Education Agency Presses a Political Hot Button

The Vermont Agency of Education has announced the establishment of a Family Engagement Council, an advisory body to be appointed by Secretary Dan French.

One could see this as a benign move, or even overdue. The problem is, “family engagement” has become a buzzword for conservatives angry about critical race theory or LGBTQ+ issues or Black Lives Matter. To establish such a body at this particular moment should set off some alarm bells. At the very least, we should watch closely the formation of this council.

Plus, neither French nor his boss have inspired confidence. Gov Phil Scott openly supports a statewide voucher program that would funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools and home schoolers. Scott hasn’t actively pursued the idea because he knows it’s DOA in the Legislature. French, meanwhile, came to the Agency from the Canaan school district, one of the most conservative in the state. It was the only district that never instituted a mask mandate, even during the worst days of the pandemic. And during French’s tenure,

Applications are being accepted until December 18. Who can apply? “The council will consist of between 10 to 15 parents, guardians and family members of students enrolled in Vermont schools.”

Note the last phrase: “…enrolled in Vermont schools.”

Not public schools. Any school, public or private.

Continue reading

And Everybody Said “Amen”

This is the arena-rock wannabe stage presentation of the Ignite Church, the conservative Evangelical church in Williston that’s a key player in efforts to build a right-wing Christian movement in Vermont. No crosses, no evidence of religion at all, just a big attention-grabbing display with slick lighting, a band, and a dudebro minister preaching the Word.

Ignite is the hub of conservative Evangelicalism in Chittenden County. It hosted far-right poster boy Charlie Kirk’s 2021 appearance in Burlington. It sponsored a talk by Eric Metaxas, a prominent Evangelical who believes the 2020 election was stolen and getting the Covid-19 vaccine is a bad idea. Last January, Ignite hosted an event called “Faith, Hope, Health COVID Summit,” which featured a number of Covid denialists. This coming Sunday, they’ll welcome Christian “influencer” Lily Kate, an associate of Kirk’s in his Turning Point USA organization. She’ll be talking about “reclaiming Biblical masculinity and femininity.” In a brief video promo on the big screen, she talked of how “Christian circles have been bought out by radical feminism.”

Now, I have no idea who Lily Kate is, but she’s a celebrity in the shadow world of Evangelical culture. I say “shadow world” because it’s pretty much invisible outside the conservative Christian orbit.

But we need to be aware of this world because it wields a tremendous amount of weight in conservative circles. And it’s not content with saving souls — tit wants to remake America in its image.

Not all Evangelicals are in this camp. There are many thoughtful Evangelicals who think the Christian flirtation with fringe politics is not just a bad idea, it’s actively counter to the essence of the faith. But the fringies have the numbers and they’re causing the trouble.

To get an idea of what Ignite is peddling, I watched its almost two-hour service from Sunday, November 13, archived on YouTube. What I saw was an attempt to bring all the bells and whistles of the 21st Century megachurch movement to the Burlington suburbs. The service consisted almost entirely of contemporary, middle-of-the-road worship music and the constant presence of senior pastor Todd Callahan. The cameras never showed more than a sliver of the seating area, so it was hard to gauge how big the room is and how many people were in attendance.

November 13, you may remember, was the first Sunday after Election Day, which was a huge disappointment for the Christian right generally and in Vermont especially. They did, after all, get mollywhopped on the reproductive rights amendment, and most of their candidates were losers. (Ignite staffer Rohan St. Marthe finished in last place in his bid for state Senate.)

Continue reading

Congratulations to the Progressive Party on its Hostile Takeover of Vermont Politics

There seems to be a popular delusion among Republicans in these parts, even the non-fringey types. In the words of outgoing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann,

…the Progressives have taken over the VT Democratic Party.

This same belief was expressed a few months ago by VTGOP Chair Paul Dame, when he compared the Progressive Party to a parasitic horsehair worm that had taken over the Democratic Party from within.

Outgoing Sen. Joe Benning said much the same thing in his post-election post-mortem: “Ideologues in the Democratic/Progressive supermajority,” he wrote, are driving policy that “runs counter to Vermont traditions and fiscal capacity.” At least he put the Democrats first, but still he’s conflating the Dems and the Progs in a way that’s far from the truth. The two parties sing from different hymnals on many of our most contentious issues, and the Dems always sit in the right-hand pew. Top Democrats are fond of styling themselves as small-P progressives, but they are definitely not the capital-P kind. Not at all.

Continue reading

Do We Really Need County Sheriffs?

The aggravating case of John Grismore may be an outlier, but it’s only one of many problems and scandals involving county sheriffs. So much so, that it makes you wonder if the office itself is worth all the trouble.

Grismore is the sheriff-elect of Franklin County, a fact only explicable by the fact that most voters have no idea what they’re doing when they choose a sheriff. Or side judge, for that matter.

Grismore has had quite the year. He was a captain in the FCSD who won the endorsement of outgoing sheriff Roger Langevin. That was enough to scare off any other potential candidates. Then, two days before the primary election, he was caught on security camera kicking a suspect in custody multiple times (in the groin at least twice) while the man was shackled to a bench.

Then, before the assault became public knowledge, Grismore won the Republican and Democratic primaries. Nine days after the primary, Langevin announced that Grismore had been fired, and also rescinded his endorsement. The leaders of both county party committees said they considered Grismore unfit to serve.

