Daily Archives: August 12, 2014

Metapost: Old Hundredth

Hello, and thanks for visiting The Vermont Political Observer. This is the 100th post in The VPO’s brief history. And the last two days have been two of the biggest days ever for pageviews and unique visitors. I appreciate that very much; the only inducement I can offer is the quality of my writing and insights, and it means a lot to me that so many people have found The VPO worthy of their time.

I am aware, from some of the comments received, that many readers are discovering my work for the first time, and are a bit puzzled by some aspects of it. So let me reintroduce myself and explain what’s going on around here.

I’ve worked in the media most of my life, primarily radio with some professional writing. I’ve won awards for my work in both fields, and I’ve published a book that’s entirely nonpolitical, Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives. Should be available at bookstores in VT and NH, and through my own website. (The radio work was almost entirely in other states.)

I started writing political commentary in late 2011 as a member of the Green Mountain Daily team. GMD is a group blog with a liberal/Democratic bent. I’m still on the team; my posts are under the pen name “jvwalt.” But after much consideration, I launched The VPO as an outlet of my own. At times, I was overwhelming GMD with my stuff, which I thought was unfair to the group nature of the enterprise.

My writing in both places is a mix of my journalistic experience and my political viewpoint, which is decidedly liberal but not dogmatically so. I often disappoint fellow liberals by taking a contrary position on an issue or openly criticizing Democrats and Progressives when I think they deserve it. And there’s a deliberately iconoclastic edge; if journalism is described as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, then my role is to afflict politicos who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance or self-worth.

Put another way, I’ve described my function like this: 60% commentator and analyst, 30% liberal firebrand, and 10% poo-flinging monkey. So if you see some brown stuff flying around here, don’t be surprised. One aspect of that 10% is my occasional habit of giving nicknames to people. One of these days, I should list their origins and meanings. (Example from GMD days: I dubbed conservative activist Tayt Brooks “International Man of Mystery” because when he was busy spending Lenore Broughton’s fortune at Vermonters First, he rebuffed virtually all inquiries from reporters.)

That said, I do welcome contrary views. The VPO’s Comments section is moderated, which means I must approve a comment before it’s posted; but that’s just to keep out the trolls. I have yet to reject a comment because of its content.

Regarding the picture at the top of the page: It is Warren G. Harding, our 29th President (but #1 in your hearts, or at least in the hearts of his numerous lady friends). The photo was taken late in his life, while he was President, and seems to hearken back to his pre-political days as a newspaper editor. It’s clearly staged; there’s no paper in the typewriter, and I bet he had secretaries slash lady friends to do his typing for him. But the image of a hard-bitten old-fashioned ink-stained wretch was appealing to me. (My Twitter avatar (@thevpo1) is a picture of George Reeves as Clark Kent, yet another fake reporter. Hmm.)

My hope is that you will continue to find The VPO worth your time. And if you think this site is worthwhile or a particular post deserves attention, I hope you’ll mention it to friends and colleagues. The only reward I get for this work is the knowledge that people appreciate my writing, and aren’t we all searching for validation of our existences?

Stay tuned. At least, I hope you will.

A head has rolled

Shocking, but not surprising news this morning out of the capitol city. Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz:

Gov. Peter Shumlin has dismissed onetime political rival Doug Racine as secretary of the embattled Agency of Human Services.

“These decisions are difficult, but the governor felt a change in leadership at AHS was needed at this time,” Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen said Tuesday morning.

Doug 'n Pete in a happier moment. (Photo from VPR)

Doug ‘n Pete in a happier moment. (Photo from VPR)

Laura Krantz at VTDigger writes it as a Racine departure, not a firing. Which makes me wonder if the last straw was last week’s emergency budget adjustment, with its calls for further cuts in an already-overstretched agency. Maybe Racine stood up for his people, and got shot down for his trouble. I have no inside information on that point, but the timing certainly fits.

Whether a push or a jump, the shock is the suddenness of it all and the fact that the scythe took its first cut at the top level rather than, say, taking a Mark Larson or a Robin Lunge. It’s not surprising because sooner or later someone in state government had to take the fall for Vermont Health Connect’s continued troubles.

I say so not because any one of the three is more or less culpable for the VHC mess, but because Larson and Lunge were more directly involved. And because a cabinet member is a key gubernatorial appointment, this is a more direct reflection on the Governor himself.

But as Heintz points out, the trouble isn’t all health care-related. AHS’ Department of Children and Families has also come in for criticism following the deaths of two young children under its supervision. In that context, Racine was the most relevant target.

Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen will be interim AHS chief, with an appointment through the end of the year.

