Monthly Archives: May 2015

Another closed door in the People’s House

Constant readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will recall that earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Panel asking for a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s actions regarding H.40, the RESET bill. For less constant readers, my complaint centered on this: Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 stripping away an increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont. (EV had already gotten Public Service Board approval; until this year, legislative review was a mere formality.) He also aggressively lobbied the House and Senate for his amendment.

EV gets its money through a surcharge on utility bills. As co-owner of the Sugarbush Resort, a voracious consumer of electricity ($2 million/year), Greshin stood to gain considerably if his amendment passed.

Well, the Ethics Panel has responded. And as expected, it was a whitewash. Greshin, so they say, did nothing wrong.

I’ll get to the substance of its decision in my next post. First, though, I need to address the process.

Between sending my letter and receiving the Panel’s reply, I didn’t hear anything about it. During the roughly one week between receiving my letter and drafting its ruling, the Panel conducted a review with help from Legislative Counsel. It also met with the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with Greshin himself. (Correction: The panel met with counsel to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but not with the Committee itself.)

None of those meetings were noticed publicly. I was not informed. I was not given the opportunity to be a party to the proceedings.

It seems that the House Ethics Panel has a closed-door policy.

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A Memorial Day story

On July 15, 1917, a young man I’ll call W. reported for duty with the 4th Ohio National Guard. He was an executive with a bright future in the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company; he had gotten married only two months earlier. But the Allies were desperate for help against Germany, and the United States was mobilizing as quickly as it could. W., a veteran of the 4th Ohio’s campaign against Pancho Villa the previous year, was a Second Lieutenant.

At the time, the U.S. had the merest shadow of a standing military, so the Guard troops were pressed into service. The 4th Ohio was folded into the new 42nd (Rainbow) Division of the U.S. Army, which included Guard troops from several states. (Hence “Rainbow.”) After training in Ohio and New York, the men shipped out to Europe in mid-October. They suffered a very rough two-week crossing in a hastily refitted cargo ship that had formerly carried fruit from South America. It was only the first of many privations they would endure.

The war was not going well. After three years of stalemate on the Western Front, Germany was winning elsewhere. Russia was collapsing, and Italy was in retreat. Soon, Germany would be able to concentrate its forces in the West. The poorly trained and outfitted Americans were desperately needed to prevent the Germans from overrunning the battered French and British forces.

The winter of 1917-18 was one of the coldest on record. The men of the 42nd trained, marched, and bivouacked in extreme discomfort. But that would seem mild in comparison to the harsh fighting of the spring and summer, as the Germans mounted an all-out offensive and the Allies desperately fought to turn the tide.

In mid-February, the 42nd was ordered into the front lines. On the transport train, Lieutenant W. began to suffer intense pain. From his diary:

“Rt. upper bicuspid which had nerve killed, formed abscess. Grew extremely painful so had Bill Seamans our dentist try to yank it out. He pulled and hauled and then broke it off. Wow! But that relieved the pressure on the abscess, and I was able to sleep a bit.”

His stoicism would serve him well. From late February to late June, Lieutenant W. and his men served in the trenches of the Western Front, a scene of unimaginable devastation.

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Weekend forecast: widely scattered blogging with a chance of getting other stuff done

Hey there. You may have noticed a lack of activity around here the last couple of days. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with at least one big story, a VPO exclusive. And I’m about to post a story of one fallen soldier in honor of Memorial Day.

If you’ve been repeatedly visiting theVPO in search of fresh material, here’s a tip: In the right-hand column, you’ll find a box that says “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL.” If you enter your email address, you’ll get a notice every time I post new material here. It’s a handy way to keep in touch, and it’s absolutely free. Just like the rest of this blog, come to think of it.

See you Tuesday. Between now and then, thank a vet. Attend a parade. Visit a gravesite. Give a thought to those who have died in our service.

Bill Sorrell’s ethical quagmire

h/t to Ice-T, once a gangsta.

h/t to Ice-T, once a gangsta.

So I finally read through the cache of Bill Sorrell emails uncovered by Paul Heintz and Brady Toensing, and boy do I need a shower.

