Tag Archives: Vision to Action Vermont

Somebody get Heidi Scheuermann to a Toastmasters meeting, STAT

I’ve often mentioned State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) as a potential rising star in Vermont politics. She’s got a lot going for her: a high profile among Republican lawmakers, strong connections to the now-ascendant moderate wing of the VTGOP, co-leadership of the putatively bipartisan Vision to Action Vermont (V2AVT), and founding membership in Campaign for Vermont, presumably giving her an in with CFV moneybags Bruce Lisman.

Some folks had demurred from my view that she’s a rising star because of her shortcomings as a public speaker. Well, based on today’s appearance on VPR’s “Vermont Edition,” they’re right. Scheuermann simply isn’t ready for the spotlight.

Scheuermann appeared on VPR with Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning to discuss Republican legislative priorities for the new session. Here’s one of her answers, faithfully transcribed, including all the um’s, repeats, false starts and pauses. The question, just so you know, concerned the possibility of raising taxes to help balance the state budget. Also, just so you know, there was often a discernible quiver in her voice, revealing an unexpected degree of nervousness in a veteran politician.

Well, um, I guess I would say first and foremost, um, for the past, uh, we sort of have a new normal, uh, in the legislature, and that’s unfortunate. And that normal is the budget deficits, extremely, um, large budget deficits. Every year we come in, ah, we have budget deficits. And that tells me, uh, that we, um, are… that the, the Governor and the legislative leadership and those who support these budgets are doing so, um, w-without an eye on the future and exactly how, how we’re going to pay for it.

Um, so when we come in with a budget of fi — with a five, four or five percent increase and, and tax receipts of, or an economy growing at two percent, um, that’s, you know, that’s a real problem and I think we should, we need to, like Joe said, really, uh, really concentrate on, on where we go from here, um, and understand that this can’t be a new normal, and that we have to address it in a comprehensive and fundamental way, and that is bringing the government into the 21st century, in my view. I think we are still stuck in a, um, 19th and 20th century state government, um, and I think we have to move it into the, into the 21st century with, um, with, ah, services being provided more efficiently and effectively, um, with… um… with m-more, um, communication with the outside instead of this internal sort of, of, functioning government that we have, with, with people in the offices, ah, five days a week, um, reading reports. Um, again, they work hard, our state employees work hard, but, ah, but I think we need to move the government into a, into um, into the 21st century.

That said, um, I also think we need to focus first and foremost, um, on our economy and the health of our state’s economy, and we have neglected that for years, and, um, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.

Scheuermann has now spoken for almost two minutes. She tries to continue, but host Jane Lindholm interrupts with a redirect. She asks what Scheuermann would suggest in terms of streamlining government or making budget cuts. The answer?

I guess I would say, well, again, um, ah, I wouldn’t propose specific cuts right now until we really get into it. It’s really, it’s very difficult as a legis — as a citizen legislature, um, to get into specific departments and micromanage those departments. I think it needs to come from the administration and the leadership of the administration to set a, uh, to set an agenda for how exactly we’re going to do this, and streamline, and um have more effective and efficient services. I would say for example, again, when you’re talking about economic, the uh economy, and really trying to grow our economy, um, so that it is long-term sort of um… uh… laser-like focus on the economy, I think for example the Agency of Commerce, um, people should be in their offices once a week, [chuckle] one day a week. And they should be out in the fields four days a week and really just talking to people, seeing what businesses need, seeing what our, uh, small employers need, um, and what their challenges are, what their opportunities are, and where we as a state might be able to help.

So that is just one example. Again, I’ll go back to the economy. When you have, we have personal income tax — the reason we’re in these… in the situation we’re in is our personal income tax receipts are down. Um, and that, and that’s due to payroll and, and, and that our economy is stagnant. And, um, so we really need to focus on growing our economy. I hope that that will be, uh, the number one priority for our legislature.

Holy Mother of God. That’s almost Milnesque in its cringeworthy awkwardness. Although admittedly it’s not nearly down to Milne level in terms of positional confusion. It also took three and a half minutes of radio time, including Lindholm’s interjection.

For now, I’ll pass by the policy howlers (Empty out the Agency of Commerce four days a week? Not a single idea for budget cuts, after eight years in the legislature? Content-free references to the 21st century? A transparently token sop to state workers?) and keep my laser-like focus on her delivery. Heidi Scheuermann is an unpolished and unappealing speaker who can’t fight her way out of a sentence.

If she wants to stay where she is now — representing a safe Republican district and being one of the more prominent voices in the legislative minority — she can keep on doing what she’s doing.

