A slight but perceptible bend in the glass ceiling

The House and Senate Democrats will caucus tomorrow (Saturday) in Montpelier to choose their nominees for leadership positions. It’s been radio silence on the Senate side, which I take as a bad sign, but some news has come out of the House.

And for gender equity fans, the news is good.

As you may recall, Vermont does very well on gender equity in the House, less well in the Senate, and very poorly in statewide elective office and Congressional seats. Like, for instance, we’ve never sent a woman to Congress. Which is, well, shameful.

Back to the House, where Shap Smith will return as Speaker; but the new House Majority Leader, according to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, will be Sarah Copeland Hanzas of Bradford. What’s even better for equity’s sake is that the other candidate for the post was also female: Kesha Ram of Burlington. Having two women in line for the House’s number-2 slot is a very good sign.

Ram dropped out, per Heintz, citing the need for geographic balance. She will apparently fill a new post, “caucus election chair,” which is being created to sharpen Democratic messaging and lend a hand to House candidates.

Those developments, plus Kate Webb returning as Whip, mean that women will be heavily represented on the House leadership team. And whenever Shap gets tired of herding cats, the next Speaker may well be a woman.

Over in the Old Farts’ Club, er, I mean the Senate, I’m not feeling the gender-equity love. I’d be very happy to be proven wrong, but I’m expecting the leadership in Vermont’s Most Stagnant Deliberative Body to remain pretty much the same.

I love my little gavel, but this job is sooooo hard.

I love my little gavel, but this job is sooooo hard.

By all accounts, John Campbell will keep the job as President Pro Tem in spite of the fact that he isn’t very effective unless he has a nanny to keep him in line. After the disastrous 2012 session, he hired Rebecca Ramos as his chief of staff, and things improved. She’s now a lobbyist, and according (again) to Paul Heintz, Erika Wolffing will take the job.

Wolffing was a Shumlin administration fixture who went to the Democratic Governors Association when Shumlin became its chair. Now that Shumlin is out at the DGA, Wolffling will reportedly become the hand that rocks Campbell’s cradle.

Which leaves me wondering why we let him hang around when he (a) apparently can’t handle the job without a lot of help and (b) openly supported Republican Phil Scott and seized every opportunity to shit on Dean Corren. But maybe that’s just me.

I’m sure the status quo will remain in the Phil Scott Fan Club, er, I mean, the Committee on Committees, the body that makes all the committee assignments. Phil Scott himself is a member by law, as is Campbell. The third, elected by the full Senate, is, was, and ever shall be Dick Mazza, a putative Democrat who was extremely vociferous in his support for Phil Scott.

Which leaves me wondering why, when the Dems have a nearly 2-1 majority, we have to settle for nominal Democrats on that very powerful committee.

The Democratic caucus will see some change with the none-too-soon departures of Bob Hartwell and Peter Galbraith, but I’d be surprised to see much happen with the leadership. It’d be nice, but I ain’t holding my breath.

Finally, for those who think I’m too mean to Mr. Campbell, here’s a little tidbit from last March. Campbell had stuck his foot in his mouth by openly doubting the prospects for single payer health care and talking about pursuing some alternative plan. (Bear in mind that Shumlin was still riding high at that point.) This reportedly enraged the governor. And a few days later, Campbell appeared on WDEV”s Mark Johnson Show and tried to walk back his earlier statement.

It was a complete fiasco. At one point Johnson asked him this question: “You dropped something of a bombshell this week that you want to start pursuing an alternative to the Shumlin health care plan. Why?”

And here, really and truly, was his answer in all its obfuscatory glory.

First of all, I guess it’s a question of how you define what my “bombshell” is. I think some people have taken it to mean what they really, what they want to hear from what I said. And basically, my, uh, my position is this, is that we are headed right now as far as the Legislature, we are going to be focusing on making sure that we have a publicly-financed, universal access to health care in this state, and that’s known as Green Mountain Care. As far as I’m concerned, I consider it Green Mountain Care, it’s a universal access program. Um, um, I charged my, in fact we spoke about it here on this program at the beginning, I think at the beginning of the session, how I had asked all of my committees with jurisdiction to start doing their due diligence under Act 48, which was the, back in 2011, which actually started Green Mountain Care or our, ah, our, ah, move to that.  And so what I did was, I asked each one of the committees that would have jurisdiction, which were five of those committees, and they were to um look and see what exactly is in Act 48 and can we actually achieve what our goal is?

And if they found things that um, through their, uh, their research and through taking testimony, that could either change this into a direction and put us in a direction that we were going to uh have this Green Mountain Care would be sustainable, then I wanted to hear about it and I thought that’s really what the Senate is doing now. So uh the fact of the matter, uh, I believe there was a statement was, um, regarding the funding, and whether or not I believed that, I think I said that, uh, the $2.2 billion dollar package that’s been put on there right now, I said I do not think that that was sustainable or viable in this, uh, current legislative — uh, Legislature. And I stand by that.

And what it, what I’m talking about in that, and people always take that $2.2 billion dollar figure, and they believe that that’s all new money. And it’s not new money. What it is is partially savings that would be found, uh, by way of not having the premiums, um, by cost savings, and so I stand by the fact is that once we find out what this financing package is, which would also first identify what the product is gonna be, um, if we do not have sufficient — if that money, um, is new money, then there’s gonna be a problem. But if we show, and we’re able to demonstrate that the money in that $2.2 billion is currently already in the system, and that Vermonters are already paying, uh, and on top of that, that we find those costs for any new money that’s — cost savings for any new money that’s coming in, then we’re, we have, I think, ahh, what we envision, all of us envision, that is to make sure that every Vermonter has full access, or access to. uh, uh, to great health care here in the state.

Good God almighty. What a statesman.

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