There’s nothing new in Secretary of State Jim Condos penning an op-ed for Vermont news outlets. Does it all the time. But there’s something different with his latest: He lists deputy SoS Chris Winters as co-author. And earlier this month, Condos’ office announced the creation of an Elections “Myth vs. Fact” page on the Secretary’s website. Specifically, it announced that Condos and Winters had created the page.
This would be mere trivia except for one thing. The Democratic rumor mill is rife with word that Condos will not seek a seventh term in office, and that he will endorse Winters as his successor. In that context, it makes all the sense in the world for Condos to be elevating Winters to kinda-sorta coequal status in the public business of the office.
Condos’ endorsement would be a huge plus for the politically untested Winters, but it would be far from dispositive. There would be other entries in the race, possibly from two distinct spheres: (1) the technocrat class, with experience in running elections and such, and (2) Democratic politicos looking to climb the ladder. I don’t have specific names in either category besides Winters in Column A, but the opening would be a big fat juicy opportunity.
The statewide offices, generally speaking, are the best perch for those seeking to reach the highest levels of Vermont politics. They get your name before a statewide audience. They get voters accustomed to filling in the oval next to your name. (I was going to say “pulling the lever,” but I need provide no additional proof that I’m old.) A statewide post is a far better launchpad than any position in the Legislature, and I’m including Speaker and Pro Tem in that calculation. Most people, even most voters, just don’t pay much attention to the Statehouse.
The topline from this week’s gubernatorial Covid presser was probably the Scott Administration’s apparent determination to push harder for getting Vermonters vaccinated. The governor practically accused the unvaccinated of betraying their fellow Vermonters and promised a new messaging strategy. I doubt it was because I’d just written the exact same thing last Tuesday, but hey, if they’re taking my advice, that’s fine with me.
However, for the political observers in the crowd, the most telling development came near the end of the marathon presser. VTDigger political reporter Lola Duffort asked a pointed question about chief of staff Jason Gibbs slagging an administration critic last week. (This was after two hours of nobody else bringing it up.) In his response, Scott made it clear that Gibbs was absolutely speaking on his behalf — and that Scott shares Gibbs’ condescending attitude toward critics and skeptics.
Yeah, the mask slipped, revealing the mean-spirited flip side of Governor Nice Guy.
Apologies from the Veepies Selection Committee, which has been overwhelmed with all the stupid and/or obtuse in our public sphere. I’m sure we missed a few, but here’s a selection featuring a whole lot of misplaced self-regard from those in positions of public trust.
FIrst, the Hey, Look, A Squirrel! Award For Attempted Misdirection goes to Jason Maulucci, spokesthingy for Gov. Phil Scott. When last we met, we were giving chief of staff Jason Gibbs a right roasting for maligning a public health expert who disagrees with the administration. Gibbs all but accused Dartmouth’s Anne Sosin of professional misconduct, saying she was “desperate to prove a false narrative” and that her analysis “conceals the full truth.” Those are serious things to say about an academic’s work product.
Maulucci, when asked for comment by VTDigger, defended Gibbs by ignoring the personal criticism of Sosin. Gibbs had merely “presented data from a neutral data tool” according to Jason Junior, who concluded with “There is nothing uncivil about pointing out facts.”
Exactly, Jason Junior. There is nothing uncivil about pointing out facts. But there is something extremely uncivil and downright unseemly about attacking Sosin’s integrity. Maulucci’s lame-ass defense doesn’t change that.
Still to come: a spate of ass-covering by the cops, and correcting a very racist public monument.
Collars must be getting tight around the Pavilion Building’s fifth floor, where Gov. Phil Scott and his inner circle have their offices. I say this because yesterday, Scott’s chief of staff Jason Gibbs delivered a series of tweets in which he claimed to know more about Covid-19 than the actual experts. Most of his attention was focused on one particular expert, Anne Sosin of Dartmouth College. He took exception to her advocacy of a mask mandate, questioned her ethics and research, and challenged her to a Science-Off on Twitter — everyone’s chosen platform for scientific discourse.
At times it approached the level of bullying. It was an unusual and unseemly performance by Phil Scott’s top guy.
Oh wait — he’s come back for Round 2 today! I’m surprised; I thought he’d get a talking-to from his boss and return to his hidey hole. Hmm. Maybe the governor wants his chief of staff out there showing his ass to the world.
Can we conclude that this is of a piece with the administration’s blinkered approach to “the science and the data” that Scott claims to rely on? When asked about dissenting experts at a recent Covid briefing, Scott professed to trust the experts in the building. His underlings, that is.
What’s gotten under their skin? It’s not the failure of their Delta variant policy or the terrible Covid case counts or hospitalizations or ICU admissions or the overstressed health care system or the slow plague of long Covid we’re setting ourselves up for. Maybe it was the Vermont chapter of the American College of Physicians publicly calling for a mask mandate and other “evidence-based measures.” Maybe it was former health commissioner Dr. Harry Chen joining the chorus. There are so many experts on that side, and so many studies showing that mask mandates are effective, that Team Scott must be feeling a bit embattled.
But, for whatever reason, Gibbs’ primary target was Sosin.
Governor-elect Phil Scott’s first round of appointments came on Thanksgiving Eve. And honestly, the announcement was a touch underwhelming.
Nothing against the four appointees. But c’mon, three members of his transition team and the sole staffer in the Lieutenant Governor’s office? Did it really take three weeks to pluck the lowest-hanging fruit?
Would it be churlish of me to point out that in November 2010, Peter Shumlin had his inner circle in place less than ten days after the election, and had begun to fill out his cabinet by this point? Perhaps, but compared to the last Governor-elect, Phil Scott’s off to a slow start.
(Irony Alert: When Shumlin took office, he made it clear that the single focus of his administration wouild be job creation. It’s deja vu all over again, just like last time.)
Also, it’d be reassuring to see at least one appointee who’s not a member of The Usual Suspects.
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.
At this point in the campaign, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is the presumptive front-runner. He’s got name recognition and personal popularity; he’s got the solid backing of the business/Republican community anxious for a winner.
And he’s campaigning like a front-runner: maximizing appearances before friendly audiences and minimizing exposure to open-ended affairs that might lead to missteps or embarrassment.
The latest example: the left-wing group Rights & Democracy organized a pair of events for gubernatorial candidates on April 9. Accepting the invitation: all three Democratic candidates, plus Republican Bruce Lisman.
Mr. Front-Runner (not exactly as illustrated)
Rejecting: Phil Scott.
What’s the matter, Phil? Can’t take the heat, so you’re staying clear of the kitchen? I guess not. Scott’s formal response to R&D:
“I’m not convinced my candidate would get fair and equal treatment at a forum hosted by a very liberal organization. Therefore, we would like to respectfully decline participation in your organization’s forums,” wrote Scott Campaign Manager Brittney Wilson.
She has a point. But heck, Bruce Lisman’s gonna show up.
Besides, if Phil Scott claims to have the necessary cojone quotient for being governor, shouldn’t he be able to handle an unfriendly crowd?