Tag Archives: Dick McCormack

Wanted: A Few New State Senators. Or a Lot.

Well, I guess there’s at least one group with a worse seniority problem.

The Vermont Senate, as has been noted in this space, is a temple of tenure. It’s almost impossible to defeat a sitting senator; the only time we get a new one is when someone voluntarily retires. That rarely happens and, as a result, the Senate just keeps getting older and older.

How old? Average age of the 30 senators is 63.4 years. There are only five senators under age 50; there are 14 over 70, and 11 who are 75 and older. There are two others in their late 60s, which means we have a Senate majority past retirement age.

And the oldest wield the most power. The average age of the 11 policy committee chairs is 72.1. Brian Campion is the only policy chair under 64. Yep, that chamber loves it some seniority.

This has some unfortunate effects. First, there’s often an airless quality to the Senate’s work. It is an entity apart from the real world — or even those rambunctious young’uns in the House. (Senators often treat the House with open contempt.) Second, senators are often out of touch when discussing issues of concern to young people like digital technology, child care, substance use, rental housing, and workforce development. Third, well, it’s really hard to get the Senate to take a fresh look at anything or contemplate a change in How We’ve Always Done It.

Sure, tenure has its benefits. They know their way around the building, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some, including Dick Sears, Bobby Starr, and Jane Kitchel, bring decades of experience and deep knowledge of their policy beats.

But in any organization, you want a mix of young and old, new and tenured. The Senate is terribly skewed toward age and seniority. It’s long past time for some serious turnover. Will 2022 be the year we get it? I sure hope so.

After the jump: Naming some names.

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The second dumbest political statement of the year (so far)

Nice try, Governor Shumlin, but you didn’t quite manage to equal State Sen. Dick McCormack’s comparison of Norm McAllister to Jesus and Socrates. But it’s not for lack of effort.

Speaking about the Legislature’s whirlwind effort to lift or repeal spending limits for school districts, the Governor actually said this (according to the Free Press):

“We have no time,” Shumlin said last week. “We don’t have time to debate whether we can find the smartest way to do this for this year.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Stop thinking and pass something!

I’m reminded of a famous saying. Something about fast, cheap and good.

The apotheosis of Norm

It’s only six days into the new year, but I think we have a front-runner for Dumbest Political Statement Of The Year. Take it away, State Senator Dick McCormack:

“Adjudication is not supposed to be democratic,” he said. “Jesus was put to death by the will of the majority. Socrates was put to death by the will of the majority.”

That is how the Orange Windsor County Democrat explained his vote against the expulsion of Norm McAllister, self-admitted sex criminal.



Oh my.

You know, if the first rule of political discourse is “Take it easy on the Hitler talk,” then Rule Two ought to be “Think twice before comparing anyone to Jesus.”

I mean, c’mon. First of all, to compare Norm McAllister, in any way, shape, or form, to two of the great men* of history is, well, let’s just say unfortunate.

*Or one great man and one God in human form, take your pick.

But even leaving aside that rhetorical absurdity, I’m afraid McCormack has a foundational problem and a historical problem as well.

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Fear and loathing under the Golden Dome

Funny thing. The more time goes by since last Thursday’s inaugural protest, the more fearsome and dangerous it seems to become.

We haven’t had any single item more outrageous than Sen. Dick McCormack’s employment of that fine old epithet “fascist.” What we have had is a proliferation of exaggerated characterizations and inconsistent rationales for why the Vermont Workers’ Center went too far.

At first, the ire was mainly concentrated on a single incident, in which a lone protester entered the chamber singing and chanting over the benediction. Regrettable and stupid.

But apparently Our Elected Leaders realize that that one incident fails to justify their reaction, because they’ve been using their creative powers to devise new ways the protest crossed some invisible boundary. I suspect that by the end of the month, the protest will be described as a cross between the Chicago riots, the nude scene from “Hair,” and the supercharged zombie attacks from “World War Z.”

The Inaugural Protest. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

The Inaugural Protest. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

Anyone who’s experienced real political turmoil would have to admit that the VWC was remarkably restrained. They did not, as many media outlets have reported, “disrupt” or “interfere with” the proceedings.

I listened on the radio, and I heard very little of the protesters — and I heard no interruptions in the proceedings. If those in attendance couldn’t hear, they could have asked that the sound system be turned up.

