Category Archives: Vermont House of Representatives

A little target practice for Mitzi Johnson

A moment of silence for the advancement hopes of Linda Myers, veteran Republican lawmaker now offered up as her caucus’ sacrificial lamb. House Minority Leader Don Turner promised a challenger to Speaker-in-Waiting Mitzi Johnson; it just isn’t possible that the 76-year-old Myers was the first name on his list.

Nothing against Ms. Myers, a pillar of her community and, by all accounts, a good person. But when I consulted The Google for traces of legislative accomplishment or leadership, I found astonishingly little.

As far as I can tell, she’s never held a position in the Republican caucus leadership, which tells you a lot about how she’s perceived by her colleagues. She’s been “parked for years” (in the words of one Statehouse observer) as vice chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, her service not terribly memorable but not malign enough to prompt her removal.

Well, I hope she enjoyed her vice chairship; after she loses the race for Speaker, she might very well lose the position. (A desirable post, since the committee oversees capital expenditures.) More often than not, there are consequences for such a challenge.

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Big donors, big money in targeted House districts

Two years ago, the Republican State Leadership Committee funneled $370,000 into Vermont, backing candidates in close races for the Vermont House. The VTGOP won several of those seats and took away the Democrats’ supermajority status.

So far this year, the RSLC has spent a lot less. But a handful of closer-to-home moneybags have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve donated more than $100,000 to individual Republican House candidates and House Minority Leader Don Turner’s political action committee.

In the small-dollar world of State House campaigns, that’s a huge amount of money.

First, a hat tip to Green Mountain Daily’s Sue Prent, who reported on the Franklin County iteration of this phenomenon a couple weeks ago. Turns out, it’s only part of a bigger pattern. But because the money is broadly dispersed, the pattern has attracted little attention.

Two of the donors are familiar names to anyone who follows Vermont politics. The other two might be new to you.

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Last one out of House leadership, turn out the lights

Welp. Earlier this week, House Democratic caucus stalwart Tim Jerman announced he wouldn’t run for re-election. Today, Tony Klein, longtime chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, did the same. And since he’s actually my State Rep and I made some comments about Jerman, I’d better do the same for Klein.

Clearly, the Dr. Evil Lookalike Contest will be a wide-open affair in next year’s caucus. Otherwise, the House is losing a staunch advocate for renewable energy. Which, in some people’s eyes, really does make him Dr. Evil. For me, he’s a champion who has worked hard, and mostly quietly, to keep Vermont progressing toward a renewable future.

He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck that he actually made the decision early this year, but waited until the session was further along before going public. The timing will allow potential candidates to make plans before the late-May filing deadline.

He will have one more Sisyphean task to complete: trying to clean up the hash of an energy siting bill passed by the Senate last week. I bet he’s looking forward to a close examination of that turd. (On that note, he told VTDigger that he hopes to “remain involved in the energy field and the solid waste field.” Yeah, he’s been shoveling the manure for quite a few years now.)

But he’s used to it, and he faces legislative challenges with a smile and the occasional sarcastic remark.

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The House Clerk: Maybe this is okay, but it sure doesn’t look like it

Earlier this week, VTDigger’s Morgan True broke the story that the newly-elected State House Clerk, William MaGill, was voluntarily disbarred less than a year before his elevation. Yes, he lost his license to practice law because of ethical breaches.

MaGill had served as Assistant Clerk; and during the last two Legislative sessions, True reports, he “served as the de-facto House Clerk as his predecessor Don Milne struggled with health problems.” By all accounts he has done a good job, and the House Clerk doesn’t need to be a lawyer.

But whether or not MaGill’s professional failings are germane to his current post, I think it’s safe to say that the process wasn’t handled at all well.

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2015 Legislature: Triumph of the B-sides

When I look back on this session of the Legislature, a strange thing keeps happening: over and over again, I’m reminded of a significant bill, and my reaction is “Oh yeah, that.”

RESET bill? Oh yeah, that.

Child protection? Oh yeah, that.

The gun bill? Oh yeah, that.

Consumer protection, including limits on rent-to-own stores? Oh yeah, that.

Same-day voter registration? Oh yeah, that.

Economic development? Oh yeah, that.

The legislative agenda was so top-heavy with high-profile issues — the budget, taxes, education, Lake Champlain — that a lot of normally headline-making issues flew more or less under the radar. Or were quickly dealt with and forgotten.

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Missed it by that much

Anne Donahue had a clever plan.

Notice I say “clever,” not “smart.” The Donahue amendment was a last-ditch attempt to derail H.98, the bill that would end the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations.

The amendment would have combined the philosophical and religious exemptions, and put more obstacles in the way of those seeking an exemption: reading educational materials, watching a video, having an in-person consultation with a health care practitioner. Donahue argued that these obstacles would achieve the goal of raising immunization rates without sacrificing parental choice.

It was clever because it played on lawmakers’ fears of taking a definitive stand, fears that are always amplified when there’s a loud and focused opposition.

It wasn’t smart because it would have done nothing to raise immunization rates.

I can say that with confidence because if the House had adopted the amendment, it would have been at odds with the Senate. With the Legislature careening toward adjournment and many pressing issues still unresolved, it’s a virtual certainty that H.98 would have been quietly shelved.

Of course, Donahue had to know that.

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I wrote a letter

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to Rep. David Deen, chair of the House Ethics Panel. I requested a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s activities surrounding H.40, the RESET renewable energy bill. Greshin had proposed an amendment to freeze funding for Efficiency Vermont, and has vigorously campaigned for its adoption in both the House and Senate.

Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort. As I previously noted in this space:

The ski industry is a voracious consumer of electricity.

Efficiency Vermont is funded by ratepayers, with rates approved by the Public Service Board.

Do I need to connect those dots?

If the Greshin amendment is adopted, his ski resort stands to save a pretty penny on its utility bills. It’s already passed the House; it’s now pending before the Senate.

Potential conflicts abound in a citizen Legislature, and there’s a sizable gray area. The single act of voting for a bill, in my mind, is not in itself grounds for a conflict investigation.

But Greshin’s case is a whole different kettle of fish for two reasons.

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