Tag Archives: David Sharpe

Teacher strike ban in line for a rework — at least

Among all the contentious issues facing this year’s legislature, one has made a surprising, and enduring, appearance near the top of the list. Everyone seems to have suddenly decided that teacher strikes are a scourge of our system, and must be put to an end.

This, in spite of the fact that teacher strikes are only a little bit more common than hen’s teeth in Vermont. We would seem to have much bigger fish to fry, but apparently not.

Last week, the House Education Committee approved a bill that appeared even-handed at first glance: H.76 would ban teacher strikes, and would also bar school boards from unilaterally imposing contract terms. The bill sped through the committee without so much as a single amendment, passing on an 8-3 vote.

(The four Democrats who voted “yes” along with all four Republicans, for those keeping score, were Sarah Buxton, Kevin “Coach” Christie, Emily Long, and Ann Manwaring. All four hail from districts on or near the Connecticut River, if that means anything.)

The bill is now pending before the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, which is responsible for labor-related legislation. And members of that committee are not at all happy with H.76 in its current form. They believe the bill is weighted heavily toward the school boards and against the teachers, and they want significant changes.

H.76 was a subject of conversation at Saturday’s Democratic State Committee meeting. Speaker Shap Smith, as I reported previously, said the bill “will not pass the House in its present form.” And Rep. Tom Stevens of Waterbury, a member of the General Etc. Committee, said H.76 is “not a labor-friendly bill,” and that it “has a million problems.”

I caught up with Rep. Stevens afterward, and asked him what’s wrong with H.76.

This bill says that we will get rid of the right to strike and we will get rid of the right to impose a contract by the school boards, and we will replace it with this somewhat drawn-out process, and it could take eighteen months rather than what we have now.

And there’s the rub. Eighteen months is as good as forever in contract talks. Teachers couldn’t be saddled with an imposed contract, but they might have to work for a year or more under a continuation of their old deal.

…if the teachers can’t strike, they go back to work and they don’t get a pay increase, they don’t get a step increase, their health benefits will remain the same. … So they’re taking a very serious financial hit, and yet the school boards are not penalized equally.

As originally introduced, the bill created an even-handedly draconian process for resolving impasses: mandatory binding arbitration. But that language was struck somewhere along the way, and replaced with a potentially lengthy process of fact-finding and mediation.

The bill’s path through the Education Committee, according to Stevens, was awfully quick: “They only took three hours of testimony, and they passed the bill as it stands.” And it moved at warp speed despite the opposition of committee chair David Sharpe, who was one of three “no” votes on the bill. You’d think he could have done more about this if he cared. To be fair, he’s had an awful lot on his plate this session; he might have let this go through to avoid a fight, secure in the knowledge that it could be amended later on.

The General Etc. Committee had already taken up an earlier version of H.76, but now they’ve taken it back. Stevens:

…we had a reintroduction to the bill because it was way different. We took testimony Friday, we’ll probably take more testimony Tuesday, and then we’ll try to figure out from there what we’re going to do. We have several options, but I would say our committee is not disposed to support it as written.

The committee has several options, but not much time; it needs to act by the middle of this week. It could refuse to take up the bill; it could send it through without recommendation, it could vote the bill down — but that wouldn’t necessarily kill the bill, or at least the concept.

It’s possible we could not have a recommendation, and that’s where we would work with leadership to decide what to do with the bill, because we’re pretty certain that if this particular bill doesn’t come out, that this bill will become an amendment on the floor from another party, and then it will be discussed anyway. So spiking it isn’t really a viable option.

If Speaker Smith’s words to the DSC are taken at face value, the Education Committee’s version of H.76 will not pass the House. It could pass in amended form. That seems the most likely outcome; if the original concept was restored — no strikes, no imposition, binding arbitration — then the bill would most likely win House approval. The school boards don’t like that; as one lawmaker put it, “they’d rather have Ebola than binding arbitration.”

But if the bill sets up a dead end for the teachers and a long and winding road for school boards, it would fundamentally alter the power dynamic between unions and boards. And for what? Teacher strikes are rare in Vermont, and almost always brief. Why upset the applecart — and alienate a core Democratic constituency — to fix such a minor problem?

Thankfully, according to Smith and Stevens, it isn’t likely to come to that.

Oh boy, oh boy, it’s last-minute dirty tricks time

The Republicans are targeting potentially vulnerable Democratic lawmakers with a mailer repeating the conservative lie that the Shumlin Administration wants to “take over” Medicare.

I’ve seen two mailers, identical except for the specific candidates involved. One is for Addison County Republican hopeful Valerie Mullin, and it targets incumbent Dems Mike Fisher and David Sharpe. The other is on behalf of Republican John Mattison, who’s challenging incumbent Herb Russell of Rutland City.