But if she wants to be taken seriously for a leadership position or as a candidate for statewide office, then she needs to clean up her rhetorical game big-time.

For an example of how to do it right, just listen to her fellow guest, Joe Benning. He was comfortable and articulate, he got to the point, he kept things simple, and was very quotable.

One protip for Scheuermann: Don’t be so afraid of dead air. Don’t fill up every available space with “ums” and repeated phrases. Let it breathe. It takes some time and practice, but it’s a worthwhile investment. I’ve never been to Toastmasters, but I hear it’s a great place to hone your public-speaking skills in a friendly environment.

Postscript. One unrelated piece of advice. In the process of writing this post I Googled “Heidi Scheuermann” and this is a screenshot of the second match:

Scheuermann Google

Yeah, I don’t think that’s her real nickname.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link to her campaign website, and saw several porny inserts in green type scattered around her “About” page. If you roll your cursor over the site, the porny inserts all disappear. If you exit the site and then go back in, the green inserts reappear. They remain on the page as long as you keep your cursor outside the frame.

This doesn’t look like an ideological attack, because the inserts are so random. But the good Representative may want to check on her website’s security.

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Phil Scott unsubtly launches Campaign 2016

So, whatcha gonna do to celebrate The New Biennium on January 7?

Well, if you’re Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, you’re going to do what no Lite-Guv has ever done and what he specifically has never come close to doing: you’re promoting your own policy agenda.

On the legislature’s Opening Day, when all eyes are on Montpelier, Scott is hosting a pitch session for, in the words of VTDigger’s Anne Galloway,

…business people of all stripes to pitch ideas about how to rejuvenate Vermont’s economy. Each person gets 5 minutes to tell lawmakers what they could do to help businesses thrive in Vermont.

The pitch session, billed as “Priority #1 on Day One,” will be from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier and will be followed by a reception.

“A reception” at which, I’m sure, donations will be cheerfully accepted.

But beyond that, Scott is spotlighting his own prescription for what ails Vermont, and making an absolutely unapologetic pitch of his own — for the support of the state’s business community. He is positioning himself as the business community’s advocate in Montpelier.

Has he ever done anything like this before? Nope.

Is there any doubt that his decisive victory over Dean Corren and the scent of gubernatorial blood in the water has awakened Mr. Nice Guy’s inner predator? Nope.

And while “business people of all stripes” are invited (bring your checkbooks!), look at the list of business groups already lined up for five-minute pitches:

Vermont Chamber of Commerce

Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

Vermont Technology Alliance

Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility

Associated Industries of Vermont

Vermont Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives

FreshTracks Capital

Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

Associated General Contractors

Vermont Ski Areas Association

Vermont Association of Realtors

That list includes a few good guys — VBSR, Sustainable Jobs Fund, Fresh Tracks — plus all the usual business-community power brokers. Gee, I wonder what they’ll say.

Also, there are strong signs that the “centrist” forces for growth and affordability are aligning themselves. First, although Phil Scott is the headliner, the event’s sponsor is Vision to Action Vermont, the pro-business advocacy group led by outgoing Rep. Paul Ralston (D-Middlebury) and continuing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe).

(Whaddya think? Scott/Scheuermann 2016, anyone?)

The latter chimes in herself in the Comments section below Galloway’s story:

This is just the beginning, we hope, of a legislative session that will have, as its primary focus, the health of our state’s economy. …Frankly, we want all to become engaged and will provide many other opportunities to do so.

Ah. A series of dog-and-pony shows designed to highlight an alternative to the Democrats’ agenda. That’s smart politics. Much better than the formulaic naysaying of past years.

Aside from V2AVT’s sponsorship, there’s also the latest manifesto from ex-Wall Street panjandrum (and co-founder of Campaign for Vermont) Bruce Lisman, echoing the affordability call from Scott and V2AVT. In Lisman’s own self-congratulatory way.

Affordability is a renewed slogan that has recently found its way into the vocabulary of Gov. Shumlin and some members of the Legislature.

Finally, the Democrats are awakening to the wisdom of Bruce Lisman!

Uncle Brucie’s version of the affordability crisis focuses almost entirely on the perceived failings of state government. There’s some truth to that, but national factors play a much bigger role. Stuff like our putrid economic recovery, decades of stagnant purchasing power among the middle and working classes, the rapid accumulation of wealth in the top one percent.

But this post isn’t about the convenient blind spots of Bruce Lisman. It’s about the fact that the forces of “centrist” Republicanism are loudly singing the same tune: Affordability, defined primarily in terms of boosting business. Not defined in terms of using government to counteract the economic forces beating down average Vermonters and help them work their way through an economy that’s rigged against them.

