Tag Archives: Green Mountain Daily

Big donors, big money in targeted House districts

Two years ago, the Republican State Leadership Committee funneled $370,000 into Vermont, backing candidates in close races for the Vermont House. The VTGOP won several of those seats and took away the Democrats’ supermajority status.

So far this year, the RSLC has spent a lot less. But a handful of closer-to-home moneybags have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve donated more than $100,000 to individual Republican House candidates and House Minority Leader Don Turner’s political action committee.

In the small-dollar world of State House campaigns, that’s a huge amount of money.

First, a hat tip to Green Mountain Daily’s Sue Prent, who reported on the Franklin County iteration of this phenomenon a couple weeks ago. Turns out, it’s only part of a bigger pattern. But because the money is broadly dispersed, the pattern has attracted little attention.

Two of the donors are familiar names to anyone who follows Vermont politics. The other two might be new to you.

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False equivalencies on renewable energy

VTDigger’s commentary page recently featured a call to Kumbaya by Brian Tokar, UVM lecturer and board member of 350Vermont. His argument is that our debate over renewable energy has been toxified by extreme positions taken by both sides:

On one hand, groups like VPIRG and Renewable Energy Vermont have staked out a position that any possible limitations on large-scale projects represent an existential threat to our appropriately ambitious renewable energy goals. On the other side are those who view all utility-scaled developments as an assault on our precious lands and wildlife habitats, among other concerns.

His characterization of pro-renewable advocates is 100% pure bullshit. Nobody from VPIRG or REV or Iberdrola or The Secret Blittersdorf Cabal is opposed to “any possible limitations” on renewable siting. In fact, they just spent a laborious 2016 legislative session working with all interested parties on a revised siting bill that allows for local input.

It was the other side that refuses to come to the table, insists on nothing less than full veto power for local governments, and depicts anyone who disagrees with them as corrupt toadies of rich, powerful, foreign interests.

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Scott Milne be Scott Milne

2014 The gubernatorial campaign of Scott Milne had one distinguishing feature: Scott Milne did what Scott Milne wanted to do and said what he wanted to say. In an odd sort of way, it reminds me of one Donald J. Trump.

Appear grossly unprepared in public forums? Check.

Give long, meandering, stream-of-consciousness answers to questions? Check.

No attempt at all to hew to Republican orthodoxy? Check.

No attempt to open or maintain communication with the VTGOP? Check.

No effort to raise money or build a campaign infrastructure? Check.

His inner circle basically consisting of family members? Check.

Propensity to grind personal axes on the campaign trail? Check.

Donald Trump without the energy and Brut-drenched charisma, you might say. Better hair, tho.

He’s pursuing the same contrarian course in his present challenge to eternal incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy.

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One less blank spot on the Republican ticket

Hey, the VTGOP has a candidate for Attorney General!

The challenger to putative Democratic nominee TJ Donovan is none other than Deb Bucknam, an attorney based in St. Johnsbury. She’s a former VTGOP state vice chair and Caledonia County GOP chair, and she once managed her husband Charlie’s extremely unsuccessful campaign for State Senate. That appears to be the extent of her political experience; at age 69, she will be making her first bid for public office.

Seven Days’ Paul Heintz first reported the news, in a friendly piece about how Donovan will face a challenge, after all, from this nice lady out of the Northeast Kingdom.

Not much of a challenge, I’m afraid. I give Bucknam virtually zero chance to beat Donovan, who has already raised more than enough money for a robust campaign and who will have the advantages of a well-funded, muscular party apparatus and a ticket with Hillary Clinton and Pat Leahy at the top. Bucknam will get the usual bag o’ beans from the VTGOP.

Besides, Bucknam is an ideologue through and through, a far-right Tea Party type.

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Phil’s dilemma

Was looking up a word the 21st Century way — Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. I found what I was looking for; but along the way I was offered a Word of the Day, which happened to be “undulant.”

As in, “having a wavy form, outline or surface.”

And I thought, “What a great word for Phil Scott.”

Our Lieutenant Governor is attempting a delicate balancing act which is looking to become more difficult.

On the one hand, preserving his image as a Son of the Green Mountains. On the other, needing to sip from the strong-flowing rivers of outside money in order to mount a competitive campaign against a deep-pocketed primary opponent and what’s sure to be a stoutly-funded Democrat.

