Monthly Archives: May 2016

About that Shumlin approval poll

Bit of a surprise came to us late last week, with news of a survey showing Governor Shumlin had suddenly enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The results were released by Morning Consult, a national polling agency that gave Shumlin a 55 percent approval rating after collecting data online between January and May. Shumlin jumped nearly 10 points from the last time Morning Consult polled Vermonters, in November, when 46 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs up.

"What should I do now, Scotty?" "Ya got me, boss." (Photo from VPR)

“What should I do now, Scotty?” “Ya got me, boss.” (Photo from VPR)

The results are also at odds with a February poll from the Castleton Polling Institute that put the Governor at 37 percent approval, and the previous two Castleton surveys: in September 2015, Shumlin was at 40 percent; in March 2015, it was 41 percent. That’s awfully darn consistent.

The Democratic Party was quick to promote the Morning Consult number. Understandable; it would be the best possible news for the party and its gubernatorial candidate. It would prove broad support for the Democratic agenda, and it would mean the candidate wouldn’t have to create distance between her- or himself and Shumlin.

As for me, well, color me skeptical. After all, what has happened since February — or November — to bolster Shumlin’s popularity? He didn’t score any high-profile victories in the Legislature. And he’s taken quite a hit from the EB-5 imbroglio, since he’d associated himself so prominently with the scandal-plagued developers.

Is there some other counterbalancing factor — some political “dark matter” exerting a positive gravitational pull on Shumlin’s numbers? Or is it just an outlier?

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Hey look, Doug Hoffer may have a fly to swat

Don’t ever accuse the VTGOP of not being generous. They’ve apparently gifted Auditor Doug Hoffer with a new toy to play with a “serious” challenger for his post. I haven’t seen a news release or anything; all I’ve seen is this Tweet from VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley.

Yay! Dan “Mr. Four Percent” Feliciano! The man who can never quite make up his mind whether he’s a Libertarian or a Republican. But no matter what the label, there’s one thing you can count on:

He. Won’t. Win.

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Lipsticking the Pig, pot-enforcement division

My Sunday Times Argus brought the cheery news that the American Automobile Association, well-known haven for hippies and pot-smokers, had released a report throwing shade on saliva testing for detecting marijuana-impaired drivers.

You may recall that the Legislature came verrry close to enacting a law that relied on spit tests, even though a report commissioned by the state questioned their efficacy.

The AAA report’s conclusion: “There is no scientific way to prove if someone is under the influence of [marijuana] while driving.”

The spit test indicates the pressence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in a driver’s system. The problem is the lack of a clear relationship between the quantity of THC and a driver’s level of impairment. Some drivers are just fine with a hefty dose of THC, and some are iffy with very low levels.

Of particular importance: those who use marijuana medicinally are likely to have high levels of THC in their systems, but still be just fine behind the wheel.

This isn’t good news for Vermont’s law enforcement community, which staunchly defends the spit test. So now comes Greg Nagurney, Vermont’s traffic safety resource officer, to cover that pig with lipstick.

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Good Ol’ Norm: Bloodied but not unbowed

Heh-heh. Just as I predicted, Senator-in-Purgatory Norm McAllister has filed petitions to run for re-election.

Heh-heh-heh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Sorry. Political junkies get a little excited at the prospect of chaos among the comfortable class. And I bet the Franklin County GOP is wetting its collective pants.

VTDigger broke the news; McAllister dropped off his petitions at the Franklin County courthouse this morning, and (showing uncommon restraint for him) was not immediately available for comment.

Need I remind you: McAllister faces two trials on numerous sex-crime charges; he allegedly coerced women (over whom he exercised some measure of control) to have sex with him. He was arrested on the Statehouse grounds in the last days of the 2015 session; the Senate then spent the entire off-session with its head stuck in the sand, hoping Norm would just go away. When he didn’t, the Senate decided to suspend him for the remainder of the session.

So now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring, let the speculation begin…

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The “moderate” VTGOP is a mythical beast

A few interesting things came out of the Vermont Republican Convention on Saturday — besides revealing that Phil Scott can’t take a rhetorical punch.

I thought it shone a harsh and unforgiving light on the idea that Vermont Republicans are a breed apart — the last surviving redoubt of moderate Republicanism. That’s largely a fiction created in a desperate effort to appeal to the liberal Vermont electorate. It takes on the veneer of reality thanks to the thoroughly moderate image of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. But the party ranks are full of garden-variety 21st Century Republicanism. Vermont Republicans may have thrown in the towel on social issues like marriage equality and abortion rights*, but they are a stoutly conservative bunch when it comes to brass-tacks issues like government spending, regulation, and taxation.

