Tag Archives: Bob Hartwell

Revenge of the Slummin’ Solon

Aww, just when I thought we were rid of the guy, his tainted legacy comes back to haunt us.

GalbraithI speak of the person formerly known as The Most Hated Man in the Senate, Peter Galbraith. In a building full of people convinced that their shit don’t stink, he stood out for his towering self-regard. He saw himself as a master lawmaker and deal-broker, when in fact he was an egotistical meddler always willing to block the process if he thought things could be done better.

By which I mean, of course, that things should be done the way he wanted them done.

One of his more notorious episodes is now making life more difficult for his former Senate colleagues, who now have to relitigate the aid-in-dying law because of a classic Galbraithian power play.

Back in the spring of 2013, after an exhaustive debate across multiple sessions, the state legislature was poised to enact a bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to seek lethal medication under strictly controlled conditions. The version that passed the House was modeled on Oregon’s successful law.

The Senate vote was expected to be very close. And at a crucial moment, Galbraith and another guy I’m pleased to call “former Senator,” Bob Hartwell, forced a radical rewrite of the bill that basically stripped away all the controls and protections. Galbraith was the driving force behind the idea; he wanted aid-in-dying without any state controls. The idea appealed to no one else, but he refused to budge. In the end, a House-Senate conference committed settled on a Frankenstein monster of a bill that imposed Oregon-style protections at first, but is set to remove them in the year 2016.

It was a ridiculous bill, but it did get aid-in-dying onto the books. And by all accounts, it’s been a success so far: very few people have used it, and even fewer have actually taken a fatal dose, but it does provide a safety valve for those truly in extremis without posing any visible danger to anyone else.

It works. But because of the Galbraith-Hartwell maneuver, the bill has to be reopened this year. Otherwise, we’d enter a Wild West situation, as the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami outlines:

If the law is not changed, physicians will no longer be required to tell patients in person and in writing of their diagnosis, prognosis, range of treatment options, risks of taking medication and probable result of taking medication.

Nobody wants that. But thanks to Galbraith and Hartwell, the issue has to be reopened. This week, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee held a hearing on a bill that would continue the current protections beyond 2016. This has given opponents of aid-in-dying a second crack at killing the legislation. According to Goswami:

… opponents of Act 39 will look to repeal it and have allies in the Legislature who will sponsor amendments with that purpose when the legislation to keep the safeguards hits the Senate floor.

Great. We spent endless hours debating aid-in-dying and arrived at a substantial consensus. The resulting bill has worked as intended. But now, in a session already overloaded with contentious issues like the budget, taxes, Lake Champlain cleanup, education reform, and health care, we may have to live through a repeat of the 2013 debate.

And we have Peter Galbraith and his running buddy Bob Hartwell to thank for that. I really, really hope we’ve seen the last of those two assclowns.

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Senate Natural Resources: Addition by subtraction, at the very least

On Friday afternoon, the white smoke went up the chimney of the State Senate’s College of Cardinals — the three-man (yup, still no women in the club) Committee on Committees* who dole out the committee assignments.

*John Campbell, Phil Scott, Dick Mazza. 

The most closely-watched decision was over the chairmanship of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Former chair (ahhhhhh) Bob Hartwell chose not to run for re-election last year; his chosen successor is Addison Democrat Chris Bray.

Hartwell famously cast doubt on the science of climate change last spring in an interview with Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

“To suggest that mankind is causing the whole climate to shift, that’s a big reach,” he added. “I don’t think anybody’s ever proved that.”

When Heintz pointed out that, in fact, it had been proven by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hartwell cast doubt on the IPCC’s credibility, accusing it of making “some pretty extreme statements” and claiming the scientific community is divided on the question, which is complete balderdash.

Compare that hot mess to Bray’s position, as reported by VTDigger’s John Herrick:

“Climate change is the largest challenge we face, not just as legislators but as a species,” he said. “There are some pretty discouraging predictions out there about what will happen, but we can’t afford the be paralyzed by that uncertainty.”

That’s better.

The other notable addition by subtraction on Natural Resources is the departure of human popgun Peter “The Formerly Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, whose main contributions were strident opposition to wind power, a short temper, and frequent grandstanding. Good riddance. He’s effectively been replaced by Brian Campion, Democrat from Bennington, who scored 100% on the Vermont Conservation Voters’ 2013-14 environmental scorecard. 

