Checking in on the new guy

So, how’s it goin’ down Phil Scott way?

For starters, he still hasn’t decided what he means by his core budgeting principle, that he would oppose any state budget that grows faster than wages or the state economy. April B. McCullum of the Burlington Free Press:

Scott has yet to settle on the formula he will use to measure the economy and limit state spending: Tax revenue? Gross state product? Median household income? Some combination?

Just a reminder, we’re almosttot the halfway mark between his election and his inauguration. And there’s some holidays between now and then.

Which also applies to naming a cabinet and staffing an entire administration, where he continues to fall further and further behind the pace set by Peter Shumlin in 2010, and which he’s apparently in no hurry to do. Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau:

Since winning the governor’s office on Nov. 8, Scott, a Republican, has appointed four people to serve on his staff. But top-level cabinet positions remain unfilled. Six years ago, outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin named several such appointees within a couple of weeks of his election.

… “When you have hundreds, literally hundreds of applications, it takes a little time and I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I want to make sure that we fully, fully take a look at their backgrounds, what they could bring to the table … and talent is very, very important,” Scott said.

Good to know talent is important. I was hoping the next cabinet wouldn’t feature Larry, Darryl and Darryl.

And the idea of open auditions for cabinet posts is certainly small-D democratic at its core, but wouldn’t it make sense for an incoming governor to have a few ideas going in? Maybe have a small team do some pre-election planning, even?

If they’re truly starting from scratch with piles and piles of applications, well, sheesh. I’ve never been elected governor of anything (although I am the captain of my kitchen), but I’d have a pretty good notion of the people I’d want at the top levels of my hypothetical administration.

Oh, and here’s a little tidbit that somebody might have thought to mention before Election Day, courtesy April B.

Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, claimed this week that his administration already “righted the ship,” and that during his tenure the state budget grew less than the growth in Vermont’s gross state product.

An analysis by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office showed state spending exceeded gains in Vermont’s gross domestic product in fiscal years 2012-14, but in recent years state spending has grown more slowly than the economy.

Well, gee whillikers, what do you know. State spending grew in the wake of a killer recession and Tropical Storm Irene, and was then brought under control in Shumlin’s final two years.

Which means what? Phil Scott’s mantra about the reckless spending increases of the past six years was nothing more than a politically motivated piece of accounting fakery?

Er, yeah.

How about that.

If that had ever been mentioned before now, I missed it. (And I’m sure whoever reported it will promptly correct me.)

(And I’ll ask them why they never fact-checked Candidate Scott on his alleged factoid.

In any case, one of these days Phil Scott will have to stop running for governor and start actually, y’know, governing.

The Great Gouamba strikes again

“… when [the natives] have been condemned to eat nothing but vegetable food for several weeks, [they] have a positive craving for meat, and will do anything to procure it.

“This craving after animal food sometimes becomes almost a disease. It is known by the name of Gouamba, and attacks both white and black men alike. …Those who suffer from it become positive wild beasts at the sight of meat, which they devour with an eagerness that is horrible to witness.”

(From John George Wood, Natural History of Man, 1874)

This particular brand of madness came to my attention in the writings of the great A.J. Liebling, who diagnosed a case of Gouamba in the overwrought media coverage of a 1946 meat shortage blamed on postwar price controls.

Alas, a virulent strain of the Gouamba has overtaken Republicans nationwide and here in Vermont. Their hunger is not for steak, but for scandal in our electoral system. During the campaign, there were frequent press releases from the Vermont Republican Party alleging some kind of skulduggery and/or fecklessness by the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos, none of which had the slightest hint of merit.

This week, the Gouamba-besotted VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley made a spectacle of himself at the site of an election recount. Indeed, according to VTDigger’s Jasper Craven, Young Jeff was so obnoxious that he was forcibly ejected from the premises.

Elsewhere, noted Gouamba-carrier Vermont Watchdog has yet another evidence-free “story” about security flaws in Vermont’s absentee balloting system. More in a moment, but first let us return to Mr. Bartley.

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Winning the Speakership was the easy part

Congratulations to Mitzi Johnson, the apparent successor to Shap Smith as Speaker of the House. She pipped House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas at the post. And although her selection must be ratified by the Democratic caucus and then the full House, there’s no real doubt that she will win.

Johnson is whip-smart and highly capable. She was skillful at managing the House Appropriations Committee, which is a hell of a trick.

As for being Speaker, well, she’s about to discover how different and how difficult that job is.

