Monthly Archives: May 2015

VTGOP chair throws his own people under the bus

UPDATE: I was mistaken when I wrote this post. The opinion piece was not written by Sunderland; it was a Times Argus editorial. See this new post for details.

Vermont Republican Party chair David Sunderland, having been eerily quiet during the bulk of this year’s legislative session, is now throwing around boilerplate press releases and opinion pieces like there’s no tomorrow.

A recent missive, published in the May 27 Times Argus, castigates H.361, the education reform bill, as “a mess of a bill,” a “coercive regime,” the result of a “panicked” legislature. He claims the bill “will raise property taxes” (nonsense) and introduce inequity to what he called the “painstaking and thorough quest” that resulted in the adoption of Act 60 in 1997.

Which is funny in itself, because Republicans have been loudly beating the drum for repeal of Act 60 and its 2003 amendment, Act 68. Sunderland may be too young to recall that Act 68 was adopted because of severe problems with Act 60. But hey, if he views the halcyon days of Act 60 through rose-colored glasses, that’s his right. Of course, he may be completely alone in his nostalgia.

But that’s not the real story here. The most significant, nay stunning, aspect of his essay is that H.361 was a bipartisan bill. It was a cooperative effort of Democrats and Republicans in the House Education Committee, and it passed the Legislature with substantial Republican support. In the House, 23 Republicans — almost half the caucus — voted for H.361, including House Minority Leader Don Turner and Assistant Leader Brian Savage.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The political significance of the state [bleep] chair

First it was Seven Days, and now it’s VTDigger, reporting on State Rep. Bob Helm’s hidden-camera appearance in a TV report about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the organization that spreads conservative policy ideas and provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers nationwide.

Helm was attending an ALEC conference when he was buttonholed by someone he didn’t know was a TV reporter. He told her he was “the state [bleep], the state chair of ALEC,” and acknowledged that lobbyists had helped pay the freight for him and numerous other lawmakers.

The reporting raises questions of ethics and influence-peddling; but to this Political Observer, the most interesting aspect is the growing influence of ALEC in Vermont Republican circles.

Helm boasted to VTDigger that “he has ‘revved up’ the ALEC chapter in Vermont and has boosted the number of members to 20, up from four just a few years ago.”

I’d love to see that membership list. I’ve heard, for instance, that Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, who tries very hard to position himself as a moderate, is an ALEC member. That may or may not be true, but Wright did push very hard in this year’s session for a bill banning teacher strikes — an idea that’s been promoted by ALEC in other states.

But the bigger point is, 20 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a substantial fraction of the Republican legislative caucus.

Continue reading

If this was the start of Phil Scott’s gubernatorial campaign, he’s got some work to do

Vermont’s Master of Inoffensive Centrism, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, made some news today. After years of speculation that sooner or later he’d run for the top job, he took a small tentative step in that direction. Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition:

I’m certainly considering it, but I’m a far, a long ways from making that decision.

Well, that’s about as undramatic as a first step could be. But he didn’t stop there.

I think it’s something that you have to really internalize and you have to base your decision less on ego and less on the ability to win and make sure that it’s something that you think you should do for the benefit of all Vermont, ah, all Vermonters. So, you know, I have a long way to go before making that decision, but again, I’m considering, and I should, ah, I know I have to make a decision by the end of the year.

Color me unimpressed. Scott filled the airwaves with words for a solid minute without actually saying much of anything.

It was typical of the entire interview, which was surprisingly inept for a politician as practiced, and seemingly comfortable in his own skin, as Phil Scott. I got the sense that this was a big milestone for him: his first as a potential leader staking out positions of his own instead of depending on the easy personal charm that’s made him a good fit for his current post.

He seemed ill at ease in the new role.

Continue reading

Win Smith’s 47% Moment

What’s this in my inbox? Why, it’s a heart-rending tale from the desk of Win Smith, co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort and president of the Vermont Business Roundtable. And former Merrill Lynch executive. And reportedly a member of a secret Wall Street society described as “‘”a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club’ whose annual dinners are filled with elitist, sexist and homophobic humor.”

(Bruce Lisman’s also a member, but I digress.)

Smith’s business partner in Sugarbush is, of course, State Rep. Adam Greshin, who wrote and lobbied for an amendment that forestalls a significant increase in Sugarbush’s sizable utility bills. And was, dubiously and privately, cleared by the House Ethics Panel.

