A few years ago, when legalizing cannabis was still in the middle stages of legislative debate, Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged that he has plenty of friends who regularly partake of the demon weed. And yet he opposed further moves toward legalization or state regulation.
The underlying assumption was that of course, his friends would never get busted for pot. Nod and a wink, don’t ya know. It might be illegal on the books, but, ha ha, nobody ever enforces the law, so why not let sleeping laws lie?
Bruce Prosper, Jr. is why.
Prosper is the Northeast Kingdom resident who’s paralyzed from the waist down, and grows his own cannabis for medicinal use. Which caught the attention of an Essex County Sheriff’s deputy, who I believe is seen above riding the bumper in the lower left.
He went and got himself a search warrant, deputies descended on the Prosper home, and heroically arrested him and the rest of his family on felony charges that could bring up to 15 years in prison for each.
And the county prosecutor, the widely esteemed political fixer Vince Illuzzi, is insisting on going ahead with the case. Illuzzi told VTDigger that he’s “kind of caught,” adding that “We are obligated to enforce the law.”
I have to admit I felt a little twinge of the warm fuzzies when I heard about Gov. Phil Scott’s “Vermont LIghts the Way” initiative. I mean, who could resist this pitch:
“I think it’s time to lift our spirits. Let’s get creative and show the world that Vermonters are here for each other and that even through these dark and difficult times, Vermont Lights the Way. …I hope this effort will spread joy and hope, especially for our kids.”
But of course, I’m a cynical old blogger, so my thoughts quickly turned. “What does this have to do with governance?” I asked myself.
Nothing. It’s good politics, that’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with good politics in its place. But this message is aimed at the comfortable among us — the ones with homes and well-stocked pantries, a bit of disposable income and paid-up utility bills, the ones who’d like to feel as though they’re making a difference without leaving the comfort of home and hearth.
Emma Lazarus’ famous poem is often cited as voicing the best impulses of our country. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword: The spirit of generosity is counterbalanced by the implicit message that immigrants are “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse,” which is far from the truth. In fact, immigration —including refugee resettlement — has brought energy, talent, motivation and a propensity for hard work to our country.
Lazarus’ poem makes it seem like an open-door policy is purely a matter of charity. But it’s quite the opposite. The influx of New Americans is, by a long shot, a net positive for our country, our economy and our culture.
Which brings me to this particular moment in Vermont. Donald Trump almost completely closed the doors to immigrants and refugees, which put a halt to Vermont’s efforts to become a destination for New Americans. Joe Biden has promised to loosen restrictions on immigration and refugee settlement, including raising the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than it was in the Obama Administration.
It’s time for Vermont to get in on the ground floor. Gov. Phil Scott has talked of New Americans as a key in growing our economy and easing our demographic crisis. He needs to act in concert with legislative leaders and our Congressional delegation to promote Vermont as an immigrant destination. He needs to consult with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to determine what we can do to help people move here successfully.
This kind of commitment is far more likely to pay off than any of Scott’s penny-ante ideas for attracting new residents, including the endlessly-touted but marginally effective remote worker grant program.
My recent post about the Vermont Democratic Party drew more reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written… with the notable exception of the Latin Motto controversy. Almost all of it was positive, and much of it came from young folks who feel like they got the cold-shoulder treatment from the party.
At least a couple of people asked me to do the Progressive Party. And while I did briefly address their failings in my post-election “Winners and Losers” piece, there’s more to be said.
Short take: 2020 was a disastrous year for the Progs. They managed to hold onto their seven-seat caucus despite three retirements and one upset defeat, which is noteworthy. But otherwise, the bad far outweighs the good.
Let’s start with the electoral defeats of two prominent Prog-identified pols. Tim Ashe finished a distant second to Molly Gray in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman lost by 41 points to Gov. Phil Scott.
It’s hard to understate how big a setback this is for the Progs. They’ve suffered a huge loss of influence in the Senate, with Ashe’s departure as President Pro Tem and Zuckerman relinquishing the gavel. Also, Ashe and Zuckerman were the Progs’ top two hopes for statewide office. They had built their political careers over more than a decade of success, but they’re off the charts (at least for now).
