Daily Archives: November 3, 2014

A strong candidate for Least Impactful Political Attack of 2014

From VTGOP “Victory Coordinator” Jeff Bartley, taking a break from scotch ‘n cigars to Tweet out this little winner:

Well, that does it. Shumlin’s liberalism is obviously a sham. Or so Jeffy “heard.”

Even if it’s true, I’d blame the advance team more than the candidate.

Funny, the top Democratic officials are actually doing party stuff today. It’s mainly the Republicans who’ve got time to Tweet out stupid little shit like this.

The girlfriend non-issue

Seven Days’ political columnist Paul Heintz made a rare trip into the office this weekend — well, maybe he just filed from home — to post a thumbsucker piece about whether or not the media should report on Governor Shumlin’s private life.

Specifically, the fact that he’s been, ahem, dating a much younger woman for some time now.

“Dating,” Heintz’ term for it.

Going to the drive-in, hanging out at the malt shop, playing miniature golf, “running out of gas” on the way home. Takes me back.

Madame X, some guy, some guy,some other guy. From some guy's Facebook page.

Madame X, some guy, some guy, some other guy. From some guy’s Facebook page.

Heintz examines the issue because last Thursday, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway posted a very thorough Shumlin profile. And near the very end, she disclosed the open secret that Shumlin has been, uh, “dating” 30-year-old Katie Hunt. In his piece, Heintz explores the Vermont tradition of not addressing the private lives of public figures, and ponders whether Galloway did the right thing.

In the process, he gave himself a chance to say, well, we knew about it too, so it wasn’t a scoop; we’d just decided not to publish it. (I eagerly await Paul’s email explaining how I’m off base, in 3…2…1…)

But the core question: is Hunt’s identity fair game? Was Galloway within her rights to publish it?

To which I say, of course it is and of course she was.

And if, as Heintz implies, the Shumlin camp is upset about it, I suggest they stop whining and concentrate on real stuff. If they’re mad at VTDigger, they should stop taking media coverage too personally.

Really, it’s downright strange that the Shumlineers are hot and bothered about the G.F. when, in the same piece, Galloway has people describing the Governor as two-faced and opportunistic. And within 24 hours, VTDigger also published a long piece exposing all kinds of problems in Vermont Health Connect. All this, plus an election, and you’re upset over the girlfriend? Perspective, people.

The whole notion that Shumlin’s girlfriend’s identity is off limits is just silly. After all, he hasn’t even tried to keep it a secret. The two have been seen together in public, obviously acting as a couple. For God’s sake, there’s a photo of them on Sen Dick Sears’ Facebook page. In light of all that, why the hell should the Governor have any expectation of privacy?

If it’s a Vermont tradition, then it’s one of many Vermont traditions that ought to be dragged out back, shot in the head, and buried as a relic of a bygone age when the media pretended that Babe Ruth didn’t drink and Warren Harding didn’t sleep around. And vice versa.

Besides, if I were Ms. Hunt and I’d been the Governor’s steady for a while now, I’d be wondering why he feels the need to conceal my identity. Am I a little piece on the side, or a real partner?

Also, Galloway framed it responsibly. It was not, as UVM prof Garrison Nelson put it, “tabloid stuff.” It was part of a detailed, comprehensive picture of Peter Shumlin the politician and the person. Family ties are part of the mix, The media routinely mention parents, spouses, children, and other relatives when relevant. There should be no controversy about naming Katie Hunt and then getting on with our business.

Although I do have one question. Do Shumlin’s college-age daughters call her “Mom”?

$20,000,000 is the least of our problems

Big scoop came out Friday. As first reported by VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld, the still-troubled Vermont Health Connect could cost the state as much as $20 million extra this fiscal year — for expenses that the federal government might decide not to cover.

The story got some legs, although it came out in the journalistic dead zone of Friday afternoon. It was picked up by other outlets and became kind of a big deal.

And it was the best possible thing that could have happened to the Shumlin Administration. 

Why do I say that? Because it sucked the oxygen out of that particular room, leaving a much bigger VHC story flailing in its wake. (Mixed metaphor? Sorry.)

The story, by VTDigger’s Morgan True, included the $20 million bit, but also revealed a host of other problems with VHC. The story paints a bleak picture of a system still in disarray, and facing big new challenges in less than two weeks.

