Monthly Archives: February 2021

Let’s Check In With Vermont’s #1 Nativist

The unintentionally ironic flag of the Know-Nothing Party.

John Klar, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate and self-described leader of the short-lived Agripublican movement, has been a busy beaver. He regularly contributes opinion pieces to little-read far-right outlets such as True North Reports and The American Thinker. They’re not worth reading, but they do merit the occasional bit of scrutiny.

After all, this is a guy who got 12,762 votes for governor in 2020. He got walloped by Phil Scott, but that’s still 21% of the Republican electorate who either agree with Klar or hate Scott so much they’d prefer an unknown alternative.

Last week, Klar posted two pieces on consecutive days, each are on the same subject: the evils of the Black Lives Matter/antiracism movement and its essentially alien nature. The pieces include notable displays of Vermont nativism, unsubtle racism and white victimhood. (Maye he should move to Stratton.)

First, his February 19 TNR piece (click through at your own risk) entitled “Vermont Liberals Gaslight…Themselves?” Let’s run down the highlights, shall we?

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An Inequity Ignored is an Inequity Enabled

The numbers, from the start of the pandemic through 2/10/21. Source: VT Department of Health.

The subject of today’s sermon is racial inequity in health care, and more specifically, racial inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have two readings. First, a legislative hearing about racial inequity in health care. Second, a racial equity activist’s efforts, apparently ignored, to get answers about Vermont’s vaccination policy.

As you can see above, Black and Hispanic Vermonters are far more likely to contract Covid than their white counterparts. And yet, the state isn’t doing much (if anything) to address the disparity in its vaccine policy.

More on that in a moment, but let’s turn to the hearing. The House Health Care Committee is considering H.210, a bill addressing racial disparities in health care. Wednesday morning, the panel heard from a nationally known expert in the field: Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, a UVM prof and member of the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity.

Dr. Avila spent the better part of two hours unspooling a wide-ranging overview of those disparities. Their roots in history, their scope and persistence, their effects, and what can be done to address and eliminate them. It was a sobering presentation.

Well, it was for most of the committee.

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A Very Curious Way To Do Business

The above was posted on Twitter by Ellen Barry, regional correspondent for the New York Times (last seen publishing a big piece on the Daniel Banyai/West Pawlet standoff). It’s the front cover of Stratton, Vermont’s annual report.

And as you can see, it’s just chock full of Vermont’s bloated sense of superiority that we all know and love.

Okay, well, it’s a rural place tucked in the middle of southern Vermont, so you might excuse a little short-sightedness and/or pig-ignorance.

But Stratton? Its biggest industry is tourism. Its biggest employer is the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, which boasts of being “The Best Ski Resort Near New York City.” The resort couldn’t be more welcoming to outsiders, because its profitability depends on them.

Furthermore, according to Zillow, the average home price in Stratton is a robust $750,939. Prices have risen by 8% during Our Pandemic Year. How many Stratton homes have been purchased by non-Vermonters since last March, and before?

How much does the town’s bottom line benefit from outsider dollars? What would become of Stratton if there were no outsiders?

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Another Fine School Funding Mess

Hey folks, it’s time for another round of every lawmaker’s least favorite game: Reforming the state’s public school funding system!

This time, lawmakers are considering a 2019 UVM report on “pupil weighting.” Some students tend to cost more to educate, including special needs kids, New Americans and people living in poverty. Vermont weights the pupil count so school funding better reflects the needs of a district’s students. But the 2019 report concluded that Vermont’s current pupil weighting system is so off-kilter that it’s vulnerable to a legal challenge a la the Brigham decision.

(For those just joining us, in 1997 the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state is responsible for providing substantially equal educational opportunity to all students. In response, the Legislature adopted Act 60, which established funding and pupil-weighting systems designed to comply with the ruling. That weighting system is still with us today.)

And if there’s anything lawmakers like less than making a tough decision, it’s letting the courts make that decision.

And for his part, Education Secretary Dan French is trying to keep himself and his agency out of the process as much as possible.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Education and Finance Committees held a joint hearing to take testimony on S.13 — a bill that would require the Education Agency to devise a plan for implementing the report’s recommendations. There was universal agreement that the state needs to do something to make pupil weighting more equitable. And that’s where the universal agreement ended.