The other three Natural Resources members were reappointed: Diane Snelling, Mark MacDonald, and John Rodgers. Snelling’s one of the better Republicans on environmental issues, MacDonald is reliable if uninspiring, and Rodgers is one of the worst Dems on the environment; he and fellow Kingdom Democrat Bobby Starr earned a pathetic 38% from the VCV, the lowest scores of any Senate Dem. But without Hartwell and Galbraith, he’ll be a lone voice on the committee.

Bray scored 100% on the VCV scorecard for the last biennium (Hartwell got a dismal 50%); his elevation to the chairmanship is getting positive markers from the environmental community. Paul Burns of VPIRG:

Chris is a very thoughtful, methodical legislator. He considers issues carefully and is receptive to hearing from all sides of an issue. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have his own ideas or vision. He cares a great deal about the environment and he not only believes in climate change, he wants to do something about it.

Those on-the-record views were largely echoed by a Statehouse vet who requested anonymity.

Chris has a strong streak of environmentalism. He is committed to the issues [his committee] will be involved in. He is deliberate, and likes to hear from all sides.

He won’t be a renegade; he’ll be a team player. He won’t cause problems [for Senate leadership]. He’s generally good on the issues; the environmental community should be happy with his appointment.

The enviros’ big worry was that Rodgers might snag the chair, which, given the CoC’s stacking of the 2013-14 committee with some of the worst possible Senators, wasn’t an unreasonable fear. So they’re relieved to get Bray instead. In an ideal world, their favorite would have been Prog/Dem David Zuckerman, but that would’ve been too much to expect from this particular CoC.

Chris Bray’s dedication to environmental issues, and his even temperament, will be tested in the new session. His committee will have to tackle the issues highlighted in Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural — a new renewable energy program for Vermont utilities, and the Lake Champlain cleanup.

His own district is touched by multiple hot-button environmental issues: Champlain, the Vermont Gas pipeline, and the siting approval process for solar arrays. The latter, because the Champlain Valley’s relatively flat landscape makes it desirable for solar. He’ll be torn on the pipeline and solar, since some very vocal advocates are on one side of those issues, and the local business community is on the other. And if he supports Gov. Shumlin’s package of Champlain initiatives, he’s likely to feel some blowback from farmers and developers his district.

He may also be torn between his own environmental beliefs and whatever’s rattling around in John Campbell’s brain these days. We shall wait and see.

A slight but perceptible bend in the glass ceiling

The House and Senate Democrats will caucus tomorrow (Saturday) in Montpelier to choose their nominees for leadership positions. It’s been radio silence on the Senate side, which I take as a bad sign, but some news has come out of the House.

And for gender equity fans, the news is good.

As you may recall, Vermont does very well on gender equity in the House, less well in the Senate, and very poorly in statewide elective office and Congressional seats. Like, for instance, we’ve never sent a woman to Congress. Which is, well, shameful.

Back to the House, where Shap Smith will return as Speaker; but the new House Majority Leader, according to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, will be Sarah Copeland Hanzas of Bradford. What’s even better for equity’s sake is that the other candidate for the post was also female: Kesha Ram of Burlington. Having two women in line for the House’s number-2 slot is a very good sign.

Ram dropped out, per Heintz, citing the need for geographic balance. She will apparently fill a new post, “caucus election chair,” which is being created to sharpen Democratic messaging and lend a hand to House candidates.

Those developments, plus Kate Webb returning as Whip, mean that women will be heavily represented on the House leadership team. And whenever Shap gets tired of herding cats, the next Speaker may well be a woman.

Over in the Old Farts’ Club, er, I mean the Senate, I’m not feeling the gender-equity love. I’d be very happy to be proven wrong, but I’m expecting the leadership in Vermont’s Most Stagnant Deliberative Body to remain pretty much the same.

I love my little gavel, but this job is sooooo hard.

I love my little gavel, but this job is sooooo hard.

By all accounts, John Campbell will keep the job as President Pro Tem in spite of the fact that he isn’t very effective unless he has a nanny to keep him in line. After the disastrous 2012 session, he hired Rebecca Ramos as his chief of staff, and things improved. She’s now a lobbyist, and according (again) to Paul Heintz, Erika Wolffing will take the job.

