Monthly Archives: June 2014

The strange case of the missing memoir

May 29, 2012: a night that will live in blandness.

Then-WCAX anchor Kristin Carlson sits down with former Governor Jim Douglas for a friendly  interview about the ex-Guv’s autobiography, which was said to be on its way to the printer. Release date: fall 2012. And, as Carlson said in her intro,

During his four terms as Governor, Jim Douglas was seen as a leader who carefully guarded what he said publicly. But now, he’s opening up about his time as Governor and his nearly four decades in elective office.

“Opening up,” heh? This oughta be good.

What follows, of course, is anything BUT good. In fact, it was a textbook display of that signature Jim Douglas combination of blandness and insufferability.

The classic dead-eyed Jim Douglas "smile"

The classic dead-eyed Jim Douglas “smile”

The ex-Guv hints that “there will definitely be some surprises.” And then absolutely refuses to even hint at a single solitary surprise. Sample colloquy:

Douglas: “… the stories I haven’t had a chance to tell.”

Carlson: “Such as?”

Douglas: “Well, you’ll have to wait, Kristin. but I’ll, I’ll have some stories.”

When pressed, Douglas offered a vague list of subjects, “even the press.” He hinted that his book would chronicle the failings of the Vermont media.

What failings?

“Well, I think you’ll have to wait and see what I write.”

Carlson made one more try, asking about one of the book’s alleged themes: “How a Republican can win in Vermont.” Any hints?

“Well, I’ll get into more detail, obviously, in my memoirs…”

Well, thank you, Governor Douglas, for saying absolutely nothing about the topic of this interview. And thank you for wasting our viewers’ time.

Carlson was too much of a pro to vent her annoyance. But Christ on a cracker, that was a thoroughly painful six minutes. The word that came to mind unbidden was “jackhole.” Jim Douglas deigned to grace Channel 3’s airwaves with his presence, and damn it, his presence is all they’re gonna get.

This trip down Memory Lane was prompted by an inquiry from fellow Green Mountain Daily stalwart “BP,” who emailed the group asking whatever became of the Douglas memoir.

The answer? Nothing, apparently. There’s no hint of any publicity after that brief May 2012 outburst. There’s no hint of a Douglas autobiography appearing anytime since, nor any inklings of a pending publication.

There was a book published in 2011, before the WCAX interview, entitled “The Douglas Years: Dedicated to the People of Vermont.” It’s currently ranked #2,523,904 on’s sales chart. But I seriously doubt this is the purported memoir. For one thing, there’s the date discrepancy.

But mainly, “The Douglas Years” is mighty thin gruel, even by Douglas’ standards. It’s a little over 200 pages long. More than half of that is taken up with photographs and transcriptions of Douglas speeches. As for the content, it’s a painfully dry (even by Douglas’ standards) recitation of issues that faced Vermont during his Administration and how they were dealt with. It reads as though it was written by committee.

(No, I haven’t bought the book; I’ve just thumbed through it using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The Table of Contents alone nearly put me into a coma.)

So I have to conclude that the Great Jim Douglas Autobiography is, after more than two years, missing in action. Did Douglas balk, like a spooked showhorse, when he came face-to-face with putting those closely-guarded stories in print? Did his publisher take one look at the manuscript and judge it unreadably stiff and boring?

I’ve put out a few inquiries via email and to my tens of Twitter followers; so far, no responses. I’ll update if I hear anything.


Holy moly, are Dick Mazza’s knickers in a twist

Crossposted at Green Mountain Daily.

Apparently the race for Lieutenant Governor won’t entirely be the Prog/Dem kumbaya sing that seemed likely when Governor Shumlin endorsed Progressive Dean Corren. Because here comes Dick Mazza, putative Democrat and close friend of Phil Scott, pissing in the communal punchbowl.  Peter “Mr. Microphone” Hirschfeld:

Among Corren’s Democratic detractors is state Sen. Dick Mazza, a political power broker from Grand Isle who will attempt to use his sway to thwart Corren’s bid for the nomination.

… After Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin expressed support for Corren’s candidacy last week, Mazza says he was flooded with calls from angry pro-Scott Democrats. The result is a newly sprouted coalition of Democrats that Mazza says will work hard to deliver Scott to a third term.

