Monthly Archives: April 2015

Okay, Bernie, go for it.

So Bernie Sanders is running for President. Good for him.

He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance, of course. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten thoroughly debunks any notion of a Sanders victory:

Polls show Sanders doesn’t match up well against Clinton. He trails her by nearly 57 percentage points nationally, 54 percentage points in Iowa and 40 percentage points in New Hampshire.

More than that, there seems to be very little desire on the left for a challenger to Clinton. She regularly earns 60 percent support among self-described “liberal” and “very liberal” voters, according to national polls. And Sanders’s colleagues in the Senate with the most liberal voting records — those who would be key to starting a mutiny against Clinton — have already endorsed her.

Which is not to say that Bernie shouldn’t run. He absolutely should. But his candidacy should be seen as a useful counterpoint to Hillary Clinton’s cautious centrism, and a rare opportunity to get high-visibility coverage for Sanders’ left-of-center ideas. Rarely does a leftie get the kind of serious media exposure that is routinely given to conservative nutbags like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Having Bernie share the debate stage with Hillary is a singular opportunity to spread the leftist vision and force the front-runner to define herself more clearly.

She’ll win. And if she becomes President, I expect the Sanders challenge won’t have any effect on her administration. But it’s useful nonetheless, if only for the media exposure.

Besides, what has Bernie got to lose? Nothing. He’s not up for re-election in 2016; he’s near the end of his political career anyway; and while he has little hope of matching Clinton in fundraising, he doesn’t have to. He’s got a good start already, in the big fat campaign accounts that he’ll never need in Vermont.

He had four and a half million bucks at the end of December. He’s got proven broad appeal to a nationwide base of small donors who can be counted on to give generously (as defined within their financial limitations) to a Sanders presidential bid.

Besides, a Bernie candidacy will be less fueled by money than by the force of his personality and ideas. Bernie doesn’t need a robust 50-state ground game to achieve his goals; he needs to hold noisy rallies with partisan crowds cheering him on.

So go ahead, Bernie. There’s no shame in being a useful foil, and in capping your thoroughly unlikely political career with a high-profile run for the Presidency.

I do wish you’d found a way to announce your campaign in Vermont, though.

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A new path forward for Peter Shumlin?

Maybe he’s pulling a Tom Salmon, and planning to run as a Republican next year.

Nah, I doubt it. But it’d explain the sudden, aggressive, and decisively centrist re-insertion of himself into legislative debates. At the very last minute. After months of serenely floating above it all, and letting lawmakers shred his proposals to pieces.

The latest comes from VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, who tells us that the top Senators on taxes and spending were yanked into the Governor’s office yesterday afternoon to get an earful of his displeasure with the current budget and tax bills. According to Galloway, he “hates the tax bills from the House and Senate and would prefer to cut more from the budget.”

And:

While it’s the governor’s prerogative to influence the legislative process and ultimately sign or veto the legislation, Shumlin’s down-to-the-wire timing perplexed insiders who say the governor has had four months to influence the budget and tax bills, and has not made a concerted effort to do so until now.

… “Disrespectful” was a word several people used to described Shumlin’s late-game tactics.

He certainly seems to have adopted a scorched-earth approach toward his relationship with the Legislature — after promising, after the 2014 election, an open and collaborative approach. You know. that listening and learning stuff.

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VPR and Sorrell: It got worse

Okay, so Vermont Public Radio got my worst grade for its coverage — or should I say “complete absence of coverage” regarding the campaign finance scandal threatening to engulf Vermont Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

VPR didn’t even send a reporter to Tuesday’s Senate Government Operations Committee hearing, at which Sorrell reversed course and endorsed the idea of an independent investigation of his campaign activities. Something he had consistently refused to do since the fall of 2012, mind you.

And then today, the big guest on “Vermont Edition” was none other than Bill Sorrell himself.

I gave VPR its bottom-of-the-barrel grade before I head the Sorrell interview.

Now I have. And VPR just fell below the bottom of the barrel.

First of all, having devoted no perceptible airtime to the allegations against Sorrell, they give him the VPR platform for a solid half hour?

And then, even worse, they spend the first 20 minutes of the interview NOT talking about campaign finance, but the GMO labeling law and this week’s developments in the case. Jane Lindholm’s intro didn’t even mention Sorrell’s troubles; there was a single passing generic reference to “campaign finance.”

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room. We have one of our top elected officials having to accept an independent investigation of his activities — something that has rarely or perhaps EVER happened in Vermont history — and you don’t lead with it? You didn’t even mention it?

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Somebody’s ethical compass needs a tune-up

Congratulations to Governor Shumlin for finding the time in his busy schedule to do something about Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

Like Sorrell, the Governor couldn’t see the seriousness of the situation on his own; he had to be dragged kicking and screaming. I hope his moral compass is truer in other areas, though I fear not.

