Monthly Archives: February 2023

Hey Vermont, Meet Another Homegrown Hatemonger!

I don’t know how this guy escaped my notice before this, and now that I know I’ll try to forget as soon as possible. This is Joshua Slocum, resident of Winooski and presenter of a far-right YouTube series called “Disaffected.” On a recent episode, Slocum spewed some thoroughly toxic slime about transgender folk and gender affirming medical care. He also betrayed his utter ignorance of Vermont’s legislative process but, you know, baby steps.

Slocum is, I guess you could say, an aspirational Christopher-Aaron Felker. (Which might be the saddest sentence I’ve ever written.) He was one of those involved in last year’s Felker-led protests against Outright Vermont. Like Felker, he is a very conservative gay man. Like Felker, he wants to pull up the gender-inclusive drawbridge after “LGB” and deny the legitimacy of “TQIA+.”

Unlike Felker, who is STILL the chair of the Burlington Republican Committee, Slocum’s extremism cost him his job. He was, for 20 years, the head of a teeny-tiny organization called the Funeral Consumers Alliance. How tiny? A staff of two. Last fall, Slocum resigned his post, presumably under heavy pressure, due to his public expression of racist, misogynist, and transphobic views.

Which gives him plenty of free time to post more hateful content! A recent episode focused on H.89, the so-called Shield Bill that would protect medical personnel from prosecution for providing abortions or gender affirming care. He posted after the House voted 130-13 in favor of H.89.

Let’s cover the stupidity before we get to the toxicity. Slocum aimed his remarks at the House Republicans who voted for H.89. (Only 12 Republicans voted “Nay.” The 13th “Nay” was cast by Democrat Dennis LaBounty. Feel free to ask him why.) Slocum pleads with those Republican “Yea” voters to reconsider.

Uh… problem is, the House has voted and the bill is on to the Senate. There is no mechanism for a lawmaker to change their vote at this point. This is, like, kindergarten-level knowledge of the legislative process.

Slocum also offers House Republicans an excuse: “I know that many lawmakers are very busy and rely on aides to relay information to them.”

Uh… Vermont lawmakers don’t have aides. They have no staff whatsoever. They do depend on caucus leadership for guidance and, of course, leadership was in support of the bill.

And now we get to the putrescent red meat of Slocum’s argument.

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Green Mountain Care Board Prepares to Punt Away an Investment in Inpatient Mental Health Care

Our health care guardians at the Green Mountain Care Board are trying to sneak through a bit of business that combines bad policy with questionable procedure.

Well, I guess that explains the “sneak through” part. They can’t be proud of this.

Six years ago, the GMCB ordered the University of Vermont Medical Center to take $21 million in surplus revenue and spend it on developing a plan to boost inpatient mental health care, which has been abysmally lacking since Tropical Storm Irene wiped out the old state hospital in 2011. We’re now in our twelfth year of inadequate inpatient care that has left severely mentally ill patients languishing in emergency rooms and frontline providers dealing with the consequences.

The failure to address this situation ought to be a source of embarrassment if not shame to Our Political Leaders.

Anyway, it seemed like a decent idea: Let UVMMC use the surplus to tackle a challenge that nobody else would.

Well, now the GMCB is about to let UVMMC off the hook, further delaying any meaningful response to the shortage of inpatient care. And the Board trying to rush it through with the least possible fanfare.

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House Panel Dials Back on the Self-Dealing, Approves Election Bill

In a fairly quick hearing on Friday, the House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee voted 9-3 in favor of a package of election reforms. It was a party line vote with all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed, and no Progressives on the committee.

The changes in H.97 (as it is now called) make the package less overtly Democrat-friendly, and add an important improvement for those who need to vote remotely. (Text of bill downloadable from the committee’s webpage.)

The latter first: The bill would allow people to deliver their completed ballots electronically by “a secure online portal developed and maintained by the Secretary of State.” This would make it easier for those who have trouble delivering a ballot in person, including some people with disabilities and — especially — military personnel stationed overseas.

The original bill had drawn criticism for advantaging Democrats largely at the expense of the Progressive Party, but two pro-Dem changes were removed or watered down before the committee vote. The original bill would have barred candidates from running under multiple party labels, which is exactly how many Progressive candidates have won office. It would also have removed limits on donations by a candidate to a political party.

As approved, H.97 would allow candidates to run with multiple labels, but it prescribes the order in which the party names would appear next to the candidate. And donations from a candidate to a party would be capped at $100,000, an increase from the current $10,000.

