Monthly Archives: January 2021

Running Out of Metaphors Here (UPDATED) (UPDATED AGAIN)

Things just keep getting better and better for the Vermont Republican Party.

The latest eruption is in the GOP heartland of Burlington, where three members of the city party committee are calling for the removal of city party chair Kolby LaMarche because he’s insufficiently reverential toward Donald Trump.

Because being a Trumpster is such a great way to win elections in Burlington, I guess?

LaMarche sinned against orthodoxy by writing opinion pieces saying that the VTGOP needed to move away from Trump and return to “the Vermont Republican roots that formed the basis of our state party,” in the words of a written statement he released Friday. He had also called for a change in state party leadership; most of the VTGOP’s top officials are dyed-in-the-wool Trumpsters.

The three who want LaMarche removed are Ericka Redic, spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for state Senate in 2020; Gus Klein, a weapons tester at General Dynamics who’s best known as the guy whose Trump flag was vandalized by two teenagers back in 2018; and his wife AnnMarie Klein.

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Hey, Another Trumpster Running for Office! And This One is Barely Literate!

Hey everybody, meet David B. Vincent Sr., resident of Georgia, Vermont and candidate for town Selectboard. He’s running against former state representative and senator Carolyn Branagan. And I’m going to take you on a merry tour of his Facebook page. In addition to the usual Trumpster memes, it also features commentaries by Vincent that are so badly written, it’s hard to tell what he meant to say. For instance, I’ve never heard “bitch in a nut” before, but maybe that’s a Franklin County colloquialism.

Before I go on, let me make it clear that the voters of Georgia can elect whomever they want, just as the people of Barre are free to elect Brian Judd and/or Timothy Boltin. But they ought to know what Mr. Vincent gets up to online. It’s not pleasant. Here’s some additional commentary on the subject of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ooooookay. It’s better for him when he simply posts memes instead of writing for himself.

For those keeping score at home, that image insults one white woman, one Black woman and one Jew. Not that we should impute racism and misogyny to Mr. Vincent, oh no. Probably just a coincidence.

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Pearce Makes Her Case

Well, we didn’t get our first public face-off between State Treasurer Beth Pearce and the public sector unions on Thursday. But we did get a better sense of Pearce’s argument for cutting benefits in the face of growing unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension funds.

The Senate Government Operations Committee had set aside an hour and 45 minutes to hear from Pearce and the teachers’ and state employees’ unions. But Pearce’s presentation lasted almost an hour and a half. At that point, GovOps chair Jeanette White declared that there was “no time today to hear from the unions.” They’ll be back in the virtual witness chair as soon as next week.

That should be interesting. The unions haven’t exactly welcomed pension cuts in their public reactions, but they’d be well advised to come to the committee with some ideas of their own. Because the state of the pension funds — especially the teachers’ fund — is not good.

(Pearce’s PowerPoint presentation to the committee, and her full report on the state of the pensions, can be found on the GovOps website.)

And the unions ought to be prepared for this. According to Pearce, she’s been meeting with them “at least weekly since mid-December” to discuss what to do. She also held virtual town meetings with roughly 1,000 members of the Vermont-National Education Association and around 350 members of the Vermont State Employees Association. She told the committee she wanted the unions to be involved throughout the process.

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In Which I Discover the Limits of Phil Scott’s Generosity to Business

Throughout his tenure as Vermont governor, and even more so during the pandemic, Phil Scott has been a friend to the business community. Ever solicitous of their needs, ever willing to step up when a helping hand is required.

But finally, I have identified the boundary of this unending love. It’s at the level of microbusiness — those with five employees or fewer.

This morning, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee heard testimony about the state’s Microbusiness Development Program and its Covid-19-specific effort called EMBRACE*, which provides advice and grant funding to these smallest of businesses. And one of the things I learned from the testimony was that, in his FY2021 budget, Scott proposed eliminating the program’s funding.

*Economic Micro Business Recovery Assistance for the COVID-19 Epidemic. Must have taken a committee quite a while to come up with that.

