Tag Archives: Don Turner

When It Comes to the Environment, Who Better Than a Gas Man?

Is it just coincidence that Gov. Phil Scott appointed a former natural gas mogul to a state environmental board at a time when global warming is wreaking havoc on large swaths of the planet? Or is he indulging in uncharacteristic irony?

Scott announced Monday that Don Rendall, former CEO of Vermont Gas, will become interim chair of the Vermont Natural Resources Board. I have to admit I had no idea what the NRB was, so I visited its website. And there I found quite a bit of food for thought.

The Board, for those as clueless as I, oversees and enforces Act 250, Vermont’s land-use law that seeks to minimize the environmental impact of development. As the only full-time state employee on the board, the chair tends to dominate the process. As the Board’s website makes clear, “The [Act 250] Enforcement Program is directed by the Chair of the NRB.”

Rendall retired last fall after five years as Vermont Gas CEO. During his tenure, the company launched its Addison County pipeline project which was the subject of protests and lawsuits and, as VTDigger put it, still faces “multiple ongoing Public Utility Commission investigations.” Previously, Rendall had been an executive at Green Mountain Power. No hint of environmental expertise in his C.V.

Vermont Gas has touted natural gas as a low-cost, environmentally-friendly fossil fuel. The climate activist group 350Vermont, which created the above illustration, would call that “greenwashing.”

So why is the man who pushed the pipeline the right choice for this job?

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That “Big Tent” Lacks an Entrance or Two

It was probably inevitable that Kolby LaMarche would resign as chair of the Burlington Republicans. A bit less so that he left the GOP altogether. But here we are.

Whenever she’s asked about extreme elements in the party, VTGOP chair Deb Billado resorts to the “big tent’ analogy. The party, she says, is big enough to include all comers.

Nice theory, but it’s not working in practice. The kind of die-hard Trump supporters who still believe he was cheated out of the election are more than welcome in the party ranks and, what the heck, leadership. But people like LaMarche, who believe the GOP must abandon the Trump delusion, are made to feel so unwelcome that they eventually leave. And the party’s rightward tilt gets that much more pronounced.

If the VTGOP really believes in the “big tent,” then Billado and her colleagues would be pounding the phones, begging LaMarche to give them another chance. Somehow I doubt that’s the case. Because to the chair and her allies, including vice chair Deb Bucknam and national committee members Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield, fealty to Trump is a litmus test for good Republicans. Not to mention local party officials like Ron Lawrence of Essex, co-instigator of the CovidCruiser that went to Washington for Trump’s attempted insurrection on January 6. That’d be the same Lawrence who launched a petition drive to get Gov. Phil Scott to abandon his party affiliation.

Yes, the Phil Scott who is the one and only Republican success story in statewide elections. According to Lawrence and the 2200-odd signers, he’s the real problem in the VTGOP.

Did Billado rush to Scott’s defense? Uhh, no. She “declined comment” on the petition, claiming she hadn’t read the thing and wasn’t involved. No “big tent” references this time.

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I’m sure David Zuckerman is shaking in his boots

Hey, everybody! Meet Meg Hansen, writer, consultant, low-budget TV show host, and now a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

Hansen is a bright young woman with a compelling backstory who you might recall as a communications staffer for the Vermont House Republican caucus in 2016-17. After that, she spent about a year as head of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, the right-wing advocacy group that’s had no discernible influence on the health care debate. Otherwise, Hansen’s public activities are largely confined to the off-hours of community access television.

She is a devout conservative who believes in the power of unfettered capitalism to float everybody’s boat. Her vision would remake Vermont along the lines of America’s reddest states.

“The American Dream is alive and well in states like Texas and North Carolina but not in Vermont,” she writes on her campaign website. At the risk of being churlish, I’d ask if she sees the American Dream doing well in states like Mississippi and Kansas, which have low taxes and little regulation but are economically stagnant.

She’s opposed to Obamacare and other health care reform efforts; her solution is to let the free market do its magic — giving all Vermonters the chance to buy overpriced, crappy, exception-laden insurance policies. She’s not a fan of fighting climate change or climate activists, who “use the specter of climate catastrophe to demonize us as polluters-parasites on earth,” and whose proposed solutions are “immoral.”

