Daily Archives: September 2, 2014

Phil Scott finally finds a cause

Our Lieutenant Governor is known as a go-along, get-along guy, reluctant to take strong stands on anything, A True Friend To All. Never once has he appeared to get all hot and bothered about any political issue or event. 

Until now. Drum roll, please… 

Phil Scott’s great cause is… Saving Phil Scott’s Bacon!

Seriously, take a gander at his latest campaign finance filing. Since August 18, a period of less than three weeks including a long holiday weekend, Scott fundraised like a madman. He pulled in almost $49,000 in that brief time. That brings him to $162,000 raised during a campaign in which his stated goal was to match Dean Corren’s $200,000 in public financing. 

Y’know, I think ol’ Phil’s gonna make it. 

When Corren qualified for public financing, Phil Scott faced his first-ever challenger who could go toe-to-toe with him financially. He’s responded to the challenge with all the fervor of a politician who has looked political death in the eye. 

Of course, there’s a price to be paid for all this success: nobody’s giving any money to any other Republican. And Phil Scott sure as hell ain’t sharing his wealth. Compare Scott’s bank account to Scott Milne’s, now in negative territory, or the state GOP’s — the party raised a mere $1,000 during the same period when Phil Scott took in $49K. 

From which I conclude two things. First, Phil Scott’s put his party-building project on hold until his own ass is safely re-elected. And second, every deep-pocketed Republican donor has done the electoral math and concluded that Phil Scott, and only Phil Scott, is a worthwhile investment in 2014. The entire Republican project has come down to this: Save Phil Scott!

And they probably will. But it’s still pathetic. 

More on Scott Milne’s Ghost Campaign

In my last post, I noted that Scott Milne had loaned his own campaign $25,000. Well, a sharp-eyed correspondent has reminded me that, when Milne was launching his campaign, he said that he “would use zero dollars of my own money.” I guess we can enter that statement in the Ron Ziegler Memorial “Inoperative” File. 

Also, I can’t help but notice his… ahem… relaxed approach to scheduling. Last Saturday, the Milne campaign released his schedule for the coming week. It included:

Sat 8/30: Four hours at the Champlain Valley Fair

Sun 8/31: No events. 

Mon 9/1: Walking the Labor Day Parade in Northfield

Tue: 9/2: A full day of activities in Bennington County, from 9 am to 6 pm. 

Wed 9/3: An apparent joint event with former Gov. Jim Douglas at 2 pm in Burlington, and a live interview on WCAX-TV in the late afternoon. 

Thu 9/4: Nothing listed

Fri 9/5: “No Public Appearances – Meeting Policy Advisors”

It’s things like this that make me wonder if Scott Milne is actually running for Governor. Seriously. This is the last week before Governor Shumlin formally enters the race. It’s Milne’s last chance to have the stage to himself. And he’s doing nothing to draw media attention outside of the tiny Bennington market. 

I count two full-day equivalents of actual campaign activity in a seven-day period. Two stinkin’ days! If I were a Republican, looking at that kind of effort, I’d see no reason whatsoever to give this guy a dime. 

When Milne formally announced his candidacy — on the last possible day, the filing deadline for candidates — he promised “a spirited, but unconventional” campaign. Well, it’s certainly unconventional. But spirited? Only if you mean it in the sense of “ghostly,” “apparitional,” or “insubstantial.”

Milne Campaign Continues to Fumble Along

Scott Milne’s campaign for Governor has posted its latest campaign finance report, and it once again reflects a campaign that can’t raise money. 

Total donations, since the last filing deadline on August 18: $10,305. For his campaign so far: $53,000. 

Total expenditures: $33,000 since August 18, and $62,000 for the campaign. In other words, it’s two months until election day and the Milne campaign is in the red

Well, it would be, except that Milne loaned his own campaign $25,000. Which enabled him to pay his bills and keep the lights on. 

But wait, there’s more bad news within those numbers. Of the $10,305 total, $7,350 came from people named Milne or Milne-related businesses. The breakdown: 

$2,000 from Milne Travel

$2,000 from B&M Realty, the firm co-owned by Scott Milne and David Boies III

$2,000 from Donald Milne

$1,000 from George Milne

   $350 from Jonathan and Nancy Milne

Aside from that, Milne managed to raise less than $3,000. 

And he’s apparently tapped out the Boies Family connection. Not only were there no new donations from Boieses, the Milne campaign actually refunded a $2,000 donation previously given by Robin Boies of Naples, Florida. 

As for Milne’s pre-primary spending, he threw almost $19,000 into TV ads. He also paid another $4,600 to campaign manager Brent Burns’ firm “Pure Campaigns LLC.” And he spent $2,500 on his infamous Tele-Town Meeting. 

So here we are, at the launch point of Milne 2.0 — the time when he pivots from attacking Governor Shumlin’s record to finally, belatedly, rolling out his own policy ideas — and he’s in negative territory because he can’t fundraise his way out of a wet paper bag, and he had to go into debt just to fend off a write-in effort by a little-known Libertarian. 

