Before the November election, I’d planned to write a post-election piece offering my services to the Shumlin administration for the newly-created position of Shitkicker-In-Chief. The duties would include pointing out the flaws in administration reasoning, deflating egos when necessary, and the occasional loud guffaw.
The idea was based on my belief (hahahaha) that the election wouldn’t be close. When Shumlin won by a shoestring, I thought my idea was irrelevant. The election was a more effective shitkicker than I could ever be.
Seems I was wrong, because the Governor has quickly fallen back into to some bad habits. One of his worst is his almost-complete inability to admit that he was wrong about something — even if it’s something trivial. It makes him appear small-minded, overly defensive, duplicitous, and condescending.
This habit is again on display in the foofaraw over releasing documents related to single-payer health care.
For those just joining us, when the governor announced in December that he was ditching single-payer, WCAX’s Kyle Midura asked a provocative question. Here’s the exchange, as reported by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:
“Will you waive executive privilege for all backdated documents at this point related to this question so we can see what you knew when?” Midura said.
“There is nothing to hide on what we knew when, so we’d be happy to show you any documents you wish to look at,” the governor responded.
Emphasis: “any documents you wish to look at.” And Midura’s use of “this question” is generally seen as referring to Shumlin’s decision on single-payer.
Naturally, multiple media outlets made public-records requests for any related documents. And that’s when Shumlin backtracked: the administration withheld “hundreds of pages of documents related to single-payer,” reports VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld.
Shumlin says he never intended for him comments on Dec. 17 to mean that he’d release all internal communications related to single-payer.
“Now no governor ever divulges inter-staff conversations, but what we did divulge was all the data that led us to the conclusions that we came to,” Shumlin said.
Okay, I can see that point of view. But why did he promise, on Dec. 17, to release everything?
Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Sulu!
So far, we’ve heard two different explanations.
In an email to Heintz, the Governor’s legal counsel Sarah London asserted that Midura’s question referred narrowly to “the specific question of Medicaid reimbursement rates.”
On the other hand, Shumlin told Hirschfeld that he thought the question referred only to documents involved in a lawsuit by Rep. Cynthia Browning.
“Well as you know we had a fairly well-publicized court case … where we were asked to divulge all the data, studies and information about every detail that led us to the disappointing conclusions that we came to about public financing,” Shumlin said. “I assumed that his question was simply, are you going to continue to withhold that data? Or are you going to share it?”
It got even worse when Shumlin tried to clarify his position at a news conference yesterday:
“If you listen to the entire question, I answered it very clearly. And what I said was, the question I understood — I had it played back to me, so I think I got it — was, ‘Are you going to release the documents that, frankly, hadn’t been released before?’ You may recall Cynthia Browning requested them and we went to court and the court ruled in our favor. ‘Are you now going to release those documents? The documents that give us the data, all the dates, what you’ve done, all the studies?’ And I said, ‘Of course, we are. We want Vermonters to have that information.’ If you took the question as something else, you should’ve asked it that way. You didn’t.”
The Shummy Shimmy.
It’s one of his worst features: ducking and diving in a transparent effort to avoid admitting he was wrong.
I guess they could still use a Shitkicker-In-Chief.
Here’s a little free advice. Or consider it part of my S-I-C job application. Here’s what he should have said — and it’s not much different from what he did say.
“I apologize for misspeaking on Dec. 17. I should not have promised to release ‘all documents,’ because every administration needs some measure of privacy in its internal policy discussions. Any chief executive would agree with that.
“We have provided as much documentation as we can. The information we have released should be more than adequate to understanding how we arrived at our decision. I hope you, and the people of Vermont, can appreciate our position.”
There. Was that so hard?
The occasional apology would go a long way toward changing Shumlin’s image for the better. The long-term benefit would far outweigh the immediate discomfort.