She also favors the “freedom to vape,” which, okay then.

You get the idea. It’s precisely the kind of hard-core conservative platform that’s been a consistent, lopsided loser in Vermont.

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A little target practice for Mitzi Johnson

A moment of silence for the advancement hopes of Linda Myers, veteran Republican lawmaker now offered up as her caucus’ sacrificial lamb. House Minority Leader Don Turner promised a challenger to Speaker-in-Waiting Mitzi Johnson; it just isn’t possible that the 76-year-old Myers was the first name on his list.

Nothing against Ms. Myers, a pillar of her community and, by all accounts, a good person. But when I consulted The Google for traces of legislative accomplishment or leadership, I found astonishingly little.

As far as I can tell, she’s never held a position in the Republican caucus leadership, which tells you a lot about how she’s perceived by her colleagues. She’s been “parked for years” (in the words of one Statehouse observer) as vice chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, her service not terribly memorable but not malign enough to prompt her removal.

Well, I hope she enjoyed her vice chairship; after she loses the race for Speaker, she might very well lose the position. (A desirable post, since the committee oversees capital expenditures.) More often than not, there are consequences for such a challenge.

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Winning the Speakership was the easy part

Congratulations to Mitzi Johnson, the apparent successor to Shap Smith as Speaker of the House. She pipped House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas at the post. And although her selection must be ratified by the Democratic caucus and then the full House, there’s no real doubt that she will win.

Johnson is whip-smart and highly capable. She was skillful at managing the House Appropriations Committee, which is a hell of a trick.

As for being Speaker, well, she’s about to discover how different and how difficult that job is.

Shap Smith made it look effortless, but there was constant furious activity below the waterline. He also enjoyed the support of an informal cadre of loyal House members who helped him keep tabs on the ebb and flow of lawmaking and the interpersonal dynamics that must be managed effectively if the House is to function. In that regard, a capable inner circle is just as important as the actual caucus leadership.

Johnson won’t have that. She may or may not realize the importance of having that. But the House is a somewhat random gathering of 150 willful souls with 150 agendas. And by “agendas,” i don’t mean policy; I mean unique admixtures of principle, practicality, intellect (or lack thereof), knowledge (or lack thereof), curiosity (or lack thereof), debts payable and receivable, and ludicrously overdeveloped senses of self-preservation..

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The Good Senator from ALEC

An unknown number of Vermont Republican state lawmakers are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organization that promotes model legislation for statehouses across the country.  The most recent estimate came from State Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), ALEC’s state chair, who figured there were about 20 Vermont lawmakers on the ALEC rolls.

Which is about one-third of all Republicans in the Statehouse.

But of all those 20-odd people, there’s one who has benefited from ALEC’s largesse more than any other Vermonter. And you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is.

Kevin Mullin, Republican from Rutland, not especially known for being a hardliner. Indeed, like a beige house with beige trim, his blandness is his most distinguishing characteristic. Well, that and being Norm McAllister’s clueless roomie.

(The Rutland area seems to be a hive of ALEC activity. In addition to Mullin and Helm, Sen. Peg Flory is also on the ALEC list, as are a couple of former Rutland-area lawmakers. Is it something in the water?)

We can’t tell exactly how much Mullin has dipped his snout into the ALEC trough because for the past several years, the group has refused to release information about its members, its “scholarships” and free travel to ALEC meetings and conferences, usually held at top-flight hotels and resorts.

See, it became too embarrassing to its beneficiaries.

But the figures are still out there for 2009 and before. And boy howdy, has Sen. Mullin cashed in.

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A moment of dismay, dissipated

I was skimming around in campaign finance reports the other day*, when I came across something that made me say “Hmm.” And here it is:

Lisman donation

This is taken from the latest campaign finance filing of Common Sense Leadership PAC, House Minority Leader Don Turner’s slush fund political action committee. It indicates that one Bruce Lisman made a donation of $4,000 to CSLPAC on October 11.