One other thing: all this activity is taking place without mention of, or participation by, Scott Milne. He is, after all, still running for governor, and he technically has the support of Republican lawmakers. But as usual, when it comes to planning their agenda, Milne has no seat at the VTGOP table. He is nothing more than a convenient stick to beat the Democrats with, and he will be discarded as soon as he stops being a useful tool.

The purely cosmetic bipartisanship of Vision To Action Vermont

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don't mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann and Paul Ralston. Photo filched w/o permission from VTDigger. I hope they don’t mind.

State Reps. Heidi Scheuermann (R) and Paul Ralston (D), the busy bees behind Vision To Action Vermont, have been busy indeed these days. They’re releasing endorsements almost every day. And, on the surface, it looks to be a fair mix of Republicans and Democrats.

This figures, since V2AVT portrays itself as a nonpartisan, centrist, practical, “rise above party labels and get stuff done” kind of political action committee. If you listen closely, however, you can hear the business-friendly dog whistles a-blowin’. From its launch announcement:

[V2AVT is] a non-partisan organization that will promote, support and elect strong candidates for political office in Vermont who advocate for fiscal responsibility in state spending, and are committed to forming balanced, common-sense public policies that encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.

That’s the entire Dog Whistle Philharmonic in a single sentence: fiscal responsibility, balanced, common-sense, economic prosperity, opportunities, individual liberties and responsibility.

And, despite a thin veneer of bipartisanship, the dog whistles continue to sound throughout V2AVT’s list of endorsements.

As of this writing, V2AVT has endorsed 22 candidates: 11 in the House, 10 in the Senate, plus Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Overall, they’ve endorsed 13 Republicans, eight Dems, and one Independent.

Okay, leaning rightward, but a respectable number of Democrats, right?

Not so much. There’s a strong trend in V2AVT’s endorsements. The higher the stakes, the more Republicans you get. While the House endorsements are split evenly, 5-5-1, the Senate endorsements include seven Republicans and only three Democrats. And then there’s Phil Scott, the group’s only statewide endorsement.

But beyond the mere numbers, there’s this: most of V2AVT’s Republican candidates are in highly competitive races, while their Democratic candidates are either unopposed or in very safe Democratic territory. 

This is especially true in the Senate, where V2AVT has endorsed all the Republicans’ top challengers except Robert Frenier, who’s challenging incumbent Dem Mark MacDonald in Orange County.

Otherwise, it’s like V2AVT and the VTGOP are using the same playbook. Dustin Degree and Norm McAllister in Franklin County, all three Republicans in Rutland County, Pat McDonald in Washington County. Degree, McDonald, and Rutland’s Brian Collamore are the VTGOP’s top three hopes for Senate gains, but they face uphill battles against formidable candidates: ex-Senator Sara Kittell in Franklin, incumbent P/D Anthony Pollina and incumbent D Ann Cummings in Washington (nobody’s beating Bill Doyle), and Rutland’s WIlliam Tracy Carris, son of longtime Senator Bill Carris.

And who are the Democrats supported by V2AVT? The very safe Jane Kitchel and Dick Sears, plus Sears’ Bennington County running mate Brian Campion. There is only one token Republican candidate on the Benn ballot, and Campion is considered a shoo-in.

Oh, and V2AVT also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Joe Benning.

Now let’s look at the House endorsements.

In Chittenden County, V2AVT is backing incumbent Republican Kurt Wright and Repub newcomer Michael Ly in a two-seat district. Wright is safe; the Repubs have hopes for Ly. And in another two-seat district, Chittenden 9-1, V2AVT is supporting the very safe (and centrist) incumbent Democrat Jim Condon and Republican candidate Joey Purvis, who’s hoping to replace retiring Republican Bob Bouchard.

Chittenden 9-1 is a closely contested district. Condon was the top vote-getter by a mile in 2012; Bouchard barely beat Democrat Curt Taylor; Purvis finished a respectable fourth. This is a seat that the Democrats could take.

Up in the perennial battleground of Franklin County, V2AVT is endorsing 26-year incumbent Dem Kathie Keenan and Republican challenger Corey Parent in a two-seat district. Parent is hoping to snag the seat currently held by Dem Mike McCarthy, who won by a mere 20 votes in 2012.

V2AVT’s favorite Independent is Laura Sibilia, a business-friendly type who’s challenging established Democrat John Moran in Windham-Bennington 1. There’s no Republican on the ballot, but Sibilia’s platform is clearly Republican-leaning.

The group has also endorsed safe Republican incumbent Patti Komline.

