Tag Archives: Neal Goswami

Shumlin doubles down on bashing fellow Democrats

If you thought there was a chance that Governor Shumlin would tone down his insistence on last-minute spending cuts, well, think again. Earlier, he’d called two key Senate committee chairs on the ceremonial carpet to argue for tax reductions and spending cuts — in a spending bill that had already passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. This didn’t go over well with Democxratic lawmakers, per Paul Heintz:

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s erstwhile allies in the Democratic legislature lashed out at him Thursday for pushing new cuts after the Senate Appropriations Committee signed off on the budget.

“It’s insulting to the process,” complained one top Dem.

… “It’s been pretty lonely in there all winter,” Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans) said, referring to the Appropriations Committee, on which he serves. “I woulda thought they would’ve been in at least a month ago, if not five, six weeks ago, offering some suggestions.”

House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas noted that the House-passed tax and spending bills actually called for less spending than the Governor’s original budget plan. She called the gubernatorial disconnect “perplexing.”

Welp, the Governor is unbowed by all the pushback.

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Peter Shumlin, Defender of Liberalism

So this is what we’ve come down to: as the House continues to slash away at health care reform, Governor Shumlin has become its stoutest defender.

Isn’t it ironic, don’tcha think. A little sad, too.

Here’s the situation: the House Health Care Committee originally came up with a $52 million package that would have greatly reduced the Medicaid gap, made health care more accessible to our growing cohort of working poor*, expanded proven measures to enhance delivery while holding down costs, and boosted incentives for badly-needed primary care providers.

*Thanks to our top-heavy economic recovery, which has produced stagnant wages and lots of jobs with unlivable wages while fattening the pockets of the wealthy and corporate.  

The Ways and Means Committee couldn’t agree on any tax scheme to pay for the $52 million — or even part of it. So the ball got bounced back to Health Care with a new diktat: devise a bill that will only cost $20 million a year.

The two committees remain at loggerheads, with each other and within their own ranks. Health Care can’t decide how to downsize its deftly-woven tapestry without the whole thing unraveling, and Ways and Means can’t reach consensus on a tax plan to produce $20 million.

Which almost certainly means the package will be further reduced before it even gets to the full House.

This is where Peter Shumlin, Defender of Liberalism comes in.

“I think that it’s really important that we make real progress here, and you’re not going to make real progress with $10 or $20 million,” the governor said in an interview Friday.

That interview was with the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami, who wrote a front-page story in today’s Times Argus about the developing tussle between cautious lawmakers and a determined governor. (The story is paywalled, but you can listen to the interview for free.)

Shumlin rightly points out that a modest health care package would leave “$100 million of federal [matching] money on the table,” and would reduce private insurance rates by closing the Medicaid gap. Penny wise and pound foolish, you might say.

Problem is, the legislature is in penny-pinching mode after approving a tax bill that will raise $33 million in new revenue. Well, that’s the next problem. The first problem is Ways and Means, which has just enough centrist votes to effectively roadblock any of the tax plans outlined by Shumlin or the Health Care Committee.

Hmmm. And who, pray tell, appointed the committee? Oh yeah: Mr. Speaker.

Ways and Means has eleven members. A bill needs at least six votes to pass. But wait, you might be saying, there are seven Democrats on the committee and only three Republicans.

Well yeah, but two of the Democrats are definitely in the party’s centrist wing. Jim Condon is one of the most conservative Dems in the legislature, and Sam Young is definitely a taxation skeptic. The lone independent, ski resort mogul Adam Greshin, might as well be a Republican.

That leaves five relatively liberal votes, and a tough task for committee chair Janet Ancel to find a majority for any tax proposal.

Problem is, the Governor is right: spending more up front would make the system more robust and effective, and bring down costs for private payers. It’d also bring in the aforementioned truckload of federal matching funds.

And oh yes, if you’re interested in the “humanity” angle, it’d make health care accessible to thousands more Vermonters.

Goswami reports that Shumlin “may have to turn his attention to the Senate if he is to rescue his own plans.”

Oh boy. The disorganized, testosterone-and-ego-fueled Senate, with the centrist Cerebus of John Campbell, Dick Mazza and Phil Scott guarding the portal.

Good luck with that, Governor.

Okay, who replaced John Campbell with a pod person?

The Political Reporter is a flocking creature. It tends to congregate in large numbers where there’s a commotion or a generous food supply — or, sometimes, for no apparent reason.

