Daily Archives: September 17, 2014

Skip Vallee is a bitter man

Oh, Rodolphe. Why can’t you just tend to your knitting? I actually like stopping at your gas stations, with their clean (!) restrooms tastefully decorated with fake flowers and chairs nobody ever sits in.

But please, let go of your Bernie Sanders fetish.

As you may recall, Our Junior Senator has made a big stink about high gas prices in Chittenden County, pointing the finger at the cartel that owns most of the area’s gas stations. Skippy, the frustrated politician wannabe, fired back — challenging Bernie to a debate. Bernie, rightfully, ignored him.

And wouldn’t you know it, after Bernie’s public splash, Burlington-area gas Skipprices came down. At least for a while. Now, as the Burlington Free Press reported, they’ve gone back up. Gotta pay for all those plastic flowers somehow.

Well, now Skip has turned his grudge into a political ad criticizing Bernie over the Burlington College mess. Bernie’s wife Jane is a former BC president, and it’s fair to say that her grandiose expansion plans played a part in the college’s current financial difficulties. The ad is on YouTube now, but Vallee plans to run it on local TV. The ad ad blasts Bernie and Jane for getting a “golden parachute” from Burlington College.

A “golden parachute” worth… wait for it…

… $200,000.

Really more of a zinc parachute, isn’t it?

Not that 200 G’s is anything to sneeze at, but it’s perfectly reasonable in comparison to severance packages given to top executives — even at nonprofits. And by corporate standards, well, it’s pocket change.

But that’s not my real point here. The main thing is, Vallee spending thousands of dollars to run an ad with no real purpose. Bernie’s not up for re-election until 2018, for God’s sake.

Skip’s spending Your Gas-Buying Dollars to toss a little gratuitous mud at Bernie Sanders, apparently because Bernie dared to point out that Vallee and his cronies were profiting from artificially high gas prices. And because Bernie’s campaign worked — forcing Skippy and Friends to, at least temporarily, bring their prices down.

Revenge is a dish best served out of a convenience-store microwave. Am I right, Skippy?

Shumlin’s strategy is focused on 2015

The Shumlin Administration’s decision to shut down the Vermont Health Connect website drew the predictable response from his opponents.  “Catastrophic failure,” said Scott Milne. “I still think it’s going to be a disaster,” said Dan Feliciano. And VTGOP chair “Super Dave” Sunderland floated a conspiracy theory: VHC “will be shut down for repairs until after the election” (Italics mine), implying that Shumlin is trying to run out the clock and put off his Day of Reckoning until after he is safely re-elected.

Sorry, not buying it. The timing appears convenient, and Sunderland is well within his rights to make as much hay about it as he can. But the timing makes perfect sense in a non-conspiratorial way: Harry Chen came on board as Human Services Secretary a month ago. His top priorities were (1) trouble in the Department of Children and Families, and (2) review of VHC implementation. He’s had a month, and now he’s got a plan.

But even more importantly, the mid-November relaunch has far less to do with the election than with the open enrollment period. The VHC website has to be back online by November 15.  Repairs have to happen either before then, or after the enrollment period closes in February. It’s a lot easier to do repairs during a shutdown.

Besides, the truth is, Republican (and Libertarian) attacks are irrelevant. The Governor knows he’s going to win the election, and he doesn’t care what they say. His goal is the 2015 legislative session, when he will (finally) roll out his single-payer health care plan.

And in order to do that, he needs to have a functional VHC website. He can’t wait until February to start the repairs because that’s when he’ll be trying to convince lawmakers to vote for single-payer — and he can’t expect them to take that step if VHC is still dysfunctional.

The Governor does, to be sure, have a goal for the campaign: he has to activate the Dem/Prog base. He needs a decent margin of victory and, more crucially, he needs as many Dems and Progs in the Legislature as possible. As Vermont Pundit Emeritus Eric Davis points out, his worst enemy is an enthusiasm gap.

A fully-functional VHC website before Election Day would be the best thing for his base. But failing that, a robust response to its problems and an action plan with a completion date is second best. That’s what Shumlin has delivered. And, Republican snark notwithstanding, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the Administration will have very good news to report before Election Day. In fact, I expect to see a VHC relaunch on or about November 1.

That requires solid progress on the IT front, of course. But I’m sure that’s the plan.

Thanks to the organizational decrepitude of the VTGOP, the ineptitude of Scott Milne, and the fundamentally fringey nature of Dan Feliciano’s appeal, Shumlin doesn’t have to worry about re-election. He can’t say so, of course; but his goal is to activate his base and set the stage for the single-payer debate next year.

By that standard, the VHC shutdown is a short-term tactical setback, but it makes all the strategic sense in the world.

Jim Douglas: It gets worse

As I reported a couple days ago in this space, Jim Douglas’ new memoir includes a passage that accuses Governor Shumlin of public corruption — of giving a seat on the Vermont Supreme Court to Beth Robinson, a political ally, as a reward to her and to an important constituency. Here it is again:

“The Senate leader, who succeeded me in the governorship, was a strong proponent of gay marriage. Since he was nominated by a scant 200 votes in the Democratic primary, their support may well have provided the margin of victory. He later reciprocated by appointing one of the leading lobbyists of the movement to the Vermont Supreme Court.”

The key word there is “reciprocated.” Douglas is saying that there was a quid pro quo — one of the state’s highest offices was bartered away as a political reward.

Well, on September 11, Douglas was a guest on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. When Johnson asked him about the passage, Douglas doubled down — claiming that Robinson is unqualified:

With all due respect to the Justice, I think it’s hard for most Vermonters to believe that she would have risen to the top of the pack but for her leadership on that issue.

“With all due respect,” my ass. Jim Douglas is saying that Beth Robinson had no business being chosen to the high court, and that this is so obviously true that “most Vermonters” would have a hard time believing she was nominated on merit.

Johnson, taken aback by this rather bold assertion, asked if Douglas really believed she was appointed because of her work on the marriage equality court case.

She obviously became well known because of that, and, um… [long pause] who knows?

A wonderful piece of passive-aggressive political attack. Johnson asked “What do you base that on?” Douglas offered no evidence; instead he quickly changed the subject.

His comments about Robinson were baseless and mean-spirited. They’re of a piece with his allegation that Shumlin made a corrupt deal to put her on the high court.

Which, I say again, should have been the top headline news out of Douglas’ memoir. I remain stunned that, with the exception of Mark Johnson, no one in the media has mentioned it at all.