Tag Archives: Peter Shumlin

“Welcome back to The Gutter, Mr. Milne. Your usual table?”

Scott Milne started the general election season with a vow to run an issues-oriented campaign. He backed it up with his big glossy 60-point ProgressVT action plan.

And ever since, he’s used ProgressVT as a fig leaf for an overwhelmingly negative campaign. Which is par for the course. This is, after all, the guy who ran an entirely negative campaign against Sen. Partick Leahy that included an amateurish TV ad that accused Leahy of having contracted “the DiCa Virus,” short for District of Columbia and a dumb play on the Zika virus. The spot looks even worse in retrospect, now that we’re actually in a battle with a deadly pandemic.

We got another taste of The Gutter’s menu on Monday, aided and abetted by WPTZ anchor/reporter/apparent Milne honk Stewart Ledbetter. (Who, in a mere two days, will be moderating a debate between the two candidates. Yeesh.)

On a day when Gray held a press conference announcing endorsements by 15 state senators, Ledbetter obtained a list of tweets sent from Democrat Molly Gray’s campaign account during business hours — when she was supposed to be working as an assistant attorney general. His report, which is partially available on Channel 5’s website (the video cuts off before the end), begins by recounting the endorsement event. He notes, as did I, that Gray’s list doesn’t include eight members of the majority caucus.

He then pivots to footage of Milne pointing out the senatorial absences with that familiar smirk on his face.

And then Ledbetter rolls out the Twitter bit. Or, as he put it, “A new list of Twitter posts emerged Monday with timestamps suggesting Gray conducted some campaign activities during the workday.”

Yeah, ha ha ha, “emerged.” As if out of the clear blue sky.

We know from one of the earlier debates that someone with the Milne campaign, or someone backing him, submitted a wide-ranging public records request for all Gray’s communications between the launch of her campaign and her taking a leave of absence from the AGO, hunting for signs of electioneering by Gray during business hours.

Well, they labored mightily and produced a mouse: The list of 101 allegedly offending tweets.

Gray’s response? “Every campaign has staff with access to its campaign Twitter account.”

Shocker, that. And yes, it’s standard operating procedure for campaign staff to tweet approved messages. Milne’s got nothing. I’m not surprised; in my experience, Gray was very careful to confine her campaigning to non-work hours until she took her leave.

What Milne or his backers were hoping to find was clear evidence of campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime. And all they got was a few dozen tweets from a campaign account that’s accessible by others in Gray’s campaign team.

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As long as we’re considering youthful indiscretions…

In Thursday’s lieutenant governor debate, Republican Scott Milne launched an all-out attack on Democrat Molly Gray for her supposedly spendthrift agenda and, naturally, her spotty voting record. He scored some points in the process.

He also opened the door to an attack-oriented campaign at odds with his self-positioning as a moderate Nice Guy. And to considerations of each candidate’s personal history. He may live to regret that, since there are a few known skeletons in his otherwise unexplored closet. Let’s start by comparing the two candidates in their formative years.

While graduating from law school, becoming an attorney and establishing herself as a globetrotting professional deeply engaged in justice issues, Gray frequently failed to vote.

Meanwhile, in his youth, Milne was a cocaine user and impaired driver with two DUI arrests.

I dunno, seems like a wash to me.

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Campaign Vermont 2020: No Juice

Welp, the air is out of the bouncy house. Sad to say, here we are on September 2, and there’s pretty much nothing in this woebegone Vermont campaign season to speculate about or prognosticate or even stir up the slightest semblance of interest.

That’s my big takeaway from the September 1 campaign finance reports. It’s all over but the whimpering.

Unless something huge happens, none of the statewide races look competitive. There will be, at best, only minor shifts in the makeup of the Legislature. We’ll head into a new biennium full of financial hardships and across-the-board policy challenges — with the same crew that’s given us a whole lot of status quo for the last four years.

Can you feel the excitement?

