Monthly Archives: July 2015

Welcome aboard, Governor

Seemingly out of nowhere today, Governor Shumlin threw his support behind the idea of an independent state Ethics Commission. The idea’s gotten a lot of push in recent months, thanks to a string of public-sector embarrassments including (but not limited to) Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s squicky relationships with big national law firms, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell’s landing a state job after he’d lobbied for its creation, the revelation that longtime lawmaker Norm McAllister is (allegedly) a felony-class sleazeball, and most recently, Brent Raymond’s overnight transformation from EB-5 regulator to EB-5 project manager.

So congratulations, Governor, for finally seeing the bright, glaring, blinding light.

His spokesperson Scott Coriell claims, according to VTDigger, that “Wednesday was the first time, to his knowledge, that the governor had been asked whether he supports such a commission.”

That might be true in the narrowest of senses. But until now, Shumlin has been down on the general idea of tougher ethics standards, insisting that we’re all good Vermonters, we all know each other, and we’re above this sort of tawdry behavior. But hey, better late than never.

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Drawing the Shmethical Line

Brent Raymond’s move from regulating the EB-5 program to operating one of them is proving impossible to ignore. How impossible? Top Shumlin administration officials are actually raising questions about it. They’re even invoking the feared Executive Code of Ethics.

“The governor has concerns about the potential for a conflict of interest in this decision. … We fully expect all appointees and former appointees to comply with the Executive Code of Ethics,” spokesman Scott Coriell said in an email. “The governor has also asked (the Agency of Commerce and Community Development) to review the communications leading up to this departure to ensure that all actions were in compliance with the Executive Code of Ethics and conflict of interest policies.”

Ah, the Executive Code of Shmethics: the Mock Apple Pie of good government. (Mmmm, Ritz crackers and RealLemon!)

This picture should not be interpreted as visual commentary on the content of this post.

This picture should not be interpreted as visual commentary on the content of this post.


The most interesting phrase in the above paragraph is “leading up to his departure.” It would, indeed, be instructive to know how long Mr. Raymond was negotiating his new job with an EB-5 developer while continuing to be, at least in title, the state’s EB-5 regulator.

And how in Hell he thought it was okay to do that.

Well, at some level he probably knew it wasn’t okay. Otherwise he wouldn’t have kept his superiors in the dark until he actually had the job in hand. Whereupon they waived his 30-day notice and showed him the door toot suite.

He’ll still get paid for the 30 days. Because after all, why punish the guy?

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A particularly obvious spin of the revolving door

Oh looky here, another top Shumlin administration has turned in his resignation. This time, it’s Brent Raymond, the chief overseer of (and cheerleader for) EB-5 programs in Vermont. His biggest task has been to kinda-sorta ride herd on the Bill Stenger suite of projects, including a major expansion of his ski resort in the Northeast Kingdom.

And where’s Mr. Raymond going?

Raymond said Monday he has accepted a position working for Mt. Snow and Peak Resorts…. Mt. Snow has a $52 million EB-5 project with the Vermont Regional Center.

… Raymond said as part of his new duties he will be working on Mt. Snow’s EB-5 project.

Small world, isn’t it?

Once again, I am moved to say “This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people think our government is a den of corruption and insider dealings.”

And “This is the kind of thing that illustrates, as if any further illustration was required, the need for an independent state Ethics Commission. And some tougher ethics laws, while we’re at it.”

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Koch lapdogs peddle bogus “baby parts” scoop

No sooner does the generally useless Vermont Watchdog score an actual journalistic coup, than it slips back into its usual nut-wing flackatoid ways.

The ‘Dog, for those just joining us, is the Vermont outpost of a 50-state network of right-wing “news” sites funded by the Koch brothers and their allies. Most of its stories are standard right-wing fodder; a prime recent example is its unfounded fearmongering about Russians trying to get Vermont driver privilege cards. (They applied, they got caught, they got no licenses, end of story.) But earlier this month, VW’s Bruce Parker got a legitimate scoop: he broke the story of a backroom legislative deal that netted the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce a $100,000 no-bid grant.

