Daily Archives: January 9, 2015

A passel o’ peevishness on Inauguration Day (Part Two)

In Part One, I mused about the overreactions and hurt fee-fees on both sides of yesterday’s Inaugural protest. Now, let’s turn our attention to the Republican reaction to Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural address.

Their main point, according to VTDigger’s Laura Krantz?

Gov. Peter Shumlin ignored the most pressing issues facing Vermont in the first speech of his third term, Republican leaders said Thursday in response to the inaugural address.

… Republicans, gathered in the Senate cloakroom, said they were disappointed Shumlin ignored property taxes and health care — two issues that topped voter concerns during the elections last fall.

The speech focused on energy and the environment, so the complaint is technically accurate. But it deliberately ignores the fact that Shumlin billed this speech as Part One of a two-part 2015 agenda. And the governor specifically said he will address the “missing” issues in next week’s budget address.

“Just because the governor has acknowledged that his plan is a failure doesn’t mean he can ignore health care. We still need to address it,” said Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset.

Well, he didn’t “ignore” health care. He said he’d address it next week.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Lyndonville, said the speech focused not on saving money but on spending more.

Again, the budget address hasn’t happened yet. That’s when Shumlin promises a plan to balance the budget. And, for the fiscal conservatives among us, Shumlin’s energy/environment speech contained very little in the way of new spending. The energy part was mainly about new regulation of renewables, which doesn’t involve any state spending. The Governor did propose two fees to help fund Lake Champlain cleanup, but both are narrowly targeted on sectors that contribute heavily to Champlain’s problems — agriculture and commercial/industrial development.

Republicans said they are open to his ideas about cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways but those are not the big problems.

Well, actually it IS a big and urgent problem because, as they well know, the EPA is holding Vermont’s feet to the fire. If we don’t come up with a solid plan, including new funding, then the feds will come down on us hard. That makes Champlain a top priority.

Speaking of new urgency, here’s another Republican missing the point.

“It needs doing but where was he four years ago on this?” said Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton.

Well, he was doing the same thing Jim Douglas did before him: postponing the Day of Reckoning as long as possible. As Rep. Savage well knows, the EPA has run out of patience, so Shumlin can’t possibly put it off any longer.

 Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

“Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.”

House Minority Leader Don Turner was his usual obstructive self, strongly opposing any new taxes or fees, and even blasting Shumlin’s proposal to use the current use law as an enforcement mechanism for farmers and loggers. And he did so in a stunningly inarticulate fashion:

“I think that we know that current use is a very popular program, and it is a very expensive program. But if we want open land in Vermont its been one of those tools that has worked really well,” he said.

So wait. Current use is “very expensive,” and, in fact, Republicans have called for new limits on the program, but it’s “worked really well” and we can’t possibly do without it. You’d need a couple hours of pounding ’em back at the Capitol Plaza bar before that started to make sense.

The entire Republican response consisted of the automatic gainsaying of anything Shumlin said.

With one exception. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott released a statement that began thusly:

“I was encouraged to hear the Governor talk about economic growth. It was good to hear about the Governor’s support of research and development, especially after this important incentive was reduced last year. I hope that the Governor’s mention in his speech today is a precursor to a proposal included in the budget next week.”

Admittedly Scott sort of bent Shumlin’s message in his own direction, but look at what he did:

— He identified common ground instead of just saying “No.”

— He acknowledged that the inaugural address was Part One of Shumlin’s agenda.

A hint of politics, but overall gracious and inclusive. That’s the way you do it.

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A passel o’ peevishness on Inauguration Day (Part One)

Many a knicker was tightly knotted yesterday, judging by some of the statements made and actions taken at the inaugural ceremony.

Most of the collywobbles arose from the protest by advocates of single-payer health care. Many politicians were vocally incensed at such goings-on. And some of the protesters were shocked — shocked — that they might be handled roughly by police.

The rest of the peevishness came from Republicans reacting, even more childishly than usual, to Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural address. I’ll cover that in a separate post.  Back to the demonstration.

The folks from the Vermont Workers Center went a bit too far when they disrupted the closing benediction. Otherwise their protest was peaceful if occasionally intrusive.

The assembled dignitaries, however, just couldn’t stomach this disturbance of their sacred space. Sen Dick McCormack wins the honor for Biggest Overreaction; he called the protest “fascist.” Protip for public figures: never ever ever ever ever use the word “fascist” unless you’re talking about a violent, oppressive, murderous regime.

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Hicktown, resorted to the “You Kids Get Off My Lawn” meme: “I think they should get a job.” Dirty hippies!

Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell was among several lawmakers who told protesters they were hurting their own cause.

Snort. As if.

Two points. First, single payer is dead for the foreseeable future. Second, any lawmaker who casts a future vote because of yesterday’s demonstration is failing his/her duty.

And the Governor, speaking today on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, said the protesters had “hurt the cause” by showing a “lack of respect for the process.”

Awww. Would that be the same process (and the same governor) who built up their hopes and expectations for years, only to dash them all in a single moment? Shumlin reaped the benefits of single-payer advocates’ support through three election cycles, and then abruptly trashed it all.

Advocates are understandably upset about that, and the inauguration of Peter Shumlin was an appropriate time to express their outrage. It was, in fact, the perfect time. The Governor shouldn’t play with people’s beliefs, and expect to be shielded from the consequences by his sense of decorum. As a Mark Johnson Show caller pointed out, disruption is the only way for people who feel disenfranchised to make their voices heard.

So, no sympathy for the hurt fee-fees of our distinguished leaders.

Not that the protesters are without blame. The single moment where things went too far was during the closing prayer. Protesters were outside, singing. One of them, Ki Walker, entered the balcony and continued to sing. A protest organizer later claimed that Walker thought the ceremony was over. But Walker was right there at center stage. He could see that the ceremony was continuing. And he kept on singing.

