Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

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

Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

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The Gray Eminence

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented phenomenon in Vermont politics. (Someone with longer tenure than I may recall a comp.) In a state where “Wait Your Turn” is the norm, she entered the arena at the age of 36, ran for a statewide office, defeated a strong field in the Democratic primary, and defeated Republican Scott Milne by a comfortable margin in the general election. Considering the dominance of Democratic men in higher offices, her gender makes the accomplishment even more impressive.

Somehow, I don’t think we’ve fully appreciated how rare and special this was. In February 2020, as she was preparing to launch her campaign, she was an almost complete unknown. (Well, she was an assistant attorney general, but there are dozens of those.) Nobody in the Statehouse had a clue, nor did they take her seriously at first. The betting favorite, and it wasn’t close, was then-Senate president pro tem Tim Ashe.

Once in the race, Gray ran a nearly flawless campaign despite having no experience in electoral politics. That’s immensely difficult to do.

But Gray has often received more criticism than credit. (Yes, including from me.) There are good reasons for some of that; but much of it has to do with two things about Gray that are rare in our politics: Her age and her gender. And that’s troubling.

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A Retraction

Sharp-eyed readers with too much time on their hands may have noticed that one of my posts from last week is no longer there. This is because, for the first time in my years-long blogging “career,” I’ve taken down something I posted.

I’ve made corrections whenever warranted. But this time, my mistake undermined the point I was trying to make and it can’t be fixed through a simple correction.

The post was about the new owner of the Vermont Lake Monsters, who heads up RockFence Capital, an investment fund that loans money to minor-league baseball players. If the player doesn’t reach the majors, he gets to keep the money. If he does make the big time, he has to repay the money with interest.

But I centered the post on Ozzie Albies, second baseman for the Atlanta Braves. And I’ve learned that Albies is not, and has never been, a client of RockFence. Other players in similar circumstances are RockFence clients, but not Albies.

In my judgment, the post is flawed beyond salvage. So I’ve taken it down, with apologies to RockFence.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ah, if only it were so

There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.

There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.

But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.

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Yes, the Legislature Will Challenge Scott’s Vetoes

Sen. Joe Benning addressing the media

It was a little like Old Home Week. Eleven of the 30 state Senators, none wearing a mask, gathered on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday morning for a… live, in person PRESS CONFERENCE. Wowee.

Everyone was happy to be back together, and even happy to see a gaggle of reporters hoping to glean some actual news out of the occasion.

The cause for the gathering was a mutual wankfest recap of the Senate’s legislative record in the past session. Hearty congratulations all around, and seldom was heard a discouraging word. I’m sure the assembled solons would love for me to recap their lengthy list of accomplishments, but, well, not my job.

They did manage to make some news amidst all the mutual back-slapping. “We’ll be back for a veto session,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, ending all doubt on that score. She said the House and Senate are likely to try to override all three (and counting) of Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes. Also, if time allows, the Legislature may try to pass a few bills that came just short of the finish line before adjournment. Balint didn’t offer any particulars; she was due to meet with House Speaker Jill Krowinski Wednesday afternoon to plan the session, which would probably happen later this month.

I’m glad to see that the Kumbaya stuff has its limits. Legislative leadership made a point of trying to maintain a good relationship with Gov. Phil Scott during the session, and that’s fine. It’s even better that they know there’s a time for the Kumbaya to end. And Scott struck the first blow with his three questionable vetoes. Good to see leadership respond appropriately. If they can actually override all three, they’ll be sending a strong message to the fifth floor.

Other news came courtesy of Senate Institutions Committee chair Sen. Joe Benning. He talked of preparations for reopening the Statehouse for the 2022 session.

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Nice Guy Sets Record for Not Being Nice

The inevitable has finally happened. Gov. Phil Scott has bested Howard Dean’s all-time record for gubernatorial vetoes — and he did it in less than half the time it took Dean.

On Tuesday, Scott issued his second and third vetoes of 2021, bringing his total to 22 in four-and-a-half years in office. Dean was in office for 12 years, and racked up a total of 20 vetoes. (In its story on Tuesday’s vetoes, Seven Days did not mention the record.)

Tell me again how nice a guy Scott is, and how much he values cooperation across the aisle.

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Stupid Never Takes a Day Off: The Veepies, Holiday Edition

My friends, just because the rest of you took a nice three-day weekend doesn’t mean that Stupid isn’t on the clock. Yup, we’ve got another full slate for your reading pleasure. This week: A cheap shot on Bernie that doesn’t land, a double dose of Rutland-style racism, and public funds for… lobbying?

First, a pair of “Ha! I gotcha! But Why Are You Laughing? Awards to Fox News and the New York Post, for a wild swing and a miss at our own Sen. Bernie Sanders. Pretty much every media outlet covered last week’s revelaiton of Bernie’s lodging predilections: King-sized bed, 60-degree room, no ice machines nearby, etc. It was good for a chuckle, and quickly disappeared. But Fox and the Post tried to pull an Al Gore on Bernie: Accusing him of hypocrisy because, as a democratic socialist, he ought to be able to sleep on a park bench or somebody’s couch, I guess.

