Monthly Archives: May 2022

Turns Out, Jim Douglas’ Anger Was Entirely Performative. Shocking, I know.

In my previous post, I expressed a bit of puzzlement about why former governor Jim Douglas chose the New York Sun as the place to express his sudden disdain for Middlebury College. Well, now I know why: Because any Vermont publication would have asked embarrassing questions.

Douglas, for those just tuning in, is upset over the college’s decision to take former governor John Mead’s name off a chapel building because Mead was a fervent and influential proponent of eugenics. In his essay, Douglas said he was staying away from his 50th class reunion because of the anesthetic-free Meadectomy.

I’ll miss seeing my classmates and reminiscing about our college days. My regret would be greater, however, if I were to pretend that I was happy to be there, in the shadow of Mead Chapel, the scene of the College’s expunction of the Governor’s legacy.

Time to call bullshit.

Douglas may have skipped his class reunion, but he gave no indication that he would give up the “Executive in Residence” title he’s enjoyed at Middlebury since 2011, or that he would cease his part-time teaching role. Apparently he’s not too upset about being “in the shadow of Mead Chapel” to completely absent himself from campus.

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Finally, Jim Douglas Has Found Something to be Mad About

Ever notice how almost every photograph of former Vermont governor Jim Douglas looks the same? The not-quite-convincing smile, the middle-disance stare, the resolutely dead eyes? It’s almost as if he’s thinking to himself, “I wonder what puppy tastes like.”

Well, something has finally shattered that phlegmatic exterior. What, might you ask, is capable of piercing Douglas’ impregnable fortress of blanditude?

An alleged insult against a dead white guy.

Douglas, who could have had his pick of Vermont media outlets to carry his thoughts, took to the digital-only pages of the New York Sun, a conservative outlet that has nothing to do with the original city paper, to post his screed about why he’d decided to boycott his 50th class reunion at Middlebury College.

He did so because the college had the temerity to rename the Mead Memorial Chapel. It had borne the name of former Vermont governor John Mead, but the college took down his name because, uhh, Mead had been a proponent of eugenics.

Pish tush, says Douglas. A lot of people were pro-eugenics in the early 20th Century. And aside from that little flaw, Douglas says, Mead was “a decent man, as well as a generous benefactor” and a veteran of the Civil War to boot.

Problem is, John Mead wasn’t just some random dude who thought the gene pool needed a little purification. He used his platform as governor to call for an official policy of eugenics in Vermont, which led to one of the darkest periods in our history.

[In 1912,] Mead gave a farewell address to the Vermont Legislature in which he advocated for the use of eugenic theory in creating legislation and policy. His comments in that speech about marriage restrictions, segregation and sterilization inspired the research behind the Eugenics Survey of Vermont and led to the legalization of voluntary eugenical sterilization two decades later.

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Game Changer

Balint, casually breaking the fourth wall

If there was any doubt about which Vermont media outlet provides the biggest platform, it was dispelled early this morning when state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale announced — exclusively on Channel 3 — that she was ending her candidacy for U.S. House and endorsing Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Not on VTDigger, not in Seven Days, not on VPR. Because as much as people like me get their news from those three outlets, TV can’t be beat for reaching a wide audience. Specifically WCAX. Although it’s becoming increasingly genericized under Gray Television’s ownership, it’s still the traditional powerhouse of Vermont television.

But enough about that. On to the story itself. Ram Hinsdale folded her tent and filed for re-election to the state Senate, where she might become a real force in a chamber that will have at least 10 new members come January. She may have stumbled this time, but she’s young, smart and hungry. She’ll be back on the statewide ballot.

Ram Hinsdale and Balint were competing for the progressive vote. Balint also had significant credibility in the Democratic mainstream, but she’d staked out policy positions that were as progressive as Ram Hinsdale’s. Balint has now earned the endorsement of her major challenger on the left, and must be considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary.

As much as anything else, this move is evidence of the deep disdain many Dems (and Progs) feel for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. This is an “anybody but Gray” move.

