Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

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

“Decrease the Surplus Population”

I hadn’t realized that Our Political Masters were Malthusians, but the current iteration of Covid policy would argue otherwise. They’ve thrown in the towel on limiting the spread of the virus, relying solely on vaccines, testing and treatment.

Meanwhile, SARS-COV-2 is spinning out vax-resistant variants at an alarming, and accelerating, clip. And it seems like every day we hear more bad news about long Covid, which nobody in government seems to care about.

I haven’t written about Covid in a while because (a) it’s too depressing, (b) new developments have been coming along too quickly to keep up with, and (c) this ain’t just the Scott administration anymore. The Biden administration’s policy is at least as Malthusian as Scott’s, maybe a little more. But today is the day the Vermont Health Department is posting its last daily Covid update. It’s switching to a weekly “syndromic surveillance report” that takes some effort to interpret. Those big bold inconvenient daily numbers for cases, hospitalizations, deaths and positivity rate? If they can’t make ’em look good, they’ll make ’em go away.

That may seem harsh, but the daily data is still being collected. It’s just not being posted in a high-profile space. The Health Department says so itself on its soon-to-be-shuttered Covid Dashboard: “COVID-19 data sets will still be accessible through the Vermont Open Geodata Portal, including case counts, hospitalizations, deaths, PCR testing and more.” The Department sees enough value in the daily numbers to keep track of them. They’re just hiding them better.

Is it a pure coincidence that this is happening one day after Gov. Phil Scott announced he’s runing for re-election? Running, to the extent he can be bothered to run at all, on his assertion that we’ve beaten the pandemic? And hey look, VTDigger is helping! They’ve discontinued their homepage front-and-center Covid updates!

I guess the pandemic is over. Right?

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Do Our Lawmakers Deserve a Living Wage?

Legislator’s Salary (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

Amidst the continuing deluge of departures from the Vermont Legislature, a handful describe a troubling pattern. Two of our youngest state senators, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, are not seeking re-election. Toss in Rep. Tim Briglin, the very accomplished chair of the House Energy & Technology Committee, and it once again looks like the Statehouse is purely a country for old folks.

As Briglin told VTDigger, “You gotta have a job. And I think that, you know, for somebody in their 20s and 30s and 40s, that’s even more excruciating.”

We pay our lawmakers a pittance. That’s a powerful disincentive for anyone short of retirement age. I’ve heard this over and over again from younger lawmakers: When they enter the Legislature, the clock starts ticking. If they’re not moving up the political ladder within a few years, they start looking for the exit. And it’s all about financial stability. Many of those people, very promising public servants, eventually moved on. This year we’re losing more of them.

Briglin and Parent each have two kids. Terenzini has four. Raising kids is expensive, even if you don’t factor in building a college fund. It also helps if you’re actually around the house after work instead of living in a Montpelier rental four nights a week. The Legislature, with its long hours and minuscule pay ($743 per week in session and nothing the rest of the year) doesn’t qualify.

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” We’re barely paying at all.

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Hey Wow, the VDP Did Something Right for a Change

Less than a month ago, after Claire Cummings’s departure as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, I wrote that the party was at a crossroads and had to think long and hard about its recent administrative failures. Regarding the qualities needed in the next ED, I wrote “I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee.”

Well, glory be, mirabile dictu, heavens to Murgatroyd, they hired that guy!

They did something right? The Vermont Democratic Party?

So it would seem.

The new ED, hired as an interim in order to bypass a lengthy search process, is Jim Dandeneau, lobbyist for Primmer Piper and former VDP staffer. He ran the Dems’ very successful 2018 House campaign and was a staffer on Sue Minter’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, which looks better in retrospect than it did at the time. Before coming to Vermont, Dandeneau spent 15 years in New York politics, a much bigger and more shark-infested political pool. The oft-fraught internal dynamics of the VDP are not going to phase him in the least.

In short, he’s got the goods. His hiring is a sign that VDP leadership realizes how badly they’ve been screwing up, and how much they need a swift kick in the organizational ass. Dandeneau is capable of delivering that kick, and it seems like the party is ready to take it. That’s a very positive sign. He and new party chair Anne Lezak should make a powerful team.

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Hate Comes to the Capitol Plaza

Oh looky, the anti-critical race theory fanatics gathered last night at Montpelier’s Capitol Plaza Hotel! CRT, a purely academic construct understood by few — and by no one who’s taken it up as the latest cudgel in the culture wars — is apparently a front for Marxist indoctrination! Who knew???

This ignorance extravaganza was promoted by Vermont Grassroots, whose tag line is “Empowering Parents and Teachers.” Well, that’s the friendly mask on this angry face; the full motto is “Empowering Parents and Teachers By Exposing Marxism.” The rest of the two-day event was held at the Ignite Church in WIlliston, a notable outpost of far-right Christianity. Or, more accurately, a radical worldview masquerading as Christianity. It’s the kind of thing that’d have Jesus rolling in his grave if he was still there.

(Funny that they put a Montpelier event in the middle of a Williston soiree. I seem to recall that Ignite had a spot of trouble with a Burlington hotel canceling in the face of controversy. Did they have to go all the way to Montpelier to find a willing caterer?)

Vermont Grassroots was the organization behind the series of low-budget, local-talent-only meetings organized around the state last summer by Gregory Thayer, Rutland ideologue and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Apparently the group’s budget has increased because now they’re bringing in outside speakers.

Sadly, it’s too late to organize a protest in Montpelier. It’s not too late to let the Capitol Plaza know how you feel about profiting off hatred. However, there will be other opportunities for protest throughout the summer. Vermont Grassroots has planned a series of events designed to fan the flames of manufactured outrage.

