Tag Archives: Howard Dean

In Pursuit of Performative Purity

A kerfuffle has seized the attention of #vtpoliland. It’s over the acceptance of Super PAC money, or connivance with those entities, by Democratic candidates for U.S. House.

And I’m here to tell you it’s fake news.

At a candidates’ forum last week, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray pestered Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint over accepting donations from Super PACs. The exchange ended with Balint forswearing such funds.

This week, we got Phase 2 of the kerfuffle, as both VTDigger and Seven Days posted stories about “redboxing” on Balint’s campaign website. That’s the practice of posting content meant to signal Super PACs about preferred messaging in any independent ads the organizations run. Nudge nudge wink wink, don’tcha know.

The fact that both outlets ran the same story on the same day tells me that they were likely tipped off by the Gray campaign, which sees this issue as a way to counter the impression that Gray is the establishment candidate. Which, to me, is a sign that Team Gray is a little desperate, going negative against the apparent front-runner.

Here’s the thing. Not all Super PACs are created equal, and it’s a fallacy to say that all Super PAC money is inherently evil. There are Super PACs run by giant corporations and oligarchs; there are others run progressive organizations, by labor unions, by LGBTQ+ groups.

Bernie Sanders has accepted Super PAC money from such groups, for Pete’s sake. So Neither Pat Leahy nor Peter Welch have had any previous qualms about such money. The latter has found religion this year as he tries to advance to the U.S. Senate, but he’s never seen Super PACs as universally problematic before.

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Governor Nice Guy Extends His All-Time Veto Record

What will it take to make us stop calling Phil Scott a Nice GuyTM?

Even as the House failed, by one vote each*, to override two of Scott’s vetoes, he came out and promised yet another. This time, the victim is S.234, a bill making changes in Act 250 designed to encourage housing construction.

*Special place in political hell for Rep. Thomas Bock, a Democrat who voted for the clean heat standard bill and switched his vote on the override at the last minute without informing leadership.

For those keeping track, and I sure as hell am, that will be his 31st veto. He’s threatening another on the budget bill, and he’s vetoed plenty of budgets in the past.

Scott continues to put more and more distance between himself and the rest of the Vermont gubernatorial field like Chase Elliott in a Soap Box Derby. The past record-holder, Howard Dean, racked up a “mere” 21 vetoes. Of course, he was governor for almost twelve full years and Scott is only partway through his sixth.

Jim Douglas vetoed 19 bills, but he served four full terms to Scott’s three and a half.

There is no competition. Phil Scott is the Veto King.

Two questions:

First, what exactly makes him a Nice Guy? The disarming smile? It sure isn’t policy.

Second, how can any Democrat vote for Scott and claim to support their party’s agenda? Scott has prevented the Legislature from taking stronger action not only with those 31-and-counting vetoes, but with the ever-present threat of even more. He’ll do it. You know he will.

Two answers:

First, he isn’t a nice guy, but he plays one on TV.

Second, they can’t.

Nice Guy Sets Record for Not Being Nice

The inevitable has finally happened. Gov. Phil Scott has bested Howard Dean’s all-time record for gubernatorial vetoes — and he did it in less than half the time it took Dean.

On Tuesday, Scott issued his second and third vetoes of 2021, bringing his total to 22 in four-and-a-half years in office. Dean was in office for 12 years, and racked up a total of 20 vetoes. (In its story on Tuesday’s vetoes, Seven Days did not mention the record.)

Tell me again how nice a guy Scott is, and how much he values cooperation across the aisle.

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Pearce’s Pivot

Still proud of her, @vtdemocrats?

At the end of last week, we got a sizeable Friday newsdump from an unusual source: State Treasurer Beth Pearce. In a report on the state’s public pension funds, she called for new limits on pensions for state employees and teachers. It was duly reported, first by VPR and then by VTDigger, but neither story captured the significance of Pearce’s pivot.

This is, in my view, the single biggest position shift by a top Democratic officeholder since Peter Shumlin abandoned single-payer health care in 2014. That move brought Shumlin’s political career to an ignoble conclusion, since he’d staked his governorship on delivering single-payer. I doubt that Pearce will have to slink off into the darkness, but she might not get the rapturous receptions at party functions that she’s gotten used to.

The pension plans don’t have enough funds to pay promised benefits because, through most of Howard Dean’s governorship and about half of Jim Douglas’, the state consistently shorted its annual contribution. Many have called for a shift from defined-benefit to a 401K-style defined-contribution plan. The former promises definite retirement benefits; the latter only promises to contribute money to the plan. Actual benefits depend on the health of the pension fund.

Pearce had been a champion of retaining defined-benefit. She’s an expert at public finance, so her view has carried a lot of weight. Now, she has abandoned that position. She still supports defined-benefit plans… but she has effectively changed her definition of the term. That’s a big, hairy deal. It puts legislative Democrats under pressure to go along with pension cuts — and that threatens to drive a wedge between the Vermont Democratic Party and two of its biggest supporters: the Vermont State Employees Association and the Vermont National Education Association.

I can’t say I blame her, given her recitation of the facts. But this could touch off a political shitstorm.

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Digger Gov Debate: Cromulent Son

At least they flipped the room and got decent lighting.

It seemed remarkably civilized after Donald Trump’s attempt to run roughshod over debate protocol (and the foundations of our Republic), but the second major media faceoff between Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was a lively affair that managed to provide some light in addition to heat.

