Hillary Clinton appears to have clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. But in a speech last Thursday, Bernie Sanders called on his supporters to take his political revolution to the local level. And the founders of a new political action committee in Vermont say they intend to do just that.
Sanders’ supporters say the political movement he’s sparked will outlast his campaign and the founders of Vermont’s newest political action committee are now working to harness the energy generated by his bid.
“We’re directly answering Bernie Sanders’ call to bring the political revolution to the state and local level,” says Scott Garren.
Garren is the treasurer of the Vermont Political Revolution Fund, which, as its name suggests, will try to advance the progressive planks of the Sanders platform.
Garren says the new PAC will try to use the small-ball fundraising strategy that Sanders employed at the federal level to bankroll progressive candidates locally.
“I think our broad focus on the political revolution, economic and social justice, really is unique in the state of Vermont anyway,” Garren says.
The PAC will serve as the electioneering arm of a group called Rights and Democracy, and its board members will formally endorse a slate of candidates to support in 2016 House and Senate races.
James Haslam, executive director of Rights and Democracy, says the organization will look to advance at the state level some of the touchstones of Sanders’ presidential platform, like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and “moving forward with a universal health care system.”
With so many powerful incumbents leaving office, Haslam says 2016 is a watershed year politically. He says that the new PAC may also try to insinuate itself in statewide races.
“We’re going to have a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new speaker of the House, a new president of the Senate,” Haslam says.
Steve Hingtgen, a former Burlington representative who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as a Progressive in 2006, says it’s an open question whether Sanders' supporters can create the organizational infrastructure that will be needed to advance their agenda in meaningful ways.
“We are talking about a very difficult step that we have not yet achieved in Vermont,” says Hingtgen, who serves a board member on Rights and Democracy and the Political Revolution Fund.
Hingtgen, however, says he thinks people are ready to coalesce around the breadth of economic justice issues Sanders has brought to the political fore. And he says the Political Revolution Fund will provide a framework in which that can happen.
“We should stop chasing the one person – the governor or whoever it is – that’s going to change this. And we really need to look at building the power at a more grassroots level so we can assert that pressure over and over and over again,” Hingtgen says.
The Political Revolution Fund is using questionnaires and in-person interviews to determine which candidates will get its support. The group will announce its first slate of candidate endorsements at a “Political Revolution Party” at Higher Ground in Burlington on June 23.