BY ANDREW JEROME
BRANDON — Last Saturday, under steady rain, the much publicized ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ rally brought a bit over 100 folks to Brandon’s Central Park to lodge their voices of dissent against President Joe Biden and to listen to Vermont’s new GOP state party chair Paul Dame.
Dame was the principle organizer and sole speaker of the event, as well as a former resident of Brandon. Dame had called the rally under the repugnant “Let’s Go Brandon” slogan.
The phrase originated following NASCAR driver Brandon Brown’s Oct. 2 victory at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. While NBC reporter Kelli Stavast interviewed Brown after the race, the crowd chanted “F… Joe Biden.”
“You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s Go Brandon,’” Stavast said, misquoting the fans and sparking the tongue-in-cheek slogan.
Addressing the national implication of the day’s phrase, Dame, brought the crowd’s attention to Washington.
“We’re going to be honest about how things have been going lately under President Biden,” he said. “We’re seeing huge inflation. People’s Thanksgivings are going to be more expensive than they were before. We’ve got supply chain issues.”
Dame highlighted four specific policies he hoped Vermont Republicans would rally behind.
Advocating for “a full repeal of the military pension tax,” Dame noted that Vermont is one of only three states that taxes 100% of military pensions.
On education, Dame stressed expanding daycare and early education opportunities to allow parents to return to the workforce.
Nodding to issues of public school curricula currently captivating American political discourse, Dame said that “parents have a right to know and to decide what their kids should learn. And while it might be impractical to have parents designing curriculum, they should at least be able to decide which school suits their children’s needs.”
In order to address the state’s housing crisis, Dame proposed reforms to the Act 250 process. “The unpredictability, the expensive process: It’s made it difficult for developers to build starter homes. And the review process makes it harder to get large, efficient units built as well.”
Many Vermont Republicans, however, have chastised Dame for bringing such partisan, and ugly politics into the state, and Gov. Phil Scott issued a statement refusing to attend the rally.
Dame had initially said any money raised by the rally would be given to the local food shelf, but that group said ahead of the rally that they would refuse any contribution by a partisan political group.
A BRIGHTER SIDE
Hours before Dame’s small group showed up, a group of local residents arrived at the Central Park’s Gazebo to hold a day-long Brandon Pride Event out of the rain.
Spearheaded by Brandon resident Josh Collier, the group stayed throughout the entire day. Accepting meal and monetary donations for the Vermont Foodbank, music was played, merchandise was sold, with all proceeds going directly to the Foodbank.
Collier criticized Dame’s use of the slogan as it co-opted the town’s good name with a political and nasty reference. Collier denied that their rally was a counter to the GOP’s gather because, he said, “You have to believe that the principle rally is worthy of any sort of opposition.” Collier added that he was there to celebrate the town and the diversity he believed residents were eager to embrace.
As the official beginning of the Let’s Go Brandon rally approached at 3:30 pm, supporters wore apparel of former president Trump, waved a variety of flags, and signs with slogans such as “Defund Socialism.” Clothing and road signs emblazoned with “Let’s Go Brandon,” the state of Vermont, and the local symbol of the otter, the school’s mascot, were detailed on each and sold at the event.
Beginning his speech at 4 p.m. in the midst of torrential rain, Dame spoke for 20 minutes. As the Brandon Pride event increased the volume of their music, Dame criticized the group, accusing them of using the gazebo and mocking the GOP rally attendants with their booming music. The GOP crowd soon broke into chanting the slogan, “Let’s Go Brandon,” but it didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of those under the gazebo.
With the weather conditions deteriorating and the rally dispersing, Brandon Pride announced that it had just reached over $1,000 dollars raised for the Vermont Foodbank. The GOP didn’t announce any contributions they raised or to whom it might be given.
Note: Ethan Weinstein, of VtDigger, contributed to this report.