As for its Democratic endorsements, Jim Condon and Kathie Keenan are well-established incumbents; Clem Bissonnette is running unopposed has no Republican opponent — his challenge is from the Progressive Party; Cynthia Browning is a famously independent-minded Democrat in a safe Democratic district; and Matt Trieber is unopposed in Windham-3.

Overall, of V2AVT’s eight Democratic endorsements, none are in races closely contested by Republicans. Of its 13 Republican endorsements, seven are in races where the VTGOP hopes to gain ground.

That’s not my idea of nonpartisanship. That’s my idea of advancing the Republican cause.

Is the ground buckling under Phil Scott’s feet?

Lately, there have been signs aplenty of passengers taking their leave of the Good Ship Moderate Republicanism, helmed since last November by Captain Phil Scott and first mate “Super Dave” Sunderland. Or maybe Scott’s the admiral and Sunderland is captain, whatever works.

Scott and friends came away from last November’s VTGOP meeting with a rather conditional mandate to broaden the party’s base. Make it more attractive to moderate and undecided voters, and the pragmatic business types who’ve made their peace with the Democrats under Governor Shumlin.

It seemed a promising direction. Indeed, the only possible direction, since the Vermont electorate wasn’t suddenly going to turn Texas red. The conservative VTGOP of “Angry Jack” Lindley et al. had hit a glass ceiling at about 35% of the vote.

But it was going to be a tough job for Scott, previously not known for his willingness to tackle tough jobs. He was, by dint of his elective office, the only person who could credibly take it on; but he also, by dint of his personality, seemed unsuited for the task. And even if he rose to the occasion, the odds seemed to be against him. Shumlin and company have done a really good job of co-opting the center, and it’d be a hell of a job for Scott to win back all those voters and supporters without moving so far to the center that he completely alienates the easily alienated conservative base.

It’s only been about nine months, and the Good Ship Moderate Republicanism looks to be taking on water. Recent signs include:

Bruce Lisman’ decision to forego any sort of alignment with the VTGOP, even after he stepped away from leadership of Campaign for Vermont, the self-described nonpartisan policy shop.

Lisman’s brief and pointless flirting with a run for Governor this spring, which lasted just long enough to force State Rep. Heidi Scheuermannf (a Lisman ally) out of the race.

The continued activity of Campaign for Vermont. Its members do include people from across the political spectrum, but the group still tilts substantially toward the right. And many of its key supporters are the kind of people who used to be mainline Republicans.

Roger Allbee’s decision to run for State Senate as a Democrat. The former Douglas Administration cabinet functionary and self-described liberal Republican could have been a powerful ally for Scott. Instead, he’s hoping for a place on the other ticket.

— Former State Rep. Oliver Olsen’s decision to run again for his old seat, but this time as an Independent. In the 2011-12 biennium, Olsen was one of the more vocal and effective members of the House Republican minority; this time, he seems to believe that he’s better off without the “R” next to his name.

— Last week’s VTGOP campaign finance report which, as I reported in this space, was truly horrific. A quarterly fundraising total — during a campaign season, mind you —  of only $7,500. The bulk of that came from a few party insiders. And over the past year, the VTGOP has drawn virtually no small donors, a sign that so far it’s failing to reach the grassroots. In spite of Sunderland’s repeated claims that the people of Vermont are waking up to the failures of the Shumlin Administration. Well, they haven’t awakened enough to write any checks, that’s for sure.

What that dismal report means is that the VTGOP has lost some of its hard-core, ideologically driven donors, but has yet to even begin to attract a new donor base. Nor has it even begun to convince former Republican stalwarts to come back home.

— And finally, this week’s formation of Vision to Action Vermont (V2AVT), a “bipartisan” PAC aimed at supporting candidates who are focused on improving Vermont’s economy. Its co-founder is Scheuermann herself, and her decision to create this independent group is an interesting one. You’d think that Scheuermann would be one of Phil Scott’s most trusted lieutenants, with a bright future in Republican politics. But as with Allbee and Olsen, she has apparently decided that the Republican brand is too toxic to advance her goal of electing lawmakers who are focused on economic issues.

Take all these events together, and it seems like the Republican center-right is fragmenting in all directions rather than coming together behind Scott and Sunderland. That, I think, is a very bad sign for Scott’s effort to broaden his party. The people who might have been part of a new, broader, more vibrant VTGOP are channeling their energy in other directions.

It may seem unfairly early to declare Scott’s project a failure. After all, it’s been less than a year, and it took quite a few years for the VTGOP to get so badly screwed up. But Scott’s party has no resources and few candidates; if he fails to make any headway in Legislative elections, a substantial portion of the party will be ready and eager to unseat Scott’s team and return the party to its former course: down an ideological dead end.