A few years ago, when legalizing cannabis was still in the middle stages of legislative debate, Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged that he has plenty of friends who regularly partake of the demon weed. And yet he opposed further moves toward legalization or state regulation.
The underlying assumption was that of course, his friends would never get busted for pot. Nod and a wink, don’t ya know. It might be illegal on the books, but, ha ha, nobody ever enforces the law, so why not let sleeping laws lie?
Bruce Prosper, Jr. is why.
Prosper is the Northeast Kingdom resident who’s paralyzed from the waist down, and grows his own cannabis for medicinal use. Which caught the attention of an Essex County Sheriff’s deputy, who I believe is seen above riding the bumper in the lower left.
He went and got himself a search warrant, deputies descended on the Prosper home, and heroically arrested him and the rest of his family on felony charges that could bring up to 15 years in prison for each.
And the county prosecutor, the widely esteemed political fixer Vince Illuzzi, is insisting on going ahead with the case. Illuzzi told VTDigger that he’s “kind of caught,” adding that “We are obligated to enforce the law.”
I have to admit I felt a little twinge of the warm fuzzies when I heard about Gov. Phil Scott’s “Vermont LIghts the Way” initiative. I mean, who could resist this pitch:
“I think it’s time to lift our spirits. Let’s get creative and show the world that Vermonters are here for each other and that even through these dark and difficult times, Vermont Lights the Way. …I hope this effort will spread joy and hope, especially for our kids.”
But of course, I’m a cynical old blogger, so my thoughts quickly turned. “What does this have to do with governance?” I asked myself.
Nothing. It’s good politics, that’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with good politics in its place. But this message is aimed at the comfortable among us — the ones with homes and well-stocked pantries, a bit of disposable income and paid-up utility bills, the ones who’d like to feel as though they’re making a difference without leaving the comfort of home and hearth.
Emma Lazarus’ famous poem is often cited as voicing the best impulses of our country. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword: The spirit of generosity is counterbalanced by the implicit message that immigrants are “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse,” which is far from the truth. In fact, immigration —including refugee resettlement — has brought energy, talent, motivation and a propensity for hard work to our country.
Lazarus’ poem makes it seem like an open-door policy is purely a matter of charity. But it’s quite the opposite. The influx of New Americans is, by a long shot, a net positive for our country, our economy and our culture.
Which brings me to this particular moment in Vermont. Donald Trump almost completely closed the doors to immigrants and refugees, which put a halt to Vermont’s efforts to become a destination for New Americans. Joe Biden has promised to loosen restrictions on immigration and refugee settlement, including raising the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than it was in the Obama Administration.
It’s time for Vermont to get in on the ground floor. Gov. Phil Scott has talked of New Americans as a key in growing our economy and easing our demographic crisis. He needs to act in concert with legislative leaders and our Congressional delegation to promote Vermont as an immigrant destination. He needs to consult with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to determine what we can do to help people move here successfully.
This kind of commitment is far more likely to pay off than any of Scott’s penny-ante ideas for attracting new residents, including the endlessly-touted but marginally effective remote worker grant program.
Well, looky here. One week after I noted that the state of Vermont’s travel map was “deeply misleading” (text) or “a lie” (headline), the state has issued a new version, reproduced above. And it clearly shows that we’re just as besieged by the pandemic as any of our neighbors.
I’ll take one sentence to crow about feeling vindicated. And then I’ll say that on balance, I’d rather be wrong in this case. Especially since I live in Washington County, which is Ground Zero of our current outbreak. (Thanks, recreational hockey league!)
For those just joining us, the state’s official travel map had made it seem like Vermont was somehow immune from the coronavirus. Other states were assigned green, yellow and red, while Vermont was illustrated in three shades of blue — for the same disease rates. Light blue was the same as green, and dark blue was the same as red. If considered strictly as a “travel map,” one could argue that the coloring was appropriate. But it also sent a signal that Vermont was doing just fine, thank you, and if that led anyone to let down their guard, it helped contribute to the upward spiral in our Covid numbers.
So far, Gov. Phil Scott has received a lot of credit for his coronavirus response. It’s beginning to look like he’s taken a few too many chances as we enter a new and much more severe phase of the pandemic. Throughout, he has listened to his experts and made decisions based partly on their input and party with an eye on the economy — even as he has consistently claimed to be placing science above all.
Did he give his renowned spigot a few too many turns? It’s beginning to look like it. We can’t lay it all at his feet, but he did play a role in the growth of a false sense of confidence among Vermonters. This new map, with its unavoidable and unbroken sea of red, should serve as a wake-up call for himself and his officials and for all of us.
