In my previous post, I wrote about the series of Covid-triggered political windfalls enjoyed by Gov. Phil Scott. There’s one point I made in passing that deserves a bit more consideration.
The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.
Yeah, the governor is a fiscal hypocrite. He hasn’t raised an eyebrow over the federal government’s rampant deficit spending. And he is benefiting mightily from the ongoing tsunami of Biden Bucks.
And yet he wouldn’t be caught dead raising taxes in Vermont or spending outside his comfort level. He refuses to countenance any increase in the size of state government.
Now, there’s one big structural difference. States can’t deficit spend, and the feds can. But, if only as a fig leaf to cover his tacit opportunism, he might want to express the merest hint of concern over the fact that Covid relief and Biden’s infrastructure plan are classic examples of Keynesian economics — spending our way out of trouble with no concern for long-term fiscal ramifications.
In purely political terms, the Covid pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to Gov. Phil Scott. He got to be seen as a decisive leader simply by outperforming the likes of Donald Trump. Throughout the 2020 campaign, he enjoyed a twice-weekly platform on live statewide television and radio. He absolutely dominated every news cycle, and walked to victory in something bigger than a landslide.
And now, state government is swimming in federal relief cash — with more likely on the way. Trump’s CARES Act provided the equivalent of 20 percent of Vermont’s GDP. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act is pumping in even more. And if Biden gets his infrastructure bill through, Vermont will get a third massive infusion in less than two years’ time.
The CARES Act alone floated Vermont through 2020 “in aggregate,” as state economist Jeffrey Carr put it. There was pain aplenty, to be sure. But there were winners as well, and the impact was greatly softened by the federal government’s ability (and willingness) to deficit spend. The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.
On Tuesday, Scott unveiled his billion-dollar plan to use a big chunk of the federal ARPA money. It includes just about everything on everybody’s wish list, and provides a huge boost to state initiatives that Scott insisted we couldn’t afford on our own. And the money will be spent over the next four years, which will make it extremely difficult to run against Scott in the next two cycles.
Welcome, friends, to the Facebook feed of Brian Bailey, a resident of Barre and a Phil Scott appointee to the state’s Fish and WIldlife Board. Bailey is the owner of McLeod’s Spring and Chassis, a truck repair shop in Barre. He’s very active on Facebook. Many of his posts are about hunting, fishing and the Great Outdoors. He also spends a lot of time posting and reposting hateful attacks on Democrats including the one pictured above.
It must be noted that Vermont has I don’t know how many boards and commissions. It’s practically a full-time job for someone in the administration to keep up with all the nominations. So this isn’t anything like Gov. Scott naming a die-hard Trumpist to an executive-level position in his government. And as a hunter and outdoorsman, Bailey seems to be qualified for the post.
But how does the governor feel about having such an extremist represent his administration in any capacity?
(Before we go on, I’ll note that the Fish and Wildlife Board has 14 members, one representing each county. Only two of the 14 are women. Problem?)
After the jump: Lots more hateful postings! Join me, won’t you?
Meet Brian Judd, everyone. Candidate for Barre City Council, challenging Ward 2 incumbent Teddy Waszazak. Frequent Facebook poster. And QAnon-style nutcase.
The other hopeful who features hateful Trumpist crap on his Facebook page is Timothy Boltin, who will oppose Emel Cambel for a Ward 1 seat currently held by the retiring John Steinman. (Boltin is also the owner of Delicate Decadence, a downtown bakery that you can decide whether you choose to patronize or not. I won’t.)
Each man’s Facebook feed is full of anti-Democrat, pro-Trump, sometimes racist memes and quick Photoshop jobs.
The Times Argus today published a long piece on the candidate lineup for Town Meeting Day, and filled some background on those running for Council. But they didn’t think to check the candidates’ social media presences. Which, these days, ought to be Journalism 101 for those covering an election contest. (The article, for whatever reason, has yet to be posted on the T-A’s website.) I thought the good people of Barre deserved to know who they might be voting for.
There’s more… oh God, so much more… from Judd and Boltin’s Facebook feeds… after the jump.
Emma Lazarus’ famous poem is often cited as voicing the best impulses of our country. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword: The spirit of generosity is counterbalanced by the implicit message that immigrants are “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse,” which is far from the truth. In fact, immigration —including refugee resettlement — has brought energy, talent, motivation and a propensity for hard work to our country.
Lazarus’ poem makes it seem like an open-door policy is purely a matter of charity. But it’s quite the opposite. The influx of New Americans is, by a long shot, a net positive for our country, our economy and our culture.
Which brings me to this particular moment in Vermont. Donald Trump almost completely closed the doors to immigrants and refugees, which put a halt to Vermont’s efforts to become a destination for New Americans. Joe Biden has promised to loosen restrictions on immigration and refugee settlement, including raising the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than it was in the Obama Administration.