Shap Smith made it look effortless, but there was constant furious activity below the waterline. He also enjoyed the support of an informal cadre of loyal House members who helped him keep tabs on the ebb and flow of lawmaking and the interpersonal dynamics that must be managed effectively if the House is to function. In that regard, a capable inner circle is just as important as the actual caucus leadership.

Johnson won’t have that. She may or may not realize the importance of having that. But the House is a somewhat random gathering of 150 willful souls with 150 agendas. And by “agendas,” i don’t mean policy; I mean unique admixtures of principle, practicality, intellect (or lack thereof), knowledge (or lack thereof), curiosity (or lack thereof), debts payable and receivable, and ludicrously overdeveloped senses of self-preservation..

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The Chittenden Trap

One of the top items on the Vermont Democratic Party’s to-do list is a makeover of its relationship with the Progressive Party. Nothing drastic, just some overdue maintenance. The core issue: how to deal with Progs running as Dems — and, in some cases, running as Dems and then re-entering the fray as Progs after losing a Democratic primary.

But I would argue that another issue might be more urgent: the party’s increasingly Chittenden-centric orientation.

Writing this post was in the works before today’s news that Rep. Mitzi Johnson has edged out Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas to be the next Speaker of the House. Now, it seems even more pertinent. The leaders of both houses will come from Chittenden County’s sphere of influence: Johnson from South Hero (basically a bedroom community for Burlington), Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe from Chittenden County. And the three members of the Senate’s Committee on Committees all being from Chittenden.

When I say “Chittenden County,” I define it broadly; from the southern half of the Champlain Islands down to Shelburne at least, and southwestward to Richmond if not Waterbury.

Chittenden County itself accounts for one-fourth of Vermont’s population. Its Senate delegation is twice as large as the next biggest county — and in fact, based purely on population, it ought to have one more Senator. (And will certainly get at least one more after the 2020 Census.)

Beyond the mere numbers, Chittenden is home turf for the Democratic Party’s urban-ish, tech-oriented core. And its donor base.

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“But I’m not that kind of Republican”

Every time I talk with a Vermont Republican (which is happening more frequently now, by design), I hear a variation on the same tune: “I’m not that kind of Republican.” Meaning, I’m not like those extreme conservatives on the national level; I’m a moderate, Vermont kind of partisan.

Well, maybe, but what do they mean by that?

It seems to be roughly this: they don’t share national Republicans’ extreme views on social issues, which is a no-brainer; espousing the creeds of the Christian Right is a sure loser in Vermont. They don’t deserve much credit for tolerance on reproductive rights or marriage equality.

Things get fuzzier when it comes to fiscal issues.

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Low-hanging fruit? Check.

Governor-elect Phil Scott’s first round of appointments came on Thanksgiving Eve. And honestly, the announcement was a touch underwhelming.

Nothing against the four appointees. But c’mon, three members of his transition team and the sole staffer in the Lieutenant Governor’s office? Did it really take three weeks to pluck the lowest-hanging fruit?

Would it be churlish of me to point out that in November 2010, Peter Shumlin had his inner circle in place less than ten days after the election, and had begun to fill out his cabinet by this point? Perhaps, but compared to the last Governor-elect, Phil Scott’s off to a slow start.

(Irony Alert: When Shumlin took office, he made it clear that the single focus of his administration wouild be job creation. It’s deja vu all over again, just like last time.)

Also, it’d be reassuring to see at least one appointee who’s not a member of The Usual Suspects.

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Four anti-wind activists ran for the House. They went 0-for-4.

The one-sided votes in Grafton and Windham against the Stiles Brook project were victories for the anti-wind movement. But there were some setbacks that call into question the movement’s political sway.

Four prominent opponents of ridgeline wind were candidates for the State House this year. None were elected.

Each race was different, and generalizing form a small sample size is a mug’s game. But there are a couple of inferences that strike me as valid.

1. The anti-wind movement is not strong enough to have a measurable impact on elections. The results support the movement’s image as noisy and dedicated, but numerically small. There aren’t many voters who are motivated by the issue.

2. The movement is hamstrung by its own political divisions. There are anti-wind activists in all three of Vermont’s major parties*. Two of the four losing candidates ran as Democrats; the other two as Republicans.

*Liberty Union may be a Major Party by Vermont’s very generous legal standard, but it is not a “major party” by any objective measure.

So now, let’s review the four anti-wind losers.

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