Monthly Archives: July 2020

And the Non-Participation Trophy Goes To… [UPDATED]

Mollee Gray, who has voted in Vermont elections almost as often as Molly Gray

Wow, Seven Days really dropped a turd in the Molly Gray punchbowl, didn’t they?

The story by Colin Flanders, the most can’t-miss piece of political journalism so far this season, provided a ton of insight into how Gray came (seemingly) out of nowhere to dominate the inside game in the race for lieutenant governor. But in terms of the piece’s political impact, Flanders definitely buried the lede.

The part that has Democratic tongues wagging can be found (by dedicated readers) all the way down in paragraph 27. That’s where Flanders reveals that Gray didn’t cast a ballot in a Vermont election between 2008 and 2018.

(Update. Turns out this wasn’t the scoop I thought it was. On July 21, VTDigger’s Grace Elletson posted a profile piece that reported Gray’s voting record. In all their infinite wisdom, she and her editors consigned this tidbit to paragraph 32. But still, she had it first. Also, I didn’t go into it at the time, but the other revelatory aspect of Flanders’ piece was the through exploration of Gray’s family connections. That went a long way to explaining her rapid political rise. Elletson got into some of this, but not nearly as deeply or clearly as Flanders.)

Now, if Gray missed one or two votes, that could be written off as the preoccupation of a busy young professional. But ten years between votes? That’s a dereliction of a citizen’s duty unbecoming in one who would occupy one of Vermont’s highest political perches. Gray expressed regret for missing so many elections, especially the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “It’s something that I’ve learned from,” she said.

Lamely.

One thing I know for sure: None of the other Democratic LG candidates bothered to do any opposition research. I mean, this didn’t require a deep dive — just basic political prudence. And although oppo research has a bad name, it’s a legitimate aspect of politics. If a candidate, especially one so little-known, has any skeletons in the closet, the voters should know. Hell, Gray’s own campaign should have known about this. All those smart people who signed onto her candidacy should have known about it.

And considering that voting records are, well, public records, I’m surprised it took this long for a reporter to look into Gray’s nonparticipation. But it’s been, for journalists, a seriously compressed campaign season. Coronavirus dominated their work from mid-March on, and the Legislature’s extended session took up the rest of the oxygen.

Lucky break for Gray, who may well have dodged this potentially fatal bullet.

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Don’t buy any green bananas

Is anyone feeling confident right now?

You shouldn’t.

Vermont has been spared the worst of the pandemic so far. But even so, we’re dealing with constant uncertainty — and a financial calamity that’s just beginning to be felt.

And every day we’re one step closer to the fall, when coronavirus is likely to hit even harder.

Where do I even begin? Education seems the best place. Educators at all levels, not to mention parents, are furiously trying to develop plans that are subject to change on a moment’s notice. This week, Gov. Phil Scott identified September 8 as the first day of school — but that could mean in-person, online, or most likely a mix of the two. Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine sought to reassure the public that, as Levine put it, “In Vermont, this is the right time to open schools.”

Of course, in the same press conference, Education Secretary Dan French conceded that “This is uncharted territory that acknowledges a considerable amount of uncertainty and anxiety.”

This came a few days after Brigid Nease, superintendent of the Harwood Union Unified School District, posted a letter to her community outlining all the uncertainties and obstacles facing her staff. It’s worth reading, but what struck me was the complete lack of confidence that, even if it was safe to open schools, there may not be enough staff.

Letters of resignation, requests for leaves of absence, Family Medical Leave (FMLA), Emergency Family Medical Leave (EFML), Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL), Exemption status, and leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) (Which provides up to 12 weeks of leave for employees unable to work because their child’s school is closed) are coming in.

The truth is most school employees are scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker.

Meanwhile, on the higher education front, colleges and universities are constantly fiddling with their reopening plans — all of which seem to be based on crossed fingers and an unfounded faith in the self-restraint of college students.

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Scott Milne, Nonviable Republican

“He squints inquisitively when he speaks and has an easy crooked smile.”

I dunno, I’ve never found crooked smiles all that beguiling.

Time to saddle up. Apparently I have to revisit the undistinguished electoral career of Scott Milne, now that he’s been dubbed “a viable Republican” by the wise heads at VTDigger in a profile that shows him in the best possible light and ignores all his defects and shortcomings.

Starting with the idea that his performance in the 2014 gubernatorial election proves his statewide viability — so much so that his absolute drubbing by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2016 somehow provides more evidence of his political magnetism.

