Tag Archives: Dustin Degree

Skunk at the party

The abrupt end of Norm McAllister’s first trial on sex-crime charges — a case of prosecutorial overreach, malfeasance, or cowardice, or a combo platter of all three — creates a world-class headache for Franklin County Republicans.

DoonesburyGuiltyMcAllister’s second trial is vaguely scheduled for sometime this fall, and will be conducted by the same legal Dream Team that flushed the first case down the sewer. Between now and then, we’ve got ourselves a primary vote and maybe a general election. McAllister has filed for re-election, and there’s nothing to stop him from carrying on.

Well, shame, perhaps. But he’s already proven he has precious little of that commodity. Remember the Franklin County Legislative Breakfast in January, when the recently suspended McAllister not only showed up, but tried to chair the meeting?

There will be a three-way Republican primary for two Franklin County ballot spots, featuring incumbent Dustin Degree, incumbent in-limbo McAllister, and State Rep. Carolyn Branagan.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, at all, if the esteemed ranks of Franklin County Republicans renominated McAllister despite the massive and unmistakable aroma surrounding him. Vermonters are, after all, strongly inclined to support incumbents — or too lazy to do their homework, take your pick.

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St. Brian of the Turbines

I’ve been pondering the liberal bloggers’ tradition of posting spoof pieces on April 1, carried forward today by Green Mountain Daily. Even started developing a few ideas. But then I decided (a) there’s too much real stuff to write about, and (b) I have non-blogging stuff on my plate, and I need to carve out time for those obligations.

One of my ideas was “unlikely candidates for public office,” based on the parade of “Who asked for this?” candidacies and proto-candidacies. Garrett Graff, Brandon Riker, Louis Meyers, John Rodgers, Peter Galbraith, Bruce Lisman… I think I’m forgetting one or two… but the list is long and undistinguished, especially in a year when there are so many good candidates on offer.

The April Fools’ Day post would have listed other unlikely entries. Lenore Broughton, Eric Davis, Howard Frank Mosher, Anne Galloway, Tom Bodett… the possibilities are endless.

And then reality intruded in the form of Brian Dubie, former lightweight Lite-Guv, now mooting a return to the wars as Saint Brian of the Turbines, a cheap Don Quixote knockoff with a soupcon of Jeanne d’Arc.

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Gleanings from campaign finance reports

Some very interesting stuff in today’s campaign finance filings. This is the first reporting deadline for Vermont candidates since last July, an eternity in political terms. (Perhaps the Legislature will deign to create a few more reporting periods for the next cycle?)

Reactions, in rough order of importance:

Yes, Bruce Lisman is serious about this running-for-governor thing. He has poured $454,000 of his own money into his campaign, and he raised a non-inconsequential $171,000 from other people, for a healthy total of $625,000. On the other hand, his campaign has a very high burn rate; he’s already spent $571,000. He’s been spending heavily and consistently since the early fall of last year –much of it on staff salaries, consultant firms, and the services of Capital Connections, the PR/lobby shop fronted by his spokesperson Shawn Shouldice.

Because of his high burn rate, Lisman has by far the least cash on hand of all the four major candidates for governor. Of course, he can always write himself a bunch more checks, so weep not for Bruce.

Fun fact: Lisman scored a $2,500 contribution from Wall Street TV shouter Lawrence Kudlow.

Phil Scott is doing just fine, thanks for asking. He’s raised $414,000 and spent a little more than half that. And all of that 414K came from other people — so, as expected, he’s got a lot more fundraising clout than Lisman. It must be noted that, of the four major candidates for governor, Scott has raised the smallest amount of money. But somehow I expect he can kick it into a higher gear when he needs to.

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The McAllister Shuffle

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell was on VPR’s “Vermont Edition” today. And eventually*, the conversation turned to Norm McAllister.

*More on this below. 

The topline: Campbell expects the Senate will suspend McAllister pending the outcome of his criminal trial.

Yup, the coward’s way out. They don’t have to get their hands dirty, and they’ll have a pretext for keeping him away from the Statehouse, thus limiting the potential media circus. At least they hope so.

Now, Campbell dressed it up in talk of not interfering in McAllister’s right to a fair trial. But that ignores some inconvenient facts:

— If they’d wanted to, Senators could have come up with a way to oust McAllister without trampling on his rights.

— By taking this course of action, the Senate will be putting its own needs ahead of the disenfranchised voters of Franklin County, who will be short one Senator for the entire 2016 session. (Trial is scheduled for March, but there will almost certainly be delays beyond adjournment.)

— Said voters have no recourse. There is no recall provision in state law. The people are dependent on the tender mercies of the Senate, which oh God.

