Tag Archives: Brian Campion

The importance of diversity: three object lessons

Diversity is a lot more than a liberal feel-good cause, a way to shoehorn visible minorities into public and private institutions just for the sake of it. Or just to disenfranchise white heterosexual men.

When universities argue against affirmative action bans, it’s not because they’re lefties; it’s because they realize a diverse student body (and faculty) makes their institutions stronger.

When I look at a political contest and see two roughly equivalent candidates, I give preference to the woman, the minority, the member of the LGBTQ community, because their perspectives make our politics better.

We have three object lessons from this week’s news, two right here in Vermont, each illustrating the importance of diversity.

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Low-carbon sausage making

A resolution to put the Vermont Legislature on record as acknowledging the scientific fact of climate change stalled out this morning, amidst a thick procedural fog. All parties retreated to home base, in hopes of tweaking the language and moving the bill

"The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It's four elephants, and turtles all the way down!"

“The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It’s a flat earth carried by four elephants, and then turtles all the way down!”

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony from four experts plus John McClaughry. The latter cast plenty of aspersions and did his best to sprinkle a pinch of doubt into the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and that We Humans are contributing to it.

He did say at least one true thing: “I’m not a climate scientist.”

Aside from that, he slammed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a political body mired in scandal; mocked climate modeling as a simple matter of picking a convenient endpoint, referred to “the extreme storm business” as a tool of profit-hungry corporations*, implied that resolution sponsor Brian Campion was a tool of VPIRG, and characterized climate change claims as “exaggerated beyond the bounds of ethical practice.”

*Since when does John McClaughry not believe in profit???

Gee, John, don’t hold back. It’s bad for your blood pressure.

As for the experts, Dr. Gillian Galford of UVM’s Gund Institute reported that 97% of the scientific literature agrees that “climate change is happening and is due to human actions.” She walked through several charts that showed the facts of climate change from the global level (everywhere on the planet EXCEPT the northeastern U.S. had an unusually warm winter) to the local (Joe’s Pond ice-outs are happening later and later).

Perhaps the most interesting testimony came from Jody Prescott, retired U.S. Army Colonel and adjunct prof at UVM. He called climate change a “threat trend” of significant concern to the military for its potential impact on global stability, and said that if we fail to address climate change, it “reduces our chances for military success.”

Which might not float your boat, but it’s a valuable perspective to hear.

The other witnesses were environmental activist and UVM freshman Gina Fiorile, and the puppet master himself, Paul Burns of VPIRG.

After the hearing, the committee spent about 45 minutes tossing the resolution around like a rag doll. Most of the objections came from Sworn Enemy Of Wind Power John Rodgers and wind skeptic Diane Snelling.

Frankly, my sense is that both of them don’t want to vote “yes” on the bill, but don’t want to vote “no” either.

Snelling offered a vaguely-couched but insistent objection to a clause acknowledging that Vermont has fallen short of its carbon reduction goals. Which, of course, it has.

Well, to be precise, our carbon production increased during the Nineties and early Aughts and then declined. We’re now roughly where we were in 1990. Which is nice, but our statutory goal was a 25% reduction. Oh well, another statute ignored.

Rodgers can’t see beyond his concern with the siting process. He won’t support a resolution encouraging more action toward carbon reduction if it might mean additional ridgeline wind in his pristine Northeast Kingdom. (I haven’t heard him object to Bill Stenger’s massive brace of EB-5 projects, but there you go.)

Rodgers wants energy projects to be subject to Act 250 — and more. He wants them sited “as near the end-users as can be.” Gee, I wonder how he feels about the massive energy imports we make from Hydro Quebec, currently our primary source of “renewable” energy — and about the likelihood that more transmission lines will be built if we don’t develop our own renewable sources.

Anyway, I’m not arguing that John Rodgers makes sense. I’m just reporting that he won’t support a nonbinding resolution unless it includes language about siting reform and a reliance on “Vermont-scale projects” or something like that.

What struck me is that very few sensible Vermonters are willing to overtly deny climate change. Almost everyone (except John McClaughry) will acknowledge that it’s a problem we need to address — but then they throw obstacles in the way. We don’t want to increase costs, we don’t want to imperil any unspoiled spaces or view sheds. We can’t do anything that’s not in the vaguely-defined Vermont Way. We’re too small to make a difference. In the end, it boils down to this: they see other things as bigger priorities than climate change. Which means they’re not serious about climate change.

Back to the resolution. Committee chair Chris Bray finally decided to table it with the intention of refining the language in time for a committee vote tomorrow (Thursday).

Afterward, Campion expressed surprise that his resolution sparked so much opposition. “I thought it was a slam dunk, and it wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t know how much I’m willing to bend, to be honest with you. I’m okay with a few tweaks, but if it were to change the intent, forget it.” He’d rather have a 3-2 or 4-1 vote on something like his original resolution than a unanimous vote for a watered-down version.

