Tag Archives: Jane Kitchel

Where Are The Ashes Of Yesteryear?

Objects In The Mirror May Be Fuzzier Than They Appear

The following was written in 2003. I’d ask you to guess the author, but I’ve already given away that game.

I should be a Democrat. From Massachusetts, mother a teacher and father a civil servant, family of Kennedy-philes… I’ve got a long life of political activism ahead of me. My loyalties are to ideas and not a party, so if my energies are not going to the Dems, they’ll be going somewhere else.

… Younger people like myself can understand the importance of getting the message to different types of voters. But we also understand the nature of a chameleon, and we don’t want to vote for a leaf and elect a reptile.

That’s a short excerpt from “Letter from a Democratic Party Pooper, and it was indeed penned by Young Tim Ashe, progressive firebrand. The letter was included in Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, written in 2003 by the future governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. (This tidbit came to my attention courtesy of urban archeologist and Twitter buddy Ed Adrian.)

In the letter, Ashe bemoans the Democratic Party’s habit of tacking to the center. He certainly sounds like a former Bernie Sanders staffer and future Progressive Party officeholder. He doesn’t sound much like Ashe the Senate President Pro Tem, who’s known for cosseting the chamber’s old guard, a cadre of change-averse centrists.

So. Which Tim Ashe is running for lieutenant governor?

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The Lord Chancellor Storms the Castle

This is, as I tweeted the other day, the most hilarious development of the #vtpoli season. Tim Ashe, who rose to the position of Senate President Pro Tem by making nice with the chamber’s most entrenched senior members, is now presenting himself as the outsider in the race for lieutenant governor, The Man Of The People not beholden to “the political elite.”

Does he mean elites such as Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel, who serves as the Ashe campaign’s treasurer? Or Senate Finance Chair Ann Cummings, now in her 23rd year in office and so immune from challenge that she hardly bothers to campaign at all?

Look, here they are now.

I sense the distinctive odor of flop sweat.

Ashe, who seemed like the obvious odds-on favorite to succeed David Zuckerman as lieutenant governor, has recast himself as Mr. Outside because he’s in danger of being Wally Pipped by a young woman who had precisely zero profile in Statehouse circles a mere six months ago.

It has to have been quite galling for him to watch Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray rack up endorsement after endorsement from top Vermont Democrats, and follow it up with a truly impressive fundraising performance that has left Ashe in the financial dust.

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Is Somebody Getting Nervous in the LG Race?

There’s only one month to go until the August primary, and who knows how many absentee ballots already coming in, so maybe it’s no surprise that some collars are showing signs of tightening.

The above is a mailer sent by Senate President Pro Tem and candidate for lieutenant governor Tim Ashe, which seems expressly designed to draw a contrast between him and Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray.

Gray, for those just joining us, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and immediately started racking up big donations and big-name endorsements. Before her emergence, the safe money was on Ashe to ride his name recognition to a primary victory — and then a comfortable ride to election in November. But now? Not so much.

Ashe’s mailer screams about the need for EXPERIENCE in these troubled times. The kind of EXPERIENCE that makes a person fit to, uhhh, bang a gavel. It highlights three things about Ashe that can’t be said about Gray: experience as Pro Tem, experience passing legislation, and “my real-world economic development career.”

That notorious slacker Gray, by contrast, has frittered away her time working for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan, among others. She probably does scrapbooking or needlepoint in her spare time. Maybe jigsaw puzzles.

Ashe’s mailer doesn’t draw as neat a contrast with the other two Democrats in the race. His fellow Senator Debbie Ingram has plenty of experience on legislation. Activist and arts administrator Brenda Siegel has spent lots of time in the Statehouse working on legislation as an advocate.

A more direct attack on Gray came last week courtesy of VTDigger, which posted a story questioning her residency status — and pretty much settling the issue in her favor.

Here’s some rank speculation on my part: Somebody gave Digger a tip to pursue this angle. If this had been entirely Digger’s initiative, the story would have been done when Gray launched her campaign — after all, she went out of her way to highlight her international experience including her time away from Vermont.

I have not a shred of evidence pointing to Ashe or his minions as the source of the story. But the timing speaks for itself. And I really don’t see Ingram or Siegel resorting to trickery of any sort.

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About those rescissions, part 1

On Thanksgiving Eve, the Shumlin Administration took out some trash. And before I go on, may I just say that pre-weekend newsdumps — and especially pre-holiday newsdumps — are a cowardly way to govern? If you guys think you’re smart enough to manage this state, have the courage to own the bad news. A newsdump might help minimize the immediate impact, but you’d be better off to face the bad news head-on. Be honest with the people who elected you.

(There was a similar Administration newsdump the Friday before Labor day. That one was a damning review of the management of Vermont Health Connect’s IT infrastructure. I look forward, not at all, to the news we might get on Christmas Eve.)

This newsdump concerns a second round of budget rescissions, made necessary by shortfalls in income tax revenue. Which were caused by an anemic economic recovery that has left the middle and working classes behind. Stagnant wages, stagnant tax revenue. While the top earners continue to depress their tax bills through loopholes and high deductions.