It’s certainly true that Milne was given no shot at beating then-incumbent governor Peter Shumlin. His loss by a mere two thousand-odd votes was a shock to the #vtpoli world, this blogger included. But 2014 was no ordinary year. Shumlin had squandered all his political goodwill on his doomed venture into health care reform, and an ill-conceived land deal with a neighbor had reinforced a view of Shumlin as a shifty opportunist.

Compare 2014 with 2012. That year, Randy Brock was thoroughly trounced by Shumlin. Brock received 110,970 votes.

Two years later, Milne pulled his magician act, taking Shumlin to the limit. Milne’s vote total: 87,075 votes.

Shumlin, meanwhile, lost almost half his support. He earned 170,767 votes in 2012 — but only 89,509 in 2014. Shumlin had lost his mojo, and Milne was the lucky beneficiary. If the Republicans had nominated a halfway decent candidate, Shumlin would have been shitcanned.

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The Lord Chancellor Storms the Castle

This is, as I tweeted the other day, the most hilarious development of the #vtpoli season. Tim Ashe, who rose to the position of Senate President Pro Tem by making nice with the chamber’s most entrenched senior members, is now presenting himself as the outsider in the race for lieutenant governor, The Man Of The People not beholden to “the political elite.”

Does he mean elites such as Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, who serves as the Ashe campaign’s treasurer? Or Senate Finance Chair Ann Cummings, now in her 23rd year in office and so immune from challenge that she hardly bothers to campaign at all?

Look, here they are now.

I sense the distinctive odor of flop sweat.

Ashe, who seemed like the obvious odds-on favorite to succeed David Zuckerman as lieutenant governor, has recast himself as Mr. Outside because he’s in danger of being Wally Pipped by a young woman who had precisely zero profile in Statehouse circles a mere six months ago.

It has to have been quite galling for him to watch Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray rack up endorsement after endorsement from top Vermont Democrats, and follow it up with a truly impressive fundraising performance that has left Ashe in the financial dust.

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Black Lives Matter, Except When They Don’t, and Even When They Do They’re Pretty Damn Cheap

Hey, remember when the good folks of Montpelier painted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in front of the Statehouse, and they got really upset when a guy committed a minor (and easily expunged) act of vandalism on it?

Well, the state of Vermont effectively obliterated the entire thing — with the spilled blood of a Black man. And the promise that “BLACK LIVES MATTER” will remain a well-meaning myth as long as Kenneth Johnson’s life can end so cheaply. And as long as Shamel Alexander gets a measly $30,000 in recompense for his wrongful arrest, conviction and imprisonment by the justice system of our fair state.

Johnson died last December while in custody at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. According to a report from Vermont’s Defender General Matthew Valerio, Johnson’s death was the slow, painful result of negligence by medical and prison staff.

Valerio’s report, which you can find at the link to Seven Days’ website above, provides more than adequate grounds for termination and criminal prosecution of multiple unnamed staffers. Valerio outlines a case of homicide by professional negligence that’s appalling and inexcusable.

And an example of Your Tax Dollars At Work.

I don’t know what’s the worst part of this. To begin with, Johnson was in prison awaiting trial. He faced some truly heinous charges, but he hadn’t been convicted. He still wound up with a death sentence, thanks to your public servants and their designees. His medical care was botched from the get-go; he had a throat tumor obstructing his airway that could have been treated, but instead he was thought to have a cold or some other minor ailment. His pleadings for care fell on deaf ears.

From the report: “Security video showed Mr. Johnson in various stages of agony. He died after hours of struggling to breathe while nearby nurses did nothing to help… One [nurse] claimed she did not perform adequate checks [on Johnson] ‘because he was so fidgety.'”

Let’s hope this nurse quickly becomes an ex-nurse. She seems more constitutionally suited to a less vital profession, like maybe convenience store cashier or DMV clerk.

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The Anti-Maskers Emerge

Spotted on a Montpelier bulletin board

It was inevitable, but it’s still disappointing.

“Citizen scientists.” Really.

Impartial seekers of the truth, putting out a one-sided “survey” in a transparent effort to gin up some “evidence” to support their preconceived notion. This is, must I say it, a disgrace.

And to judge from the rhetoric and approach, I’ll bet you a shiny new quarter that the Venn Diagram of “Mask Survey” and “Anti-Vaxxers” is a single circle.

But I have to credit the bravery of the “citizen scientists” behind this flyer. They’re right up front owning their beliefs and accepting the conseq— oh wait, sorry. They actually provide no identifying information or means of two-way contact; only a gmail address and, on its website, a P.O. box in Marshfield.

