The topline of yesterday’s Covid presser was all about the schools. Id est, how the Scott administration is imposing policies and expectations on the schools but refusing to lift a finger to help them handle the additional workload.
But there were several other statements we shouldn’t allow to pass unmocked. So here’s a sampler, a Children’s Treasury if you will, of dumb stuff said by the governor plus a couple of entries from Finance Commissioner and Number Cruncher Extraordinaire Michael Pieciak.
We’ll start with Scott playing pure politics, something he likes to accuse other people of doing. As he continues to resist calls for tighter anti-Covid measures, he was asked what he’d do if the Legislature passed such measures and sent them to his desk.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “If they want to come back into session and they want to introduce a mask mandate, they want to limit travel, they want to shut down bars and restaurants, they want to limit gatherings, they want to cancel Christmas, I mean, that’s up to them.”
The deliberate exaggeration of opposing views is classic passive-aggressive Phil Scott. But cancel Christmas? When did the governor start watching Fox News?
When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.
We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.
This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:
All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”
So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.
The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?
The appointment of Don Rendall as interim chair of the state Natural Resources Board reminded me of something I’ve been pondering for quite some time: Our state government relies heavily on generic expertise. People are often hired to state positions outside of their professional experience. People within the executive branch are frequently swapped around as if they are interchangeable pieces. And people from the same small pool get hired over and over again to different positions. Rarely is someone with specific outside expertise hired for a relevant public sector post. Rendall has been a gas and utility executive, but he has no particular experience in environmental or land-use matters.
This is a long-running theme in state government, but it seems more prevalent in the Scott administration. Every time a top-level vacancy opens up, it’s filled laterally from elsewhere in the executive branch (Mike Schirling, from Commerce to Public Safety) or vertically from within an agency’s ranks (Lindsay Kurrle replacing Schirling, Wanda Minoli replacing Robert Ide) — or the hire goes to someone like Rendall, who brings no specific expertise to the job.
These kinds of hires do have advantages. If you’ve got experience in one part of state government, you have a base of knowledge that’s useful elsewhere. (Susanne Young has been an effective administrator in multiple roles under Jim Douglas and Phil Scott.) If you’ve been successful outside state government, you have skills that can be brought to bear in the public sector. Neale Lunderville has had success in both spheres, and has been called upon more than once for crisis management.
But there are also drawbacks. Hiring from within an agency, or swapping people around within state government, can foster stagnation, satisfaction with the status quo, a lack of vision for positive change. Two examples: The DMV under Ide and Minoli, which has had repeated issues with undocumented immigrants (and has been slow to adapt modern technology); and the Department of Corrections, whose upper ranks are full of DOC lifers — and where interim commissioner James Baker has been struggling to “change the culture.”
John Klar, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate and self-described leader of the short-lived Agripublican movement, has been a busy beaver. He regularly contributes opinion pieces to little-read far-right outlets such as True North Reports and The American Thinker. They’re not worth reading, but they do merit the occasional bit of scrutiny.
After all, this is a guy who got 12,762 votes for governor in 2020. He got walloped by Phil Scott, but that’s still 21% of the Republican electorate who either agree with Klar or hate Scott so much they’d prefer an unknown alternative.
Last week, Klar posted two pieces on consecutive days, each are on the same subject: the evils of the Black Lives Matter/antiracism movement and its essentially alien nature. The pieces include notable displays of Vermont nativism, unsubtle racism and white victimhood. (Maye he should move to Stratton.)
First, his February 19 TNR piece (click through at your own risk) entitled “Vermont Liberals Gaslight…Themselves?” Let’s run down the highlights, shall we?
The above was posted on Twitter by Ellen Barry, regional correspondent for the New York Times (last seen publishing a big piece on the Daniel Banyai/West Pawlet standoff). It’s the front cover of Stratton, Vermont’s annual report.
And as you can see, it’s just chock full of Vermont’s bloated sense of superiority that we all know and love.
Okay, well, it’s a rural place tucked in the middle of southern Vermont, so you might excuse a little short-sightedness and/or pig-ignorance.
But Stratton? Its biggest industry is tourism. Its biggest employer is the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, which boasts of being “The Best Ski Resort Near New York City.” The resort couldn’t be more welcoming to outsiders, because its profitability depends on them.
Furthermore, according to Zillow, the average home price in Stratton is a robust $750,939. Prices have risen by 8% during Our Pandemic Year. How many Stratton homes have been purchased by non-Vermonters since last March, and before?
How much does the town’s bottom line benefit from outsider dollars? What would become of Stratton if there were no outsiders?