The Shumlin Administration wants to cut $17 million from this year’s spending. I’ll have more to say about the specifics in a later post. For now, I’m focusing on the Administration’s claim that it can cut $6,7 million without the Legislature’s approval. The Administration has an Attorney General’s opinion that approves its legal argument for doing so.

That doesn’t sit well with top lawmakers:

Legislators on the House and Senate’s Joint Fiscal Committee share the administration’s sense of urgency, but do not believe that the Shumlin administration has the legal authority to make most of the planned cuts. The Legislative Council, which advises lawmakers on legal matters, supports that position.

“The statute does not give them the authority to do this,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, co-chair of the Joint Fiscal Committee.

I guess we can conclude that Governor Shumlin’s post-election period of listening and learning has come to an end. One seemingly obvious result of the razor-thin gubernatorial election was that Shumlin would need to repair relations with the legislature and act in a more cooperative manner.

Seems like a lesson unlearned there. And it’s not exactly a good portent for what’s going to be, at best, a contentious and difficult biennium.

The new state hospital: A milestone, but not the end of the road

Yesterday’s happy-smiley ribbon cutting at the new State Hospital in Berlin was, indeed, a happy occasion. The post-Irene period — almost three years — has been extremely tough on seriously ill patients, their caregivers, and the entire mental health care system. Long waits, days spent in emergency rooms, endless shuffling of patients from one facility to another, constant searching for even a single empty bed. It’s been damn tough, and the interregnum has been longer than it should have been.

But nobody should confuse this milestone with the finish line. There are still a lot of questions to answer and issues to address. (Many of these were covered in Pete “Mr. Microphone” Hirschfeld’s fine piece for VPR, which went above and beyond the pro forma coverage of a ceremonial event and actually addressed the meat of the issue.) First and foremost: is this new hospital big enough?

After Irene, the experts were insisting that a new hospital needed to be at least as large as the old one. Instead, it’s half as big. I realize we’re trying to deemphasize hospitalization and move to a multifaceted, community-based system. But we’re talking about the sickest of the sick: even at 54 beds, that’s one bed per 11,593 residents. A central hospital isn’t for patients who might be better served in outpatient or community settings; it’s for the very, very small number of people who are too ill to function, too dangerous to themselves or others.

It remains to be seen whether 25 beds are really enough. It’ll definitely ease some of the intense pressure on the system, and it should prevent the widespread warehousing of patients in ERs or other unsuitable locations.

And there’s still widespread legislative dissatisfaction with the cost of the new facility, which makes me fear that the hospital will be nickel-and-dimed by lawmakers more concerned with the bottom line than with adequate patient care. Sen. Jane Kitchel, for one: she was more than pleased to take part in the ribbon-cutting, but she’d really like to see the hospital run more cheaply. 

Many lawmakers are complaining that the new hospital’s per-patient costs are substantially higher than the old one’s. That’s true, but I’d point out a couple of obvious items:

The old hospital was inadequate. Everyone says so. It lost its federal certification, which meant it did not qualify for Medicaid funding. If the old hospital wasn’t up to snuff, well, of course the new hospital will cost more.

Many of the costs are fixed. So when the Legislature happily signed off on a smaller facility, it tacitly agreed to much higher per-patient costs. A brand-new 54-bed state hospital would have had higher operating costs than the old one, but it would have cost a lot less per patient than the new 25-bed facility. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the legislature.

Many of the costs of the old state hospital are now redistributed across multiple locations, and helping to fund new community-based programs. (Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.) This very intensive kind of psychiatric care requires staffers with special training and expertise; in a single central facility, you can have a more concentrated level of expertise. In the new system, we’ll have to spread those people around. And almost certainly hire more of them.

So I don’t want to hear any whingeing from the legislature about the new hospital’s cost. This was their idea.

But it must raise serious questions about the legislature’s willingness to fund the community-based facilities that are supposed to undergird the whole system and prevent a whole lot of hospitalizations. <a href=”http://digital.vpr.net/post/after-long-wait-mental-health-hospital-ready-first-patients”>Via Hirschfeld: </a>

Northfield Rep. Ann Donahue is a mental health advocate who has spent years advocating for a new state mental hospital. Impressive as the new facility is, Donahue says the system won’t function properly unless the community-based facilities are actually built. And she said much of the bed space and treatment capacity called for in the reform plan have yet to be constructed.

“Some of them are still in development, some of them are on budget hold. And we need to really enhance that aspect or we won’t reduce the need for inpatient care,” Donahue said.

At the ribbon-cutting, Human Services Secretary Doug Racine trumpeted the claim that Vermont “has the best mental health services in the U.S.” As of today, that claim is one step closer to reality but, fundamentally, it remains in the realm of political blather. The truth is, Vermont may well have the best mental health care system in the country ON PAPER. But a long struggle remains to turn it into reality. And penny-pinching Democrats are, sad to say, the biggest obstacle in our path.