Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

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

House Democrats Are Told How They Could Avoid a Humanitarian Disaster, and They Said “No Thanks”

If there’s anyone on this earth who could understandably be Sick Of This Shit, it’s Anne Sosin, pictured above in a space that Room Rater wold give at least eight out of 10. (“Nice window, background not too busy, solid but unpretentious bookshelf.”) Sosin has gone from arch-critic of Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid policies to interim head of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, where she’s taken on the thankless task of developing plans to tackle the housing crisis that House Democrats routinely ignore.

On Thursday morning, Sosin appeared before the House General & Housing Committee with an articulate, well-researched and professional presentation on why it makes moral, political, and financial sense to address our crisis of housing insecurity. Her presentation was entitled “The Cost of Inaction on Homelessness and Eviction.” (Video available here; Sosin begins at the two-minute mark. Her presentation is downloadable here.)

The committee listened politely and sent her away. And within roughly 12 hours, the full House had approved a budget that ignored her testimony.

In other words, the cake was baked before Sosin got into the kitchen. Her appearance was nothing but window dressing.

(I’ll also note that committee chair Tom Stevens mispronounced her last name, which betrays a certain lack of engagement, especially since this wasn’t her first appearance before his committee.)

(It’s SOSS-in, not “SO-sin.”)

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We Regret to Inform You That Gregory Thayer is Interested in Your Children

I don;t make it a practice to write about conservative commentators very often because that way lies madness and far too many words about Rob Roper and John McClaughry. But once in a while, an entry in this sad parade is just impossible to resist.

You may recall Gregory Thayer, failed candidate for lieutenant governor, organizer of a series of “educational” events exposing the dangers of critical race theory, co-organizer of a bus trip to the January 6 insurrection, and founder of Vermonters for Vermont, a seemingly defunct organization devoted to dog-whistling all the livelong day. Well, in the wake of yet another school shooting, Mr. Thayer Has Some Thoughts.

His message is that the Legislature isn’t doing nearly enough to protect our schoolchildren. His nifty five-part solution, left over from his lite-gubernatorial campaign: Turn the schools into armed camps full of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, lockdowns, active shooter drills, and guns, guns, guns everywhere.

Yeah kids, have fun at school!

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Really, House Democrats? Shelter vs. Child Care?

Oh, boy. House Democrats, desperately searching for a way to spend as little money as possible while ducking responsibility for the crisis waiting for us at the end of the emergency motel voucher program, have come up with a real doozy.

They’re offering to put up another $20 million in housing-related spending — but they put one hell of a turd in the punchbowl.

The new, one-time $20 million appropriation for unhoused Vermonters will come out of a $92 million line item that was initially set aside in the budget for child care.

Oh, come on. Those are the only choices we get?

What’s the reasoning here? There’s only so much money for compassionate purposes? You couldn’t find the cash anywhere else? Really?

This sets the stage for a needless battle between housing advocates and child care advocates, two groups that should be able to expect better from Democratic leadership.

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The Curious Incident of the Moose in the Night-Time

Well, the Democrats seem bound and determined to enable a disastrous unsheltering of thousands of Vermonters this summer. But surely we can count on the stalwarts of the Progressive Party to raise a ruckus.

Right?

Err, no.

The Progs have been resolutely silent about the approaching end of the motel voucher program and the absence of options for its 2,500-plus clients. Indeed, some of the Progs’ most stalwart lawmakers have taken an active role in crafting a pinch-penny plan that’s like prepping an offramp on the far side of a canyon while not doing anything about the canyon itself.

Let’s name some names, shall we?

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Jim Douglas Is a Pud (And Other Observations)

Oh, boy. Former governor Jim Douglas is at it again, enthusiastically destroying what’s left of his reputation as a Nice Guy and a moderate Republican. He’s had a bee in his bonnet since 2021 about Middlebury College’s decision to remove the name “Mead” from what is now known as the Middlebury Chapel, the most prominent building on campus.

Douglas started complaining about this as soon as the name was changed in September 2021. In May 2022, he proclaimed loudly — in an essay not published in the Addy Indy or Rutland Herald or VTDigger but in the New York Sun, a conservative outlet that’s been described as having “a modest online presence” largely featuring opinion pieces — that he would not attend his 50th class reunion, so upset was he at the deMeadification of the chapel. At the time I called bullshit because…

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.

He still hasn’t given up his honorary or teaching roles, nor has he otherwise absented himself from campus activities, but now he’s filed suit against his employer and alma mater over the unMeading. Given the fact that he’s doing his best to turn Middlebury into a right-wing punching bag for its alleged embrace of “cancel culture,” it might just be time for the college to initiate a full separation on its own.

Obligatory First Amendment debunking. If Douglas did get canned, Middlebury would not be guilty of violating his free speech rights or “canceling” him. Douglas has every right to speak his mind. He does not have the right to avoid the consequences of his speech. I say this as someone who was once fired for using the word “dick” on Twitter.

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“It’s Not Fair!” Maybe, But It Doesn’t Matter

The player on the left is the Vermont Legislature. The player on the right is Gov. Phil Scott. The potato in question is the emergency motel voucher program for the unhoused.