Nowhere on flyer or website do they cite any of the “research” that “shows there are likely to be disadvantages” to wearing masks. I like the qualifiers: “likely” meaning “fuzzy and unproven,” “disadvantages” in place of “hazards” or “dangers.” In plain English, “undisclosed research that shows a possibility of inconveniences in wearing masks.”

Of course there are “disadvantages.” Masks are a little annoying, they make my glasses fog up, people can’t see your facial expressions, it is a little harder to communicate. The rest of it is bullshit of a particular type — the conspiracy-minded worried-well contingent that makes up most of the anti-vaxxer movement.

And now they’re coming after masks.

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Dick-Swinging at the DMV

, From left: Officers Buddy, Bubba and Junior

Does anyone else see a problem with this photo?

The DMV chose this image of burly officers with pimped-out pickups to represent its own police department, whose tasks are mainly bureaucratic in nature. It’s a picture of testosterone run amuck, straight out of a Boss Hogg wet dream.

It’s a small thing, but it illustrates a toxic cop culture. It’s the old-fashioned image of policing — a matter of billy clubs and guns and beefy officers enforcing the peace. It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world, no place for nuance or sensitivity. That shit’ll get you killed, bud.

Could the DMV have possibly hustled up a picture including at least one female officer? Or a person of color? Or someone who doesn’t look like a former football player?

And those trucks. Good grief. Overcompensating much?

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The Democratic LG candidates put on a show

Good lighting and placement, aggressively literate background a bit over the top, prominent placement of Che book lends some much-needed progressive credibility. 8/10

It was, honestly, one of the best debates I’ve ever seen.

The VPR/VPBS debate (viewable online here) moved along quickly. There was quite a bit of substance, and candidates were unafraid to challenge the credentials and positions of others — which is a legitimate part of a good debate. No one interrupted anyone else, and not once did a candidate exceed their time limit or interrupt anyone else. All four candidates performed well. The 45-second limit forced them to stick to their main points, and kept the empty posturing to a minimum.

Which is not to say that it was flawless, but it showcased the quality of the candidates. Voters have four good options in the LG race.

Before I get to specifics, a note about production values. In this year of Zoompaigning, candidates need to have a handle on visual and audio presentation — as do the producers/broadcasters of such events. There’s no excuse for distracting backgrounds, bad lighting or bad sound. All four backdrops were fine; the worst actually belonged to moderator Jane Lindholm. She seemed to be stuck in a featureless closet. Sen. Debbie Ingram was too close to the mic and camera; her voice was sometimes distorted as a result.

Anyway, note to all concerned for future reference: Make sure your shit is tight.

Back to substance. I guess it’s not surprising that all four candidates were well-prepared. They’ve gotten plenty of practice in a series of lower-profile forums hosted by county party committees. They also had to be aware that, in Our Plague Year, the VPR/VPBS debate was likely the most crucial event of the entire primary campaign.

After the jump: Attacks!

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Sweeping It Under the Rug, VTGOP Style

In the category of “No good deed goes unpunished,” we find Shayne Spence, former Ethan Allen Institute minion and wannabe filmmaker, who’s now running for House as a “Progressive Republican” in a district currently served by two Democrats.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. But that’s not why he’s the subject of tonight’s sermon.

This morning, Spence put out a Twitter thread about his attempt to put an anti-racism resolution on the Vermont Republican Party’s agenda for its state committee meeting this Saturday morning.

(Said meeting, by the way, is being held at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin. Yep, an in-person meeting. Smart. I wonder if attendees will wear masks and maintain social distancing, hahaha.)

Spence’s resolution would commit the party “to the necessary work of confronting racism in all its forms,” including self-examination and endorsement of anti-racist policies in law enforcement, criminal justice, education, and economic policy. By Trump-era Republican standards, it’s a pretty ambitious statement. One might question whether Spence is sincere in this effort or if he’s trying to substantiate his belated conversion to “Progressive Republicanism.” But it did take some courage to write and promote this. He deserves credit.

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Massive Coincidence Strikes #vtpoli World

Throughout this weird campaign season, Gov. Phil Scott had insisted he was too busy with pandemic response to do any fundraising, campaigning or debating.

Until yesterday. In an interview with Seven Days, Scott reversed course: “I do feel that I owe it to the competition, as well as to the process, to get myself involved in the last three or four weeks [of the campaign].”

Ahem. Let’s recap.

On Friday the 10th, Your Obedient Serpent took Scott to task for refusing to campaign.

On Monday the 13th, Scott reversed course.

This could be one huge, belief-beggaring coincidence. But am I going to take some credit for Scott’s change of heart?

You bet I am.

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