Tag Archives: Joe Benning

If I hear someone say “a few bad apples,” I’m gonna scream

The Vermont Department of Corrections (Not Exactly As Illustrated) (Or Maybe It Is)

As Vermont’s prison scandal continues to spread and deepen, I find myself pondering a simple question:

How are the Democrats going to handle this?

The latest in this head-spinning affair is the indefinite suspension of the top two officials at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. DOC Commissioner-For-Now Mike Touchette announced the suspensions in a Friday newsdump. He didn’t explain the reasons — but dollars to donuts it’s no coincidence that the action comes a few days after Human Services Secretary Mike Smith launched his own investigation, which initially (at least) focused on the state’s only women’s prison.

And while we wait for more dominoes to fall, let’s consider that the scandal puts the Democrats in a tight spot. At first glance, you might think they’d be rarin’ to dig up a nice juicy election-year scandal that might put a few dents in Gov. Phil Scott’s Teflon.

But maybe not.

Some factors to consider. Former DOC commissioner Lisa Menard served from 2015 to 2018. Yep, she was appointed by Democrat Peter Shumlin. She and Touchette are longtime veterans of the department, who rose through the ranks under Democratic and Republican governors. The documented problems at the women’s prison go back to at least 2012, which would be Shumlin’s first term. This scandal may have blown open on Scott’s watch, but it’s really a bipartisan issue.

The potential principals in this affair — Menard, Touchette, Smith, and his predecessor Al Gobeille — are all familiar faces around state government. They are past or present denizens of the Statehouse bubble. They are well known and — rightly or wrongly — respected by legislators. Rep. Alice Emmons, who’s served in the House since 1983, is the longtime chair of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, which will tackle the prison scandal. She and her committee have had responsibility for oversight of the system, and failed to keep the system on the straight and narrow. Is she going to dig deep into this thing, or will she be inclined to lay the blame at the feet of “a few bad apples”?

And again, if I hear that phrase in January, I’m going to scream. Because even at this early stage, there’s overwhelming evidence that this problem isn’t confined to the front-line workers. It’s clear that DOC management actively conspired to keep things quiet.

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Sooner or later the VTGOP will have to address Rutland

Got a lot of blowback on my recent post about the Syrian refugee debate in Rutland. More than one correspondent kindly pointed out that I had misidentified Mayor Chris Louras as a Republican.

They were right and I was wrong. He switched to independent several years ago.

But contrary to their claims, my argument still stands. The refugee proposal is likely to be the dominant issue in next March’s city elections, and if opponents put up candidates who would reject the plan, then the Vermont Republican Party and its hypothetical Governor Phil Scott would face a critical choice:

Do they support the refugee plan, or do they embrace the Trumpian fear tactics of the opponents?

That doesn’t change because Chris Louras is an independent, and I’ma tell you why.

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Planet Norm’s increasingly erratic orbit

Any time a reporter has a few minutes to spare and wants to buy the Vermont media equivalent of a lottery ticket, all they have to do is give once-and-maybe-future-Senator Norm McAllister a call. If he answers the phone, he’s almost certain to say something dumb or offensive or both.

This week’s winner was Terri Hallenbeck of Seven Days, who wrangled a juicy quote from Good Ol’ Norm, whose internal exile has, unsurprisingly, failed improve his perspective. In fact, he’s showing signs of outright conspiratorialism.

The context: Hallenbeck was previewing this week’s Senate vote on marijuana legalization. At the time, it was looking like a very close thing — maybe one vote either way. Which prompted Hallenbeck to observe that this was “the second of two recent legislative initiatives on which [McAllister] might have swayed the results.” (The other one was the paid sick leave bill.) That is, if he hadn’t been suspended in January because of those pesky sexual assault charges.

Take it away, Norm…

Reached at home in Highgate, McAllister said he would have voted against both measures. “I got an idea that’s probably why some people didn’t want me there.”

Yeah, solid thinking. It wasn’t the multiple felony charges or the pending trial or the embarrassment of having an accused felon in their midst. The Real Truth is that Norm McAllister was simply too dangerous and had to be silenced! 