Recently, we’ve heard that some lawmakers felt uneasy about proceeding into the House chamber through a crowd, even though police officers lined their path. (And even though there was no hint of any violent intent by the protesters.) Indignant lawmakers have stopped referring to the benediction incident in favor of overly-broad depictions of the protest as loud or disruptive, which is only true if the expectation is library-standard quiet. We’ve heard references to possible fire-code violations — in a building whose last major fire was, I believe, in 1857. (We haven’t heard a peep from the police or the Sergeant At Arms about the fire code; that’s all come from opportunistic Republicans.)

Today we had the unedifying spectacle of Republican lawmakers threatening to walk out of the Governor’s budget address on Thursday should the protesters return, on the transparently specious grounds that they fear a stampede in case of a fire. Hell, those protesters are probably better organized than the assembled dignitaries. I suspect they’d be fully capable of calmly proceeding to the nearest egress.

We’ve also heard a whole lot of blaming the protest for potential security upgrades at the Statehouse. Which is ridiculous. First, because the protesters did not pose a threat to anyone with an ounce of common sense. And second, because enhanced security has been on the table for quite a while now — and will inevitably penetrate the hallowed halls. Because that’s just the way the world is these days. To blame it on that protest is utterly disingenuous.

Most of all, we’ve heard repeated appeals to respect and dignity and civility.

What this is really about is a set of crusty old traditions about the Statehouse. Voices are generally lowered, at what might be termed a “power mumble.” (It’s hell for old radio guys like me, with moderately compromised hearing.) There’s an unspoken expectation that men shall wear button-down shirts and ties. VWC members have one strike against them from the gitgo, since they dare to wear red T-shirts while roaming the sacred halls.

Playing by the unwritten rules is important to Statehouse regulars. The longer they’ve served (McCormack, a total of 22 years), the more wedded to Statehouse mores they become. And the more they resent it when the outside world dares to intrude.

They call it the People’s House, and accuse the protesters of disrupting the People’s business. But they themselves want everyone to treat it like a cross between a museum and a mausoleum.

It’s too bad when democracy — the People’s real business — gets a little messy and intrudes on what some consider sacred space. But I don’t feel sorry for them, not at all.

And those traditions? Throw ’em out with the trash, if you ask me.

Everybody loves good ol’ Phil

I think I’ve identified the source of Lake Champlain’s outbreak of blue-green algae: last week’s party in Senator Dick Mazza’s Corvette-laden “garage” on behalf of Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. Enough horseshit was generated to feed an algae bloom for months.

I’m sorry I missed it. Guess my invitation got lost in the mail. Fortunately, the Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen was there, and made the Mazza Tov the centerpiece of her Phil Scott profile in the Sunday paper. From her account, I extract a few gems…

The Republican lieutenant governor glad-handed Republicans, Democrats, lobbyists and business leaders…

I guess Good Ol’ Phil won’t be a supporter of VPIRG’s campaign finance reform agenda. Just a guess.

“It is great to see such a bipartisan crowd,” [former Governor Jim] Douglas observed. He wasn’t surprised, he said, noting, “Phil Scott is the kind of Vermonter who doesn’t worry about someone’s party label.”

Immediately thereafter, Douglas revealed himself to be the kind of Vermonter who DOES worry about party labels:

Douglas urged the crowd to help re-elect Scott to “make sure we don’t have lopsided government.”

As I have observed before, should we be electing people based on affirmative action? Or should the onus be on Republicans to craft a message that actually resonates with the Vermont electorate?

Oh wait, here comes Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell, who was on hand to offer his almost-not-quite-nudge-nudge-wink-wink non-endorsement.

“I’m here to support a friend,” Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, said as he stood near Scott in the Corvette showroom. Campbell qualified his support, saying, “I’m not raising funds for Phil.”

Isn’t that nice. I guess I shouldn’t think of this as treason.

No, I guess not, because as Campbell says, he’d support a real actual Democrat for Lieutenant Governor, but he won’t support Progressive Dean Corren even if he wins the Democratic nomination. Campbell just can’t overlook Corren’s long-ago “bashing” of Democrats, even though today’s Corren has definitively foresworn any and all Dem-bashing, promises to work hand-in-hand with Democrats, and is much more politically aligned with Governor Shumlin than is Phil Scott. But I guess Campbell, like Jim Douglas, is unfortunately obsessed with party labels.

Also on hand, making excuses for their Phil-anthropy, were State Senator Dick McCormack and Burlington Democrat Ed Adrian. McCormack “acknowledged that his views on many issues are probably closer to Corren’s, ‘but what I’ve done with Phil really counts for a lot.'”