Afterward, he explained himself to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

 “Our tone was, like, nice or whatever,” Walker said.

Duuuuuuude. 

But the Whiniest Protester Award goes to Sheila Linton, who was part of the group occupying the House floor after the ceremony. When police began trying to remove the group, very politely, she refused to move or speak. When they tried to lift her arms, she began screaming as though they were using a chainsaw. (You can see the video on Seven Days’ website.)

Okay, here’s a lesson for Vermont’s Junior Gandhis. Your commitment to passive resistance  includes the possibility of what one trooper called “pain compliance” — the application of discomfort to those who resist police action. And this wasn’t Bull Connor with firehoses and Dobermans; these were state troopers acting with restraint and deliberation. Sorry, Ms. Linton, no sympathy here.

The demonstration itself was relatively mild, Mr. Walker being a notable exception. So was the police response. People on both sides got way more upset than they should have been.

The best reaction came from House Speaker Shap Smith, quoted by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami:

“I think this was an incredible example of the openness of our democracy,” he said. “In the people’s house, people are allowed to petition, and I would expect that over the coming weeks, we’ll talk with people about setting up hearings.”

Measured, reasonable, respectful. Just about perfect.

(Still to come: VTGOPeevishness.)

 

Shake them pom-poms, Mikey!

Michael Townsend, Executive Editor of the Burlington Free Press, was feeling his oats last night. He sent out a couple of downright obnoxious Tweets promoting the Freeploid’s spectacular coverage of yesterday’s inaugural protest.

(As Tweeter @murf_VT pointed out, Mikey forgot the “h” in “http,” making the link inoperative. He’s gonna get a failing grade from Picasso for that.)

Does Townsend really believe this kind of stuff helps the Free Press in any way? Do readers — sorry, consumers — pay any attention to this?

I can tell you one thing it accomplishes: it makes everyone else in Vermont media think Michael Townsend is an asshole. I mean, it’s perfectly acceptable to express pride in your organization’s work — and the Free Press team did work hard yesterday — but you don’t have to implicitly denigrate your equally hard-working peers.

The Inaugural Address: A pretty good start

The speech by Governor Shumlin — which he billed as the first of two parts — included some welcome elements. It left a lot unsaid; presumably he will confront property taxes, school governance, health care, and government spending in his budget address next week.

Today’s address focused on two areas: energy, and the environment. In the latter category, his primary focus was on Lake Champlain. It was, if I recall correctly, the first time he’s drawn attention to these issues in a major January speech. To me, it’s a welcome development.

It’s also an opening for him to regain some credibility among liberals. When Peter Shumlin was running for Governor in 2010, his two big issues were single payer health care and the environment (climate change, green energy and Vermont Yankee). But while his administration has made some good incremental gains on the latter issues, they’ve never seemed to get the spotlight. Now they have.

With single payer off the table, perhaps Shumlin is returning to his other signature issue and hoping to put his stamp on Vermont’s future on energy and the environment. If he can’t be the single-payer governor, perhaps he can be the environmental governor. It’s a good strategy.

The caveat, of course: Now he’s gotta deliver.

He also opened the door to raising taxes as part of the effort to close a $100 million budget gap. In a brief preview of next week’s budget address, he said this:

We cannot simply cut our way out of our fiscal challenge year after year – taking away services that are important to so many Vermonters. Nor can we tax our way out of the problem.

Which would seem to indicate that his plan will include a mix of cuts and “revenue enhancements.” I’d urge him to take a long look at the plan that nearly passed the House a couple years ago, which would have raised taxes on the wealthy (by closing loopholes and limiting deductions) and provided some tax relief to the middle and working classes. I say “nearly passed the House” because it was stopped in its tracks by Shumlin’s stubborn opposition.

As for the details on energy and the environment:

The centerpiece on energy is a new renewables strategy, as the current (and, in some circles, controversial) SPEED program is sunsetted in 2017. The Energy Innovation Program is aimed at further boosting our investment in renewables and energy efficiency. Shumlin called the EIP “our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals.”

Sounds good. We await the legislative process with anticipation and a bit of trepidation.

On Lake Champlain, Shumlin came up with a decent-looking package. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s better than anything he’s offered before. He realizes, as he told the legislature, that if the state fails to meet EPA muster, we’ll face some burdensome federal regulations.

His plan includes:

— New transportation funding to curtail runoff and erosion around our roads and streets.

— New funding and technical assistance for farmers and loggers, to help them meet water-quality standards.

— More thorough efforts to enforce current water quality regulations.

— Making a change in the Current Use program, which would take away that tax break from farmers who fail to reduce pollution.

As for funding, his plan includes two new fees: One on agricultural fertilizers, and one on commercial and industrial parcels in the Champlain watershed.

The revenue would go into a newly created Vermont Clean Water Fund, a repository for state, federal and private funds. The first private money, he announced today, is a $5 million donation (over the next five years) from Keurig Green Mountain, which Shumlin called “a company that depends upon clean water.” He expressed the hope that KGM’s generosity will “inspire others.”

If he can leverage substantial donations from the private sector, his plan could accomplish quite a bit without too much stress on the state’s bottom line. Maybe enough to get the EPA off his back, at least for a while.

From this liberal’s point of view, it’s a good start. But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel said today, the Governor effectively served us dessert before dinner. Next week’s budget address will be a much less appealing dish. Plenty of mushy steamed vegetables scattered around a hunk of gray meat.

Beyond that, well, actions speak louder than words, and we’ve heard plenty of words from this Governor in the past. The political question is: Can he deliver on this agenda in a way that will repair his reputation for effective governance and bring liberals back into the fold? He can; but will he?