Daily Archives: November 19, 2014

How to dismantle an atomic bomb, Shummy style

Tweet O’ The Day, Vermont Division:

ICYMI, Grubermania hit flood stage today, with the Pitchfork Brigade growing ever louder and — so we hear — Fox News prowling the halls of the Statehouse. (BTW, congrats to Sen. Joe Benning for scoring a primetime Fox appearance out of all this. When life gives you lemons, squirt ’em in your enemy’s eye.)

But the rising waters, laden with political opportunity, almost immediately washed away after Gov. Shumlin dynamited the logjam. Health care reform chief Lawrence Miller:

“…we need solid economic modeling in order to move forward with health care reform. I have told Mr. Gruber that I expect his team to complete the work that we need to provide the legislature and Vermonters with a public health care financing plan. I’ve informed Mr. Gruber that we will not be paying him any further for his part in completing that work.”

A cleverly-worded statement that took a little decoding: Gruber won’t get paid any more for grubering the gruber, but his minions will. And considering that (1) the contract with Vermont expires in three months, (2) the renowned Gruber model is well-entrenched by now, (3) Gruber’s got so many contracts (and so many bigger fish to fry), that Vermont is a drop in his bucket, and (4) I bet the staff’s been doing most of the work anyway… well, I don’t imagine this is much skin off Gruber’s nose.

For Shumlin, it allows the continued use of the Gruber model to finish work on his single-payer plan while also lancing a troublesome political boil. He’s always been at his best in crisis.

We probably should have seen this coming, what with the complete silence from legislative Democrats. Really, did a single Democrat call for Gruber’s firing? I don’t recall any. They must have known that a bacon-saving solution was around the corner.

And what’s that I hear in the distance? Methinks it’s the sound of Fox News’ mobile unit getting outta Montpelier as fast as it can. Nothing to see here, folks.

I’m sure the Republicans will find ways to tend the flame of Grubermania… but from now on, it’ll be more like a votive candle than a bonfire. A votive candile lit in memory of an all-too-brief political opportunity.

Ah, Grubermania, we hardly knew ye.

Phil Scott #2016 rumbles out of Pit Road

In my previous post, I noted a report of some uncharacteristically aggressive remarks by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. As it happens, Mr. Nice Guy did a brief radio interview this morning on WCVR, “Real Country 1320 AM” in Randolph,”playing all your favorites from yesterday and today!”

Well, maybe not my favorites. I doubt their playlist includes King Crimson or Talking Heads (yesterday) or Arcade Fire or Cold Specks or Godspeed! You Black Emperor (today), but I know what they mean.

Morning deejay Ray Kimball took a few minutes from spinnin’ the tunes to talk with Our Lieutenant Governor. And thanks to Real Country’s livestream, I could listen from my snowed-in central Vermont hilltop redoubt.

Hey Vermont, need a lift?

Hey Vermont, need a lift?

I must say, Phil Scott was on his game, combining his customary aw-shucks charm with some well-crafted jabs at the (unnamed) Democrats.

It wasn’t much of an interview, maybe five minutes. And as an interviewer, Ray Kimball is a darn fine deejay. But it gave me a sense that Mr. Nice Guy will be a very dangerous candidate in 2016 if he wants to be. And, for the first time in his career, he’s showing signs that he does indeed want to be. I guess we shouldn’t have doubted the competitive fire of a man whose third profession is auto racing.

Ol’ Ray started by mentioning the expected presence of Fox News, which is apparently nosing around the Statehouse looking for fuel for its festive Jonathan Gruber stake-burning. Initially, Scott didn’t take the bait, instead pivoting to Governor Shumlin’s overdue rollout of a single-payer health care plan. And, in his customarily genial tones, he delivered a fist-in-a-velvet glove shot at Gov. Shumlin.

I’m looking forward to the Governor presenting his plan as he was supposed to do quite some time ago, as was named in the law itself. He’s missed a couple of deadlines. I don’t want there to be any excuses, I want to hear what this financing plan is, what this single-payer looks like, so we can make a decision as to whether it works for Vermont or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, I want to move on. The uncertainty it’s created in Vermont just having this discussion, I think has had a negative effect on our economy. So I want to get this over and done, and then move on from there.

Nicely done, sir. Slam the Governor for missing deadlines, assert that the “uncertainty” has hurt Vermont’s economy*, but leave the door open, barely, for consideration of single-payer.

*Please stop with the uncertainty bullshit. Truth is, life itself is uncertain. Businesspeople face far bigger and more pressing uncertainties every damn day. Single-payer, if it happens, is three years away. How much other uncertainty will be packed into those years? 

Ray-Ray then asked a garbled follow-up, and that’s when Scott pivoted back to Jonathan Gruber’s videotaped comments, delivering a skillful punch in his unthreatening way.

His comments were made about Obamacare, but it does bring to light some, ah, you know, you might question some of the tactics and some of the things he’s said, in terms of trying to manipulate the public and perception, so I think some of his, ah, some of his data might be questionable.

Aha. Laying the groundwork for disbelieving the Governor’s plan while maintaining the facade of open-mindedness. He didn’t even call for Gruber’s head on a plate; he just undermined Gruber’s work.

