Tag Archives: Laura Krantz

Inmates aren’t people; they’re fungible assets

For those who believe that shipping prison inmates to distant for-profit prisons is immoral (human rights), unconstitutional (judge’s decision, uncontested), or simply counterproductive (isolation may lead to recidivism), this week brought just a little bit of good news courtesy of the soon-to-depart Laura Krantz at VTDigger.

After bringing home a few dozen inmates this week, Vermont has roughly 360 inmates in a Kentucky prison and another 40 in Arizona — the lowest number in a decade.

With the good news came some bad: a provision in Vermont’s contract with the Corrections Corporation of America imposes penalties if the inmate population falls below 380. We are now very close to that figure.

Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito admits that the provision creates a disincentive for Vermont to bring more prisoners home, even if there’s space in state prisons.

Then came the Governor’s budget address on Thursday. One of the revenue upgrades is $1.7 million from the lease of 60 inmate beds to the U.S. Marshals.

Hmmm. A lower inmate population could trigger higher payments to CCA… but now we’re leasing five dozen beds, putting the squeeze on in-state prison space… Hey presto: Synergy! We save money on CCA and we make money from the U.S. Marshals.

Fiscally, it’s a win-win.

If you don’t mind treating your inmates like commodities instead of human beings.

A passel o’ peevishness on Inauguration Day (Part Two)

In Part One, I mused about the overreactions and hurt fee-fees on both sides of yesterday’s Inaugural protest. Now, let’s turn our attention to the Republican reaction to Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural address.

Their main point, according to VTDigger’s Laura Krantz?

Gov. Peter Shumlin ignored the most pressing issues facing Vermont in the first speech of his third term, Republican leaders said Thursday in response to the inaugural address.

… Republicans, gathered in the Senate cloakroom, said they were disappointed Shumlin ignored property taxes and health care — two issues that topped voter concerns during the elections last fall.

The speech focused on energy and the environment, so the complaint is technically accurate. But it deliberately ignores the fact that Shumlin billed this speech as Part One of a two-part 2015 agenda. And the governor specifically said he will address the “missing” issues in next week’s budget address.

“Just because the governor has acknowledged that his plan is a failure doesn’t mean he can ignore health care. We still need to address it,” said Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset.

Well, he didn’t “ignore” health care. He said he’d address it next week.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Lyndonville, said the speech focused not on saving money but on spending more.

Again, the budget address hasn’t happened yet. That’s when Shumlin promises a plan to balance the budget. And, for the fiscal conservatives among us, Shumlin’s energy/environment speech contained very little in the way of new spending. The energy part was mainly about new regulation of renewables, which doesn’t involve any state spending. The Governor did propose two fees to help fund Lake Champlain cleanup, but both are narrowly targeted on sectors that contribute heavily to Champlain’s problems — agriculture and commercial/industrial development.

Republicans said they are open to his ideas about cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways but those are not the big problems.

Well, actually it IS a big and urgent problem because, as they well know, the EPA is holding Vermont’s feet to the fire. If we don’t come up with a solid plan, including new funding, then the feds will come down on us hard. That makes Champlain a top priority.

Speaking of new urgency, here’s another Republican missing the point.

“It needs doing but where was he four years ago on this?” said Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton.

Well, he was doing the same thing Jim Douglas did before him: postponing the Day of Reckoning as long as possible. As Rep. Savage well knows, the EPA has run out of patience, so Shumlin can’t possibly put it off any longer.

 Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

“Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.”

House Minority Leader Don Turner was his usual obstructive self, strongly opposing any new taxes or fees, and even blasting Shumlin’s proposal to use the current use law as an enforcement mechanism for farmers and loggers. And he did so in a stunningly inarticulate fashion:

“I think that we know that current use is a very popular program, and it is a very expensive program. But if we want open land in Vermont its been one of those tools that has worked really well,” he said.

So wait. Current use is “very expensive,” and, in fact, Republicans have called for new limits on the program, but it’s “worked really well” and we can’t possibly do without it. You’d need a couple hours of pounding ’em back at the Capitol Plaza bar before that started to make sense.

The entire Republican response consisted of the automatic gainsaying of anything Shumlin said.

With one exception. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott released a statement that began thusly:

“I was encouraged to hear the Governor talk about economic growth. It was good to hear about the Governor’s support of research and development, especially after this important incentive was reduced last year. I hope that the Governor’s mention in his speech today is a precursor to a proposal included in the budget next week.”

