Tag Archives: Doug Racine

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When last I left you, I signed off with

Vermont already has an oversupply of cautious Democrats.

Let’s pick it up from there. Now, I could be talking about legislative leadership, which has developed a habit of scoring own goals in its “battles” with Gov. Phil Scott. But in this case, I’m talking about campaigns for governor, in which the Democrats have not exactly covered themselves in glory.

Over the past 20 years, the Vermont Democratic Party has nominated a top-shelf candidate for governor a mere five times — incumbent Howard Dean in 2000, Doug Racine in 2002 and Peter Shumlin in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

(I’m calling the 2014 Shumlin “top shelf” only because he was the incumbent. Otherwise he was a deeply flawed candidate who came within an eyelash of losing to Scott Milne, objectively the worst major-party gubernatorial candidate in living memory.)

Otherwise it’s been a parade of worthies with good intentions but few resources and no real hope. Whenever a popular Republican occupies the corner office, the Democrats’ A-Team scurries away like cockroaches when the light goes on.

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Lost in the shuffle

In my last post, I mentioned that the campaigns of Matt Dunne and Sue Minter continued on autopilot for a few days after the Stenger/Quiros scandal had broken. On Thursday, Minter unveiled a substantial, wide-ranging water quality initiative, which got absolutely buried in the EB-5 avalanche. On Friday, Dunne released his personal financial information.

It was the worst possible timing if they actually wanted to make the news. Especially unfortunate in Minter’s case, since it was a major policy statement and she had some notable advocates on hand for her announcement — including James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International and Denise Smith of Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.

Well, David Zuckerman also got caught in the avalanche. On Thursday, he announced a significant endorsement: former Lieutenant Governor and State Senator Doug Racine is backing Zuckerman for Lite-Gov.

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Cruisin’ for a bruisin’, part 2

When I whip off a reference to the prospective Democratic field for governor, I mention three names: Shap Smith, Sue Minter, and Matt Dunne. There are a couple other oft-mentioned names that I leave off my list.

One of them is Doug Racine. I’ve got nothing against him; if he runs I’d give him serious consideration. But I haven’t seen much evidence that he’s serious about running. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s looking for reasons not to run rather than pushing a candidacy forward. (If anyone in the audience has seen such evidence, let me know in the Comments.)

The other is the formerly Slummin’ Solon, Peter Galbraith. I dubbed him the Slummin’ Solon because he seemed to believe that occupying a seat in the State Senate was a task unworthy of his stature. When he left the Senate last year, he was allegedly clearing his decks for another peace mission in the Middle East.

Well, it seems he never left, and his Green Mountain ambitions remain unquelled, because here he is on everybody’s list as exploring a run for governor.

In many ways, Galbraith is the Democratic equivalent of Bruce Lisman. Both men are very wealthy, enough to self-fund a substantial campaign. Both have very high opinions of themselves and their qualifications for Vermont’s highest office. Both have very high opinions of their political appeal, with no particular evidence to back it up.

And as with Lisman, my response to a potential Galbraith candidacy is “Oh please. Oh please please PLEEEEEEEASE run for Governor. I’m beggin’ ya.”

Because if Galbraith runs for governor, he’s in line for a rude surprise. He’ll go down in flames.

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Welch declines the honor

Okay, so I’m on the air live this morning on The Mark Johnson Show. House Speaker Shap Smith, openly considering a run for governor but waiting to see what Congressman Peter Welch would do, has just left after a 45-minute interview. I’ve got Randy Brock, once and (possibly) future Republican candidate, sitting with me in the studio waiting for his interview to start.

And then, in rapid-fire succession, the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality is released… and I find out that Welch has just announced he will not run for governor, but will instead seek re-election to Congress.

Trust me, I didn’t need any coffee to get through that hour. I missed the chance to break the news to Speaker Smith, which would have just been the most fun thing ever. (As of this writing, I’m seeking reaction from him.) I did get to break the news to Brock, which was pretty fun itself.

Live radio, I love thee.

