What’s Phil Scott doing as acting governor this week?

psstagefright2aSince Sunday and until Thursday, Phil Scott will be acting Vermont governor. Performing official duties as acting governor is one of only three statutory duties the part-time Lt. Governor position has. Vermont is a stable democracy so the acting governor can’t abolish the legislature or lock the governor out of the statehouse — no worries there.

Governor Shumlin will be away attending an international governors’ conference in Boston, a climate summit in Mexico and a drug prevention conference in Nevada.

Over five years Lt. Governor Scott (Vermont’s “spare” governor) has been acting governor plenty of times before his upcoming stint. Scott tells WCAX News  that after his latest stint as acting governor, he has now filled in for Gov. Peter Shumlin for 368 days, a little more than one year of Shumlin’s five-plus years in office. [WCAX isn’t called WGOP for nothing]

Speaking of work — Scott didn’t supply details for WCAX on how many days over five years, as part-time Lt. Governor, he’s spent working on the other two statutory duties: presiding over the state senate and casting tie breaking votes. How many hours a year does he put in toward earning his $61,776.00 a year part-time salary?

But back to this week: since he is running to be governor, the work  Mr. Acting Governor Scott has chosen to do is to campaign for himself. He’s scheduled several call-in news radio programs and a public reception for the next few days. Clearly he’s working for Phil; it’d be a real stretch to consider his working in his own self-interest as benefiting the rest of Vermont.

Entergy Vermont Yankee takes a leak into the future

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is shutdown, no longer generating power and starting the decommissioning process. And Entergy VY is still struggling with a persistent ground water intrusion problem (think very leaky basement) in and through the nuclear reactor turbine building.curleyleaks

Back when the plant was operating, there was, it seemed, always a steady drip, drip, drip of news coming out of the troubled plant — a high temperature electrical fire here, a decayed cooling tower collapse there, and forty mysterious underground pipes “discovered” as  the source of radioactive tritiated water leaks — just to name a few of the ‘highlights.’ So the current radioactive water intrusion is only the latest in a long history of mishaps.

Happily Vtdigger.com reports VY officials think they have gotten a handle on the rising tides: “Vermont Yankee administrators say they’re getting a stubborn groundwater intrusion problem under control and are no longer pursuing a proposal to discharge radioactive water into the Connecticut River.”

Early this spring Entergy bought homeowner-grade kiddie pools (the NRC actually approved their use for this purpose) to hold the overflow. The pools were then abandoned in favor of more durable rubber storage bladders; gallons of contaminated water were shipped out by tanker truck, an expensive task. And now reports suggest the company will no longer pursue state permission to dump its tainted water into the Connecticut River.

The aggressive flow of water, at its height in February, was as much as 3,000 gallons a day. Yet  officials maintain: “Simply sealing “a number of cracks” in the turbine building has helped.”

And the Entergy VY spokesflack brags: “We had a plan, we implemented the plan, and the plan worked.”FreeVYpoolz

Aw come on, “We had a plan!”  Bah! I think they are winging it –right from the time they rushed out to buy their first kiddie pool to capture overflows of radio-active water.

And now, what VY fails to mention and the reporter at Vtdigger.com definitely should have noted is that Vermont and most of the Northeast are in the midst of record-breaking drought!   Vermont has seen record low rainfall, with the drought  even more severe in Southern New Hampshire and Western Massachusetts.

Ground water levels are low throughout the region — therefore groundwater intrusion at VY’s turbine building would be record low. No water = no leaks!

But Entergy is decommissioning and headed out VY’s back door, pausing just long enough to patch a few cracks in the ‘basement,’ bless Mother Nature for the lack of rain, and cross their corporate fingers. I wonder if part of their plan includes setting up the kiddie pools again next spring?

 

Press Seven for “Older Than Jesus.”

I just got polled for the 2016 election, thus entering the endless stream of statistics from which current campaigns will attempt to divine the future.

I suppose I should be flattered that anyone even cares what I think, but after I hung up the phone all I could think about was that, when they asked for my age, I had to wait patiently through six younger options before choosing the last, number seven, which was depressingly simple: I am now “over 65.”

Like some cliff to the abyss, “over 65” seems to imply that I’m just waiting for the undertaker.

Well, excuse me, but I still have my teeth, my full faculties and an undiminished appetite to see the future.

My husband (also “over 65”) and I carry a mortgage, insurance, a car loan, and our fair share of debt. We shop for groceries, replace clothing and shoes from time to time, and even appliances, as necessary. We’ve even been known to spring for a little entertainment, when the budget allows.

But we are simply shelved as the generic ‘old’ by marketing mavens. Our individual habits and opinions are of little concern to them, so we routinely receive automated calls concerning chairlifts and back braces in which we have supposedly expressed interest.

