Tag Archives: Anthony Pollina

Wanted: A Few New State Senators. Or a Lot.

Well, I guess there’s at least one group with a worse seniority problem.

The Vermont Senate, as has been noted in this space, is a temple of tenure. It’s almost impossible to defeat a sitting senator; the only time we get a new one is when someone voluntarily retires. That rarely happens and, as a result, the Senate just keeps getting older and older.

How old? Average age of the 30 senators is 63.4 years. There are only five senators under age 50; there are 14 over 70, and 11 who are 75 and older. There are two others in their late 60s, which means we have a Senate majority past retirement age.

And the oldest wield the most power. The average age of the 11 policy committee chairs is 72.1. Brian Campion is the only policy chair under 64. Yep, that chamber loves it some seniority.

This has some unfortunate effects. First, there’s often an airless quality to the Senate’s work. It is an entity apart from the real world — or even those rambunctious young’uns in the House. (Senators often treat the House with open contempt.) Second, senators are often out of touch when discussing issues of concern to young people like digital technology, child care, substance use, rental housing, and workforce development. Third, well, it’s really hard to get the Senate to take a fresh look at anything or contemplate a change in How We’ve Always Done It.

Sure, tenure has its benefits. They know their way around the building, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some, including Dick Sears, Bobby Starr, and Jane Kitchel, bring decades of experience and deep knowledge of their policy beats.

But in any organization, you want a mix of young and old, new and tenured. The Senate is terribly skewed toward age and seniority. It’s long past time for some serious turnover. Will 2022 be the year we get it? I sure hope so.

After the jump: Naming some names.

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Mailed Ballots: A Study in Legislative Timidity

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved S.15, a bill that would mandate mail-in ballots for November elections. On Wednesday, the panel was presented with an opportunity to make the mandate universal, applying to general elections, primaries, and Town Meeting Day.

(The only exception: Communities that hold actual town meetings would be exempt. Towns that use the Australian ballot for TMD questions would have to provide mail service to all voters.)

And the committee couldn’t back away fast enough. Members used every delaying tactic in the book, from straw-man punching to red herrings to gross exaggeration. It was so sad that the panel even balked at the last refuge of legislative delay, appointing a study committee!

Now, there was a bit of political gamesmanship involved on the part of Republican Sen. Corey Parent, who offered the amendment to S.15. If he was completely serious about the idea, he could have proposed it sooner. The deadline for policy bills to pass the Senate is this Friday, and it’s a stretch to think his amendment could get due consideration in Gov Ops and on the Senate floor.

But he did have a serious point, and I have to say I agree with him.

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Great

Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Molly Gray kicked off the new week with an Endorse-O-Rama on the Statehouse lawn. She’s won the backing of 15 Democratic/Progressive Senators, including Senate Majority Leader (and President Pro Tem-in-waiting) Becca Balint.

Which is great. But it means she didn’t get endorsed by eight members of the majority caucus. Not so good.

The abstainers include fully half of Chittenden County’s delegation: unsuccessful Lite-Gov candidates slash grudge-nurturers Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram plus Michael Sirotkin. The rest include some of the most senior and most centrist of Senators: Bobby Starr, John Rodgers, Alice Nitka and Jeanette White.

The final absentee is the most surprising: Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina. I’ve tried to reach him, and will update this post if/when he returns my call.

The roster of Senate abstainers is not a good look. But it has more to do with the foibles of Vermont’s Worst Deliberative Body than it has to do with the merits or demerits of Young Ms. Gray.

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Sue Minter did worse than I thought

This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.

On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)

But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.

Now, I’m seriously rethinking that notion.

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A bad session for Shumlin, but all was not lost

The media postmortems on Legislature ’16 are rolling in, and they’re not kind to Governor Shumlin.

The Burlington Free Press’ Sunday front page has a big ol’ photo of the Guv looking nonplussed, the bright lights showcasing the furrows on his brow, with a headline reading “BIG REQUESTS FALL SHORT.” The story emphasizes his pushes for legalized marijuana and divestment from some fossil fuel stocks, which both fell short.

Over at VTDigger, the headline slyly referred to Shumlin’s legislative accomplishments as “nothing burgers,” a phrase destined for his headstone. The story, by ol’ buddy Mark Johnson, was just shy of devastating.

While the governor touted numerous accomplishments in his final late-night adjournment address — and some lawmakers did too — many who serve in the Legislature saw something different this session: a once powerful chief executive weakened by a close election, who lost support on the left when he dropped plans for a single-payer health care system, was hurt by ongoing problems with the health care exchange and then saw any remaining leverage dissipate when he announced last year that he would not seek re-election.

Indeed, Shumlin’s 2016 agenda was largely jettisoned by lawmakers. But there is another way to look at the just-concluded session. It accomplished quite a few things that went almost unnoticed in Vermont, but would have been big news almost anywhere else.