I keep thinking it can’t get any worse, and then it does.

More on primary write-ins

A small addition to my earlier post about today’s Board of Canvassers certification of the primary results. 

In the Democratic race for Lieutenant Governor, Progressive Dean Corren took the nomination with 3,874 votes, or 60% of the total. Republican incumbent Phil Scott received 1,895 write-in votes on the Democratic line, or 40%*. And in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Libertarian Dan Feliciano managed to get 2,093 write-in votes in losing to Scott Milne. 

*Correction: Scott received 29.6% of the Democratic write-in vote. My mistake. I should never try to do math while blindfolded. 

Earning nearly 4,000 write-in votes is an impressive accomplishment for a, frankly, little-known candidate. Scott’s a well-established and well-liked figure, while Corren is a former State Rep who hasn’t been a candidate for any office since 1998. 

This is Corren’s second notable achievement in the campaign. The first, and more significant, was qualifying for public campaign financing. He must have a solid organization, and he must have some measure of appeal. We have yet to see whether a focused enthusiasm will translate into broad support from the public at large. 

At first glance, his 60-40 margin of victory over Scott, who wasn’t even campaigning for the Democratic nomination, doesn’t look too strong. If the primary electorate was representative of the general public, I’d say Corren is in serious trouble. But the primary voters — the 9% of all registered voters who bothered to show up — is a self-selected group of people with a strong interest in politics. Strong enough to cast a ballot in a relatively inconsequential primary. Scott’s 40% does not mean he can count on 40% of the Democratic votes in November; far from it. An indeterminate number of his votes were from Republicans taking advantage of (a) Vermont’s open primary, and (b) the complete lack of anything worth voting for on the Republican ballot. For many Republicans, the most constructive thing they could have done last Tuesday was to get Phil Scott on the Democratic ballot. That would have ensured his re-election. 

All that said, Corren remains a longshot. Phil Scott is well-known and well-liked, and the argument by people like Ed Adrian (that we need at least one Republican in a statewide office, and that Scott serves a valuable function in that role) is likely to have some resonance. Especially since Scott projects such a friendly, reasonable persona. And the Shumlin Administration’s continued bungling of Vermont Health Connect won’t exactly help Corren, who’s committed to single-payer health care. 

As for Feliciano, he took 93% of the Republican write-in votes for Governor. Or, about 13% of the total vote. It wasn’t enough to challenge Scott Milne, who had 72% of the total vote. A couple thousand write-in votes is a respectable number, but it’s not enough to indicate a real split among Republicans. But that could change; if Milne continues to stumble on the campaign trail and in fundraising, and it becomes clear that he poses no threat to Shumlin, then conservative voters will have nothing to lose by casting a protest vote for Feliciano. And if Feliciano finishes a solid third, he’ll push Milne into laughable-loser territory, and that would encourage the true believers to carry on their fight for control of the VTGOP. 

One housekeeping note. This was the first election in which town clerks were legally required to report their results on election night. Some failed to do so; 31 precincts out of 275. Secretary of State Jim Condos said, “We’ll reach out to towns that didn’t report on Tuesday night, and find out why they didn’t.” He speculated that there might have been confusion with a new reporting system, or ignorance of the new legal requirement. 

Condos is hoping for complete returns on time in November, but he doesn’t have a stick to go with his carrot. When the Legislature adopted the election-night requirement, it did not enact any penalties for failure to comply. 

 

Meet Your Vermont Republican Ticket (now with lots of Democrats!)

The state Board of Canvassers has certified the results of last week’s Vermont primary. We’re still waiting for a couple of numbers, but the biggest surprise was a trio of write-in victories in the Republican primary. 

Your GOP nominee for Auditor: Incumbent Dem/Prog Doug Hoffer. 

Your GOP nominee for Secretary of State: incumbent Democrat Jim Condos. 

Your GOP nominee for Treasurer: incumbent Democrat Beth Pearce. 

All three received the highest number of write-in votes in their respective races — and received more than the minimum 250 needed to win as a write-in. 

Yet another low-water mark for the Vermont Republican Party: fully half its statewide ticket is comprised of Democrats. 

In other news: Yes indeed, Dean Corren is your Democratic nominee (and your Progressive nominee) for Lieutenant Governor. We don’t yet know how many Dem write-ins were given to incumbent Republican Phil Scott; we only know it wasn’t enough. 

Same with Libertarian Dan Feliciano. We don’t know how many write-in votes he got for the Republican gubernatorial nomination; we just know that Scott Milne won the nomination. 

Otherwise, not much news. Which has got to be comforting to Jim Condos; write-ins have spelled trouble the last couple of election cycles. 

The Friday Afternoon Newsdump of the Year

Gee, what a co-inky-dink. A new report on the rumblin’, stumblin’, fumblin’ rollout of Vermont Health Connect was released on Friday afternoon. 

Before Labor Day weekend. 

When Governor Shumlin was hundreds of miles away, at his vacation home in Nova Scotia. 

Ah, leadership. 

