Monthly Archives: January 2016

Bernie wins a round

Well, I was wrong.

Recently, I was critical of the Bernie Sanders campaign for endangering a possible New Hampshire debate by insisting on a further expansion of the debate schedule.

And last night, the Democratic National Committee capitulated. 

“Our Democratic candidates have agreed in principle to having the DNC sanction and manage additional debates in our primary schedule, inclusive of New Hampshire this week,” [DNC Chair and Representative Debbie] Wasserman Schultz said in the statement.

Mighty white of her, considering that she had stubbornly resisted any changes to the previously agreed debate schedule. I don’t know if it was Jeff Weaver’s persuasive charm, or party leaders finally realizing they’d shot themselves in the foot with a minimal and weirdly-scheduled slate of debates.  But something finally penetrated the DNC’s shields.

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The mass exodus myth

Vermont faces a demographic challenge. Our population is stagnant and getting older. We have fewer school-age kids, which drives up the per-pupil cost. We have fewer young adults to invigorate the workforce and pay forward the costs of retirement and health care for older Vermonters.

That is true. But there’s a popular myth about why that’s true. Take it away, Ethan Allen Institute’s Rob Roper:

The fact of the matter is that Vermont’s progressive tax, regulatory, healthcare, land use, and energy policies are driving up the cost of living, and driving our young, educated workforce out of the state. Who wants to work or start a business or put down roots in a state that punishes success and whose guiding governing principle is to redistribute what you earn to someone else?

The assumption beneath the thickets of dogma: young people are fleeing Vermont. And that’s not true.

Here’s the truth. Young adults are highly mobile. Many of them do leave Vermont. However, an almost equal number move in. (More on this in a moment.)

So why do we have so many fewer people aged, say, zero to 35?

Because, for a long time now, Vermont has had very low birthrates. The average female Vermonter has about 1.5 children during her lifetime. Replacement level is 2.1. This has been true long enough that we are losing ground in the younger demographics.

That’s it. Not regulation or taxes or education costs or business climate or cost of living or Peter Shumlin’s nose. Simple and straightforward: not enough babies.

And now let’s see some actual figures, as opposed to conservative wishful thinking, on whether people are actually fleeing Vermont.

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Paul Heintz turns over a rock

For almost a year now, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist has been carrying the ball on Eternal General Bill Sorrell’s squicky-if-not-illegal campaign and fundraising activities, while the rest of Vermont media has been slow-playing the whole thing — either ignoring the story, or helping Sorrell paint it as a partisan witch-hunt. (Their reporting emphasizes VTGOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing’s role, while downplaying or omitting Heintz’ journalism, which provided the substance of Toensing’s complaint.)

And yesterday, Heintz dropped another toothsome tidbit — catching Sorrell’s duplicity regarding a 2014 campaign event that featured Sorrell and then-Lite Gov candidate Dean Corren.

I’m not going chapter-and-verse on that. You should read Heintz’ post for yourself. But I am going to highlight a tangential sidelight in the piece that exposes the seedy underbelly of Vermont politics. Or at least one crucial aspect, regarding the most quietly powerful man in Vermont politics, Dick Mazza.

He is not the most powerful, mind you. But he enjoys by far the highest ratio between official position (just another Senator, cough) and his actual influence.

Among a trove of Sorrell emails obtained by Seven Days was a juicy little number from Tom Torti, the well-connected president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, warning Sorrell that there might be consequences to his appearance with Corren.

“I’m sure you have heard about the level of displeasure Mazza feels about you standing with Corren,” Torti wrote, referring to Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle). “Just wanted to pass on what was mentioned to me.”

Before you chew and swallow, let that roll around on your tongue for a moment. Savor the essence: that Bill Sorrell, the politically untouchable Attorney General, should have reason to fear the wrath of a single State Senator.

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Socialist Canada: Land of opportunity

Gee, maybe this is the reason for Vermont’s demographic crisis.