Awwwww, how thweet. As for Adrian, well, he offered his own variation on the VTGOP’s affirmative action theme: keep Phil around as the token Republican.

If Democrats occupy every position of power, they are just going to fight among themselves. What is wrong with having a moderate, token Republican who would frankly be considered a Democrat elsewhere in the country?

Sorry, Ed, color me unconvinced. What’s wrong with having a “token Republican” in the Lieutenant Governor’s office is that, as a member of the Senate Rules Committee and the tiebreaking vote on legislation, he could become a significant roadblock in the push for single-payer health care and campaign finance reform. And I am unmoved by the fact that Scott would be considered a Democrat in West Virginia or Nebraska. It’s like Roger Allbee running for a Democratic Senate seat in Windham County: he may be a liberal Republican and he might make a really good Senator from, oh, Rutland County or the Northeast Kingdom, but he’s too centrist for the Windham electorate. Same with Scott: he’d be a fine Lite-Gov if it were entirely a ceremonial position, and he’d be a breath of fresh air in Montana or Wyoming, but as Lieutenant Governor of Vermont he’s a potential obstacle to Governor Shumlin’s top priority. Which is why Shumlin has all but endorsed Dean Corren.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had the chance to fall under the up-close-and-personal spell of Phil Scott’s charms*, but I don’t get the Scott fetishism among so many of our Democratic officeholders. It’s reminding me quite a bit of the Vince Illuzzi fetishism of two years ago. Nobody gave Doug Hoffer much of a chance because he was a Progressive, and a rather abrasive one at that, while Everybody Loved Vince.

*Maybe it’s his private-label cologne, a bi-attractant blend of pleasing moderation with rich, manly undertones of racing fuel and asphalt. 

Except when it came Election Day, it turned out that the inside-the-Dome crowd didn’t represent the electorate as a whole. I’m hoping the same thing happens with Corren, for the sake of single-payer’s prospects in the Senate, and in order to drive another stake into the heart of the old-boys’ network, go-along-get-along atmosphere that beclouds our Most Stagnant Deliberative Body.

It’s time to grab the State Senate by the ankles, flip it upside down, and give it a damn good shake

Poor, poor Democratic State Senators. They face such a difficult decision.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, they’ll have to choose between their longtime colleague, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, and his Progressive challenger Dean Corren. The usually reliable but somewhat clubby Sen. Dick McCormack:

Then the question is who would you cross party lines for? Phil is a friend I’ve worked with for years, work well with. And Dean, the public financing is very admirable I have tended to agree with him on most issues so for a lot of us I think it creates a real dilemma.

Okay, wait. I’ll admit I don’t have a dog in the tired old Dem/Prog slapfights — I wish they’d each get over themselves — but McCormack thinks that supporting a Progressive and supporting a Republican are equally tough? C’mon now, which party is more closely aligned with yours on policy questions? You’re honestly having trouble choosing between the guy who’s in line with your party’s biggest policy priority (single-payer health care) and whose very campaign highlights your party’s concern with money in politics, and the guy whose party is opposed to single-payer and is uninterested in campaign finance reform?

As a nonaligned liberal, allow me to throw up in my mouth a little.

As for throwing up a lot, let’s turn to Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell, who has already endorsed Scott’s candidacy. His knickers are in a knot over the prospect that a non-Democrat could become the Democratic candidate by winning the nomination on primary write-in votes:

“[To] say ‘oh well I’m  going to really run under this Party but then I’m going to try to take the nomination by getting a bunch of people to write in my name. I just think it’s a flaw in the system.”

Er, John. C’mere.  Closer. Yeah, right there.

[flicks Senatorial nose]

A couple of obvious points. First, if you wanted a Democrat to run for Lieutenant Governor, your party should have gone out and FOUND somebody. It’s your own party’s fault that there’s an appealing blank space on the primary ballot. Second, if Corren doesn’t win the Democratic nomination on write-ins, the most likely winner is Phil Freakin’ Scott.

But I guess that wouldn’t outrage Campbell because Phil Scott is a friend of his. In truth, John Campbell has no principle in play; he has a friendship and, as a very conservative Democrat, a profound aversion to Progressives.

Which gets back to the title of this post. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes no sense that a Senate that’s two-thirds Democratic defers so often to Phil Scott and fails so frequently to support solid liberal legislation.

It makes no sense to me that clubby insiders who value friendship over party — John Campbell and Dick Mazza, come on down! — are allowed to occupy such positions of power in the Senate.

So, after the election, could we please have some new leadership? Get rid of that stale air? Pretty please?