Amidst the endless parade of articles bemoaning the plight of poor businessfolk who can’t find enough workers to fill their low-paying, no-bennies jobs, let us take a moment to pour one out for the group that has by far the hardest time finding a few good people: The Vermont Republican Party.
You almost have to feel sorry for the VTGOP. They’re so underfinanced and disorganized, so out of touch and few in number, that their every ticket features a frightening quantity of blank slots. They’ll take almost anybody with a pulse who’s willing to step out in public with an “R” next to their name.
Two cases in point today. First, we have Christopher-Aaron Felker, the surprise entry into Burlington’s special election to fill the seat of former councilor Brian Pine. Second, Gov. Phil Scott’s latest nominee to the Vermont Commission on Women.
The stage is set. The players are in the wings. On Wednesday morning, the Legislature will return — virtually — for a brief veto override session. All three of Gov. Phil Scott’s 2021 vetoes are on the agenda. The action, for those of us who believe a YouTube screen full of tiny politicians’ faces constitutes “action,” gets underway in the House and Senate simultaneously, at 10:00 a.m.
The House will be first to take up Scott’s vetoes of H. 177 and H.227, the charter changes for Montpelier and Winooski respectively to allow noncitizen residents to vote in local elections only. Meanwhile, the Senate will take up S.107, which would raise the minimum age for public release of information about the arrest and charge of an offender.
This all seems perfectly normal. But in reality, it’s not.
While the Republican governor has set a new record for vetoes with 23, the Democratic Legislature has been loath to even attempt overrides. Scott has vetoed 20 bills from 2017 through 2020; only two of them have been overridden. In the vast majority of Scott’s other 18 vetoes, the Legislature didn’t even try.
So, attempting overrides on three vetoes in a single year is unprecedented during the Scott administration, and I’m guessing unprecedented in Vermont history.
The townsfolk are all horns and rattles, I never seen such a fuss. Must be that cold-blooded sidewinder Doug Hoffer’s back in town and up to no good.
This time, the ol’ gunslinger has taken aim at OneCare Vermont. Hoffer’released an audit on Monday finding that OneCare, which was supposed to glean savings from the healthcare system, has cost millions more than it’s saved.
The normal official response to a Hoffer audit is along the lines of “Well, he found some interesting information, but nothing we didn’t already know and weren’t already doing something about.” But the reaction to this audit is more direct, if not downright hostile. Mind you, they didn’t contest Hoffer’s findings, not at all. But they didn’t like his conclusions, not one little bit.
One might even detect a faint whiff of panic. Considering that free-lance health care expert Hamilton Davis just called OneCare “a dumpster fire,” I can see why Our Leaders would be unreceptive to a critical audit right now.
The University of Michigan, my alma mater, has been rocked by an unthinkable sexual-abuse scandal. Dr. Robert Anderson served as an athletic team doctor for thirty-five years and throughout that time, he sexually abused male students so frequently that it was a running joke among athletes. Except for those who were traumatized, of course.
This story has been out there for a while. But the latest disturbing turn is that several former football players — and many observers of Michigan athletics — say that legendary coach Bo Schembechler absolutely knew about Anderson’s abuse. Some say they told Bo; others say that he kept such a tight fist on his program that he couldn’t possibly have been ignorant. Just like Joe Paterno at Penn State.
And just like Paterno, the statue of Schembechler that adorns the athletic campus will almost certainly be removed sometime.
But what does this have to do with Vermont politics, you say?
These scandals have become so commonplace that I can’t help but believe that there are many more like them, so far undiscovered. And if you think this state is exempt, well, check your Vermont exceptionalism at the door.
More happy tidings concerning the much-ballyhooed “culture change” in the Vermont Department of Corrections in a VTDigger story about how state prisons are being reopened to visitors. The answer is slowly and incompletely, with strings attached. Unlike, say, the Scott administration’s policy toward the reopening of Vermont otherwise, which is to immediately remove all restraints.
The story also contains other tidbits that underscore the administration’s broader attitude toward inmates: that they don’t really deserve to be treated with dignity. There’s an undercurrent of “Inmates did something wrong and must be punished.” You see this over and over again in administration policy.
The DOC refused to prioritize inmates for vaccination, despite multiple outbreaks of Covid-19 inside our prisons. (Human Services Secretary made an absolute hash out of trying to explain that policy.) It put Covid-positive inmates into solitary confinement, which meant cruelly restrictive conditions normally reserved for the worst miscreants.
Now, the DOC is taking a go-slow approach to allowing visitors. “We want to make sure everybody is safe when we do this,” said Al Cormier, DOC director of operations. Gee, too bad that wasn’t the policy when inmates were made to wait their turn for vaccination even though they were demonstrably at high risk, and they could have been easily served because they’re all gathered in a handful of locations.
Vermont’s education secretary let the cat out of the regulatory bag on Wednesday. He acknowledged that state regulation of approved independent schools is, as Willy Shakes put it, “more honored in the breach than the observance.”
Dan French was speaking to the state board of education, a body not known for an aggressive attitude toward the AIS’s. But this time, they’d had it up to here.
