Where Manly Men Hold Sway

Typical meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board (Artist’s Rendering)

Here’s another thing that won’t change until Phil Scott isn’t governor anymore: The state Fish & Wildlife Board is chock-full of hunters, almost all of them men.

Scott recently appointed three new people to the 14-member board (one member from each county). All three were hunters. All three were men. The makeup of the board: 11 men, three women.

Generally speaking, Scott has done a very good job of appointing women to top positions in his administration. But apparently that notion of equity doesn’t apply to deer camp.

The Board’s gender imbalance is concerning; surely there are more than three qualified women in Vermont. But more concerning from a policy viewpoint is the administration’s clear preference for loading the Board with hunters. As if they are the only ones whose opinions matter.

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Inquisition Approves Study of Bastinado Reform

The killing of George Floyd, like the Sandy Hook shootings, were once seen as inflection points. So outrageous they were, that serious criminal justice reform seemed inevitable.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Cough, choke, heave.

On the day of yet another school shooting, we’ve got two stories from here in Vermont that depict, in stark terms, the fading (or faded, if you’re feeling especially doomy, which I am) hopes for real change.

First, we have a depressing VTDigger roundup of this year’s legislative “action” on justice-related bills. Worthy ideas were either consigned to the recycling bin, stripped of all import, or vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.

Second, we have another spin of the Law Enforcement Merry-Go-Round, as Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling moves on to a much more lucrative position at UVM and his deputy (and former interim Burlington polilce chief) Jennifer Morrison steps in as interim.

I knew this hadn’t been a good year for justice-related legislation, but I hadn’t realized just how bad it was until I read the Digger story. Or as James Lyall, head of the Vermont ACLU, put it, a “long list” of police and justice bills “were either gutted or just defeated outright.”

All followed the well-established pattern. A reform bill is introduced, and the hordes of blue shirts immediately pounce. They are one of the most listened-to lobbies in Montpelier, and they usually get their way. They did, bigly, in 2022.

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Maybe, Considering the Circumstances, They Just Prefer to be Anonymous

Team Nolan (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

On May 20, VTDigger’s Lola Duffort graced our #vtpoli feeds with an “it’d be funny if it wasn’t true” story about Christina Nolan’s campaign team. Or lack thereof.

Nolan’s campaign doesn’t list a contact person. It hasn’t identified any staffers. It communicates with the media through an anonymous email account with no phone number. The only name officially on board the Nolan Doomcruiser is former governor Jim Douglas, who’s serving as “campaign chair.” Otherwise, nada.

A perusal of her latest campaign finance filing shows no trace of paid staff. Lots of big checks for consultancies, including $16,000 to political sea lamprey Jay Shepard, but no actual campaign team. Which is sad, really, for someone hoping to compete with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s near-universal name recognition and nearly bottomless war chest.

But when you take a look at Nolan’s tone-deaf Twitter feed, the explanation is obvious: Nobody wants to take “credit” for this catastrophe-in-the-making.

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This Needed to Happen

Landmark moment in Vermont journalism: VTDigger founder Anne Galloway is stepping out of her leadership role and back into reporting. Her new title, editor-at-large, seems to offer her a great deal of freedom to work on big projects. You know, the kind of stuff that goes undone amidst the daily bustle of shoestring journalism.

Something like this needed to happen. It should have happened years ago, but I’m more than a little surprised it happened at all. It takes a rare clarity of vision to realize that the organization you brought into being has outgrown you.

VTDigger would not exist without Galloway’s dogged determination, without her burning the morning-to-midnight oil and probably risking her health, mental and otherwise. As it slowly grew, its internal structure didn’t develop accordingly. That’s because Galloway was still working as if she was head of a tiny, struggling startup. She was chief editor. She was the head of the entire enterprise. She was the public face of VTDigger. And, when she felt the call, she dove back into the foxhole of reporting.

It was too much for any person, and it inhibited Digger’s growth into a sustainable institution with a consistent management structure. Now it seems that that push has finally come to shove, and Galloway had to choose which role/s she wanted to keep and which she was willing to let go of.