On the one hand, his own pristine record of inoffensiveness and image of moderation, which are his most politically appealing attributes. On the other hand, his obligation to be a point man for his party, outlining the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Further thoughts on both points… after the jump.

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The Brock campaign’s nuclear connections — UPDATED

Last week, Randy Brock kinda re-introduced his bid for lieutenant governor at the same news conferece where a bunch of Republicans threw their lot in with Marco Rubio, the presidential candidate last seen telling dick jokes about Donald Trump.

Mm-hmm, presidential.

Brock made headlines by claiming he knows how to boost state tax revenue by $100 million, and I’ll be writing more about that in the near future. But he also showcased his campaign team. And the media coverage was notable for what it didn’t say.

VTDigger identified campaign manager Brad Ferland in passing, without specifying his credentials. The Vermont Press Bureau named Ferland* (listing his day job as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Management) and two others: Brent Burns, credentials unspecified; and Guy Page, identified as “field director for VT Watchdog.”

*UPDATE: The VPB was in error. There are two Brad Ferlands. The one who works for the state is not connected with the Brock campaign in any way. 

The latter is interesting enough; VT Watchdog is the Green Mountain outpost of the national Watchdog network, which is funded by far-right wealthy donors in the Koch brothers orbit.

But what’s even more interesting about Page and Ferland is what wasn’t reported: both are on the payroll of the Vermont Energy Partnership. For those unfamiliar, this bland-sounding organization is basically a sounding board for corporate energy interests in Vermont. As Green Mountain Daily put it:

The Vermont Energy Partnership was founded by [some] of the most powerful corporations, few from Windham County, including IBM, Casella Waste Management, and Pizzagalli Construction, plus business associations like the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. And, of course, Entergy.

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I almost feel sorry for the Franklin County GOP

Please note: “Almost.”

The various critters who live under the Golden Dome must have felt a great sense of relief when Sen. Norm McAllister’s trial was delayed by at least three months. The trial was to have begun this week, and would have featured a parade of elected officials taking the stand and doing their best Sergeant Schultz impersonations. “I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I know nothing.”

Unseemly, to say the least. And it might have interfered with the free flow of Democracy In Action that we usually see at the Statehouse this time of year.

(Hey, you in the back row: Stop laughing.)

So now it’s put off until May 10, when the Legislature will almost certainly be safely adjourned. Ohh, you can bet your sweet bippy they’ll be gone by then.

Well, it’s a relief for the Legislature. It’s the worst possible news for Franklin County Republicans. McAllister’s trial won’t even begin until a mere fortnight before the filing deadline for major party candidates.

I’m sure the party is lining up a candidate for McAllister’s seat (two current Representatives, Carolyn Branagan and Corey Parent, are being mentioned). But I’m convinced that McAllister is clueless enough to file for re-election.

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A child’s treasury of thoughts about David Zuckerman

Hey Dave, I went to the Burlington Winter Market on Saturday. Bought some of your fine veggies, but you weren’t there. Presumably spending a happy Saturday at the Senate Dems’ Convocation of Cowards. Maybe next time.

Anyway, organic farmer and state senator Dave Zuckerman is now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, running in the Democratic primary and seeking the Progressive nomination as well. I didn’t attend his kickoff event last Thursday; but here are a few thoughts on Zuckerman and the Lite-Gov race.

The most interesting participant in Thursday’s festivities, per media reports, was Senate Minority Leader Phil Baruth, who gave a hearty endorsement — “come hell or high water” — of the Prog/Dem Zuckerman. This was a big surprise to me; given the level of Dem>Prog antipathy up Burlington way, I assumed that area Democrats would stand behind Kesha Ram. Without regard to quality; just on the basis of not wanting to help a Progressive win.

Baruth’s stated reasoning boiled down to “I trust him,” a phrase he repeated at least three times. So, he doesn’t trust Kesha Ram?

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What’s your favorite boondoggle?

Hey look, the state’s talking about boosting passenger trains! Cue the Republican Outrage Machine.

