Monthly Archives: March 2016

Time for a gender scrub

UPDATE: Noted attorney (and Bernie Sanders superdelegate) Rich Cassidy informs us that part of this is already underway: he’s a member of the Uniform Law Commission, which has begun work on rewriting Vermont law for a post-Obergefell world. Good to know. I do want to see government policies and forms become more gender-inclusive as well, but the law is the most important thing. Kudos to the ULC and those who serve on it.

A few years back, the Vermont Legislature initiated the Respectful Language Study, a long-overdue effort to scrub Vermont’s laws and public policies of archaic references to people with disabilities. Strange to think that, until very recently, our laws contained references to retardation, idiocy, imbecility, lunacy, mongoloids, defectives, invalids, etc. Yeah, that stuff was in there.

It was an intensive, multi-year effort. But when it was completed, our governmental documents were stripped of degrading and misleading terminology.

Well, today is Trans Visibility Day in America. It’s a day when trans people show themselves as they are — friends, neighbors, loved ones, valued members of their communities, not at all scary or threatening. I think it’s an appropriate occasion to call for a new Respectful Language Study.

This time, the focus would be on gender-related language unsuited to a time when the binary model of gender no longer applies. Terminology that assumes all people are either male or female, when married couples consist of one man and one woman. This kind of language can be insulting at the very least; at worst, it can interfere with people’s rights and needlessly complicate government processes.

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Bruce Lisman doesn’t know the meaning of “irony”

Bottom-dwelling gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman is launching another TV ad. This time, he positions himself as “not the usual guy… and I won’t do the usual thing.” He’s dressed casually, and at the end he’s pictured chatting with “real Vermonters” or perhaps actors made up to look authentic.

And in the middle of the ad, there’s a brief animated passage that shows Governor Shumlin as a marionette saying “BLAH BLAH BLAH” while three fat-cat types flaunt their wealth. Like so:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 7.05.15 PM

Well, there’s a few problems here, aside from the fact that this depiction is blatantly offensive in a very non-Vermont style. And then, as VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld points out, there’s the fact that Lisman “isn’t running against Shumlin.”

Finally, and crucially, there’s the disconnect between image and reality. Because it’s Bruce Lisman who comes from the world of fat cats who could use $100 bills to light cigars if they wanted to. Lisman, obviously, wants us to forget that he spent virtually his entire adult life in the canyons (moral and topographical) of Wall Street, hobnobbing with the rich and powerful.

Well, not just “hobnobbing.” Hell, he WAS one of the rich and powerful. Still is. Talk about the pot running attack ads against the kettle.

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I gotta say, sometimes it’s just nice to live in Vermont

I have often been critical of Vermonters’ exaggerated perception of their own inherent virtue. We’re far from perfect on race relations; there are subtle forms of sexism here that I haven’t seen elsewhere; and, of course, our vaunted reputation for environmentalism is largely due to forces out of our control: small population, not much industry, and lack of exploitable resources. Based on how we’ve handled Lake Champlain, or the damage done when we HAVE had the opportunity to do so (the Elizabeth Mine, the PFOA contamination around Bennington), I contend that if there was a lot of coal under the Green Mountains, we’d be West Virginia North.

But while I contend that Vermont isn’t as special as we think it is, I readily acknowledge that it definitely has its virtues. We have two examples from recent headlines, where other states are pursuing destructive, hateful paths while we quietly handle our business in a positive manner.

Example #1: the Vermont House passes — with broad bipartisan tripartisan support — a bill that would guarantee women’s access to contraception even if that section of Obamacare is repealed.

Example #2: The Agency of Education issues guidelines for supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

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Moral panic from the Guardians of the Peace

Some of Vermont’s top cops made their way to the Statehouse yesterday to try to derail
the marijuana-legalization train. Their input is certainly worth considering, but they kinda made a hash of it.

Their reasoning, in short:

— Eliminating the marijuana law will create substantially more work for law enforcement.

— Police don’t really enforce marijuana laws now, but legalization will trigger a cascade of problems.

— Law enforcement’s top priority is opioids, and legalizing marijuana will somehow compromise that effort.

Makes my head spin. Without a single toke, even.

The top cops’ bottom line: If you legalize pot, you’d better give us more money.

Pardon me if I don’t see the connection.

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Phil Scott’s Four Corners Campaign

At this point in the campaign, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is the presumptive front-runner. He’s got name recognition and personal popularity; he’s got the solid backing of the business/Republican community anxious for a winner.

And he’s campaigning like a front-runner: maximizing appearances before friendly audiences and minimizing exposure to open-ended affairs that might lead to missteps or embarrassment.

The latest example: the left-wing group Rights & Democracy organized a pair of events for gubernatorial candidates on April 9. Accepting the invitation: all three Democratic candidates, plus Republican Bruce Lisman.

Mr. Front-Runner (not exactly as illustrated)

Mr. Front-Runner (not exactly as illustrated)

Rejecting: Phil Scott.

What’s the matter, Phil? Can’t take the heat, so you’re staying clear of the kitchen? I guess not. Scott’s formal response to R&D:

“I’m not convinced my candidate would get fair and equal treatment at a forum hosted by a very liberal organization. Therefore, we would like to respectfully decline participation in your organization’s forums,” wrote Scott Campaign Manager Brittney Wilson.

