Monthly Archives: May 2016

Kill the caucuses

I was chatting with a Bernie Sanders supporter recently, and (of course) the subject of superdelegates came up. He, of course, sees them as anti-democratic, a tool for the party hierarchy to exert a measure of control.

I see them as a reasonable way for the party to give weight to its most successful and most stalwart figures, but I have no problem with the Vermont Compromise: allow superdelegates if the party wants ‘em, but tie their first-ballot votes to the result of their state’s primary or caucus.

We also discussed primaries, open vs. closed. He favors open primaries, as the most (small-d) democratic way to choose a candidate.

This is all in accord with the general proposition that more voter participation is better than less. So, fine.

But then we get to caucuses. The Sanders supporter hadn’t given them much thought, but felt that there was a place for them because they reflect the level of “passion” behind a candidate.

This isn’t just one person’s view. Generally, the Sanders camp seems unconcerned with the potential unfairness of caucuses. When, in fact, a caucus is one of the best voter-suppression tools around.

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Today’s Special at Phil’s Diner: Nothingburger

In the best political tradition of “ready/fire/aim,” Phil Scott and friends sent out a letter this week accusing the Shumlin administration of playing politics with state jobs. Specifically, of shifting political appointees into permanent state positions. It’s a way to reward your loyalists and extend your influence into putatively non-political areas of government.

The letter was addressed to Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman, but it was released to the media on the same day it was written. (A sure sign of political motivation.) The letter cites “concerning reports” that the administration is either reclassifying exempt (political) positions into classified (nonpolitical) ones, or creating new classified positions that political appointees could slide into.

It would be a minor scandal if true. Unfortunately, Scott has no concrete evidence, no published reports, and not a single example.

I reached out to Rachel Feldman, Scott’s chief of staff, in search of documentation. This is all I got:

The information comes from a reliable whistleblower within State government.

Okay, well, that’s not much, is it?

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Chris Pearson gets a big assist

The Democratic race for six Senate nominations in Chittenden County will be an all-out affair, with two vacancies in a district that tends to automatically re-elect incumbents. But State Rep. Chris Pearson, the Progressive hopeful, just got a big dose of good news.

(Note: Hallenbeck later issued a correction. It’s eight candidates, not seven.)

Yep, Bernie is starting to open his fundraising apparatus to more candidates — which is the best way for him to build a progressive movement.

In a crowded Democratic primary that could get expensive, this makes Pearson a front-runner. Because “expensive” by Vermont standards is “piddling” almost anywhere else.

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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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