Hey kids, if you’ve never seen Tim Conway’s infamous dentist sketch, take a minute and watch it now.
Now you know why, when they film The Dan French Story, they need to fire up the time machine and bring back Tim Conway to play the lead. Because man oh man, if that isn’t Dan French on a platter, I don’t know what is.
French’s latest is yet another twist in the Gotthard Pass that is the Scott administration’s Covid policy for schools. For months, his agency had strongly discouraged schools from imposing mask mandates — even to protect students at high risk for Covid complications.
If anybody is still saying “It can’t happen here,” I’ve got breaking news for you. It’s already happening here, and it’s only going to get worse. Vermonters are living in fear or getting the F out, and we’re only an eyeblink away from a violent incident.
We could start with the post-Uvalde spate of school threats which, so far, have been caught in time or turned out to be noise. But that roulette wheel keeps a-spinnin’, and eventually it’s going to land on double zero. And even if the threateners were gormless copycats, they still create a climate of fear in our schools and our families.
The worst of the school threats happened in Canaan, where extremist parent Shane Gobeil said he would “show up and kill somebody” if his child was approached by a transgender person or a drag queen. The schools were shut down for two days, and prosecutors obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Gobeil, which means he can’t possess or purchase firearms for the next six months.
And then what? Gobeil is well-known in town for being a potentially violent extremist who seems to have swallowed the most vile of the far-right fairy tales. I mean, “drag queen” is the latest conservative bugbear, so at least he’s up to date. Many Canaanites feel perpetually threatened by him. By himself, he creates a chilling atmosphere in the community.
How many Gobeils do we have in Vermont? How long until someone grabs a gun before opening his mouth?
We’ve got a disturbing trend on our hands: Small-town officials coming under heavy pressure from small groups of loud people. Or even one single person.
I’ve written at length about stealth conservatives running for local office, rabble-rousing over critical race theory and Black Lives Matter, and arguing over school mascots. But three more incidents have recently come to the fore: the Chester library board suspending Drag Queen Story Hour, the Canaan school board facing demands to remove books from the school library, and the Randolph school board voting to take down a “Black Lives Matter” flag.
This isn’t going away anytime soon. The American Library Association says it’s getting more reports of attempted book banning than ever before. The head of the ALA, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, says “It’s a volume of challenges I’ve never seen” in her 20 years in the organization.
“When you have organizations like Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance publishing materials that instruct parents on how to challenge books in the school library or the public library, right down to a challenge form enclosed in the booklet so they can just fill it out, you’re seeing a challenge to our democratic values of free speech, freedom of thought, freedom of belief.”
It’s never been easy to be a local official. It’s a lot of work. You’re always on call. When things go wrong, you get the blame. But these organized movements present a new level of difficulty. Local boards of all kinds are facing loud, insistent demands from tiny cohorts of The Aggrieved.
Our local public servants don’t need any more headaches. But they’ve got ’em, and they’ll have to respond.
In my previous post, I expressed a bit of puzzlement about why former governor Jim Douglas chose the New York Sun as the place to express his sudden disdain for Middlebury College. Well, now I know why: Because any Vermont publication would have asked embarrassing questions.
Douglas, for those just tuning in, is upset over the college’s decision to take former governor John Mead’s name off a chapel building because Mead was a fervent and influential proponent of eugenics. In his essay, Douglas said he was staying away from his 50th class reunion because of the anesthetic-free Meadectomy.
I’ll miss seeing my classmates and reminiscing about our college days. My regret would be greater, however, if I were to pretend that I was happy to be there, in the shadow of Mead Chapel, the scene of the College’s expunction of the Governor’s legacy.
Time to call bullshit.
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. Apparently he’s not too upset about being “in the shadow of Mead Chapel” to completely absent himself from campus.
Ever notice how almost every photograph of former Vermont governor Jim Douglas looks the same? The not-quite-convincing smile, the middle-disance stare, the resolutely dead eyes? It’s almost as if he’s thinking to himself, “I wonder what puppy tastes like.”
Well, something has finally shattered that phlegmatic exterior. What, might you ask, is capable of piercing Douglas’ impregnable fortress of blanditude?
An alleged insult against a dead white guy.
Douglas, who could have had his pick of Vermont media outlets to carry his thoughts, took to the digital-only pages of the New York Sun, a conservative outlet that has nothing to do with the original city paper, to post his screed about why he’d decided to boycott his 50th class reunion at Middlebury College.
He did so because the college had the temerity to rename the Mead Memorial Chapel. It had borne the name of former Vermont governor John Mead, but the college took down his name because, uhh, Mead had been a proponent of eugenics.
Pish tush, says Douglas. A lot of people were pro-eugenics in the early 20th Century. And aside from that little flaw, Douglas says, Mead was “a decent man, as well as a generous benefactor” and a veteran of the Civil War to boot.
Problem is, John Mead wasn’t just some random dude who thought the gene pool needed a little purification. He used his platform as governor to call for an official policy of eugenics in Vermont, which led to one of the darkest periods in our history.
