Monthly Archives: June 2022

How Not To Be a Stealth Candidate

Gregory Thayer and John Klar are both running for office this year. Thayer, for lieutenant governor; Klar, for state senator. And as is the current strategery for far-right candidates, they are trying to present themselves as mainstream conservatives.

This can work for a relative unknown like Liz Cady, who lied her way to a seat on the Essex-Westford school board (and resigned earlier this year). But Thayer and Klar? They’ve been in the public eye far too long. What’s more, their hearts and minds really aren’t in it. The cray-cray leaks out all over the place.

Let’s do Thayer first. I thought I’d check in on the trainwreck race for the Republican LG nomination, which features serious human being Sen. Joe Benning versus Thayer, who attended the January 6 insurrection (heck, he helped organize a bus tour to the thing) and put together a nice little anti-critical race theory road show. Both VPR — err, Vermont Public — and VTDigger have hosted LG debates recently. Digger’s suffers from horrible audio quality, so I watched the Vermont Public Ra — cough, sorry — event.

Benning, of course, ran rings around Thayer logically. But Thayer’s demeanor was curiously subdued because he was trying to be someone he’s not.

It didn’t work very well.

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Edifice Complex

I’ve gotten some blowback from people I respect about my comment that the Statehouse is just a pile of bricks. I understand their point of view, but I don’t share it. Here’s a bit of exposition that I’m sure won’t change anyone’s mind.

There’s a saying in National Football League circles: “Protect the Shield.” The NFL logo is a blue shield with white stars and a white football, and “NFL” in big red letters. The saying is invoked when there’s some threat to the league’s reputation (don’t laugh), but I’ve always thought it was completely backwards. Because a shield, by definition, is the thing that protects, not the thing that needs protection. It’s as if you had a bulletproof vest and did everything you could to keep it in mint condition.

I see this all over the place, the conflation of symbol with substance. Many a Trumpy Republican carries a pocket Constitution, but it’s more a fetish than a guidebook. They don’t mind trashing our principles when convenient, but they carry their pocket Constitutions like, well, NFL shields. Same with their obligatory flag lapel pin.

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About That Amazing Art Installation…

“Oh, great!” was my initial reaction to news of a massive art installation planned for the Essex Experience, a rather depressing retail sprawl just off Route 2A and Highway 289. The project, named Babaroosa, is inspired by the insanely successful Meow Wolf multisensory environments in Santa Fe, Denver, and Las Vegas.

Creators Teresa and Robert Davis promise “a labyrinth of over 60 rooms intricately woven through a 20,000 square foot complex.” It might sound like an artistic fever dream, but it’s got some serious money behind it. They’ve secured $7.25 million in loans from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. Essex Experience owner Peter Edelmann will contribute $5 million in real estate, about which more below. The Davises are raising nearly $11 million in investor equity.

I’m looking forward to a visit if it comes to pass. However… the location is a terrible place to put a major tourist attraction.

The Davises foresee a half million visitors a year. Seems like a stretch, but Meow Wolf has become an entertainment phenomenon in a few short years. Let’s take their word for it.

The most popular tourist attraction in Vermont is the Ben & Jerry’s factory on Route 100 in Waterbury.with 350,000 visitors per year. It contributes substantially to the horrendous traffic on Route 100, but at least it’s only a short hop from the interstate.

The Essex Experience is six miles north of I-89 Exit 12. Doesn’t sound like much, but those six miles include the sprawling mallage just off the freeway, the busy US-2/2A intersection, a crawl into Essex, the Five Corners junction, and another crawl to 289. Virtually all of it is two-lane road. It takes 15-20 minutes to make the trip if traffic is unusually light.

I know because I made the trip in 16 minutes on Monday morning at about 10:00 a.m. Rush hour was over, and retail traffic had yet to pick up. Still, traffic moved consistently below the speed limit — which varied from 25 to 40 mph.

The Davises are talking about nearly doubling traffic along that route. Yikes.

