Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

Free advice for the last people on Earth who would take it

So, over at journalismjobs.com there’s an intriguing listing from my former employer:

Award-winning, locally owned Seven Days newspaper is on the hunt for a political columnist or a news reporter to join our state government team.

That’s either/or. They’re going to hire one or the other. Which means they haven’t made up their minds whether they’re keeping “Fair Game.” It’ll depend, one must assume, on the inclination of the best applicants.

Before I begin the uninformed speculation and free advice, let me make one thing clear. I have no inside information. At this point, I have less insight into the inner workings of Seven Days than I do for True North Reports, the ha-ha “news” site bankrolled by reclusive moneybags Lenore Broughton.

When I got the ziggy, I didn’t know whether they intended to keep the column going or kill it. In recent years, Seven Days has sought to distance itself from its hippie-dippie alt roots. Maybe the Peter Freyne Memorial Chair no longer fit in with the highfalutin aspirations of Vermont’s largest organ.

On the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Seven Days without “Fair Game.” Back in the bad old days, Peter Freyne was their only news guy, to use the term very loosely. The column has been a staple of the paper since practically day one.

Also, at this point it occupies a singular place in Vermont’s news ecosystem. There are no other political columnists, besides the part-time ruminations of VTDigger’s Jon Margolis. “Fair Game” remains incredibly popular — a must-read for anyone in Vermont politics or news media. That’s a lot of legacy and pageviews to surrender. Also, Vermont politics needs a good shitkicker. It’s far too comfortable a space right now.

But if they’re going to keep “Fair Game,” they need to make some decisions about what exactly it is and what their expectations are. Otherwise it’s not fair to the new hire. It sure wasn’t fair to me.

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The Paige Exclusion

Congratulations to the Vermont Democratic Party for giving perennial fringe candidate H. Brooke Paige more publicity in a few days than he could possibly earn on his own this entire year.

The VDP did so by ordering his banishment from all party events, reportedly due to impertinent and offensive comments posted by Paige on Facebook.

Mixed feelings about this. I don’t have much use for perennial fringe candidates; as far as I’m concerned, it’s too easy for people to get on the ballot and even grace the occasional debate stage without proving they hold the least bit of appeal or interest for the electorate. Waste of time and space. Detracts from direct confrontations among candidates who actually matter. That goes for Paige and for Emily Peyton and Cris Ericson and the entire Diamondstone clan.

Paige is an irritant* in all senses of the word. He runs for at least one office every cycle, sometimes as a Republican, sometimes as a Democrat, and I think as independent on occasion. He has also fomented birther claims against not only President Obama, but also Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. I can see why the Democrats would want to be rid of him. And, after all, it’s their party and they can make their own rules. Or even cry if they want to.

*Irritants produce distress, annoyance, and the occasional pearl. 

That said, their reaction seems unduly stiff.

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So, Shap.

The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.

At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.

… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.

He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.

Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.

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Randy Brock puts on the red light

Note: This post would not exist but for the work of “BP,” one of the regular contributors to Green Mountain Daily. Several weeks ago, he wrote an insightful piece looking at the dark side of the captive insurance business, which has found a receptive home in Vermont. Now, with Randy Brock citing captive insurance as a model for state policy, it’s important that we have a clear picture of the pluses and minuses of such relationships. 

Randy Brock, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, recently threw out a tantalizing hint of a forthcoming policy initiative. He claims this great idea will create $100 million a year in new state revenue.

Brock said Thursday that he was looking to promote ideas that are similar to the push the state made to corner the captive insurance market. The state created a regulatory environment to make Vermont a leader in that industry.

… In addition to captive insurance in Vermont, he pointed to examples in other states, such as Delaware, which has laws that are friendly to corporations so many register there. South Dakota, he said, has created a niche for the credit card businesses.

Brock’s call had previously been made in even broader terms, but to little notice, by gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott:

The state has enjoyed significant benefits from the renewable energy industry and captive insurance, he said. “Imagine if we had a governor’s office that treated every sector in the same way,” Scott said.

That is, frankly, a radical idea that didn’t make it through our media’s Phil Scott Filter.