We haven’t. In the course of just attempting to continue our meager income stream, I routinely carry twenty-two pound barrels of material up a flight of stairs and through the house. My husband carries the heavier loads. We get by because we have no other choice. We’re not ready to throw in the towel. We do eye those chairlifts a little enviously, though. One would sure come in handy when we occasionally have to move a forty-pound barrel of material up that flight of stairs!

I remember when Baby Boomers drove the market like a mighty machine. Blue jeans, Beatles, “Europe on $5. a Day,” Mustangs & Beetles, Pop Art, Coca Cola, best-sellers, ‘starter’ homes, Jazzercise, “having it all,” pre-nups, ticking clocks, Montessori pre-school, Botox, mid-life crisis…Madison Avenue couldn’t get enough of us.

But that was then and this is now. Twitter, Instagram, i-Phone, Pokemon, kraft beer and exotic sliders, Uber, AirB&B, game night, technical apparel, youtube; we Boomers don’t have much impact on the market anymore.

At most, we are welcome on the perimeter of where it all happens, but we risk appearing as pathetic as Donald Trump’s comb-over.

Generational relevance passes in the blink of an eye; but if you believe the news, many of us irrelevancies may live into our hundreds. How very inconvenient.

We are reminded endlessly of how little will be our contribution to society from now on; and what a burden we will be for younger generations.

That’s unvarnished ageism.

If many will likely live to be a hundred, doesn’t it follow to some extent that we have to be reasonably healthy in order to do so? And if we are reasonably well at seventy in an era when people live to be a hundred, isn’t it possible that we might be as valuable a member of society at seventy-five as a 50-year old was when, not too long ago, the average age of death was seventy-five?

Why aren’t we giving more thought to how a healthy population of mobile and experienced “senior citizens” might contribute as much to the economic and social well-being of their communities as do much younger citizens. It doesn’t all have to be about chair-lifts and Depends.

Next time some robocalling pollster wants to know my age, how about letting me hear an eighth option: ”Are you over 85?”

David Hall’s New Vista: “…a dead cow falling out of the sky.”

deadcowfallAn informational meeting was held in Tunbridge on the 18th of August about David Hall’s ongoing efforts to create a futuristic community called New Vista. [There is a video of the meeting below and posted by Nicole Antal on the DailyUV.]

No doubt the Tunbridge gathering will be one of many meetings held over time as the Utah resident, Hall buys up land and pursues his utopian dream that happens to target four area towns. His ultimate goal is a radically designed high density residential community with a population of 15-20,000. The design includes plans for high-tech toilets that monitor a resident’s health and robotic storage systems that allow furniture to play hide-and-seek. […] The key concept of a NewVistas community is that a resident’s apartment would need to transform itself several times a day because each person would have only 200 square feet of living space.

The genesis of the plan has roots in the Mormon (Church of the Latter Day Saints, LDS) teachings of Joseph Smith, but the church recently has denied any involvement or endorsement of the project. A recent article in the LDS-owned newspaper, Deseret News, makes that clear and accurately reports the reaction here in Vermont:

[…] in the rural slice of Vermont where Hall has focused much of his land acquisition, his scheme has landed like a dead cow falling out of the sky.”

“Well, I’ll eat my hat ! It’s Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump along with a small squad of body guards and plenty of cameras visited an ongoing Louisiana flood relief effort the other day. He actually handed out a box of food (and Play-Doh) to victims…reports are Trump was at this “tough” compassionate task for all of 49 seconds.

His visit came despite the governor suggesting he not visit the relief effort.

“We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op. Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

He also autographed some “Make America Great Again” hats for the hungry.

Primary Flashback and Franklin County Frolics

A belated congratulations are due to GMD’s own Mike McCarthy, who now, officially joins Rep. Kathy Keenan as our excellent  Democratic candidates for the Vermont House from St. Albans City.  Mike has already served a term as St. Albans’ House Rep. so we look forward to having him back again.

The heat knocked me out for the past week or so, but I’ve recovered enough to want to comment on the outcome of the primary.

Although I wasn’t particularly active in the primary, I could not be more pleased with the outcome. Despite the pain we all feel at the national spectacle, I think we have much to be grateful for, here at home.

Sue Minter and Dave Zuckerman comprise a very strong Democratic ticket. I look forward to the debates with relish!

I was also pleased to learn that despite the early endorsement pass by the VCV, Philip Baruth will be defending his seat against the Republican challengers once again.

Returning to Franklin County, it was, I think, a relief for the entire county that disgraced senator Norm McAllister went down in defeat. We can now refer to him summarily as ‘disgraced ex-senator’ Norm McAllister…and doesn’t that feel good.

Nevertheless, roughly 700 Franklin County voters actually endorsed candidate McAllister, leaving one to ponder whether his family is exceptionally large, or there is a significant population out there with disturbing attitudes toward women.