Then Kimball asked about the budget. Scott took that ball and ran with it.

I know we can’t continue to look back, but I look back a few years as, uh, as to when Governor Douglas vetoed the budget…

Let’s stop for a moment and note the contradiction there: we can’t look back, but I’m looking back. Okay, Phil, continue.

… when Governor Douglas vetoed the budget, said it was unsustainable in the future, and it turns out he was right. We, uh, the Legislature overrode his veto and put that into place, and I think that’s where it started. And I think we’re living, ah, beyond our means. We’re spending, we, ah, we’re spending more money than we’re receiving. Revenues are down. So we’ve had to make corrections, and we’re going to have to tighten our belts, and it’s going to take all of us to determine how we’re going to do that, because we can’t spend more than we’re taking in.

Well played! Referring to the halcyon days of Jim Douglas, blaming the Democrats and Gov. Shumlin without naming them, couching harsh criticism in kitchen-table terms, and even calling for bipartisanship while, at the same time, trumpeting Republican orthodoxy. Ingenious.

There have been persistent doubts that Phil Scott has the fire in the belly, that he’d most likely stay within his comfort zone as Mr. Nice Guy, Lieutenant Governor For Life. It’s very early, but I suspect we can lay those doubts to rest.

Phil Scott exits 2014 with over $100,000 in campaign cash, and he’s proven he can be a big-time fundraiser within the humble boundaries of Vermont. If he can mount a credible campaign, and I think it’s clear he can, he’ll start drawing some outside money as well. He is developing a solid message, combining Jim Douglas-style plausible moderation with skillfully coded shout-outs to the True Believers.

If he wants the 2016 gubernatorial nomination, he’ll have it. And he will be the most formidable Republican candidate since Jim Douglas left the scene.

Hell, at this rate, he might turn out to be better than Jim Douglas.

Postscript. This was a brief interview, but a couple of items were notable by their absence. The name “Scott Milne” was not mentioned. And there was no talk of repealing Vermont Health Connect which, if I recall correctly, was the Republicans’ clarion call less than two weeks ago. 

“The 2016 campaign is already underway!”

I didn’t write those words in a paroxysm of political-blogger wishful thinking. No, that sentence was crafted — exclamation mark and all — by one “Super Dave” Sunderland, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. It’s the closing line in a fundraising pitch that’s posted on the VTGOP website and, I’m sure, spammed to every Vermonter on its contact list.

So much for the Vermont tradition, more honored in the breach than the observance, that campaign season won’t start until the Legislature adjourns in the spring of 2016.

What Super Dave means, of course, is that he needs your money right now to begin the long build toward 2016. But in another, equally real, way, the Republicans have begun the 2016 campaign in earnest — with their words and their newly aggressive attitude.

Donkey walks into a bar, says "I'll have a Heady Topper." Bartender says, "Sorry, you elitist snob. We only serve Bud."

Donkey walks in, says “I’ll have a Heady Topper.” Bartender says, “Hit the road, you elitist snob. We only serve Bud.”

It started with their big post-election news conference on Nov. 7, in which the Party’s top elective officials got together to call for the immediate dismantling of Vermont Health Connect. (Leaving aside, for this narrative, the unfeasibility of the idea and the curious incident of the Milne in the night-time.) It was a deliberately confrontational opening move for a party still on the short end of lopsided legislative majorities. I took it as a signal that the VTGOP was feelin’ its oats.

At the same presser, some GOPers expressed interest in further exploring The Milne Theorem, an unproven assertion postulating that 87,075 is greater than 89,509. Scott Milne had first floated the trial balloon a couple days earlier; that news conference was the first outward sign of broader support for his unlikely proposition. And a sign that the Republicans were (like a pro wrestler looking under the ring for the folding chairs and kendo sticks that are always, curiously, stashed there) eagerly grabbing for whatever weapons they could find to whack the Democrats.

A few days later came the annual meeting of the Vermont Rail Action Network, a chance for politicians to promote and/or give lip service to rail travel. As reported by outgoing State Rep. Mike McCarthy on Green Mountain Daily, Gov. Shumlin was there and did his duty, giving “a rousing speech about rail and cross-border trains.”

And then Mr. Nice Guy, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, took the mic:

The room of about 150 railroad officials, government agencies, and legislators was a little surprised that instead of talking about rail, Lt. Governor Scott focused solely on last week’s election and slammed “Montpelier” for not listening to Vermonters.  I guess this is what the beginning of a 2016 gubernatorial run looks like: No More Mr. Nice Phil.

McCarthy pronounced himself “shocked” that Scott “for the first time in his political life seemed to have gone tone deaf.”

Granted, Mike McCarthy is fresh off an electoral defeat and might be feeling a little bitter, but he’s generally a reliable correspondent.

I’m guessing that Phil Scott’s been giving himself a few dope-slaps since Election Night. It’s very easy to imagine him imagining himself winning the governorship. Has that experience suddenly got him yearning for the corner office, and sharpening his message and his political profile for the first time in his soft-jazz political career? It would seem so.

More coming shortly in this space.