Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) praised Bartley's leadership of the Chittenden County GOP, though they emphasized that they have yet to endorse a candidate.

"I've worked with him on a number of things and I've been impressed by what he's doing," Scheuermann said of Bartley. "He's trying to rebuild the Chittenden County Republican Party right now and doing a really good job."

Sinagra, the 2012 state senate candidate, says he hasn't "closed the door" on a bid for the chairmanship.

"I haven't decided to run — and I haven't decided not to run," Sinagra says. "I think the Republican Party's at a crossroads... We need to make some changes and I definitely, like a lot of other Republicans, have a lot of ideas about some of those changes that need to be made."

A former lobbyist for and executive director of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Vermont, the St. Albans Town resident now works for Myers Container Service.

Whether or not he runs, Sinagra says Lindley should move on.

"Jack's a good man and did the right things for the party, but I think it's time we have some new blood and some new, fresh ideas," he says.

But not everybody wants to see Lindley go. Defending the incumbent is party treasurer Mark Snelling, who had the same role in gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock's 2012 campaign and ran for lieutenant governor against Scott in 2010.

"I think Jack has done an excellent job," Snelling says. "I think he has the skill and experience to help rebuild the party going forward. I think he is a big-tent guy and really wants to welcome anyone who shares the common core principles of personal freedom and responsibility."

Eckhardt and Sunderland, Lindley's other potential challengers, didn't immediately return calls for comment Thursday.

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