You know Canada, that country to our north? The socialist nightmare with high taxes, a robust social safety net, single-payer health care and tough regulations on the financial sector?

Well, for the Millennial generation, it’s a lot better place to live than the United States. This, according to a study by TD Bank, which as far as I know is not a commie-pinko front organization. So maybe our kids are all moving north.

Canadians aged 25 to 34 are more likely to have jobs than Americans of the same age (nearly 80% are employed, compared with less than 75% of Americans). American millennials are worse off than their compatriots from Generation X (the cohort that came just before them). In Canada millennials’ household incomes are 16% higher. Just over half are homeowners, compared with 36% in the United States.

Huh. I guess nobody told them they’re being downtrodden by an oppressive regime.

And why do young-adult Canadians fare so much better? No, sorry, it’s not Stephen Harper’s devout efforts to turn his country into a free-marketeer’s wet dream. In fact, Millennial prosperity exists precisely because of Canada’s democratic socialist blots upon economic opportunity.

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Mr. Miller has a hissy fit

Here’s a new one in Vermont governance: a top state official refusing to “work with” a reporter who covers his beat. Strange but true. And he put it in writing!

Dramatis personae: Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform; and Erin Mansfield, health care reporter for VTDigger. Miller wrote a hot blast of an opinion piece in response to Mansfield’s recent article about the latest wave of problems with Vermont Health Connect, and here’s the opening paragraph:

The most recent exchange story is an extremely slanted piece of journalism. It does not tell the whole story of Vermont Health Connect, accuses me of lying, and creates an inaccurate perception. This particular column follows repeated factual inaccuracies by VTDigger’s health reporter, adding the new feature of character assassination. I give up. I will not work with her anymore.

Digger, for its part, “stands behind the accuracy” of Mansfield’s story.

I don’t know who’s right and wrong here. Maybe she overemphasized the negative, which is often the case in journalism. Non-news is, by its nature, not news. When something works, we don’t write a screaming headline about it.

But Miller’s version doesn’t pass the smell test.

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A big step forward for legalized pot, but don’t get your hopes up

This hasn’t been a great month for marijuana legalization in Vermont. Sure, we had Governor Shumlin’s conditional endorsement in his State of the State address; but since then, we’ve had a parade of skeptical comments from influential voices in the House and Senate.

This week brought the best news for legalization since the State of the State: Shumlin and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears reached agreement on a legalization bill. And since the issue wasn’t going to go anywhere without Sears’ buy-in, this was an important development.

But if you ask me, I say it ain’t happening this year. Eventually, yes. 2016, no.

The Sears/Shumlin deal has raised hackles in the pro-pot community because it would ban grow-your-own. Sears is opposed because it complicates law enforcement, a legitimate concern. If this is the bill’s biggest flaw, then I’d say take the deal, get it into law, and shoot for further changes in the future.

The bill does have a number of positive features, aside from the crucial fact of Sears’ imprimatur. A strong positive: it would ensure that Vermont’s marijuana industry would be small and local. A breath of fresh air after Ohio’s unfortunate experience, where a cadre of high rollers got a measure on the ballot that would have handed the business over to a handful of large companies.

I could go on, but an in-depth evaluation is kind of pointless because it’s not going to pass. There are too many obstacles along the way, and far too many other issues on the table this year.

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WTF, Bernie?

For months, the Bernie Sanders campaign has been complaining about the lack of debates and their odd placement in low-viewership time slots. But this week, the New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC pulled a nice little jiu-jitsu move, inviting the three Dems to an unsanctioned debate next week, just before the #fitn primary.

Martin O’Malley leapt at the chance. The Hillary Clinton camp, rather surprisingly, said she would participate if Bernie Sanders also accepted.

And Bernie said “No.”

I don’t get it. The door was open to a debate in weeknight prime time, at the very peak of interest in the early primaries… and he backed away.

Bernie’s calling for a political revolution. That isn’t the act of a proud revolutionary. It’s the act of a political operative playing the angles.

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