Also, the next time he pleads a lack of time to deal with an inconvenient issue, we’ll know it’s bullshit.

But that’s not my primary topic for this missive. No, that would be the Vermont media’s widespread failure to address the Sorrell story until it smacked them between the eyes.

Not all are equally guilty, and I’ll offer a ranking below. But their failure in the Sorrell case is sadly typical of the Vermont media’s myopia when it comes to the foibles of the powerful. There’s a presumption of innocence, a reluctance to challenge, that’s uncharacteristic of the media at its best.

Let’s take John Campbell, for instance. In late February, Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck wrote about the Senate President Pro Tem having “quietly increased his office’s staffing and more than doubled his payroll.”

The response from the Vermont media? Crickets.

Admittedly the dollars involved are not large — we’re talking roughly $55,000 before and $110,000 after — but big stories have been spun out of smaller stuff. Usually involving a nameless functionary, not an elite officeholder. (Anybody ever hear of William Goggins until this month?)

Why did Campbell get a free pass? I have no idea, but it reflects poorly on our fourth-estate watchdogs.

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Sorrell caves (updated)

I can explain everything

I can explain everything

It’s rare when a journalist can draw a straight line from his/her news story to a significant event. Such is the case today for Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, whose reporting on Attorney General Bill Sorrell started the ball rolling — with ever-quickening speed — to today’s events. Because after several days of blithe assurances that there was no need for an independent investigation of Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell had looked into Bill Sorrell’s activities and determined that Bill Sorrell did nothing wrong, Bill Sorrell reversed course today.

It’s hard to imagine this would have ever come to pass without Heintz’ stories about sloppy campaign finance reporting by Sorrell, questions about a big out-of-state donation that helped him win the 2012 Democratic primary, and questionably cozy relationships between Sorrell and some big national law firms that do business with the state.

Throughout last week, Sorrell denied he’d done anything wrong and insisted an investigation would be a waste of money. Today, in a statement to the Senate Government Operations Committee, he acknowledged the need for an independent probe. Further, he heartily endorsed the creation of an independent commission to oversee election law, which would remove that authority from his own office.

When asked about his change of heart, he said:

What I realized was that this was a distraction here in the building and certainly a distraction in my office. I didn’t want the appearance that I had something to hide, so even though it will cost money, the integrity of the office of Attorney General and my personal integrity are too important. If we have to spend some taxpayer moneys to clear my name — or see that justice is done, either way — it’s worth it.

Nice stick save, General.

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If it didn’t happen in the Free Press, it didn’t happen

The Burlington Free Press takes tremendous pride in its scoops. Front-page placement, social media bragging. It’ll also follow up endlessly, whether fresh developments warrant it or not. And sometimes the “scoops” aren’t worth the paper they’re (at least for now) printed on.

Its pride in the Liquor Control Commission overtime affair is justified. Mike Donoghue discovered an abuse of the system and aired it out. One result: the amazingly well-timed retirement of Commissioner Michael Hogan.

Great. Good work. But I find it awfully curious that while the Free Press has devoted lots and lots of space to the LCC, it has published exactly one story — count it, one — about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s refusal to investigate himself for possible campaign finance violations.

And that one story was an Associated Press production. No staff time whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

The only explanation I can think of: the story originated in Seven Days. The Free Press can’t claim credit; it’d just be playing catch-up.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey Sense tingling, how about the fact that the Free Press has published not a word about State Police Corporal Jon Graham’s Facebook posts? The story first broke Friday night on WCAX, and has been widely re-reported elsewhere. But not in the Free Press (or on FreePressMedia).

Stories like these are usually catnip for the Free Press: allegations of official misconduct, of a kind that’s sure to generate pageviews and controversy.

Sorrell is supposedly testifying before a Senate committee this afternoon. I expect the Free Press will be there, and will report on the story — because now, it’ll have a fresh hook to hang the story on, and won’t have to credit Paul Heintz for the scoop.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But the Free Press’ track record informs my cynicism. And for the life of me, I can think of no other explanation for Our Former Newspaper Of Record almost completely ignoring two significant stories in state government.

The recycling market and Act 148

This is the second of two posts about the Bottle Bill, unclaimed nickels, and universal recycling. Part 1 can be read here.

On July 1, the state of Vermont will ban all recyclable materials from landfills. Under a law called Act 148, everything recyclable is supposed to be kept out of the waste stream.

Hooray, right?

Well yes, but there are issues. (Aren’t there always?) Foremost among them, unsurprisingly, is money. Handling trash will become more expensive post-July 1, especially for trash haulers in smaller, more rural service areas. Haulers can’t impose a charge on recycling, so they’ll have to recoup their costs by raising their tipping fees.

That could induce sticker shock in some places. Tom Moreau of the Chittenden Solid Waste District estimates that some disposal fees could triple under Act 148.

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