As in the first debate, Zuckerman put on a clinic on how to confront Scott, while the governor often seemed overly defensive, even a bit surly. And as in round 1, it’s unlikely to make any difference in the election outcome.

I’ve noticed an increasing tendency in Scott to bristle in the face of close questioning. He frequently interrupted Zuckerman and misrepresented the Lite-Gov’s record. Has he gotten soft after months of nearly universal praise? Or is he starting to harbor a sense of entitlement after three years in office?

Whatever, it was a rare slip of the mask for Mr. Nice Guy.

Y’know, if Vermont was half as progressive as its Bernie-fueled image, Zuckerman would have a decent chance at becoming the next governor. Unfortunately for him, the electorate leans more center-left than left. Sanders’ coattails are much shorter than you’d think. And Vermont voters like to think of themselves as balanced, and our political system as exceptionally civil. That’s why we quickly embrace people like Scott and Jim Douglas who put a pleasant face on traditional Republicanism. (And it’s why Scott Milne is eagerly grasping for the same electable image.)

If Vermont’s “progressive” electorate was serious about progressive policies, they’d reject a guy who is nearing the all-time record for vetoes. In three years, Scott has racked up 19 — and counting; during the debate he hinted at a veto on the cannabis tax-and-regulate bill.

The record holder is Howard Dean with 20. And it took Dean eight years to rack up 20 vetoes; it’s taken Scott less than three years to equal Dean’s total. Also, most of Dean’s vetoes were on relatively small-bore legislation — a bill to legalize the sale of sparklers, a change in members of the Fire Service Training Council, a measure aimed at quicker removal of abandoned motor vehicles.

Scott, on the other hand, aims his fire at the biggest targets. He has vetoed three separate budget bills, which is unprecedented in Vermont history. He has vetoed many of the Legislature’s top priorities; this year’s vetoes included minimum wage, paid family leave and the Global Warming Solutions Act. And might yet include cannabis. His veto record is quantum orders beyond Dean’s or Douglas’. Or any other governor in state history.

In short, Phil Scott is a huge obstacle to the Democratic/Progressive agenda. Yet the voters seem intent on giving him a third term, even as they return lopsided Dem/Prog majorities to the House and Senate. If you think voters decide based on the issues, think again.

But enough about that. On to the debate.

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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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Sue Minter did worse than I thought

This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.

On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)

But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.

Now, I’m seriously rethinking that notion.

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EB-5: the tar baby of Vermont politics

I was wondering when a candidate would dip his hand into the EB-5 cookie jar. It’s easy pickin’s if you want to criticize Democratic leadership of state government. And here we go, Phil Scott’s dug in for some sweet treats.

After positing his support for EB-5 “with proper oversight,” he laid into the Shumlin administration on a specific point:

I was disappointed to learn… that the Shumlin Administration enabled the owners of the EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom… to continue to solicit investors for months after the SEC had suspended that permission for Jay Peak. … By the Administration’s own admission, it was a ‘calculated risk.’  Yet, they’ve not yet explained why they took this risk or why they allowed the problem to continue to grow.

Now, here’s the problem.

The Shumlin administration made that decision in the spring of 2015. (More on that in a moment.) In June of that year, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway broke the news that federal authorities were investigating Jay Peak.

For months after that, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott expressed his wholehearted support for Jay Peak. Indeed, in November he criticized the administration for inserting itself into the process, thus delaying payments to contractors.

Despite the issues at Q Burke, Scott says he still supports Vermont’s EB-5 program. He added that he sympathizes with [Jay Peak contractor] PeakCM, as he owns his own construction company.

So, hypocrite. But wait, there’s more.

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The race for governor will offer a stark contrast

This year’s election will trigger a turnover at the top perhaps unprecedented in Vermont history. A new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and new heads of the House and Senate will all be in place by next January. And heading into the campaign, Vermont’s two major parties are offering completely different visions of the state of our state and the mood of its people.

Republicans see Vermonters as tired of high taxes, government intrusion, and the restless reformism (as they see it) of the Shumlin administration.

You’d expect Democrats to be treading cautiously. They are in the tightrope position of simultaneously defending their tenure in power, and crafting a distinctive profile going forward. Not to mention its persistently strong incrementalist tendencies.

However. Driven by Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming success in our primary, the party is moving leftward. There is a sense that Vermonters are ready for even more decisive change, even more government, a more aggressive push to lift up the downtrodden and blunt the sharp edges of capitalism.

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The superdelegate schmozz

Having proven its electoral mettle in the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign is apparently now just realizing that the Democratic Party’s nominating process is not entirely, well, democratic. 

Of the nearly 4,500 delegates who will cast a vote at next July’s Democratic National Convention, an estimated 713 of them are so-called “superdelegates” — party muckety-mucks who can vote however they please.

And surprise, surprise: a lot of the muckety-mucks are backing Hillary Clinton. Resulting in this seeming contradiction:

Bernie Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and won by a landslide in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton has amassed an enormous 350-delegate advantage over the Vermont senator after just two states.

That’s because more than half of the unelected superdelegates have endorsed Clinton — although they are under no legal obligation to vote for her at the convention.

All of which prompts outrage in the Sanders camp. Outrage you might expect me to share.

Well, sorry, but I don’t.

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