Admittedly Scott sort of bent Shumlin’s message in his own direction, but look at what he did:

— He identified common ground instead of just saying “No.”

— He acknowledged that the inaugural address was Part One of Shumlin’s agenda.

A hint of politics, but overall gracious and inclusive. That’s the way you do it.

Bureaucracy to the rescue

It’s a story languishing in the shade of Governor Shumlin’s single-payer surrender, but on Thursday the Department for Children and Families released a third report on its effectiveness. This report pretty much echoed the first two, as VTDigger’s Laura Krantz reports:

The new report grouped its findings into five categories. The key items include better training, more social workers, more transparency and a stronger focus on opiate addiction’s impact on family dynamics.

DCF head Ken Schatz said the similar conclusions of the three reports was an affirmation that “We have a good road map now to go forward.”

Well, that’s nice, but is that sufficient justification for three separate reports plus a legislative review that’s still pending? How much money did we spend on all this investigation? Why didn’t we just commission one really good and thorough report instead of a bunch? Were DCF investigations on sale at Costco?

Beyond that, two things in Krantz’ account jumped out at me. First was the fact that the DCF news conference was “attended by only three reporters.”

That’s sad, and bad. DCF was one of the year’s highest-profile issues in state government. And, to be callous about it, the story was more clickbaity than most because it involved the deaths of two toddlers. Also, the presser was held not in Montpelier, but in Williston — a hop and a skip away for Burlington-based media outlets. Like the Free Press, which I’ve been told was not in attendance. (So far, its website does not provide any coverage of the event.)

If true, that’s pretty shameful, especially for a media outlet that has beaten the drum for greater transparency at DCF. They want transparency, but they’re not going to advance the cause by, oh, sending a reporter to a significant event. Nice.

The other thing that jumped out at me was this. The “road map” that Schatz referred to included a call for “more front-line workers [and] lower case loads.”

In response, Schatz and his boss, interim Human Services Secretary Harry Chen announced that DCF would hire ten more staffers.

Social workers, right? New troops to bring down the case loads, yes?

Er, no.

They include five management positions in the economic services division, two assistant attorneys general to help district offices with child protection cases and the family services division: an assistant district director in St. Albans, a assistant for the centralized call intake unit and a policy specialist.

By my count, that’s six middle management types, two prosecutors to help with cases that have gotten so far out of hand they’re headed for the courts, and two other functionaries, neither of which are on the front lines.

Bureaucracy to the rescue! Our troops are having trouble in the trenches, but never fear — we’re beefing up the staff at headquarters.

Maybe there are excellent reasons for these particular hires, but at a time when AHS is under heavy pressure to make deep cuts, it kinda leaves me scratching my head a little.

Speaking of tight budgets, you might wonder where they’re getting the money for these positions. The not entirely convincing answer is “through anticipated savings from the state’s Reach Up program, which helps poor families.”

Hmm. At the presser, DCF officials released some downright scary numbers on how their case loads have increased over the past year. And we’ve all been told over and over again that the sluggish economic recovery, with almost all its bounty going to the top one percent, is putting the squeeze on working Vermonters. But they’re confident they can save money on Reach Up?

They’re certainly more knowledgeable than me, but I have trouble seeing it.

Is the VTGOP going forwards or backwards?

Or, possibly, both at the same time?

VTDigger’s Laura Krantz dug up (yes, I did it) quite a few tasty tidbits about recent changes in the Vermont Republican Party in a story posted on Monday. Most of which concern the installation of Jeff Bartley as VTGOP Executive Director.

Before I go on, I’d like to note that just as Bartley was getting the job, his father was rushed to the hospital with lung cancer, and things aren’t looking too good. (I’m not disclosing a secret here, because Bartley himself has been Tweeting about it.) That really and truly sucks for Bartley; on a personal level of course, but it’s gotta be taking his attention away from his new and very challenging position. I can’t say I respect Bartley’s political skills, but as a fellow human being, I feel for his plight.

Still, back in the salt mines of politics, life goes on. And, per Krantz, Bartley’s nomination created some hard feelings within the party.

Bartley was chosen in a last-minute election announced slightly more than 24 hours before the Dec. 1 meeting. Insiders say the decision was rushed to leave no time for other candidates to come forward or for a search process to take place.

Would this be the same party that often hits on Gov. Shumlin over transparency? Yeah, thought so.

Bartley’s nomination was met with ambivalence at best, hostility at worst, and led to an unusually close executive committee vote on his hiring: six votes in favor, four against. Not exactly a stirring mandate.

