Tag Archives: education reform

First Look: Brandon Who?, candidate for Lieutenant Governor

The Candidate, against the obligatory Vermont landscape.

The Candidate, in the obligatory Vermont landscape setting.

Last Saturday, after the Democratic State Committee meeting, I got the chance to sit down with Brandon Riker, who is (I think) the only declared candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. (See campaign website here.)

The 28-year-old Marlboro resident made waves on July 15, when he reported a campaign warchest of over $100,000. Granted, 90% of that came from himself and his family, but it made a statement of serious intent.

Quick impression: he’s energetic, full of ideas, and wants to make a difference. Whether that and a self-financed campaign will get him anywhere is another question. For him, unlike most candidates, raising the money was the simple part. Now he has to make a name for himself in Democratic circles, build an organization, attract support across the state, and almost certainly fend off some better-known Democrats in what promises to be a lively Lite-Gov primary.

Riker may be young, and may never have run for office before, but he cites more than a decade of political experience:

I’ve campaigned for progressive causes since I was 16 years old. John Kerry, Barack Obama, Jon Tester [in Montana], Mark Begich [in Alaska]. I’ve wanted to work on the hard races — the ones critical for Democratic control. It’s been 14 years since a Democrat was Lieutenant Governor, and we haven’t mounted a serious challenge in years.

Which is true, but probably won’t be true in 2016. With incumbent Phil Scott persistently hinting at a run for governor, top Democrats are sniffing opportunity. We’ve heard names like Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, among others, as possible candidates (as well as Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning on the Republican side). That would seem to put Riker at a huge disadvantage in terms of name recognition and established credibility among Democratic voters and donors.

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Apology and retraction re: Sunderland essay

Over the weekend, I posted a piece noting that VTGOP chair David Sunderland had sent out an opinion piece castigating H.361, the education reform bill, even though it was the result of Democratic/Republican cooperation and enacted with bipartisan support (and opposition).

My mistake, and my apologies to Sunderland and to VPO readers. He did not write the essay in question — although he did send it out to the VTGOP’s email list. That’s a little surprising given broad Republican support for the bill, but it’s not nearly as strange as it would have been if he’d written the piece.

The essay was actually an Editorial that appeared in the May 27 Times Argus. I first saw it in the VTGOP email blast, and jumped to a conclusion. My fault.

I’m updating the original post with a link to this retraction. I don’t want to delete the post because that would be, IMO, dishonest.

Thanks to Robert Maynard of True North Reports for pointing out my mistake. Sorry I didn’t believe you the first time, Robert.

Shumlin Gets Ass Handed To Him

Smile, though your heart is breaking...

Smile, though your heart is breaking…

The three top Democratic leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder, smiled, and proclaimed their unity behind an agreement on taxes and health care. They praised each other and the Legislature for working hard and working together. “Everyone has given a little,” Governor Shumlin said.

Well, almost.

After a week of harsh rhetoric about how “Montpelier” (meaning his own party) had produced a tax plan that he “hated,” he accepted a slightly modified version with nothing more than a fig leaf of additional spending cuts.

After days of harsh rhetoric about how capping income tax deductions would be “a big mistake,” Shumlin accepted a deal with a slightly less restrictive cap than the Legislature had been poised to enact.

The legislature “has given a little.” Shumlin gave a LOT.

Which belies his extreme rhetoric about a plan that was very similar to the one he accepted today, and characterized as “fiscally responsible” and “ensur[ing] that we continue to grow this economy.”

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Shap the Triangulator

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” 

                      –Lyndon B. Johnson

ICYMI, House Speaker Shap Smith has done something a bit unusual on two key issues, education funding and economic development. He solicited public input, and created special brainstorming committees to evaluate ideas.

Let's… Make… a Deal!

Let’s… Make… a Deal!

The existence of these committees is interesting enough; it smacks of a legislative leader angling for the bigger stage. This process amounts to an informal, back-office policy shop, and gives Smith  a very central role in crafting policy instead of, say, waiting for Governor Shumlin to initiate. His work with the committees also can’t help but endear him to some pretty prominent people.

More evidence of ambition can be found the makeup of the two groups. The education panel included ten current and former lawmakers: Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Good for building nonpartisan street cred.

The economy group included many of The Great And Good of Vermont’s business community, including Betsy Bishop of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Tom Torti of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and (Lord help us) Bruce Lisman of Campaign for Vermont Prosperity. The chair, Paul Ralston, is a former Democratic legislator who alienated many of his caucus mates during his single term*, and ended by partnering with Republican Rep. Heidi Scheuermann in Vision to Action Vermont, a PAC that’s just about as nonpartisan as Campaign for Vermont.

*I’ve heard him described as a junior-grade version of Peter Galbraith for his self-centered ways. Love his coffee, though.  

The group also includes a healthy share of relatively progressive businessfolks, like Andrew Savage of All Earth Renewables, Andrea Cohen of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Cairn Cross of FreshTracks Capital. But there was no one from the labor movement, and no one from any progressive or environmental organization.

It smacks of triangulation, the favored strategery of upwardly mobile Democrats and the bane of liberals. And it smacks of building networks of support among the deep-pocketed donor class. Which tends to lead to centrist policymaking, not to mention one of Gov. Shumlin’s favorite pastime, kicking the hippies.

I’m not ready to call Smith a sellout. A recent report on VPR lists some ideas emerging from the job-creation committee, and they actually sound pretty good: identifying ways to unlock capital for small businesses and startups, matching technical-school curricula with the needs of Vermont tech companies. Also, Cross is quoted as saying that Vermont’s business climate has more to do with quality of life and a clean environment than the old bromides of tax breaks and deregulation.

That sounds like a relatively progressive approach to economic development. And truth be told, there’s a need for a strategy that cuts through the standard liberal/business debate — that encourages job growth without abandoning liberal principles.

For instance, there is probably room for — and please don’t shoot me — some modest reform in the permitting process. The very phrase “permit reform” has been uttered by so many Republicans for so many years, it raises immediate hackles in the liberal community. Can we find a way to ease the process for the kinds of enterprise that create good jobs and contribute to our economic vitality without simply greasing the skids for strip malls and subdivisions? We probably can, and maybe — just maybe — Smith is trying to break the usual pattern and find a third way.

I’m willing to wait and see what emerges before passing judgment on the process and on Smith’s motivations.

As for the political question: Is Shap Smith running for governor? I don’t know. And at this point, he probably doesn’t either. But he’s certainly developing relationships and laying the groundwork for a future run, should he decide to do so.