Wolffing was a Shumlin administration fixture who went to the Democratic Governors Association when Shumlin became its chair. Now that Shumlin is out at the DGA, Wolffling will reportedly become the hand that rocks Campbell’s cradle.

Which leaves me wondering why we let him hang around when he (a) apparently can’t handle the job without a lot of help and (b) openly supported Republican Phil Scott and seized every opportunity to shit on Dean Corren. But maybe that’s just me.

I’m sure the status quo will remain in the Phil Scott Fan Club, er, I mean, the Committee on Committees, the body that makes all the committee assignments. Phil Scott himself is a member by law, as is Campbell. The third, elected by the full Senate, is, was, and ever shall be Dick Mazza, a putative Democrat who was extremely vociferous in his support for Phil Scott.

Which leaves me wondering why, when the Dems have a nearly 2-1 majority, we have to settle for nominal Democrats on that very powerful committee.

The Democratic caucus will see some change with the none-too-soon departures of Bob Hartwell and Peter Galbraith, but I’d be surprised to see much happen with the leadership. It’d be nice, but I ain’t holding my breath.

Finally, for those who think I’m too mean to Mr. Campbell, here’s a little tidbit from last March. Campbell had stuck his foot in his mouth by openly doubting the prospects for single payer health care and talking about pursuing some alternative plan. (Bear in mind that Shumlin was still riding high at that point.) This reportedly enraged the governor. And a few days later, Campbell appeared on WDEV”s Mark Johnson Show and tried to walk back his earlier statement.

It was a complete fiasco. At one point Johnson asked him this question: “You dropped something of a bombshell this week that you want to start pursuing an alternative to the Shumlin health care plan. Why?”

And here, really and truly, was his answer in all its obfuscatory glory.

First of all, I guess it’s a question of how you define what my “bombshell” is. I think some people have taken it to mean what they really, what they want to hear from what I said. And basically, my, uh, my position is this, is that we are headed right now as far as the Legislature, we are going to be focusing on making sure that we have a publicly-financed, universal access to health care in this state, and that’s known as Green Mountain Care. As far as I’m concerned, I consider it Green Mountain Care, it’s a universal access program. Um, um, I charged my, in fact we spoke about it here on this program at the beginning, I think at the beginning of the session, how I had asked all of my committees with jurisdiction to start doing their due diligence under Act 48, which was the, back in 2011, which actually started Green Mountain Care or our, ah, our, ah, move to that.  And so what I did was, I asked each one of the committees that would have jurisdiction, which were five of those committees, and they were to um look and see what exactly is in Act 48 and can we actually achieve what our goal is?

And if they found things that um, through their, uh, their research and through taking testimony, that could either change this into a direction and put us in a direction that we were going to uh have this Green Mountain Care would be sustainable, then I wanted to hear about it and I thought that’s really what the Senate is doing now. So uh the fact of the matter, uh, I believe there was a statement was, um, regarding the funding, and whether or not I believed that, I think I said that, uh, the $2.2 billion dollar package that’s been put on there right now, I said I do not think that that was sustainable or viable in this, uh, current legislative — uh, Legislature. And I stand by that.

And what it, what I’m talking about in that, and people always take that $2.2 billion dollar figure, and they believe that that’s all new money. And it’s not new money. What it is is partially savings that would be found, uh, by way of not having the premiums, um, by cost savings, and so I stand by the fact is that once we find out what this financing package is, which would also first identify what the product is gonna be, um, if we do not have sufficient — if that money, um, is new money, then there’s gonna be a problem. But if we show, and we’re able to demonstrate that the money in that $2.2 billion is currently already in the system, and that Vermonters are already paying, uh, and on top of that, that we find those costs for any new money that’s — cost savings for any new money that’s coming in, then we’re, we have, I think, ahh, what we envision, all of us envision, that is to make sure that every Vermonter has full access, or access to. uh, uh, to great health care here in the state.

Good God almighty. What a statesman.

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

Audio accompaniment to this blogpost:

Well, good ol’ “Bitter Bob” Hartwell, outgoing Republicrat Senator from Bennington, has left his fellow Senators a parting gift: the op-ed equivalent of a flaming bag of poo, entitled “What Senate Democrats Must Do.”

