Where Are The Ashes Of Yesteryear?

Objects In The Mirror May Be Fuzzier Than They Appear

The following was written in 2003. I’d ask you to guess the author, but I’ve already given away that game.

I should be a Democrat. From Massachusetts, mother a teacher and father a civil servant, family of Kennedy-philes… I’ve got a long life of political activism ahead of me. My loyalties are to ideas and not a party, so if my energies are not going to the Dems, they’ll be going somewhere else.

… Younger people like myself can understand the importance of getting the message to different types of voters. But we also understand the nature of a chameleon, and we don’t want to vote for a leaf and elect a reptile.

That’s a short excerpt from “Letter from a Democratic Party Pooper, and it was indeed penned by Young Tim Ashe, progressive firebrand. The letter was included in Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, written in 2003 by the future governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. (This tidbit came to my attention courtesy of urban archeologist and Twitter buddy Ed Adrian.)

In the letter, Ashe bemoans the Democratic Party’s habit of tacking to the center. He certainly sounds like a former Bernie Sanders staffer and future Progressive Party officeholder. He doesn’t sound much like Ashe the Senate President Pro Tem, who’s known for cosseting the chamber’s old guard, a cadre of change-averse centrists.

So. Which Tim Ashe is running for lieutenant governor?

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The Mississippi Oopsie

Gov. Phil Scott called it a “shortcoming.” I’d put it in the realm of “humanitarian disaster.” He said “we should have pressed harder.” I’d say his administration failed to press at all.

To be fair, Scott’s comments came yesterday, when there were *only* 85 known positive Covid-19 tests among Vermont’s 219 inmates housed in a for-profit Mississippi prison. Today that total jumped to 147.

So maybe now he’d rephrase his remarks. And maybe now his Susan Collins-style disappointment will spark some real action. Maybe some heads will roll.

But I doubt it. That’s not his style. After all, he gave no thought to replacing Melissa Jackson as head of the Vermont Veterans’ Home after she traveled to Washington, D.C. to give Congressional testimony in person (when she could have done it via Zoom) and then, upon returning to Bennington, spent five hours in her office before going into self-quarantine.

Jackson called it “poor judgment” instead of the more appropriate “dereliction of professional responsibility.” And Scott’s comms chief Rebecca Kelley issued a statement saying “the governor is not sure it warrants her removal but certainly deserves additional discussion.”

Yeah, let’s have additional discussion. Maybe appoint a committee or something. Or just express concern and move on. Nothing to see here, folks.

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On (Whining About) The Media

In my almost-a-decade following #vtpoli, one of the recurring themes is how losing candidates carp about media coverage. If only the press had taken me seriously… if only they’d done an expose of my opponent… if only they’d focused on ideas instead of the horse race… if only.

You mostly hear it from marginal types, including just about any Republican not named “Phil Scott” running for statewide office, ideological extremists, or Vermin Supreme-style perpetual candidates.

The latest entry in this parade is Brenda Siegel, doughty Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. She’s gone so far as to call a press conference for Wednesday morning “to discuss the frontline communities and forgotten voices that have continually been marginalized in recent elections across the country, including the current Vermont Lt. Governor’s race.”

I’ll bet you a shiny new dime that she’ll point to herself as one of those “forgotten voices that havbe continually been marginalized.” It’s true that campaign coverage has mainly focused on the supposed front-runners, Molly Gray and Tim Ashe. And lately, has focused on attacks, counterattacks and fundraising rather than issues.

As a progressive policy advocate and single mom, Siegel comes from a decidedly unconventional background. And yes, that means she doesn’t get taken as seriously as Ashe, a veteran pol, or Gray, a newcomer who’s wowed the Democratic establishment. This, despite Siegel’s decent showing in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, where she finished third in a weak field.

Does she have a point? Well, kinda. But mostly no.

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Finally, those stupid Travel Maps are good for something

Useless Travel Map, June 30 edition

I have previously railed against the state’s Travel Map, which is supposed to let out-of-state visitors know whether they can enter Vermont without self-quarantining. Roll the tape, please.

C’mon, now. Do you really expect out-of-staters to look up and obey this map? Which, by the way, changes weekly — so don’t pre-plan a visit for two or three weeks from now, because your county might turn yellow or red.

That was just one of multiple objections to the map. But finally, I’ve found a way in which it’s legitimately useful: it quantifies our collective feeling of dread.

Looking at multiple maps in sequence shows how the virus is spreading, and illustrates exactly why Gov. Phil Scott finally imposed a mask mandate. The map above was released on June 30; here’s the July 10 version.

As a reminder, each area is a county. “Green” counties have low Covid rates, so their residents can travel to Vermont without restriction. But on July 11, there was already a lot more yellow and red, and a lot less green, than on June 30.