A few days later, Parker reported some widely divergent legislative memories on how this grant weaseled its way into law. Also useful information.

Well, enough of the real journalism. Today, it’s trumpeting the notion that state funds “may be supporting the sale of baby body parts” via Planned Parenthood. Note the inclusion of “may be.”

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Cruisin’ for a bruisin’, part 2

When I whip off a reference to the prospective Democratic field for governor, I mention three names: Shap Smith, Sue Minter, and Matt Dunne. There are a couple other oft-mentioned names that I leave off my list.

One of them is Doug Racine. I’ve got nothing against him; if he runs I’d give him serious consideration. But I haven’t seen much evidence that he’s serious about running. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s looking for reasons not to run rather than pushing a candidacy forward. (If anyone in the audience has seen such evidence, let me know in the Comments.)

The other is the formerly Slummin’ Solon, Peter Galbraith. I dubbed him the Slummin’ Solon because he seemed to believe that occupying a seat in the State Senate was a task unworthy of his stature. When he left the Senate last year, he was allegedly clearing his decks for another peace mission in the Middle East.

Well, it seems he never left, and his Green Mountain ambitions remain unquelled, because here he is on everybody’s list as exploring a run for governor.

In many ways, Galbraith is the Democratic equivalent of Bruce Lisman. Both men are very wealthy, enough to self-fund a substantial campaign. Both have very high opinions of themselves and their qualifications for Vermont’s highest office. Both have very high opinions of their political appeal, with no particular evidence to back it up.

And as with Lisman, my response to a potential Galbraith candidacy is “Oh please. Oh please please PLEEEEEEEASE run for Governor. I’m beggin’ ya.”

Because if Galbraith runs for governor, he’s in line for a rude surprise. He’ll go down in flames.

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Bruce Lisman, cruisin’ for a bruisin’

The weekly emission of “political analysis” from former Douglas Administration minion Michael Smith arrived, as usual, with my Saturday Times Argus. Most of it was the usual Republican-canted bushwah, but he led off with a paragraph that brought a smile to my lips:

Is Bruce Lisman considering a bid for governor? That’s what some are saying Lisman is telling them. In fact, one local businessman said Lisman told him he is definitely running.

Oh please. Oh please please PLEEEEEEEASE run for Governor. I’m beggin’ ya.

Because if he does, he’ll be setting himself up for his worst moment since that fateful time during the collapse of his former paymaster, Bear Stearns, back in March 2008:

In the middle of the afternoon, Bruce Lisman, the usually taciturn 61-year-old co-head of Bear Stearns’s stock division, climbed atop a desk near his fourth-floor office and demanded his traders’ attention. “Let’s stay focused,” he bellowed. “Keep working hard. Bear Stearns has been here a long time, and we’re staying here. If there’s any news, I’ll let you know, if and when I know it.”

His prediction soon proved inoperative, as Bear Stearns suffered an ignominious collapse in the financial meltdown that almost killed the global economy.

A gubernatorial bid won’t be nearly so cataclysmic — more of a whimper than a bang — but it’ll end just as badly for Our Man Bruce.

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Disconnect

Well, that was quick. Vermont PBS has reversed course in a New York minute, jettisoning Kristin Carlson as host of its new talk show, now retitled “Connect.” The pressure must have been intense, and not just from this corner, because the decision leaves VPBS in a tight spot. They’ve got a weekly interview program. They’ve aired one episode, and they’ve got one more in the can. And now they’ve dumped the host, and they don’t have a replacement lined up.

According to [VPBS CEO Holly] Groschner, the station is still trying to determine whether to replace Carlson with a single host or a rotating cast of hosts.

Hoo boy. They’ve got about a week to make up their minds. And no, they haven’t called me, ha ha.

The sad part about this is, Groschner still seems blind to the problems with the Carlson hire. VTDigger’s Jon Margolis:

Interviewed Thursday, she wouldn’t agree that it would have been a conflict of interest for Carlson to host the show, saying that, “the perception of conflict is often in the eye of the beholder.”

Oh, so it’s OUR fault for perceiving a conflict.