The Eternal General’s correspondence with high-priced lawyers at big-time law firms may not constitute illegal activity, but it does reveal an unseemly, fundamentally squicky ethical swampland. Sorrell happily splashes around in this slime pit like it’s the kiddie pool at one of those swanky hotels he enjoys on the law firms’ dime.

In public service, there should be distinct lines between friend, colleague, benefactor, client, and adversary. In his communications with these lawyers, Sorrell stomps and pisses all over those lines until they all but disappear.

Perhaps my interpretation is skewed by the fact that I have more doctors than lawyers in my family. It used to be that doctors routinely accepted gifts, meals, and expensive travel from drug company representatives. Since then, the profession’s standards have tightened considerably. Doctors, health care organizations and professional societies have very strict limits on such things.

With Sorrell, it’s the Wild West. And while he can assert that his conduct is not affected by all the freebies, the appearance itself is awful. Especially for the guy who’s supposed to be the people’s lawyer.

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Kremlinology III: the public and the private

Not to beat a dead horse, but something just occurred to me about Bill Sorrell’s presence and/or absence at recent gubernatorial signing events.

To recap, on Monday I noted our Eternal General’s conspicuous absence at two recent events, and the even more conspicuous presence of Sorrell’s once and (perhaps) future challenger, TJ Donovan. Three days later, the Governor’s office released a photo of Shumlin signing a bill in the presence of Sorrell and many of his staffers.

But there’s one huge difference between the latter occurrence and its predecessors.

The two non-Sorrell signings were public events with the media on hand. Thursday’s signing was a closed affair in the Governor’s office. No reporters, no video, no pictures except the official one.

The obvious explanation: there’s no way in Hell that Governor Shumlin wants to stand next to Bill Sorrell in the presence of reporters. We’d ask a few courtesy queries about the issue of the day, and then we’d bombard both men with questions about Sorrell’s ethical troubles. Shumlin would have to stand close by while Sorrell tried to explain himself; and even worse, Shumlin would have to give his take on the whole affair. “Do you stand by the Attorney General?” “Do you think he should continue to serve?” “Is it proper for The People’s Lawyer to accept free travel, accommodations, deluxe meals, and political donations from law firms that do business with the state?”

Etc., etc., etc.

The Governor would decline comment because of the ongoing investigation, but boy, would it be uncomfortable.

It’s a profoundly weird situation when you think about it: the Governor and the Attorney General, both elected officials from the same party, can’t appear in public together for fear of embarrassing questions.

Things I learned at the Statehouse (or, My First Listicle!)

I’ve been blogging about Vermont politics for almost three and a half years (first at Green Mountain Daily and then here), but this was the first year I spent considerable time observing the Legislature at work. In previous years, I’d dropped in here and there, but I became an irregular regular this time around.

In addition to following the fates of particular bills, I also took away some overall lessons. Many of them actually positive. And here they are, in no particular order.

Our lawmakers work pretty hard. They get paid a pittance, and spend lots and lots of hours under the Dome. Seemingly endless hearings and debates, having to actually read and understand legislation: I wouldn’t have the patience for it. And their attendance record is shockingly good. Many of them have real jobs and/or travel long distances to Montpelier; on any given day, almost all of them are there.

— There’s always plenty of partisan rhetoric flying around, but people who disagree on the issues work surprisingly well together. This is especially true in committees, where a small group of folks work collaboratively, and cooperatively. It’s not all peaches and cream, but there were times when I was watching a committee debate and it was hard to tell which lawmaker came from which party.

Not that they were selling out; just that they were more interested in getting stuff done than in scoring political points.

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Kremlinology II: Back from Siberia

I’m sure this is juuuuuuuuuust a coincidence.

Three days ago, I wrote a piece about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s conspicuous absence from a pair of recent gubernatorial photo-ops. Both times, the theme was related to law and justice; both times, our Eternal General was nowhere to be seen while Chittenden County State’s Attorney (and former Sorrell challenger) TJ Donovan was in prime photo-op position, directly behind the Governor’s shoulder.

Well, today brought another law-related bill signing… and guess who was back, baby?

ShumlinSorrell

Yep, there’s Bill Sorrell. Along with, so I’ve been told, many members of his staff, gathered closely around the Governor. And no sign of Donovan.

I smell overcompensation.

Do I dare take some credit for this? The timing certainly suggests I can.