I’ve got a post sitting on the backburner called “We Have No Idea How Well State Government Performs.” The thesis is that Vermont’s government is woefully deficient in checks and balances. The Legislature is too slammed to do any green eyeshade stuff. The executive branch provides the bulk of the available information. The Joint Fiscal Office does some useful things and so does the auditor, but their reach is limited.
So we’ll probably never know who’s responsible for the monumental screwup with the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). It’s out of money, folks. Rental assistance will diminish in a month and disappear entirely for thousands of households before the onset of winter. Oh, and utility assistance will end before the calendar turns to 2023.
According to the administration’s own numbers, 3,015 recipients will see their rental benefits end on September 30. Another 5,400 will get reduced benefits through the end of November, and then nothing.
The explanations on offer are threadbare, sheepish and inadequate. There are broad hints of administrative malfeasance.
This ought to be a scandal. Will it be? Based on past performance, probably not.
Hey, in case you were waiting for Gov. Phil Scot to let us all know how he would lead the state through perilous times, I’ve got some bad news for you.
That’s right, friends and neighbors, Phil Scott will have no truck with your pesky “issues.” He’ll be busy… [checks thread]… highlighting a foodbank fundraiser, celebrating a pair of blueberry farmers, remembering an early Black ballplayer, retweeting WPTZ’s list of fun things to do in Georgia, and spotlighting Seven Days‘ cover stories about Route 100. He closes that Cavalcade of Oatmeal with this:
While we have so much work to do in Montpelier to help make Vermont an even better place to live, work, and raise a family, we can’t lose sight of all the good that happens every day because of you, the Vermonters, who show up to take care of one another.
Please don’t ask for details about how he’s going to “make Vermont an even better place,” because that would be indulging in “the negativity of election season.”
Christ on a bicycle, how condescending can one man get? Phil Scott aims to find out, apparently.
Recently, I observed that the Vermont Democratic Party is in a much stronger position now than it was on January 1, 2022. It’s true, but it could create a problem in the general election campaign. The VDP is historically strong; the Vermont Republican Party is weak, disorganized and toxically partisan; and the Progressive Party remains a small presence hoping to make incremental gains at best. The reproductive rights amendment formerly known as Prop 5 should galvanize the Democratic base.
They don’t have a serious rival. That situation breeds complacency. Everybody knows the Dems are going to win, at minimum, every statewide race except for governor. Everybody knows they’re going to retain large legislative majorities. Knowing all that, is everybody prepared for an all-out effort this fall?
They’d better be.
There’s no excuse for failing to maximize this opportunity. They shouldn’t settle for the current level of dominance; the goal should be winning supermajorities in the state House and Senate and, best case, bringing Gov. Phil Scott’s cavalcade of cromulence to an end.
The long decline of the Vermont Republican Party hit another low point last week when the party failed to recruit a warm body to run for state treasurer. Instead, they’re offering a double dose of perennial candidate and Best Dressed Man In Vermont Politics H. Brooke Paige. He’ll run for treasurer and secretary of state, so expect a double dose of big hats in candidate forums this fall.
Also, expect him to lose. Just like all the other statewide Republicans save Phil Scott. The governor could lose, but you can’t expect it the way you can for Gerald Malloy or Liam Madden or Rick Morton or that guy who’s running for attorney general or Paige or Paige.
Joe Benning I put in a different category. I expect him to lose to David Zuckerman but at least he’s a credible candidate, unlike all those other folks.
Errrrr… all those other men.
Before I go on, yes, I did recently write about the Republican primary field, the “usual collection of unknowns, kooks and zealots.” But things have only gotten worse since then, and I wanted to put a bow on the whole verkakte mess.
Gov. Phil Scott has, in many ways, lived a charmed life in the corner office. There haven’t been any scandals — or at least none that have been uncovered by our anemic press corps. He has, by general acclamation, kept his image as Gov. Nice Guy in spite of his outbreaks of verbal dyspepsia in press conferences and All Those Vetoes. And his greatest challenge has come with an incredible upside.
That would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions but was actually a strong net positive for the Vermont economy. A flood tide of federal relief aid meant there was no need for tough budget battles in the Statehouse and there was plenty of capacity for new investments. The money had the usual multiplier effect on disposable income, economic activity, and tax receipts. The latter eliminated any budget pressure that might have been left over from the direct federal infusions.
He had to make some tough calls on controlling the pandemic, for which he got plenty of praise and almost none of the criticism he, at times, deserved. Overall, the pandemic made his job a hell of a lot easier.