*Well, let’s say they are withholding the towel. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts they’d change their tune if they ever achieved political power.

After all, this is a party that eagerly embraced John Kasich, a man whose tax plan would make Ronald Reagan blush with embarrassment. George W. Bush, too, for that matter.

But there were signs aplenty at the Convention that this is a party with a strongly conservative core.

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Phil Scott doesn’t like politics

Good on Bruce Lisman for finally taking a tough stance in his primary battle with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. At the VTGOP convention on Saturday, Lisman came equipped with a newly-printed flyer that tied Scott firmly to the coattails of Gov. Peter Shumlin.

It got under Scott’s skin in the best possible way.

“This is D.C. tactics at its worst,” Scott said from the stage Saturday, holding up a copy of the flier before tossing it to the floor. “I gave Bruce a pass when he did opposition research on me… I can’t give him a pass on this. At least he’s showing me his stripes.”

Yeah! How dare he launch an accurate attack on Good Ol’ Phil?

C’mon, now. Phil Scott was a member of the Shumlin cabinet! He was right there in all the meetings, taking his place at all the photo-ops, and generally trying to depict himself as Not Your Typical Republican, a guy who can work constructively with anyone. Well, now it’s coming back to haunt him — from the right wing.

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A possible compromise on superdelegates

For those looking forward to shouting, fist-shaking, and furniture-heaving at Sunday’s state Democratic Convention, well, there’s a chance that good sense and a common carrot-topped foe may carry the day.

A group of folks affiliated with Rights and Democracy, the lefty grassroots organization, have put together a resolution on the contentious issue of superdelegates. And surprise, surprise, it doesn’t demand immediate action and it doesn’t demand that the four Hillary Clinton superdelegates switch over to Bernie Sanders.

The resolution notes the “inherent unfairness” in changing the rules in midstream for this year. Instead, it calls on the state and national parties “to require that superdelegates be bound on a first ballot to cast their votes in the same proportion as the popular vote in their home state primary election or nominating caucus” … “beginning with the 2020 presidential election.”

That strikes me as eminently reasonable. It would allow the party to reward top officials with delegate seats, but would tie first-ballot votes to the express preferences of the electorate. The supers could cast subsequent ballots, and conduct other party business, in accord with their own consciences and beliefs.

As for this year’s four supers who have promised their votes to Clinton, here’s the key passage of the resolution:

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The two triangles

With the entry of Shap Smith into the race for lieutenant governor, the two high-profile Democratic primaries have assumed weirdly parallel dimensions.

Each has three candidates.

Each has two men and one woman.

Each has two figures from the Democratic mainstream (one man and one woman), plus one man with a more independent streak.

(Matt Dunne may argue about the “mainstream” characterization,but let’s put it this way. He’s been a Democrat for quite a while. He held elective office as a pure-D Democrat. He’s not a narcissistic cuss like the other man in the gubernatorial race.)

There are parallel dynamics and uncertainties. Each woman is, obviously, in a position to capitalize on the pro-woman vote. (A lot of us want to improve Vermont’s woeful record on electing women to high office.) If she can do so and her two opponents split the “male” vote, she has a path to victory.

Each woman has also gotten off to a rocky start, and (so far) failed to galvanize broad support. Not that any of the men has been setting the world on fire.

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So, Shap.

The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.

At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.

… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.

He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.

Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.

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Are Vermont police profiting from marijuana enforcement?

About a week ago, the Burlington Free Press’ Jess Aloe produced a thought-provoking number on the many police officers who testified — and lobbied — in their uniforms during this year’s debate on legalizing marijuana. Today, there’s a report from The Intercept that may shed some light on the situation. It certainly raises some questions, at the very least.

First, the Freeploid.

Uniformed police officers often make their opinions heard through the Vermont Police Association, which pays a lobbyist, or other police associations, but they also speak to legislators directly, wearing the uniforms of communities that may have yet to take an official stance on an issue.

… “There have been more police here as lobbyists this year, and I think it’s unusual,” [the Vermont ACLU’s Allen Gilbert] said. “The lobbying seems much more active — it’s much more organized.”

And now, The Intercept reports that police and prison guard groups are spending heavily to defeat a California ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, and draws a line between that activity and “the revenue streams to which they have become… addicted.”

Drug war money has become a notable source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure windfalls benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.

Do I need to connect the dots?

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