But if we have to fight this hard for a simple nonbinding resolution, how in hell are we ever going to effectively address the onrushing threat of climate change? Or, as Campion put it:

What’s been interesting [about serving on Natural Resources] is how much I’ve learned that we as Vermonters are not doing.  We pat ourselves on the back, beause we do some amazing things. But when you look at not meeting our carbon reduction goals, you look at Lake Champlain and other bodies of water, we still have a lot to do. We have a lot to accomplish, and we’ve got to be very serious and focused on it. 

Shumlin may have lost the center, but the worst damage was on his left

Much of the post-election analysis has concluded that Governor Shumlin’s extremely narrow apparent victory is a repudiation of his more progressive policies (esp. health care) and that, in response, he’ll have to move toward the center.

There’s some truth in that. On health care, for instance, I really believe he’s got to get Vermont Health Connect up and running before he can expect anybody to support any kind of single-payer plan.

It'll take more than  free food to win back the base.

It’ll take more than free food to win back the base.

However, there’s ample evidence in the unofficial election returns for a very different analysis: the Governor would have sailed to an easy re-election if he hadn’t lost the left wing. There were sizable numbers of liberal voters who (1) stayed home or (2) cast protest votes for Scott Milne, Dan Feliciano, or a write-in. (They felt safe doing so because Milne was such a weak candidate, ha ha, that nobody felt the need to cast a defensive vote for Shumlin.)

As for #1, turnout hit an all-time record low. ‘Nuff said. Conservative voters were motivated, liberal voters were uninspired. The rest of this post will explore #2.

Previously, I cited the vast difference between Shumlin’s vote total and Congressman Peter Welch’s. In the final unofficial results (posted Saturday on the Secretary of State’s website), Welch received a total of 123,349 votes.

Shumlin got 89,509.

That’s a difference of nearly 34,000 votes. To put it another way, more than one-quarter of all Welch voters did not vote for Peter Shumlin.

That’s a stunning figure. But wait, there’s more.

I checked Shumlin’s totals in four Democrat-friendly state Senate districts: Bennington, Windham, Orange, and Washington.

In the Bennington district, Gov. Shumlin got 6,522 votes. He badly trailed Dem incumbent Dick Sears, who got 7,965 votes. That’s over 1400 Sears supporters who did not vote for the Governor.

In the solid blue Windham Senate district, the Governor’s home turf, he was outpolled by Sen. Jeanette White, the top vote-getter for two Senate seats, by a margin of 7777 to 6758.

More than a thousand votes lost, in the county he’s lived almost his entire life.

In Orange County’s Senate district, Shumlin trailed incumbent Democrat Mark MacDonald by 561 votes — MacDonald’s 3797 to Shumlin’s 3236. Which was virtually identical to MacDonald’s margin of victory over his Republican opponent, Bob Frenier.

In fact, if Frenier had equalled Scott Milne’s total and MacDonald had equalled Shumlin’s, the Senate seat would have flipped to the Republicans. So a sizeable number of Orange County voters split their tickets, opting for the Milne/MacDonald combo platter.

In the three-seat Washington County district, Shumlin drew 9,173 votes. That’s almost 2,000 behind top Democrat Ann Cummings (11,167) and 1300 behind Prog/Dem Anthony Pollina (10,474).

Reminder: The Prog/Dem Pollina was, by far, the most liberal of the Senatorial candidates in Washington County. He was believed to be vulnerable to a strong challenge from Republican Pat McDonald. In the end, Pollina was re-elected by a substantial margin.

Governor Shumlin trailed Anthony Pollina, ardent supporter of single-payer health care and higher taxes on the wealthy, by 1300 votes. Those numbers undercut the dominant narrative, that this election’s message was to go slow and move to the center. Pollina ain’t moving to nobody’s center.

Add those four districts, and Governor Shumlin lost more than 5,000 votes compared to the top Democratic Senate candidates.

In short, if the Governor had simply held onto his base, nobody would be talking about a Scott Milne squeaker.

In addition to all these numbers, I can tell you that every liberal I’ve heard from since Tuesday has told me stories about diehard Democratic voters who simply could not bring themselves to vote for Shumlin. That’s anecdotal evidence, but there’s a lot of it around.

I’m sure the Governor lost plenty of votes in the center. But he shouldn’t take this election as a mandate to shy away from progressive policies, and Republicans should be cautious about claiming 2014 as a mandate for them. This election was less about ideology than it was about disappointment in and distrust of Governor Shumlin.

The left wing of the Democratic Party has had its doubts about Shumlin from day one. He was seen as more of an opportunist, a triangulator, than other Democratic contenders in 2010. He placated the left by touting his opposition to Vermont Yankee and promising an all-out push for single-payer health care. During his two terms in office, he has done little to earn the respect of the left, and done much to forfeit their trust. His 2013 push to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit was seen as a betrayal on the left, as was his continual opposition to any sort of tax hikes on top earners. The awful performance of Vermont Health Connect is a mortal threat to single-payer.

If he wants to make a comeback, establish a legacy for his governorship, and perhaps try to run for a Congressional seat one day, he would be well advised to make peace with Vermont liberals instead of turning himself into Phil Scott Lite.

p.s. Yeah, I know, there are lots of liberals who already see him as Phil Scott Lite. Particularly “lite” on the perceived honesty and integrity of our Lieutenant Governor.