Tag Archives: Bob Helm

The Good Senator from ALEC

An unknown number of Vermont Republican state lawmakers are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organization that promotes model legislation for statehouses across the country.  The most recent estimate came from State Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), ALEC’s state chair, who figured there were about 20 Vermont lawmakers on the ALEC rolls.

Which is about one-third of all Republicans in the Statehouse.

But of all those 20-odd people, there’s one who has benefited from ALEC’s largesse more than any other Vermonter. And you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is.

Kevin Mullin, Republican from Rutland, not especially known for being a hardliner. Indeed, like a beige house with beige trim, his blandness is his most distinguishing characteristic. Well, that and being Norm McAllister’s clueless roomie.

(The Rutland area seems to be a hive of ALEC activity. In addition to Mullin and Helm, Sen. Peg Flory is also on the ALEC list, as are a couple of former Rutland-area lawmakers. Is it something in the water?)

We can’t tell exactly how much Mullin has dipped his snout into the ALEC trough because for the past several years, the group has refused to release information about its members, its “scholarships” and free travel to ALEC meetings and conferences, usually held at top-flight hotels and resorts.

See, it became too embarrassing to its beneficiaries.

But the figures are still out there for 2009 and before. And boy howdy, has Sen. Mullin cashed in.

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What if Phil Scott loses?

In my second-most-recent post, I listed all the bad news visited upon Vermont Republicans over the past few days. I ended by asking “What if Phil Scott loses?”

I’ll get to that question, but in the meantime, WCAX released its own poll showing Scott with a seven-point lead over Sue Minter, which has triggered much rejoicing Chez Phil.

In his lede, WCAX’s usually reliable Kyle Midura made an unwarranted inference: since the VPR Poll had shown a statistical dead heat, the TV poll shows that Scott is “pulling ahead.”

Which, c’mon now. These are two polls from different organizations with possibly differing methodologies. (We don’t know because WCAX hasn’t released any details. VPR has disclosed all of that.) Drawing that direct a line between the two polls is misleading at best.

What we have are two data points. One (VPR) from an in-state academic polling outfit, one (WCAX) from a New Jersey-based for-profit firm.

Pollster Paul Braun engaged in some speculation that ought to unnerve those placing a lot of weight on his survey. He credited the WCAX gubernatorial debate for driving Scott’s alleged momentum — when, in fact, debate audiences tend to be very small, and the impact of debates on public opinion is also small. (Unless you pull a Trump, of course.) There is no evidence to support Braun’s assertion.

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Bob Helm’s blurred face gets more unwelcome airtime

Hey, remember State Rep. Bob Helm’s (R-ALEC) star turn in a hidden-camera video? The one recorded at an American Legislative Exchange Council meeting at a tony Savannah resort?

The one where he happily acknowledged that his expenses had been comped by lobbyists? And further, that he had solicited lobbyist donations for other lawmakers to attend the conference?

Yeah, well, the video has gotten another airing on Atlanta’s Channel 11, which has done a follow-up to its earlier piece on the toxic combo platter of lobbyists, lawmakers, big money and secrecy that characterizes an ALEC conference. This time, investigative reporter Brendan Keefe documented ALEC’s inadequate and misleading response to his original report. He used the opportunity to re-air some absolutely wonderful footage of his encounters with ALEC officials and his ultimate eviction from the hotel — where he was a paying guest — by uniformed sheriff’s deputies doing security for ALEC.

The video is recommended viewing. But here’s a transcript of a key passage, in which Keefe tries to interview a guy who ought to be prepared for such an eventuality — ALEC’s Vice President of Communications, Bill Meierling. The encounter takes place in the opulent lobby of the Hyatt Regency Savannah Hotel, and Meierling’s obvious discomfiture at being buttonholed by a persistent reporter is just wonderful.

Keefe: Can we do an interview with you?

Meierling: Actually, no.

K: Why not?

M: Um, if you’ll please turn the camera off.

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The political significance of the state [bleep] chair

First it was Seven Days, and now it’s VTDigger, reporting on State Rep. Bob Helm’s hidden-camera appearance in a TV report about the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the organization that spreads conservative policy ideas and provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers nationwide.

Helm was attending an ALEC conference when he was buttonholed by someone he didn’t know was a TV reporter. He told her he was “the state [bleep], the state chair of ALEC,” and acknowledged that lobbyists had helped pay the freight for him and numerous other lawmakers.

The reporting raises questions of ethics and influence-peddling; but to this Political Observer, the most interesting aspect is the growing influence of ALEC in Vermont Republican circles.

Helm boasted to VTDigger that “he has ‘revved up’ the ALEC chapter in Vermont and has boosted the number of members to 20, up from four just a few years ago.”

I’d love to see that membership list. I’ve heard, for instance, that Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, who tries very hard to position himself as a moderate, is an ALEC member. That may or may not be true, but Wright did push very hard in this year’s session for a bill banning teacher strikes — an idea that’s been promoted by ALEC in other states.

But the bigger point is, 20 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a substantial fraction of the Republican legislative caucus.

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