The Legislature restored the money. Which turned out to be a very timely thing, because the Covid-19 pandemic pushed many microbusinesses to the brink of disaster. EMBRACE did a lot to keep them alive.

In his FY2022 budget, Scott has proposed to level-fund the program. But in each of the last three years, it has received an extra $100,000 over its base amount. Scott doesn’t want to continue that. And with the pandemic still raging, microbusinesses still need a lot of help.

Meanwhile, Scott’s budget is full of grant programs and tax credits for bigger businesses and favored classes of white-collar workers.

After the jump: Tattoos and Eggplant Parm.

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A Pair of Hardcore Trumpsters Are Running for Barre City Council

Meet Brian Judd, everyone. Candidate for Barre City Council, challenging Ward 2 incumbent Teddy Waszazak. Frequent Facebook poster. And QAnon-style nutcase.

The other hopeful who features hateful Trumpist crap on his Facebook page is Timothy Boltin, who will oppose Emel Cambel for a Ward 1 seat currently held by the retiring John Steinman. (Boltin is also the owner of Delicate Decadence, a downtown bakery that you can decide whether you choose to patronize or not. I won’t.)

Each man’s Facebook feed is full of anti-Democrat, pro-Trump, sometimes racist memes and quick Photoshop jobs.

The Times Argus today published a long piece on the candidate lineup for Town Meeting Day, and filled some background on those running for Council. But they didn’t think to check the candidates’ social media presences. Which, these days, ought to be Journalism 101 for those covering an election contest. (The article, for whatever reason, has yet to be posted on the T-A’s website.) I thought the good people of Barre deserved to know who they might be voting for.

There’s more… oh God, so much more… from Judd and Boltin’s Facebook feeds… after the jump.

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Another Step Toward Irrelevance for the VTGOP

Yet another can of lighter fluid has been tossed on the roaring fire that is the Vermont Republican Party. This time the perp is Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex Republicans and co-organizer of the CovidCruiser excursion to the January 6 Capitol riot.

Lawrence, whose town is rapidly transitioning from purple to deep blue, has taken to Change.org to post a petition calling on Gov. Phil Scott to leave the Republican Party.

That’s right, Lawrence believes that the VTGOP would be better off without the only member who’s managed to win a statewide office since 2010.

For those keeping score, that’s Phil Scott, undefeated with a 6-0 record running for LG and governor. The rest of the party from 2010 onward? A sterling one win, 29 losses. (Turncoat Tom Salmon is the one. He won another term as state auditor on the Republican ticket in 2010 after originally winning the office as a Democrat.)

That’s a winning percentage of .033. )The 1962 New York Mets, the measuring stick for futility, had a winning percentage of .250.) Any statistician will tell you that’s… not good.

Obviously, there are two separate VTGOPs. There’s the party hierarchy, which is full of Donald Trump loyalists such as Lawrence, and its elected officials. With the exception of a few dead-enders, Republican officeholders realize that to win elections in Vermont, they have to tack to the center. Like Phil Scott.

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The Luckiest Man in Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott issued his budget address today (YouTube video here). It was an astoundingly pain-free occasion, considering that we’re in the throes of a pandemic that’s been holding our economy hostage for almost a year now. In fact, rather than proposing painful cuts, Scott offered a generous scattering of funds for a wide variety of programs that, he said, will put Vermont on a sounder footing going forward.

How? Simple. The tsunami of federal Covid relief money. Scott’s budget includes $210 million in one-time money from the feds. As we heard from state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr last week, federal money has prevented an economic collapse and even contributed to a boom in some sectors.

Throughout his political career, Phil Scott has benefited from little-known and/or underfunded Democratic opposition in races for state senate, lieutenant governor and governor. In his six races for statewide office, the closest result was the 2010 contest for lieutenant governor — seven percentage points over Steve Howard. He gets credit for being an appealing political figure, but he sure hasn’t had to fight very hard.

And now, once again, he’s the luckiest man in Vermont. You’d think a shattering pandemic would lead to massive cutbacks, but no. Scott could once again boast of a budget that wouldn’t increase taxes or “existing fees.” And according to Kavet and Carr, the state economy will continue to be buoyed by federal infusions for the next two fiscal years. Which will make it a lot easier to craft a pain-free state budget again next year and, if he runs for a fourth term, he may well be unbeatable once again.

