Monthly Archives: July 2015

This could take a little air out of the Sue Minter balloon

Of all the state’s cabinet positions, the Agency of Transportation is one of the friendlier posts for an ambitious politico. Everybody’s in favor of roads and highways, including conservative Republicans. A lot of your funding comes from the feds. You make friends with the generous donors in the construction business. You get to do a whole lot of high-profile announcements and ribbon-cuttings. You get to look strong and purposeful in times of trouble.

It’s unlikely that, say, Human Services would be a stepping stone to higher office. (Just ask Doug “Sacrificial Lamb” Racine.) But Transportation Secretary Sue Minter? She’s got high hopes for the governorship, or so it is said.

Which is not to say that trouble can’t erupt, seemingly out of nowhere. Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press:

Three former employees of the Vermont Agency of Transportation say they were verbally abused — and in one case physically abused — and passed over for promotions and pay raises because they are gay and lesbian.

Oopsie. The three, who all quit to get away from the abuse, have filed a discrimination lawsuit. The details are not pretty.

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First Look: Brandon Who?, candidate for Lieutenant Governor

The Candidate, against the obligatory Vermont landscape.

The Candidate, in the obligatory Vermont landscape setting.

Last Saturday, after the Democratic State Committee meeting, I got the chance to sit down with Brandon Riker, who is (I think) the only declared candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. (See campaign website here.)

The 28-year-old Marlboro resident made waves on July 15, when he reported a campaign warchest of over $100,000. Granted, 90% of that came from himself and his family, but it made a statement of serious intent.

Quick impression: he’s energetic, full of ideas, and wants to make a difference. Whether that and a self-financed campaign will get him anywhere is another question. For him, unlike most candidates, raising the money was the simple part. Now he has to make a name for himself in Democratic circles, build an organization, attract support across the state, and almost certainly fend off some better-known Democrats in what promises to be a lively Lite-Gov primary.

Riker may be young, and may never have run for office before, but he cites more than a decade of political experience:

I’ve campaigned for progressive causes since I was 16 years old. John Kerry, Barack Obama, Jon Tester [in Montana], Mark Begich [in Alaska]. I’ve wanted to work on the hard races — the ones critical for Democratic control. It’s been 14 years since a Democrat was Lieutenant Governor, and we haven’t mounted a serious challenge in years.

Which is true, but probably won’t be true in 2016. With incumbent Phil Scott persistently hinting at a run for governor, top Democrats are sniffing opportunity. We’ve heard names like Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, among others, as possible candidates (as well as Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning on the Republican side). That would seem to put Riker at a huge disadvantage in terms of name recognition and established credibility among Democratic voters and donors.

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Correction: Vermont’s doing better than the FCC thinks

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Vermont’s awful performance on broadband Internet access. It was based on the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent figures on broadband availability, which showed 80% of Vermonters don’t have FCC-standard high-speed Internet. (25 MB for downloads, 3 MB for uploads.)

Well, turns out the FCC has it wrong. The actual figure is 29%, not 80%. Which is a whole lot different.

It’s not the FCC’s fault; it was given faulty information by an unnamed state functionary.

“The mapping initiative involved several parties,” explained Jim Porter, Director of the Telecommunications and Connectivity Division of the Vermont Public Service Department. “For the FCC, VCGI [Vermont Center for Geographic Information] was the entity that reported to the FCC. The guy who submitted the data failed to include Comcast.”

That guy.

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Internet access: We’re shooting behind a moving target

Note: This post cited incorrect FCC information. Please read the following post for an update.

Ever since he became Governor, Peter Shumlin has put a high priority on providing high-speed Internet access to everyone in Vermont:

In early January 2011, Shumlin created Connect VT, “an ambitious plan to deliver broadband and cell service to every corner of Vermont,” he said soon after in his State of the State address.

His initial promises were overly optimistic; reaching every nook and cranny of a sparsely-populated, rugged state is a tough task. But in late 2013, Shumlin was able to announce that over 99% of Vermont residences had high-speed Internet.

Hooray, right?

Perhaps not. The Federal Communications Commission tells a completely different story. When you look at the FCC’s state-by-state data for broadband Internet access, Vermont ranks 49th in the nation with 80% of our people lacking broadband. Only Montana is worse, at 87%.

No other state has more than 60% unconnected, and only three others are in the 50s — Arkansas, West Virginia, and Idaho.

So how can the Governor claim 99% high-speed Internet access, while the federal government puts us at a measly 20%?

The secret is how you define “high-speed Internet access.”

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VT Dems to pioneer trans-inclusive bylaws

Funny thing about gender-inclusive language in various settings — like, for instance, political party bylaws. It’s necessary to ensure equitable treatment of women, but it can have the unintended consequence of limiting transgender participation.

How so? Well, take the Vermont Democratic Party bylaw mandating that its chair and vice-chair be of “opposite” gender. Which is fine if you’re only considering males and females. But what about those who are “crossing the river,” or even choosing to live on an island in the river? They aren’t the “opposite” of anybody.

They’d seem to be SOL, right? After all, if a person is in transition, or considers themselves to be something other than absolutely male or female, they’d be left out of the “opposite gender” mandate.

At the very least, when the party’s own rules define gender as a male/female construct, there’s a tacit exclusion of transgender people.

Well, at its meeting on Saturday, the Democratic State Committee asked its Bylaws Subcommittee to propose trans-inclusive language in three specific places in the bylaws. And apparently it’s the first Democratic state party to initiate this process. “We’ve queried other state committees across the country,” said State Committee member Matt Levin, “and no one has figured this out.”

So the Vermont Democrats will be the pioneers, it seems.

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Phil Scott wants your money

Now that the July 15 campaign finance reporting deadline is past, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has begun to actively fundraise. He’s sent out a missive to “Friends and Supporters” asking for money. (And since the next reporting deadline isn’t until March 2016, for God’s sake, it’ll be the better part of a year before we find out how he’s doing. Way to fly under the radar, Phil.)

Not clear exactly what he wants money FOR, because he’s not yet ready to decide. Or so he says.

He does, however, inch noticeably closer to the gubernatorial starting line: “… we have more work to do, and I am preparing to step up and lead.” (bold print is his.) And later on, he writes:

“Strong teams get the best results. With the challenges we face right now in Vermont, teamwork is more important than ever and I believe I can lead a team that can make these things happen.”

Oooooohhh!

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The best darn Plan B in state politics (UPDATED)

Update: I don’t know how this escaped my notice (and that of the entire Vermont political media), but WCAX-TV beat me to the punch by about six weeks. See addendum below.

The Democratic race for governor is a three-way (at least) tossup, with no one willing to lay odds on a single contender. The Republican race, on the other hand, appears to pose a stark contrast: if Lt. Gov. Phil Scott runs, he would enter the 2016 gubernatorial race as the favorite. If he doesn’t run, the VTGOP will be left with an unappetizing choice of steam-table leftovers. Or maybe Bruce Lisman, the canned succotash of the Republican buffet.

However… another name is being bandied about the political rumor mill, and it’s one hell of a good one.

Neale Lunderville.

Let me make it clear, he’s not running for governor. He’s not even running for running for governor. If Phil Scott does run, he’ll have Lunderville’s wholehearted support. Or so I hear.

But if Scott chooses not to run? Lunderville could be a formidable candidate. He’s got solid Republican credentials from his service in the Douglas administration. He knows how to run a campaign, dealing the dirt so His Nibs could sail above it all. And, thanks to the generosity of our Democratic leaders, Lunderville has steel-plated credibility as a bipartisan fixer.

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