Necessary disclosure: I worked for Galloway for a few months in 2020. She fired me under dubious circumstances. But I haven’t changed my view of VTDigger as an organization. I saw it the same way before I signed on, while I worked there, and after my defenestration. Before, during and after, it was an organization in need of transition with a leader who was deeply ambivalent about letting it happen.

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This Is Your Time

There is a serious shortage of political talent in Vermont this year. It’s a consequence of an historic turnover in statewide offices and the Legislature. Lots and lots of campaigns, all with a variety of roles to fill. Some paid, mostly volunteer.

So. If you want to make your voice heard, this is your time. Got a candidate you like? Get in touch with them and ask what you can do. Perform well, and you’ll earn the candidate’s trust. You’ll be part of their team.

Right now is the best time to step forward. Many legislative districts are heavily Democratic or Republican (and in a few cases, Progressive). In those places, the key contest is the August primary. If there’s a competitive primary in a strongly blue or red district, get in there and work for the candidate you prefer. You’ll be in on the ground floor. You’ll get to know likeminded people. You’ll feel like you have a stake, an influence, in our politics.

“Feel” nothing; you will have influence.

It doesn’t take much. A few hours a week will be a godsend.

You may be wondering if you have any applicable skills. Believe me, you do.

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Christina Nolan, Fake Abortion Rights Advocate

As befits a politician aspiring to the image of moderate Republicanism, U.S. Senate candidate Christina Nolan has given a carefully circumscribed statement of support for abortion rights.

And it’s as worthless as a bank note from the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

I’m not accusing her of lying. Although a look at her background might suggest otherwise. She was raised in a devout Catholic family; she attended Rice Memorial High School; her grandparents were publicly anti-abortion; and one of her aunts is Mary Beerworth, the longtime head and public face of Vermont Right to Life. None of those facts can be found in any of her campaign literature, because of course they can’t.

But hey, for all I know she might be the family outcast, what with her “alternative lifestyle” and all.

Whether she’s welcome at holiday dinners or not, she opposes Proposition 5, the amendment that would enshrine reproductive freedom in Vermont’s Constitution, using language and reasoning borrowed from the anti-abortion crowd. They realize that direct opposition is a nonstarter in Vermont, so instead they raise bogus concerns about Prop 5 being overly broad, subject to misinterpretation, and potentially allowing abortion right up to the moment of birth. Nolan reportedly views Prop 5 as “extreme” but shies away from specifics. When asked where she would draw the line, all she can offer is “Vermonters need to have this conversation.”

That’s one level of uselessness. The other is the potential consequences of her entirely hypothetical election to the U.S. Senate.

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Molly Gray, Campaign Finance Hypocrite

👏👏👏👏👏 to Seven Days’ Sasha Goldstein for doing what few reporters have bothered to do: He took a deep dive into Congressional candidates’ campaign finance reports. Those filings are more than a month old, but as he discovered, there was still plenty of meat on them old bones. Let him serve as an example to us all.

What did he find? Turns out Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has a f-ton of D.C. lobbyist money behind her campaign for Congress.

I don’t begrudge her raising money wherever she can. Running in a competitive primary for Congress is an expensive proposition, and I don’t really think she’ll be at the beck and call of big-money interests any more than St. Peter Welch has been. He’s taken loads of money from lobbyists and corporate interests. And we know he’s not compromised.

Don’t we?

Anyway. Gray is cashing in on her D.C. connections and her very real ties to the Welch/Pat Leahy orbit. Fine. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale has received max contributions from quite a few AAPI donors, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint has the support of LGBTQ+ contributors and organizations.

They’ve all got their affinity groups. Gray’s happens to be D.C. insiders. But the trouble starts when this recipient of Beltway Bucks attempts to claim the moral high ground on campaign finance. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on, or a pickup truck to ride in.

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“Decrease the Surplus Population”

I hadn’t realized that Our Political Masters were Malthusians, but the current iteration of Covid policy would argue otherwise. They’ve thrown in the towel on limiting the spread of the virus, relying solely on vaccines, testing and treatment.