Mazza is talking about an active organization to raise money for Scott and even write him in on the Democratic primary ballot.

Which would be an absolute disgrace.

I detect two strains of thought behind Democrats’ prospective betrayal. First, and relatively understandable, is that some moderate Dems would feel more ideologically at home with Phil Scott than Dean Corren. I can accept that.

What I can’t stomach is the other thing: that some Dems just hate the thought of supporting a Prog, even if there’s broad agreement on the issues.

Look, I realize I’m not a member of this Mutual Aggravation Society that some Dems and some Progs are part of. Because of past slights, real or imagined, they just can’t stand the other guys. A couple years ago a local Democrat wrote a letter to the Times Argus complaining that Shumlin had had the gall to appoint a Progressive to some state commission, and that this Dem would never again vote for Shumlin.

That kind of attitude astounds me.

Maybe if I were part of the long history of the Dem/Prog competitive coexistence I’d get it. But in this day and age, when the two parties work closely together on many issues — and many campaigns — it seems remarkably retrograde. Which is as good an adjective as any to describe Dick Mazza, Senator For Life and Friend Of Phil.


All right, who asked Tommy One-Note for an encore?

It’s been awhile since Tom Pelham, self-proclaimed prophet of fiscal restraint, graced us with one of his interchangeable opinion pieces. But here he comes again, with yet another screed on Vermont’s impending financial doom.

Hey, you keep repeating it, it’s gotta be right sometime, no?

The latest installment, entitled “Inevitable Consequences,” is all about the same stuff as every other Tom Pelham wheeze: the state is on the edge of the abyss because we (by which he means profligate Democrats) are spending beyond our means.

Republicans have, of course, been singing this identical tune for several years now. We are still waiting for the cataclysm to arrive. But hey, they keep repeating it, they’ve gotta be right sometime, no?

Tommy One-Note begins with his one and only guiding principle of governance: “sustainable spending requires that growth in government spending reasonably equate to growth in the underlying economy.” Which is an absurdly dogmatic approach to government, or anything else. But more on that later.

He cites an array of statistics in support of his case that Vermont’s population is stagnant, while public sector spending continues to grow. He sees the gap growing wider and wider until it becomes an unbridgeable chasm.

And you’ll never guess what his solution is.

That’s right, Challenges for Change, the discredited Douglas Administration initiative for which Tom Pelham is the sole remaining cheerleader. There’s good reason for that: Challenges for Change was a bust. 

Before he became Governor, Peter Shumlin was a notable proponent of CFC, touting it as “a great success.” But when he was actually running the joint, he discovered that CFC was a hollow shell, whose projected savings “may not likely be realized.” CFC had fallen far short of its goal in FY 2011, and there was no evidence it would suddenly kick into gear.

“It was a big disappointment and a failure,” Sen. Vince Illuzzi, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development said last week. “We would have saved time and money if we had simply trimmed all departments’ budgets by 2 to 3 percent.”

And a top House Republican, Patti Komline, called CFC “smoke and mirrors” and “a dismal failure.”

In short, the abandonment of CFC was not, as Pelham claims, due to a lack of fiscal restraint by governing liberals; it was a bipartisan dismissal of a failed experiment. And yet, Pelham still clings to those savings estimates that had lost credibility among virtually everyone not named Tom Pelham.

That’s not the end of Pelham’s myopic approach to budgeting. He says that state spending has risen in spite of a shrinking workforce and a sluggish economic recovery. His reasoning includes the  unstated assumption that, if the state had spent less money, the Vermont economy would have performed exactly the same.

Which is nonsense. Many states fell into the trap of cutting spending in mid-recession, and were rewarded with even slower growth in jobs, production, and tax revenue. Pelham appears to believe that the “extra” money spent by Shumlin & Co. might as well have been tossed into a bonfire — when, in fact, public-sector spending has a beneficial impact on the economy. Just about every state program — transportation, human services, education, corrections, etc., etc. — puts money into the economy. The Keynesian approach mandates accelerated spending in bad economic times, in order to get the engine going at full speed again.