Also, the magnitude of their losses calls into question whether the Progressive label is statewide electoral poison. Ashe lost by 11 points to Molly Gray, who was a complete political unknown at the beginning of the year. Zuckerman faced impossible odds in taking on Phil Scott during the pandemic; but even so, 41 points???
Well, looky here. One week after I noted that the state of Vermont’s travel map was “deeply misleading” (text) or “a lie” (headline), the state has issued a new version, reproduced above. And it clearly shows that we’re just as besieged by the pandemic as any of our neighbors.
I’ll take one sentence to crow about feeling vindicated. And then I’ll say that on balance, I’d rather be wrong in this case. Especially since I live in Washington County, which is Ground Zero of our current outbreak. (Thanks, recreational hockey league!)
For those just joining us, the state’s official travel map had made it seem like Vermont was somehow immune from the coronavirus. Other states were assigned green, yellow and red, while Vermont was illustrated in three shades of blue — for the same disease rates. Light blue was the same as green, and dark blue was the same as red. If considered strictly as a “travel map,” one could argue that the coloring was appropriate. But it also sent a signal that Vermont was doing just fine, thank you, and if that led anyone to let down their guard, it helped contribute to the upward spiral in our Covid numbers.
So far, Gov. Phil Scott has received a lot of credit for his coronavirus response. It’s beginning to look like he’s taken a few too many chances as we enter a new and much more severe phase of the pandemic. Throughout, he has listened to his experts and made decisions based partly on their input and party with an eye on the economy — even as he has consistently claimed to be placing science above all.
Did he give his renowned spigot a few too many turns? It’s beginning to look like it. We can’t lay it all at his feet, but he did play a role in the growth of a false sense of confidence among Vermonters. This new map, with its unavoidable and unbroken sea of red, should serve as a wake-up call for himself and his officials and for all of us.
On the surface, the Vermont Democratic Party did just fine this election. Sure, Phil Scott cruised to re-election and they lost a few legislative seats. But Scott was virtually unbeatable thanks to his patient, measured response to the pandemic. Besides, it wasn’t one of their own who took the bullet, it was David Zuckerman, a Prog/Dem with the emphasis on Prog. And they elected a bright new hope, Molly Gray, to the lieutenant governorship, held onto the other statewide offices, and held on to lopsided majorities in the House and Senate.
But when you take a closer look, this was a sneaky bad year for the Dems. They once again let Scott steal their lunch money. This was a bad year to take him on, but they’ve barely tried to beat Scott in the last several cycles. Since the 2010 race for lieutenant governor, they’ve put up a parade of under-resourced first-timers against Scott, and he’s barely had to break a sweat.
Gray’s victory is nice, but she was up against a terrible Republican candidate. As for the Legislature, if this wasn’t the year to rack up gains, I don’t know what is. They had the benefit of widespread anti-Trump animus to drive support for down-ballot races, and failed to capitalize.
I didn’t realize how much the Vermont Dems were resting on their structural advantages until I listened to a pair of podcast interviews from the fine folks at Crooked Media. The first featured Ben Wikler, head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, the second was with Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, founder of of Project Fair Fight. Both have taken state parties that faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and both have turned those states into Democratic success stories.
I’ve been following the state of Vermont’s travel maps for months now, and watching the grim progression of the “red zone” closer and closer to our borders. Through it all, I’ve gotten a bit of visual comfort from Vermont’s apparent exemption from the great red tide.
But, as others have noted this week, that comfort was entirely without foundation. The blue lagoon shouldn’t be blue at all; it should be a mix of red, yellow and green. You don’t get that if you just glance at the map. But if you check the fine print, you see that the three shades of blue correspond to red, yellow and green. By the standards of this map, my county (Washington) is in the red zone, the no-travel zone.
The shades of blue for Vermont are a deliberate choice by the creator of the map — the Department of Financial Regulation. And it’s deeply misleading. It feeds into our innate sense that Vermont is different, better, and at least somewhat immune from the problems that beset all the other states. Like we have an invisible, ineffable moat around our borders.
