Tag Archives: The Vermont Way

Right to Life might want to hire a proofreader (UPDATED)

UPDATE: I got this wrong. According to Sharon Torborg of the Right to Life Fund, state law requires that any name mentioned in campaign material must be reported on the Secretary of State’s mass media form. RTL endorsed Carolyn Branagan for Senate, and also mentioned the other two Republican candidates, Norm McAllister and Dustin Degree.

The Right to Life Fund is not endorsing Norm McAllister. My apologies to Ms. Torborg and the rest of the RTL crew. 

There’s a couple things I’m getting really tired of, as the primary campaigns enter the homestretch. The first is candidates whining about “Washington-style” attack ads. C’mon, folks, even in Vermont, politics ain’t beanbag.

The second is candidates bemoaning an influx of out-of-state money on behalf of their opponents — especially when the moaners are getting major outside backing themselves. None of these people are pure as the driven snow, and their complaints ring hollow in my ears.

So I don’t have much to say about the ex-Bear Stearns executives creating a Super PAC in support of Bruce Lisman, or EMILY’s List pouring $100K into pro-Minter ads, or a Silicon Valley tycoon spending twice as much for Matt Dunne. It’s the way the game is played in our post-Citizens United world, and any politico not named Bernie Sanders is practicing unilateral disarmament if they don’t take advantage of every available resource, The Vermont Way be damned.

But there is one recent mass-media spending report that should not pass unnoticed. It involves far less money, but there are a couple of things you should know.

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Good Ol’ Norm: The gift that keeps on giving

The news arrived on Friday and got buried under the end-of-session avalanche: State Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister will face two separate trials on multiple sex-crime charges. Trial was slated to begin today, but the first of the two proceedings has been postponed until June 15. That’s the one regarding McAllister’s former “assistant,” which will feature testimony from McAllister’s legislative colleagues. That’ll be a real get-your-popcorn moment. (The second trial has yet to be scheduled.)

But that wasn’t the most interesting point.

No, the most interesting point is that McAllister is actively mulling a run for re-election. He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, “I probably will file anyway. I can always change my mind and decide not to run later.”

No surprise to me. I’ve been saying all along that there’s nothing to stop McAllister from seeking re-election. Indeed, there’s nothing in state law to bar him from returning to the Senate if he wins in November — even if he’s convicted and facing prison time. The Senate does have authority to determine if someone is fit to join their august body, and it wouldn’t be hard to exclude him — if, indeed, he is convicted. If he’s acquitted, on the other hand, the Senate would be hard-pressed to banish him. He’d make everyone horribly uncomfortable, but that doesn’t constitute grounds for exclusion.

In Other News, the Republican Slimy Lies Committee — er, sorry, Republican State Leadership Committee — is back with a despicable ad targeting legislative Democrats.

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So what kind of game are legislative Republicans up to?

Interesting bit of byplay from last night’s hearing on possible E-911 dispatch closures, as captured by Freeploid newbie Paris Achen, who is one “a” away from being the only Vermont reporter named after two European cities:

Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, stood at the entrance of the House chamber and handed out Lifesavers “for life savers.”

Now, I would expect Republicans, being Republicans after all, to oppose revenue increases. But here is Mr. Tate, grandstanding his opposition to a modest budget cut.

This is the party that believes we should take a meataxe to the budget — that Democrats are guilty of out-of-control spending.

Of course, this is also the party that has failed to identify any cuts of its own, aside from its persistent call for dismantling Vermont Health Connect. You know, the proposal with the Incredible Shrinking Savings: originally $20 million, now $8 million.

I’ve heard other rumblings of this behavior by some Republican lawmakers, but this is the first concrete example I’ve seen in the media. It strikes me as highly cynical and deliberately obstructive.

The Republicans like to claim they’re different from their national colleagues — that they adhere to the Vermont Way of civility and cooperation in politics, trying to serve the best interests of the state. Well, actively opposing real budget cuts while issuing vague calls for undefined budget cuts is a piss-poor way of doing so.

Bonus: Tate’s rationale for opposing the E-911 consolidation was tissue-thin.

“For us, the local knowledge of the area is important to directing troopers to the right location,” Tate said.

