Daily Archives: December 20, 2014

The Emily Post Guide to Gubernatorial Seating Arrangements

There’s one unobserved aspect of Gov. Shumlin’s white-flag presser on single payer health care that I’d like to mention before the event is any farther in our rear-view mirrors.

Because the Governor was announcing his single payer reversal not only to the media, but also to his two big Advisory Councils on health care reform, the event was moved from his ceremonial office to Room 11, one of the larger conference rooms in the Statehouse (which is notorious for small, cramped, unphotogenic rooms). Room 11 is on the first floor, to the left of the Abe Lincoln bust that dominates the central hallway.

It’s a long rectangle; the east and west walls are the long ones. There’s a big wooden conference table along the west wall. Directly in front of this table is a rather narrow open area; along the east wall are three long rows of chairs.

The south wall (closest to the front of the building) is kind of an open area. In front of the north wall are several rows of seats.

The lectern for the news conference was set up on the south end of the room. The seating area on the east wall was filled with members of Shumlin’s Business Advisory Council and miscellaneous others. The conference table opposite was where most of the media sat. (Yeah, we grabbed the comfy chairs.)

In the open area between east and west walls, the TV cameras were set up.

The seating area near the north wall was where Shumlin’s Consumer Advisory Council sat.

Now, it’s well known in government circles (and probably the private sector as well) that proximity equals influence. Presidential staffers clamor for space in the White House instead of the Executive Office Building, for instance.

Well, in this case the Business Advisory Council got the prime seats. The Consumer Advisory Council was in the Siberia of Room 11. Their view of the lectern was blocked by all the TV tripods.

You don’t think that was an accident, do you?

Oh, and also languishing in the cheap seats was a rather forlorn looking Mark Larson, who still holds the title (and draws the salary) of Vermont Health Access Commissioner, even though he was sidelined months ago in a staff shakeup. He may still be a top Shumlin health care executive, but he was nowhere near the front of the room where all his, ahem, colleagues hovered closely behind the governor.

After remarks from Shumlin and others, he opened it up for questions. He sought to go back and forth between the media and members of his two Councils.

Who do you think dominated the Q&A period? Well, the media did, but aside from that it was all Business Advisory Council. Only one voice emerged from the back of the room: CAC chair David Reynolds made a brief and forgettable statement about how much hard work had been done. Not a peep was heard from CAC members like Peter Sterling, James Haslam, and Dr. Deb Richter — three of Vermont’s leading advocates for single payer. Maybe they were in shock, or maybe they couldn’t be seen from the lectern because of all the TV guys.

Several members of the BAC spoke. All were vociferous in their praise for everyone’s hard work, and all credited Shumlin for his hard work and his wisdom in scuppering single payer. Yeah, right: some of these guys were against single payer from day one. A couple of them were harshly critical of the media for being mean to the governor, when in fact we were only doing our jobs, and Shumlin gets worse than that in his regular news conferences.

The business community, up close and with a clear view of the Powers That Be. The consumer representatives, exiled to the back of the room where they’d have to jump and shout to be recognized.

Given the content of Shumlin’s announcement, that all seems about right.