Media reports posted after my initial VPO piece on Doug Racine’s departure make it clear that Racine was fired as Human Services Secretary; he did not resign. And he was fired in a sudden and coldblooded way. The best reporting comes from Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz, who got the skinny from the firee himself.
In a phone interview, he said he was summoned to the 5th floor of the Pavilion State Office building at 4 p.m. Monday for a meeting with Shumlin chief of staff Liz Miller and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding.
“I went in and sat down. They said, ‘The governor wants to make a change at your agency.’ I said, ‘Who would that be?’ Jeb looked at me and said, ‘You,’” Racine recalled. “We talked about it for a few minutes and then I went to the office and cleaned out my desk.”
So now we know who wields the hatchet in the corner office. Shumlin did give Racine a call about an hour after the meeting, and it was relatively cordial; but hell, couldn’t he do the actual deed himself? Especially since Racine had handled the hardest and most thankless job in state government for three and a half years?
There was also a Profiles In Courage moment Tuesday afternoon, when Shumlin went kinda wishy-washy on the nature of Racine’s departure, i.e. voluntary or not:
Asked what, specifically, prompted Racine’s exit, Shumlin said, “Specifically answering your question is exactly what I’m not going to do.”
Well, at least it was a head-on refusal to answer instead of the usual “bury ’em in bullshit” routine.
When I call AHS Secretary the “hardest and most thankless job,” here’s what I mean. It handles a whole lot of disparate programs aimed at helping our most unfortunate. It’s a huge agency by Vermont standards. As I noted earlier, it was hit hard by the Douglas Administration’s ill-fated Challenges for Change initiative, not to mention its misadventures with technology contracts (which were at least as bad as Shumlin’s). And it was ground zero for the health care reform effort and all the attendant troubles.
In addition, AHS’ challenges were compounded by Tropical Storm Irene, which left a whole lot of people in need of help — and which scattered the agency’s personnel to rented spaces in multiple communities because of the flooding in Waterbury. And they are still scattered today. Not to mention the flooding and forced closure of the Vermont State Hospital and the ensuing years of chaos in the mental health care system.
Doug Racine handled all of that with grace and dignity. He kept his nose to the grindstone and almost never uttered a discouraging word in public. I’d think that was a good thing, but apparently he was too quiet for Shumlin’s taste:
According to Racine, the governor wanted a secretary more willing to engage with the news media and interest groups.
“If anything, it was perhaps not being out there enough,” Racine said.
I always thought Racine’s quiet style was perhaps exactly what Shumlin wanted from his longtime political rival. Either that, or Racine himself opted for the low-profile approach because he didn’t want to come across as bitter or as a potential political threat.
As I said in my previous post, I understand the need for a sacrificial lamb. And between the problems with health care and DCYF, I can see why Racine got the axe. But the way it was done? I think Racine deserved better.