Also, many areas of public sector spending make our economy stronger, and our people safer, healthier, and better educated. That equals progress. And most of those investments would never be made by the private sector. If government doesn’t act, shit don’t get done. Within his own definition of fiscal restraint, Governor Shumlin is making wise investments in clean energy, education, and other areas that will strengthen Vermont in the future.

I’m certainly not saying we should waste money. Indeed, as a liberal, I feel strongly that the public sector should operate as efficiently as possible. And in fact, far from completely abandoning Challenges for Change, the Shumlin Administration has used some of its principles and process in writing budgets and managing the government. Which is another Pelhamian fallacy: some of the relatively meager savings promised in CFC have, in fact, been realized.

It’s just that the Governor has chosen not to bank the savings, but rather to invest them in Vermont’s people and economy. That’s why the financial doomsday predicted by Pelham and others has stubbornly refused to materialize: if Shumlin’s policies work, the economy will improve and revenues will increase. It’s worked very well so far, to the tune of a historically low unemployment rate and an economy that weathered the Great Recession far better than most.

In short, what I’m saying is, Tom Pelham can shut up now. He is wrong, and no amount of repetition will make him less wrong.

The Great July 3rd Bottled Water Brouhaha, a.k.a. Men Behaving Badly

Okay, so there’s a tempest in a water bottle here in Montpelier. For years, the local Boy Scouts have sold water at the city’s Independence Day parade. The Scouts have also done a lot of cleanup work after the parade. But this year, no Scouts.

It began with the Scouts’ request for a vendor permit appearing on Council’s consent agenda, a list of noncontroversial items requiring no debate. Well, Councilor Thierry Guerlain asked that it be removed from the consent agenda; he raised concerns about the antigay policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

(The BSA allows openly gay Scouts, but still bans gays from supervisory or leadership capacities.)

Local Scout leadership responded by withdrawing its request, and its participation in the parade. And now, reports the Times Argus, the city is scrambling for volunteers to cover the duties usually handled by the Scouts. (Note: Both links are to the paywalled Times Argus. Sorry.) 

On Wednesday, when I guest hosted the Mark Johnson Show on WDEV, I spent a few minutes on this story. It seemed to me that Guerlain’s objection was ill-timed and wrongly placed. Sure, the Scouts’ policies are retrograde and offensive; but was this really the time and place for such a fight? I thought not, and I still do. The local Scouts’ participation in the parade benefits them and the community as a whole. And letting them sell bottled water is not in the same league as, say, buying Krugerrands during the apartheid era. As I said on the radio, you’ve gotta pick your battles. It’s one of the more annoying traits of Vermont liberals*: raising highfalutin’ issues of principle on the most petty of pretexts.

*After the show, I had a brief chat with “Sleepy Bill” Sayre, who was preparing to host Common Sense Radio. He acknowledged that he feels the same way about Vermont conservatives. It was kind of a nice moment.  

Since then, I’ve realized that while Guerlain and like-minded Councilors were being petty and small-minded, so were the local Scouts. They could have approached Council to hash out the issue. For that matter, they could have waited for Council’s next move: all Guerlain did was remove the item from the consent agenda. There was no Council action one way or another. The Scouts could also, I suppose, offered to volunteer at the parade without selling water — although to me, that’d be going above and beyond the call. Selling water and raising some money for local activities is a reasonable trade for their cleanup work.

Instead, the Scout leadership had a hissy fit, took its ball and went home. In short, the leaders acted in a way that, I’m sure, is contrary to the spirit of the Scouting movement.

So what we have here is a situation where adults “acted like children,” and the community suffers. And so do the kids, who miss an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons by serving their community. Instead, they get a lesson in pure pettiness and arrogance. From both sides.

When cold comfort is the only comfort you’ve got

Ah, the sweet stench of desperation is emanating from the Vermont conservative camp.

First, the political consultant who hasn’t won anything since unhitching her wagon from Jim Jeffords more than a decade ago, Darcie “Hack” Johnston has responded to my previous post about her Tweets supporting Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian candidate for Governor. He of the typo-riddled website.

