Tag Archives: passive aggressiveness

A new day in an old way

Vermont lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to make a change in the hidebound office of Sergeant-at-Arms. Formerly a sinecure for beloved dodderers, the post is now apparently being filled on merit. Who knew?

In a rather shockingly one-sided vote, Francis Brooks — who was SaA for eight years after serving for 25 as a state representative — was dumped in favor of Janet Miller, deputy director of the Legislative Council. The final tally was 128 Miller, 47 Brooks.

I take it as a sign of a new attitude toward the management of the Statehouse. Gone are the days when an 87-year-old Statehouse fixture (Dwight Dwinell) could hang onto the job as long as he could get up the steps of the building. Now, wewant an actual manager.

Is this a harbinger of tighter security at the people’s house? Perhaps. There’s talk of fire drills and active-shooter drills for lawmakers. (If they’re serious about evacuation procedures, they might want to cut another couple of doors in the House and Senate chambers. The House chamber is a huge room with three exits from the main floor, two of them tiny; the Senate is a smaller room with one main-floor exit plus a small side door that leads to a room right next to the main exit. Hope the desk nearest the door doesn’t catch fire.)

So, a new day, but carried out in old-Vermont fashion. There had been complaints about Brooks, some quantifiable, some passive-aggressively vague, and many of them anonymous: he didn’t run a tight enough ship, security wasn’t up to snuff, he didn’t recruit enough legislative pages from other parts of the state, there was “a general level of discontent,” he was too “grumpy.”

Of course — and this is the “Vermont fashion” part of it — nobody told Brooks about any of this. On the eve of today’s vote, Brooks told VTDigger that “no one came to me… No individuals or group have come up and said it to me that, ‘You were wrong,’ or ‘You should have handled it this way.'”

As a flatlander who’s lived in Vermont for less than a decade, I can tell you this happens A LOT in Vermont. Direct confrontation is avoided; grievances are allowed to accumulate until the situation reaches the breaking point.

To Vermonters, this probably seems like a positive: what’s wrong with politeness?

Well, when it’s used to paper over issues instead of dealing with them, it’s counterproductive. By all accounts, Brooks didn’t see this coming until it was too late. And that’s a shame. My sense is that he operated under the old-timey conception of the job: a low-impact sinecure for a man (cough) of a certain age.

Not any more. And the fact that Brooks got a standing ovation after his unceremonious ouster is a very Vermont thing to do: it was a nice tribute to a senior figure, but coming right after the lopsided vote against him, there was something curiously hollow about the gesture. Yeah, let’s have a nice round of applause for the guy we just kicked in the teeth.

Jim Douglas: It gets worse

As I reported a couple days ago in this space, Jim Douglas’ new memoir includes a passage that accuses Governor Shumlin of public corruption — of giving a seat on the Vermont Supreme Court to Beth Robinson, a political ally, as a reward to her and to an important constituency. Here it is again:

“The Senate leader, who succeeded me in the governorship, was a strong proponent of gay marriage. Since he was nominated by a scant 200 votes in the Democratic primary, their support may well have provided the margin of victory. He later reciprocated by appointing one of the leading lobbyists of the movement to the Vermont Supreme Court.”

The key word there is “reciprocated.” Douglas is saying that there was a quid pro quo — one of the state’s highest offices was bartered away as a political reward.

Well, on September 11, Douglas was a guest on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. When Johnson asked him about the passage, Douglas doubled down — claiming that Robinson is unqualified:

With all due respect to the Justice, I think it’s hard for most Vermonters to believe that she would have risen to the top of the pack but for her leadership on that issue.

“With all due respect,” my ass. Jim Douglas is saying that Beth Robinson had no business being chosen to the high court, and that this is so obviously true that “most Vermonters” would have a hard time believing she was nominated on merit.

Johnson, taken aback by this rather bold assertion, asked if Douglas really believed she was appointed because of her work on the marriage equality court case.

She obviously became well known because of that, and, um… [long pause] who knows?

A wonderful piece of passive-aggressive political attack. Johnson asked “What do you base that on?” Douglas offered no evidence; instead he quickly changed the subject.

His comments about Robinson were baseless and mean-spirited. They’re of a piece with his allegation that Shumlin made a corrupt deal to put her on the high court.

Which, I say again, should have been the top headline news out of Douglas’ memoir. I remain stunned that, with the exception of Mark Johnson, no one in the media has mentioned it at all.