None could have been more relieved with the primary results than Franklin County Republicans, who would have not found it a pleasant experience to campaign on the same ticket with a virtual pariah

Stepping into the breech for Republicans was Representative Carolyn Branagan, who will join Dustin Degree in competition against our two outstanding Democratic candidates for senate, former Senator Sara Kittell and clean lake activist, Denise Smith.

It goes without saying that I support Sara and Denise without reservation, but I have to say that Brannagan would be a strong third choice. She’s a good moderate representative for her district and has a pretty good environmental voting record.

Incredibly, Branagan got some grief from McAllister and some of his supporters for having had the temerity to offer herself as a candidate in the scorched aftermath of McAllister’s untimely departure. No one expected him to run again, given that he was facing numerous charges for crimes against women; but run he did, submitting his petition in the last minute of the eleventh hour, when no one had a chance to discover that it did not satisfy the minimum of the law before time ran out on a challenge. That didn’t stop him from attacking, in a parting shot, the only woman on Franklin County’s Republican senate ticket

So now we have an interesting race shaping up for two senate seats in Franklin County: two strong Democratic women, one respected Republican woman…and Dustin Degree.

It does seem fitting that, for his sins, McAllister will definitely see a woman he probably loathes in his senatorial seat….no matter which woman that ends up being.

Of course, popular wisdom around here probably has Degree holding onto his seat, but I beg to differ. Branagan came in a strong second to Degree in the primary; and I think that even Republicans may be ready for a little more estrogen in the Franklin County delegation.

And there are those nagging, unanswered questions about who-knew-what-when.

In what could only be imagined as an attempt to drag Degree under the bus along with him, thus improving his own chances in the primary, McAllister himself hinted broadly that Degree knew more about him (and presumably, the ‘intern’) than anyone else.

We may never learn the whole story about the intern, but McAllister’s statement means Degree is in for some increased scrutiny.

Degree and McAllister campaigned almost in tandem in the past two election cycles. They passed two years as seatmates in the senate. The intern maintains that she helped on their shared campaign.

It is difficult to believe that Degree never visited the apartment where McAllister shared a bedroom with the intern, and that he never observed how very young and fragile she looked next to the sexagenarian farmer who presumably bossed her around at the statehouse.

Also to be questioned is Mike McCarthy’s House opponent Cory Parent, who gave the teenaged intern rides back to Franklin County from the statehouse. He seems to have been another close intimate of McAllister’s. One would think the relationship between McAllister and the intern could not have been entirely unobserved by Parent and Degree.

So, it should be interesting over the next couple of months. I sincerely hope that whoever conducts the debates does not shy away from the McAllister question. The voters deserve some answers before they cast their ballots again.

Rutland Herald & Times Argus SOLD!

Two struggling Vermont newspapers, the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, have been sold to a Maine-based publishing company. stoppressingThere had been reports that The Herald was having problems paying employees, causing some to stage a walk-out .

The Herald’s longtime editor, Alan Keays, was fired when he ran a story on the labor trouble in the paper.

Prior to that, in June, the publisher announced they would cut back from seven to three days a week in their print editions.

The new owners are “Maine-based entrepreneur Reade Brower and printing and marketing executive Chip Harris.” Harris has a local connection, having founded the Upper Valley Press Inc. in North Haverhill, NH.

And by all means take notice of the link to the article: http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20160811/THISJUSTIN/160819917/0/OBITUARIES

Check the last bit in it…someone at The Rutland Herald is maintaining a sense of humor.

 

The Primary Election Blows (or “insert wind joke here”)

It sure got windy all of a sudden.

It’s been a challenging political season to sit on the sidelines. It’s now only two days before the primary election, and while I’m not about to get involved, there’s a lot worth commenting on, especially in this last week. One could argue that the Democratic contest finally got interesting.

One could also say that the Democratic arena has proven itself vulnerable to the same frothing-at-the-mouth zeitgeist that seems to pass for political discourse in this nation at late. And no, I’m not even talking about professional Diplomat and Gubernatorial Candidate Peter Galbraith referring to one of his opponents as a “fucker” on the record.

So let’s talk about wind power. Not the issue itself, but the meta-issue. Because a funny thing happened on the way to Tuesday’s exercise in democracy.

Gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne did something you don’t do on the wind debate. He fleshed out his position, bringing in a little more specificity to the vague catch-all platitudes that most Vermont politicians use on the subject. The result has been full-on rhetorical hysteria… or perhaps more accurately, a public window into the roiling hysteria which was already underway, as also witnessed in the full-on self-sabotaging snub of Chittenden Senator Philip Baruth by the VCV I discussed previously.

Now, full disclosure part one here; Matt Dunne is a friend, and I hate seeing friends get beat up on. I really hate it. I’ve been hiding from a lot of the news this week for that reason.

