Tag Archives: Bob Kinzel

The Inaugural Address: A pretty good start

The speech by Governor Shumlin — which he billed as the first of two parts — included some welcome elements. It left a lot unsaid; presumably he will confront property taxes, school governance, health care, and government spending in his budget address next week.

Today’s address focused on two areas: energy, and the environment. In the latter category, his primary focus was on Lake Champlain. It was, if I recall correctly, the first time he’s drawn attention to these issues in a major January speech. To me, it’s a welcome development.

It’s also an opening for him to regain some credibility among liberals. When Peter Shumlin was running for Governor in 2010, his two big issues were single payer health care and the environment (climate change, green energy and Vermont Yankee). But while his administration has made some good incremental gains on the latter issues, they’ve never seemed to get the spotlight. Now they have.

With single payer off the table, perhaps Shumlin is returning to his other signature issue and hoping to put his stamp on Vermont’s future on energy and the environment. If he can’t be the single-payer governor, perhaps he can be the environmental governor. It’s a good strategy.

The caveat, of course: Now he’s gotta deliver.

He also opened the door to raising taxes as part of the effort to close a $100 million budget gap. In a brief preview of next week’s budget address, he said this:

We cannot simply cut our way out of our fiscal challenge year after year – taking away services that are important to so many Vermonters. Nor can we tax our way out of the problem.

Which would seem to indicate that his plan will include a mix of cuts and “revenue enhancements.” I’d urge him to take a long look at the plan that nearly passed the House a couple years ago, which would have raised taxes on the wealthy (by closing loopholes and limiting deductions) and provided some tax relief to the middle and working classes. I say “nearly passed the House” because it was stopped in its tracks by Shumlin’s stubborn opposition.

As for the details on energy and the environment:

The centerpiece on energy is a new renewables strategy, as the current (and, in some circles, controversial) SPEED program is sunsetted in 2017. The Energy Innovation Program is aimed at further boosting our investment in renewables and energy efficiency. Shumlin called the EIP “our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals.”

Sounds good. We await the legislative process with anticipation and a bit of trepidation.

On Lake Champlain, Shumlin came up with a decent-looking package. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s better than anything he’s offered before. He realizes, as he told the legislature, that if the state fails to meet EPA muster, we’ll face some burdensome federal regulations.

His plan includes:

— New transportation funding to curtail runoff and erosion around our roads and streets.

— New funding and technical assistance for farmers and loggers, to help them meet water-quality standards.

— More thorough efforts to enforce current water quality regulations.

— Making a change in the Current Use program, which would take away that tax break from farmers who fail to reduce pollution.

As for funding, his plan includes two new fees: One on agricultural fertilizers, and one on commercial and industrial parcels in the Champlain watershed.

The revenue would go into a newly created Vermont Clean Water Fund, a repository for state, federal and private funds. The first private money, he announced today, is a $5 million donation (over the next five years) from Keurig Green Mountain, which Shumlin called “a company that depends upon clean water.” He expressed the hope that KGM’s generosity will “inspire others.”

If he can leverage substantial donations from the private sector, his plan could accomplish quite a bit without too much stress on the state’s bottom line. Maybe enough to get the EPA off his back, at least for a while.

From this liberal’s point of view, it’s a good start. But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel said today, the Governor effectively served us dessert before dinner. Next week’s budget address will be a much less appealing dish. Plenty of mushy steamed vegetables scattered around a hunk of gray meat.

Beyond that, well, actions speak louder than words, and we’ve heard plenty of words from this Governor in the past. The political question is: Can he deliver on this agenda in a way that will repair his reputation for effective governance and bring liberals back into the fold? He can; but will he?

The Good Ship Milne runs aground

Oh dear. Oh wow. That debate last night. (The gubernatorial debate on VPR featuring Governor Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano, and the Liberty Union’s Peter Diamondstone.)

Lots to talk about, but the main takeaway is this: Scott Milne is losing it. His performance was so bad that, I hear, it sparked some back-channel sentiment among Republicans to get him out of the race and leave it to Dan Feliciano.

I don’t think that sentiment will turn into action, because in the long run it’d be more embarrassing to have no Republican candidate than to have a really bad one. But still, it shows you how bad it was.

How bad was it? The Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen, in referring to a question Milne asked of Governor Shumlin, characterized it as a “strange question.”

And she was right.

It’d be fun to provide a tally of how many times Milne said that an issue was “complicated” or that he was “running a campaign of ideas” without providing any ideas. But a couple of excerpts will, I think, give a more complete sense of the debacle.

After a couple of opening-round questions, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask a question of one of their fellows. Milne made a complete botch of it:

Milne: I’ve heard from four different people that therte was an emergency sort of last-minute called meeting Saturday night after that debate with Democratic leaders in Windsor County that you attended. I’m just curious, at that meeting, how many folks that were there to sort of help you regroup after that debate worked for the state directly or worked for nonprofits or advocacy groups that are funded by state dollars prinarily?