Consolidation would remove some of the local knowledge about remote areas of the state, he said.

Yuh-huh. You’re telling me that efficient dispatch service depends on local knowledge? It’s not like we’ve got dispatchers in every town and on every hilltop. The current system has four dispatch centers. FOUR. In a state like Vermont, the unique value of “local knowledge” dissipates awfully quickly. It’s hard to see how we’d lose critical “local knowledge” when we’re cutting from four to two.

In which I dip my toe into Jim Douglas’ Well of Lost Dreams

A friend in the media loaned me a review copy of ex-Governor Douglas’ memoir, “The Vermont Way.”  And I’ve started working my way through it.

It’ll definitely be “work,” too. I could tell from the first page that, leaving aside my opinion of Jim Douglas, this book is badly written. It’s flat, wooden, and wordy. This sentence, referring to Springfield, Massachusetts, says it all:

It was the county seat, the city where I was born and a municipality adjacent to the suburb, East Longmeadow, in which my family lived.

Boy howdy. Hemingway couldn’t have said it better.

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

If that was an outlier, Douglas (and his publisher) could be forgiven for a lapse in copy editing. But there’s more. Oh, so much more. Here’s a passage where he might have offered something fresh about Deane Davis, the Republican Governor when Douglas was launching his political career. Instead, he gives us a dry recitation of Davis’ resume:

He was two days away from turning sixty-eight and had completed a successful career as a lawyer, judge, and chief executive officer of the National Life Insurance Company. He had served as president of the American Morgan Horse Association and led Vermont’s Little Hoover Commission, the group that recommended reorganization of state government in the late ’50s.

Morgan Horse Association? What the frack?

If a high school student had written this, he would have gotten dinged for padding the word count. When it comes from Jim Douglas, not only is it lousy writing, but it fails to deliver the kind of insight I’d expect.

Here’s a dinner winner from what should have been a fraught passage — the announcement of the draft lottery during his college years, which would send some of his classmates off to Vietnam. And instead of some hint of emotion or empathy, we get another sentence unworthy of a high school essay:

These days, of course, military service is voluntary, but there have been times in our nation’s history when compulsory induction has been necessary to adequately staff our armed forces.

And by “adequately staff,” he means “replenish our battle-ravaged troops.”

The sentence adds nothing whatsoever to the narrative. Every page has examples of pointless padding, of layer upon layer of verbiage meant to insulate Jim Douglas from betraying actual human feeling or revealing unique insight into his life and career.

Chapter One ends with a passage concerning Douglas’ alleged curiosity about the world outside Vermont. He had studied Russian at Middlebury College; primarily, he says, because it was “the height of the Cold War,” which he defined in a manner, once again, unworthy of a high school essay:

Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev had proclaimed to the United States and other Western democracies, “We will bury you!” and later, for emphasis, banged his shoe on a desk at the United Nations.

These aren’t the words I’d expect from someone who grew up in the Cold War, with the Cuba missile crisis and air-raid drills and bomb shelters full of rations and bottled water. These are words I’d expect from a youngster who looked up “Cold War” on Wikipedia.

He goes on to talk about this curiosity regarding “other cultures” that “never abated,” and was fulfilled to some degree by his gubernatorial travels. The first “other culture” he mentions is Canada, that strange and distant land and “our largest trading partner.” He then rattles off the other stickers on his gubernatorial steamer trunk: Vietnam (where “the people are very friendly”) and 13 other countries listed in alphabetical order — the most unimaginative rendering possible.

There are no revealing anecdotes, no indication of what he learned or where his alleged curiosity took him. I suspect it mostly took him to official meetings and staged VIP tours. Either way, we get no hint that his journeys gave him any insight. After this perfunctory paragraph, “China,” “Vietnam,” and “Korea” only appear once in the book’s index. All three are mentioned on the same page, in a tossed-off recap of a trip “with business leaders” that “generated a large number of investors and inquiries.”

This is supposedly one area of human experience that really engages Jim Douglas’ intellect, and it’s reduced to a dry, soulless recitation of facts.

I’m only through part of chapter three, but one thing I can tell you:  Whatever you think of Jim Douglas as a politician or leader, this book has to be a disappointment. It is so much less than it could have been.