VTDigger’s Lola Duffort reported on French’s testimony, casting it primarily in terms of the troubled Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Kurn Hattin gave up its license to operate a residential treatment program in the face of enforcement action by the Department of Children and Families (the department cited a pervasive culture of abuse) — and yet, the Ed Agency rubber-stamped Kurn Hattin’s status as an approved independent school.
Well, on Wednesday we found out how the agency arrived at that curious conclusion. And it ought to send shivers down the spine of every parent and educator and, heck, every taxpayer in the state.
(Headline is a paraphrase of Charles Bukowski, everybody’s favorite wholesome all-American writer)
Got a full slate once again, including how the feds’ ignorance of Vermont’s governmental structure is screwing up Covid relief, a couple of lazy media tropes on display, an ex-cop dumping on his hometown, and… wait for it… the first-ever Own Veepie. Let’s get to work, or whatever this is.
Let’s start at the U.S. Treasury, which earns the We’re Not Bending Our Rules for You; You’ll Have to Do the Bending Award thanks to its ignorance of Vermont’s structure of governance. Unfortunately, this has thrown a great deal of uncertainty into federal Covid relief for cities and towns. The federal aid is meant for state, county and municipal governments, which is fine in a state with robust county governments. In Vermont, the counties do very little and have minimal budgets.
Even so, the feds have insisted that our share of the loot be distributed on their standard formula. This means that cities and towns will get substantially less than previously thought — like, roughly two-thirds less. This was first reported late last week by the Times Argus, based on communications to the Barre and Montpelier city councils. Several days later, VTDigger posted a much more complete accounting. The Legislature will decide how to redirect the “county Covid funds,” and could do so however they wish. That’s a worrying prospect, but Digger says that state leaders agree that the money should go to cities and towns. That’s good, but why do we need to clean up the Treasury’s mistake?
One more thing: According to Digger, the Treasury granted exceptions for other states with weak county governments (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts) but not Vermont. Why not? Are we too small to warrant the Treasury’s attention?
Still to come: Inadequate reporting times two, a temper tantrum from a former top cop, and the Veepies come back to bite me.
Well, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray kinda stepped in it, as she tried a little too hard to celebrate Vermont and Vermonters yesterday. In response to the news that we’ve passed the 80% vaccination mark, Gray tweeted out a quote from Calvin Coolidge, staunch conservative and native Vermonter.
I love Vermont… most of all, because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.
Seems benign, right? Nice gesture by a prominent Democrat to promote a famous Republican (albeit a dead one)?
Well, maybe not if you’re a Vermonter of Native American heritage.
The people of Vermont “are a race of pioneers,” huh? That pretty well covers white Vermonters. But it excludes the people who were here first, and who were nearly exterminated by that doughty “race of pioneers.”
A big ol’ victory lap for our hard-drivin’ Governor Phil Scott today, as Vermont became the first state to surpass the 80% threshold for vaccinations and he got to announce the end of all state-mandated Covid restrictions.
And he deserves the spotlight on this day. He steered the Stock Car of State through the crisis and got us over the finish line. Sure, he cut corners occasionally, traded a little paint here and there, and nicked a guardrail or two, but he’s in the winner’s circle and nobody can take that away from him.
I’ve been critical of the governor on occasion. He always insisted all his decisions were based entirely on data and science, when he obviously considered economic impacts as well as the data. His administration was very slow to react to the unemployment insurance crisis, and the system has never really been fixed. He refused to prioritize inmate vaccinations when that would have been a simple thing to do.
But we got through it just fine, sometimes despite Scott’s actions and, far more often, because of his steady, prudent leadership. He wasn’t perfect, but we’re coming out of the pandemic about as well as one could possibly expect. He’s in charge, and he gets credit for that.
Among other things, it shows what we are missing when one of our two major political parties stops caring about governance.
I’m glad to know that everything’s absolutely fine down Rutland way. No issues, no challenges, just unicorns and rainbows all day long.
That must be the case, because otherwise how to explain a majority of the Board of Aldermen* voting in favor of amending the city charter (Rutland Herald story, you may encounter a paywall) to enshrine the “Raider” nickname for Rutland High’s sports teams? That’s right: Change the freakin’ charter because they’re butthurt over the loss of a racist nickname. As Rep. William Notte wrote in an essay submitted to the Herald, “Nothing positive will come of this discussion.” Because there’s no way the Legislature would ever approve this.
*Speaking of which, “AlderMEN”? Really? Is this 2021 or 1921, guys?
More on this in a moment, but first we have breaking news about an upcoming outbreak of racism town hall meeting scheduled for next Wednesday in Rutland. It will be a gathering of Vermont’s anti-“critical race theory” dead-enders. Yup, the handful of folks who believe that fighting racism in the public schools is a threat to our American way of life.
The details: It’s organized by a Rutland-based group called Vermonters for Vermont, last seen helping to bring a busload of Vermonters to the January 6 Capitol insurrection. They’ll be gathering at the Vermont State Fairgrounds at 6:30 on Wednesday, June 16 for an evening of rabble-rousing by the likes of Rep. Art Peterson, former gubernatorial candidate John Klar, Mill River Union School District troublemaker Todd Fillmore, and newly-elected Essex school board member (and proud anti-anti-racist) Liz Cady. Klan robes optional.