My take, and I have absolutely no knowledge of how AHS works or doesn’t: It was an almost impossible job. In fact, when Shumlin appointed his chief political rival to the post, I wondered whether it was an honor or an exile. AHS is a big, complicated operation that’s usually overtaxed and underresourced. Racine took the job after years of Jim Douglas-mandated cuts, and the disastrous implementation of Challenges for Change. It was the kind of job that was almost certain to leave Racine with a tainted reputation as a manager, especially with the Governor’s aversion to tax hikes and obsession with cost-cutting. And on top of all that, AHS was home base for health care reform and its myriad pitfalls.

It was a thankless job, and Racine kept at it for almost four years. And did his job largely out of the public spotlight, with a dignity and dedication that speaks well of him.


Still a publicity stunt

VTGOP Chair “Super Dave” Sunderland continues to push his hokey “challenge” to meet his Dem counterpart, Dottie Deans, for a debate on the Vermont economy. He first threw down the gauntlet in a letter dated July 10, and has occasionally refreshed it via Twitter ever since. Last night, for instance:

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.30.24 AM

Funny, it hasn’t drawn a reply from Deans, nor has it attracted the slightest interest from the Vermont media. Pretty sure I’m the only person who’s reported it (outside of GOP circles), and that’s only been to make fun of it.

Because it’s a publicity stunt, and Super Dave knows it. He knew from the start that Deans wouldn’t respond. He was just hoping for a little free publicity, or simply for the chance to call Deans a coward.

Which she isn’t, not at all. She’s kinda busy these days, having a strong party apparatus and a robust staff to manage. I realize that Super Dave is just kinda rattling around in his largely empty VTGOP headquarters (paid staff: TWO, and both probably part time*) and thus has time to issue bogus challenges. And I realize that he’s grasping at straws for free media. But he knows that it’s not the party chair’s job to engage in public debates.

*Considering that “Victory Coordinator” Jeff Bartley is still on staff at the Tarrant family firm MyWebGrocer and, per his Twitter feed, recently took a trip to Disney World, I doubt that he’s got his shoulder to the campaign wheel 24/7. 

The party chair is responsible for the organization, administration, and growth of a party’s infrastructure. It’s a big job, and it’s primarily done behind the scenes. Dottie Deans knows what her job is, and what it isn’t. You’ll note that, as reflected in the above Tweet, she doesn’t even have a Twitter account of her own. If Super Dave hasn’t achieved a similar level of clarity about his own responsibilities, well, that’s his lookout.

Besides, there’d be little public interest in a debate between two party chairs. The vast majority of voters see high-profile candidates as a party’s public face, not some internal functionary. Voters will pay attention to the Shumlin/Milne debates this fall. They would have no reason to watch a debate between two people who are not running for any office where they might actually affect public policy. 

So it’s a publicity stunt, then, now, and forever.

Marion Milne 1935-2014

I’m saddened to hear of the death of Marion Milne, pioneering lawmaker, businessperson, and mother of gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne. VTDigger reports that she “died unexpectedly Monday morning at her home in Washington.”

I saw her in person for the first time at Milne’s campaign launch last month, and now I’m sorry I didn’t try to meet her and express my respect.

Marion Milne founded the family travel agency in 1975 shortly after graduating from Goddard College. That agency has grown and thrived under her leadership and Scott’s, during very challenging times for the travel agency field.

Of course, her most significant public moment came in 2000, when she was one of a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of Vermont’s groundbreaking civil unions law — the first step on the road to marriage equality. For her courage, she was voted out of office that fall after serving three terms in the State House. From a post-election account: 

Milne knew her vote could lead to the end of her career, as did others. State Rep. John Edwards, who represents two towns along the Canadian border, also got the boot in what became a single-issue race. Edwards, a former state trooper, said he started to get that sinking feeling while standing at a polling place Tuesday. He noticed the averted gazes, the voters who had never turned out before, the thumbs-up signs directed at the other two candidates.

… Edwards said he has lost longtime friends. Milne has endured slurs like “queer lover” aimed at her and her 13-year-old grandson and watched her travel agency lose business.

“There are a lot of people angry with me,” she said from her home, shaking her head.

She had endured a bitter campaign, often encountering hostility while going door-to-door and finding herself alienated from former supporters and friends. She was on the right side of history, but that must have been cold comfort at the time.

Marion Milne was a hard worker till the end, as reflected in this word from the Milne family: “On the day she died, Marion had an appointment to have her hair done, planned to work at her desk in the travel agency, and attend a board meeting for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.”

I’ve written plenty about Scott Milne’s campaign, but now is not the time for partisanship. It’s a time for respect, love, and family. My best wishes to the entire Milne family and the agency, and to Scott, now faced with carrying on a long-odds campaign shadowed by the loss of his mother and business partner.

Godspeed, Marion Milne.