Bruce Lisman. Of 716 Kipling Street, Houston, Texas.

Oh please, say it ain’t so, Bruce. Say you haven’t left us for a warm-weather tax haven. Especially after a campaign full of bumpf about what a true-blue Son of Vermont you were.

Reinforcing my curiosity were the fact that Lisman’s Twitter feed has been inactive since August 10, his campaign’s Facebook page was last updated on August 15, and his campaign website has been consigned to the same Internet purgatory populated by the remnants of AngelFire and GeoCities.

(Kids, ask your parents.)

Fortunately, I’ve been reassured by Lisman’s costly campaign manager, Shawn Shouldice:

Have no fear Bruce is still very much in Vermont.

Whew.

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So that’s what it took

As Vermont Republicans desperately flee the sinking, and stinking, Good Ship Trump, it’s not at all surprising that the most ungainly lifeboat leap was executed by Senate nominee Scott MIlne. In ending his months of indecision on whether to endorse Trump, Milne tried to blame it all on — you guessed it — Pat Leahy.

“I was hoping to make it to a debate with Pat Leahy before talking specifically about the presidential contest, and the differences between Leahy and me regarding our treatment of candidates. But, Pat Leahy’s debate dodging, coupled with the embarrassing and completely inappropriate things that have been confirmed about Donald Trump, force me to speak,” said Milne.

… “I will not vote for Donald Trump, and I would respect his decision to step aside,” Milne concluded.

So he’d vote for extreme conservative anti-choice Mike Pence if given the opportunity?

I have no idea what he means by “the differences between Leahy and me regarding our treatment of candidates.” Would he bring up Bill Clinton’s scandals? Or maybe Chappaquiddick?

Whatever, the idea that Milne was holding off on a Trump decision turns out to be complete horseshit. Because we can pinpoint exactly when Milne made his decision. It was during a 20-minute period on Saturday afternoon.

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Party of One

The leader of the State House’s perpetually undersized Republican caucus is feeling his oats.

[House] Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said he believes the Republican Party can increase its presence in the chamber from the current 53 seats to 76 — a majority.

I understand it’s part of his job to put on a brave face, but there is no way on God’s green Earth that the Republicans rack up a net gain of 23 House seats. After all, 2014 was a horrible year for Vermont Democrats; their ticket-topper was the roundly unpopular Peter Shumlin, there was no race for President or U.S. Senator, and turnout was dramatically depressed. And even with all that in their favor, the VTGOP only managed a net gain of eight seats in the House.

Eight.

And 2016 should be a bounceback year for the House Democrats. (More on this below.)

There’s also the inconvenient fact that the House Republicans’ campaign warchest appears to be in the red. According to its most recent campaign finance filing, the Vermont House Republican PAC has raised $5,095 this campaign cycle and spent $7,832.74. That dip into penury was triggered by an Attorney General’s ruling that the PAC had improperly accepted contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session. It had to return $3,000 in donations and pay a $2,000 fine.

So, no help there. But it’s not like the VHRPAC is alone. Pretty much every Republican aside from Phil Scott is begging for spare change.

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Deadbeat Donald

It’s a minor thing compared to the egregious offensiveness of his entire campaign, but Donald Trump has once again proved to be a deadbeat. He has failed to pay an $8,500 bill issued by the City of Burlington for police and fire overtime costs related to Trump’s January rally in the Flynn Center.

You remember, the one where his campaign issued thousands and thousands of extra tickets, thus ensuring a law-enforcement quagmire and setting the stage for potential violent confrontation?

Well, he hasn’t paid up, and the city has decided “it would not be cost effective” to pursue the matter.

[Mayor Miro Weinberger] reiterated that Trump’s “failure to cooperate” with local law enforcement and lack of communication with the public and ticketholders put “undue strain on the City’s police and “unnecessarily hurt downtown businesses.”

Paying the invoice, Weinberger said, “remains the right and honorable thing for Mr. Trump to do.”

Well, sure, but there’s no point in waiting for Donald Trump to do “the right and honorable thing.” He has a long record of doing otherwise.

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