Now here’s the latest version, released on July 31.

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Aside From the Pandemic, It’s a Great Time to be Phil Scott

The last pre-primary campaign finance reports are in, and the big winner is… yep… Your Governor, Phil Scott.

Not that he raised much money. In fact, he raised so little that it’s clear he feels no urgency whatsoever. (Of course, he’s spending minimal time campaigning as long as the pandemic still hovers, but c’mon, if he had to raise money he’d find ways to do it.)

The latest fundraising reports cover the month of July, basically. During that time, Scott raised a mere $19,000 — bringing his campaign total to $99,000. (Numbers of more than four figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.) Even more telling is how much money he spent: A measly $1,133 for the entire month.

(Interesting entry in Scott’s “Expenses” column: $218.44 in fees to ActBlue. Which means the Democrats’ number-one online fundraising tool is serving as a conduit for Phil Scott?)

Scott is not afraid of John Klar. He’s not afraid of Rebecca Holcombe or David Zuckerman. He’s not afraid, period.

The other gubernatorial reports reinforce Scott’s apparent bulletproofness. Whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to emerge with little or no money in the bank, and the national Democratic donors aren’t coming to the rescue.

After the jump: The Dems’ respective hauls and the race for Lite-Guv.

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And the Non-Participation Trophy Goes To… [UPDATED]

Mollee Gray, who has voted in Vermont elections almost as often as Molly Gray

Wow, Seven Days really dropped a turd in the Molly Gray punchbowl, didn’t they?

The story by Colin Flanders, the most can’t-miss piece of political journalism so far this season, provided a ton of insight into how Gray came (seemingly) out of nowhere to dominate the inside game in the race for lieutenant governor. But in terms of the piece’s political impact, Flanders definitely buried the lede.

The part that has Democratic tongues wagging can be found (by dedicated readers) all the way down in paragraph 27. That’s where Flanders reveals that Gray didn’t cast a ballot in a Vermont election between 2008 and 2018.

(Update. Turns out this wasn’t the scoop I thought it was. On July 21, VTDigger’s Grace Elletson posted a profile piece that reported Gray’s voting record. In all their infinite wisdom, she and her editors consigned this tidbit to paragraph 32. But still, she had it first. Also, I didn’t go into it at the time, but the other revelatory aspect of Flanders’ piece was the through exploration of Gray’s family connections. That went a long way to explaining her rapid political rise. Elletson got into some of this, but not nearly as deeply or clearly as Flanders.)

Now, if Gray missed one or two votes, that could be written off as the preoccupation of a busy young professional. But ten years between votes? That’s a dereliction of a citizen’s duty unbecoming in one who would occupy one of Vermont’s highest political perches. Gray expressed regret for missing so many elections, especially the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “It’s something that I’ve learned from,” she said.

Lamely.

One thing I know for sure: None of the other Democratic LG candidates bothered to do any opposition research. I mean, this didn’t require a deep dive — just basic political prudence. And although oppo research has a bad name, it’s a legitimate aspect of politics. If a candidate, especially one so little-known, has any skeletons in the closet, the voters should know. Hell, Gray’s own campaign should have known about this. All those smart people who signed onto her candidacy should have known about it.

And considering that voting records are, well, public records, I’m surprised it took this long for a reporter to look into Gray’s nonparticipation. But it’s been, for journalists, a seriously compressed campaign season. Coronavirus dominated their work from mid-March on, and the Legislature’s extended session took up the rest of the oxygen.

Lucky break for Gray, who may well have dodged this potentially fatal bullet.

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Don’t buy any green bananas

Is anyone feeling confident right now?

You shouldn’t.

Vermont has been spared the worst of the pandemic so far. But even so, we’re dealing with constant uncertainty — and a financial calamity that’s just beginning to be felt.

And every day we’re one step closer to the fall, when coronavirus is likely to hit even harder.

Where do I even begin? Education seems the best place. Educators at all levels, not to mention parents, are furiously trying to develop plans that are subject to change on a moment’s notice. This week, Gov. Phil Scott identified September 8 as the first day of school — but that could mean in-person, online, or most likely a mix of the two. Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine sought to reassure the public that, as Levine put it, “In Vermont, this is the right time to open schools.”

Of course, in the same press conference, Education Secretary Dan French conceded that “This is uncharted territory that acknowledges a considerable amount of uncertainty and anxiety.”

This came a few days after Brigid Nease, superintendent of the Harwood Union Unified School District, posted a letter to her community outlining all the uncertainties and obstacles facing her staff. It’s worth reading, but what struck me was the complete lack of confidence that, even if it was safe to open schools, there may not be enough staff.

Letters of resignation, requests for leaves of absence, Family Medical Leave (FMLA), Emergency Family Medical Leave (EFML), Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL), Exemption status, and leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) (Which provides up to 12 weeks of leave for employees unable to work because their child’s school is closed) are coming in.

