Tag Archives: Rebecca Holcombe

VT Dems go trolling for candidates

So, according to VTDigger, the Vermont Democratic Party is conducting a poll to see how well Attorney General TJ Donovan and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman would do in hypothetical matchups with Gov. Phil Scott.

I have no inside information on this, but here’s how it looks from my view.

It’s a sign of desperation and a waste of money. Also, Donovan and Zuckerman are still Hamletting it up.

Let’s take desperation first. I’m assuming that party leaders initiated this poll, not Donovan or Zuckerman. If so, it says that leadership — whatever their public protestations — fears what will happen if former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe is the party’s nominee, because (a) they think she’d lose badly and (b) might actually hurt their prospects in legislative races.

Well, it’s really (b) they’re most concerned with. The experiences of Peter Clavelle, Scudder Parker, Gaye Symington, Sue Minter and Christine Hallquist show that the party is perfectly content to toss a nominee off the sled when the wolves are closing in.

They’d much rather go to battle in 2020 with Donovan or Zuckerman leading the charge. Which is understandable, given that Holcombe is untested in the political arena and virtually unknown outside policy circles. But when party leaders are willing to spend scarce party resources — at a time when they’re not exactly swimming in money — they reveal a certain unseemly desperation. This is a Hail Mary pass: If the poll shows unexpected weakness for Scott, or significant strength for one of the two Hamlets, then one or both might be enticed to make a run.

Of course, the poll is unlikely to provide that kind of evidence. Scott has done nothing to diminish his popularity — nor have legislative Dems done anything to push him in that direction — and his two potential rivals are much less well-known statewide. (Those of us inside the #vtpoli bubble vastly overestimate the public’s engagement in state politics.) Donovan lacks a policy profile outside of law enforcement, and both men lack any significant record outside of their jobs.

Both are better positioned than Holcombe to overcome Scott’s lead because they are statewide officeholders, and that’s by far the best launch pad for a gubernatorial bid. (The last six Vermont governors were either statewide officeholders or top legislative leaders before assuming the top job.) Both also have better fundraising potential: Donovan because of his political lineage and national connections, and Zuckerman as the state’s leading Bernie Bro.

Right now, I doubt their poll numbers would be much different from Generic Democrat. What they do have is a chance at being competitive, after running a vigorous statewide campaign for a solid year. So I don’t expect the poll will provide any real insight. Hence, waste of money.

And if Donovan and Zuckerman, in the middle of very successful political careers, lack the self-confidence to make that decision without a marginally meaningful poll, then they’re really not cut out to carry the banner.

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Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When last I left you, I signed off with

Vermont already has an oversupply of cautious Democrats.

Let’s pick it up from there. Now, I could be talking about legislative leadership, which has developed a habit of scoring own goals in its “battles” with Gov. Phil Scott. But in this case, I’m talking about campaigns for governor, in which the Democrats have not exactly covered themselves in glory.

Over the past 20 years, the Vermont Democratic Party has nominated a top-shelf candidate for governor a mere five times — incumbent Howard Dean in 2000, Doug Racine in 2002 and Peter Shumlin in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

(I’m calling the 2014 Shumlin “top shelf” only because he was the incumbent. Otherwise he was a deeply flawed candidate who came within an eyelash of losing to Scott Milne, objectively the worst major-party gubernatorial candidate in living memory.)

Otherwise it’s been a parade of worthies with good intentions but few resources and no real hope. Whenever a popular Republican occupies the corner office, the Democrats’ A-Team scurries away like cockroaches when the light goes on.

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George W. Bush’s education time bomb

Some of our former President’s policies were clearly and obviously dumb, like the two wars that have left two countries in ruins, or his refusal to raise taxes to pay for those wars, or the laissez-faire attitude toward high finance that opened the door to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

A few of his policies looked good, at least on the surface. But it seems as though there’s a worm inside every apple. Medicare Part D helped seniors get their prescriptions, but it was unnecessarily complicated and barred the government from negotiating on drug prices; thus it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. On his watch, many standards and regulations were relaxed (or ignored), but acceptable cholesterol levels were lowered significantly; again, a giveaway to Big Pharma.

And then there was No Child Left Behind, an idea that actually brought Bush and Ted Kennedy together. But there was a time bomb hidden in the workings of NCLB:

Each year for the past 13 years, the NCLB Act has lowered the allowable percentage of students whose test results suggest they are not proficient in math or language arts. This year, that percentage became zero.

In effect, all it takes for a school to labeled as low performing is for a single student to fail to reach a score of proficient.

This, from a story published in the journalistic Dead Zone of the Saturday papers. The Mitchell Family Organ and the Freeploid both reported on what this means for Vermont schools; I’m quoting from the former.

The focus of the story is a letter written last week by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeking to explain the fact that virtually every school in the state has been labeled “low performing” by the remorseless federal standard.

Most other states took advantage of a loophole in NCLB; they got federal waivers in exchange for agreeing to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers and principals. Why didn’t Vermont do likewise?

Holcombe said Vermont did not apply for the waiver because research has shown standardized tests to be unreliable for teachers in classrooms with 15 or fewer students, which compose nearly half of the classrooms in the state.

“It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools,” Holcombe wrote.

Some other states have belatedly realized that the waiver is a bad deal, and are backing out. The problem is, NCLB sets draconian penalties for low-performing schools, potentially including the wholesale firing of school staff, the conversion of a “failing” school to a charter school, or even turning the whole thing over to the state or to a private education company.

Far from a real effort at improving education, No Child Left Behind is a real-life version of the old frog-in-a-pot-of-water meme. If you put a frog in hot water, so the story goes, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will stay put and die. If NCLB had tossed the system into a boiling pot, there would have been instant reaction. Instead, it slowly and steadily turned up the heat. Whichever option the states chose — performance or waiver — school systems are right and truly screwed.

Kudos to Secretary Holcombe for pointing out the inherent absurdity in the situation, and how the system “does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being.”

It’s just another rotting apple in the Bush-el. Worst… President… Ever.

Postscript. Let the record show that Your Two U.S. Senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted “No” on the final version of NCLB. They were two of only ten Senators to do so.