Brock, by the way, said that Welch’s status was one factor in his consideration, but only one of “300 or 400” things he’s weighing. But he sure seemed like he’s rarin’ to go.

Back to the main issue here. How does the Welch decision affect the race?

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theVPO Media Crossover Event!

Hey, WDEV’s Mark Johnson is on his annual summer vacation, and I’ll be sitting in for Mark during some of those days. This week, Tuesday the 16th and Wednesday the 17th. I’ll also be in the big chair the 25th, 26th, and 29th. (Please note: When I’m hosting the show, I set my politics aside as much as possible, and give my guests the chance to share their views and ideas. Don’t expect any polemics. That’s not my role on WDEV.)

Guests for the next two days:

9:00 am Tuesday: State Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury. He recently became president of Downstreet Housing ahd Community Development. We’ll talk about his new gig, the housing issues facing Vermont, and probably touch on some other issues as well.

10:00 am Tuesday: Erica Heilman, creator/host of Rumble Strip Vermont, a podcast that tells Vermonters’ real life stories and explores aspects of Vermont life.

9:00 am Wednesday: Doug Racine, former Lieutenant Governor, State Senator, and Human Services Secretary. He’ll talk about his service in the Shumlin administration, his views on the political scene, and his own thoughts about running for Governor.

10:00 am Wednesday: Ben T. Matchstick and Pete Talbot of the Cardboard Teck Instantute (sic). They’ve invented a working pinball machine made out of cardboard; they hope to develop a gaming platform from their simple base. They just got back from Washington, D.C., where they showcased their invention at a national Maker Faire.

WDEV broadcasts out of Waterbury and can be heard in most of northern and central Vermont on 96.1 FM and 550 AM. The show can be livestreamed online at wdevradio.com. Hope you can join me!

Story Time, 2010 Primary Edition: in honor of Deb Markowitz

Well, the briefest of gubernatorial trial balloons has settled to the floor, like the birthday balloon that got a half-shot of helium. Deb Markowitz, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary throughout the Shumlin administration, has taken her name out of the running. In an email to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, she wrote:

“I will not be running for Governor this time around. I want to be able to continue to fully focus on the important work of the agency to address the important environmental, energy and economic issues facing Vermont.”

Fair enough. It kinda seemed like she was a token woman on everybody’s list rather than a real top tier contender. Which is a shame, because she could very easily have been Governor instead of Peter Shumlin. And the way his administration has turned out, we might have been better off with Markowitz.

We’ll never know, of course. But let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane, just to show how close we came to that particular alternate reality. And how a possible bit of trickeration (the Nixon folks called it ratf*cking) might have kept her out of the corner office.

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Is this the time for business as usual?

It’s an annual rite at this time of year: a changeover in the upper levels of the administration. It usually involves some key departures, a shuffling of the deck, and the elevation of those who have served in a lesser capacity.

The latter began on Wednesday for the Shumlin Administration, with promotions for press liaison Sue Allen, campaign manager Scott Coriell, and education adviser Aly Richards. Loyal servants, rewarded for their work.

But should they be?

I have nothing against these folks. As far as I know, they deserve their promotions. But a broader question is on my mind:

Praise and promotions were freely distributed when Shumlin was riding high. Should the same be true after a poor administrative year and a disastrous campaign?

Further: Are these promotions a sign that Shumlin, at some fundamental level, doesn’t get it? That it’s business as usual on the fifth floor?

The Governor has made the right noises. But the current situation calls for a lot more than that. You can say “The buck stops here” all you want, but if the buck stops and gets tossed in a drawer, it’s a meaningless statement.

After the election, I saw a gleam of hope: Shumlin does his best work in crisis, as we saw after Tropical Storm Irene. This election was the closest thing to a personal Irene for Shumlin. My hope was that he would seize the opportunity, thoroughly evaluate everything he and his people do, and boldly set a new course.

So far, given his frequent deferrals to legislative leadership and his dispensation of Jobs For The Boys (And Girls), I’m having my doubts.