She has a point. But heck, Bruce Lisman’s gonna show up.

Besides, if Phil Scott claims to have the necessary cojone quotient for being governor, shouldn’t he be able to handle an unfriendly crowd?

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Toward a more (capital “D”) Democratic Senate

Suddenly there’s one less Republican in the State Senate.

Sen. Diane Snelling announced Tuesday her resignation from the Senate to take a key state environmental job.

… Snelling… will be taking the job as chair of the Natural Resources Board, which oversees the regional commissions that rule on Act 250 development applications.

Gov. Shumlin chose former State Senator Helen Riehle to serve the rest of Snelling’s term. Riehle will not seek a full term in November.

Snelling has been in the Senate for 14 years. She’d been noncommittal on the subject of running for re-election, so maybe this move shouldn’t be a surprise. And chairing the Natural Resources Board is a prestigious job in line with her interests, but her departure is bad news for her party.

Snelling has been the only Republican in the six-member Chittenden County delegation; she has consistently won re-election in that liberal hotbed, while every other Republican has badly trailed the field. Republicans’ chances of retaining her seat? We’re talking snowballs in Hell.

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UVM’s athletic priorities

The University of Vermont chose Friday afternoon, traditional bad-news dumping ground, to announce the firing of its women’s basketball coach, Lori Gear McBride.

It couldn’t have been a surprise; Gear McBride had compiled a miserable 46-134 record in six seasons. In her “best” campaigns, the team lost twice as many games as it won. Throughout her tenure, UVM was a consistent cellar-dweller in the America East converence.

So the real question isn’t “Why was she fired?” it was “Why did it take so long?”

And here’s another puzzler. After her first four seasons, coaching the team to a 32-89 record, she was given a four-year contract extension at an annual salary of $131,000. That seems, shall we say, out of proportion with Gear McBride’s performance.

No way a men’s coach with such a record would see his contract extended. No way a men’s coach would be allowed to lose that many games, period.

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Budget Kabuki

The Vermont House passed a budget this week. Pretty quick and pretty painless, considering the state’s fiscal situation. Lawmakers found money in a lot of places that won’t directly impact working Vermonters’ take-home pay.

Much of the new revenue comes from raising fees on registration of mutual funds. That’s a minuscule line item in funds’ expenses, so the actual effect on The People will be negligible at most. Ditto with an increase in registration fees for large banks. In general, the House found ways to prop up necessary state programs with some fairly reasonable tax and fee hikes. Mostly fees.

Republicans, of course didn’t see it that way. There were the usual, utterly predictable cries of outrage that are repeated every time a tax or fee is increased — even when a fee hike simply reflects the impact of inflation. (Fees are fixed; if you don’t raise ’em occasionally, you’re narrowing your revenue stream.) It doesn’t help Republicans’ credibility when every single revenue enhancement, no matter how small, is a punishing blow to struggling Vermonters and a mortal threat to the economy.

This time, there were loud laments over being shut out of the process. Which, first of all, c’mon. When the Republicans ruled this roost for over a century, how much credence did they give to Democratic ideas? When state lawmakers in Kansas or Oklahoma or Michigan or any other state with a Republican majority sets policy, do you think they allow Democrats to have a fair say?

Of course not. Shoe’s on the other foot, guys. Suck it up.

House Minority Leader (and Chief Budget Scold) Don Turner presented an additional argument this time.

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Bernie Bucks found in archconservative pockets

Found a disturbing little factoid while trolling the Internet this evening.

I came across a Politico piece about Bernie Sanders’ campaign spending reports. Surprise, surprise: he spends a lot of money for those big hairy rallies, as well as the usual stuff of big-time campaigns — staff, consultants, polling, and…

… food.

Prepare yourself. Here comes the shocker.

One area where Sanders wasn’t very spendthrift was catering. His February campaign bill was only about $49,000 on catering, including about $620 on Chick-fil-A, $1,140 on Subway and $1088 on Panera Bread.

Wait wait wait. Did they just say… Chick-fil-A?

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Senate Tweaks Doomed Program

Well, huzzah. The State Senate has approved a change in the public financing law. Currently, a candidate who wants public financing has to wait until February 15 to say or do anything campaign-related. Given the current fashion in extra-early campaign launches, that’s a significant handicap.

Tne new bill would start the clock “as soon as a privately financed candidate raised or spent up to $2,000 on a gubernatorial or lieutenant gubernatorial campaign — up to one year before Election Day,” reports Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

This solves the too-late problem without ensuring ever-earlier campaign launches. Good idea.

However, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the deadline is far from the biggest problem with the public financing system. The biggest problem is the skyrocketing cost of statewide campaigns and the paltry sums on offer through the public funding system.

Currently, a gubernatorial hopeful who earns enough small donations gets to (a) keep that money and (b) get enough public dollars to bring their campaign total to $450,000. For lieutenant governor, the figure is $200,000.

And those are absolute limits. Not a penny more, from any source. Not even a mention in a party’s email blast.

These days, that’s simply not enough to support a competitive campaign.

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