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It’s What I Do

Me. (Pretty Much As Illustrated)

Okay, so I offended some people with my post about sexist shadings, and the prospect of more to come, in the coverage of House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. The complaints concerned the use of the term “catfight” and the accompanying illustration of two teenagers pulling each other’s hair. I’m accused of, essentially, committing exactly the offense I was criticizing in the post. For some, the use of “catfight” in such a context is out of bounds.

I can see your point of view. But if you’ve read me for any length of time at all, you’ll know It’s What I Do.

I’ve often described my blogger persona as 90% analyst/commentator and 10% poo-flinging monkey. I’ve sometimes upped the “monkey” percentage. I bring a certain fearlessness and wildness to a #vtpoli that is overly polite, reticent to offend anyone.

It’s great that our politics are not as destructive as the national version. But there are times when politeness simply won’t do the trick.

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TJ Gets to Keep His Fig Leaf

Huzzah, hooray, the Vermont Supreme Court has upheld the state’s ban on high-capacity firearm magazines. It’s a nice little victory for a law that will mainly be used to add another charge to an offender’s charging document.

Because hey, nobody’s going to be out there doing primary enforcement of this thing. It’ll be enforced after the fact, when someone has been arrested for some other offense.

More importantly for Vermont’s top legal eagle, the court has allowed Attorney General T.J. Donovan to press his case against notorious asshole white supremacist Max Misch.

For those with short memories, Donovan filed the firearms charge against Misch after declining to prosecute Misch for hate crimes — particularly his open harassment of former state representative Kiah Morris, who left the Legislature because she was targeted by haters.

His decision not to pursue hate crime charges triggered a backlash from those who thought Misch deserved some kind of punishment, and that Morris deserved some kind of recourse in the law. After all, the police barely lifted a finger* to investigate her complaints of harassment. Ditto the Bennington County State’s Attorney. Donovan’s decision not to prosecute Misch meant that Morris got absolutely zero protection from the criminal justice system.

*In fact, Police Chief Paul Doucette’s biggest issue with the case was that “it is damaging the reputation of the Town of Bennington, the Bennington Police Department and myself personally.” He has also accused Morris of profiting financially off her claims. Nice guy.

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That “Big Tent” Lacks an Entrance or Two

It was probably inevitable that Kolby LaMarche would resign as chair of the Burlington Republicans. A bit less so that he left the GOP altogether. But here we are.

Whenever she’s asked about extreme elements in the party, VTGOP chair Deb Billado resorts to the “big tent’ analogy. The party, she says, is big enough to include all comers.

Nice theory, but it’s not working in practice. The kind of die-hard Trump supporters who still believe he was cheated out of the election are more than welcome in the party ranks and, what the heck, leadership. But people like LaMarche, who believe the GOP must abandon the Trump delusion, are made to feel so unwelcome that they eventually leave. And the party’s rightward tilt gets that much more pronounced.

If the VTGOP really believes in the “big tent,” then Billado and her colleagues would be pounding the phones, begging LaMarche to give them another chance. Somehow I doubt that’s the case. Because to the chair and her allies, including vice chair Deb Bucknam and national committee members Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield, fealty to Trump is a litmus test for good Republicans. Not to mention local party officials like Ron Lawrence of Essex, co-instigator of the CovidCruiser that went to Washington for Trump’s attempted insurrection on January 6. That’d be the same Lawrence who launched a petition drive to get Gov. Phil Scott to abandon his party affiliation.

Yes, the Phil Scott who is the one and only Republican success story in statewide elections. According to Lawrence and the 2200-odd signers, he’s the real problem in the VTGOP.

Did Billado rush to Scott’s defense? Uhh, no. She “declined comment” on the petition, claiming she hadn’t read the thing and wasn’t involved. No “big tent” references this time.

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Waiting for the Catfight

Leadership Negotiation. (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

So I have yet to weigh in on “Vermont Has Her Back,” the petition drive seeking gender equity in the state’s media corps. Until now.

