Daily Archives: July 25, 2014

It’s time to grab the State Senate by the ankles, flip it upside down, and give it a damn good shake

Poor, poor Democratic State Senators. They face such a difficult decision.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, they’ll have to choose between their longtime colleague, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, and his Progressive challenger Dean Corren. The usually reliable but somewhat clubby Sen. Dick McCormack:

Then the question is who would you cross party lines for? Phil is a friend I’ve worked with for years, work well with. And Dean, the public financing is very admirable I have tended to agree with him on most issues so for a lot of us I think it creates a real dilemma.

Okay, wait. I’ll admit I don’t have a dog in the tired old Dem/Prog slapfights — I wish they’d each get over themselves — but McCormack thinks that supporting a Progressive and supporting a Republican are equally tough? C’mon now, which party is more closely aligned with yours on policy questions? You’re honestly having trouble choosing between the guy who’s in line with your party’s biggest policy priority (single-payer health care) and whose very campaign highlights your party’s concern with money in politics, and the guy whose party is opposed to single-payer and is uninterested in campaign finance reform?

As a nonaligned liberal, allow me to throw up in my mouth a little.

As for throwing up a lot, let’s turn to Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell, who has already endorsed Scott’s candidacy. His knickers are in a knot over the prospect that a non-Democrat could become the Democratic candidate by winning the nomination on primary write-in votes:

“[To] say ‘oh well I’m  going to really run under this Party but then I’m going to try to take the nomination by getting a bunch of people to write in my name. I just think it’s a flaw in the system.”

Er, John. C’mere.  Closer. Yeah, right there.

[flicks Senatorial nose]

A couple of obvious points. First, if you wanted a Democrat to run for Lieutenant Governor, your party should have gone out and FOUND somebody. It’s your own party’s fault that there’s an appealing blank space on the primary ballot. Second, if Corren doesn’t win the Democratic nomination on write-ins, the most likely winner is Phil Freakin’ Scott.

But I guess that wouldn’t outrage Campbell because Phil Scott is a friend of his. In truth, John Campbell has no principle in play; he has a friendship and, as a very conservative Democrat, a profound aversion to Progressives.

Which gets back to the title of this post. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes no sense that a Senate that’s two-thirds Democratic defers so often to Phil Scott and fails so frequently to support solid liberal legislation.

It makes no sense to me that clubby insiders who value friendship over party — John Campbell and Dick Mazza, come on down! — are allowed to occupy such positions of power in the Senate.

So, after the election, could we please have some new leadership? Get rid of that stale air? Pretty please?

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The boy in the bubble

During Scott Milne’s campaign kickoff this week, former Governor Jim Douglas hailed the travel agent/real estate developer as a person “outside the bubble, unaffected by the stale air of the State House.” At the time, I noted the irony in those words coming from a man who lived practically his entire adult life in that very bubble. Indeed, without a doubt Jim Douglas himself produced a substantial portion of that “stale air.”

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

But enough subtly-worded fart jokes. I thought it was worthwhile to hammer home the point in more detail… after I make a brief detour to Douglas’ other unintentional laugh line: he invoked that discredited VTGOP talking point about Vermont getting an “F” in a “study” of friendliness toward small business.

Oh no he di’nt.

Oh yes he di’id.

As I’ve said on more than one previous occasion, this was an unscientific, mass-mailing survey conducted by the small-business website Thumbtack.com. It’s been done in each of the past three years. But Vermont was only included in the survey results for the first year, 2012, because in the two following years, not enough Vermont businesspeople responded to the survey.

Vermont’s “F” was from the 2012 study. Which was taken (1) at a much earlier point in our recovery from the Great Bush Recession, when things were lousy for almost everybody, (2) only months after Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of Vermont and derailed Governor Shumlin’s agenda, and (3) only a year and some change into Shumlin’s time as governor.

So that “F” could be credited as much to Jim Douglas as to Peter Shumlin. And it doesn’t take into account any of Shumlin’s subsequent efforts to make Vermont a better place for entrepreneurs.

In short, the grade should not be taken seriously as a measure of Vermont’s business atmosphere. Which didn’t stop Douglas from perpetuating the lie.

Okay, now let’s take a closer look at the Douglas resume, shall we?

He was elected to the House in 1972 at the age of 21, only months after graduating from college. He served in the Legislature until 1979, when he became one of Dick Snelling’s top aides. A year later, he ran for Secretary of State and won; he’d go on to serve six terms.

In 1992, he lost to Pat Leahy for U.S. Senate. For two years after that, as far as I can tell, he was out of government service.

Then in 1994 he ran for Treasurer and won. He served until 2002 when he was elected Governor. He served four terms and retired in 2010. Well, technically, January 2011.

That’s 38 years of his adult life, minus two years, giving us a total of 36 years at the public trough.

No wonder the Wall Street Journal called him a “career politician.” 

The Journal’s 2011 article took Douglas as an example of the difficulties older executives face when embarking on a second career:

Finding a fresh pursuit in midlife is never easy. The challenge looms especially large for top managers with experience in just one industry, however. Mr. Douglas has spent his entire adulthood in politics.

All right, now let’s look at Peter Shumlin, the guy who, I suppose, is Douglas’ exemplar of a person who’s lived too long in the bubble.

Shumlin was appointed to a vacancy in the Legislature in 1990, and served one and a half terms. He then served in the Senate for ten years. He ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2002 and lost.

After that, he spent four years in his family’s business, Putney Student Travel. In 2006 he returned to the State Senate, where he served until being elected Governor in 2010.

From 1990 to the present, that’s 24 years. Minus the four years outside government, that’s 20 years breathing the stale air inside the bubble.

20 for Shumlin. 36 for Douglas.

Now look, Scott Milne’s status as an outsider with a fresh perspective is a respectable enough talking point if you like that sort of thing. But Jim Douglas is the worst possible person to deliver the message. Coming from his mouth, it was completely hypocritical.