Hartwell’s public statements have shifted to the right in recent months, starting with his infamous skepticism about climate change and continuing through his comments to VTDigger last week that the Democrats have gone too far to the left:

“There’s too much spending, there’s too much social engineering, going on. Our party is getting out of line,” he said.

His opinion piece is more of the same. It reads as though it comes, not from the moderate Democrat he claims to be, but from somewhere to the right of Phil Scott. Indeed, it’s a big fat sloppy wet kiss to the Republican Party, delivered one week before Election Day. I’m sure the timing is coincidental, cough, hack, choke.

Bitter Bob, doing research for his opinion piece.

Bitter Bob, doing research for his opinion piece.

He accuses the Democratic Party of becoming “more ideological and, therefore, less effective and more poorly focused on the real issues.” By which he means, the “real issues” that concern Bitter Bob Hartwell.

He then slaps around Democrats and the Shumlin Administration for the “poor rollout of Vermont Health Connect” and says “The Legislature must determine to put an end to the single payer scheme unless it can clearly show significant savings…”

A reminder: There are two goals in advancing single-payer. One is to bend the cost curve, and the other is to provide universal access to health care. If Bob is only interested in the former, well, I’m glad he will no longer represent the Democratic Party in the new biennium.

Then he gets to property taxes and school funding, which “inexcusably, the Legislature has done virtually nothing to control…” Remind me: wasn’t Bob Hartwell in the Legislature himself?

Also, in one badly-written sentence, he appears to endorse Scott Milne’s proposal for a freeze on property taxes.

Then he takes a dump on the Senate Education Committee for “a most unacceptable performance” in failing to address the issue to Hartwell’s satisfaction. He’s talkin’ to you, Dick McCormack, Don Collins, Phil Baruth, Bill Doyle and David Zuckerman.

Somehow I don’t think Bitter Bob was talking to his colleagues this way when the Senate was still in session and his words could have had some impact. Indeed, it’s hard to tell from this essay that Hartwell was a fairly influential member of the Senate majority instead of an innocent bystander.

He then slams “Vermont’s intoxication with large scale renewable energy,” which fits in with his doubts about climate change. It also buttresses his self-congratulatory impulses, as he upbraids the Senate for refusing to pass his bills to create new obstacles in the path of renewable energy.

After that, it’s on to the core Republican talking point: “Vermont continues to spend too much money,” especially on social services programs, and bitches about “throwing money at problems” in a way that’s straight out of the Angry Jack Lindley playbook.

Hmm. Angry Jack and Bitter Bob. The worst Vaudeville act ever.

And then Hartwell rants about something that’s only a major issue in his own mind: the legislature’s failure to repeal the Bottle Bill, which, he says, wastes money, contributes to carbon pollution*, and “shoves businesses… into New Hampshire.” And he takes a gratuitous slap at VPIRG — or, as Hartwell puts it, “one so-called ‘research’ group.”

* Which, according to Bob himself, isn’t really a problem.

The “get off my lawn” ranting continues for several more paragraphs, in which he bemoans the fact that nobody in the Senate is as wise as Bob Hartwell and unleashes a bunch of howlers, including:

— The Senate fails to act “as a team,” and instead pursues “the interests of each committee with little understanding of the effect… on the state as a whole.” Considering his hijacking of the Natural Resources Committee in pursuit of his favored hobbyhorses, that’s pretty rich.

— Vermont should be more like New Hampshire.

— Our economic doldrums have nothing to do with national trends, “but rather by policies internal to Vermont.”

— Dean Corren is a liar.

Yeah, that’s one huge stinking flaming bag of poo. Thanks, Bitter Bob, for giving us a farewell gesture that reminds us all how lucky we are that you’ve decided to get outta Dodge.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Fear and Loathing in the State Senate

Really well-reported piece by VTDigger’s Laura Krantz on the fact that more Democratic state senators have endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott than his Prog/Dem challenger Dean Corren. (Current tally is 7 Scott, 5 Corren, and 9 hiding under their desks. Including fellow Prog/Dem Tim Ashe, who should be ashamed of himself.)