Even after all that, Grismore won the November election against two write-in candidates. Now, Franklin County lawmakers are considering impeachment, but that seems unlikely because it’s a time-consuming process and many lawmakers don’t like going out on a limb. So this guy will apparently be sheriff for four long years despite the fact that the county state’s attorney is preparing a Brady letter branding Grismore as an unreliable witness.

Continue reading

Joe Benning Peeks Over the Parapet and Is Met with a Volley of Arrows

Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.

But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.

Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.

Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)

And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.

Continue reading

The State Senate Approaches a Demographic Tipping Point

Seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the Vermont Senate to undergo a demographic shift. Every two years there’s been talk of a retirement wave, but it never materializes. Senators consider stepping aside, then realize they’re indispensable. (They’re not.) And the voters rarely eject an incumbent except in cases of overt criminality (Norm McAllister) or advanced senescence (Bill Doyle).

The shift has been painfully incremental until this year, when almost one-third of all senators decided to bow out. The nine incomers are younger, five of them are women, and one is a person of color: Nader Hashim joins Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Randy Brock as the three non-white members of the upper chamber.

(The tiny Republican caucus managed to get older and no less male. Its two youngest members, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, will be replaced by a couple of old white men.)

Got more numbers to plow through, but here’s the bottom line. The Senate is on the verge of a historic shift, but it’s happening in slow motion. We might reach the tipping point in two years’ time. We’re not quite there yet.

There are still plenty of tenured members in positions of power. They account for most of the committee chairs. But only — “only” — eight of the 30 senators will be 70 or older. At least 13 will be under 65, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in the Senate it definitely is.

The incoming Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Baruth, straddles the age divide. He’s only — “only” — 60. But he’s entering his sixth two-year term, so he’s familiar with the Senate and the elders are comfortable enough with him to make him their leader. As a senator he’s been a strong policy advocate unafraid to ruffle feathers, but as Pro Tem he’ll know he can’t push his caucus too far too fast.

There are the preliminiaries. Now let’s dive in.

Continue reading

The Dangerous Drift of Vermont’s Health Care System

When he was governor, Peter Shumlin made a big push on health care reform. It didn’t end well for reform or for Shumlin. Since then, the system has become less functional and more expensive but there’s been no appetite for another push.

With one major exception, and that’s OneCare Vermont. It has soldiered on in its effort to rein in health care costs by paying providers for outcomes rather than treatment. It has spent a tremendous amount of money, but so far there’s not much evidence of impact.

That’s troubling, and it’s more so when you read VTDigger’s piece about the latest Green Mountain Care Board meeting. Beyond that, there’s a broader critique of our health care system in a recent series of essays by journalist and health care policy analyst Hamilton Davis. Taken together, it looks like a huge sector of our economy (upon which our physical and financial well-being depends) is drifting along with a bunch of people who call themselves “Captain” staying as far away from the helm as they can.

The Digger article makes the leaders of OneCare look like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The GMCB, especially its new members, were asking questions that shouldn’t have been tough to answer. For instance, do you have any evidence that your system is working? Can you point to measurable results in terms of cost savings or improved outcomes?

OneCare leaders seemed to be taken aback by this line of questioning.

Continue reading

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor

Just taking a brief pause in the post-election flow of japery and badinage to remind you of the “Donate” option on this here website. I’m not going to be pushy, I’m not going to build a paywall or charge for “premium content” as if I could call this “premium content” without laughing at the kind of presumption I can’t stand in our political betters.

There are many ways you can spend whatever discretionary income our oligarchy-driven economy trickles down to you. There are worthier causes and more urgent needs. But if you appreciate this blog and you’d like to tangibilize your appreciation, hit that Donate button. Make a one-time donation or set up a recurring contribution.

I’d like to thank all the people who have already done so. It means a lot to me and my tolerant spouse. Thanks also to the larger group of people who think this outpost is worthy of their time and attention.

That’s all. Thus Endeth The Lesson. Let’s get back to the politics.

The Great Emergency Housing Post-Election Newsdump

A curious thing happened one week after Election Day. The Scott administration, after much delay, released its rules for this winter’s emergency housing program. This is the thing that puts shelterless people in available motel rooms at state expense. .

The rules appear designed to minimize cost by putting strict limits on the program and giving the state plenty of reasons to reject applicants.

Hmm. The governor was running against Brenda Siegel, best known for her 2021 Statehouse protest over emergency housing… and his officials didn’t issue these rules until she was safely out of the way. The timing is too convenient to believe it was pure coincidence.

The delay does have consequences. These rules came out just as the program was opening for business. Recipients and administrators have had no time to digest them. It’s especially bad since we’ve slammed headlong into the first winter storm of the season.

Continue reading

The Governor Gets a Little Post-Election Workout

Phil Scott didn’t exactly sweat out Campaign 2022. He did spend Election Eve barrelling around the state, touching down in all 14 counties, as is his wont. But before then, it was more like The Campaign That Wasn’t. So I guess it’s no surprise that he needed to flex his muscle after the election with a brisk session of punching a straw man.

His post-election message, “Vermonters Called for Balance and We All Need to Listen,” is classic Phil Scott from beginning to end. He starts with a Reaganesque appeal to our own well-developed self-regard. Referring to that Election Eve tour, he wrote “This 500+ mile tour has a way to put things into perspective. It reinforces how beautiful our state is and how much it has to offer.”

Having established his sunny view of Vermont, he identified one thing we have to do better on. No, it’s not the opioid crisis. It’s not climate change. It’s not universal health care or paid family leave. It’s all about economic opportunity, which is a distinctly Republican view of human fulfillment.

Continue reading