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Limping to the finish line

This morning on central Vermont’s meeting place of the minds, the Mark Johnson Show, David Mears announced his departure as head of the Department of Environmental Conservation. The move, he said, has nothing to do with DEC or the Shumlin administration or his performance:

“I was given an opportunity to go back to my old gig teaching law at Vermont Law School, and decided I just couldn’t turn that [down]. …It just happened to be that the position came open now, and law professor jobs don’t come along very often, so I took it…

“In all honesty, I would have liked to have stayed throughout the remainder of the Shumlin administration, but like I said the chance came along so I decided to jump at it.”

I have no reason to doubt him, but as VTDigger’s Morgan True pointed out:

This is where Shumlin’s lame-duck status could be most impactful.

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Seven Shades of Nothing

After a couple of big surprises Wednesday morning, the rest of Campaign Finance Filing Day was rather a damp squib. Nothing much was revealed. Unless, that is, the “nothing” is in itself significant.

And I wouldn’t be a political blogger if I couldn’t make something from nothing.

And so, theVPO presents the top seven nothings and what they might mean.

In the race for Governor, four of the five top prospective candidates did nothing. A marginal hopeful did the same. As for the potential Democratic faceoff for Attorney General, neither incumbent Bill Sorrell not declared challenger TJ Donovan reported any new activity.

None of this is terribly surprising. Among those potential gubernatorial candidates, only Matt Dunne had an existing campaign structure (dormant since 2010) to accept donations. And by Vermont standards, it’s still extremely early for anyone to be beating the bushes.

The two likeliest Democratic candidates for governor not named Dunne, Shap Smith and Sue Minter, didn’t seek funds for a corner-office run. Smith reported a bit of fundraising for his State House campaign kitty, easily transferable should the need arise. This leaves Dunne with a sizeable lead — but there’s a lot of time to catch up. In this regard, Dunne’s dollar total is less significant than his ability to quickly sign up a brace of top-tier liberal donors in Vermont and in Silicon Valley.

On the Republican side, the losing 2012 nominee, Randy Brock, didn’t report anything. The putative front-runner, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, didn’t do any new fundraising — but he has nearly $100,000 left over from his 2014 campaign, so he’s definitely in no hurry.

And then there’s Dan Feliciano, former Libertarian turned kinda Republican, who’s been pondering a second run for governor.

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Matt Dunne lays down a marker

There are still many reports yet to be filed, but it looks like the big news from today’s midyear campaign finance deadline will be Matt Dunne’s hefty, and heavy-hitting, finance report. The former State Senator and onetime gubernatorial candidate reports $115,000 in fundraising — but since the report was prepared, he says, he’s added another 20K to the total, bringing his tally to $135,000.

Which is particularly impressive when you consider that he’s done almost all of that work in the last ten days. “Governor Shumlin made his announcement [of non-candidacy] only four or five weeks ago,” he said. After that, Dunne deferred to his political mentor, Congressman Peter Welch, who announced he would not run for governor on June 26 — the very day that Dunne was going out of town for “a long-planned family vacation.”

And yes, if you scan his list of contributions, the earliest date you’ll see is July 6. And the first names on the list: the heavy Dem donors Jay and Caroline Canning. Jay owns the upscale Hotel Vermont. Dunne kept his virtual rolodex* spinning as he contacted well-heeled Vermonters and his many acquaintances in Silicon Valley; Paul Heintz has many of the details in his “Fair Game” column. Suffice it to say that he’s cut a swath through the roster of deep-pocketed Democrats. (A couple names not mentioned by Heintz: Will Raap of Gardeners Supply, the Growald family of Woodstock, and from across the river, former Democratic Party National Committeeman Peter Burling and members of the Taylor family. Dunne’s wife is the author Sarah Stewart Taylor [hi, Sarah]; it’s always nice when you can marry well.)

*Come on, you don’t think a Google executive has an actual Rolodex, do you?

It’s hard to interpret this as anything but a strong marker — a sign to other potential candidates that Dunne is dead serious and has a lot of support, in spite of his nearly five-year absence from statewide politics. Absence, at least as a visible part of the process; he says he’s been heavily involved in various endeavors in Vermont that have kept him very much in circulation.

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