And before anyone goes all First Amendment on me, just stop. These jackasses have every right to express their views. And the rest of us have every right to express our views about their views.

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Empty Chairs: Even More Than I Thought

It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.

The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.

Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.

Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.

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Empty Chairs in the Vermont House

Note: In the few hours since I posted this piece, even more retirements have been made public. I have written a separate post with the new names; read it here.

The state House has 15 standing policy committees. One-third of them, at minimum, will have new chairs next session.

First to announce departure was Government Operations Chair Sarah Copeland Hanzas, now running for Secretary of State.

Then, as the 2022 session was in its closing days, four influential chairs announced their retirements. Health Care’s Bill Lippert, Human Services’ Ann Pugh, Education’s Kate Webb, and most recently, Ways & Means’ Janet Ancel. That’s a huge amount of experience to lose all at once. And we may have more retirements announced in coming days, as the May 26 filing deadline for major-party candidates is less than two weeks away.

You know, I wrote a piece last summer about how the Senate had a huge seniority issue. At the time, the average senator was 63.4 years old. And the average age of committee chairs was a remarkable 72.1. Some wires must have gotten crossed because clearly the message was delivered to the House, not the Senate.

How much experience is the House losing? Let us count the years.

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Signs of a Backroom Deal

Did Beth Pearce just hand the treasurer’s office to Michael Pieciak? Consider the timing.

April 27: Gov. Phil Scott’s office announces that Pieciak would step down as Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation in mid-May “to pursue other opportunities” of the unspecified variety.

May 4: Pearce announces she will not seek re-election as treasurer. Her decision, she said, was made after being diagnosed with cancer three weeks earlier. Or about two weeks before Pieciak’s departure from the administration.

May 6: Pieciak launches a campaign for treasurer as a Democrat. (He served under Republican Scott, but he was brought into state government by Dem Peter Shumlin.)

Here’s what it looks like: Pearce realizes she’s stepping down and essentially handpicks Pieciak as her successor. How could you look at the sequence of events and think otherwise?

Pearce took a couple weeks after her diagnosis, more than enough time to drop a word to Pieciak. He steps down as commissioner “to pursue other opportunities” only a week before Pearce’s surprise announcement. And he launches his candidacy only two days after Pearce’s announcement.

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Lookin’ For Some New Moose

2022 is looking like a critical campaign season for the Vermont Progressive Party, full of peril and possibilities.

The peril is obvious. The two state senators who identify as Progressive/Democratic, Anthony Pollina and Chris Pearson, are stepping out of elective office. Cheryl Hooker, one of three senators who wear the Democratic/Progressive label, is also retiring. (The others are Phil Baruth and Andrew Perchlik.)

If the Progs don’t pick up seats somewhere, that would leave them with fractions of Baruth and Perchlik as their entire Senate caucus. That wouldn’t be good.

The Progs have some possibilities for shoring up their numbers. They have real hopes in the newly created Chittenden Central district, which includes the liberal parts of Burlington and Essex, and all of WInooski. Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky of Essex is running in the Democratic primary, and should stand a decent chance given the political nature of the district.

Other Democrats could pick up the Dem/Prog label, which would help. At least a couple of Pollina’s potential successors, Anne Watson and Jeremy Hansen, seem inclined to do so. Windham County senate candidate Wichie Artu seems cut from similar cloth.

We may also see, for the first time in years, a slate of Progressive candidates at the top of the ballot.

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Governor Nice Guy Extends His All-Time Veto Record

What will it take to make us stop calling Phil Scott a Nice GuyTM?

Even as the House failed, by one vote each*, to override two of Scott’s vetoes, he came out and promised yet another. This time, the victim is S.234, a bill making changes in Act 250 designed to encourage housing construction.

*Special place in political hell for Rep. Thomas Bock, a Democrat who voted for the clean heat standard bill and switched his vote on the override at the last minute without informing leadership.

For those keeping track, and I sure as hell am, that will be his 31st veto. He’s threatening another on the budget bill, and he’s vetoed plenty of budgets in the past.

Scott continues to put more and more distance between himself and the rest of the Vermont gubernatorial field like Chase Elliott in a Soap Box Derby. The past record-holder, Howard Dean, racked up a “mere” 21 vetoes. Of course, he was governor for almost twelve full years and Scott is only partway through his sixth.

Jim Douglas vetoed 19 bills, but he served four full terms to Scott’s three and a half.

There is no competition. Phil Scott is the Veto King.

Two questions:

First, what exactly makes him a Nice Guy? The disarming smile? It sure isn’t policy.

Second, how can any Democrat vote for Scott and claim to support their party’s agenda? Scott has prevented the Legislature from taking stronger action not only with those 31-and-counting vetoes, but with the ever-present threat of even more. He’ll do it. You know he will.

Two answers:

First, he isn’t a nice guy, but he plays one on TV.

Second, they can’t.

To Resign… or Not to Resign. That is the Question.

Charity Clark stepped down today as Attorney General TJ Donovan’s chief of staff. The remarkably coy announcement of the move said she “has stepped down from her post to explore new opportunities” and would “make an announcement about her plans in the near future.”

Yuh-huh. She’s running for AG. She’s hinted as much, and it’s the most obvious reason for her sudden departure, which (a) apparently took immediate effect and (b) came only four days after Donovan announced he would leave office at the end of his term or possibly before.

I guess it ends all speculation that Clark might be elevated to acting attorney general should Donovan depart before Election Day, thus giving her the kinda-sorta incumbent’s edge. If so, it’s a noble and selfless move.

And it raises questions about Chris Winters, deputy secretary of state, who remains in office nearly three months after he announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, Jim Condos.

If Clark thought it best to resign before she even opened the doors on her campaign, why hasn’t Winters?

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