Tag Archives: Jeanette White

You can’t blame the ethics issue on the media

Jeanette White never wanted ethics reform.

The Putney Democrat and chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee made that clear, over and over again. And she blamed a tried-and-true scapegoat for bringing it up:

The issue of ethics and the lack of an ethics commission has been of great interest over the last year or so to the media. How many Vermonters are passionate about the issue is not clear…

Which was obvious bulldookie at the time. But now I’ve got evidence from an unexpected source.

Researchers at Illinois State University have been involved in a lengthy study of corruption in state politics. They took an unusual approach: seeking the perceptions of reporters covering state politics and corruption issues. They reasoned that corruption cases are handled differently in different states, so rates of indictment and conviction might be grossly misleading. Just because, for instance, New York has pursued several high-profile cases doesn’t mean its politics are more corrupt than, say, New Jersey’s. Perception-based studies have their own limitations, but it’s a different way to evaluate what’s going on.

Turns out that in Vermont, reporters see the state as fundamentally clean, untainted by political sleaze. Vermont ranked near the top in most categories, and overall was one of the “cleanest” states in the country in the eyes of our own allegedly cynical media corps.

Continue reading

Advertisements

A little prayer for ethics reform

Ah, Ethics Commission, we hardly knew ye.

Vermont will remain one of a handful of states whose politicians are unburdened by an ethics watchdog. The final benediction was pronounced Tuesday by House leaders, but the fatal blow had been struck in the Senate.

Well, not a blow, actually. The cause of death was slow and methodical.

A bill to establish a state Ethics Commission was shackled to the stone walls of a windowless chamber somewhere beneath the Senate. The cryptkeeper was Jeanette White, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who openly questioned the need for any ethical oversight at all.

Senate Bill 184 was permitted barely enough gruel and water to survive. Over time, its muscles atrophied and it became a mere shadow of itself. Its teeth and claws were extracted, just to make sure it could never do any damage.

And finally,  at the end of last week, after months of captivity, it was paraded across the hallway, shambling, emaciated, wincing at its first glimpse of sunlight since January. By then, it was too far gone to revive. Not that the House put much effort into it.

Rest In Peace, S. 184.

Continue reading

As if we needed more evidence that Jeanette White doesn’t get it…

State Sen. Jeanette White (D-Stockholm Syndrome) penned an opinion column in the Brattleboro Observer last week concerning the Senate’s timid, occasional, mincing steps toward some kind of ethics commission. We’ll get to the self-serving (and self-pitying) rhetoric in a moment; but first, she shared a detail about the proposed State Ethics Commission that I hadn’t seen before.

The duties of the commission/director will be to give advisory opinions on question of potential ethical issues to anyone who requests. These will be kept confidential.

(Ahem.)

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Continue reading

State Senate trying to Norquist ethics reform

Vermont’s Most Sclerotic Deliberative Body has been taking its time with a proposal to set up a state Ethics Commission. Much more time than they took with legalizing marijuana, and probably longer than they’ll take with the frickin’ budget.

Why the slow play? Well, the Senate’s point person on ethics reform makes it abundantly clear.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, said, “Because the press keeps saying that we’re the only state without an ethics commission and clearly we have something to hide … I don’t really believe that.”

Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Gram for capturing that entry into the Quote of the Year competition.

Jeezum Crow. The Senator in charge of ethics reform doesn’t believe ethics reform is necessary. She blames the media for fomenting “a lack of faith in government officials.”

Methinks the good Senator has been in Montpelier too long. She’s been so deep in the system for so long, she’s lost all perspective.

Continue reading

Welcome aboard, Governor

Seemingly out of nowhere today, Governor Shumlin threw his support behind the idea of an independent state Ethics Commission. The idea’s gotten a lot of push in recent months, thanks to a string of public-sector embarrassments including (but not limited to) Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s squicky relationships with big national law firms, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell’s landing a state job after he’d lobbied for its creation, the revelation that longtime lawmaker Norm McAllister is (allegedly) a felony-class sleazeball, and most recently, Brent Raymond’s overnight transformation from EB-5 regulator to EB-5 project manager.

So congratulations, Governor, for finally seeing the bright, glaring, blinding light.

His spokesperson Scott Coriell claims, according to VTDigger, that “Wednesday was the first time, to his knowledge, that the governor had been asked whether he supports such a commission.”

That might be true in the narrowest of senses. But until now, Shumlin has been down on the general idea of tougher ethics standards, insisting that we’re all good Vermonters, we all know each other, and we’re above this sort of tawdry behavior. But hey, better late than never.

Continue reading

Connect the dots, and reveal a black hat

The Senate Government Operations Committee, last seen saying yes to the Fourteenth Star, held a hearing Friday on a bill that would increase disclosure requirements for ad campaigns meant to influence legislative debate.

