Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

Two Eminently Refusable Invitations from the VTGOP Social Calendar

Oh, those Republicans. They know how to liven things up, don’t they?

Don’t they?

Maybe they don’t.

Exhibit A: An unfortunate scheduling mishap by that Master of Mishaps, Scott Milne.

Exhibit B: A “gala dinner” that promises to thoroughly underwhelm.

MeetScottMilneFirst, off, you’ve got a chance to meet 2014 gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne on Wednesday evening. Oh, pardon me, I should say Meet with SCOTT MILNE!

Which is perfectly fine, except for what else is going on Wednesday evening that might just be of greater interest to Republicans: the second Republican Presidential debate. The first one attracted some 25 million viewers; the second is likely to blow Meet with SCOTT MILNE! out of the water.

(BTW, the Vermont Young Republicans are hosting a “Debate Watch Party” at Halvorson’s Cafe in Burlington. If you’re thinking about attending, you might want to grab a bite beforehand; the eatery’s Yelp reviews are kind of dispiriting. Lots of one- and two-star reviews, with its overall rating buoyed up to three stars thanks to a handful of suspiciously enthusiastic five-star reviews.)

For our second entry, we head down I-89 to the Upper Valley, where the Windsor County Republicans will hold a “friend-raiser” on October 3 in Norwich. “Friend-raiser” not “fundraiser” because, ha ha, they want to bring in new recruits for assimilation. They will, of course, accept donations, and entry will cost you 25 bucks.

The second-saddest thing about this announcement is the fact that John MacGovern is chair of the Windsor County Republicans. This is the same MacGovern who was a complete flameout when he challenged Bernie Sanders for Senate in 2012, and who represented the party’s conservative wing in the race for party chair in 2014. (He lost to David Sunderland, who is pretty darn conservative but was Phil Scott’s choice for the gig.)

Before that, he’d spent several years heading an “organization” called the Hanover Institute, a nonprofit whose goal was to bring conservative pressure to bear against the alleged liberals who’d taken over Dartmouth College. In fact, the Institute’s sole employee was John MacGovern, and its funds basically paid his salary and expenses while he produced occasional newsletters and swanned about the country kissing conservative alumni ass.

So that’s who you’ve got leading the Republican charge in Windsor County. But the saddest thing is the event itself.

MacGovern says the “friend-raiser” will “celebrate core Republican principles” and will feature a “full-course meal” (whatever that means), cash bar, raffle, and speeches from Republican worthies.

But you’d best read the fine print.

A number of prominent Republican, conservative and libertarian speakers have been invited to attend this event, including Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Bruce Lisman, Ben Carson, and former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas.

Please note the verb “invited.” The only confirmed speaker is Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian candidate who drew a dismal 4% of the vote in the dismal 2014 gubernatorial election. He then became a Republican, and is now considering a second bid for Governor.

Somehow I don’t see the likes of Fiorina, Kasich, Lisman, Carson, and Douglas going out of their way to answer their invitations. But hey, there’ll be a “Soap Box… to all Republican candidates who show up.”

Woof. That promises a long evening of tedium.

But wait, there’s more! After MacGovern’s press release was published on VTDigger, he posted a correction: “there is no cash bar.”

Aaaarrrgh.

With friend-raisers like this, who needs enemies?

Bob Kinzel, Stenographer to the Stars

Earlier this week, even as Vermont Public Radio was (once again!) asking people to send money in support of its uniquely valuable programming, it squandered two minutes and twelve seconds of airtime on a useless bit of puffery. I’m sure Peter Welch appreciated it, but it kind of undercut the message of the fund drive.

The story, reported by Bob Kinzel, related Congressman Welch’s thoughts on the then-pending Iran nuclear treaty vote. Kinzel gave a shallow, uninsightful retelling of the background, which provided Welch a handy platform to air his views.

This is not journalism; it is stenography. It essentially served the same purpose as a press release or constituent newsletter.

The piece included two voices: Kinzel’s and Welch’s. There was no attempt to include other viewpoints. This is the simplest kind of public radio story. There are places where it’s appropriate, such as a profile piece or first-person account; in this context, it’s just a lazy way to kill a couple of minutes.

Kinzel’s been around a long time, and he does some good work. Unfortunately, he is also VPR’s go-to guy for these two-minute service pieces for members of our Congressional delegation. They follow a cookie-cutter format: Kinzel relates some background information and the Congressman or Senator provides some boilerplate sound bites.