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How Not to Position Yourself as a Progressive Firebrand

Well, some angry pro-choicers did the unthinkable: They took out their anger at the Roe v. Wade decision on the exterior of the Vermont Statehouse. They broke some windows and spray-painted “IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE YOURE NOT EITHER” on the concrete outside the front entrance. One of the broken windows was in the office of Lt. Gov Molly Gray, who issued the following statement:

“I am alarmed by these attacks on our State House — my workplace — and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Vermonters are feeling deep anger and frustration in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I share this frustration. However, threats of violence and destruction of property are absolutely unacceptable and never the solution.”

And her campaign wonders why she’s considered the moderate, establishment candidate in the race. Her statement betrays an institutionalist point of view that prioritizes the sanctity of a building over the rights of women.

I’m sorry, but there does come a time when “threats of violence and destruction of property” are, if not exactly appropriate, perfectly understandable. One of our highest institutions just forcibly turned the calendar back by a half-century in a way that made “A Handmaid’s Tale” seem like a prophecy. It’s not surprising, then, if some people strike out against the nearest symbol of institutional America. In this case, the Statehouse.

Just spitballin’, but if Gray had asked me (and why would she?), I would have suggested a statement like this:

I share the widespread anger over the outrageous Supreme Court decision. This betrayal leaves women wondering if anyone speaks for them in the corridors of power — including my own party, which complacently believed that the rights granted in Roe v. Wade were secure. The damage to the Statehouse is unfortunate, but it pales in comparison to the damage done to American women by the Supreme Court.

I intend to channel my anger into productive action. We must restore reproductive rights and be diligent about protecting them. What we have done in the past simply isn’t enough.

Yeah, something like that.

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Just Shut Up, Phil (And Other Observations)

“Deeply disappointed,” my ass.

As long as he continues to voluntarily wear the Republican badge, Gov. Phil Scott is in no position to bemoan the disastrous Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Besides, he has no power whatsoever to make anything happen about this. In fact, I assume that if he had his way, we’d elect Christina Nolan to the U.S. Senate, which would be one more nail in the coffin of reproductive rights.

Indeed, if those pesky rumors about a Phil Scott run for Congress had come true (and he’d won, which could have happened because Nice Guy), he’d be helping his party retain or expand Congressional majorities, which would mean even more anti-choice judges.

“I signed a law”… that the Democratic Legislature pushed through with no help from your fellow Republicans. “I will be voting for that amendment,” but the vast majority of your fellow Republicans won’t be. You can roll your disappointment up real tight and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Phil Scott likes to pretend that his party has gone off the rails fairly recently. Say, with the nomination of Donald Trump. Problem is, his party has been working to overturn Roe v. Wade since the 1991 confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was nominated by George H.W. Bush. Justices Alito and Roberts were nominated by George W. Bush. The other three radical judicial activists were installed by Trump and Mitch McConnell.

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One of These Things Is Not Like The Other, Or Even Like Itself

Gov. Phil Scott must be feeling extra invulnerable right now. On Monday he decides not to appoint new state’s attorneys in two counties because it’s too close to the next election; on Wednesday he appoints a new Attorney General even though Election Day is even closer. He’s not even bothering to be subtle about it.

Scott declined to appoint anyone to the SA vacancies in Addison and Rutland Counties because there’s not enough time left in the SA’s term. It would create continuity issues, supposedly. Instead, the current interim occupants will serve out the remainder of the time.

Meanwhile, Scott is parachuting administration stalwart Susanne Young into the attorney general’s office to serve out the remainder of TJ Donovan’s term even though Donovan’s chief deputy Joshua Diamond is right there in place to, um, provide continuity. In a much more important and complex office.

So what is Scott doing here? Hell if I know, but I have a guess or two.

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Here’s a New One: Juneteenth is a Holiday for White Republicans

Man, oh Manischevitz. Paul Dame has outdone himself.

Last time it was implying that the schools are the root cause of school shootings because of whatever they’re doing to alienate young white men. Now? He’s spun a twisted tale of slavery’s end that puts white Republicans at the center of Juneteenth and elides the unrelenting grimness of post-slavery life for black Americans.