In addition to a personal reckoning by Shumiln, there ought to be a personnel reckoning. During the campaign, I wrote that the continued problems of Vermont Health Connect called for some clear direction and, probably, the rolling of some heads.

In addition to Doug Racine’s, that is. Racine may have had his failings at Human Services, but it wasn’t like he got a lot of help from Shumlin. Plus, he had little to do with Vermont Health Connect. He was expendable, not because he was the biggest problem, but because he wasn’t really part of the team. Mark Larson, who was far more responsible for VHC but was clearly one of the boys, was shunted to the side but kept his title and is still drawing a salary for duties and responsibilities unknown.

Is Governor Shumlin capable of evaluating his staffers and functionaries with the cold eye of reason, and demoting or defenestrating those who’ve contributed to his administration’s malaise?

We’ll see. He promises more personnel changes to come. But I have to say I’m not optimistic. If the changes have more to do with the desires and ambitions of his staff than with a sorely-needed overhaul of the Shumlin Machine, then his third term is off to an inauspicious start.

 

We have our answer: Don Turner is a hypocritical opportunist

Or “opportunistic hypocrite,” take your choice.

To reset the stage, House Minority Leader Don Turner yesterday said he would vote for Scott Milne for Governor if the race goes to the legislature, in spite of a century and a half of precedent that lawmakers ought to opt for the top vote-getter instead of, as the Burlington Free Press charitably put it, being “free to vote their consciences.”

"Let me tell you about my unique personal definition of 'conscience.'"

“Let me tell you about my unique personal definition of ‘conscience.'”

To which I can only say, if their consciences lead them to any other conclusion than Peter Shumlin, then either they’re not listening closely enough to that still small voice, or their consciences are on the fritz.

Anyway, I speculated on how Mr. Turner had voted the last time this very question was before the legislature. Well, the answer comes to us courtesy of Terri Hallenbeck, soon to be late of the Burlington Free Press.

Turner acknowledged that’s a different stance than after the 2010 election, when the Legislature ratified Shumlin’s election over Republican Brian Dubie after Shumlin had a plurality but less than 50 percent of the public vote. That year, lawmakers also ratified the results of Republican Phil Scott, who received the most votes but less than 50 percent of the total for lieutenant governor.

Which means that virtually every lawmaker (including Don Turner) presumably voted against his/her political interests, and in favor of established precedent, at least once. Republicans ratified a Democrat, and Democrats ratified a Republican. It’s worked both ways over time. But now, Turner is pulling a brand-new rationalization out of his butt because it suits him politically.

Gee, I thought Republicans were the guardians of traditional Vermont values.

Or, as somebody who was on the short end of this Vermont tradition put it:

Doug Racine, a Democrat who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Republican Jim Douglas in a campaign that was also decided by the Legislature, said Democratic legislators told him at the time they felt compelled to vote for Douglas, who received the most votes in the election. “For a lot of legislators and for Vermonters it became about fair play,” Racine said.

Perhaps “fair play” is out the window for Republicans who suddenly see an unexpected opportunity to grab the biggest prize. In other words, they’re a whole bunch of Gollums.

p.s. We’re starting to get a glimpse at the future of a clickbait-oriented, post-Remsen-and-Hallenbeck Freeploid. Its coverage of Friday’s important developments consisted of two short articles from the Associated Press. Plus, those stories were pretty much buried on the Freeploid’s website, while more pressing matters — the LL Bean grand opening, a ladybug-infested house, a moose shooting — were given due prominence.

And the crudification of the Burlington Free Press is only just beginning.

So what happened with the polls?

Ah, the opinion polls, with their oft-trumpeted 4% margins of error.

Well, they missed the Governor’s race by a lot more than that, didn’t they?

The consensus, such as it was, gave Governor Shumlin a 12-point edge. Right now, the Associated Press has him at 46.4% and Scott Milne at 45.4%. Feel free to check my math, but I think that’s a margin of one percent. 

The polls were off by almost 11 percentage points.