This is the question Remsen called “strange,” and she was dead-on. Shumlin’s response?

Shumlin: Scott, I’m totally unaware of what you’re talking about. I can tell you what I did after the Tunbridge Fair, I went up and spoke with state employees, the VSEA, in Killington, I made one other campaign stop, and I went to the Windsor County Democratic dinner in Hartland. It was a very good event, and I went home. So the meeting you’re referring to did not happen.

Milne: Okay, my bad. Thank you.

Moderator Bob Kinzel: No follow-up question for that?

Milne: Nope.

Do I have to explain how awful that was? In a four-way debate, Milne would get few opportunities for a direct interaction with the Governor. He took is best chance and blew it on a hot rumor he’d heard about an alleged event that didn’t happen, and even if it did, what the hell difference would it make? The best he could have hoped for was that Shumlin would decompensate and admit he’d had a secret powwow to strategize a counterattack against the Milne Menace with a roomful of state employees. And then what would Milne have? A “gotcha” moment that would do nothing to illustrate policy differences between the two.

As it was, he looked like a fool.

Next, Shumlin asked MIlne a question. He noted that Milne repeatedly calls Shumlin “radical and progressive.” He then ticked off several of his initiatives — universal pre-K, college tuition, downtown revitalization, fighting opiate addiction, and the GMO bill, among others — and asked Milne which ones he disagreed with.

And here, in all its incoherent glory, is Milne’s response.

Milne: Since you used all my time asking questions, I’ll try to be brief. I also want to give a shout out to Peter Diamondstone, just so the listeners know, Peter and I are doing this without notes. Dan’s reading questions from a paper, as is Governor Shumlin, so I’m happy to answer questions with my brain, not with what I wrote down ahead of time to bring into the test.

I think the GMO labeling bill is a good example of the radical, progressive management of a bill by your administration.

Shumlin: Would you repeal it?

Milne: I didn’t say I’d repeal it. I’m not entirely positive I would have vetoed it if I was in your shoes.

Shumlin: So you’re against it but you’re for it?

(I have to pause here and just say I really hope, purely for the entertainment value, that there’s a one-on-one debate between Milne and Shumlin sometime during the campaign. It’d truly be a Bambi vs. Godzilla moment.)

Milne: No, no. Um, I could do the flip-flop thing on you. I’m running a debate on ideas, I’m running a campaign of ideas, I’m not doing the sound bite flip-flop stuff. You flip-flopped on, you know, you’re totally doubling down on single-payer on Tuesday when you’re with your Democratic announcement, then you’re on a statewide radio program three days later, and you’re not going to go forward with it unless it’s goig to be good for the economy, so if you want to do the sound bite kind of campaign, we can do that.

What I said very clearly is, you managed that bill in a radical, progressive way. We could have gotten the same results in a much more business-friendly way that would have done great things to contributing to a business-friendly environment in Vermont which would be good for business, which would be good for government, because government is funded by business.

Yyyyyyyeah.

All I can say is, if you can listen to that mess and conclude that Scott Milne is your man for Governor, then I’ve got no words.

VPR gives Peter Welch a big fat sloppy wet kiss

Well, that’s four and a half minutes of my life I’ll never get back again.

This morning, VPR’s Bob Kinzel delivered himself of a lengthy (by modern public radio standards) piece devoted to a subject that was already in the realm of clear, obvious, unquestioned fact: Congressman Peter Welch likes to work cooperatively with people from both parties.

Everybody knows that. It’s an occasional source of irritation to Vermont liberals, who’d like to see a bit more fire and brimstone from the guy. So why did we need a news story exploring a settled question?

The host’s intro to the piece was all you needed to hear:

Congressman Peter Welch has one of the most liberal voting records in Washington. At the same time, he’s one of the few Democrats to work closely with some of the most conservative Republicans in the House. VPR’s Bob Kinzel has the story.

What followed was four minutes and thirty-eight seconds that added nothing to the above statement. It was one person after another complimenting Welch on his bipartisan spirit and willingness to work with even the most conservative tea-party nutbars in the Republican caucus.

This piece took a great deal of effort on Kinzel’s part. He got quotes from former Governor Jim Douglas, two very conservative Republican members of Congress, and a Congressional correspondent for the beltway publication Roll Call, plus some file tape of Welch at a committee hearing. You don’t often hear that many different people in a single public radio piece.

And for what? To re-establish a universally known fact?

Who came up with this story idea anyway? And how did it get through VPR’s notoriously painstaking editorial process? There was no “news hook” — no current event that shines a spotlight on Welch’s collaborative proclivities.

Plus, it seems inappropriate to send an unvarnished love letter to a person who’s currently running for re-election, for God’s sake. If I were Mark Donka, I’d be complaining vociferously to VPR for broadcasting what amounted to a lengthy advertisement for Peter Welch’s political virtue.

But most of all, it was a complete waste of time for a skilled reporter, VPR editors, and me, the listener.