Monthly Archives: September 2022

Phil Scott Repeated Himself Ad Nauseam, Offered Nothing New, and Blamed Everyone But Himself, Otherwise It Was Fine

Wow. If the first gubernatorial debate saw Brenda Siegel winning on the issues and Phil Scott winning on, well, being Phil Scott, the second debate [Brought To You By Your Friends At VTDigger] was better for Siegel and worse for Scott.

He put on quite the show, recycling his talking points from previous campaigns, freely asserting that he would offer no new proposals during the campaign, was frequently passive aggressive toward Democratic lawmakers and Siegel herself, and blamed everything that’s gone sideways during his tenure on the Legislature, the federal government, and the Covid pandemic. In his own eyes he is blameless, beyond repute, perfect in every way.

Again, I don’t get why everybody thinks he’s a Nice Guy. He’s not. He’s just not. If anything, five-plus years in the corner office, surrounded by yes people, has made him more isolated and self-satisfied.

And in terms of ideas, he’s tapped out. He offered more of the same. Claimed it was working, or would work sometime soon, or would have worked by now if it wasn’t for that darn pandemic.

Siegel, on the other hand, was in command of the facts and her [Brenda] agendaTM. Her answers were clear, concise, and thorough. She was calm and, dare I say it, gubernatorial. She’d been a little too caffeinated in the first debate, as she often is in real life because she’s so passionate about her issues. Tonight there was none of that.

Will it matter? After the first debate I didn’t think so. Scott is so well established in the minds of Vermonters as the sensible shepherd who may not be exciting, but he won’t let the wolves into the flock. Now, I see some light at the end of the Minter/Hallquist/Zuckerman Memorial Tunnel. Siegel is on a positive trajectory.

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Hmm, Who’s to Blame for the Cannabis Control Board’s Rough Debut?

VTDigger is up with a story about the Vermont Cannabis Control Board issuing 13 more licenses for growers, manufacturers and retailers. Deeper in the story is a tale of bureaucratic woe that makes one wonder who exactly created the budget for the new organization. Based on track record, I’m guessing the Scott administration.

See, the legal cannabis market is supposed to open this weekend but only four retailers have been licensed — and they’ll have little or nothing to sell because a lot of growers are waiting for their licenses.

James Pepper, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the process of setting up regulations and getting an entire market going by October has been like “building a parachute while in the middle of a freefall.”

Pepper acknowledged that there is frustration with the pace of issuing licenses.

Cannabis growers, manufacturers and retailers have been champing at the bit to serve the market as soon as possible. They’ve made up-front investments and need to start making money. They’re now stuck on a slow track, thanks to the understaffed CCB.

But wait, there’s more!

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We Try to Preserve the Best of Vermont, But What About the Rest of It?

Vanishing traces of our history

We Vermonters spend a lot of time and energy safeguarding our state against the onslaught of modern life. In community after community, like-minded residents band together to fight against so-called “improvements” and to preserve the best of our beloved Vermont. But the best is not the only thing that warrants preservation. The derelict buildings, distressed roadways, junk-filled lawns, and the glorious suburban blight of Williston Road also contribute to making Vermont such a special place, They bring life and complexity to what might otherwise be a sterile two-dimensional cartoon.

That’s where we come in, my friends. We are Montpelierites Organized for the Preservation of Eyesores, or MOPE for short. We’re not here to support the Statehouse or Hubbard Park. Other people do that. We’re here to fight for the more mundane aspects of our beloved capital city. Think of us as the slightly better-organized equivalent of those people in Burlington who file lawsuits against anything and everything. Thanks in part to them, The Pit continues to be a familiar blight in the heart of the Queen City.

MOPE came into being after the tragic removal of a long-established junkyard on Barre Street. It was a familiar part of our city’s landscape, a small reminder of our gritty industrial heritage. And then, suddenly, after only a few decades of battle, it was gone. We’ll never get it back.

Take a gander at the street scene above. Those faint orange patches are the remnants of the BLACK LIVES MATTER motto painted on State Street in 2020, when the killing of George Floyd galvanized a nationwide movement. The paint has faded over time, but what remains is a testament to that most Vermontish of pastimes: the empty gesture. If another winter goes by, there may be noting left at all. We must act now to save these precious smudges!

And no, we don’t want it repainted. We want it as is.

Many other such treasures are under threat, due to the well-meaning plans of property owners and bureaucrats and other meddlers who don’t understand the importance of saving Montpelier exactly how it is right now.

When it comes to change in the capital city, MOPE says NOPE!

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Republican Stealth Candidates: Chickens, Maple Syrup and Kombucha

Meet Rebecca and Tom Pitre. They make maple syrup and keep chickens. She plays guitar. She ferments her own kombucha. She’s a certified riding instructor, using horses as therapy animals.

She has also said some very nasty things about Drag Queen Story Hour on social media.

Which matters because Rebecca Pitre is a Republican slash Libertarian candidate for Vermont House in the Lamoille-3 district, which includes Cambridge and Waterville. In her campaign, she presents herself as an everyday sort who just has some sincere concerns about the health of rural Vermont. In service of this deception, she seems to have scrubbed her past social media activity; her only extant Twitter account is a campaign-related one that only recently went live and has [checks notes] 13 followers.