The two financial disclosures that tell the story weren’t even filed by candidates, or Vermonters. They came from the Vermont-specific political action committees funded by the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations.

The DGA’s “Our Vermont” has yet to lift a finger or spend a dime this year.

The RGA’s “A Stronger Vermont” has spent some $94,000 on a pair of polls, one in February and another in August. Otherwise, they spent a few thousand bucks on a bit of online advertising. Which tells you all you need to know about the results of those surveys: The RGA is so confident that Gov. Phil Scott will win a third term that they aren’t bothering to spend money.

Point of comparison: In the six weeks between Primary Day 2016 and October 1, 2016, the RGA spent $929,000 in support of Scott’s campaign. There was a poll in there, but the vast majority — $664,000 — bought a TV ad blitz that put Dem Sue Minter on the ropes. She never got back into the race. If the RGA saw Zuckerman as a threat, they’d be doing the same thing right now.

Election Day is still two months away, and the dynamics of the race could change. And a meteor could strike the earth. But there is no sign of a game-changing event.

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The Issueless Candidate

@thevpo1, Vermont’s Trusted Source for Unfair Screengrabs

Early contender for Best Inadvertent Laugh Line, 2020 General Election Edition, comes to us from Sen. Corey Parent, who’s got such a tough re-election fight on his hands that he’s devoting his spare time to managing Scott Milne’s bid for Lite-Guv. Fortunately for him, VTDigger has no laugh track, so the line is presented as if it were… serious:

Parent also said Milne “has always run campaigns based strictly on the issues.”

Corey’s a seasoned pro at this point, so it’s not too surprising that he managed to get through that line without breaking character. But still, congrats on a job well done.

Truth is, Milne is about the most issue-free major party candidate in recent memory. His two previous runs for office have featured a lot of snark, plenty of criticism for the incumbent, and virtually no actual positions or proposals on the issues.

In support of his assertion, Parent references Milne’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign: “Scott famously nearly defeated Peter Shumlin on the issue of health care.”

Well, yeah, I suppose. But Milne didn’t actually take a position on health care. He simply tried to make hay out of the disastrous rollout of Vermont Health Connect and Shumlin’s failure to enact a single-payer system. Just as he tried to make hay out of Shumlin’s other failings.

During the 2014 campaign, Milne kept promising to release a platform for his candidacy — and then delaying any announcements.

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The Corrections Culture

Corrections Commissioner James Baker continues to make the right noises. On Friday, after news that more than two-thirds of Vermont inmates at a Mississippi for-profit prison had tested positive for coronavirus, Baker talked of accountability and responsibility and the need for a culture change inside his department.

Now, if only he can make it happen. The DOC is a hidebound place, full of long-tenured employees whose kneejerk reaction is to defend the status quo.

In one of his first actions, Baker sent two DOC administrators to Mississippi to get a first-person look at things. He said he was “reassured” upon hearing their reports.

Not so fast, my friend. One of the two who made the trip was DOC facilities operations manager Bob Arnell. That’s the Bob Arnell who was once the superintendent of the state’s extremely troubled women’s prison.

I’m sure ol’ Bob knows all about problematic institutional culture. After all, he became superintendent after the inglorious departure of his predecessor, David Turner, who requested reassignment in 2012 “days after a report emerged that condemned the conditions” at the prison. (Turner, “a veteran employee” of the DOC, was shuffled elsewhere in the department.)

And we all know that, ever since, the women’s prison has been the very model of excellence. Oh wait.

In recent years, …guards have sexually assaulted inmates, harassed female employees, and pursued sexual relationships with women who have left the prison but remain on furlough, probation or parole — and, therefore, under DOC supervision.

That’s from a December 2019 story by Paul Heintz of Seven Days, reporting on widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and drug use in the prison — and the almost complete lack of DOC response to all of it. Except to threaten retaliation against inmates who had the guts to complain.

I don’t know how long Arnell was in place at the facility, but let’s conclude he didn’t have any perceptible impact on the “culture.” But I’m sure if he says everything is hunky-dory in Mississippi, we can take his word for it.