By suspending McAllister, the Senate will drop this hot potato right in the laps of Franklin County Republicans. Because if McAllister is clueless enough to resist the near-universal calls for his resignation, there’s a good chance he will actually run for re-election. (Unless he is convicted and sentenced, but that’s not likely to happen until the campaign is well underway and the filing deadline is past. And if he is convicted, why not appeal and drag it out even longer?)

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The increasingly random race for lieutenant governor

It gives me a tingle to see that the Democrats now have three declared candidates for lieutenant governor, and their ages add up to less than 100 (34 + 29 + 28 = 93). Maybe this puts the last nail in the coffin of Sen. Dustin Degree’s claim that the VTGOP is the party of youth. (Heck, if you add any two of the Dems together, they’re younger than the lone Republican candidate, 72-year-old Randy Brock.)

Otherwise, though, the latest entry into the field leaves me wondering: Who asked for this?

Garrett Graff is an accomplished young man. I look forward to hearing what he has to offer, and God knows he’s got plenty of time to reveal it. But look: he hasn’t lived in Vermont since he graduated from high school in 1999. He’s been part of the D.C. media scene since 2004. He is only now relocating to Vermont, just in time to make noises about a candidacy.

Of the five declared candidates for Official Senate Gavel-Warmer, two are perfectly understandable: former State Senator and Auditor Randy Brock, and State Rep. Kesha Ram. After that, the field has an appearance of randomness.

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Here’s where we find out how clueless the State Senate really is

Following last week’s profession of innocence by alleged sex criminal Norm McAllister, the head of the Senate’s Republican caucus is taking action. And encountering resistance that reflects the Senate’s insularity and overweening self-regard.

Paul Heintz has the deets, as he often does. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning wrote a letter to McAllister, upbraiding him for taking back a promise to resign if his case wasn’t wrapped up by November, and warning that if McAllister fails to do so, Benning would file a resolution seeking his ouster.

Benning is no fool. He realizes exactly how bad it would be if McAllister is still a sitting Senator when the Legislature reconvenes. And even worse if he actually shows up for work.

This being the Senate, things aren’t so simple. Benning got some immediate blowback from Sen. Peg Flory, who trotted out the old “innocent until proven guilty” canard (discussed below) in support of Good Ol’ Norm. There was some back-and-forth between the two, thoroughly documented in Heintz’ piece, and then it was brought to a halt by Sen. Dustin Degree’s suggestion that the Republican caucus should discuss this out of the public eye.

Transparency, anyone?

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Procedural excuses for avoiding a moral imperative

Despite the widespread pleas of responsible politicians (almost) everywhere, Norm McAllister continues to represent the good people of Franklin County in the State Senate. And I have to confess that I hadn’t considered how it would feel to be represented by that fetid pile of [ALLEGED] human excrement, until I read about a petition drive calling for his resignation.

Weston/McAllisterWhich made me realize that if I lived in his district, I’d want him the hell out of office ASAP. Even when the legislature is out of session, there is still business being done. McAllister is a pariah. He’s avoiding public events, he’s been stripped of his committee assignments, and as for “constituent service,” well, who in state government is returning his calls? Who, in their right mind, is depending on Norm McAllister for “constituent service”?

The people of Franklin County are (a) underrepresented, and (b) forced to bear the stigma of having McAllister as their Senator. If I lived there, you bet I’d sign that petition.

McAllister, for those just joining us, was arrested on the Statehouse grounds and charged with a whole bunch of skeevy sex crimes. As soon as the details broke, McAllister immediately lost every friend he might have had in Montpelier; but he refused to resign, and the legislature adjourned eight days laer without taking any action.

And now, Profiles In Courage, they are hiding behind process.

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The Same-Day Boogeyman

Removing barriers to voter participation: it’s an issue that’s long overdue for some serious attention. Vermont’s new law, allowing same-day voter registration, is a nice start.

What else? Well, there’s no good reason other than tradition to hold elections on Tuesdays. Especially in Vermont, where polling places close at 7 p.m. That’s not much time for working folk to get to the polls.

But if you want to keep your Tuesday voting because Grandfather’s Light Bulb, then I’d suggest adoption of Hillary Clinton’s proposal for at least 20 days of early voting. That would give everyone a full opportunity to participate. Early voting has allowed many more to exercise their right when it’s been adopted.

“This is, I think, a moment when we should be expanding the franchise,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in an interview. “What we see in state after state is this effort by conservatives to restrict the right to vote.”

Of course, the new law is being greeted with whining and carping from Vermonters with no apparent interest in getting more people to vote. Accounts of the bill becoming law were lightly sprinkled with comments from town clerks alleging that we’re opening the door to voter fraud.