The Mullin flyer bears the return address of “Friends of Valerie Mullin,” her campaign committee, but it clearly was not produced by her campaign because, as I said, it’s identical to the Mattison flyer.

I’ve only seen these two, but it wouldn’t surprise me if identical mailers hadn’t been sent in all districts where a Republican has a chance to knock off a Democratic lawmaker.

So let’s review. In Act 48, the 2011 health care reform bill, there was a provision calling for the state to pursue administration of Medicare as part of single-payer health care. This provision is what’s called “session law,” and was intended as a guideline rather than a mandate.

“In 2011, we asked the administration to entertain lots of things, but it was in the context of ‘tell us whether you can do this,’” said Rep. Mike Fisher (D-Lincoln), who was on the House Health Care Committee when it drafted Act 48.

Administration officials subsequently discovered that the feds wouldn’t allow Vermont to manage Medicare. It was impossible in any case, because Medicare for the entire Northeast is in a single administrative district. Vermont would have had to take over the entire region, which was clearly out of the question. This year, Act 48 was amended and the provision was dropped.

Which hasn’t stopped the desperate Republicans from repeating the lie. And now they’ve produced mailers trumpeting the lie.

Bottom of the barrel, guys. Bottom of the barrel.

Here’s a picture of one flyer, for your edification:

MattisonMedicare

 

The Mullin flyer is identical except for the names of the candidates.

A very coordinated campaign

The Vermont Democrats know what they’re doing.

Well, that’s not news. But when you look closely at scheduled activities for the last full week before Election Day, you realize how narrowly they’re targeting a handful of key races. And using their big guns to do so.

Is Bernie standing on a box?

Is Bernie standing on a box?

First, there was the weekend-long victory tour, headlined by Gov. Shumlin and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and also featuring Dean Corren. They stopped in Bristol, Proctor, Hinesburg, and St.Albans. Which, at first glance, might make you wonder why not Montpelier or Burlington.

Well, because they don’t need the votes there.

Bristol is the home district of two powerful state representatives: David Sharpe, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Mike Fisher, chair of the Health Care Committee, which is kind of important to the Governor’s single-payer agenda. Sharpe and Fisher face a well-funded Republican with a very familiar name: Valerie Mullin.

I don’t know if she’s related to Sen. Kevin Mullin, but a popular name is a significant advantage for a political newbie. And the Republicans are hoping she can knock out Fisher or Sharpe.

Then comes Proctor, in Rutland County — one of the key State Senate battlegrounds. Republicans are hoping that Brian Collamore can knock off appointed incumbent Eldred French and give the GOP all three Rutland County Senate seats. Democrats are hoping they can save French and get William Tracy Carris into the Senate. Or at least hold onto a seat, preventing a Republican pickup.

The third stop was in Hinesburg, which doesn’t seem like a terribly high priority. The town’s two House seats are safely Democratic. Hinesburg is part of the Chittenden County district in the Senate, with five Democratic incumbents and one Republican. The 5-1 split is likely to remain intact, although Democrat Dawn Ellis has run a spirited campaign, and Republican Joy Limoge has raised quite a bit of money. I don’t think the Dems are too worried about Limoge, but maybe they see an opening to knock off Republican Diane Snelling. Or maybe they just wanted to hold one rally within easy driving distance of the Burlington-based TV stations.

The final rally was in St. Albans, perhaps the most hotly contested community in all of Vermont. There are two Democratic incumbents in the House, Kathie Keenan and Mike McCarthy. The Republicans hope to win at least one of the seats.

And, of course, St. Albans is the population center of the Franklin County contest for two Senate seats, currently split between the parties. Republicans hope to grab both seats in November, while the Dems want to hold their ground or possibly even take both.

The point about Democratic targeting is reinforced by Gov. Shumlin’s schedule for this week. He walked in the Rutland Halloween parade Saturday night; on Monday he’s holding a press conference in Rutland and speaking to the local Rotary Club. And on Thursday, he’s holding a press conference in St. Albans.

Near the end of the week, he’s giving a pair of high-profile speeches in Burlington that should draw TV coverage: the annual meeting of the Vermont Economic Development Agency on Friday, and a fundraiser for Vermont Parks Forever on Saturday.

The Republicans, by contrast, seem to be completely uncoordinated. Not that they have anyone with the drawing power of Shumlin or (especially) Sanders; the closest thing they have to a political celebrity is Phil Scott. Not really in the same league, especially as an inspirational speaker.

And I haven’t seen any signs of any real coordination among Republicans. You’d think that Phil Scott, as the party’s top officeholder and most popular active figure, AND as the guy who wants to make the party more inclusive, would be actively engaged in some party-building and promotion of legislative candidates.

Maybe he has been; if so, it hasn’t exactly been high profile.

In any case, the main point is this: the Democrats are doing exactly what they should be doing in the final days of the campaign.