I don’t know if it’s the Hansen effect or what, but lately House Minority Leader Don Turner has adopted a more aggressive stance toward his job. Instead of loudly complaining about the maneuverings of the Democratic majority, he’s now finding opportunities to play the active obstructionist.
This is kind of a new thing in Vermont politics, and is of a piece with how Congressional Republicans act on the national stage.
Turner’s latest exercise in Human Speedbump concerns S.230, the energy siting bill vetoed last week by Governor Shumlin. He has reportedly crafted a “fix” to the bill that would allow him to sign it; but Turner is vowing to block passage in any way he can.
Yesterday I outlined the inflammatory, far-right views of Meg Hansen, the person handling “strategic communications” for the state House Republican Caucus.
And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: who’s paying for her services?
It’s extremely unusual for a Vermont caucus — minority or majority — to have any paid staff whatsoever. The House Speaker has one staffer paid by the state; the Senate President Pro Tem historically has one, but John Campbell’s staff was expanded to two because he needed extra help to handle the job. Nobody else in the Legislature has any staff, unless they use their own money.
So, who’s paying Meg Hansen? Short answer: right now, I have no idea. We might find out more on July 15, the next campaign finance filing deadline; for now, the available information raises more questions than it answers.
One thing’s for sure: Vermont Republicans aren’t swimming in money. The VTGOP is perennially short of funds, and can barely keep the lights on at its headquarters.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s one guy who tends to provide comment and reaction quotes to the media on behalf of the Vermont Republican Party.
No, it’s not Phil “Mr. Leadership” Scott. It’s usually not Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning. Sometimes it’s VTGOP chair David Sunderland. But more often than not, the Republican quote machine is none other than House Minority Leader Don Turner.
Meg Hansen, from her LinkedIn page. (Fair use!)
And there’s a person at the controls of the Turner Quote Machine. Her name is Meg Hansen. She handles “strategic communications” for the House Republican Caucus. And she has a very enlightening Twitter feed, for those who still think Vermont Republicans are really a different breed than their national counterparts.
This is the kind of person who’s crafting the Vermont Republican message these days.
She’s been harshly critical of Syrian refugee resettlement, invoking the myth that refugees are a big fat drain on the public treasury. (In fact, the vast majority of refugees quickly become productive members of society.)
#VT dismal fiscal future won’t stop Dems from taking on millions more in debt w/ #SyrianRefugees. Not like they have to pay for it! #vtpoli
The news arrived on Friday and got buried under the end-of-session avalanche: State Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister will face two separate trials on multiple sex-crime charges. Trial was slated to begin today, but the first of the two proceedings has been postponed until June 15. That’s the one regarding McAllister’s former “assistant,” which will feature testimony from McAllister’s legislative colleagues. That’ll be a real get-your-popcorn moment. (The second trial has yet to be scheduled.)
But that wasn’t the most interesting point.
No, the most interesting point is that McAllister is actively mulling a run for re-election. He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, “I probably will file anyway. I can always change my mind and decide not to run later.”
No surprise to me. I’ve been saying all along that there’s nothing to stop McAllister from seeking re-election. Indeed, there’s nothing in state law to bar him from returning to the Senate if he wins in November — even if he’s convicted and facing prison time. The Senate does have authority to determine if someone is fit to join their august body, and it wouldn’t be hard to exclude him — if, indeed, he is convicted. If he’s acquitted, on the other hand, the Senate would be hard-pressed to banish him. He’d make everyone horribly uncomfortable, but that doesn’t constitute grounds for exclusion.
In Other News, the Republican Slimy Lies Committee — er, sorry, Republican State Leadership Committee — is back with a despicable ad targeting legislative Democrats.
The Vermont House passed a budget this week. Pretty quick and pretty painless, considering the state’s fiscal situation. Lawmakers found money in a lot of places that won’t directly impact working Vermonters’ take-home pay.
Much of the new revenue comes from raising fees on registration of mutual funds. That’s a minuscule line item in funds’ expenses, so the actual effect on The People will be negligible at most. Ditto with an increase in registration fees for large banks. In general, the House found ways to prop up necessary state programs with some fairly reasonable tax and fee hikes. Mostly fees.
Republicans, of course didn’t see it that way. There were the usual, utterly predictable cries of outrage that are repeated every time a tax or fee is increased — even when a fee hike simply reflects the impact of inflation. (Fees are fixed; if you don’t raise ’em occasionally, you’re narrowing your revenue stream.) It doesn’t help Republicans’ credibility when every single revenue enhancement, no matter how small, is a punishing blow to struggling Vermonters and a mortal threat to the economy.
This time, there were loud laments over being shut out of the process. Which, first of all, c’mon. When the Republicans ruled this roost for over a century, how much credence did they give to Democratic ideas? When state lawmakers in Kansas or Oklahoma or Michigan or any other state with a Republican majority sets policy, do you think they allow Democrats to have a fair say?
Of course not. Shoe’s on the other foot, guys. Suck it up.
House Minority Leader (and Chief Budget Scold) Don Turner presented an additional argument this time.
It’s been a tough few years for legislative Republicans. They’re a perpetual minority with little influence. Push comes to shove, about all they can do is call a press conference and let Don Turner bemoan the latest actions of the Democratic majority.
This year, things are looking a little different. Well, they’re still in a minority, but they seem to have gotten a little bit feisty — looking for opportunities to throw their weight around. I’m guessing it as something to do with Phil Scott’s candidacy for governor:
— It’s their best prospect for retaking the corner office since 2010*, which has to boost their morale, and
— The more trouble they cause, the better it is for Scott. (Who, as the Nice Guy in the room, would never ever stoop to chicanery, no sir. Ahem. See below.)
*Yes, Scott Milne almost won in 2014, but nobody thought he stood a chance. He wasn’t considered a prospect until election night. Until then, he was actually a drag on Republicans’ view of their chances.
We’re still early in the session, and we’ve seen two very high-profile spots where Republican lawmakers went out of their way to throw a wrench in the works.
At a hastily-called news conference at the Statehouse, Republican leaders announced a sudden change of position on climate change: they are endorsing a carbon tax proposal that’s been languishing in the Legislature.
“It’s the right thing to do, and now is the right time,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning.
“We’ve all been kidding ourselves,” added House Minority Leader Don Turner. “But the longer this winter went on, with so little snow and such high temperatures, well, we just couldn’t ignore it anymore.”