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The Progressives are kinda screwed

Whiter the Progressive Party? I don’t know; there isn’t a clear path forward, and obstacles litter the landscape. They’ve gained strength in the legislature, mainly by running candidates on the P/D or D/P tickets; but they’ve just about reached the limits of that tactic, and may have hit a glass ceiling.

The Progs are anxious to make a splash in 2016, having sat out the last three gubernatorial elections in order to give Peter Shumlin a better shot at creating a single-payer health care system, hahaha. His abandonment of that goal, barely a month after his third re-election victory, plus the Dems’ habit of triangulating to the center on a host of issues, has left the Progs in a bitter mood. They’re itchin’ for a fight, and would especially like to field a credible candidate for governor.

That’s looking increasingly unrealistic. For starters, nobody seems to want to run.

This is an unintended side-effect of the Prog/Dem strategy, which has put several Progs in positions of legislative influence. Examples: Tim Ashe chairs the Senate Finance Committee; Anthony Pollina has a bully pulpit in the Senate; organic farmer David Zuckerman is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; and Chris Pearson is vice chair of the House Health Care Committee. One could argue that the Progs have been granted more influence than their sheer numbers would warrant. Or, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats saw it’s better to have the Progs inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

And indeed, it’d be hard to give up that level of influence to make a long-odds, short-funded bid for higher office.

Compounding the difficulty is that any high-profile Progressive would likely depend on public financing. That was a difficult enough pursuit in previous years (just ask Dean Corren or John Bauer). Now, it seems to have become completely untenable.

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Have we just reached the tipping point on Bill Sorrell?

SorrellBlindersSurprising, and rather shocking, news out of the Statehouse today, courtesy of Paul Heintz:

The Vermont Senate is considering stripping Attorney General Bill Sorrell of his powers to prosecute campaign finance violations. Replacing him, according to lawmakers who support the idea, would be an independent elections oversight commission.

… “The fact that the attorney general is charged with investigating him or herself is clearly ridiculous,” says Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington), a member of the committee.

Those wanting to strip Sorrell of his authority include Dems, Repubs and Progs. No partisan witch hunt here. Two thoughts:

— This shows the breadth and depth of the Sorrell-hatred among the political class. To even propose such a slap in his face is a big deal. For all this to happen in a matter of days is pretty extraordinary. It’s like a dam breaking under pent-up pressure.

— If the Legislature has time to think about this and even write a bill, how can Governor Shumlin go on saying he’s too busy to think about it?

Sorry, a third thought: Continue reading

Bad day to be a pro-science liberal

As reported earlier, the State Senate has passed a bill that would strike the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccines. And unfortunately for my faith in Senate liberals, opposition to the measure was led — on the flimsiest of grounds — by some of the chamber’s leading lefties. To wit, David Zuckerman, Anthony Pollina, and Ann Cummings.

The bill itself faces an uncertain future. The House briefly considered ending the philosophical exemption earlier in the session and did nothing; supposedly, House leadership is disinclined to stop doing nothing, so this whole thing might have been an elaborate shadow play produced, God knows why, by Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell.

(It was he who raised this idea from the dead and allowed it to be attached to H.98, a “housekeeping” bill enacting a bunch of minor changes to various parts of state government including the vaccine registry. Thus the justification for grafting the philosophical exemption ban, Frankenstein-style, to a wisp of a bill. Kind of a crappy way to change the law, but not exactly unusual in the annals of lawmaking. Why Campbell went out of his way to do this in a very busy session, I have no idea.)

The bill passed on a very one-sided voice vote. Before that, there was a standing vote on adding the amendment to the bill; the tally was 18 yes, 11 no.

The “noes” brought together some strange bedfellows: some of the most liberal solons joined some of the most conservative in opposing the amendment.

Preceding the vote was about a half hour of rather weird debate in which some folks I usually admire came up with flimsy pretexts for their opposition. Leading this parade was Zuckerman, who offered a science-free amendment to the amendment.

On the grounds that some children may be genetically predisposed to allergic reactions to some vaccine ingredients, he proposed requiring “quick genetic tests” to screen out the allergic.

My scientist readers may be laughing their asses off right now. A “quick genetic test” to screen for allergies to the, what, hundreds of ingredients in various vaccines? As I understand it, such testing is in the very early stages of development. But even if it were well-established, I doubt it would be “quick.”

Thankfully, the Zuckerman Amendment was shot down on a voice vote.

Cummings then raised the specter of uncounted Vermont schoolchildren being forced into “truancy” because their parents refused to let them be vaccinated. She argued that in a time when student counts are in decline, we shouldn’t do something that might mean more kids are “forced out of school.”

Uh-huh. I can just imagine the legions of parents who would actually take their kids out of school rather than allow them to be vaccinated.

Zuckerman followed the same line, predicting lower student enrollments, higher taxes, and even widespread school closures because so many refusenik parents would keep their kids home.

Pollina doubled down, arguing that we shouldn’t require vaccinations because “people might move out of state” rather than see their kids vaccinated.