But the bill, as a whole, remains Democrat-friendly.

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Hang On, Female Inmates, We’ll Get You a New Prison In Maybe Less Than a Decade

This charming space, with its comfy chairs and natural lighting and complete absence of books, is either a prospective rendering of Vermont State University’s new “library” or a possible concept for a new women’s prison in Vermont.

Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. On Thursday morning, the House Corrections & Institutions Committee took the next small step toward building a new facility to replace the inadequate and unsanitary mess that is the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. Vermont’s women’s prison.

I say “small step” because, as the hearing revealed, it’s going to take — maybe — five to eight years to complete the process of designing, siting, and building a new facility. Or possibly longer. There could be roadblocks, and everything is dependent on a solid funding commitment. I’m sure the inmates can be patient about this.

The hearing centered on a presentation by HOK, an architectural firm that’s best known for building sports stadiums but has also designed more than $4 billion in what it euphemistically calls “justice facilities.” HOK’s Justice Division, so they say, “focuses on designs for human rights and a more just world as a whole.” By building prisons. (It received $1.5 million from the state for doing the research that led to Thursday’s presentation, which can be downloaded from the committee’s website.)

In the first phase of its study, commissioned in 2020, HOK unreservedly recommended closure of CRCF and replacement with a new facility. The state is committed to do so, but that’s about as far as it’s gotten. Veteran C&I Chair Alice Emmons said this year’s work will focus on finding a location for the new facility. “You don’t do nothin’ without land,” she said. The 2024 session will focus on moving from the concept-idea stage toward an architectural design. After that comes project bidding and selection, construction, and making the transition from CRCF to the new place.

There was no attempt to determine how large the new facility should be, but there was plenty of discussion on the subject that broke down into two camps: We’ve got to build it as big as it might possibly need to be, or we can take a less maximalist approach because we’ll continue on the path of justice reform because incarcerating large numbers of people is fundamentally inhumane and counterproductive.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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I Don’t Know What This Is, But It’s Not “Fantastic”

The political leaders of St. Albans have reacted enthusiastically to a report from the city police department indicating that there were 15 internal investigations of SAPD staff in the year 2022.

That’s 15 investigations in a department with 18 staffers. You do the math.

I have a hard time being “impressed” by that (Alderperson Marie Bessette), or viewing it as “fantastic” (a member of the city’s Police Advisory Board). They are taking the report as a sign the department is unafraid to ride herd on itself. Sure, but I think it’s more like getting a fence around a toxic waste pit and starting the cleanup. I mean, if the SAPD is averaging almost one internal investigation a year per employee (which they did in the previous two years as well), there’s clearly a lot of work left to do.

VTDigger has a lengthy piece giving as much detail on the investigations as the city will release, which isn’t much. It’s still worth reading.

This is one more sign of a big problem with oversight of city and town police agencies. Civic leaders and top cops are often in codependent relationships (See also: Weinberger, Miro). I think it’s safe to say the police chief is the most influential figure in a city or town government. Not necessarily the most powerful, but the most influential. You see it in town after town: Even when a police chief or department alienates the public and stains the community’s reputation, civilian leaders are eager to close ranks with them.

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Stealth Conservatives: Only the Finest in Artisanal Small-Batch Dog Whistles

You may; have noticed I haven’t posted as many pieces about far-right candidates for office as I did last winter and (especially) last fall. That’s because I haven’t heard about that many of ’em. And I suspect one of the reasons is that those extremists are getting better at hiding their true colors.

Concrete evidence of this comes to us from Fairfax, where two candidates for school board in the Franklin West Supervisory Union are verrrry carefully walking the line between signaling their presence to conservative voters and unmasking themselves to the rest of the electorate. But if you stay quiet for a moment and listen, you can hear the high-pitched whines floating faintly on the breeze.

People like this, it must be said (again), are cowards. They fear that their true beliefs could cost them an election, so they’re hiding — in fact, they’re running a scam on the voters.

The Fairfax duo are Jennifer Cole Patterson and Daniel Mincica. Their Facebook pages are nothing more than collections of family photos. Their campaign announcements on the Fairfax community Facebook page emphasize the customary conservative talking points: Transparency, emphasis on core academics, and fiscal responsibility.

Who can argue with any of that? I can’t. But the devil is in the details.

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Return of the Guy Who’s Definitely Not Racist, Not Even a Little Tiny Bit, How Dare You Suggest Otherwise

This is kinda-sorta another installment of “Dregs of the Ballot” except, well, this one’s an incumbent. But what an incumbent he is.

