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November 07, 2013

As Vermont Republicans Squabble Over Leadership, Lindley Exits Race for Chairman

LindleyCiting a desire to focus on his health, Vermont Republican Party chairman Jack Lindley announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection to his leadership post. The GOP party boss has been recovering from an unspecified illness since September.

"My time and energy is best spent working on building my strength and fully recovering," Lindley (pictured at right) told fellow Republicans in an emailed statement, which was first reported by the Vermont Press Bureau's Neal Goswami.

Lindley, who has led the party since February 2012, urged his fellow party members to elect former senatorial candidate John MacGovern as party chairman when the Vermont GOP meets this weekend in Montpelier. MacGovern is facing off against former Rutland state representative David Sunderland, the preferred pick of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

MacGovern, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last November, said Thursday he was "deeply moved and honored" to earn Lindley's support. 

"We should not be ashamed of our values," MacGovern said in an emailed statement. "Our ideas, of a smaller, more limited government with more personal freedom and individual liberty and responsibility are winning ideas."

Lindley's decision appears to put to an end months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between his supporters and Scott's as they sought to reconcile competing visions for the party. As chairman, Lindley has struck a more combative tone than Scott, who portrays himself as a moderate conciliator. Lindley has closely allied himself with the Republican National Committee, while Scott has occasionally stood behind Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, in whose cabinet he serves.

According to several Republicans involved in the negotiations, Lindley and his allies have been seeking to retain at least a foothold in the party's leadership ranks, but Scott has resisted the entreaties. Party treasurer Mark Snelling, a Lindley supporter, says he and the chairman were hoping to forge a "unity coalition" including representatives of all the party's disparate factions.

"[Lindley] had a great fighting desire to stand up for himself, stand up for the party — and that kept him in the race until [Wednesday]," Snelling says. "I would tell you that he was very helpful and very active in working to bring together a 'unity coalition,' if you will, knowing that probably the best thing for his health was not to do this."

One slate pushed by Snelling included installing Charlotte attorney Brady Toensing as party chairman and Sunderland as vice chairman. Toensing is a close ally of former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie. He made headlines this summer when he represented an East Montpelier neighbor of Gov. Peter Shumlin's in a politically damaging land dispute.

But Scott and his allies stuck behind Sunderland, an engineer at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The LG's slate includes Sunderland as chairman, Toensing as vice chairman, current vice chairwoman Deb Bucknam of St. Johnsbury as treasurer and Jackie Barnett of Barre as secretary. 

"This leadership team is, I think, the strongest leadership team we've put forward for a long time, and I think we have some real leadership opportunities with them," says Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe), a close ally of Scott's.

In his email, Lindley said he also backs Toensing as vice chairman and Barnett as secretary, but favors MacGovern as chairman and Snelling as treasurer.

According to Snelling, negotiations broke down, in part, because Scott's faction insisted upon Snelling leaving the party's leadership. Scott defeated Snelling in the 2010 Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

"It just appeared to me that Phil Scott was being vengeful about, 'Hey, we ran against each other in a primary three years ago,'" Snelling says. "Throwing people out doesn't bring unity."

Snelling says he opposes what he sees as an effort by Scott to pack the party's leadership ranks with those who will remain loyal to the LG.

"He's made clear he wants a very heavy, direct and clear control over the party," Snelling says. "He wants to make it the 'Party of Phil' versus the Republican Party. And I think the 'Party of Phil' is a bad idea."

Scott declined to address the issue, but Scheuermann called Snelling's comments "silly" and "childish."

"This isn't about Phil," she says. "This is about what's good for the party and where we want to go."

Sunderland agrees.

"I think we need to move beyond the negative connotations and the negative rhetoric and start looking forward with a renewed optimism as a party, with words and tone that unite us and bring us together," he says.

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