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Scott Milne, Nonviable Republican

“He squints inquisitively when he speaks and has an easy crooked smile.”

I dunno, I’ve never found crooked smiles all that beguiling.

Time to saddle up. Apparently I have to revisit the undistinguished electoral career of Scott Milne, now that he’s been dubbed “a viable Republican” by the wise heads at VTDigger in a profile that shows him in the best possible light and ignores all his defects and shortcomings.

Starting with the idea that his performance in the 2014 gubernatorial election proves his statewide viability — so much so that his absolute drubbing by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2016 somehow provides more evidence of his political magnetism.

It’s certainly true that Milne was given no shot at beating then-incumbent governor Peter Shumlin. His loss by a mere two thousand-odd votes was a shock to the #vtpoli world, this blogger included. But 2014 was no ordinary year. Shumlin had squandered all his political goodwill on his doomed venture into health care reform, and an ill-conceived land deal with a neighbor had reinforced a view of Shumlin as a shifty opportunist.

Compare 2014 with 2012. That year, Randy Brock was thoroughly trounced by Shumlin. Brock received 110,970 votes.

Two years later, Milne pulled his magician act, taking Shumlin to the limit. Milne’s vote total: 87,075 votes.

Shumlin, meanwhile, lost almost half his support. He earned 170,767 votes in 2012 — but only 89,509 in 2014. Shumlin had lost his mojo, and Milne was the lucky beneficiary. If the Republicans had nominated a halfway decent candidate, Shumlin would have been shitcanned.

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Is Somebody Getting Nervous in the LG Race?

There’s only one month to go until the August primary, and who knows how many absentee ballots already coming in, so maybe it’s no surprise that some collars are showing signs of tightening.

The above is a mailer sent by Senate President Pro Tem and candidate for lieutenant governor Tim Ashe, which seems expressly designed to draw a contrast between him and Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray.

Gray, for those just joining us, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and immediately started racking up big donations and big-name endorsements. Before her emergence, the safe money was on Ashe to ride his name recognition to a primary victory — and then a comfortable ride to election in November. But now? Not so much.

Ashe’s mailer screams about the need for EXPERIENCE in these troubled times. The kind of EXPERIENCE that makes a person fit to, uhhh, bang a gavel. It highlights three things about Ashe that can’t be said about Gray: experience as Pro Tem, experience passing legislation, and “my real-world economic development career.”

That notorious slacker Gray, by contrast, has frittered away her time working for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan, among others. She probably does scrapbooking or needlepoint in her spare time. Maybe jigsaw puzzles.

Ashe’s mailer doesn’t draw as neat a contrast with the other two Democrats in the race. His fellow Senator Debbie Ingram has plenty of experience on legislation. Activist and arts administrator Brenda Siegel has spent lots of time in the Statehouse working on legislation as an advocate.

A more direct attack on Gray came last week courtesy of VTDigger, which posted a story questioning her residency status — and pretty much settling the issue in her favor.

Here’s some rank speculation on my part: Somebody gave Digger a tip to pursue this angle. If this had been entirely Digger’s initiative, the story would have been done when Gray launched her campaign — after all, she went out of her way to highlight her international experience including her time away from Vermont.

I have not a shred of evidence pointing to Ashe or his minions as the source of the story. But the timing speaks for itself. And I really don’t see Ingram or Siegel resorting to trickery of any sort.

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If I hear someone say “a few bad apples,” I’m gonna scream

The Vermont Department of Corrections (Not Exactly As Illustrated) (Or Maybe It Is)

As Vermont’s prison scandal continues to spread and deepen, I find myself pondering a simple question:

How are the Democrats going to handle this?

The latest in this head-spinning affair is the indefinite suspension of the top two officials at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. DOC Commissioner-For-Now Mike Touchette announced the suspensions in a Friday newsdump. He didn’t explain the reasons — but dollars to donuts it’s no coincidence that the action comes a few days after Human Services Secretary Mike Smith launched his own investigation, which initially (at least) focused on the state’s only women’s prison.