On Friday, the flock gathered at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the gun bill — the reduced version of S. 31, Now Expanded Background-Check Free!   (Correction: it’s now S.141 for those keeping score at home.)

It wasn’t the most important thing going on that day. I’d be hard-pressed to put it in the top five, actually; supporters and opponents are all het up about the bill, but I’m not. As a gun control measure it’s a teeny tiny baby step. As a potential threat to Second Amendment rights, it’s… well, it’s not. The Domino Theory was discredited way back in Vietnam.

So I was elsewhere on Friday afternoon. More on that later.

The only thing that was interesting about it, to me, was captured by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami: 

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an original sponsor of S.31, pushed [Committee chair Dick] Sears hard to advance a bill. He spent considerable time in the Judiciary Committee, often seated near Sears, monitoring its progress.

“I think his behavior has been fascinating,” Sears said.

His attention was bothersome to Sears, and prompted the veteran lawmaker, who is known to express his displeasure at times, to offer Campbell total control earlier this week.

“There was one point where I asked him if he really wanted to chair the committee,” Sears said.

John Campbell, recently seen taking a restful nap. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

John Campbell, recently seen taking a restful nap. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

This is highly unusual, to put it mildly. I haven’t checked the record in detail, but I’d say this is unprecedented in Campbell’s frequently undercooked tenure as Pro Tem.

First, I don’t recall him ever being inspired about a piece of legislation. Serene detachment has been the order of the day. (I recall a time when I was watching Senate debate from the balcony. Campbell sat at his desk leafing through a woodworking catalog, paying no attention to the debate. It was inspiring.) It’s rare, like a snow day in Hell, for Campbell to show real passion for an issue.

Second, this is rather a blatant violation of Senate comity. I daresay it’s not unusual for a Pro Tem to pull the levers behind the scenes (it’s pretty unusual for Campbell, but not for your average Pro Tem), but it’s downright bizarre for a Pro Tem to publicly show up a committee chair. Sears’s reaction was actually rather diplomatic. Well, diplomatic for Sears, who guards his turf like the alpha male he thinks he is. Although there’s no truth, as far as I know, to the rumor that he tinkles a little on the Judiciary Committee doorjambs every morning.

Third, Campbell’s even making noise about openly opposing Gov. Shumlin.

“The governor made it very clear how he feels about this bill. He doesn’t support it,” Campbell said. “The governor is very powerful and the administration is very powerful. As such, I guess I had to step up my involvement.”

Superman: “As such, I guess, I had to stop the runaway train.”

So it’s weird doings on the gun bill. Campbell’s normal posture, when an issue gets divisive, is to stay the hell out of the way. There have been many occasions during his tenure when a bit of leadership — or arm-twisting — would have broken a logjam and avoided unnecessary strife. In moments like these, John Campbell usually stays out of the way.

I don’t get the sudden onslaught of passion for a bill that simply doesn’t do that much. Makes me wonder if that’s the Real John Campbell or an alien-crafted facsimile.

Revenge of the Slummin’ Solon

Aww, just when I thought we were rid of the guy, his tainted legacy comes back to haunt us.

GalbraithI speak of the person formerly known as The Most Hated Man in the Senate, Peter Galbraith. In a building full of people convinced that their shit don’t stink, he stood out for his towering self-regard. He saw himself as a master lawmaker and deal-broker, when in fact he was an egotistical meddler always willing to block the process if he thought things could be done better.

By which I mean, of course, that things should be done the way he wanted them done.

One of his more notorious episodes is now making life more difficult for his former Senate colleagues, who now have to relitigate the aid-in-dying law because of a classic Galbraithian power play.

Back in the spring of 2013, after an exhaustive debate across multiple sessions, the state legislature was poised to enact a bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to seek lethal medication under strictly controlled conditions. The version that passed the House was modeled on Oregon’s successful law.

The Senate vote was expected to be very close. And at a crucial moment, Galbraith and another guy I’m pleased to call “former Senator,” Bob Hartwell, forced a radical rewrite of the bill that basically stripped away all the controls and protections. Galbraith was the driving force behind the idea; he wanted aid-in-dying without any state controls. The idea appealed to no one else, but he refused to budge. In the end, a House-Senate conference committed settled on a Frankenstein monster of a bill that imposed Oregon-style protections at first, but is set to remove them in the year 2016.