Unfortunately for her, a community member dug up her five-year-old drag queen comments, and Aaron Calvin of the Morrisville-based News & Citizen has done a thorough job of reporting the controversy. In his story, Pitre makes a strenuous effort to weasel out of her self-inflicted corner — but she makes it clear that she still believes 100% in her past statements.

This story is why, my friends, I keep hammering on the duty of political reporters to dig beneath the surface when writing candidate profiles. In a time when Republican candidates are trying to disguise their extremism, who else is going to pull off the masks?

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Hey, Lenore Broughton Has Found Another Rathole to Throw Her Money Into

Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.

Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.

I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.

The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.

Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.

A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.

I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.

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I Think Phil Scott Grades His People On a Curve

Another day, another managerial faux pas from The Scott admini — sorry, there’s two of ’em this time.

We’ve got the sort-of discovery of money to partially restore the sudden and severe cut in the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP), plus a very belated mandate that recipients of pandemic-related unemployment insurance must produce proof of their eligibility. Yeah, from two and a half years ago. Hope you kept your pay stubs!

The latest on the VERAP bungle is the news that they’ve found $20 million they can use to patch up the program a little bit.

Oh wait, they haven’t found it — they “anticipate” finding it.

And assuming they do find it, it will only postpone (slightly) what the administration says is inevitable: assistance cutoffs for thousands of households by the end of November. Even if that “anticipated” money comes good, roughly 3,000 households will see their assistance end [checks notes] nine days from now.

Also, future cutoffs are likely to arrive with less than 30 days notice.

Because the administration can’t predict any farther than that?

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The First Debate: The Winner Depends On How You Judge It

The terribleness of the moderator was almost irrelevant. The first post-primary gubernatorial debate saw both candidates performing as expected. Challenger Brenda Siegel was feisty, edgy, full of ideas, and unafraid to confront a three-term incumbent. Gov. Phil Scott served up a reheated platter of customary talking points (hey, there was even a “6-3-1” callback) and getting lost in word salad whenever he strayed too far from the script.

Oh, and showing his fangs more often than you’d expect from a Nice GuyTM. He does that a lot.

So who won?

It depends.

If you judged it as a debate contest, awarding points for consistency, logic, and clarity of argument, it was Siegel. Easily.


Many voters evaluate debates on personality, not policy. It’s the old “who would you want to have a beer with?” test, and Scott is our very own George W. Bush. (Without the pointless wars.) He makes people feel comfortable, especially if they just let the words flow gently by. And we do like to feel comfortable. You sit down with Siegel, she may make you a bit uneasy with her energy and passion and inconvenient litany of crises. She’s Rage Against the Machine; the governor is Ray Conniff. (Ask an old person.)

Or, she’s a straight-backed chair and Scott’s a recliner. Where you going to sit?

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Before We Discuss the Debate, We Must Have a Word About the Moderator

The trying-too-hard-to-smile fellow pictured above is Lee Kittell, program director at WDEV Radio. Quiet, very hardworking, seemingly pleasant enough fellow.

But my God, he put in a disgraceful performance as moderator of the gubernatorial debate held at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. He did a good job managing the flow, but his questions. They were long-winded, bombastic, and straight outta the QAnon/Trumpiverse.

The two candidates handled the situation as you might expect. Gov. Phil Scott slid past the questions and stuck to his canned talking points. Democrat Brenda Siegel responded strongly, even directly upbraiding Kittell on at least one occasion.

Let’s start with the nadir of this piece of performance art. The issue, you will be shocked to learn, was abortion. Kittell brought up Article 22 and asked if the candidates “approve the right to have an abortion right up to the delivery room?” Which is straight out of the anti-abortion playbook.

His follow-up was even worse. He referred to our current workforce issues and asked if “the 60 million abortions performed in the last 50 years” is a cause of worker shortages.

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How Many Mulligans Does This Guy Get?

Another week, another cockup by the allegedly competent managers in the Scott administration. This time it’s a mysteriously sidelined program to give retention bonuses to child care workers. The Legislature approved $7 million for the purpose in the spring; now it’s September, and the administration not only hasn’t spent a dime of the money, it has no idea when it will.

Meanwhile, child care is already difficult to find getting harder, as operators are stretched to the limit because of a lack of workers.

Seven Days‘ Alison Novak broke the story on Monday. As she tells it, the state Department for Children and Families’ Child Development Division has given out precious little information — and what they have disclosed is riven with inconsistencies and unmet deadlines.

Which raises the question, does the administration really want to spend the money at all? If they did, you’d think they would have gotten it going by now. The only other explanation is incompetence of a kind that we are seeing regularly from this regime.

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Someone Feeling a Little Bit Grudgy?

The Democratic primary for U.S. Congress ended in a decisive victory for Becca Balint. She enjoyed a 23.6 percentage point margin of victory in what was expected to be a close contest. She cemented her status as a leading figure in the Vermont Democratic Party, and put herself in prime position to become the future leader.

There are a disgruntled few, however, who can’t seem to put the primary behind them. Meaning certain members of Team Molly Gray.

I hear this whenever I talk with anyone in Democratic circles or the state policy sphere. Malcontented Gray backers are, in the words of one advocate, “salting the earth.” They’re taking names and doling out threats as if they, um, actually run this joint. Which, having badly lost the primary, they decidedly don’t.

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