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Fantasia on a Theme by Bill McKibben

Last night I had the strangest dream… 

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VTGOP Reverses Course On Carbon Tax

At a hastily-called news conference at the Statehouse, Republican leaders announced a sudden change of position on climate change: they are endorsing a carbon tax proposal that’s been languishing in the Legislature.

“It’s the right thing to do, and now is the right time,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning.

“We’ve all been kidding ourselves,” added House Minority Leader Don Turner. “But the longer this winter went on, with so little snow and such high temperatures, well, we just couldn’t ignore it anymore.”

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We’re all stars now in the dope show

The January 7 episode of “Trump: The Campaign” in Burlington “has stirred turmoil among Vermonters,” or so the Burlington Free Press informs me.

Well, lemme do a quick check… no… nope… sorry, no turmoil here. Annoyance is all I got.

Annoyance at the idea of Trump as a successful candidate, and annoyance that some of us are auditioning for bit parts in Trump’s ongoing performance piece.

Look, why do you suppose he’s coming here? It’s not for votes. I’m sure he’ll frame it as evidence of his bravery — bringing his truthiness to Ground Zero of Bernie Sanders socialism. And if he gets some nice juicy conflict with some stereotypical dirty hippies, then so much the better.

You think he won’t enjoy the spectacle of anti-Trump demonstrations in City Hall Park? You think he won’t be happier than a pig in shit if protesters get into the hall and try to disrupt the proceedings? You think Fox News won’t lovingly repeat the footage for hours in end?

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The circus is coming to town, and I don’t have a ticket

This Just In… New caboose on the trainwreck:

 

It should be entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way, when the State Senate Rules Committee gets together Wednesday afternoon to discuss The Curious Case Of The Predator Senator. Regarding Norm McAllister, Our Most Senior Deliberative Body has been acting like anything but. Opinions are scattered in every direction, there’s no hint of a consensus, and in less than one month we could be treated to the spectacle of the accused sexual felon McAllister taking his honored seat in the Senate chambers.

As a blogger with a vested interest in chaos, all I can say is oh please, please, let it be so.

The Rules Committee is a curious construct, presumably born of President Pro Tem John Campbell’s unique leadership style: a mix of moderation, obfuscation, and inertia. I mean, look: the Democrats have 18 seats out of 30; there are three Prog/Dem/Indy hybrids, all representing the left side of the spectrum; and a mere nine Republicans.

So how is it that the Rules Committee includes two Republicans and a conservative “Democrat” who’s actively supporting Phil Scott, Republican candidate for governor? Plus the Pro Tem himself, who has supported Scott in the psat and is known as one of the least liberal members of his caucus. The Furious Five:

Republicans Joe Benning and Peg Flory; Republidem Dick Mazza; Democrats John Campbell and Phil Baruth.

For a strongly liberal body, that’s an awful lot of conservatism and institutionalism. Plus, Campbell installed himself as Rules Committee chair, so he clearly wanted to have his own hand firmly on this particular tiller.

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Here’s where we find out how clueless the State Senate really is

Following last week’s profession of innocence by alleged sex criminal Norm McAllister, the head of the Senate’s Republican caucus is taking action. And encountering resistance that reflects the Senate’s insularity and overweening self-regard.

Paul Heintz has the deets, as he often does. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning wrote a letter to McAllister, upbraiding him for taking back a promise to resign if his case wasn’t wrapped up by November, and warning that if McAllister fails to do so, Benning would file a resolution seeking his ouster.

Benning is no fool. He realizes exactly how bad it would be if McAllister is still a sitting Senator when the Legislature reconvenes. And even worse if he actually shows up for work.

This being the Senate, things aren’t so simple. Benning got some immediate blowback from Sen. Peg Flory, who trotted out the old “innocent until proven guilty” canard (discussed below) in support of Good Ol’ Norm. There was some back-and-forth between the two, thoroughly documented in Heintz’ piece, and then it was brought to a halt by Sen. Dustin Degree’s suggestion that the Republican caucus should discuss this out of the public eye.