Fox referenced “a long list of diva demands,” while the Post said Bernie’s demands “would make even the most pampered celebrity blush.” All I can say is, apparently they’ve never seen what a real diva’s demands look like. Bernie’s not in their league.

Besides, c’mon now. Bernie was running for president, which is one of the most demanding tasks a human being can undertake. If he wants a big bed and a charter airplane so he can give multiple speeches in multiple different locations every damn day, well, that’s not hypocrisy, it’s doing whatever it takes to keep the candidate grinding away. For comparison’s sake, I’d love to see the travel demands of conservative “populists” like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or Newt Gingrich.

Next we have a pair of “I’m Not a Racist, I Just Can’t Stand People Who Aren’t Like Me” Awards going down Rutland way.

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There Are Two Ways This Can End, and They’re Both Terrible

Anne Galloway, the Captain Ahab of Vermont journalism, has returned to port with another big bloody chunk of the Great White Whale.

The whale is the EB-5 scandal, about which fundamental questions remain unanswered because a lot of information has yet to be made public. I don’t agree with how VTDigger is stonewalling its union, but this is an example of why we need Digger. Galloway is doing a tremendous public service by chasing a complicated story that no other media outlet has been willing to tackle.

Should I do a brief recap of the EB-5 thing? Is that possible? Well, here we go.

EB-5 is a program that offers green cards to foreign investors who put money into development projects in designated rural and/or poor areas. It was a small thing in Vermont until the great recession of 2008-9, when it suddenly took off. State oversight failed to keep up with its rapid growth. A lot of good projects got built, but Ariel Quiros allegedly committed large-scale fraud by taking money for projects he never built. He was assisted in these efforts by Vermont businessman Bill Stenger.

The state of Vermont, particularly the Shumlin administration, either failed to detect the fraud or tried to cover it up. Which one? Probably both, but we don’t know because a lot of key documents are still, several years later, being kept under wraps.

VTDigger has been diligently pursuing those documents, and keeps winning partial victories. Which then gives them reams upon reams of documents to go through.

On Wednesday, Digger posted another installment in its series. This time, it reports that state officials knew there was fraudulent activity two years before the the scandal was revealed by federal regulators in 2016.

Yikes.

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I Know Vermont Is the Land of Summer Camp, But All This “Kumbaya” Is Getting Ridiculous

This obligatory session-ender by VTDigger’s Xander Landen was so sticky-sweet that it should have had a warning label for diabetics. Everybody’s just getting along so well. Kind words all around, regardless of party.

Gov. Phil Scott, who has so far issued only one veto — an historic low for him — praised House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint: “It’s been a good dialogue, good discussion, very open, and they adhere to their word and everything’s been working fine.”

Balint said that she and Krowinski made progress on “establishing healthier patterns” in working with Scott, and she’s feeling “optimistic” about carrying the Kumbaya over to a 2022 session that will involve some touchy issues. Sen. Phil Baruth noted “historic” levels of tripartisan cooperation.

(There’s also a love-in involving Scott, Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. At his Tuesday presser, Scott all but endorsed Leahy for re-election in 2022, and Welch recently credited Scott with doing an “absolutely tremendous job” on Covid-19.)

Scott, Balint and Krowinski are right to feel satisfied. They avoided the intra- and inter-party battles of the past, and dealt with a number of issues successfully. And they had to do it remotely, which was tough on everyone.

But they also ducked some tough issues. Balint and Krowinski made a conscious effort to avoid sending Scott bills he was likely to veto. That might be a good short-term strategy for the pandemic session, but it’s the kind of thing that has made the Democratic majorities seem toothless throughout Scott’s governorship.

So, a good collegial session in 2021 probably won’t carry over to next year unless legislative leadership is willing to set aside a whole bunch of issues. And for strictly political reasons, that will be harder to do in an election year than in this extraordinary session.

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The Thing Everybody’s Talking About That’ll Never Happen

The Governor, upon flummoxing Stewart Ledbetter

It’s almost a given in #vtpoli circles that Gov. Phil Scott will run for U.S. Senate. The question is when — in 2022, against Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here], or 2024 against Bernie Sanders or [insert Democrat here]. Many believe Scott would be unbeatable against anyone but St. Patrick or Bernie. Or even including St. Patrick and Bernie.

It’s the best available speculative topic we’ve got, given the placidity of our political scene. We just had the least contentious legislative session in years, and it’s left Scott and the Democrats practically singing “Kumbaya.” There’s no fun in handicapping the 2022 race for governor, assuming Scott wants a fourth term. The biggest “drama” about the next election cycle is whether Doug Hoffer will retire as auditor and clear the way for his newly-minted deputy Tim Ashe, but that’s not exactly clickbait, no offense.

So, speculation abounds. And all of it is likely to remain just that. Because it says here Scott isn’t running for Senate next year or anytime thereafter.

The usual caveat: I’ve got a spotty record as a prognosticator, to put it kindly. Grain of salt. But I do have reason to believe.

After the jump: Reason to believe.

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