Daily Archives: August 4, 2014

This time they’d better get it right

The latest turn in the saga of Vermont Health Connect came today, with the cancellation of CGI’s contract to develop VHC’s endlessly troublesome website. The move comes seven months after the Obama Administration fired CGI as contractor on the federal website, and four months after Massachusetts did the same.

You can say the Shumlin Administration waited too long; or you can say they tried to stick with CGI as long as they could because the company knew more about the system than a new contractor possibly could. And, as the Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen reports, this disaster had many fathers:

The marketplace… has struggled since its launch Oct. 1. CGI missed many deadlines to complete processes and make fixes, although state officials and independent analysts have noted the unreasonableness of the compressed federal timeline that all states had to meet.

That “compressed federal timeline” was the result of numerous conservative lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act. No serious progress could be made until the Supreme Court had its say, which basically cut half of the preparation time for Obamacare’s launch.

But either way you slice it, the time had come for “a fresh perspective,” as health care reform czar Lawrence Miller put it. Whether CGI was truly at fault or not, a ritual sacrifice was called for. Its replacement, Optum, had already been hired to address a backlog of stalled “change of circumstance” requests.

It must also be noted, disapprovingly, that Miller and Mark Larson of the Department of Health Care Access were left to announce CGI’s departure in what looks, in media photos, to be a dreary and hastily-arranged encounter with the media. No sign of Governor Shumlin who, according to his official schedule, is in Montpelier today but couldn’t manage to join his long-suffering functionaries. He’ll be in public all over the place the rest of this week, wherever there’s good news to be announced; but not today. Sorry.

Those of us who support health care reform with single-payer as the ultimate goal have been frustrated by the continued delays and setbacks at VHC. And by the repeated (and routinely unfulfilled) assurances from the Shumlin team.

Well, now is the time to get it right. Good thing the Governor doesn’t face a signficant electoral challenge this year — although the longer this goes on, the more likely the Democrats are to lose seats in the Legislature. And with moderate Dems already doubtful about single-payer, Shumlin really can’t afford to lose any votes.

But beyond that, if VHC’s troubles continue into next winter, it’s hard to see the Legislature seriously considering a single-payer plan. Miller has accurately noted that single-payer will actually be a lot less complicated than the health care exchange — a bigger machine, but with far fewer moving parts. Still, why should the legislature go ahead with single-payer while VHC is still unproven?

This is a critical time for health care reform. There’s better damn well be measurable, actual progress before Election Day.

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The Milne Transcripts, part 7: No vilification here, nope, no sirree.

This the penultimate entry in my series of posts from Scott Milne’s trainwreck of an interview on the July 25 edition of WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. Yes, only one more entry after this. Believe me, there could have been more. The hour-long interview is packed with uncomfortable pauses, inarticulate phrasings, abrupt transitions, unanswered questions, and general bumblefuckery. 

Over and over again in his young campaign for Governor, Scott Milne has insisted he will not “vilify” Governor Shumlin. He said so in his campaign-kickoff speech, and immediately followed that promise with words like ultra-progressive, brazen, bullying, radical, headstrong, and “unbridled experimentation.”

No vilification there, none at all.

Milne was apparently nonplussed by the reporting of his speech in this space and at VTDigger, which pointed out the obvious contradiction. Because early on in his Mark Johnson interview, he stuffed this little gem into a discussion of the Shumlin Administration’s competence:

…it’s hard to get into this game without — you know, I want this, this, these are political objective words not meant to be mean-spirited or, and my tone is, you know, I respect most of what Shumlin and his family have accomplished, so it’s not personal at all, but on the one hand you’ve got this guy who’s a very deft, smooth, political guy. On the other hand, if I compare him to the governors going back to Phil Hoff, he’s the mo — he, he, he doesn’t, he doesn’t stack up well against any of them in my opinion.

Got that? Words like radical, brazen, and bullying are “political objective words not meant to be mean-spirited.” Because he respects “most of what Shumlin and his family have accomplished,” but on the other hand, Shumlin is the worst Governor in Milne’s living memory. 

I’d say he’s trying to thread a needle, except there’s no hole. He’s trying to thread a pin.

The rest of the interview was studded with criticisms, not of the Governor, but of the “Shumlin Administration.” Even when the criticism was clearly aimed at the top man in the operation. Take this:

My read on the Shumlin Administration is they run the state like it is a campaign. They’re always readin’ polls, figurin’ out what’s gonna be popular and pretendin’ they’re leadin’ that parade. And I think that’s the opposite of what we need for leadership.

See, you can’t pretend to be talking about the entire Administration by slamming its “leadership.” When you’re talking leadership, you’re talking about the leader — not the team.

At one point, Milne praised Doug Racine as “a man of great integrity.” Later, Johnson asked if he also considered Governor Shumlin “a man of integrity.” Milne squirmed like a fish on the hook.