The report is pretty damning, and should have been tackled head-on by the Governor instead of being shuffled quietly out the door on a holiday weekend. It’s not too late; he could come back to work, express dismay at the report’s conclusions, take repsonsibility for administrative failures, promise to learn lessons and do better in the future, and maybe even fire a few people. 

Now, that would be leadership. And it would allow the Governor to launch his re-election campaign next Monday in a strong, purposeful, and accountable manner. Do I think that will happen? Eh, probably not. But it’d be nice. 

The report was written by Optum, the consulting firm that’s trying to fix the mess left behind by former contractor CGI. Topline, per VTDigger: 

A lack of leadership at Vermont Health Connect left the tech firm CGI unaccountable for work it was supposed to complete on the state’s health care exchange, according to a consultant’s report released Friday.

 

The state “ceded” responsibility for the project’s success to CGI, …and as a result, “CGI has not met its commitments.”

This is bad. This is not a technology issue in a super-complicated new system, as the Administration has insisted; it’s a failure of management on the part of Administration officials who should have been riding herd on CGI. Instead, the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami says, 

Optum found that accountability for program management is unclear. “Neither (the state) nor CGI believe they are accountable for project outcomes,” the report says.

Am I the only one who’s appalled by that? CGI was fired for poor performance; but state officials failed to make CGI “accountable for project outcomes.” As any business-school professor could tell you, that’s fucked up. And if CGI deserved to be fired, so do the government officials who played a big part in its failure.

And none of those officials are named “Doug Racine.” 

Optum recommended that the state hire a project manager with experience in handling large-scale IT projects. State health care reform chief Lawrence Miller says the state is about to hire such a person. 

Well, huzzah. That’s a little bit late, isn’t it? 

In March, TIME Magazine published a cover story about how the federal health care exchange was on the brink of complete failure last fall. The Obama Administration realized, belatedly, that while they had a lot of policy expertise, they were woefully short in IT. So they basically called the Geek Squad: a team of IT experts from Silicon Valley “dropped what they were doing… and came together in mid-October to save the website. … Washington contractors had spent over $300 million building a site that didn’t work, this ad hoc team rescued it and, arguably, Obama’s chance at a health-reform legacy.”

You’d think, after all of that, the Shumlin Administration would have known it had a huge challenge on its hands, and that it required both IT expertise and intensive management oversight to fix the health care exchange. 

Instead, only now are we hiring an IT expert. 

On Friday, in the Governor’s absence, Lawrence Miller and Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson released the Optum report. And their statements were not at all encouraging; they downplayed the significance of the report and the need for further action. Miller called the report “something of a snapshot,” although as Goswami says, “the findings… are similar to previous assessments by independent parties.” In other words, this report may have been a snapshot, but the picture has stayed pretty much the same over time. 

Miller also said the Administration would use the report “to make decisions about the best way forward with the project.” Well, that’s half right. But you should also use the report to assess the failings of the past — so that you stop repeating them. 

For his part, Larson was even more determinedly lipsticking the Optum pig: 

“On a broad level what we have taken, generally, from this report is that we have worked hard with our vendor partners to create a foundation for Vermont Health Connect.” 

I’m sure they’ve all worked hard. But I’m not convinced that they have worked well or effectively. In fact, if the Optun report is accurate, a lot of the hard work has been wasted or misdirected thanks to a lack of accountability and oversight. Working hard is not an excuse for failing to deliver the goods. 

Oh, and the other news from the ultimate Friday afternoon newsdump: on Optum’s advice, Vermont Health Connect has stopped working on fixing the system. Instead, it will try to make the incomplete system more customer-friendly in advance of the November-February open enrollment period. Further work on fixing the system won’t resume until after open enrollment. 

Great. Even as Governor Shumlin is unveiling his single-payer health care system and asking the Legislature to approve it, Vermont Health Connect will still be an unproven work in progress. 

You know, if I were a lawmaker, I’d refuse to take any action on single-payer until Vermont Health Connect is fully functional. The Governor can’t, in fairness, ask lawmakers to vote for a huge new system as long as the health care exchange isn’t working. 

I’m fully aware that single-payer will actually be simpler than Vermont Health Connect. On a policy level it makes perfect sense. But on a political level, you can’t take the next step in the process until you’ve successfully finished the previous one. 

Beyond the immediate situation, bad as it is, I have a more existential concern. Governor Shumlin earned a reputation as a capable manager in his first term, thanks largely to his response to Tropical Storm Irene. The endlessly-troubled health care rollout threatens his reputation for good management. And that’s why I’d advise him to step up strongly and take his medicine. And, yes, fire  the people who failed to hold CGI accountable. 

If he doesn’t, I fear the best days of the Shumlin Administration may be over. When you’ve been in office for a while, and the opposing party is in disarray, there’s a natural tendency to relax a bit, start seeing yourself as invulnerable, and pay more attention to your image than to the quality of your work. That is the beginning of the end for great leaders everywhere throughout history. Is it the beginning of the end for Peter Shumlin? 

And for single-payer health care?