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Pathways to Electoral Failure, Fringe Republican Edition

We have two stories today touching on a common theme: how not to appeal to the Vermont electorate. One involves a presidential candidate allying himself with a Republican moneybags with deep pockets and imperceptible electoral appeal; the other involves a young lawmaker on the rise who seems to be an acolyte of America’s Crankiest Novelist and America’s Most Notorious Ophthalmologist.

First, the candidate and the moneybags:

Yep, that’s Florida Senator Marco Rubio believing that Skip Vallee will “do great things” for his campaign. (Tweet was first noted by the Free Press’ Emilie Teresa Stigliani.) Well, Skip will probably do great things for Rubio’s bottom line. But as for strengthening his campaign, not so much. Rubio can be forgiven for not knowing the details of Skippy’s political rap sheet, being from Florida and all. But just in case he’s reading this blog, God only knows why, let’s do the numbers.

The high point of Skip Vallee’s political career was when he donated enough money to the Bush 2004 campaign to wangle himself the ambassadorship to the Slovak Republic. Aside from that, Skipper’s political career has been purely a figment of his own imagination. In his only bid for elective office, Vallee lost the 2000 race for State Senate in Chittenden County, despite what must have been the most expensive State Senate campaign in state history: he spent $134,000. And still lost.

Vallee has never run for office again — although he keeps hinting and nosing around, as if he can’t believe his proven unpopularity.

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Riddle me this, Gasman

On Friday, I had to drive from Montpelier to Burlington. And, since gas is always more expensive in the Queen City and environs, I made sure to fill the tank before I hit the freeway.

But when I got to Burlington, what to my wondrous eyes did appear?

Gas was cheaper. Anywhere from five to 15 cents a gallon cheaper than in Montpelier.

Huh.

This hasn’t happened in, I don’t know, roughly forever. Gas is always more expensive in Burlington.

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.

Still, no matter how loud Bernie gets, they’ve never actually gone lower than adjacent markets.

So what could have caused this historic price drop?

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Trial Balloon Of The Day — UPDATED

Warning: This is pure speculation. It’s not even a rumor. No substance whatsoever. But it’s irresistible. And somewhat believable.

Update: It’s not pure speculation anymore; a prominent backstage figure in Vermont politics has openly put it out there. See below.

So I was talking with an administration functionary about, y’know, this and that, and talk inevitably turned to who might run for governor next year. And a name came up that I hadn’t even thought of, but that makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Peter Welch.

The longtime Congressman would immediately sweep aside the rest of the field. Even Phil Scott wouldn’t dare. No Democrat would challenge him; they’d all immediately stampede to the congressional race.

But why would Welch do this? He can stay in Congress as long as he wants to.

Well, let’s make the case. Entirely my speculation here, but follow along, just for the heck of it.

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Okay, so that happened.

Surprise, surprise: Peter Shumlin won’t run for re-election next year.

Many more thoughts to come, but here’s the instant reaction.

It’s the right move, but I wasn’t sure he was capable of making it. He would have had a very, very tough time winning back the voters next year. If he’d managed to right the ship on Vermont Health Connect, and if this year’s legislation had begun to make a difference, he would have had a shot at winning a fourth term. Even so, it’d be an uphill battle.

I say “I wasn’t sure he was capable of making it” because it’s awfully hard for a politician to leave the game, and it’s hard for a politician as accomplished as Shumlin to leave with the Scott Milne embarrassment as his last electoral act. In stepping aside, Peter Shumlin shows a wisdom and perspective that many didn’t think he had.

His image was worse than the actual person. This decision shows that there’s an authentic Peter Shumlin that doesn’t measure life by political wins and losses. He has no interest in a political future; he plans to leave his East Montpelier manse and return to Putney. I expect he will do that. And though he’ll certainly continue to have a public life, I think he’ll be true to his word: no more campaigns, no more full-time public service.

— He’s waved the white flag on single payer health care. In his speech, he mentioned health care reform as the one area of failure for his administration. If he thought he could resurrect single payer between now and 2018, he might well have run for re-election.

— This gives the Democratic Party a clean slate. Without Shumlin on the ticket, it could be a very good year for the Democrats; it’s a Presidential year with either Hillary Clinton or (haha) Bernie Sanders atop the ballot, and Pat Leahy presumably running for re-election. We should have a substantial and very Democratic turnout. Sad to say, but Shumlin would have been a net negative.