The four “no” votes included three very prominent conservative Republicans who have been openly skeptical of Phil Scott’s party-broadening initiatives: outgoing treasurer Mark Snelling, Wendy WIlton, and Randy Brock. The fourth, Kevin Beal, was last seen in the blogosphere in  November 2013 when he ran for the “Chair of chairs” post (basically, a liaison between county chairs and the state party) against… wait for it…

… Jeff Bartley.

Okay, then.

I don’t think I’m overreaching to interpret the 6-4 vote as a defeat for the conservative wing of the party. Especially in light of this note from True North Reports’ Robert Maynard in my comments section:

Jeff Bartley is not a conservative and it should come as no surprise that conservatives would not het (sic) behind him as their candidate for party chair. He burnt a lot of bridges with consertavives (sic) and Tea Party types during the Len Britton campaign by telling the that his model for a Republican office holder was Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe. (At least that is what I am told by the Tea Party members who worked on the campaign)

And if we know anything about “consertavives,” it’s that they have long memories for political slights.

According to Krantz’ article, Bartley was seen as party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland’s pick for the job. As for the rushed and secretive nature of Bartley’s hiring, it looks designed to forestall organized opposition and perhaps even prompt a walkout by top conservatives. Like Snelling, for instance.

And even Bartley backers were, uh, kinda lukewarm about it. Jackie Barnett and Stephen Webster, who both supported the hire, basically laid it at the feet of Sunderland.

Barnett: “My personal feeling is the chair (David Sunderland) should have whomever they want working for them.”

Webster: “This is David’s choice, and I’ve been supportive of David.”

Neither committee members had anything to say about Bartley’s political acumen.

It’s not exactly an ideal situation. Bartley is taking the helm of a party that, November gains notwithstanding, still has a hell of a long way to go. Quite a few influential party members, and perhaps an entire wing of the party, view him with suspicion if not hostility. Given his record, there are legitimate questions about his preparedness for the job. And he’s doing it all while his dad is in the hospital with a life-threatening illness.

I can’t say I have high expectations for Bartley, but I wish him luck.

Fear and Loathing in the State Senate

Really well-reported piece by VTDigger’s Laura Krantz on the fact that more Democratic state senators have endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott than his Prog/Dem challenger Dean Corren. (Current tally is 7 Scott, 5 Corren, and 9 hiding under their desks. Including fellow Prog/Dem Tim Ashe, who should be ashamed of himself.)

The thesis, as provided by Prog/Dem Dave Zuckerman, is that Senators are afraid to cross the entrenched Senate leadership, particularly the three-man Committee on Committees. (And I do mean “man.”) The Committee has one pivotal function: making committee assignments, including chairmanships. The Committee, by law, consists of (1) the Lieutenant Governor, (2) the Senate President Pro Tem, and (3) one other Senator, chosen by the entire Senate.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith's good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul "Shutterbug" Heintz.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith’s good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul “Shutterbug” Heintz.

#1 is Phil Scott. #2 is John Campbell, a self-described Democrat who loudly supports Scott. #3 is the apparently untouchable Dick Mazza, a nominal Democrat who openly supports Scott, hosted a Scott fundraiser, and made a hefty donation to Scott’s campaign. (And who, earlier this week, delivered a gratuitous slap to Governor Shumlin at a ceremonial event. The balls on that guy.)

As Zuckerman put it:

“The maneuvering for committee assignments is a big deal … and all three members have publicly supported Scott,” Zuckerman said. One senator told him he or she was not endorsing anyone because of committee assignments, Zuckerman said.

Loyal readers (Hi, Mom) know that I’m no fan of the State Senate’s entrenched power structure and its impenetrable air of clubbiness. I am particularly not a fan of John Campbell, who brings a unique combination of arrogance and passivity to the role.

But boy-o-boy, he’s full of fire when it comes to Dean Corren, who maybe spat in Campbell’s oatmeal in the State House cafeteria.

Campbell called Corren a “one-issue candidate” and disingenuous for seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor even though he had hard feelings for Democrats when he served in the House from 1993 to 2000.

Yeah, well, Corren has campaigned strongly and consistently on at least FOUR issues — health care, climate change, renewable energy, and encouraging entrepreneurialism — so Campbell is wrong there. As for things Corren said more than 15 years ago, Jeezum, can’t a guy learn from his mistakes?  Nobody batted an eye over Vince Illuzzi’s campaign for Attorney General, in spite of an extremely spotty ethics record in the 80s and 90s.