And, of course, omits the GOP’s own complicity in abandoning the newly-freed Black folk for the sake of short-term political advantage.

For those just joining us, VTGOP chair Dame puts out a brief weekly email blast that makes you yearn for the clear thinking and deathless prose of Ben Shapiro. The latest edition is entitled “Juneteenth: A Promise Kept,” which gives you a foretaste of what’s to come.

It’s deeply, offensively stupid.

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Didja Ever Think That Maybe School Shootings Are the Schools’ Fault? Hmm?

VTGOP chair Paul Dame, that rhetorical blunderbuss who thinks he’s a surgical instrument, is at it again. In one of his recent Deep Thoughts, Dame offered some half-baked, wrong-headed theorizing on mass shootings in schools. It would have been pathetic if it wasn’t so damn offensive.

Republicans have been scrambling, post-Uvalde, to skirt the real issue around mass shootings, which is THE GUNS. Not the handguns or shotguns or single-shot rifles, but the murder machines we let pretty much anyone buy, possess, and deploy against the innocent.

But Dame doesn’t ape the usual Republican talking points of mental health or lax security. He’s had a brainsplosion of his own: It’s the schools’ fault.

Oh, he doesn’t come right out and say so. He questions. He implies. He earnestly ponders. He evokes the “sense of shock and frustration” that he clearly doesn’t share, or he wouldn’t be using the tragedy to make a stupid, inaccurate political point.

Time to dig into this manure pile and see if there’s a pony in there. (Spoiler alert: There isn’t.)

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Something Happening Here

If anybody is still saying “It can’t happen here,” I’ve got breaking news for you. It’s already happening here, and it’s only going to get worse. Vermonters are living in fear or getting the F out, and we’re only an eyeblink away from a violent incident.

We could start with the post-Uvalde spate of school threats which, so far, have been caught in time or turned out to be noise. But that roulette wheel keeps a-spinnin’, and eventually it’s going to land on double zero. And even if the threateners were gormless copycats, they still create a climate of fear in our schools and our families.

The worst of the school threats happened in Canaan, where extremist parent Shane Gobeil said he would “show up and kill somebody” if his child was approached by a transgender person or a drag queen. The schools were shut down for two days, and prosecutors obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Gobeil, which means he can’t possess or purchase firearms for the next six months.

And then what? Gobeil is well-known in town for being a potentially violent extremist who seems to have swallowed the most vile of the far-right fairy tales. I mean, “drag queen” is the latest conservative bugbear, so at least he’s up to date. Many Canaanites feel perpetually threatened by him. By himself, he creates a chilling atmosphere in the community.

How many Gobeils do we have in Vermont? How long until someone grabs a gun before opening his mouth?

He’s not alone. And it only takes one.

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Super PACs: A Necessary Evil. And Not Always Evil.

I wrote something near the end of my recent post about Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s negative campaigning that bears closer attention. Gray has been attacking her primary opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, for maybe accepting, or inviting, or leaving the door open to Super PAC spending in the campaign.

Her attacks are greatly exaggerated, and I hope to God they don’t pay off in the August primary. (I’m not against Gray as a candidate, I’m just against the negative bullshit.) But there may be knock-on effects for future Vermont Democratic campaigns. Gray is poisoning the well regarding Super PACs and, I’m sorry, but in our current campaign finance landscape, we can’t live without them. As I wrote previously,

Progressive Super PACs have been a necessary addition to the political armory as a counterbalance to all the conservative Super PACs that litter the post-Citizens United landscape. To forswear all Super PAC money is to disarm yourself in the middle of a gunfight.

Super PACs were created after a 2010 court ruling. In the words of OpenSecrets.org, “Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” Super PACs cannot donate directly to candidates or coordinate in any way with candidates.

After that court ruling, a whole bunch of conservative Super PACs sprung into being. They threatened to throw our entire political system off kilter through the sheer power of virtually unlimited money.

Then, Democratic and progressive groups started organizing their own Super PACs. They managed to reset the balance — at the cost of setting fire to colossal amounts of cash.

And Molly Gray wants to give up that advantage for the short-term sake of her political fortunes.

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