The bill would require disclosure of public-policy advertising over $1,000 within 48 hours. Under current law, disclosure is only required three times a year: January 25, April 25, and July 25. The April report is the biggie, since it covers the bulk of a legislative session. And it comes at the very end of the session, which means the disclosure is almost useless for finding out who’s spending money to influence which piece of legislation.

The Associated Press’ Wilson Ring was there, and reports that one of the top lobbyists in Montpelier, Andrew MacLean, testified against the idea.

Ring failed, however, to deliver the context. Which I will now do. You’re welcome.

MacLean makes a darn fine living representing numerous business interests. He told the committee that the 48-hour disclosure requirement would be difficult for lobbyists to meet.

Which is, pardon my French, pure bullshit.

The same requirement is already placed on political candidates in the last 45 days of a campaign season. If candidates can meet the requirement, surely a well-endowed lobbying firm can do so.

MacLean also efforted the First Amendment argument —  “the proposal… could infringe on free speech rights” — which is also bullshit. Disclosure imposes no limits on speech.

His alternative? “… change your disclosure dates and maybe add one or two.”

Uh-huh. And why, you might ask, is Mr. MacLean so anxious to avoid prompt disclosure? Committee chair Jeanette White gave us a hint:

[White] said the proposal grew out of a case in which a lot of money was spent trying to get members of the House to vote against an issue. She did not say what the issue was.

Well, I’ll tell you what the issue was. It was the 2013 attempt to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The beverage and retail industries mounted an all-out effort to kill the bill, spending more than $600,000 in the first three months of 2013. We didn’t find that out until April 25, 2013, by which time the beverage tax was dead.

The chief local lobbyist for that effort? Andrew MacLean.

Fast forward to 2015, when the legislature is once again considering a beverage tax, and Andrew MacLean is once again at the forefront of a very expensive advertising and lobbying campaign against the bill.

Naturally, he prefers disclosure to be as infrequent and untimely as possible.

MacLean’s testimony was motivated by blatant self-interest. I hope the committee sees through that, and proceeds with a reasonable effort to add some transparency to the flow of money through our politics.

…et puer parvulus minabit eos.

(If you have any issues with the Latin above, take it up with Google Translate.) 

At the risk of losing my street cred, I have to admit being edified and inspired by an event at the Statehouse today.

The occasion: The Senate Government Operations Committee taking up a bill to establish Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat as an alternate motto for the state of Vermont.

This proposal has famously been the target of unedifying and uninspiring commentary, mistakenly conflating Latin with Latino, criticizing it as a waste of time, and wrongly complaining that the new motto would supplant “Freedom and Unity.”

Angela Kubicke and the motto bill's sponsor Sen. Joe Benning, with the broad shoulders and flowing mane of Seven Days' Paul "Party in the Back" Heintz in the middle.

Angela Kubicke and the motto bill’s sponsor Sen. Joe Benning, with the broad shoulders and flowing mane of Seven Days’ Paul “Party in the Back” Heintz in the middle.

The hearing was attended by roughly five dozen middle- and high-school students of Latin, along with teachers, parents, and three Classicists from the University of Vermont. The hearing’s central figure was 15-year-old Angela Kubicke, who had the original idea for the Latin motto and, with her teacher and others, came up with the exact wording. The first three words, translated as “The Fourteenth Star,” appeared on the first coin minted in the 1780s by the then-independent Vermont. “Fulgeat,” the verb, completes the sentence “May the fourteenth star shine brightly.” Kubicke and her teacher, Ray Starling, gave a thorough account of the historical rationale for their proposal.

One of the other witnesses almost stole the show. If you were casting the part of a tenured professor of classical languages, you might just see Robert Rodgers as a gift of the gods. Slightly tousled gray hair, well-trimmed gray beard, glasses, precise in speech to the point of pedantry, his testimony was perched delicately on the border between entertaining and aggravating. As committee chair Jeanette White admitted afterward, “I forgot that professors are used to talking in 45-minute increments.” Professor Rodgers went nowhere near that long, but with the chair’s forbearance he blithely ignored the two-minute time limit per speaker. It was a rare opportunity for a Classicist to speak to a lay audience on a subject dear to his heart, and he was (in his own reserved way) happy as a pig in slop.

Still, he was an effective if nerdy (and wordy) witness, praising “Fulgeat” as “a felicitous choice for a verb,” parsing its contextual meanings and citing its use by the Roman poet Virgil.

Three students from Lamoille Union High School also spoke to the committee, defending Latin as a foundation of modern science, architecture, music, and Western languages. At the end, committee member Chris Bray commended Kubicke and her fellow speakers for the “depth of thought” behind the motto.

And then came the vote: FIve in favor, zero opposed. The bill goes on to the full Senate on Friday.

For the many who complained about the bill being a “waste of time,” you should have been there. Everyone — Senators, professors, teachers, and students — were fully engaged in the process and the issue. It took less than an hour all told, and it was a great learning experience for all. I’ve got nothing cynical to say about it in the least.