Tag Archives: Mark Johnson

Falafel Waffle: Compassion without substance

Unfortunately for Phil Scott, Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate in Rutland happened a mere few hours after federal officials had approved the settlement of Syrian refugees in that city.

I say “unfortunately” because that brought the refugee question front and center, and Scott did nothing to distinguish himself as a leader. In fact, he did quite the opposite: he took both sides on the question. In the process, he gave substantial deference to the opponents of the plan while undercutting its advocates. Many a dog whistle was blown.

His non-answer has been widely reported in the media, but I went back to the video and transcribed the whole thing. It’s worse than I thought.

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Phil Scott serves up a man-sized portion of word salad

I think I understand why they tried to cut off Phil Scott’s healthcare policy press conference after a mere eight minutes of questions. Because to judge by this week’s unveiling of his economic plan, he has a very hard time when he has to get specific.

The plan was presented in a 56-page or 39-page* booklet, which was supposedly comprehensive and detailed.

*It was originally touted as 56, but it turned out to be 39. That included fourteen and a half pages of large glossy photos, mainly featuring Phil Scott. 

That all fell apart as soon as reporters started asking questions. And pretty soon, you could almost see the smoke rising from the candidate’s ears.

The most obvious FAIL was his inability to provide numbers for his “detailed” plans. He admitted that the costs of his numerous tax-incentive ideas haven’t been calculated. He acknowledged that there wasn’t any detail to his energy plan. He ducked a question about specific cuts he would make in the state budget. And when asked how much money would be saved if all 50 of his proposals were implemented, he answered thusly:

I don’t know, to tell you the truth. We haven’t done that analysis.

Exsqueeze me?

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I wanted to be a Spaceman

So yeah, Bill Lee’s running for governor on the Liberty Union ticket. I’ll give him this: he’s the only Vermont gubernatorial candidate to be mentioned on ESPN. He’s also the only candidate with a line of his own on baseball-reference.com. (110 wins, 90 losses, 3.62 ERA)

Otherwise, it’s a nice novelty and nothing more. After all, how’d the rest of that song go?

But now that I am a spaceman

Nobody cares about me

Not that Lee’s candidacy is meant to be taken seriously, but let’s do that for just a moment.

On the one hand, he says Vermont “is a perfect state,” and he wouldn’t do much as governor. On the other hand, his platform includes universal health care, marijuana legalization, abolishing the US/Canada border, turning the Bay of Fundy into a giant hydroelectric power source, and “bring[ing] the Tampa Bay Rays back to Montreal.”

“We’ll call them the X-Rays,” he said.

Ba-DUMP-chink.

Long reach for a little joke, especially considering the Rays were never in Montreal. They’ve always been in Tampa. The ex-Expos are now d.b.a. the Washington Nationals. So even his grasp of baseball is a little shaky.

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A bad session for Shumlin, but all was not lost

The media postmortems on Legislature ’16 are rolling in, and they’re not kind to Governor Shumlin.

The Burlington Free Press’ Sunday front page has a big ol’ photo of the Guv looking nonplussed, the bright lights showcasing the furrows on his brow, with a headline reading “BIG REQUESTS FALL SHORT.” The story emphasizes his pushes for legalized marijuana and divestment from some fossil fuel stocks, which both fell short.

Over at VTDigger, the headline slyly referred to Shumlin’s legislative accomplishments as “nothing burgers,” a phrase destined for his headstone. The story, by ol’ buddy Mark Johnson, was just shy of devastating.

While the governor touted numerous accomplishments in his final late-night adjournment address — and some lawmakers did too — many who serve in the Legislature saw something different this session: a once powerful chief executive weakened by a close election, who lost support on the left when he dropped plans for a single-payer health care system, was hurt by ongoing problems with the health care exchange and then saw any remaining leverage dissipate when he announced last year that he would not seek re-election.

Indeed, Shumlin’s 2016 agenda was largely jettisoned by lawmakers. But there is another way to look at the just-concluded session. It accomplished quite a few things that went almost unnoticed in Vermont, but would have been big news almost anywhere else.

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They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse

Rarely have I felt so ambivalent about being right.

Last Friday, in my inaugural appearance on Vermont PBS’ “Vermont This Week,” host Mark Johnson asked the panel to predict the outcome of the marijuana debate in the House — a big change, a little change, or nothing at all.

The three of us all agreed on “little,” but I put my answer in two-word form: “Study commission.”

Take it away, distinguished lawmakers…

In the end, the chamber barely agreed to create a commission to study legalization. With the legislative session expected to end this week, marijuana legalization supporters conceded they’ve run out of time to try for more.

Hip, hip, hooray. Let’s hear it for representative democracy. The study commission: the Legislature’s favorite decision-avoidance technique.

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Ding Dong, the Pro Tem is Dead

(And by “dead” I mean in the purely political sense.) 

Yes, one of my political betes noires is leaving us. Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell today told VTDigger’s Mark Johnson that he will not run for re-election. Which almost certainly means he won’t be Pro Tem next year, although with the Committee on Committees being what it is, that’s not a sure thing.

Campbell will become chief of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs “soon after this year’s legislative session concludes,” in Johnson’s words. He does not specify, but this sounds like he would resign in May. Would that leave a vacancy for the rest of the term? Would Governor Shumlin get to name Campbell’s successor? Inquiring minds want to know. Update: Johnson’s story indicates that Campbell will not resign; so he’ll apparently work both jobs from May till next January. 

Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about Campbell. He’s been a lousy leader, often ineffective and kept afloat by an expanded office staff. He almost got turfed in 2012 after his first stint as Senate leader; since then, the unrest has been muted but the results have remained pretty much the same: the Senate is the body most likely to break down into turf battles and legislative scrums. The most recent example was last week’s out-of-control debate over S.230, the energy siting bill.

If you don’t believe me, just check out the Praising With Faint Damns treatment he’s getting from one of his closest colleagues.

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St. Brian of the Turbines

I’ve been pondering the liberal bloggers’ tradition of posting spoof pieces on April 1, carried forward today by Green Mountain Daily. Even started developing a few ideas. But then I decided (a) there’s too much real stuff to write about, and (b) I have non-blogging stuff on my plate, and I need to carve out time for those obligations.

One of my ideas was “unlikely candidates for public office,” based on the parade of “Who asked for this?” candidacies and proto-candidacies. Garrett Graff, Brandon Riker, Louis Meyers, John Rodgers, Peter Galbraith, Bruce Lisman… I think I’m forgetting one or two… but the list is long and undistinguished, especially in a year when there are so many good candidates on offer.

The April Fools’ Day post would have listed other unlikely entries. Lenore Broughton, Eric Davis, Howard Frank Mosher, Anne Galloway, Tom Bodett… the possibilities are endless.

And then reality intruded in the form of Brian Dubie, former lightweight Lite-Guv, now mooting a return to the wars as Saint Brian of the Turbines, a cheap Don Quixote knockoff with a soupcon of Jeanne d’Arc.

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“Lock ‘em Up” Lauzon

The mayor of Barre is not known for keeping a cool head. Thom Lauzon once tossed the city manager’s cellphone across the room when it rang during a City Council meeting. Then there was the time a guy in a Santa suit threw a pie in then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ face; Lauzon ran him down and engaged in fisticuffs with the perp.

Oh, and he once chased down a hit-and-run driver, stepping in front of the vehicle to get the driver to stop. Guess how the driver reacted? Fortunately, Lauzon received only minor injuries on that one.

He has, to be fair, done a lot of good stuff as well. He is truly passionate about his city, beyond his own self-interest as an investor in downtown real estate. Although he’s a conservative Republican, he hasn’t shied away from using government resources whenever possible to help pull the city out of its decades-long funk. And he’s made substantial progress. It’s just that his passion sometimes gets a little unhinged.

Now, he seems to be channeling the ghost of Nancy Reagan. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson:

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon laid down the hammer on opiate dealers Thursday, saying anyone caught selling should receive an automatic 50-year jail sentence.

… Lauzon said he supports treatment programs and wants to see them expanded even further. But he said a greater deterrence is needed to stop people from selling, which he said would cut the supply.

…Lauzon said his proposal would apply to any amount sold, even small amounts. The only exception, he said, should be if an addict requests treatment, is turned away and then sells to maintain his habit.

Let’s pause for a moment and understand a couple of things. Lauzon loves his city. He has seen the effects of the drug trade. Barre is also weighed down by the fact that a fair number of parolees and ex-inmates end up living there — and sometimes re-offending.

Fair enough. But a fifty-year automatic sentence for selling any amount of drugs?

Batshit crazy.

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Mr. Miller has a hissy fit

Here’s a new one in Vermont governance: a top state official refusing to “work with” a reporter who covers his beat. Strange but true. And he put it in writing!

Dramatis personae: Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform; and Erin Mansfield, health care reporter for VTDigger. Miller wrote a hot blast of an opinion piece in response to Mansfield’s recent article about the latest wave of problems with Vermont Health Connect, and here’s the opening paragraph:

The most recent exchange story is an extremely slanted piece of journalism. It does not tell the whole story of Vermont Health Connect, accuses me of lying, and creates an inaccurate perception. This particular column follows repeated factual inaccuracies by VTDigger’s health reporter, adding the new feature of character assassination. I give up. I will not work with her anymore.

Digger, for its part, “stands behind the accuracy” of Mansfield’s story.

I don’t know who’s right and wrong here. Maybe she overemphasized the negative, which is often the case in journalism. Non-news is, by its nature, not news. When something works, we don’t write a screaming headline about it.

But Miller’s version doesn’t pass the smell test.

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Senate ethics discussion devolves into farce

Well, now we know why the Senate Rules Committee likes to meet behind closed doors. Because yesterday, with reporters in the room, things got so badly out of control that they had to abruptly pack up and leave. Fortunately, VTDigger’s Mark Johnson was on hand to chronicle the chaos. His report is a classic case of “this would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.”

Senate Rules, a committee designed to defend the status quo, has been forced by events to take up the issue of ethics regulation — the very idea of which seems to offend at least three of the panel’s five members.

The saddest thing? The shambolic performance didn’t even concern a really tough issue. To anyone hoping for genuine ethics reform — like, for example, a state Ethics Commission — yesterday’s meeting was a knife in the back. The five Senators couldn’t even handle the much less impactful idea of an in-house Ethics Panel using the House’s toothless joke of a watchdog as a model.

Instead, they got stuck in the weeds of disclosure requirements.

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