In truth, if the same color scheme was used throughout, Vermont’s counties would be roughly equally red, yellow and green. And in fact, the situation has already worsened; we learned at the Scott administration’s Friday Covid briefing that roughly one-half of Vermont counties would be colored red if the out-of-state standards were applied.
If I were to ask why Vermont’s counties were colored in blue, the response would probably be, “Well, this is a travel map, and we want to showcase the areas where it’s safe to travel from. Vermont isn’t part of that equation.”
Okay, well, maybe. But at the very least, they should use a different set of much flashier colors instead of three subtly differing shades of the same hue. Maybe orange, purple and blue?
This is the state’s travel map. But it’s also the state’s primary (perhaps only) visual representation of the spread of the coronavirus. The map should be recrafted to accurately impart that message as well.
The strapping young man pictured above is my grandfather-in-law. He died fighting on the Western Front in World War I. Several years ago, I did a research project about him, and what I learned was astounding. What follows is an abbreviated account, but it’ll take a while.
William was an Ohioan, born in Paulding, grew up in Chillicothe, graduated from Wooster College, taught for a couple of years and then became a junior executive in the educational division of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. He was considered a rising star in its ranks.
While still in his teens, he joined the Ohio National Guard, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. He served in the brief US-Mexican border war in late 1916-early 1917. In April 1917, the US entered World War I on the side of the Allies, but its armed forces were small in number and inexperienced. The government sought to quickly build some semblance of an army by conscripting state National Guard units. William, then 27, answered the call in July; the Ohio Guard became the 166th Infantry within the 42nd Division, dubbed the Rainbow Division because it consisted of Guardsmen from several states. In August William began training, and in October he shipped out to France, never to return.
In May of that year, he had married Florence, an elementary school teacher. Sometime that summer, she became pregnant with the son who would become my father-in-law. William never met his son.
The voyage to Europe, in a hastily refitted banana boat, took 11 days. It was dangerous and unpleasant. The men were kept below decks except for brief exercise breaks every day. “The men were packed as tight as sardines,” wrote R.L. Cheseldine, the official historian of the 166th in World War I. “Cleanliness was striven for, but not attained to any great degree after the first day.” There was constant fear of attack by German U-boats.
A few days after landing in northern France, the 166th embarked on a three-day rail trip to eastern France. They traveled in the notorious 40-and-8s, unheated wooden boxcars that were old, rickety and uncomfortable. They were the object of many a complaint at the time; but after all the hardships of trench warfare on the Western Front, the soldiers looked back in fondness on their time in the 40-and-8s.
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.
A long string of #vtpoli takes will follow later today. But first I’m invoking Blogger’s Privilege to turn my attention to the national results.
As of this writing, it looks like Joe Biden will eke out a narrow victory, unless Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett help Trump steal the thing. But even if Trump loses and vacates the White House, this has to be seen as a victory for Trumpism and a big blow to those hoping for a decisive win for Democrats.
I mean, look: The guy botched a pandemic. That alone should have killed his chances for another term. But the base stayed loyal, and gave Republican politicians no grounds for abandoning Trumpism even if they wanted to. The conservative media ecosystem will continue to crank out the toxicity. There are plenty of Trump true believers in high office. The Republicans seem on track to hold the Senate. Its leadership has engaged in 10 years of hard-core obstructionism, and they’ll limit Biden’s ability to do anything positive. (Forget about court reform or voting rights, just for starters.)
In fact, progress in a Biden Administration will be limited to restoring the institutional damage done to the executive branch under Trump, and doing whatever he can by executive order. And if any liberal Supreme Court justices were pondering retirement (lookin’ at you, Breyer), they’d best do it quick. As Senate Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham said after declaring victory last night, “Here’s the message I got: People like what I’m doing, and I’m going to keep doing it.” If a seat opens up anytime after the summer of 2022, the Senate’s gonna play a long game of keep-away and hope for a Republican victory in 2024. Hell, they’ve already proven they’re shameless.