Chris Viens is running for another term on the Waterbury Selectboard, where he currently serves as vice chair — having resigned as chair in November 2020 after suggesting, at a public event, that maybe we should segregate the police so we could, you know, have Black cops police Black people and white cops watch over The Rest Of Us.

I mean, that’d take care of the whole Black Lives Matter problem, wouldn’t it?

(Pay no attention to Memphis.)

All right, you might be thinking, he made one gaffe and took responsibility. That’s settled.

Well, except for two things. First, it’s not the only questionable thing he’s said. And two, his resignation announcement was an absolute disasterpiece of self-pity and blame shifting that, to my ears, was far worse than his original segregate-the-police remark. And although it’s more than two years old, it warrants a trip down Memory Lane.

Now the good people of Waterbury can make up their own minds on Town Meeting Day, but I’ll just note that there are three candidates on the ballot for two selectboard seats and Viens is the only one I know of who’s said some truly ignorant things in public spaces.

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Hey Wallingford, Your Trustee Is an Absentee

Back in March 2021, Bruce Moreton was elected to a three-year term on the Mill River Unified Union School Board (MRUUSD, pronounced exactly as spelled) as a representative of the town of Wallingford. Six months later, by all appearances, he moved to Rutland.

He has, again by all appearances, lived there ever since.

Ya like that, Wallingford?

This story comes to us by way of the Rutland Herald, which reported on February 16 that the Wallingford Board of Civil Authority had removed Moreton from the town’s voter checklist.

He’s ineligible to vote in Wallingford. Will he have to give up his seat on the school board?

The MRUUSD includes Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth, and Wallingford. Each town gets to elect its own Board members. Clarendon and Wallingford have four seats apiece, Shrewsbury and Tinmouth each have one. Rutland is conspicuous by its absence.

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Dregs of the Ballot: This Guy Again

In case you haven’t had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you to Tim Boltin, candidate for Barre City Council in Ward 1. Boltin owns Delicate Decadence, a downtown bakery, and this isn’t his first run for office.

Back in 2021, Boltin was one of two hardcore Trumpers who ran for City Council. The other was the infamous Brian Judd, who lost his race and refused to accept the result. His fruitless legal challenges took more than a year to resolve, and the only result was a waste of the city’s time and resources. Boltin also lost, by a 57% to 43% margin. He did not take the city to court.

Judd isn’t running this year but Boltin is, challenging Emel Cambel, the person who beat him in 2021. This time, Boltin is trying to conceal his extremism behind a bunch of bland, content-free statements and noises that, ahem, never mention city policy or city government. He also scrubbed his Facebook page of the offensive content that branded him a far-righter in 2021. Unfortunately for him, I harvested some of those posts back then, and you can find them here.

I’ll just briefly recap if you choose not to click on the link. Boltin posted a meme showing an incredibly stereotypical Mexican guy (big sombrero, mustache, etc.) with the caption “Mexican Word of the Day: BODYWASH. Biden was on TV but no BODYWASH him.” Hardy har har. Then there was a photo of President Biden with the caption “My Head is So Far Up China’s Ass, I Shit Fortune Cookes.” Another image made fun of Biden’s alleged senility. A fourth was the inevitable attack on Nancy Pelosi.

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Grewal’s Revised Plan: Puppies and Rainbows For All

Earlier this week, Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewal appeared before a legislative committee for the first time since he stunned many by announcing the elimination of physical libraries on the system’s five campuses. The backlash was swift and strong, including a piece on this very website.

So it’s not too surprising that when he testified before the Senate Education Committee on Valentine’s Day, he seemed to have thoroughly revised his plan. (His testimony can be viewed here.)

We’re not closing any libraries, perish the thought. We aren’t getting rid of all our books, what nonsense. In fact, the libraries will still be called “libraries” or maybe “libraries and learning centers,” but they’ll be better in every way. The gates to the universe of digital information will be flung open. There will be more computers, printers, and other technical resources. There will be more spaces for individual and group study. Librarians will be available in all five libraries for student and faculty consultation.

Libraries aren’t going away, far from it. They’ll be transformed to better fit the learning needs of students and the teaching needs of faculty.

Wow. Either he radically rewrote his plan, or he did a piss-poor job of explaining it initially.

Spoiler alert: It’s the former.

We know this because VSU posted an explainer about the changes on its website. The headline refers, in all caps, to a NEW ALL-DIGITAL LIBRARY, EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2023. 

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