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.

4 thoughts on “The Emily Post Guide to Gubernatorial Seating Arrangements

  1. NanuqFC

    Has anyone looked at whether the major insurance companies donated significant sums to Shummy’s re-election campaign fund?

  2. Walter Carpenter

    “Peter Sterling, James Haslam, and Dr. Deb Richter..” Actually, Deb Richter did stand up to make a comment. And the members of the consumer advisory council were scattered all over the room, not just in one area. A couple of us were sitting with the business council folks. I am on the consumer advisory board and was next to James Haslem, almost directly in front of the governor’s vision (though a camera did block it somewhat) and next to another consumer advisory person.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Walter: I’ll admit, I didn’t take attendance. Here’s what I saw and heard that led me to my conclusions about the seating arrangements. At the beginning of his presentation, Gov. Shumlin pointed to the east side of the room and thanked his Business Advisory Council. Then he pointed to the distant north end of the room and thanked his Consumer Advisory Council.

      And then during the Q&A, every BAC question/comment came from the east end of the room, and the only CAC comment I heard (don’t know how I missed Dr. Deb) came from the north end.

      My observation about the quantity of comments was off by one. There were still a whole lot more BAC voices heard than CAC. I had some of the details wrong, but there was definitely a BAC lean to the event — and more to the point, to the substance of Shumlin’s announcement.

      I do apologize for the errors.

  3. Walter Carpenter

    No biggie:) Dr. Deb sat in the east end among the BAC. She was more in the corner toward the door where Shummy was talking. I think she was the third speaker, if my memory has not failed me. A bunch of CAC people, though, were in the east end:) I chose the north end because it was less cramped. The governor did come over to me. We chatted for several seconds. You’re right on the more BAC voices than the CAC and the lean toward the BAC. I think we on the CAC were too stunned to think about asking questions.


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