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Maybe This Will Make Democrats Stop Voting for Phil Scott. Eh, Probably Not.

This is the elevated “thoughts and prayers” statement posted on Gov. Phil Scott’s Twitter feed in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting. It follows a trajectory parallel to statements by other Republicans elsewheres. Scott is more moderate than they are, but not in a way that will make a material difference.

The statement hasn’t aged well, considering that we’ve seen two Vermont schools locked down following threats of mass shootings in the ensuing two days. In one case, the principal had to postpone a student walkout over gun violence because of the threat of gun violence. If that’s not a Catch-22, I don’t know what is.

Scott says he “struggled to find the words.” I can understand why: He has nothing to offer besides a shattered heart and a wrenched gut, both metaphorical. He has nothing because he wants to do nothing. It’s clear he opposes any further state legislation. Instead, he wants the nation to follow Vermont’s alleged example.

Yeah, that’ll fix it.

Problem is, Vermont isn’t terribly distinguished in this area.

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Where Manly Men Hold Sway — UPDATED and Even More Manly

Typical meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board (Artist’s Rendering)

Here’s another thing that won’t change until Phil Scott isn’t governor anymore: The state Fish & Wildlife Board is chock-full of hunters, almost all of them men.

Scott recently appointed three new people to the 14-member board (one member from each county). All three were hunters. All three were men. The makeup of the board: 11 men, three women.

Correction: It’s 12 men and two women. Maybe.

The F&W Board webpage listing the members has a typo. “Nicholas Burnham” is spelled “Nichola Burnham.” I jumped to the conclusion that “Nichola” was female.

Also, I’ve been told that Board member Nancy Mathews has resigned. I haven’t been able to verify that. If true, the makeup of the board is 12 men, ONE woman and a vacancy.

Generally speaking, Scott has done a very good job of appointing women to top positions in his administration. But apparently that notion of equity doesn’t apply to deer camp.

The Board’s gender imbalance is concerning; surely there are more than three qualified women in Vermont. But more concerning from a policy viewpoint is the administration’s clear preference for loading the Board with hunters. As if they are the only ones whose opinions matter.

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Inquisition Approves Study of Bastinado Reform

The killing of George Floyd, like the Sandy Hook shootings, were once seen as inflection points. So outrageous they were, that serious criminal justice reform seemed inevitable.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Cough, choke, heave.

On the day of yet another school shooting, we’ve got two stories from here in Vermont that depict, in stark terms, the fading (or faded, if you’re feeling especially doomy, which I am) hopes for real change.

First, we have a depressing VTDigger roundup of this year’s legislative “action” on justice-related bills. Worthy ideas were either consigned to the recycling bin, stripped of all import, or vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.

Second, we have another spin of the Law Enforcement Merry-Go-Round, as Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling moves on to a much more lucrative position at UVM and his deputy (and former interim Burlington polilce chief) Jennifer Morrison steps in as interim.

I knew this hadn’t been a good year for justice-related legislation, but I hadn’t realized just how bad it was until I read the Digger story. Or as James Lyall, head of the Vermont ACLU, put it, a “long list” of police and justice bills “were either gutted or just defeated outright.”

All followed the well-established pattern. A reform bill is introduced, and the hordes of blue shirts immediately pounce. They are one of the most listened-to lobbies in Montpelier, and they usually get their way. They did, bigly, in 2022.

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Maybe, Considering the Circumstances, They Just Prefer to be Anonymous

Team Nolan (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

On May 20, VTDigger’s Lola Duffort graced our #vtpoli feeds with an “it’d be funny if it wasn’t true” story about Christina Nolan’s campaign team. Or lack thereof.

Nolan’s campaign doesn’t list a contact person. It hasn’t identified any staffers. It communicates with the media through an anonymous email account with no phone number. The only name officially on board the Nolan Doomcruiser is former governor Jim Douglas, who’s serving as “campaign chair.” Otherwise, nada.