It was a ridiculous bill, but it did get aid-in-dying onto the books. And by all accounts, it’s been a success so far: very few people have used it, and even fewer have actually taken a fatal dose, but it does provide a safety valve for those truly in extremis without posing any visible danger to anyone else.

It works. But because of the Galbraith-Hartwell maneuver, the bill has to be reopened this year. Otherwise, we’d enter a Wild West situation, as the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami outlines:

If the law is not changed, physicians will no longer be required to tell patients in person and in writing of their diagnosis, prognosis, range of treatment options, risks of taking medication and probable result of taking medication.

Nobody wants that. But thanks to Galbraith and Hartwell, the issue has to be reopened. This week, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee held a hearing on a bill that would continue the current protections beyond 2016. This has given opponents of aid-in-dying a second crack at killing the legislation. According to Goswami:

… opponents of Act 39 will look to repeal it and have allies in the Legislature who will sponsor amendments with that purpose when the legislation to keep the safeguards hits the Senate floor.

Great. We spent endless hours debating aid-in-dying and arrived at a substantial consensus. The resulting bill has worked as intended. But now, in a session already overloaded with contentious issues like the budget, taxes, Lake Champlain cleanup, education reform, and health care, we may have to live through a repeat of the 2013 debate.

And we have Peter Galbraith and his running buddy Bob Hartwell to thank for that. I really, really hope we’ve seen the last of those two assclowns.

A little shameless, and ironic, self-promotion by the Freeploid

Okay, so the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza puts out a list of the best political reporters in each of the 50 states. He describes the list as a combination of reader recommendations and his own knowledge. It’s fair to assume that the farther away he gets from Washington, the more dependent he is on his readers.

Take Vermont, for instance. Cillizza’s list was sadly incomplete and, in two instances, ironically off-target.

He names four reporters. Paul Heintz of Seven Days; no problem there. Kyle Midura of WCAX; he does a fine job by TV standards.

The other two: Mike Donoghue and April Burbank of the Burlington Free Press.

Hahahahaha.

Nothing against either of them; they’re perfectly cromulent reporters. However…

— Neither is primarily a political reporter. Both are on the Freeploid’s vaguely-named Accountability Team. The Free Press draws heavily on the Associated Press for its political coverage.

— It was only a couple months ago that the Free Press jettisoned its political reporters, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen. Both would be better choices for Cillizza’s list than Donoghue and Burbank.

The thickly-laden irony isn’t stopping the Free Press from celebrating its dubious honor. Three Freeploid functionaries have Tweeted the big news; here’s one of them.

Nice, Aki. I’m sure your former colleagues are sharing a bitter laugh.

As for Cillizza, he clearly doesn’t know much about Vermont media. He completely ignores VTDigger and VPR, two of the three best outlets for state political news. The Digger diss isn’t surprising, since he named it the Best Political Blog in Vermont two years ago. Small problem there: VTDigger isn’t a blog. It’s a professionally staffed news operation.

Cillizza does acknowledge the possible incompleteness of his list, and he has added people to it since he first posted it. I’ve sent him an email with my suggestions, and perhaps he’ll include them.

My top three noms: Anne Galloway of VTDigger, Peter Hirschfeld of VPR, and Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau. If I expanded things a bit, I’d include Dave Gram of the AP, Stuart Ledbetter of WPTZ, Bob Kinzel of VPR, and Mark Johnson of WDEV. Mark doesn’t report as such, but his daily radio show is the best single platform for discussion of state politcs and policy.

On the subject of Vermont’s true Best Political Blog, modesty forbids me.

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

Many a knicker was tightly knotted yesterday, judging by some of the statements made and actions taken at the inaugural ceremony.

Most of the collywobbles arose from the protest by advocates of single-payer health care. Many politicians were vocally incensed at such goings-on. And some of the protesters were shocked — shocked — that they might be handled roughly by police.

The rest of the peevishness came from Republicans reacting, even more childishly than usual, to Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural address. I’ll cover that in a separate post.  Back to the demonstration.

The folks from the Vermont Workers Center went a bit too far when they disrupted the closing benediction. Otherwise their protest was peaceful if occasionally intrusive.

The assembled dignitaries, however, just couldn’t stomach this disturbance of their sacred space. Sen Dick McCormack wins the honor for Biggest Overreaction; he called the protest “fascist.” Protip for public figures: never ever ever ever ever use the word “fascist” unless you’re talking about a violent, oppressive, murderous regime.

