This was the happy scene yesterday as Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel peremptorily ended discussion on the housing portion of the FY2024 budget, which makes no provision for extending the motel voucher program that currently shelters 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. Kitchel herself seems excited; the rest of them look like they’d rather be anywhere else.
This morning saw a much more celebratory occasion, as the House quickly dispatched Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act. And much as I hate to rain on the majority Democrats’ victory parade, I have to wonder why they couldn’t spare just a tiny bit of their abundant political capital to avoid the imminently avoidable humanitarian crisis that will unfold if the voucher program ends on schedule.
The 107-42 override vote in the House was an impressive display of political power. The Democrats easily walked over a governor who, at last check, enjoyed a 78% approval rating among the voters.
And yet, on the voucher issue, legislative Democrats made common cause with the Scott administration and threw 1,800 of our most vulnerable households under the bus. It’s a point of comparison that cannot be ignored.
Apologies for the mixed metaphors, but I’m so mad I can’t write straight.
The House-Senate budget conference committee has yet again refused to extend the motel voucher program that’s currently sheltering 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. In so doing, they ignored the pleadings of a small group of determined small- and capital-P progressives who say they won’t vote to override a gubernatorial veto of any budget that fails to address our crisis of homelessness.
And in so doing, they worked hand-in-glove with the Scott administration. I can say so because conference committee member and, God help us all, chair of the House Human Services Committee, Theresa Wood, said so: “This has been a collaborative process with the Agency of Human Services and the governor’s office.”
Great. No collaboration with housing advocates, then? No contact with the lawmakers threatening to withhold support for a budget plan that manages to combine the cruelty of Ebenezer Scrooge with the unctuousness of Uriah Heep? Nope, they confined themselves to working with an administration that has been adamant about its intent to kill the voucher program and damn the consequences.
And at almost the precise moment when this “collaborative process” came to fruition in the discussion-free approval of the new housing budget, I got a fundraising text from Vermont Democratic Party chair David Glidden urging me to support their fight against “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans [who] ae determined to sabotage us at every turn.”
Well, at every turn except when the Democrats eagerly collaborate with “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans.” If I harbored any notion of opening up my wallet to the VDP, it vanished instantly. I hope anyone else who was thinking about a donation will instead make a gift to their local homeless shelter. Fuck the Democrats.
Anne Lezak is about to step aside as chair of the Vermont Democratic Party after a very consequential year-plus on the job. She’s doing so of her own free will, in order to carry on with her work in Uganda. She and her husband Dr. Harry Chen, currently interim commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, spent a year in Uganda in 2017. He helped establish the country’s first residency in emergency medicine, and she worked for Hospice Africa Uganda, one of the continent’s leading training centers and providers of palliative care.
Lezak recently became chair of the board of HAU’s American arm, Hospice Africa USA. She and Chen have been aiming to return to Uganda for some time, and they plan to do so in early March. They will leave their current positions by the end of February. “We are both returning to beloved organizations we were working with,” Lezak said. “It was amazing. It was life-changing.”
Still, she wouldn’t leave the VDP if she wasn’t certain that it was “in very good hands.” She pointed to numerous accomplishments: a historically successful 2022 campaign season, the building of a strong and cohesive party staff, and party vice chair David Glidden, “a great partner throughout,” whom she has endorsed as her successor. That will be decided at a state committee meeting in late February. Lezak calls Glidden “the future of the Vermont Democratic Party in every good way.”