Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

Writer, editor, sometime radio personality, author of "Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives."

Congratulations to the Progressive Party on its Hostile Takeover of Vermont Politics

There seems to be a popular delusion among Republicans in these parts, even the non-fringey types. In the words of outgoing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann,

…the Progressives have taken over the VT Democratic Party.

This same belief was expressed a few months ago by VTGOP Chair Paul Dame, when he compared the Progressive Party to a parasitic horsehair worm that had taken over the Democratic Party from within.

Outgoing Sen. Joe Benning said much the same thing in his post-election post-mortem: “Ideologues in the Democratic/Progressive supermajority,” he wrote, are driving policy that “runs counter to Vermont traditions and fiscal capacity.” At least he put the Democrats first, but still he’s conflating the Dems and the Progs in a way that’s far from the truth. The two parties sing from different hymnals on many of our most contentious issues, and the Dems always sit in the right-hand pew. Top Democrats are fond of styling themselves as small-P progressives, but they are definitely not the capital-P kind. Not at all.

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Do We Really Need County Sheriffs?

The aggravating case of John Grismore may be an outlier, but it’s only one of many problems and scandals involving county sheriffs. So much so, that it makes you wonder if the office itself is worth all the trouble.

Grismore is the sheriff-elect of Franklin County, a fact only explicable by the fact that most voters have no idea what they’re doing when they choose a sheriff. Or side judge, for that matter.

Grismore has had quite the year. He was a captain in the FCSD who won the endorsement of outgoing sheriff Roger Langevin. That was enough to scare off any other potential candidates. Then, two days before the primary election, he was caught on security camera kicking a suspect in custody multiple times (in the groin at least twice) while the man was shackled to a bench.

Then, before the assault became public knowledge, Grismore won the Republican and Democratic primaries. Nine days after the primary, Langevin announced that Grismore had been fired, and also rescinded his endorsement. The leaders of both county party committees said they considered Grismore unfit to serve.

Even after all that, Grismore won the November election against two write-in candidates. Now, Franklin County lawmakers are considering impeachment, but that seems unlikely because it’s a time-consuming process and many lawmakers don’t like going out on a limb. So this guy will apparently be sheriff for four long years despite the fact that the county state’s attorney is preparing a Brady letter branding Grismore as an unreliable witness.

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Joe Benning Peeks Over the Parapet and Is Met with a Volley of Arrows

Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.

But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.

Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.

Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)

And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.

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The State Senate Approaches a Demographic Tipping Point

Seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the Vermont Senate to undergo a demographic shift. Every two years there’s been talk of a retirement wave, but it never materializes. Senators consider stepping aside, then realize they’re indispensable. (They’re not.) And the voters rarely eject an incumbent except in cases of overt criminality (Norm McAllister) or advanced senescence (Bill Doyle).

The shift has been painfully incremental until this year, when almost one-third of all senators decided to bow out. The nine incomers are younger, five of them are women, and one is a person of color: Nader Hashim joins Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Randy Brock as the three non-white members of the upper chamber.

(The tiny Republican caucus managed to get older and no less male. Its two youngest members, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, will be replaced by a couple of old white men.)

Got more numbers to plow through, but here’s the bottom line. The Senate is on the verge of a historic shift, but it’s happening in slow motion. We might reach the tipping point in two years’ time. We’re not quite there yet.

There are still plenty of tenured members in positions of power. They account for most of the committee chairs. But only — “only” — eight of the 30 senators will be 70 or older. At least 13 will be under 65, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in the Senate it definitely is.

The incoming Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Baruth, straddles the age divide. He’s only — “only” — 60. But he’s entering his sixth two-year term, so he’s familiar with the Senate and the elders are comfortable enough with him to make him their leader. As a senator he’s been a strong policy advocate unafraid to ruffle feathers, but as Pro Tem he’ll know he can’t push his caucus too far too fast.

There are the preliminiaries. Now let’s dive in.

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The Dangerous Drift of Vermont’s Health Care System

When he was governor, Peter Shumlin made a big push on health care reform. It didn’t end well for reform or for Shumlin. Since then, the system has become less functional and more expensive but there’s been no appetite for another push.

With one major exception, and that’s OneCare Vermont. It has soldiered on in its effort to rein in health care costs by paying providers for outcomes rather than treatment. It has spent a tremendous amount of money, but so far there’s not much evidence of impact.

That’s troubling, and it’s more so when you read VTDigger’s piece about the latest Green Mountain Care Board meeting. Beyond that, there’s a broader critique of our health care system in a recent series of essays by journalist and health care policy analyst Hamilton Davis. Taken together, it looks like a huge sector of our economy (upon which our physical and financial well-being depends) is drifting along with a bunch of people who call themselves “Captain” staying as far away from the helm as they can.