And while we wait for more dominoes to fall, let’s consider that the scandal puts the Democrats in a tight spot. At first glance, you might think they’d be rarin’ to dig up a nice juicy election-year scandal that might put a few dents in Gov. Phil Scott’s Teflon.

But maybe not.

Some factors to consider. Former DOC commissioner Lisa Menard served from 2015 to 2018. Yep, she was appointed by Democrat Peter Shumlin. She and Touchette are longtime veterans of the department, who rose through the ranks under Democratic and Republican governors. The documented problems at the women’s prison go back to at least 2012, which would be Shumlin’s first term. This scandal may have blown open on Scott’s watch, but it’s really a bipartisan issue.

The potential principals in this affair — Menard, Touchette, Smith, and his predecessor Al Gobeille — are all familiar faces around state government. They are past or present denizens of the Statehouse bubble. They are well known and — rightly or wrongly — respected by legislators. Rep. Alice Emmons, who’s served in the House since 1983, is the longtime chair of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, which will tackle the prison scandal. She and her committee have had responsibility for oversight of the system, and failed to keep the system on the straight and narrow. Is she going to dig deep into this thing, or will she be inclined to lay the blame at the feet of “a few bad apples”?

And again, if I hear that phrase in January, I’m going to scream. Because even at this early stage, there’s overwhelming evidence that this problem isn’t confined to the front-line workers. It’s clear that DOC management actively conspired to keep things quiet.

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Let’s Not Fix the Mental Health System and Say We Did

Oh, great. The state’s Department of Mental Health is finalizing a ten-year plan to improve the state’s inadequate mental health care system. The highlights, errrrr lowlights, include:

  • It doesn’t appear to address the system’s biggest shortfall, i.e. the lack of resources for the worst cases.
  • It echoes the approach promulgated by the Shumlin administration and legislature after Tropical Storm Irene. Which, for those just joining us, failed to do what it promised.
  • There seems to be nothing about the lack of resources in the prison system.
  • There’s nothing about providing more funding to put the plan into action.

So there’s that.

The report focuses on linking treatment of mental and physical illness, “eliminating stigma around mental health and expanding community-based treatment programs.” That’s nice. But meanwhile, people with profound mental illnesses continue to be stuck in hospital emergency rooms in greater numbers and for longer periods.

That has nothing to do with “stigma” or “community-based treatment programs.” It has everything to do with Vermont’s lack of capacity to treat our severely mentally ill. That’s been a problem since Irene damaged the state hospital at Waterbury.

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OneCare: “Please make us too big to fail”

As VTDigger reported a few days ago, Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling a little dubious about turning over their health care benefits to OneCare Vermont, the accountable care organization that’s beginning to develop a record of scoring own goals. For instance, OneCare seems to be (inadvertently, one would hope) doing its best to validate the unions’ concerns.

OneCare is in the process of seeking a dominant position in Vermont’s health care marketplace, by signing up as many groups and individuals as possible to its model of paying providers for outcomes instead of services performed. It’s the current hot idea in health care, and many smart people see great promise in it.

Of course, go back eight years and a lot of smart people saw great promise in then-governor Shumlin’s single-payer idea. And we know how well that went.

A little more than a month ago, OneCare went before the Green Mountain Care Board with a request for a $1.36 billion budget — a whopping 33 percent increase over last year’s. See, it’s been losing money and failing to produce the cost savings it promised.

OneCare’s explanation: It’s not big enough. Digger:

“We can’t measure success without scale,” [OneCare] CEO Vicki Loner told the Green Mountain Care Board at its budget hearing last month. The more people who participate, the more effective the system will be, she said.

Yeah, well, that may be true. But it’s also an invitation to pour more money down what might turn out to be a rathole. Loner is essentially saying that OneCare has to become too big to fail, merely in order to adequately test its health care model.

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