— This is bad news for the VTGOP. They won’t face a wounded incumbent with a long track record and personal unpopularity; they’ll face a candidate with substantial experience (see below) and with a full 18 months to fundraise and put together a top-notch campaign. And even if there’s a spirited Democratic primary, 2010 has shown that that isn’t a bad thing.

— The Republicans really blew it in 2014. If they’d run a real candidate, they would have won the corner office. If Phil Scott has any real ambitions to be Governor, he’s gotta be kicking himself right now.

— The Democrats have an incredibly deep talent pool. I could name you half a dozen eminently qualified candidates without any trouble. There’s been a logjam at the top for quite a while, what with our extremely senior Congressional delegation and our very capable statewide officeholders (well, Pearce, Hoffer, and Condos anyway — three out of four ain’t bad) and our sclerotic state senate. By contrast, of course, the Republicans’ talent pool is more of a puddle, aside from Phil Scott.

Early favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination? House Speaker Shap Smith. If he can get the Democratic caucus behind him, he’d have a big advantage at the grassroots level and he’d be very, very tough to beat. And he did a great job during this year’s legislative session of threading a very narrow needle, being an honest broker, and subtly creating a political persona of his own.

More thoughts to come, I’m sure. I welcome your comments below.

Peter Shumlin, Tough Guy

One of my least favorite things about our incumbent Governor* is his tendency to adopt Republican talking points, thus giving them a validation they don’t deserve. It’s sometimes called “kicking the hippies” — talking tough about Them Damn Liberals, in an attempt to self-position as a reasonable centrist.

*Same is true of many Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama and the Clintons, which is why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can seem so refreshing.

"If one more person says 'G'day, Mate' to me, I swear, they're gonna get such a punch."

“If one more person says ‘G’day, Mate’ to me, I swear I’m gonna ball ’em up.”

So here he comes, by way of Administration Secretary and Hatchet Man WIth An Adorable Accent Justin Johnson, doing a little light sparring with the public-sector union punching bag.

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson issued an edict to agency and department heads Tuesday that all new hires within the executive branch must be approved by his office.

The move, according to a memo Johnson sent to agency and department heads, is the result of signals from the Vermont State Employees Association that it is not willing to work with the administration on finding $5 million in personnel savings called for in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget proposal.

Yeah, really. How dare the VSEA react exactly how you’d expect them to react?

100 times out of 100, a union is going to balk at reopening a signed contract and acceding to personnel cuts. That’s What They Do. It’s the first round in the dance: management takes hard line, union takes hard line, they get together and work things out.

Johnson knows this. But he very publicly reacted to VSEA’s predictable “Fight Back” petition with a summary judgment: “The petition indicated that the union will not deal with the administration on labor savings.”

The petition indicates no such thing. VSEA is simply staking out a strong opening position for the inevitable deal-making. The administration did the very same thing by incorporating cuts in pay and staffing into its budget.

So why is Johnson going straight from the opening salvo to the dreaded Declaration Of Impasse? Because it makes the administration look serious about cutting spending.

Most of the conversation around the Statehouse these days is about tax and fee increases. Shumlin’s budget called for a mix of new revenue and spending cuts. The last thing he wants is for the public debate to center on the former and ignore the latter. So he sent out his H.M.W.A.A.A.* to stomp on the other end of the seesaw.

*pronounced “HIM-wah.”

He could just as easily, and more productively, said something like “We understand the VSEA’s interest in protecting its members. We do not welcome making cuts, but we believe that Vermont’s budget situation requires it. We look forward to working with the union to find ways to save money while preserving a strong, vibrant state workforce.”

But that wouldn’t have accomplished the mission, which was to make the administration look tough.

This would be nothing more than a harmless bit of political theater, except that it provides tacit support for a Republican talking point: that public sector unions are the enemy of the taxpayer. Shumlin does the same thing when he insists that Vermonters are Taxed Enough Already, or when he tries to cut social service programs, or when he frames health care reform not as a social justice issue, but as an economic growth initiative.

In doing so, he cedes the rhetorical ground to the Republicans. It gets him a bit of short-term shine as a Tough Guy and an Unconventional Democrat, but it hurts the liberal cause in the long run.

Plus, it makes me grind my teeth, and my dentist says I should stop that.

Postscript. Just in case there’s any confusion, I made up the quote under Mr. Johnson’s picture.