Uh, Doug Racine, I think, is uh you know, uh, in my limited dealings with Doug Racine, he’s totally comfortable looking you in the eye and telling you he disagrees with you and trying to convince you to agree with him or disagree with you.  My experience with the Shumlin Administration is, that’s not exactly the — uh, and integrity, uh, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say anything about Governor Shumlin’s integrity. I would just say, I think that they run the state like it’s a political campaign, and I would like to see the state run like it’s a, a family where we need to make sure that we’re looking out for our own best interests in the long term.

Woof. Even if you like Scott Milne, even if you plan to vote for him, that’s just painful to read.

It’s a common problem with the nascent Milne campaign: he’s trying to carry out complex rhetorical maneuvers, but he just doesn’t have the skills.

This is the problem when a person who’s successful in another field (usually business; see also Tarrant, Rich) takes a leap into the deep end of politics. A good politician possesses a broad range of skills: crafting a message, interacting with the public, giving speeches, being interviewed, managing a campaign, and a whole lot of stamina. Among other things.

Aside from one losing campaign for a much lower office, Scott Milne is a political newbie. You compound that with a very late entry into the race, and this is what you get.

In the last installment of The Milne Transcripts, I’ll recount some of the worst moments from his interview. I’m serious; there’s worse.  

The Milne Transcripts, part 6: The supreme importance of tone

Yet another installment in my reports on Scott Milne’s rather disastrous July 25 appearance on WDEV Radio’s Mark Johnson Show. It was his first in-depth interview since formally launching his campaign for Governor. As such, it provides a window on the motivations, priorities, and political skills of the likely Republican nominee. 

Vermont Yankee wasn’t on Mark Johnson’s agenda. After all, it’s a fait accompli; Entergy stopped fighting to keep VY open when low natural-gas prices made it a financial loser, and a closing date has been announced. But Milne brought it up unbidden while trying to deflect attention away from a very unflattering discussion of health care reform, in which he appeared to confuse Vermont Health Connect with single-payer health care. (The former is operational, albeit troubled; the latter is Governor Shumlin’s yet-unattained Holy Grail.)

Milne was critical, not necessarily of the shutdown itself — he remained carefully neutral on that — but on the Shumlin Administration’s “tone.” Which, it seems, is one of the biggest bones Milne has to pick with his prospective opponent.

The tone and the style with which the Shumlin Administration went forward with that… we’re going to end up with a nuclear toxic slum on the banks of the CT River for probably 65 years or whatever the maximum decommissioning time is.

…Iif we had a Governor who was much more, in tone, business-friendly and working cooperatively to fix problems even with people that you disagree with, we could have given them a license extension. In exchange, gotten them to pony up the money for the rapid decommissioning.

Mmm, yeah, a couple problems with that. First, Entergy has never shown any willingness to adequately fund VY’s decommissioning; they’ve always played for the maximum amount of time. Given Entergy’s track record, it’s extremely doubtful that a different “tone” would have induced them to agree to a very costly proposition.

Second, Entergy stopped fighting for VY because it had become a financial drain. Why would they agree to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the decommissioning find at a time when VY was already hurting their bottom line?

For Scott Milne to believe he could have convinced them otherwise reveals a dangerous combination of naivete and unfamiliarity with the issue.

Speaking of naivete, MIlne apparently believes that a different “tone” is all we need to make Vermont a growing, prosperous economic miracle. He’s harshly critical of Shumlin’s economic record, but when asked how he’d do things differently, this is what he comes up with:

Our primary, um, fix that we’re going to offer to Vermont is, uh, a much better tone and friendly tone towards business, and then some specific plans about how to attract business and keep business in Vermont.

His “primary fix” is a “better tone.” He’s vaguely promising “some specific plans” somewhere down the road, but his #1 solution to our economic troubles is a “better tone.”

I dunno. To me, and to many liberals and progressives, Governor Shumlin is awfully solicitous of the business community. He seeks their input, he listens to them, someties he shapes his policies to accommodate their concerns… and he’s certainly attracted more than a Democrat’s usual share of donations from Vermont businesspeople. Indeed, perhaps the biggest reason for the Republicans’ financial woes is that Shumlin has co-opted many of their usual big-money donors. If Shumlin is such a negative for business, why aren’t businesspeople trying harder to unseat him?

Besides, “tone” by itself is nothing. The “tone” makes a difference only as it affects your policies — say, kneecapping Act 250 or otherwise easing regulatory processes. For Milne to call for a new “tone” as the “primary fix” strikes me as disingenuous. He’s presenting himself as a moderate, so the last thing he wants to do is offer detailed pro-business policies. That’d give away the game. Instead, he talks of “tone,” and sounds a bit like a fool in doing so.