On the surface, the Vermont Democratic Party did just fine this election. Sure, Phil Scott cruised to re-election and they lost a few legislative seats. But Scott was virtually unbeatable thanks to his patient, measured response to the pandemic. Besides, it wasn’t one of their own who took the bullet, it was David Zuckerman, a Prog/Dem with the emphasis on Prog. And they elected a bright new hope, Molly Gray, to the lieutenant governorship, held onto the other statewide offices, and held on to lopsided majorities in the House and Senate.
But when you take a closer look, this was a sneaky bad year for the Dems. They once again let Scott steal their lunch money. This was a bad year to take him on, but they’ve barely tried to beat Scott in the last several cycles. Since the 2010 race for lieutenant governor, they’ve put up a parade of under-resourced first-timers against Scott, and he’s barely had to break a sweat.
Gray’s victory is nice, but she was up against a terrible Republican candidate. As for the Legislature, if this wasn’t the year to rack up gains, I don’t know what is. They had the benefit of widespread anti-Trump animus to drive support for down-ballot races, and failed to capitalize.
I didn’t realize how much the Vermont Dems were resting on their structural advantages until I listened to a pair of podcast interviews from the fine folks at Crooked Media. The first featured Ben Wikler, head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, the second was with Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, founder of of Project Fair Fight. Both have taken state parties that faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and both have turned those states into Democratic success stories.
As promised, my lukewarm takes on the Vermont election results in the customary slash lazy columnist “Winners and Losers” style.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Gov. Phil Scott. Highest vote total in history for any gubernatorial candidate. Rode his adequate handling of the pandemic to a lopsided victory over a game but under-resourced Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. More than half of the Joe Biden voters crossed party lines to elect Scott.
Just to pin that down, Scott unofficially has 248,248 votes while Zuckerman failed to crack six figures. Biden finished with 242,680. Or compare Scott to his Republican ticketmates: Donald Trump took 112,507 votes, Miriam Berry (sacrificial lamb to Peter Welch) 95,763. The voters returned lopsided (and only marginally diminished) Dem/Prog majorities to the Legislature.
Scott also saw the Dems’ chances of overriding his frequent vetoes take a hit, with the loss of a few House seats. Every single seat matters when you’re trying to get to 100. Plus, the Dems and Progs will have to identify new House leadership. A new Speaker needs at least a year to learn the ropes.
If there’s a formula for defeating Phil Scott, the Democrats have yet to identify it. Hell, this year they kinda stopped trying. Which will come back to bite them if Scott makes a run for the next U.S. Senate opening. Successor to Bernie Sanders? There’s some bitter irony for you. (He’d have to relinquish the governorship in 2021 to take on Pat Leahy or [insert Democrat here] in 2022. I don’t see him doing that.)
Losers: Capital-P Progressives and their infrastructure. The good news for the Progs is that they managed to add a seat in the House. Otherwise, 2020 has been a disaster. Tim Ashe bombed out in the LG primary, Zuckerman cratered last night, they lost their two House caucus leaders, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and Diana Gonzalez*, and Sen. Chris Pearson continues to be the least popular member of the Chittenden delegation.
*Note: After she announced she was stepping away from the Legislature, Gonzalez was replaced by Selene Colburn in the deputy leader role. So it’s incorrect to say that the Progs lost both leaders in the election, although they did lose both during the course of the year.
Until proven otherwise, Bernie Sanders has no coattails. There is no evidence that he can push a Progressive or progressive to victory in Vermont. If he’s building a legacy or a movement that will survive his personal appeal, he ain’t doing it here.
I also have to ask: What exactly does Rights & Democracy accomplish? They spend a lot of money, much of it from Sts. Ben and Jerry, to no visible effect. I see little sign that they’re building a movement that can influence Vermont politics. Or New Hampshire politics, for that matter, since R&D is a twin-state organization. The NH Dems held serve in Congress, but failed to take down Gov. Chris Sununu and are on track for minority status in the NH House and Senate.
I’m sure the progressive Twitterverse will be all over me for this, but look, I’d love to live in a world where we’ve just elected Bernie or (my choice) Elizabeth Warren and we won 55 U.S. Senate seats and we were poised to create the Green Economy and enact universal health care and some serious regulation of the financial sector and court reforms and voting rights protections. But we don’t. And I see no objective evidence to support the notion that there’s an invisible army of progressive voters just waiting for the right “messaging” to get them stampeding to the polls.
After the jump: Room on the Democratic ladder, limited gains for the VTGOP, and more.
Election Day. Seems like it took forever to get here, but it’s still a shock that the day is finally here. And while all the attention and anxiety is focused on the national scene, this little outpost of the Internets is all about the #vtpoli. So here are my ridiculously low-stakes takes on what’s going to happen tonight in Vermont. Refunds cheerfully offered; please keep your receipt for presentation at Customer Service.