A perusal of her latest campaign finance filing shows no trace of paid staff. Lots of big checks for consultancies, including $16,000 to political sea lamprey Jay Shepard, but no actual campaign team. Which is sad, really, for someone hoping to compete with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s near-universal name recognition and nearly bottomless war chest.

But when you take a look at Nolan’s tone-deaf Twitter feed, the explanation is obvious: Nobody wants to take “credit” for this catastrophe-in-the-making.

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This Needed to Happen

Landmark moment in Vermont journalism: VTDigger founder Anne Galloway is stepping out of her leadership role and back into reporting. Her new title, editor-at-large, seems to offer her a great deal of freedom to work on big projects. You know, the kind of stuff that goes undone amidst the daily bustle of shoestring journalism.

Something like this needed to happen. It should have happened years ago, but I’m more than a little surprised it happened at all. It takes a rare clarity of vision to realize that the organization you brought into being has outgrown you.

VTDigger would not exist without Galloway’s dogged determination, without her burning the morning-to-midnight oil and probably risking her health, mental and otherwise. As it slowly grew, its internal structure didn’t develop accordingly. That’s because Galloway was still working as if she was head of a tiny, struggling startup. She was chief editor. She was the head of the entire enterprise. She was the public face of VTDigger. And, when she felt the call, she dove back into the foxhole of reporting.

It was too much for any person, and it inhibited Digger’s growth into a sustainable institution with a consistent management structure. Now it seems that that push has finally come to shove, and Galloway had to choose which role/s she wanted to keep and which she was willing to let go of.

Necessary disclosure: I worked for Galloway for a few months in 2020. She fired me under dubious circumstances. But I haven’t changed my view of VTDigger as an organization. I saw it the same way before I signed on, while I worked there, and after my defenestration. Before, during and after, it was an organization in need of transition with a leader who was deeply ambivalent about letting it happen.

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This Is Your Time

There is a serious shortage of political talent in Vermont this year. It’s a consequence of an historic turnover in statewide offices and the Legislature. Lots and lots of campaigns, all with a variety of roles to fill. Some paid, mostly volunteer.

So. If you want to make your voice heard, this is your time. Got a candidate you like? Get in touch with them and ask what you can do. Perform well, and you’ll earn the candidate’s trust. You’ll be part of their team.

Right now is the best time to step forward. Many legislative districts are heavily Democratic or Republican (and in a few cases, Progressive). In those places, the key contest is the August primary. If there’s a competitive primary in a strongly blue or red district, get in there and work for the candidate you prefer. You’ll be in on the ground floor. You’ll get to know likeminded people. You’ll feel like you have a stake, an influence, in our politics.

“Feel” nothing; you will have influence.

It doesn’t take much. A few hours a week will be a godsend.

You may be wondering if you have any applicable skills. Believe me, you do.

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Christina Nolan, Fake Abortion Rights Advocate

As befits a politician aspiring to the image of moderate Republicanism, U.S. Senate candidate Christina Nolan has given a carefully circumscribed statement of support for abortion rights.

And it’s as worthless as a bank note from the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

I’m not accusing her of lying. Although a look at her background might suggest otherwise. She was raised in a devout Catholic family; she attended Rice Memorial High School; her grandparents were publicly anti-abortion; and one of her aunts is Mary Beerworth, the longtime head and public face of Vermont Right to Life. None of those facts can be found in any of her campaign literature, because of course they can’t.

But hey, for all I know she might be the family outcast, what with her “alternative lifestyle” and all.

Whether she’s welcome at holiday dinners or not, she opposes Proposition 5, the amendment that would enshrine reproductive freedom in Vermont’s Constitution, using language and reasoning borrowed from the anti-abortion crowd. They realize that direct opposition is a nonstarter in Vermont, so instead they raise bogus concerns about Prop 5 being overly broad, subject to misinterpretation, and potentially allowing abortion right up to the moment of birth. Nolan reportedly views Prop 5 as “extreme” but shies away from specifics. When asked where she would draw the line, all she can offer is “Vermonters need to have this conversation.”

That’s one level of uselessness. The other is the potential consequences of her entirely hypothetical election to the U.S. Senate.

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