The problems, in rough order of appearance in True’s narrative:

— The VHC website will be up and running in time for the new open enrollment period, which starts on Nov. 15. But previously insured customers seeking to renew will be asked to stay away from the website and instead fill out a paper form and submit it by mail. The reason: More of this year’s “customer service frustration” is expected by health care reform chief Lawrence Miller. Great.

— As open enrollment looms, there’s still “a mountain of old problems” that will be impossible to resolve by the 15th. So the masters of health care have come up with a kludge: they’ll keep the old cases active with tricks like fake zip codes, even as they’re working on new cases.

Gee, that sounds like a sure-fire plan. Nothing can go wrong with loading fake zip codes into an already wonky system, can it?

— The state’s contract with its new contractor, Optum, hasn’t been renewed yet. If it’s not by the end of business Monday, the company won’t continue to work and “‘Vermonters will not be renewed and will lose coverage,’ according to a document obtained by VTDigger.”

— The state has failed to keep up with required income verifications for “thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries,” which is “a growing concern of the feds.” If some recipients turn out to be ineligible, the state could be on the hook for their medical bills.

— This is more of a problem than you might think because “during the past year, people were hastily added to the state’s Medicaid rolls in order to close out their cases and get them off the hands of overworked employees,” according to the anonymous VHC worker.

— One anonymous VHC worker reported internal problems with Optum employees making mistakes, being poorly trained, being shuttled in and out of state frequently, and “a lack of ownership on the part of mid- to lower-level state employees,” who believe that if the system fails, Optum will take the heat.

— The motives of Optum and other contractors are being questioned by a top VHC official, who pointed out in an Oct. 15 memo that the contractors “have financial motivation to protract their term of employment… to generate profit.” He says the state needs to find a path forward that gives contractors a reasonable profit but ensures that Vermont doesn’t pay too much.

— “Many of the state employees… are temporary workers.” Some have been working on VHC for over a year, which is far longer than is allowed for temp staff. Unlike regular, unionized state employees, the temps don’t get any benefits, just a straight hourly rate.

— Because some coverage has tax implications and VHC staff are not trained in that area, there’s a fear that thousands of VHC customers could find themselves with an unexpected tax bill come April.

This is all on top of the potential $20,000,000 shortfall. Which is bad enough, but now you know why I say the Shumlin Administration should thank its lucky stars that it was Hirschfeld’s story that got spread around and not Morgan True’s far more detailed, far more damaging one.

A hundred thousand interrupted dinners

Scott Milne is ready to unleash his master stroke — the Hail Mary pass that will seal his epic come-from-behind, David-beats-Goliath victory on November 4.

It’s a Tele-Town Hall Meeting on the evening of November 3.

Our Man Mahatma hosted one of these events just before the August primary. And hey, it obviously worked: he beat Dan Feliciano and Emily Peyton. So why not try it again?

A Tele-Town Hall, for those just joining us, is a kinda-sorta town hall meeting by phone. This one will feature an intro by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, which I believe is his first official appearance on Milne’s behalf. Awfully nice of him to finally make time for his less well-known, less popular ticket-mate. Then, MIlne will make a few remarks. And finally, he will answer questions submitted by listeners and filtered through campaign staffers and the event’s moderators — his two children, Elise and Keith Milne.

Somehow I doubt that any inconvenient or embarrassing questions will get through.

But the most notable aspect of this grand event will happen before the 7:00 pm launch. Robo-calls will go out to “the homes of over 100,000 registered voters inviting them to stay on the line as the event begins.”

Peachy keen. A hundred thousand Vermonters will get cold-called at, what, 6:50, and told to hold on the line for an hour of one-sided, sanitized political chatter.

Better ger dinner ready early, Mom and Dad, so you and the kids can gather ’round the phone for this historic moment in democracy.

Seriously, how many people are going to get an unexpected call during the dinner hour and voluntarily stick around for more than an hour?

Well, to look at it the other way, if Milne gets one-half of one percent to stick around, he’ll have an audience of 500. Which is probably more than he’s drawn to any campaign event before now.

Besides, as Milne points out, “Vermonters deserve transparent leaders willing to listen to their concerns…”

Yes, wiling to listen to carefully selected concerns filtered through Milne’s campaign apparatus.

There’s a special phone number, by the way, for members of the media who want to listen in. They can’t ask questions, mind you; Milne isn’t that transparent. But he’s happy to provide us with a toll-free number in exchange for whatever free publicity he can muster on the last night of the election.