I’m not sure we want to emulate South Dakota and the credit card industry, especially not in an across-the-board fashion. A “welcoming” state regulatory climate has been responsible for some outrageous, predatory practices by credit card issuers. One could also cite Liberia as a flag of convenience (and cover for outrageous practices) in international shipping, but discretion was the better part of embarrassment there.

And that’s the problem with this kind of regulatory carve-out for a certain  niche business: it’s an open invitation to a “race to the bottom,” because the most relevant enticement a state can offer is a business-friendly approach to regulation and enforcement.

The captive insurance industry looks like a great thing for Vermont. And it is portrayed as an unvarnished good by politicians of all stripes. But there is, in fact, a dark side to the industry that is rarely mentioned in polite circles.

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Terms and conditions

Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman have spent this week trying to define their positions on admitting Syrian refugees. The issue is a sure-fire hit in Republican constituencies across the country, but here in Vermont the blowback seems to outweigh the benefit.

The topline for both men is pretty much identical — a “pause” in the refugee program until we can be reassured about security safeguards. But the devil, don’tcha know, is in the details. And if you take them both at face value, they want to put the program on the shelf for a long time.

Scott makes happy noises about “a nation of immigrants” and our values and the Statue of Liberty. But look closely at his terms and conditions he presented in his essay on the subject:

…my goal is to ensure the federal program moves forward with security protocols Vermonters, and all Americans, can have confidence in.

And there’s the deal-breaker. If Scott means what he wrote, he wants the refugee program shelved until every American is satisfied. That will never happen. How can you possibly convince people who think Obama is a Kenyan and see Islam as a religion of hate?

Lisman’s position is essentially the same, but his rhetoric is angrier and his conditions are more overtly unreachable.

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The unbelievably coincident gas price roller coaster

This morning’s Burlington Free Press reports a development in the courts: attorneys for Chittenden County gas wholesalers have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging price-fixing in the market, which is dominated by a handful of outfits. Former US Attorney Tris Coffin, having traded in his white hat for a shiny black Downs Rachlin Martin number, is now spearheading the gas cartel’s defense.

Sorry, make that “the alleged gas cartel.”

This news brought to mind the latest pair of coincidences in the long and suspicious history of gas prices in the Burlington area. This past July, when the suit was freshly filed, I noted a rare happenstance: gas was actually cheaper in Burlington than in Montpelier by as much as 15 cents per gallon. This reversed the usual state of affairs, in which Burlington-area stations routinely offer some of the highest prices in the state.

At the time, I connected the obvious dots: bad publicity triggers a temporary drop in prices at the pump. Or as I put it:

For years, Bernie Sanders has been alleging price fixing by the four companies that own most of Chittenden County’s gas stations. The companies have consistently denied any collusion — although, it must be noted, they usually bring down their prices for a while after Bernie kicks up a fuss. And then quietly goose them back up once the heat’s off.

Well, it’s happened again. The suit’s been out of the headlines for a few months, and whaddya know, the vast majority of Burlington-area gas stations are charging 10-15 cents more per gallon than their Montpelier counterparts.

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Vermont Republicans: Not buying the snake oil

This week, the Castleton Polling Institute released a presidential poll of Vermont voters. The number that made headlines: Just as many Republican voters favor Bernie Sanders as any Republican candidate.

The actual result: Bernie’s in a three-way tie with Donald Trump and Ben Carson among Republicans, at a measly 12%. (It’s also worth noting that Hillary Clinton gets 4% support among VT Republicans.)

That’s interesting. But to me, there are two more notable takeaways from the poll.

First, Vermont’s Republican electorate remains splintered and undecided. The fact that no candidate got more than 12% is awfully telling. The real winner is “Not Sure,” with 28%. In other words, Vermont Republicans are thoroughly underwhelmed by what they’ve seen so far. I mean, 16% of them are backing a Democrat, for goodness sakes. That’s almost half who can’t settle on a Republican candidate.

Second, the state’s Republican electorate is relatively immune to the blandishments of snake-oil salespeople.

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