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Hicktown, resorted to the “You Kids Get Off My Lawn” meme: “I think they should get a job.” Dirty hippies!

Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell was among several lawmakers who told protesters they were hurting their own cause.

Snort. As if.

Two points. First, single payer is dead for the foreseeable future. Second, any lawmaker who casts a future vote because of yesterday’s demonstration is failing his/her duty.

And the Governor, speaking today on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, said the protesters had “hurt the cause” by showing a “lack of respect for the process.”

Awww. Would that be the same process (and the same governor) who built up their hopes and expectations for years, only to dash them all in a single moment? Shumlin reaped the benefits of single-payer advocates’ support through three election cycles, and then abruptly trashed it all.

Advocates are understandably upset about that, and the inauguration of Peter Shumlin was an appropriate time to express their outrage. It was, in fact, the perfect time. The Governor shouldn’t play with people’s beliefs, and expect to be shielded from the consequences by his sense of decorum. As a Mark Johnson Show caller pointed out, disruption is the only way for people who feel disenfranchised to make their voices heard.

So, no sympathy for the hurt fee-fees of our distinguished leaders.

Not that the protesters are without blame. The single moment where things went too far was during the closing prayer. Protesters were outside, singing. One of them, Ki Walker, entered the balcony and continued to sing. A protest organizer later claimed that Walker thought the ceremony was over. But Walker was right there at center stage. He could see that the ceremony was continuing. And he kept on singing.

Afterward, he explained himself to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

 “Our tone was, like, nice or whatever,” Walker said.

Duuuuuuude. 

But the Whiniest Protester Award goes to Sheila Linton, who was part of the group occupying the House floor after the ceremony. When police began trying to remove the group, very politely, she refused to move or speak. When they tried to lift her arms, she began screaming as though they were using a chainsaw. (You can see the video on Seven Days’ website.)

Okay, here’s a lesson for Vermont’s Junior Gandhis. Your commitment to passive resistance  includes the possibility of what one trooper called “pain compliance” — the application of discomfort to those who resist police action. And this wasn’t Bull Connor with firehoses and Dobermans; these were state troopers acting with restraint and deliberation. Sorry, Ms. Linton, no sympathy here.

The demonstration itself was relatively mild, Mr. Walker being a notable exception. So was the police response. People on both sides got way more upset than they should have been.

The best reaction came from House Speaker Shap Smith, quoted by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami:

“I think this was an incredible example of the openness of our democracy,” he said. “In the people’s house, people are allowed to petition, and I would expect that over the coming weeks, we’ll talk with people about setting up hearings.”

Measured, reasonable, respectful. Just about perfect.

(Still to come: VTGOPeevishness.)

 

Of course the right wing is still Grubering

Yesterday, I wrote about Neal Goswami’s journalistic self-sacrifice — reading 2,400 pages of government emails so we don’t have to. The emails in question were between the newly-notorious Jonathan Gruber and various Shumlin administration functionaries. And Goswami found a conspicuous absence of scandal. Indeed, the emails painted a picture of some very dedicated people working very hard to devise the best possible single-payer system.

Naturally, though, the lack of scandal hasn’t stopped the right wing from desperately fanning the Gruber flames. This is not at all surprising; in fact, it’s the right wing’s modus operandi. Talking Points Memo:

Gruber-mania has gripped the conservative mediasphere in a way that few stories have, becoming another brand-name controversy like Benghazi and the IRS. An academic who had been little known outside of Washington or Boston has been mentioned nearly 2,800 times in English-language news since news of the most recent video broke last month. Prior to that, across a career that spanned decades and after playing an important role in Massachusetts and national health care reform, he’d been named less than 1,000 times, according to a TPM LexisNexis search.

The lesser members of the mediasphere who operate in this lonely outpost are taking their cues from their big brothers, and trying to make mountains out of molehills.

Take Rob Roper, the Eddie Haskell of Vermont conservatism. He pulled out one brief excerpt from Goswami’s report, which I’d cited as a positive. Key quote from Gruber:

I am really excited to work with you all — I think we have the chance to really make history here.

In Roper’s imagination, this statement immediately disqualifies Gruber. He’s too enthusiastic, see?