The Digger article makes the leaders of OneCare look like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The GMCB, especially its new members, were asking questions that shouldn’t have been tough to answer. For instance, do you have any evidence that your system is working? Can you point to measurable results in terms of cost savings or improved outcomes?

OneCare leaders seemed to be taken aback by this line of questioning.

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And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor

Just taking a brief pause in the post-election flow of japery and badinage to remind you of the “Donate” option on this here website. I’m not going to be pushy, I’m not going to build a paywall or charge for “premium content” as if I could call this “premium content” without laughing at the kind of presumption I can’t stand in our political betters.

There are many ways you can spend whatever discretionary income our oligarchy-driven economy trickles down to you. There are worthier causes and more urgent needs. But if you appreciate this blog and you’d like to tangibilize your appreciation, hit that Donate button. Make a one-time donation or set up a recurring contribution.

I’d like to thank all the people who have already done so. It means a lot to me and my tolerant spouse. Thanks also to the larger group of people who think this outpost is worthy of their time and attention.

That’s all. Thus Endeth The Lesson. Let’s get back to the politics.

The Great Emergency Housing Post-Election Newsdump

A curious thing happened one week after Election Day. The Scott administration, after much delay, released its rules for this winter’s emergency housing program. This is the thing that puts shelterless people in available motel rooms at state expense. .

The rules appear designed to minimize cost by putting strict limits on the program and giving the state plenty of reasons to reject applicants.

Hmm. The governor was running against Brenda Siegel, best known for her 2021 Statehouse protest over emergency housing… and his officials didn’t issue these rules until she was safely out of the way. The timing is too convenient to believe it was pure coincidence.

The delay does have consequences. These rules came out just as the program was opening for business. Recipients and administrators have had no time to digest them. It’s especially bad since we’ve slammed headlong into the first winter storm of the season.

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The Governor Gets a Little Post-Election Workout

Phil Scott didn’t exactly sweat out Campaign 2022. He did spend Election Eve barrelling around the state, touching down in all 14 counties, as is his wont. But before then, it was more like The Campaign That Wasn’t. So I guess it’s no surprise that he needed to flex his muscle after the election with a brisk session of punching a straw man.

His post-election message, “Vermonters Called for Balance and We All Need to Listen,” is classic Phil Scott from beginning to end. He starts with a Reaganesque appeal to our own well-developed self-regard. Referring to that Election Eve tour, he wrote “This 500+ mile tour has a way to put things into perspective. It reinforces how beautiful our state is and how much it has to offer.”

Having established his sunny view of Vermont, he identified one thing we have to do better on. No, it’s not the opioid crisis. It’s not climate change. It’s not universal health care or paid family leave. It’s all about economic opportunity, which is a distinctly Republican view of human fulfillment.

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Vermont’s Reagan

With Tuesday’s historic win, Phil Scott runs his electoral record to 12 wins, 0 losses. That’s combining his runs for state Senate, lieutenant governor, and governor.

That’s… um… rarefied air.

He has often faced weak opposition and benefited greatly from the incumbent’s edge. He’s also enjoyed good timing; his first run was in 2000, an historically good Republican year because of the backlash to civil unions. He ran for governor at the end of Peter Shumlin’s curdled administration, when voters were primed to make a change.

But still. Twelve and 0.

Leaving aside the quality of competition, what makes Phil Scott so popular? Well, you might not associate the plausibly moderate Phil Scott with the transformative conservative Ronald Reagan, but they are more similar than you might think. And that’s the secret sauce. Scott is Vermont’s Reagan.

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A Tip of the Hat

Brenda Siegel the candidate will be remembered, to the extent she’s remembered at all, as a failure. She lost in anoverwhelming fashion to Gov. Phil Scott. She didn’t have much money, she couldn’t afford mass media until the campaign’s closing weeks (and even then, not enough to move the needle). And she lost in what was otherwise a wave election for her Democratic Party.

Consider a post-election VTDigger story about how Phil Scott won the election. The story mentioned Siegel a grand total of once. Maybe that’s for the best because when they did mention Siegel, it was usually in belittling tones. A Digger election night story described her as “a former dance instructor,” which is just ridiculous. In the world of dance alone, it’s ridiculous. She used to run a dance festival, which is a bit more than helping kids pull off their first arabesque.

More to the point, it ignores her years of advocacy in the Statehouse and elsewhere and her effort to build a political career with little support or encouragement, but sure, “former dance instructor.”

In her concession speech, Siegel said “We all need to become brave enough to lose.” And that’s the stone truth. She was the only one brave enough to challenge Scott in 2022. Which alone makes her worthy of respect.

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