The thesis, as provided by Prog/Dem Dave Zuckerman, is that Senators are afraid to cross the entrenched Senate leadership, particularly the three-man Committee on Committees. (And I do mean “man.”) The Committee has one pivotal function: making committee assignments, including chairmanships. The Committee, by law, consists of (1) the Lieutenant Governor, (2) the Senate President Pro Tem, and (3) one other Senator, chosen by the entire Senate.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith's good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul "Shutterbug" Heintz.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith’s good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul “Shutterbug” Heintz.

#1 is Phil Scott. #2 is John Campbell, a self-described Democrat who loudly supports Scott. #3 is the apparently untouchable Dick Mazza, a nominal Democrat who openly supports Scott, hosted a Scott fundraiser, and made a hefty donation to Scott’s campaign. (And who, earlier this week, delivered a gratuitous slap to Governor Shumlin at a ceremonial event. The balls on that guy.)

As Zuckerman put it:

“The maneuvering for committee assignments is a big deal … and all three members have publicly supported Scott,” Zuckerman said. One senator told him he or she was not endorsing anyone because of committee assignments, Zuckerman said.

Loyal readers (Hi, Mom) know that I’m no fan of the State Senate’s entrenched power structure and its impenetrable air of clubbiness. I am particularly not a fan of John Campbell, who brings a unique combination of arrogance and passivity to the role.

But boy-o-boy, he’s full of fire when it comes to Dean Corren, who maybe spat in Campbell’s oatmeal in the State House cafeteria.

Campbell called Corren a “one-issue candidate” and disingenuous for seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor even though he had hard feelings for Democrats when he served in the House from 1993 to 2000.

Yeah, well, Corren has campaigned strongly and consistently on at least FOUR issues — health care, climate change, renewable energy, and encouraging entrepreneurialism — so Campbell is wrong there. As for things Corren said more than 15 years ago, Jeezum, can’t a guy learn from his mistakes?  Nobody batted an eye over Vince Illuzzi’s campaign for Attorney General, in spite of an extremely spotty ethics record in the 80s and 90s.

Back to the main point, which is fear of being banished to the Committee on Mumblety-Peg and Other Childhood Pastimes. No one is admitting to a fear-based endorsement (or non-endorsement), but several Senators offered Krantz some truly unconvincing reasons for their stands on the Lite-Gov race.

Ginny Lyons is not endorsing. She says it’s because she “believes in a two-party system.”

“As much as we support the Progressive concepts and ideas, when you’ve got three people running it splits parties up,” she said.

Yeah, except in this race, you don’t HAVE three people running. In fact, you have a candidate who won the Democratic primary fair and square, and won the endorsement of the state party committee, which you’d think would be as interested as Ginny Lyons in maintaining Democratic primacy.

Of course, Lyons has first-hand experience with the Committee on Committees: she chaired the Natural Resources Committee for an entire decade, but was removed without explanation in 2012 in favor of Good Old Boy Bob Hartwell. Now she’d like to win back her former post, but she’ll have to earn the favor of Campbell, Mazzas and Scott to do so.

Michael Sirotkin, the Senate’s junior member, begged off because he is “too fixated on his own race to endorse.” As if it would occupy more than five minutes to make an endorsement.

The same excuse sounds even more transparent coming from Jeanette “I’m focusing on my race” White, whose re-election is a virtual certainty because there are no Republicans or Progressives on the ballot in her district. 

Profiles in courage.

Oh, and Peter “The Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, still firing shots on his way out the door, slammed Corren for not being a Democrat (as though Galbraith was any kind of example of party loyalty):

“If you’re not going to run as a Democrat, you’re not going to get the Democratic endorsement,” he said.

Well, actually, Pete, he IS running as a Democrat, and he DID get the Democratic endorsement. He just didn’t get yours. And besides, didn’t you just endorse Republican Roger Allbee for a Democratic nomination in your district? That didn’t seem to bother you.

As a liberal who wants to see small-P progressive policies,and wants the Democrats to use their well-earned political muscle to move the state to the left (just as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan used their muscle to move the nation to the right), the State Senate’s combination of stasis, timidity, and self-satisfaction makes me ill.

There are plenty of good people in that chamber, I know for a fact. But the institution as a whole needs to be turned upside down and shaken until all the junk falls out. We should begin by dumping Dick Mazza from the Committee on Committees, and while we’re at it, finding a new President Pro Tem.