Transparency, anyone?

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Will the VTGOP run an anti-renewables campaign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…

— 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie emerges from five years of political hermitage to reveal himself as a vocal anti-wind advocate. He insists his stance has nothing to do with a proposed wind farm near his house, ahem.

— Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the likely GOP gubernatorial candidate, doesn’t like ridgeline wind. He has described a road-to-Damascus moment when he was biking in rural Vermont, saw wind turbines on a ridgeline, and thought they looked ugly.

— Former Douglas Administration Ag Secretary Roger Allbee comes out of the weeds with an essay questioning whether wind and solar energy are in keeping with “Vermont’s environmental heritage,” which he describes in extremely rosy terms.

— Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, a potential candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has expressed (on this very site) his opposition to any more large-scale renewable projects in the Northeast Kingdom.

— Then you’ve got VTGOP Chair David Sunderland, who has said “there’s science on both sides” of the climate change issue.

Taken together, that’s quite a few signs that the Vermont Republican Party will be running an anti-renewable campaign in 2016. Well, they’ll dress it up as favoring local control and taking “sensible” action (meaning little or none) while providing plenty of lip service about climate change.

This is one of the potential negative effects of a Phil Scott governorship: he would be a major obstacle to further progress on renewables.

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Ooh, Republican slapfight!

The Vermont Republican Party, said by Sen. Dustin Degree to be the party of youth, now has a 72-year-old running for Lieutenant Governor to go with the 68-year-old (Bruce Lisman) and the 57-year-old (Phil Scott) running for governor.

The latest AARP-eligible to grace the Republican campaign is Randy Brock, former state auditor and state senator, and spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2012.

The best account of Brock’s announcement comes from the Vermont Press Bureau’s indefatigable Neal Goswami, who got the dirt on a freshly opened rift on the VTGOP’s right wing.

Recently, Brock had met with former VTGOP Treasurer Mark Snelling (65 years old, Dustin). The subject: the two men’s shared interest in Vermont’s Bucket of Warm Spit.

Snelling said he and Brock had a recent meeting in which the two agreed to ask the state party to host a meeting with candidates interested in the position “to try and maximize the talents within the party.”

But Brock called Snelling Wednesday night to tell him he was announcing his candidacy.

Sorta like two boxers ready for a fight. The bell rings, and one fighter suddenly says “Hey, look, it’s Muhammad Ali!” Second fighter turns his head; first fighter whomps him in the gut.

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First Look: Brandon Who?, candidate for Lieutenant Governor

The Candidate, against the obligatory Vermont landscape.

The Candidate, in the obligatory Vermont landscape setting.

Last Saturday, after the Democratic State Committee meeting, I got the chance to sit down with Brandon Riker, who is (I think) the only declared candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. (See campaign website here.)

The 28-year-old Marlboro resident made waves on July 15, when he reported a campaign warchest of over $100,000. Granted, 90% of that came from himself and his family, but it made a statement of serious intent.

Quick impression: he’s energetic, full of ideas, and wants to make a difference. Whether that and a self-financed campaign will get him anywhere is another question. For him, unlike most candidates, raising the money was the simple part. Now he has to make a name for himself in Democratic circles, build an organization, attract support across the state, and almost certainly fend off some better-known Democrats in what promises to be a lively Lite-Gov primary.

Riker may be young, and may never have run for office before, but he cites more than a decade of political experience:

I’ve campaigned for progressive causes since I was 16 years old. John Kerry, Barack Obama, Jon Tester [in Montana], Mark Begich [in Alaska]. I’ve wanted to work on the hard races — the ones critical for Democratic control. It’s been 14 years since a Democrat was Lieutenant Governor, and we haven’t mounted a serious challenge in years.

Which is true, but probably won’t be true in 2016. With incumbent Phil Scott persistently hinting at a run for governor, top Democrats are sniffing opportunity. We’ve heard names like Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, among others, as possible candidates (as well as Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning on the Republican side). That would seem to put Riker at a huge disadvantage in terms of name recognition and established credibility among Democratic voters and donors.

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