Back to the main point, which is fear of being banished to the Committee on Mumblety-Peg and Other Childhood Pastimes. No one is admitting to a fear-based endorsement (or non-endorsement), but several Senators offered Krantz some truly unconvincing reasons for their stands on the Lite-Gov race.

Ginny Lyons is not endorsing. She says it’s because she “believes in a two-party system.”

“As much as we support the Progressive concepts and ideas, when you’ve got three people running it splits parties up,” she said.

Yeah, except in this race, you don’t HAVE three people running. In fact, you have a candidate who won the Democratic primary fair and square, and won the endorsement of the state party committee, which you’d think would be as interested as Ginny Lyons in maintaining Democratic primacy.

Of course, Lyons has first-hand experience with the Committee on Committees: she chaired the Natural Resources Committee for an entire decade, but was removed without explanation in 2012 in favor of Good Old Boy Bob Hartwell. Now she’d like to win back her former post, but she’ll have to earn the favor of Campbell, Mazzas and Scott to do so.

Michael Sirotkin, the Senate’s junior member, begged off because he is “too fixated on his own race to endorse.” As if it would occupy more than five minutes to make an endorsement.

The same excuse sounds even more transparent coming from Jeanette “I’m focusing on my race” White, whose re-election is a virtual certainty because there are no Republicans or Progressives on the ballot in her district. 

Profiles in courage.

Oh, and Peter “The Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, still firing shots on his way out the door, slammed Corren for not being a Democrat (as though Galbraith was any kind of example of party loyalty):

“If you’re not going to run as a Democrat, you’re not going to get the Democratic endorsement,” he said.

Well, actually, Pete, he IS running as a Democrat, and he DID get the Democratic endorsement. He just didn’t get yours. And besides, didn’t you just endorse Republican Roger Allbee for a Democratic nomination in your district? That didn’t seem to bother you.

As a liberal who wants to see small-P progressive policies,and wants the Democrats to use their well-earned political muscle to move the state to the left (just as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan used their muscle to move the nation to the right), the State Senate’s combination of stasis, timidity, and self-satisfaction makes me ill.

There are plenty of good people in that chamber, I know for a fact. But the institution as a whole needs to be turned upside down and shaken until all the junk falls out. We should begin by dumping Dick Mazza from the Committee on Committees, and while we’re at it, finding a new President Pro Tem.

 

 

Profiles in Courage, Dick Sears Edition… again

It may be the offseason for lawmaking, but there’s still some occasional activity under the Golden Dome. Yes, even aside from the well-chronicled bats in our communal belfry.

Yesterday brought a hearing of the Joint Corrections Oversight Committee. On its agenda: State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s audit of the Sex Offender Registry, which found an 11% rate of “critical errors.” Which triggered a requirement in state law that the Registry must receive a “favorable” audit before the state can start posting home addresses of offenders. Which triggered yesterday’s committee meeting.

Okay, what do you think? Is an 11% “critical error” rate is a “favorable” result?

I thought not.

According to VTDigger’s Laura Krantz, most of the committee also thought not.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P/D-Rochester, said the committee should put in writing that the audit is not favorable. Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, agreed.

Seems simple enough. Ah, but then Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears runbled into action. Or should I say, inaction.

Sears… said to admit the audit is not positive could create fodder for a lawsuit from a defense attorney. He also worried a judgment would be binding and perhaps require another audit before the addresses can go online.

Dick Sears, who gets a lot of credit in State House circles for being a wise old hand, does this a lot. If any idea comes up that might possibly create some legal bills for the state, he puts his foot down. And so, the Joint Committee “declined to pass judgment” on whether the audit was favorable. Thus ignoring plan old common sense and, if you ask me, the requisites of justice.

Because although the vast majority of the problems uncovered in the audit have been fixed, the system remains flawed and is virtually certain to start pumping out fresh errors.

And what if we start publishing home addresses and a non-offender winds up on the list complete with home address? Or if an offender’s listed home address is wrong? Those are critical errors that could lead to disrupted lives, communities in turmoil, or even vigilante justice.

I don’t know where the Legislature goes from here. There’s clearly an appetite for posting home addresses, but there’s an obvious need to make the Registry as mistake-proof as humanly possible before that step is taken. And there probably isn’t much of an appetite for a better system that’d probably cost more money. So I guess they’ve bravely kicked this can down the road. Thanks to the “leadership” of good old Dick Sears.