Ah, voter fraud, favored chimera of conservatives. The Bush Administration bent its Justice Department to the task of rooting out voter fraud. And after eight full years of effort, they found a mere handful of cases. In a time when hundreds of millions of ballots were cast.

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A pretty darn good day at the Statehouse

Wednesday was a big day for the legislature’s battle to get through a long and tough agenda. The House passed two huge bills, and the Senate approved a positive step in voter access.

Senate first. After Sen. Dustin Degree lost his repeated efforts to derail, slow down, or cripple the bill, the full Senate approved same-day voter registration on a voice vote.

Degree was pushing a mild form of the Republican “voter fraud” canard. The Bush Administration tried very hard for eight years to find and prosecute cases of vote fraud, and produced an average of less than one case per year. But there was Degree, acknowledging that “Fraud may be minuscule,” but insisting we ought to take steps to prevent this mythical plague upon our land.

If the bill passes the House, it wouldn’t take effect until 2017 because Vermont’s town clerks are creatures of habit who are loath to accept change or take on new responsibilities. They insisted on a two-year delay, and still want to fight for tougher rules. Our Public Servants, first and foremost guarding their own turf.

On to the House, which approved two bills that can be fairly described as “landmark.” Neither bill is perfect, but both represent substantial accomplishments.

The “water bill,” H.35, passed on a 126-10 vote, with only a handful of Republicans saying no. It establishes a Clean Water Fund and provides for $8 million a year in funding. This accomplishment is diminished by the fact that the state HAD to do something, or face the regulatory wrath of the feds. Because Vermont is, and has been for a long time, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Still, getting almost 95% of lawmakers to support a bill that impinges on large segments of the economy and raises new revenue wasn’t a simple task. After a confirmatory vote Thursday, the bill moves to the Senate.

The education bill passed by a narrow margin, but still substantial: 88-59. This one was a tougher sell because education is near and dear to the hearts of every student, parent, grandparent, and community in the state. And near to the wallets of every taxpayer.

This was vividly on display in Wednesday’s Democratic caucus meeting. After an overview of the water bill drew only a couple of questions, the presentation of the ed bill had Dem lawmakers popping up all over the room. Many were specifically concerned about schools and districts in their own communities.

Any kind of education reform bill is a tough haul. This makes substantial reforms in funding and governance. Generally speaking, it’s a decent effort. I think we do have to do something significant to bend the cost curve, and some form of consolidation is almost inevitable. Student populations are declining, especially in rural areas; tiny schools are in no one’s best interest. Not students, not taxpayers, and not other government initiatives that might benefit if the public-school burden wasn’t so heavy.

Both bills will head for the Senate, which makes me cringe. Based on past experience, you never know what the hell they’re going to do. But maybe they’ll surprise me. There are some good folks in the Senate — definitely two more (Becca Balint, Brian Campion) than there were in years past. The atmosphere and legislative product will greatly benefit from the addition by subtraction of Peter Galbraith, whose voluntary retirement from the Senate was a blessing for us all. We should see a lot less capricious obstructionism, if nothing else.

Hard times still to come, many long days and debates — some dramatic, some tedious. But April First was a good day. No foollin’.

The Milne campaign does something smart. Stop laughing, I mean it.

Do Not Adjust Your Set. It’s True, It’s Damn True.

Scott Milne’s people, a.k.a. Brent Burns, put out a press release listing the names of prominent Republicans who have endorsed his candidacy.

And it’s an impressive list. 42 names of current and former officeholders. It puts to shame the tiny number of dead-enders and no-hopers who’ve opted for Libertarian Dan Feliciano.

It begins with former Governor Jim Douglas, the shining star of contemporary Republicanism. Unlike other people I could name (ahem, Phil Scott), Douglas has come out of his hidey hole and actually campaigned for Milne. His endorsement alone is worth approximately 1,000 Darcie “Hack” Johnstons.

After that, you get most of the VTGOP’s Senate delegation – Bill Doyle, Joe Benning, Norm McAllister, Peg Flory, and Kevin Mullin. From the House, add Kurt Wright, Heidi Scheuermann, Patti Komline, Chuck Pearce, Tom Koch, and Duncan Kilmartin and many more, plus former Rep and current Senate candidate Pat McDonald. A couple of interesting names: former Representative and current Senate candidate Dustin Degree and current Rep. Tony Terenzini, neither of whom are particularly moderate folks.

This primary-eve blast should put to rest any talk of a Feliciano groundswell. A couple of state party officials may have turned their backs on Milne, but the bulk of its officeholders – those with proven appeal to actual voters – are solidly behind him.