Smith’s essay is being distributed to Vermont news outlets; I’m sure it will shortly be cluttering up your local paper’s content-hungry Op-Ed page. It’s a pretty amazing piece of work, managing to be both politically and literarily obnoxious. It’s a subtle retelling of stale conservative myths about poverty and government. You know the stuff: welfare mothers with Cadillacs, poor folks lulled into dependency by public-sector largesse, and the myth that “47% of Americans pay no taxes” and therefore have no stake in responsible government.

Smith begins with the sad story of “a childhood friend of mine” whose mother expressed her love by serving “large portions of tasty food.”

Unfortunately, Mom’s generosity had deadly results.

Continue reading

Nobody’s figured out how to make this economy work

Vermont Republicans are fond of slamming the Shumlin Economy, cherrypicking statistics that make the Governor’s record look bad. They criticize his policies as crippling to economic growth and middle-class prosperity. (And now that Bernie Sanders is running for President, they try to blame all the ills of the last three decades on him, even though he hasn’t been running the place and would clearly have adopted very different policies if he had been. Protip to Republicans: correlation is not causation.)

And yes, in spite of very low unemployment, it’s inarguable that the recovery has been slow and spotty for most Vermonters. Their purchasing power has remained stagnant. But this isn’t just a Vermont phenomenon, and if you look at other states with conservative governments, they’re failing at least as badly as we are.

Last Friday, Talking Points Memo posted a piece about how four Republican governors are seeing their presidential aspirations undercut by severe budget problems back home — problems attributable to the failure of their policies to hotwire their economies.

The basic concept is as cartoonish as when it was first sketched on a napkin by Arthur Laffer: cut taxes and the economy will flourish. Revenues will rise, as government takes a smaller slice of a growing pie. Business, freed of its public-sector shackles, will lead us into a prosperous future.

Trouble is, it doesn’t work. In Louisiana, WIsconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, Republican tax-cutting policies have failed: all four states have sluggish economies and huge budget shortfalls. It’s worse on both sides than anything Peter Shumlin has inflicted on the state of Vermont.

Continue reading

So, Bernie.

I don’t want to sound churlish here, but I probably will. Yesterday’s Bernie Sanders campaign kickoff was a nice event. If nothing else, it was a celebration (and validation) of #FeelTheBern’s unlikely political career; whatever else he accomplishes is gravy. If he can fight the good fight and push progressive issues into the mainstream political discourse, he will have done something meaningful.

My problem is this. In advance of the kickoff, the Vermont media was stuffed to the gunnels with Bernie coverage. The most ardent Bernie outlets were the Burlington Free Press and VPR, which previewed the event as though it was a combination of the Gettysburg Address and Woodstock. Both outlets posted previews entitled “What You Need to Know About Sanders’ Campaign Kickoff” or something like that. To which my response was, “I don’t need to know anything about that.”

Nothing against Bernie. I just can’t get excited about an opening gambit in a year-and-a-half-long process. And I can’t get excited about reading endless, breathless Bernie coverage. I already know what I need to know about the man and his politics.

For the Vermont media, Bernie’s presidential bid is the best kind of clickbait. It draws eyeballs AND it’s certifiably “important” in journalistic terms. There’s a corner of the editorial heart that curdles a little bit whenever they have to post another Heady Topper piece or foodie listicle; when they can have their clickbait cake and eat it too, as with Bernie, well, it’s open season.

After the last few days of #BernieBernieBernie, I’m already tired of it. And I’m sure I’ll be reading a whole lot more over the next year or so.

Well, actually, I won’t be reading it; I’ll be skipping over the Bernie coverage and looking for other news.

As for this blog, I’ll write about Bernie on occasion, when the spirit moves. But I won’t be following his every move, posting his every press release, or seeking his comment on campaign happenings. There’s not enough hours in the day, and there’s lots of other stuff to write about.

Greshin cleared; ethical lines remain vague and permissive

Well, the House Ethics Panel quickly disposed of my complaint against Rep. Adam Greshin. I can’t say I’m surprised that he was given a clean bill of ethical health, but I am disappointed.

Reminder: Greshin proposed, and actively lobbied for, an amendment to H.40 that would eliminate a planned increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont, which gets its money from a fee on utility bills. As co-owner of the energy-gobbling Sugarbush ski resort, Greshin stood to profit significantly if his amendment passed.

In my previous post, I covered the questionable process. The panel did its business behind closed doors, which seems an odd move for an ethics panel.

Now it’s time to consider the panel’s decision and reasoning, which leave a lot of room for dubious behavior.

Continue reading