The [Vermont] Agency of Transportation has issued its first statewide rail plan in nearly a decade. The proposal envisions new passenger routes to Burlington, Montreal, Manchester and Bennington…

… The combined price tag for the 20-year plan totals $665 million, well more than the $380 million in state and federal funding anticipated over the same time frame.

I can hear it now: a waste of taxpayer dollars! Unconscionable subsidies for a bygone system! Passenger rail serves only a small affluent clientele of train buffs!

Republicans, after all, have been trying to kill Amtrak for years because they believe passenger rail should pay its own way.

Which sounds nice in theory, makes a good sound bite. Problem is, there isn’t a transportation system of any kind that can stand on its own two feet. They all require massive subsidization.

Roads and highways, well, that’s easy. Construction and upkeep is entirely a taxpayer-funded enterprise, with the very occasional exception of toll roads. If we actually apportioned the costs on the basis of usership, the cost of long-distance trucking would go through the roof. Cargo trains would suddenly seem like a bargain by comparison. And if inter-city commutes reflected their true costs, well, let’s just say CCTA would have to greatly expand its LINK service.

But air travel is the big enchilada. An airport manager once told me, “Airports inherently lose money.” The infrastructure and security costs are borne by taxpayers, most of whom rarely or never use the facilities. (Talk about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.)

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Vermont’s new mental health system will have more inpatient beds than the old one

I wouldn’t blame Jay Batra if he felt personally vindicated today. Maybe even a little bit smug. VTDigger’s Morgan True: 

The state wants to replace a temporary psychiatric facility in Middlesex with a permanent structure twice the size, officials told lawmakers last week.

… Last June Vermont opened the doors of the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, but the system still lacks the capacity to keep people with acute psychiatric needs out of emergency departments.

How about that. “…the system still lacks the capacity…”

Vermont’s new, decentralized, community-oriented system currently has 45 beds: 25 at VPCH, 14 at the struggling Brattleboro Retreat, and six at Rutland Regional Medical Center. If/when the Middlesex facility is built, the system will have 59 beds.

Before Tropical Storm Irene, the Vermont State Hospital had 54 beds. After Irene, the Shumlin administration insisted, repeatedly, that if we had a more robust community-based system, we wouldn’t need that many inpatient beds. In the process, it ignored the counsel of psychiatric professionals, who said that 50 was the bare minimum.

What’s happened since then? The administration has slowly, quietly, built the system back up. And it has found that, yes indeed, those professionals knew what they were talking about.

Let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine to Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced on Tuesday that his administration plans to replace the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury with a decentralized, “community-based” plan with 40 inpatient beds in four locations around the state. …

The unveiling of Shumlin’s proposal came on the same day a top mental health psychiatrist called for almost the exact opposite of what the governor proposed. Dr. Jay Batra, medical director of the state hospital since 2009 and a professor at UVM, told lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday that the state should have one central mental health facility serving 48 to 50 patients in order to provide the best clinical treatment and best staffing model.

That, from a lengthy VTDigger account of Shumlin’s announcement, which was made in the conspicuous absence of Dr. Batra. At the time, Shumlin was planning on a central hospital with as few as 16 beds. It was a well-intentioned effort to avoid the serious problems that had plagued VSH in the past. But it was a misdirected effort, pursued against the advice of those actually in the field.

At the time, I wrote some highly critical stuff about the administration’s plan, and I got some active pushback from administration officials who basically accused the psychiatric community of professional puffery — overstating the need for their own expertise.

Now, it’s safe to say that the administration was wrong.

Assuming the Legislature approves the $11.4 million Middlesex facility, the mental health system will have more beds than before Irene, and those beds will cost more than a similar number at a single, central State Hospital. How much more, I don’t know. But the system has had persistent problems hiring and maintaining the staff it needs for the specialized care its patients require. Those problems are exacerbated when the beds are spread among four separate facilities.

Also unknown is how much money was [mis]spent on the long and winding road to get exactly where the experts thought we should go in the first place. Plus, we are left with a system that’s almost certainly more expensive to operate and harder to administer because of its geographic spread.

One of Governor Shumlin’s great strengths is his decisiveness. He can assess a situation quickly, make a decision, and carry it through. Well, it’s a strength when he’s right. When he’s wrong, and he stubbornly insists on staying the course, that same decisiveness is one of his great weaknesses.