[In 1912,] Mead gave a farewell address to the Vermont Legislature in which he advocated for the use of eugenic theory in creating legislation and policy. His comments in that speech about marriage restrictions, segregation and sterilization inspired the research behind the Eugenics Survey of Vermont and led to the legalization of voluntary eugenical sterilization two decades later.
Poor, poor, misunderstood Liz Cady. The person who courted controversy with her dog whistles about critical race theory and Black Lives Matter and, lest we forget, brought disgrace on her community by comparing BLM to Nazism, has up and quit. She resigned from the school board after little more than a year in office.
What a trooper.
Of course, it’s pretty much S.O.P. for right-wing culture warriors to screech at the slightest criticism while liberally defaming anyone else. How many January 6 insurrectionists have folded quietly in the face of 45 days in jail or some such? Pretty much all of ’em.
Let’s set aside the offensiveness that Cady tries to erase from her tenure, just for a moment, and simply say this: Democracy is hard. If you want to reform a public body, you’d best be willing to get in the trenches and be prepared for a long battle with an uncertain endpoint. Especially if the others on the body don’t share your views.
Even more so when a slate of like-minded candidates went down to defeat in this spring’s election. Sorry to say it, but the voters have spoken and Cady’s viewpoint did not carry the day. That doesn’t doom her cause to defeat, but it is a definite setback and it made her task that much more difficult. Difficult enough that she turned tail and ran.
And tried to frame herself as martyr and victim in the process. Pathetic.
As the Legislature winds down, the political news is coming thick and fast. Got several items worthy of comment including Gov. Phil Scott’s generic condemnation of persons unknown, a better use for the state’s “extra” money, three potentially interesting House races, and a depressingly rote report on last night’s Congressional debate. Let’s GOOOO!!!
Scott condemns… somebody. Perhaps because of the killing of Fern Feather, the governor (or his comms staff) took to Twitter and amped up his language condemning hate speech in the political arena. He cited “disturbing hostility toward the transgender community” and lamented that Vermont “is not immune to this.” It was a good statement, as far as it went.
But he failed to mention the source of all the hostility: his own Republican Party. He also failed to name the two individuals responsible for bringing the hate home: VTGOP chair Paul Dame and Burlington Republican Committee chair Christopher-Aaron Felker. As long as the governor refrains from identifying those responsible and refuses to step into his own party and deal with this garbage, his words are sadly empty, In the vernacular, it’s time for him to grow a pair.
… and three anti-CRTers were turned back by voters in the Mill River Unified School District — by disconcertingly narrow margins. If a handful of votes had changed sides, the antis would have had a majority on the Mill River school board.
How narrow? Incumbent Liz Filskov beat Nick Flanders by 20 votes. Josh Squier turned back QAnon Jewelry Lady Ingrid Lepley by the same margin. And board chair Adrienne Raymond beat Kristine Billings by about 30 votes.
In my pre-TMD series on far-right candidates seeking local office, I’ve criticized our news media for taking a cookie-cutter approach to the races. They often put in the absolute minimum effort, and thus fail to reveal the actual agenda of these hopefuls.
Well, I have to say the Bennington Banner hit this one out of the park. In a story profiling a school board race in Arlington, reporter Greg Sukiennik wrote all that needs to be written about the candidate pictured above: Luke Hall, who resigned from the Vermont State Police last year for social media posts in support of the January 6 insurrecrtion.
Posts like “Cheers to the great Patriots in Washington DC,” and “it might be war.”
Yeah, not a good look for a keeper of public order. (Although I suspect that if someone did a social media sweep of Vermont’s law enforcement community, they’d find a lot more Luke Halls.)
The agenda for his candidacy seems to boil down to one thing: He doesn’t like mask mandates.
We take you now to the Mill River Unified School District, where a small number of very loud white people are trying to take over the school board. And they may do just that on Town Meeting Day. Voters should be aware of who’s on the ballot, because some of these people are stealth candidates hiding behind bland statements about quality education and transparency and parental involvement. I previously mentioned one of them: Ingrid Lepley, a QAnon believer whose online jewelry business used to offer a bunch of Q-inspired pieces before she partially scrubbed it upon launching her campaign. (And like many of these people, she refused interview requests from Seven Days and the Rutland Herald.)
For the last few years, these folks have been making life miserable for board members, school staff and anyone who tries to watch a meeting with their yammering about critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, and the alleged misbehavior of members who don’t buy their agenda.
This all started in 2020, when the board approved the flying of the Black Lives Matter flag outside Mill River Union High School. This raised the hackles of those who believe that racism doesn’t exist, and that it’s used as a pretext for social engineering by, uh, you know, educators and the elites, and what the heck, maybe George Soros as well. The BLM flag was the original trigger, but the disaffected have added a laundry list of allegations to their agenda.
The electoral landscape isn’t easy to wrap your head around because the district includes four towns (Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford) that independently elect board members. But the bottom line is this: The Congregation of the Aggrieved currently hold four of the eleven seats, and could potentially net another three on Town Meeting Day. That’d give them a solid majority.