The truth is most school employees are scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker.

Meanwhile, on the higher education front, colleges and universities are constantly fiddling with their reopening plans — all of which seem to be based on crossed fingers and an unfounded faith in the self-restraint of college students.

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Scott Milne, Nonviable Republican

“He squints inquisitively when he speaks and has an easy crooked smile.”

I dunno, I’ve never found crooked smiles all that beguiling.

Time to saddle up. Apparently I have to revisit the undistinguished electoral career of Scott Milne, now that he’s been dubbed “a viable Republican” by the wise heads at VTDigger in a profile that shows him in the best possible light and ignores all his defects and shortcomings.

Starting with the idea that his performance in the 2014 gubernatorial election proves his statewide viability — so much so that his absolute drubbing by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2016 somehow provides more evidence of his political magnetism.

It’s certainly true that Milne was given no shot at beating then-incumbent governor Peter Shumlin. His loss by a mere two thousand-odd votes was a shock to the #vtpoli world, this blogger included. But 2014 was no ordinary year. Shumlin had squandered all his political goodwill on his doomed venture into health care reform, and an ill-conceived land deal with a neighbor had reinforced a view of Shumlin as a shifty opportunist.

Compare 2014 with 2012. That year, Randy Brock was thoroughly trounced by Shumlin. Brock received 110,970 votes.

Two years later, Milne pulled his magician act, taking Shumlin to the limit. Milne’s vote total: 87,075 votes.

Shumlin, meanwhile, lost almost half his support. He earned 170,767 votes in 2012 — but only 89,509 in 2014. Shumlin had lost his mojo, and Milne was the lucky beneficiary. If the Republicans had nominated a halfway decent candidate, Shumlin would have been shitcanned.

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The Lord Chancellor Storms the Castle

This is, as I tweeted the other day, the most hilarious development of the #vtpoli season. Tim Ashe, who rose to the position of Senate President Pro Tem by making nice with the chamber’s most entrenched senior members, is now presenting himself as the outsider in the race for lieutenant governor, The Man Of The People not beholden to “the political elite.”

Does he mean elites such as Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, who serves as the Ashe campaign’s treasurer? Or Senate Finance Chair Ann Cummings, now in her 23rd year in office and so immune from challenge that she hardly bothers to campaign at all?

Look, here they are now.

I sense the distinctive odor of flop sweat.

Ashe, who seemed like the obvious odds-on favorite to succeed David Zuckerman as lieutenant governor, has recast himself as Mr. Outside because he’s in danger of being Wally Pipped by a young woman who had precisely zero profile in Statehouse circles a mere six months ago.

It has to have been quite galling for him to watch Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray rack up endorsement after endorsement from top Vermont Democrats, and follow it up with a truly impressive fundraising performance that has left Ashe in the financial dust.

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Black Lives Matter, Except When They Don’t, and Even When They Do They’re Pretty Damn Cheap

Hey, remember when the good folks of Montpelier painted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in front of the Statehouse, and they got really upset when a guy committed a minor (and easily expunged) act of vandalism on it?

Well, the state of Vermont effectively obliterated the entire thing — with the spilled blood of a Black man. And the promise that “BLACK LIVES MATTER” will remain a well-meaning myth as long as Kenneth Johnson’s life can end so cheaply. And as long as Shamel Alexander gets a measly $30,000 in recompense for his wrongful arrest, conviction and imprisonment by the justice system of our fair state.

Johnson died last December while in custody at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. According to a report from Vermont’s Defender General Matthew Valerio, Johnson’s death was the slow, painful result of negligence by medical and prison staff.

Valerio’s report, which you can find at the link to Seven Days’ website above, provides more than adequate grounds for termination and criminal prosecution of multiple unnamed staffers. Valerio outlines a case of homicide by professional negligence that’s appalling and inexcusable.

And an example of Your Tax Dollars At Work.

I don’t know what’s the worst part of this. To begin with, Johnson was in prison awaiting trial. He faced some truly heinous charges, but he hadn’t been convicted. He still wound up with a death sentence, thanks to your public servants and their designees. His medical care was botched from the get-go; he had a throat tumor obstructing his airway that could have been treated, but instead he was thought to have a cold or some other minor ailment. His pleadings for care fell on deaf ears.

From the report: “Security video showed Mr. Johnson in various stages of agony. He died after hours of struggling to breathe while nearby nurses did nothing to help… One [nurse] claimed she did not perform adequate checks [on Johnson] ‘because he was so fidgety.'”

Let’s hope this nurse quickly becomes an ex-nurse. She seems more constitutionally suited to a less vital profession, like maybe convenience store cashier or DMV clerk.

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