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Racism wins again

Look out, kid, no matter what you did

Great. Another person of color has been harassed out of public office. It’s like Vermont is living in a racist Groundhog Day.

This time it’s Alicia Barrow, resigning from the Hartford Selectboard. Funny, I thought the Upper Valley was pretty progressive. Guess not.

“Blatant bigotry,” she wrote in her resignation letter, caused her to “no longer feel safe nor welcome in a place I have called home for 15 years.” She has received, wrote the Valley News, “racial slurs and death threats over the phone, in person and by email during her time on the board.”

And what did local authorities do about it? Jack shit, apparently. Barrow reported one specific threat to the police, who did nothing. In fact, she fears “retaliation” by the Hartford PD because of her advocacy for defunding the police.

Tell me again how Vermont is all open and welcoming and tolerant.

Tell me why law enforcement, up to and including Attorney General T.J. Donovan, can’t help Vermonters of color live their lives in peace and security, and maybe even hold elective office without fearing for their safety.

Because Vermont will not be open or welcoming until we figure this out.

Herp Day!

One of the small delights of covering the Legislature is the occasional discovery of someone with an unusual profession, who’s really good at their job and really enthusiastic about it.

This time, Jim Andrews. He’s a herpetologist, and since 1994 he’s coordinated the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. I cannot tell you how delighted I am to discover that there is such a thing, and that the same guy has been in charge of it for 26 years.

Andrews was one of several experts who testified last Friday before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. (Written testimony here, video of the hearing here.) The general subject was the impact of climate change on Vermont’s fauna, which is appallingly considerable. If current trends continue, our wildlife is going to dramatically change.

I’ll get to that, but first I must go on a bit about the herps. The VRAA is essentially a volunteer enterprise, counting on Vermonters to photograph and report sightings of frogs, turtles, snakes, salamanders and suchlike. And they do, in considerable quantity. The atlas’ website has a roster of people who have turned in 100 reports or more.

There are more than 150 people on the list. That’s a lotta herps.

There are, in fact, several operations just like the herp atlas. Collectively they produce the Vermont Atlas of Life, which seeks to identify every living thing in Vermont as well as their range and habitats. The VAL has chronicled over 10,000 species, thanks almost entirely to volunteer observers. It’s ventures like the VAL that allow us to actually measure the impact of climate change on the animal world.

After the jump: the bad news.

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VTGOP Chair Fires a Shot Across the Bow of Moderate Republicans

I don’t think Deb Billado is planning to resign anytime soon.

The Vermont Republican Party chair made that clear when she devoted her most recent weekly newsletter to a very fringey speech made by the very fringey South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. It was a shot across the bow of Republican lawmakers who recently called for her resignation — and a slap in the face to Gov. Phil Scott.

You see, Scott and Noem are polar opposites on Covid-19 policy. Scott has proceeded with great caution, erring (mainly) on the side of public safety. Noem has kept her state wide open — including the granddaddy of all superspreaders, the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

The result: Vermont has a death rate of 27 per 100,000 residents, the second lowest among the states. South Dakota has lost 189 out of every 100,000, the seventh worst death rate in the nation. In total Covid-19 cases, Vermont is the best in the nation at 1,654 per 100K, while South Dakota is second-worst at 11,958 per 100K. How about testing? Vermont has conducted 133,174 tests per 100K — more than one test per resident. South Dakota? Way near the bottom, at 44,827 tests per 100K.

So, Vermont is doing far better at tracking the virus, keeping people healthy, and keeping them alive. I can’t say that Billado endorses South Dakota’s Covid “strategy,” but she went out of her way to highlight Noem’s views in a message to all Vermont Republicans. Now, maybe Billado didn’t intend it as direct criticism of Vermont’s govenror, but I bet you dollars to donuts that Team Scott sees it that way.

Beyond that, there’s the issue of Billado calling a collection of QAnon-adjacent nutbaggery a “thoughtful speech.” We’ll run it down after the jump.

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