When last we met, I was castigating House leadership for proceeding, full speed ahead, toward the cliff at the end of the voucher program. I take none of that back. It’s a disaster, morally, politically and economically.

However, in fairness, it must be said that the real failure here is the governor’s. His administration has had two-plus years to devise an offramp from vouchers to adequate shelter/housing. It has not done so.

The Legislature gets to intervene in such things at budget time. It can try to craft policy and implementation and as badly as the House Human Services Committee has failed to address the end of the program, it has at least tried to build an offramp on the far side of the canyon in front of us. That’s more than the Scott administration has done.

That said, it doesn’t matter. The Legislature has the hot potato, and will get more than its share of the blame if they let the program expire without an adequate substitute. It’s not fair, but who said life is fair?

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Dems to Homeless: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Legislative Democrats are speeding toward a moral and political disaster of historic proportions. and either they don’t get it or they don’t care.

The House majority is prepared to approve a budget that will put nearly 3,000 Vermonters out on the street by the end of June*. They’ve decided to let the emergency motel voucher program expire on schedule. They’d resurrect a cut-down version for the winter months, because letting people actually freeze to death is cruel enough that it triggers their embarrassment reflex.

*Update. There are various figures for this. The highest is close to 3,000, but it might be more like 2,500.

But otherwise, hey, homeless folks, you’re on your own! Please don’t build encampments in public spaces or hang around our lovely downtowns. Please, if you can, simply disappear without a trace. We don’t care where you go, just go quietly.

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Yeah, I’ve Seen This Movie Before

VTDigger’s Sarah Mearhoff authored an article Thursday that prompted flashbacks in this tired old brain. The story was copiously entitled “As the ‘right to repair’ debate comes to Montpelier, lawmakers face a ‘flood’ of opposition from national interest groups.”

Yep, a look back in the Google Machine reveals that I wrote the same damn story back in 2018.

“Right to repair” is a concept that ought to be enshrined in our law, except that it causes conniptions in Our Corporate Overlords. They’ve created perpetual revenue streams for consumer products by making it difficult to downright impossible for an owner to repair stuff outside of the corporation’s closed circle of bespoke parts, tools, software, and authorized repair shops.

This is fine in some ways, bu in excess it costs consumers bucketloads of extra money. You can’t, for instance, take your iPhone to an unauthorized shop to get a cracked screen replaced or a new battery installed. You’ve got to go to an official Apple shop and pay full Apple prices. And a repair shop has to pay through the nose for the privilege to be an official Apple joint. (Small Dog is no longer authorized to do Apple repairs because they didn’t want to pay the requisite freight.)

At issue in 2018 was a bill to establish a right to repair for all consumer items. It ended up as yet another study bill after hungry packs of top-dollar lobbyists descended on the Statehouse. This year, the bill in question would create a right to repair only for farm equipment. And once again, the custom-tailored lobbyists have swarmed the Statehouse. It’s the same playbook, and I fear it will once again end with the bloody carcass of pro-consumer legislation being ripped to shreds in their oh-so-sharp teeth.

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GMCB Adds a Dab of Lipstick, Hopes You Won’t Notice It’s Still a Pig

Well, that didn’t take long. In fact, it couldn’t have happened any faster.

Two weeks after public comment forced the Green Mountain Care Board to defer cancellation of a plan that might have led to a badly-needed increase in inpatient mental health beds, the Board came right back and went ahead with the deal today with minimal amendment. It stands essentially as it did before: it lets the University of Vermont Health Network off the hook for designing a new inpatient facility, thus closing the door on the best opportunity to resolve our 12-years-old-and-counting* crisis on inpatient mental health care.

*That’s the generous count, starting the clock with Tropical Storm Irene. If you want to include the dilapidated, outdated old state hospital, well, the crisis goes back a lot further.

The revised plan requires UVMHN to invest $18 million in boosting “capacity of mental health services in the state.” Not “inpatient,” mind you, but “mental health services” of any sort. The Board then punted review of UVMHN’s plan to the Department of Mental Health because, as Board member Jessica Holmes put it, “we’re not the experts” and DMH is.

It also allows the GMCB to wash its hands of the whole mess, but that’s just a bonus.

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Governor Nice Guy Strikes Again

Gov. Phil Scott indulged his passive-aggressive tendencies this week by refusing to sign or veto H.145, the budget adjustment act. He laid down his pen despite the fact that the Legislature gave him everything he asked for in his budget adjustment plan.

But lawmakers did have the temerity to toss in a few items of their own. This was apparently too much for the governor. In his position, a Republican facing Democratic supermajorities, you’d think he might be willing to meet them halfway, but no sirree, not Governor Nice Guy.

As is often the case with vetoes or refusals to commit, Scott’s reasoning was awfully thin. He avoided taking a position on the Legislature’s additions, he merely wants them to wait another couple of months. And he chided lawmakers for failing to live up to his standard for “discipline and clarity” in appropriating state funds.

To put it the other way, he sees the Legislature as fuzzy and undisciplined. Nice guy.

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