So would Gruber mislead Vermont voters because he’d rather make history than not? With over $2 billion at stake, we have to assume the answer is yes.

One little evidence-free assumption, and we can dismiss the entirety of Gruber’s work. Plus any proposal Gov. Shumlin makes because, even if he fired Gruber today, all the work on single-payer has already been thoroughly Grubered.

This is exactly the same rationale used by the far right for ignoring climate science: the scientists have a stake in climate change, so their work can be dismissed.

Look, it’s only natural that an expert would have a lively engagement in her/his field of study. Aren’t you interested in what you do? I hope so. But the academic world — unlike the world of conservative faux-outrage — has ethical standards and principles. Academics have an interest in doing honest work, to ensure that their work has an impact. And, of course, academics who commit fraud see their careers end in shame.

But the Rob Ropers of the world know nothing of this, because their purpose is rousing the rabble. Adhering to the truth is a professional impediment. And fraud is a tried and true method of career advancement.

And that, by the way, is it: The only thing Roper could find in Goswami’s story to yammer about is Gruber’s enthusiasm for his work.

Meanwhile, serial failure Darcie “Hack” Johnston has been busily retweeting stuff from Breitbart.com, one of the sleazier outposts of the conservative mediasphere. For some reason, Breitbart has posted a series of stories about Gruber’s work in Vermont. Seems like small potatoes for a national website, but whatevs.

Johnston is so far out there, she seems to believe that Breitbart is a convincing source of news. In fact, the guy who’s writing its Vermont stories is a proud Tea Partier with no journalistic credentials outside the conservative mediasphere.

But again, I’m not surprised. This is SOP for Johnston: Accept (and broadcast) every conservative source, no matter how shameless, as the Gospel truth.

When, in fact, “truth” has nothing to do with it.

No smoking guns in the Gruber file

Now I know how Neal Goswami’s been spending his spare time lately:

The Vermont Press Bureau obtained nearly 2,400 pages of emails between Jonathan Gruber and state officials that detail the work Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist, has been doing for the administration.

Woof. That’s a lot of emails to wade through. The result of all that work was published in the Sunday edition of the Mitchell Family Organ. (The article is paywalled; if you don’t subscribe, Get Thee To A Library.)

So what did he find? More impolitic comments about stupid voters and conservative pundits? Arrogant pronouncements over how he’s gonna pull the wool over our eyes?

Er, no.

Emails… highlight the administration’s work since the summer preparing a long-awaited financing plan for Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposed universal, publicly financed health care plan.

… In a July 7 email to Michael Costa, Shumlin’s deputy director of health reform and the tax expert spearheading the administration’s financing plan, Gruber expressed unbridled enthusiasm at the opportunity to help the state craft a single-payer health care plan.

In short, the emails depict a top-shelf policy expert avidly engaged in a very difficult project, and using his economic model to test countless iterations of single-payer.

And seeing Vermont as a ground-breaking opportunity: “I think we have a chance to make history here,” he said in a July email.

Goswami describes a lengthy, painstaking process that seems to validate Gov. Shumlin’s claims that he couldn’t release his plan because it wasn’t ready yet. This was, the emails show, a long, tough slog. Which still continues; reform chief Robin Lunge expressed confidence that the plan would be ready by late December, but only after an all-out effort.

It’s a fascinating read if you’re a policy wonk. But it doesn’t provide provide any new evidence for legitimate attacks on Gruber or single-payer.

Which is not to say there’s no room for illegitimate, partisan attacks:

Many emails that included details of the administration’s plan were redacted, with the administration citing executive privilege.

“Aha!”, I can almost hear Darcie Johnston crying. “Redacted! Cover-up!”

Partisans will certainly look at it that way. Especially since, according to Goswami, the Shumlin administration had an interesting rationale for adding a provision to Gruber’s contract stating that he “may advise the Governor on policy matters.”

That provision was added, not because Gruber would actually provide any policy advice, but simply to lay the foundation for a claim of executive privilege.

Lunge… said the clause in the contract was included to protect her policy advice to the governor. Gruber has not contributed policy advice to the governor, according to Lunge.

Got that? Lunge generated policy ideas… Gruber ran them through his model… and Lunge used his information to shape her policy ideas. But since she had to give her policy ideas to Gruber, his work must be privileged.

It makes sense, but it also provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

And it creates some concerns about government transparency: Lunge told Goswami that “the same provision is also included with other contractors.”