It’s time for Vermont to get in on the ground floor. Gov. Phil Scott has talked of New Americans as a key in growing our economy and easing our demographic crisis. He needs to act in concert with legislative leaders and our Congressional delegation to promote Vermont as an immigrant destination. He needs to consult with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to determine what we can do to help people move here successfully.
This kind of commitment is far more likely to pay off than any of Scott’s penny-ante ideas for attracting new residents, including the endlessly-touted but marginally effective remote worker grant program.
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.
A long string of #vtpoli takes will follow later today. But first I’m invoking Blogger’s Privilege to turn my attention to the national results.
As of this writing, it looks like Joe Biden will eke out a narrow victory, unless Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett help Trump steal the thing. But even if Trump loses and vacates the White House, this has to be seen as a victory for Trumpism and a big blow to those hoping for a decisive win for Democrats.
I mean, look: The guy botched a pandemic. That alone should have killed his chances for another term. But the base stayed loyal, and gave Republican politicians no grounds for abandoning Trumpism even if they wanted to. The conservative media ecosystem will continue to crank out the toxicity. There are plenty of Trump true believers in high office. The Republicans seem on track to hold the Senate. Its leadership has engaged in 10 years of hard-core obstructionism, and they’ll limit Biden’s ability to do anything positive. (Forget about court reform or voting rights, just for starters.)
In fact, progress in a Biden Administration will be limited to restoring the institutional damage done to the executive branch under Trump, and doing whatever he can by executive order. And if any liberal Supreme Court justices were pondering retirement (lookin’ at you, Breyer), they’d best do it quick. As Senate Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham said after declaring victory last night, “Here’s the message I got: People like what I’m doing, and I’m going to keep doing it.” If a seat opens up anytime after the summer of 2022, the Senate’s gonna play a long game of keep-away and hope for a Republican victory in 2024. Hell, they’ve already proven they’re shameless.
Something I tweeted recently has stuck in my mind, and it relates directly to the choice we face in the presidential election.
I’ve been following politics since 1968, when I was 14 years old and already worried about the prospect of being drafted to serve in Vietnam, and it remains the worst political year of my life. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic nomination falling to Vice President Hubert Humphrey*, the uncontrolled police brutality outside the DNC, the reanimation of Richard Nixon’s corpse and his ultimate election to the presidency — the moment when”The Sixties” ended as a touchstone for social progress and became a lifestyle brand.
*Humphrey was a great liberal politician, but he tied himself firmly to LBJ’s Vietnam policy out of a sense of duty to the administration he served. His legacy was forever tainted by the association.
That was bad enough. But since then, almost every presidential election has been a choice between bad and not-quite-so-bad. There have been only three candidates I felt good about, and two of them had no chance whatsoever of winning. The three: George McGovern in 1972, Fritz Mondale in 1984, and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Otherwise, it’s been a matter of settling for something less than I wanted. Jimmy Carter, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry. I voted for all those guys, but didn’t feel great about doing so.
But here’s the thing. Is there any doubt at all that we’d be in a better place if we’d elected Carter instead of Reagan? Dukakis instead of Bush I? Gore or Kerry instead of Bush?
Today I’ll tell you a tale of how Vermont Democrats owned themselves into a Phil Scott Senatorship.
We pick it up from the present day, when the Dems have clearly waved the white flag on the 2020 gubernatorial race. In fact, many of them believe Scott deserves a third term because of how he’s handled the pandemic.
They are entitled to their opinion. But they may not like the consequences headed their way.
Let’s assume that Scott wins re-election by double digits, further cementing his reputation as a moderate who can win elections in solid blue Vermont — enhancing his unique value to national Republican forces looking to pick off a safe blue Senate seat.
At the same time, Joe Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats take a majority in the U.S. Senate. Biden opens the floodgates of federal assistance for fighting Covid-19 and rebuilding the economy. Pat Leahy becomes chair of Senate Appropriations, where he can make sure Vermont gets a healthy slice of the pie.
This makes Scott’s third term much easier, as he doesn’t have to close massive budget gaps. But he decides against seeking a fourth term in 2022, and departs the scene as a noble figure who steered the Good Ship Vermont through stormy seas.
After the jump: Governor Donovan, Dem disunity, Bernie the retiree, and Senator Phil Scott.
Bernie Sanders has been battling bad news lately. He’s stuck in the polls, or maybe even losing ground. He’s lost the “left/progressive” lead to Elizabeth Warren. He’s had to shake up his campaign organization in crucial states. Key supporters, like the Working Families Party, have abandoned him.
It may well be a blip on the radar, and Bernie may live to be a happy, healthy 120 years old. But he’s the oldest candidate in the race and would be the oldest sitting president at the beginning of his term in office. Medical issues have always been the hidden shoal that could sink his campaign.