Well, I Tweeted about the post, and the Hack replied:

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.31.05 PM

First of all, let me say I am humbled and honored that the Hackster has taken notice of my existence on this earth. Second, yuh-huh, sure, tons of Vermonters will be joining the Feliciano parade. About the time there’s a snowball fight in Hell. And third, if Feliciano’s campaign had the tiniest hint of hope about it, Johnston has officially given him the kiss of death.

Now let us turn to “Super Dave” Sunderland, occupier of the most thankless job in Vermont, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. With virtually no reason to think his party can unseat Governor Shumlin, he’s resorted to touting the results of a new “poll” indicating widespread dissatisfaction with the Guv:

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.30.19 PM

Mmmm, about that “poll.” First, it was an online survey, and we all know how useless those things are. And second, it was posted on the Vermont Business Journal website, and we all know which way the VBJ’s readership leans politically. Also, while the “poll” was in progress, Sunderland was touting it on Twitter, which further skewed the results. Actually, it’s surprising how many “A” grades the Governor got.

But hey, Vermont conservatives find themselves with nothing but a big basket of sow’s ears, so I can’t really blame them for trying to make a silk purse.

The Freeploid: Putting the “K” in “Kwality”

Yesterday, news leaked out that the Burlington Free Press is imposing subscription price increases. The paper hasn’t formally released the tidings; it’s just sending notices to individual subscribers. Chickenshit.

Well, today’s page 3 (print and e-newspaper editions) brought the following reflection of the Kwality Jernalism we can expect from the new, costlier Freeploid:

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 2.55.29 PM

Yup. “Breaks.”

Whatever our subscription dollars are paying for (extra-large margins, pictures and fonts; lots of reader-generated content; plenty of stock photography), not enough is going into the editorial process.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Hack has left the building

Darcie Johnston, consistently loserish conservative campaign consultant and the “brains” behind Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, and one of the dead-enders sidelined by the Phil Scott/Dave Sunderland takeover of the VTGOP, has taken to Twitter to lend her support to…

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 8.58.39 PM

For those who can’t place the name, Dan Feliciano is the Libertarian candidate for Governor. He credits himself with being a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. So I guess he’s a champion of a management process that’s been out of vogue since the 1990s.

Plus, for someone whose mantra is “deep Expertise (sic) in helping organizations, private and public sector, decrease costs, improve productivity, customer satisfaction and revenue,” his campaign website is full of typos, grammatical errors, and non sequiturs. A brief sampling, and this is just from the home page:

“People should be empowered AND accountable to live the lives they chose.”

many other states have experienced a sharp decline on tax revenues

My prior experience AND expertise includes actually doing the following; (as a matter of fact, I’m probably the only candidate who has actual experience doing the following with the exception of cutting taxes but neither do the other candidates.) Cut spending and improving productivity.

No Single payor system

Equal rights and equal freedom for all Vermonters, all Vermonters

Plus, as you saw above, whenever the word “expertise” appears, the first “E” is capitalized and the entire word is in bold print, which is the sort of thing you expect from fringey nutball candidates.

Oh yeah, never mind.

Anyway, I do believe the Hack has finally found a candidate who can live down to her standards. I’m sure Scott Milne and the entire Vermont Republican Party are crestfallen by the loss of her support.


Me on the radio (updated)

Hey, I’m at the very compact digs of WDEV, getting ready to do the Mark Johnson Show today from 9 to 11 a.m. EDT. 550 AM or 96.1 FM in northern/central Vermont. One of m;y scheduled guests canceled yesterday, which set off an invigorating scramble for a substitute.

Bit it all worked out nicely. Here’s the revised rundown.

9:00 am: Roger Allbee, former Douglas Administration Agriculture Secretary. The lifelong Republican is running for the State Senate as a Democrat. He’ll talk about his decision to run, and to switch parties; and we’ll ask him if he had an honest change of heart, or if it’s sheer political opportunism at work.

9:40 am: Cary Brown, Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on Women. She just returned from the White House Summit on Working Families. We’ll talk about the summit and what was actually accomplished, beyond the sound bites and photo ops.

10:10 am: State Rep. Chris Pearson, chair of the Progressive Party caucus in the State House. He’ll be talking about the state of the party heading into the 2014 campaign, its challenges and opportunities, and its highest-profile candidate: Dean Corren, who will take on incumbent Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott.

