Daily Archives: October 17, 2014

The purely cosmetic bipartisanship of Vision To Action Vermont

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don't mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don’t mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann (R) and Paul Ralston (D), the busy bees behind Vision To Action Vermont, have been busy indeed these days. They’re releasing endorsements almost every day. And, on the surface, it looks to be a fair mix of Republicans and Democrats.

This figures, since V2AVT portrays itself as a nonpartisan, centrist, practical, “rise above party labels and get stuff done” kind of political action committee. If you listen closely, however, you can hear the business-friendly dog whistles a-blowin’. From its launch announcement:

[V2AVT is] a non-partisan organization that will promote, support and elect strong candidates for political office in Vermont who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.

That’s the entire Dog Whistle Philharmonic in a single sentence: fiscal responsibility, balanced, common-sense, economic prosperity, opportunities, individual liberties and responsibility.

And, despite a thin veneer of bipartisanship, the dog whistles continue to sound throughout V2AVT’s list of endorsements.

As of this writing, V2AVT has endorsed 22 candidates: 11 in the House, 10 in the Senate, plus Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Overall, they’ve endorsed 13 Republicans, eight Dems, and one Independent.

Okay, leaning rightward, but a respectable number of Democrats, right?

Not so much. There’s a strong trend in V2AVT’s endorsements. The higher the stakes, the more Republicans you get. While the House endorsements are split evenly, 5-5-1, the Senate endorsements include seven Republicans and only three Democrats. And then there’s Phil Scott, the group’s only statewide endorsement.

But beyond the mere numbers, there’s this: most of V2AVT’s Republican candidates are in highly competitive races, while their Democratic candidates are either unopposed or in very safe Democratic territory. 

This is especially true in the Senate, where V2AVT has endorsed all the Republicans’ top challengers except Robert Frenier, who’s challenging incumbent Dem Mark MacDonald in Orange County.

Otherwise, it’s like V2AVT and the VTGOP are using the same playbook. Dustin Degree and Norm McAllister in Franklin County, all three Republicans in Rutland County, Pat McDonald in Washington County. Degree, McDonald, and Rutland’s Brian Collamore are the VTGOP’s top three hopes for Senate gains, but they face uphill battles against formidable candidates: ex-Senator Sara Kittell in Franklin, incumbent P/D Anthony Pollina and incumbent D Ann Cummings in Washington (nobody’s beating Bill Doyle), and Rutland’s WIlliam Tracy Carris, son of longtime Senator Bill Carris.

And who are the Democrats supported by V2AVT? The very safe Jane Kitchel and Dick Sears, plus Sears’ Bennington County running mate Brian Campion. There is only one token Republican candidate on the Benn ballot, and Campion is considered a shoo-in.

Oh, and V2AVT also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Joe Benning.

Now let’s look at the House endorsements.

In Chittenden County, V2AVT is backing incumbent Republican Kurt Wright and Repub newcomer Michael Ly in a two-seat district. Wright is safe; the Repubs have hopes for Ly. And in another two-seat district, Chittenden 9-1, V2AVT is supporting the very safe (and centrist) incumbent Democrat Jim Condon and Republican candidate Joey Purvis, who’s hoping to replace retiring Republican Bob Bouchard.

Chittenden 9-1 is a closely contested district. Condon was the top vote-getter by a mile in 2012; Bouchard barely beat Democrat Curt Taylor; Purvis finished a respectable fourth. This is a seat that the Democrats could take.

Up in the perennial battleground of Franklin County, V2AVT is endorsing 26-year incumbent Dem Kathie Keenan and Republican challenger Corey Parent in a two-seat district. Parent is hoping to snag the seat currently held by Dem Mike McCarthy, who won by a mere 20 votes in 2012.

V2AVT’s favorite Independent is Laura Sibilia, a business-friendly type who’s challenging established Democrat John Moran in Windham-Bennington 1. There’s no Republican on the ballot, but Sibilia’s platform is clearly Republican-leaning.

The group has also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Patti Komline.

As for its Democratic endorsements, Jim Condon and Kathie Keenan are well-established incumbents; Clem Bissonnette is running unopposed has no Republican opponent — his challenge is from the Progressive Party; Cynthia Browning is a famously independent-minded Democrat in a safe Democratic district; and Matt Trieber is unopposed in Windham-3.

Overall, of V2AVT’s eight Democratic endorsements, none are in races closely contested by Republicans. Of its 13 Republican endorsements, seven are in races where the VTGOP hopes to gain ground.

That’s not my idea of nonpartisanship. That’s my idea of advancing the Republican cause.

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Is it just me, or does Scott Milne owe a lot of money?

Kudos to Scott Milne, who voluntarily released two years’ worth of tax returns and other personal financial information. That’s more than Governor Shumlin released, and it’s the level of disclosure required of members of Congress.

His financials did raise a niggling question in my mind, though.

Milne lists several assets, the largest of which are the $2,000,000 value of Milne Travel and $1,699,750 representing a 50% share in B&M Realty, the firm he co-owns with David Boies III.

Then there are the liabilities: $1.642 million. The largest is a $950,000 “promissory note,” otherwise not described. Who holds the note? What’s it for? What are the terms of repayment?

There are also three mortgages totaling $1.38 million; Milne is responsible for half of those, or $680,000. Since he “owns” 50% of those mortgages, and he owns 50% of B&M Realty, I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the mortgages arise from B&M investments.

Let us pray.

Let us pray.

It boils down to a healthy net worth of $2.641 million, but still. We’re talking about a guy whose primary income is his $118,000 salary from Milne Travel. Now, I don’t play in these financial leagues, but it seems to me that Milne is carrying a lot of debt.

And his positive net worth depends almost entirely on the valuation of his two corporate interests — Milne Travel and B&M Realty. Is the family business really worth $2,000,000? Is B&M really worth $3.4 million? I don’t know, but I’d have to guess that corporate valuations are somewhat fluid.

Which brings me to my underlying question. How much of Milne’s finances — the black ink and the red — are tied up in the proposed Quechee Highlands mixed-use development planned for a 168-acre parcel just off I-89 at Exit 1 in Hartford?

I assume that Milne’s 50% mortgage obligations, totaling $680,000, are for Highlands-related land purchases. This is currently undeveloped land; if the B&M project is built, it could lead to a West Lebanon, New Hampshire style building boom in that area — making Milne’s stake a whole lot more valuable.

On the other hand, if it doesn’t get built, Boies and Milne will be stuck with the debt load on those 168 acres.

And the project is in serious trouble, having been denied an Act 250 permit by the regional environmental commission, and being noncompliant with the town of Hartford’s current development plan for the area. B&M has appealed the environmental commission’s ruling, and Milne has spoken loudly about what he sees as the anti-business bias and excessive regulatory power of the regional commissions.

Which makes me wonder how he’d handle Act 250 if elected Governor, but that’s another issue. The question raised by Milne’s financials is, how much risk has he taken on here?

In the past, he has semi-jokingly said that B&M is basically Boies’ money and Milne’s shoe leather. Well, to judge by his personal assets and liabilities, Scott Milne has a lot more riding on Quechee Highlands than his footwear. If he takes office and B&M’s appeal is still in process — which it almost certainly will be — then how would he separate policy from personal interest? Especially with the level of financial exposure he seems to have?

In releasing his financials, Milne criticized Governor Shumlin for offering too little information. And clearly, we have more numbers from Milne. But do we know what those numbers mean?

It may be perfectly obvious to someone who operates on that level, and it may be completely innocuous. But to a humble blogger, this looks like high stakes. And it’s all riding on a regulatory decision from the state of Vermont.