The most likely outcome is an even-more-ridiculous version of the past four years: Phil Scott and a whole lot of Democrats. Scott seems to be a lock to win a third term. Personally, I think a Dave Zuckerman win is at least a possibility, but much more well-informed folks than me believe otherwise.
Who? Well, Scott himself for one. He conducted an entire gubernatorial campaign on the absurdly tiny budget of $307,000 (as of October 30). He never bought a single television ad. This is the closest thing to a nickel-and-dime George Aiken campaign budget that the modern era will allow.
Beyond Scott, there’s the wise guys at the Republican Governors Association, who spent almost as much on polling as Scott did for his entire campaign. The RGA’s Vermont branch, Our Vermont, kept on polling right up to the closing weeks, and never saw the need to buy a single ad — in any medium.
If you’re a Republican, that’s the good news. The rest of it could be really, really bad. We’re looking at an historically high turnout, which is customarily good news for the Democrats.
The official response to the Slate Ridge “training facility” in West Pawlet has been… well, take your pick. Pitiful? Sure. Laughably inadequate? Yep. Chickenshit? Call it like you see it.
State officials have been “monitoring” the situation for over a year, but didn’t actually say anything in public until VTDigger published its report last week. And now they’re stumbling all over themselves, offering justifications for a year-plus of inaction.
Meanwhile, the people of West Pawlet live in fear. As I wrote on Twitter, now they know how Kiah Morris feels.
Here’s the gist of it, as far as I’m concerned. The system has failed the people of West Pawlet just as it failed Morris. In saying so, I’m assuming that the purpose of having laws and enforcement agencies is to keep people safe, allowing them to live their lives in peace and security.
On the other side of the coin, constitutional rights do not extend to instilling fear in your neighbors. A community is a collection of free individuals — but there must be a sense of polity, of common purpose, of some level of respect for the well-being of your neighbors as well as yourself. The denizens of Slate Ridge are violating the social contract that binds us all together.
And if there’s no law that can be applied to this case, then maybe we need some new laws.
There are many reasons why a liberal voter might decide to support Gov. Phil Scott for re-election. You might be impressed with his handling of the coronavirus. You might appreciate him as a counterbalance to an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. You might prefer a calm, careful executive to a new-ideas chief more likely to blunder.
But there’s one thing you can’t do. If you believe that climate change is the issue of our times, you have no business voting for the incumbent.
Let me put that another way. If you vote for Phil Scott, you are not serious about climate change.
There might be a certain level of unwarranted satisfaction these days, given the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act over Scott’s veto. Some might talk themselves into believing that we can make significant progress on the climate crisis no matter who’s the governor, as long as the Dems/Progs hold substantial majorities in the House and Senate.
There are two fundamental problems with this. First, while GWSA is a notable advance, it doesn’t actually do anything. It sets climate targets and establishes consequences if we fail to meet those targets, but that’s about all. GWSA was, if you will, the first and easiest step in addressing the crisis.
Second, while the governor’s words are full of concern about climate change, his actions have been minimal at best, counterproductive at worst. His administration is a formidable roadblock to climate progress, and will remain that way as long as he is in office.
I think this is why Scott objected so strenuously to a GWSA provision that leaves the state open to lawsuits if it falls short of greenhouse gas reduction goals. He knows that his policies are inadequate to meeting those targets, and that makes lawsuits almost inevitable.
Just as he and Gov. Phil Scott did in 2016, Scott Milne has taken his ballot and run and hid in the Jim Douglas Panic Room. “I’m voting for Jim Douglas,” Milne said in a Monday appearance on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show. “As of today, my plan is to vote for Jim Douglas, but I’m going to vote on Election Day.”
Nice. He resorts to the write-in, but leaves himself an escape hatch in the Panic Room.
Both Mine and the governor have repeatedly indicated their distaste for President Trump. And in 2016, both opted to write in The Beau Ideal of the VTGOP. (The Gov has yet to declare how he will vote this year.)
I suppose Milne would explain his vote as an endorsement of moderate Republicanism and a wish that more Republicans acted like Jim Douglas. By which he means working with all parties, not the other stuff — the employment of attack-dog Jim Barnett in his campaigns and his opposition to marriage equality and his often contentious relationship with the Democratic Legislature.
But even if you ignore the flaws in Douglas’ good-guy image, there’s a less flattering way to look at Milne’s presidential choice.
Seems to me that what he’s saying is he’d rather toss his ballot in the dumpster than ever, ever, ever vote for a Democrat. Even Joe Biden, who has a reputation very much like Douglas’ for getting along with everybody.
So what kind of bipartisanship is that, anyway? If you dislike Trump so much, why not cast your vote in the most effective way possible — for Joe Biden?
Because voting for a Democrat is a bridge too far for these guys, even when their own party’s leader is a racist crypto-fascist kleptocrat.