Tune in if you can, on the radio or online at


What Scott Milne should do

The New Candidate For A New Millennium, Scott “Mr. Bunny” Milne, is off to an inauspicious start. He doesn’t have a campaign website yet, so there’s no established way for supporters to, like, give him a campaign contribution. He has yet to hire a single staffer. And he acknowledges that he has yet to formulate positions on some key issues.

Plus, at last Saturday’s VTGOP confab, he was a tad underwhelming. The Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck:

He then launched into a story about raising rabbits as a kid and how his out-of-state relatives enjoyed watching them breed, prompted by the premise that he got his rabbit cages in Wolcott, the town where Berry lives. In the parking lot afterward, Milne wondered how well the rabbit story had gone over with his audience. He has three months before the primary to weed the rabbits out of his political speeches.

Aww, bunnies.

So the novice candidate is off to a bumpy start. Understandable, but time is a commodity in short supply chez Milne. So what should he do? How can this longshot candidate elevate his slim-to-none chance of upsetting Governor Shumlin, or at least help to promote a new, more inclusive type of Vermont Republican Party? I’ve got ideas, and as usual, I doubt he’ll take ’em.

First thing: attach himself at the hip to popular Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Do joint campaign appearances as often as possible. Announce common initiatives and policy ideas. Scott usually likes to hoe his own row, but he should be amenable to a little partisanship this year, since Governor Shumlin done left him at the altar and endorsed Progressive Dean Corren.

He should spend a lot of time talking with key business leaders. But not the Usual Suspects, no sirree. I’m talking about Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. I’m talking about some of the relative centrist business types who’ve abandoned the VTGOP in favor of Shumlin. I’m talking about Bruce Lisman; for all his faults, he does have a solid good-government orientation. Heck, he even has a few good ideas. Milne ought to make an overt play for the Campaign for Vermont crowd, and point out where the Shumlin Administration has fallen short on their key issues.

In terms of policy, he’s done a good thing by proclaiming himself a single-payer skeptic instead of an outright opponent. He would do well to refine his message by taking a stand in favor of universal coverage as a goal in some form or other. He should talk more about that, and less about cost concerns.

There’s lots of room for criticism of Governor Shumlin on health care. But it should be put in terms of managerial competence, not the usual tax-and-spend bumpf. Milne can legitimately question Shumlin’s ability to deliver, based on past and current track record. He can position himself as a champion of responsible governance in the tradition of George Aiken. That’s the true heart of moderate Republicanism, and it’s a message that could appeal to centrists and independents.

On many issues, I’d argue that Milne doesn’t have to develop specific proposals. As a general principle, he can position himself as a competent manager willing to work with the almost certain Democratic majority to find solid, responsible solutions. This is different than the VTGOP’s constant call for “balance in Montpelier.” This is a call for a new, inclusive approach to government.

Milne could even slip to Shumlin’s left on taxation. The Governor is a resolute foe of raising taxes on the wealthy. Milne could outline a thorough tax-reform plan including the school funding mess and a rebalancing of the entire system. Some new revenues could be drawn by cutting loopholes and deductions for top earners. If those revenues are balanced by lower taxes elsewhere (a plan promoted by the Democratic legislature in 2013 but blocked by the Governor), Milne would probably offend some of the dead-enders, but he’d gain respect across the board.

And yes, as I’ve written before, the wealthy get off relatively cheaply in Vermont’s current tax structure. If you include all taxes on working-age Vermonters, the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their incomes in taxes than any other group — including the bottom 20%.

On some issues, Milne can articulate a more traditionally conservative view if he establishes himself as an independent thinker in other areas. For instance, he could posit a more balanced cost/environmental approach to renewable energy — but only if he acknowledges the truth of climate change and our responsibility to address it in tangible, concrete ways.

He can continue the good-management theme on a variety of smaller trouble spots, such as the current DCF mess (but please don’t talk about Challenges for Change) and the whistleblower brouhaha: part of being a good, sharp-eyed manager is to welcome the input of employees with valuable perspective.

Any of these suggestions can be modified or swapped out for better-fitting parts. But I think I’ve outlined a way for Scott Milne to establish himself as a credible alternative to Governor Shumlin, and as the harbinger of a new and more appealing VTGOP.