If that’s true, then we ought to be less worried about Jonathan Gruber and single-payer, and more worried about broadening claims of executive privilege.

Here’s a pleasant surprise

I didn’t think the Governor had it in him, especially in the wake of his Election Night smackdown. But he’s not giving in to the Pitchfork Brigade’s call for the head of Jonathan Gruber. Neal Goswami of the Mitchell Family Organ:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that a state contractor under fire for derisive comments he has made about American voters and a Vermont commentator will not have his state contract terminated despite calls to do so by Republicans.

Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, has a personal services contract with Vermont that will pay him up to $400,000 to test economic models related to Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal, often referred to as a single payer system.

The Governor’s stand does come with strings: He will not exercise an option to extend Gruber’s contract beyond its expiration in Februiary. And he did his best to dump all over the contrator whose economic model is too valuable to do without:

…”for me it’s not just what he said, it’s that he actually thinks this stuff. It’s not the way we do things in Vermont.”

Shumlin was also careful to delineate between Gruber the technocrat and Gruber the policy advisor:

“It’s our plan, not his. It’s our policy, it’s our hope for the future and it’s our plan. We’ve used him as a calculator not a policy advisor,” Shumlin said.

Okay, fair enough. Keep him on, and do what you must to distance yourself from his arrogance. Much better than to give in to the howling mob.

The self-bigotry of low expectations

This should be a very good day for Vermont Republicans in legislative races. It won’t be, of course, and therein lies the rub.

Earlier in the campaign, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott talked about picking up double-digit seats in the Legislature, putting a perceptible dent in the Dems’ substantial majorities. But now?

“I will be happy if we gain one seat,” [Senate Minority Leader Joe] Benning said. “It means that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction.”

“If we pick up one seat we’re moving in the right direction,” said House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton.

Joe, Phil and Don, smiling through their tears.

Joe, Phil and Don, smiling through their tears.

Gee, ya think they’re reading from the same script?

The above quotes are from a story by Neal Goswami, published in the Sunday Mitchell Family Organ and produced as a (shorter) radio piece by VPR. (VPR’s website has the full text of Goswami’s print article, available without paywall.)

The Republicans are hoping for more than two seats. But they’re clearly trying to set the bar as low as possible so they can claim some sort of victory no matter what happens.

Which means that in their minds, it’s quite possible that the VTGOP will do no better than a token advance. And that’s bad news for the Republicans’ future in Vermont, for two big reasons. First, from Senate Majority Leader Phil Baruth:

“Pickups, frankly, would be pretty tough,” Baruth said. “Last election we expanded pretty much to the limits of what we could reasonably hope for.”

So, if the Democrats are at the theoretical limits of their legislative hegemony, why can’t the Republicans make a significant comeback in 2014? Especially when this campaign represents “a perfect storm” of opportunity, according to Joe Benning himself.

The ingredients of that “perfect storm” include the continuing perils of Vermont Health Connect, fears about single-payer health care, widespread anger over rising property taxes, a sputtering economy, and early signs of Shumlin fatigue among voters.

On top of that, there’s no Presidential or U.S. Senate race to drive Democratic turnout; the races for Congress and Governor are uncompetitive; and Republicans have failed to mount credible races for the other four statewide offices. (Sorry, Shane-O-Mac.) Democratic voters have every excuse to sit this one out.

With all that going for them, the Republicans will be happy with a handful of gains. Leaving them, still, in a very weak minority position.

And that shows you how far away the VTGOP is from being truly competitive.  There are a whole lot of legislative seats that are simply uncompetitive. There are too many liberal and moderate voters who see nothing attractive in the Republican Party — even when they’re feeling dyspeptic about the Governor.

Plus, the Republicans are at a huge organizational disadvantage. The Dems have a well-organized, well-resourced ground game and world-class voter data. They were able to out-recruit the Republicans because of their organizational edge, so they have strong candidates in some vulnerable districts.

And they have poured their resources into the most competitive battlegrounds, like Rutland and Franklin Counties. Because the Republicans are uncompetitive in so many places, the Dems can, as the Governor would say, “focus like a laser” on the most crucial contests.

Which is why, even in a “perfect storm” of Republican opportunity, the Democrats are poised to hold onto virtually all of their vast legislative territory.

And that tells you all you need to know about the magnitude of the task facing Vermont Republicans.