This isn’t the first time a crisis has elevated a governor. The high point of Peter Shumlin’s tenure was the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when he got to look strong and resolute and was able to throw money around and be a hero without anyone asking any inconvenient questions. Given the rest of his record, I wonder what we’d find if somebody did a deep dive on the Irene response, but that’s water under the bridge, pun intended. And Dick Snelling is fondly remembered for accepting tax hikes in order to pull Vermont’s economy out of the gutter, and not so much for being an asshole.
But that tide of federal aid is starting to recede, and budgets are about to get very tight around these parts.
The second-biggest winner of the campaign cycle so far is (I would argue) Mike Pieciak, newly-minted Democratic nominee for Treasurer. (Lovely 8-bit illo courtesy of Epicenter, a podcast devoted to blockchain, cryptofinance, and other stuff I am blissfully ignorant about.)
I say so despite, and because of, the fact that he sailed unopposed to the nomination.
I completely underestimated the guy. When he entered the race, I saw him as the unknown technocrat who, like Chris Winters, would be vulnerable to a Democratic officeholder with relevant expertise. Kitty Toll, perhaps. Shap Smith. Mitzi Johnson. Etc.
Turned out he wasn’t another Winters. He was another Beth Pearce, a technocrat who blossomed into a political force.
Or maybe it was there all along, and I wasn’t in a position to see his appeal to Democrats of all stripes. As it turned out, Pearce quickly endorsed Pieciak and nobody else even tried to enter the race. (H. Brooke Paige falls into the category of “nobody.”)
Pieciak will be our next Treasurer, and it’s absolutely not out of bounds to see him as a viable gubernatorial candidate in a few years’ time. Maybe even 2024.
Second in a series on the July 1 campaign finance reports. The first installment covered the race for lieutenant governor.
We’re livin’ in an upside-down world, I tell ya.
There are six campaigns for statewide office. Second from the bottom, from a fundraising perspective, is the race for governor.
Gov. Phil Scott and Brenda Siegel have raised a combined total of $82K. The only cheaper campaign is Auditor Doug Hoffer’s bid for re-election. He has raised precisely zero dollars in the past year. He carried forward a $1,115 surplus from 2020; he’s spent $862 of that, including a $200 donation to the Vermont Democratic Party. I guess he’s not worried about taking on H. Brooke Paige or whatever patsy the VTGOP digs up to take Paige’s place.
Otherwise? The six candidates for lieutenant governor have raised a combined $324K, including a paltry $16K for the two Republicans. The two Democrats running for attorney general check in at $154K. The three Dems competing for Secretary of State have raised a combined $120K. And good ol’ MIke Pieciak, running all by his lonesome for the Democratic nomination to succeed Beth Pearce, has raised $106K.
Meanwhile, the race for governor tootles along below the radar.
As long as he continues to voluntarily wear the Republican badge, Gov. Phil Scott is in no position to bemoan the disastrous Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Besides, he has no power whatsoever to make anything happen about this. In fact, I assume that if he had his way, we’d elect Christina Nolan to the U.S. Senate, which would be one more nail in the coffin of reproductive rights.
Indeed, if those pesky rumors about a Phil Scott run for Congress had come true (and he’d won, which could have happened because Nice Guy), he’d be helping his party retain or expand Congressional majorities, which would mean even more anti-choice judges.
“I signed a law”… that the Democratic Legislature pushed through with no help from your fellow Republicans. “I will be voting for that amendment,” but the vast majority of your fellow Republicans won’t be. You can roll your disappointment up real tight and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
Phil Scott likes to pretend that his party has gone off the rails fairly recently. Say, with the nomination of Donald Trump. Problem is, his party has been working to overturn Roe v. Wade since the 1991 confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was nominated by George H.W. Bush. Justices Alito and Roberts were nominated by George W. Bush. The other three radical judicial activists were installed by Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Gov. Phil Scott must be feeling extra invulnerable right now. On Monday he decides not to appoint new state’s attorneys in two counties because it’s too close to the next election; on Wednesday he appoints a new Attorney General even though Election Day is even closer. He’s not even bothering to be subtle about it.
Scott declined to appoint anyone to the SA vacancies in Addison and Rutland Counties because there’s not enough time left in the SA’s term. It would create continuity issues, supposedly. Instead, the current interim occupants will serve out the remainder of the time.
Meanwhile, Scott is parachuting administration stalwart Susanne Young into the attorney general’s office to serve out the remainder of TJ Donovan’s term even though Donovan’s chief deputy Joshua Diamond is right there in place to, um, provide continuity. In a much more important and complex office.
So what is Scott doing here? Hell if I know, but I have a guess or two.
Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.
As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.
Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.
Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.
The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.
Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”