Daily Archives: January 15, 2015

The Shummy Shimmy

Before the November election, I’d planned to write a post-election piece offering my services to the Shumlin administration for the newly-created position of Shitkicker-In-Chief. The duties would include pointing out the flaws in administration reasoning, deflating egos when necessary, and the occasional loud guffaw.

The idea was based on my belief (hahahaha) that the election wouldn’t be close. When Shumlin won by a shoestring, I thought my idea was irrelevant. The election was a more effective shitkicker than I could ever be.

Seems I was wrong, because the Governor has quickly fallen back into to some bad habits. One of his worst is his almost-complete inability to admit that he was wrong about something — even if it’s something trivial. It makes him appear small-minded, overly defensive, duplicitous, and condescending.

This habit is again on display in the foofaraw over releasing documents related to single-payer health care.

For those just joining us, when the governor announced in December that he was ditching single-payer, WCAX’s Kyle Midura asked a provocative question. Here’s the exchange, as reported by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

“Will you waive executive privilege for all backdated documents at this point related to this question so we can see what you knew when?” Midura said.

“There is nothing to hide on what we knew when, so we’d be happy to show you any documents you wish to look at,” the governor responded.

Emphasis: “any documents you wish to look at.” And Midura’s use of “this question” is generally seen as referring to Shumlin’s decision on single-payer.

Naturally, multiple media outlets made public-records requests for any related documents. And that’s when Shumlin backtracked: the administration withheld “hundreds of pages of documents related to single-payer,” reports VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld.

Shumlin never wrongShumlin says he never intended for him comments on Dec. 17 to mean that he’d release all internal communications related to single-payer.

“Now no governor ever divulges inter-staff conversations, but what we did divulge was all the data that led us to the conclusions that we came to,” Shumlin said.

Okay, I can see that point of view. But why did he promise, on Dec. 17, to release everything?

Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Sulu!

So far, we’ve heard two different explanations.

In an email to Heintz, the Governor’s legal counsel Sarah London asserted that Midura’s question referred narrowly to “the specific question of Medicaid reimbursement rates.”

On the other hand, Shumlin told Hirschfeld that he thought the question referred only to documents involved in a lawsuit by Rep. Cynthia Browning.

“Well as you know we had a fairly well-publicized court case … where we were asked to divulge all the data, studies and information about every detail that led us to the disappointing conclusions that we came to about public financing,” Shumlin said. “I assumed that his question was simply, are you going to continue to withhold that data? Or are you going to share it?”

It got even worse when Shumlin tried to clarify his position at a news conference yesterday:

“If you listen to the entire question, I answered it very clearly. And what I said was, the question I understood — I had it played back to me, so I think I got it — was, ‘Are you going to release the documents that, frankly, hadn’t been released before?’ You may recall Cynthia Browning requested them and we went to court and the court ruled in our favor. ‘Are you now going to release those documents? The documents that give us the data, all the dates, what you’ve done, all the studies?’ And I said, ‘Of course, we are. We want Vermonters to have that information.’ If you took the question as something else, you should’ve asked it that way. You didn’t.”

The Shummy Shimmy.

It’s one of his worst features: ducking and diving in a transparent effort to avoid admitting he was wrong.

I guess they could still use a Shitkicker-In-Chief.

Here’s a little free advice. Or consider it part of my S-I-C job application. Here’s what he should have said — and it’s not much different from what he did say.

“I apologize for misspeaking on Dec. 17. I should not have promised to release ‘all documents,’ because every administration needs some measure of privacy in its internal policy discussions. Any chief executive would agree with that.

“We have provided as much documentation as we can. The information we have released should be more than adequate to understanding how we arrived at our decision. I hope you, and the people of Vermont, can appreciate our position.”

There. Was that so hard?

The occasional apology would go a long way toward changing Shumlin’s image for the better. The long-term benefit would far outweigh the immediate discomfort.

 

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Lock up the wimminfolk — the gunslingers are comin’ to town.

Wild BunchTalk about your Statehouse security risks.

Anytime now, you should expect an invasion by “the most sought-after Guns for Hire,” flooding the Statehouse hallways and your TV screens with an all-out barrage of propaganda issue advocacy.

The approaching marauders hale from a D.C. PR firm with the faintly unbelievable name “Goddard Gunster.” On its home page it proudly boasts of being “the most sought-after Guns for Hire,” as Business Week once called them.

GG will work for anyone who can pay its exorbitant bills, but a frequent customer is the American Beverage Association and its fellow peddlers of sugary drinks. They’ve turned to GG whenever a beverage tax or bottle bill or ban on SuperSizing rears its ugly head — from San Francisco to Telluride to New York City to Massachusetts.

And now, after an unsuccessful effort in 2013, we’re about to see another drive for a sugared-beverage tax* in Vermont. Which means, sure as the sun comes up in the east, Goddard Gunster will be ridin’ into town, guns a-blazin’.

*Popularly called “soda tax,” but would apply to any beverage with added sugar.

In 2013, an SBT bill won approval in the House Health Care Committee, which saw it more as a public health measure than a revenue enhancer; but it failed on a 6-5 vote in the Ways and Means Committee. During the three months between the bill’s introduction and its death, Big Sugar and its retail allies spent more than $600,000 fighting the bill. That’s an astounding figure in Vermont terms.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe black-hat lobbyist Andrew McLean, who spearheaded Big Sugar’s anti-tax efforts under the Golden Dome:

MacLean concedes his clients spent “a lot of money” on a “very aggressive campaign” to halt the tax.

“I have not been involved in a campaign that’s that expensive,” he says.

This, from a guy who reps many of the biggest business and industry clients in Vermont.

And it’s sure to be even more expensive this year, because the SBT may have a better chance of passing. The reason? Vermont’s massive budget deficit, most recently estimated at $94 million.

There will be cuts to be sure; but cutting all the way to $94 million would be incredibly painful. It would, of necessity, focus primarily on the Agency of Human Services, which consumes the lion’s share of the General Fund budget. That’d be unpalatable to most lawmakers and to a liberal base already put off by Gov. Shumlin’s abandonment of single-payer health care.

So lawmakers will be looking for relatively painless ways to raise revenue. And that could carry the day for the SBT, which would raise about $35 million per year. That’s more than one-third of the budget gap taken care of right there.

The SBT does face a long uphill battle. Gov. Shumlin opposes it, although his stridency appears to be dwindling a bit. House and Senate leadership are cool to the idea, but advocates are hoping they will warm up as the budget pressure increases.

And sure as shootin’, “the most sought-after Guns for Hire” will be ready to ride into town, tossing money around like bullets in a spaghetti Western. The TV ads will be ubiquitous, touting “consumer choice” and featuring Mom ‘n Pop types worried about the tax’s impact on their little corner store. They’ll also be prominently featured in anti-SBT testimony in the Legislature — even though the big money behind the campaign will come from the beverage industry and big retail chains.

If they spent $600,000 two years ago to kill a longshot SBT bill, how much will they spend this year? Your guesses should start at a million bucks. Two mill would not surprise me.

Just think: more money than any political campaign in Vermont history, spent in a few short months over a soda tax.

This may be our first real taste of the post-Citizens United, Wild West world of unfettered money in politics.