I certainly agree with the substance of the letter. There are too many men and not enough women (or people of color, ftm) in the political reporting sphere and, perhaps even worse, on the editorial plane. (Editors make assignments and have final review of stories.) This isn’t a matter of overt misogyny; it’s the result of structural barriers and unconscious bias in hiring and promotion.

(Not addressed in the letter are similar and even more impactful biases in our politics. Something must be wrong (and not just with our media) when Vermont has yet to send a woman to Congress, while New Hampshire ‘s delegation has three women and one man — and not that long ago, all four were women. Plus the governor. Vermont offers a stark contrast.)

The unconscious bias is becoming apparent in coverage of legislative leadership. Now that the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem are both women, the press is on high alert for signs of discord between the two.

A catfight, in other words.

Jill Krowinski and Becca Balint are doing their best to create a positive House/Senate relationship, but differences will inevitably surface. The two leaders will be under intense scrutiny over how they handle conflict. Opportunities for sexist blather will abound.

We’re already getting a little taste.

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Parade of the Usual Suspects

On Wednesday morning the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee held a session of Hearing Kabuki, a popular style of performative lawmaking. For the better part of three hours the panel heard from a parade of witnesses, all but one testifying exactly how you’d expect: from a position of naked self-interest. The only exception was Alyssa Hill, an eighth grader from Williston.

She was also the only witness with no financial or professional stake in the issue at hand. Or, to put it another way, the only “real person.” This hearing, as is the case almost every time, was dominated by special interests and paid lobbyists. The usual suspects.

The subject of the hearing was H.175, which would expand Vermont’s beverage container deposit system, a.k.a. the Bottle Bill. The deposit would be raised from five cents per container to 10, and it would apply to a much wider range of drinks: Water, wine, carbonated, uncarbonated. MIlk, dairy and non-dairy alternatives would be exempt. The bill would also increase the “handling fee,” paid to retailers and redemption centers, from four cents per container to five.

This idea has come up before, and it’s been somewhat divisive among lawmakers who prioritize environmental issues. Some want the bill extended to cover beverages that have gained popularity since the original bill took effect in 1973, such as water, iced tea, sports drinks and energy drinks. Others have argued the Bottle Bill is outdated in this era of single-stream recycling.

That argument seems a bit less compelling of late, as the markets for many recycled materials have plummeted. Somehow, that fact never came up in the hearing. There was barely a mention of roadside litter, which was the impetus for the original Bottle Bill.

So, what did come up?

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A Plan for Thinking About Creating a Process for Possibly Doing Something Years From Now

(Not Exactly As Illustrated.)

Vermont’s public schools aren’t quite this bad, but many districts are burdened by years of deferred maintenance and replacement. The situation has gotten worse in the last decade-plus. And it won’t get better anytime soon. And that’s assuming that the Legislature finally takes action on a bill that would lay the foundation for maybe starting to address the problem a few years from now.

The background: Until 2007, the state of Vermont devoted roughly one-third of its capital budget to public school projects. That year, according to the bill’s text, the Legislature “suspended state aid for school construction in order to permit the Secretary of Education and the Commissioner of Finance and Management to recommend a sustainable plan for state aid for school construction.”

Since then, crickets. And a steadily growing list of needs, and many students learning in unsafe conditions. (See: Burlington High School’s precipitate relocation to the former Macy’s Department Store.) To again quote the bill, “the backlog… has resulted in unsafe and unhealthy learning environments and disparities in the quality of education between wealthier communities and communities in need across the state.”

Which, if unaddressed, could spark a lawsuit invoking the precedent of the Brigham decision. Because, duhh, affluent districts can afford to undertake capital projects while poorer districts are left to hang. Take one of those unfortunates, add an opportunistic (or idealistic, if you prefer) lawyer, and the state finds itself in court. In the uncomfortable position of defending inequity.

Two House committees, Education and Corrections/Institutions, have been trying for three years to identify a solution. Which would either involve (1) cutting deeply into the state’s capital budget or (2) finding a substantial pot of money. Last year they started a bill through the Legislature, but it stalled out because of the onset of Covid-19.

So it’s back this year. Bill 21-0782 is a “committee bill” being crafted by House Education, current text available here.

To be clear, the bill doesn’t invest any funds in school construction. No, we have to start these things very small and roll them out slowly.

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