Okay, let’s see now. First, all our neighboring states — Massachusetts, New York, and “Live Free Or Die” New Hampshire don’t allow philosophical exemptions. So the claptrap Pollina is peddling is that legions of vaccine refuseniks will uproot their lives and move to a distant state that offers a philosophical exemption. (There are only 18 others that do.)

One of the primary arguments made by exemption supporters is that it doesn’t hurt anybody because so few people actually seek an exemption; less than four percent of Vermont parents have done so. How many of them would take the extreme step of dislocating their lives or home-schooling their kids rather than let them be vaccinated?

It wouldn’t be a mass exodus, let’s put it that way.

Zuckerman produced a map, showing that some small districts have high rates of philosophical exemptions. He said that those schools would be especially vulnerable if exemptions were limited. He contradicted himself, of course, when he argued against the idea that those districts are also especially vulnerable to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Which is it, Senator? No harm (from contagious illness), or catastrophic consequences (in enrollment)?

The three Senators were desperately grabbing at any pretext, no matter how absurd, to preserve the philosophical exemption — without coming right out and saying that they are anti-vaxxers themselves. Or worse, that they support vaccination and are merely placating the anti-vaxxers in their constituencies.

If they’d come irght out and argued against vaccination, at least they would have been intellectually consistent. The closest any of them came to such an argument was when Zuckerman asserted that “there is disputed evidence” on both sides of the issue. Which is the kind of thing we usually hear from the anti-climate change crowd: “There are arguments on both sides, and who am I to judge?”

These are people I usually admire and agree with. Today, I saw a completely different side to them — a desperate, evasive, rhetorically bankrupt side. It wasn’t pretty.

A festival of preconceived notions (UPDATED)

Update: The full Senate has approved H.98 as amended, to end the philosophical exemption. Details below.

Well, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee held a purely-for-show hearing this morning on whether to remove the philosophical exemption for vaccinations. The anti-vax crowd got an hour, and the pro-vax (I call it “science”) crowd got one.

No one’s mind was changed. And the schedule clearly indicated that “changing minds” wasn’t the purpose of the hearing: the committee held a very brief discussion immediately afterward, expressed its sentiment in favor of removing the philosophical exemption, and sent it to the Senate floor for action — immediately after lunchtime. Talk about your fast track: Committee chair Claire Ayer (good to see her back at work, BTW) had barely enough time to grab some lunch and formalize the committee’s findings for presentation to the Senate.

The committee didn’t take a formal vote because technically, all they were doing was reporting to the full Senate on a couple of key questions:

— What are the benefits and/or risks of immunization?
— How does the philosophical exemption affect the efficacy of vaccination?

Although there was no vote, each member stated their positions. Four were in favor of ending the philosophical exemption (Ayer, Jeanette White, Brian Collamore, Dick McCormack) and one was opposed (Anthony Pollina).

It’s widely believed that the full Senate will approve the measure on a pretty one-sided vote this afternoon. But the debate should be interesting, and the “No” votes may include an unusual coalition of the very liberal and very conservative.

The real action will come after today, when the House and Senate will have to resolve their differences. The original House bill did nothing to the philosophical exemption. Which chamber will carry the day? And how vociferous will the anti-vax lobbying effort be?

More on the Senate vote later.

UPDATE. The Senate has approved the amendment to H. 98 ending the philosophical exemption for child vaccinations. The vote on the amendment was 18 for, 11 against, and managed the neat trick of uniting some of the most liberal and conservative members of the body.

The issue now goes, presumably, to a House-Senate conference committee, since the original H.98 didn’t include the philosophical-exemption language.

More on all of this coming later. I think.

No, we are not moving our primary

It’s the best kind of legislative story for the media: easy to encapsulate, kicks up some dust, and isn’t going anywhere. Makes a great filler story, and lends the appearance of serious journalism without the difficulty.

In this case, I’m talking about Sen. Anthony Pollina’s proposal to move Vermont’s presidential primary to the same day as New Hampshire’s.

Lots of states have tried to do this, and it never amounts to a hill of beans. And it won’t here either, even if the idea had broad support in our legislature. Which it doesn’t.

Beyond the virtual certainty that this bill will die a quick death in committee, there are two massive obstacles in the way of an early primary.

— New Hampshire state law allows the Secretary of State to move the primary ahead of any other state. If Pollina’s bill became law, all we’d do is start a vicious circle with New Hampshire.

— Primary calendars are subject to approval by the two major parties, and neither is amenable to a change in the traditional opening — Iowa caucuses, then New Hampshire primary.

Doesn’t matter if it makes any sense or not. Iowa and New Hampshire are clearly unrepresentative of the nation as a whole, and their results have been making less and less of a difference in recent campaigns. But their status is cemented in tradition, and nothing’s gonna change. Certainly not on Vermont’s say-so.

Pollina’s bill is a bit of a sideshow, that’s all.