Daily Archives: November 26, 2014

Seven Days puts on the big-boy pants

I was wondering if someone would swoop in and pick up the pieces after the Burlington Free Press abruptly shuttered its Statehouse Bureau. And now, someone has.

As it expands its coverage of Vermont government and politics, Seven Days has hired veteran Statehouse reporters Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

I couldn’t be happier for Hallenbeck and Remsen personally or for news consumers in Vermont. Seven Days has been steadily upping its game in recent years, but this is a solid, decisive leap into the big time. The little alt-weekly now has a larger politics/Statehouse crew than the once-formidable Free Press. And, even more shocking, a more experienced crew.

The Free Press is supposedly hiring a couple new reporters, but you know what they’re likely to get: bottom-of-the-pay-scale twentysomethings who are proficient with multimedia technology but have little background or experience to inform their reporting. But even if the Freeploid does bring on a couple of seasoned reporters, they won’t be able to replace Hallenbeck and Remsen’s knowledge of the politics and governance of Vermont. They’ll be at the low end of the learning curve, whereas Hallenbeck and Remsen are at the peak.

At a time when newspapers and even many alt-weeklies are in full retreat, Seven Days has taken a bold step forward. Best wishes to the newly enhanced crew, especially to former scurrilous scribe Paul Heintz, now serving as Political Editor.

Our favorite country lawyer spins a yarn

Joe Benning, top Republican in the State Senate, has made a decision. And he wants us all to know about it.

In a short essay posted by VTDigger, the good Senator reveals that when the legislature reconvenes in January, he will vote for Scott Milne for Governor.

Gee, “Scott Milne.” There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.

Benning’s vote, to hear him tell, has nothing to do with partisanship. The fact that he’s backing the #2 vote-getter, who happens to be a fellow Republican, over the top finisher, a Democrat? Nothing about that in his essay.

Well, not by name. He does, however, depict his vote as an attempt to block the imminent ruin of Vermont at the hands of a certain incumbent governor.

But he begins with a veiled shot at any lawmaker who fails to follow his example in publicly revealing his vote:

 Other legislators may feel differently, but this legislator feels a responsibility to explain his intended vote to his constituents.

Well, yeah, but the choice will be made on a secret ballot. A phrase which conspicuously includes the word “secret.” Feel free to tear back the curtain from your own voting booth, Senator, but don’t imply that those who fail to do so are acting improperly. And yes, that’s what you did.

The next paragraph points to the closeness of the election and Milne’s lopsided majority in Benning’s district, and then creates a false equivalency between the tradition of electing the top vote-getter and the freshly minted “tradition” of voting with one’s district. Uh-huh. One tradition has been unbroken for over 150 years, while the other has never been heard of in Vermont until this month.

Myself, I prefer the weightier term “precedent” in referring to this consistent principle in electing a governor. I can see why Benning does not. But there is wisdom in this precedent; to elect someone other than the top finisher creates the appearance that the legislature is thwarting the will of the people, and sows the seeds of partisan rancor.

Which is exactly what happened the last two times that precedent was flouted, in the 1976 lieutenant governor’s race and in the 1853 contest for governor.

The final cowpat in Benning’s castle is his citation of John F. Kennedy and his self-branding as an embodiment of political courage — a Gandalf staring into the gaping maw of chaos and bravely crying, “You shall not pass!”

Sorry, senator. You’re no hero; you’re just another opportunist.

Gruber contract officially downsized

One argument the Republicans have made in their desperate effort to fan the flickering flames of Grubermania is that, although Gov. Shumlin cut off Jonathan Gruber’s pay, his contract remained intact and would require a formal rewrite.

Well, mission accomplished, per the Mitchell Family Organ:

State officials released an amended contract with MIT economist Jonathan Gruber Tuesday evening, lowering the maximum amount payable to $280,000.

… Some Republicans had maintained that the original contract required official changes, and said Gruber’s “handshake agreement” with Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, was not sufficient.

The amended contract reflects the change in pay for Gruber.

The full contract can be viewed at the link above.

I’m sure the Republicans will come up with fresh rationales for their obsession. But the contract can no longer be cited as an issue. And if they possess a shred of intellectual honesty, they’ll stop referring to the Gruber contract as a $450,000 deal and adopt the true figure, $280,000.

Ball’s in your court, guys.