The difference? Virtually every undecided voter went for Scott Milne. Which is unheard-of; usually, the undecideds don’t all go stampeding in one direction.

Plus, the Associated Press is reporting that Vermont had a record low turnout. The Democratic GOTV machine just couldn’t overcome the broad disaffection with the current administration, and the widespread belief that this election wasn’t close, which made it easier to stay home.

So, Milne got a larger chunk of a smaller electorate.

Let’s take the most recent Castleton Polling Inistute survey, reported on Oct.12.

gubernatorial-race

From Oct. 12 to last night, what happened? Governor Shumlin lost a sliver of his support while convincing no undecideds. Scott Milne gained a whopping ten percent by nabbing all the undecideds and poaching nearly two-thirds of Dan Feliciano’s supporters.

What does that say? It says that Governor Shumlin lost the middle, in spite of all his triangulating. And he lost ALL of the middle. And, I suspect, a fair bit of support on the left, who either sat out the Governor’s race or made a protest vote for Milne or a write-in. (Doug Racine, anyone?)

Or just stayed home, not feeling motivated to re-elect Shumlin and feeling (falsely) secure in the knowledge that their absence wouldn’t make much difference in what was thought to be a Democratic cakewalk.

Bit by bit, ever so slowly, Scott Milne is turning himself into a candidate

It’s way too late, of course. As I’ve said before, Milne is now doing the kind of stuff he should have done six months to a year ago: traveling the back roads of Vermont, meetin’ folks. Getting his name out there. Learning the ropes of a brand-new trade: running for statewide office. Becoming a halfway competent debater.

Fundraising.

That kind of stuff.

Shumlin/Milne at WCAX debateAnd if you squint a little bit and look closely at last night’s debate performance on WCAX-TV, you can get a glimpse of a real live candidate emerging from the primordial ooze.

It’s way too late, of course. But I’ll give him credit: Milne was a lot less twitchy and erratic than he was a few weeks ago. He was reasonably calm most of the time. When he wasn’t speaking, he held his face practically motionless. Which was a good thing, because WCAX used a split screen much of the time. He scratched his nose a couple times, but he didn’t pick it.

His message remains a mess. He recycles the same handful of tired attacks on Governor Shumlin (how many times did he say “reckless experiment”?). He works in snide little comments at every opportunity. (He responded to a viewer question about his vision for Vermont’s future by saying, ungrammatically, “My vision is a governor that doesn’t make promises that end up broken.” Cute, but not at all visionary.)

He also made a royal botch of his opportunity to ask Shumlin a direct question. His opening was so rambly that co-moderator Kristin Kelly had to interrupt, “Do you have a question for the Governor?” After which he meandered slowly through the firing of Doug Racine as head of Human Services, and Racine’s statement that he hadn’t met with Shumlin in over a year, Shumlin’s out-of-state travel… and at the end, his actual question was a batting-practice fastball down the middle of the plate: “Can you look in the monitor and tell them you’ll be a better Governor in the next two years?” Which gave Shumlin the opening to turn the question immediately back to his agenda.

Stupid.

And most of all, Milne still has nothing like a coherent plan for his hypothetical governorship. He has little or nothing to offer on health care, the state budget, school funding and governance, social services, or the economy. He preaches caution on all fronts; he says he will “listen before I act.” On multiple occasions, he said he would sign specific bills that he disagrees with — apparently signaling that he would frequently defer to the Legislature. As Shumlin pointed out, that’s an odd definition of leadership.

And once in a while, just when you least expect it, he slips out a scrap of a policy idea. Answering a question about improving the economy, he tossed off a passing reference to “tax incentives.” No details, no elaboration. Just a couple of quick words, and then onward.

This is how you roll out a major policy proposal? Really?

I’ll say this. Scott Milne has improved — from an F to maybe a C minus. Give him another 18 months or so, he might turn himself into a credible contender for the governorship.

Wait a minute… checking the calendar here… nope, sorry, he doesn’t have 18 months. He has less than four weeks.

Like I said: it’s way too late, of course.