Meanwhile, SARS-COV-2 is spinning out vax-resistant variants at an alarming, and accelerating, clip. And it seems like every day we hear more bad news about long Covid, which nobody in government seems to care about.

I haven’t written about Covid in a while because (a) it’s too depressing, (b) new developments have been coming along too quickly to keep up with, and (c) this ain’t just the Scott administration anymore. The Biden administration’s policy is at least as Malthusian as Scott’s, maybe a little more. But today is the day the Vermont Health Department is posting its last daily Covid update. It’s switching to a weekly “syndromic surveillance report” that takes some effort to interpret. Those big bold inconvenient daily numbers for cases, hospitalizations, deaths and positivity rate? If they can’t make ’em look good, they’ll make ’em go away.

That may seem harsh, but the daily data is still being collected. It’s just not being posted in a high-profile space. The Health Department says so itself on its soon-to-be-shuttered Covid Dashboard: “COVID-19 data sets will still be accessible through the Vermont Open Geodata Portal, including case counts, hospitalizations, deaths, PCR testing and more.” The Department sees enough value in the daily numbers to keep track of them. They’re just hiding them better.

Is it a pure coincidence that this is happening one day after Gov. Phil Scott announced he’s runing for re-election? Running, to the extent he can be bothered to run at all, on his assertion that we’ve beaten the pandemic? And hey look, VTDigger is helping! They’ve discontinued their homepage front-and-center Covid updates!

I guess the pandemic is over. Right?

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Do Our Lawmakers Deserve a Living Wage?

Legislator’s Salary (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

Amidst the continuing deluge of departures from the Vermont Legislature, a handful describe a troubling pattern. Two of our youngest state senators, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, are not seeking re-election. Toss in Rep. Tim Briglin, the very accomplished chair of the House Energy & Technology Committee, and it once again looks like the Statehouse is purely a country for old folks.

As Briglin told VTDigger, “You gotta have a job. And I think that, you know, for somebody in their 20s and 30s and 40s, that’s even more excruciating.”

We pay our lawmakers a pittance. That’s a powerful disincentive for anyone short of retirement age. I’ve heard this over and over again from younger lawmakers: When they enter the Legislature, the clock starts ticking. If they’re not moving up the political ladder within a few years, they start looking for the exit. And it’s all about financial stability. Many of those people, very promising public servants, eventually moved on. This year we’re losing more of them.

Briglin and Parent each have two kids. Terenzini has four. Raising kids is expensive, even if you don’t factor in building a college fund. It also helps if you’re actually around the house after work instead of living in a Montpelier rental four nights a week. The Legislature, with its long hours and minuscule pay ($743 per week in session and nothing the rest of the year) doesn’t qualify.

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” We’re barely paying at all.

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Hey Wow, the VDP Did Something Right for a Change

Less than a month ago, after Claire Cummings’s departure as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, I wrote that the party was at a crossroads and had to think long and hard about its recent administrative failures. Regarding the qualities needed in the next ED, I wrote “I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee.”

Well, glory be, mirabile dictu, heavens to Murgatroyd, they hired that guy!

They did something right? The Vermont Democratic Party?

So it would seem.

The new ED, hired as an interim in order to bypass a lengthy search process, is Jim Dandeneau, lobbyist for Primmer Piper and former VDP staffer. He ran the Dems’ very successful 2018 House campaign and was a staffer on Sue Minter’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, which looks better in retrospect than it did at the time. Before coming to Vermont, Dandeneau spent 15 years in New York politics, a much bigger and more shark-infested political pool. The oft-fraught internal dynamics of the VDP are not going to phase him in the least.

In short, he’s got the goods. His hiring is a sign that VDP leadership realizes how badly they’ve been screwing up, and how much they need a swift kick in the organizational ass. Dandeneau is capable of delivering that kick, and it seems like the party is ready to take it. That’s a very positive sign. He and new party chair Anne Lezak should make a powerful team.

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