Full disclosure part two; I’m all for wind power. I grew up in eastern Kentucky where whole mountains are razed, pulverized, mixed with toxic chemicals, and dumped into local streams in the name of the fossil fuel industry. A few small roads to industrial sites with relatively modest footprints really doesn’t bug me if it helps choke the life out of the coal companies and save a few hundred miles of Appalachian ecosystems and water tables. As long as the science is our guide for siting (and the science says there’s very little ridgeline acreage in the state that is appropriate), and accommodations are made for critical habitat (so we don’t burn down the village in order to save it), it’s one piece of doing our part to convert to a robust electric grid powered by renewables to enable our transition off of carbon-spewing as soon as possible. I’m the kind of person whose teeth hurt everytime I hear the made up word “viewshed.” I couldn’t care less about the fleeting fickleness of anthropomorphic and anthropocentric cultural aesthetics when we are all responsible for the collective damage being done to the planet. “With great power….” and all.

But I also believe strongly that the ends do not justify the means. And the just means in our society is called democracy. Obviously in a representative government, citizens cede their rights to have say over every single decision – and in a Constitutional Republic, there are limits on democracy to prevent mobs from running roughshod over the less powerful.

But still, I see democracy as an unquestionable ethic. I see environmentalism as one too. And given the reality of climate change, it’s worth mentioning that I am also very pro self-preservation.

And I’d have been willing to bet this is where most people would say they land as well. It’s why all the politicians – no matter which “side” of the wind debate they are associated with – always give vague answers about needing to confront climate change, but needing to respect local communities when asked about wind power. Seriously, who wants to be openly anti-environment or anti-democracy? C’mon.

So Mr. Dunne made a political decision (and sure, I have no doubt it was political). Basically, that being more specific would be helpful in his quest for the Democratic nomination. So he was. He said he felt that siting towns should get a binding vote on wind power plant siting.

Now, is that where I would’ve drawn that line…?… ouch…hmmm…ugh… You see, even I don’t want to answer that specifically. I want somebody else to handle it and let me know when its all worked out so I can open my eyes. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, I probably wouldn’t have drawn the line where Dunne did. And obviously, drawing any line was going to create controversy.

But what has followed looks less like a reinvigorated public debate, and more like electoral rabies. It took me, and a lot of folks I’ve spoken with, by surprise.

It clearly took the campaign by surprise. Dunne’s initial remarks in response to the visceral fury unleashed upon him within the Montpelier/Burlington capital bubble belied a staggered candidate. It was another day before he got his rhetorical feet back under him, and the raw energy released seems to be spilling over into other controversies, and spiking early voting. Right out of the gate, Dunne lost the endorsement of Bill McKibben and others – and was broadsided with an attack from the Governor’s office by Mr. Shumlin himself, all but calling Dunne a liar and a fool (a very measured assessment of the fallout – including a calling out of Mr. Shumlin’s hypocritical hissyfit – can be found in today’s Times Argus editorial page).

So all this sturm und drang raises two questions for me. One; who are the winners and losers in this campaign? Folks like my friend John have all but declared Dunne politically friendless and dead for that one policy offering, and in rather animated terms. The truth is harder to tell. It has certainly hurt Dunne in the aforementioned bubble, but it’s true that bubble was already Minter turf. It’s also true that it may boost him in the rural – albeit less populated – regions. The timing is also harder to read. On the one hand, it could read as desperation from Team Dunne, which never looks good to the undecided set. On the other hand,  it could look gutsy (and the announcement so close to the election could prove to steal away enough support from Galbraith to enhance his (grouchy) left flank). Shumlin’s impulsive attack also could arguably hurt Dunne by virtue of its content, or hurt Minter from association (I’m not sure that it pro-actively “helps” anybody).

All of which is to say, anybody who isn’t looking at current poll numbers, but tells you the whole kerfuffle definitely helps or hurts one candidate or another is likely giving you their own parochial reaction. I feel like I’m pretty good at this stuff, and I’m honestly not sure how it plays out in the final analysis.

The other question it raises is trickier; are we capable as a society, in Vermont, of having a reasoned, thoughtful debate on wind power?

Sadly, I think there is a clear answer to this, and the answer – for the present – is “no.” I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the dynamics of this debate look disturbingly familiar… they look like the dynamics of the gun debate. “Gun debate” is of course a misnomer, as there is no “debate” allowed. There is only screaming, threatening, rage and hysteric myopia.

For now, I think, calling it a “wind debate” is equally oxymoronic. Hopefully we can find our way past that – and soon. Because it’s really about a lot more than us.

Blind trust in Phil Scott

Anyone who has had a radio on in the past couple days has probably heard Phil Scott moaning and sounding sooo hurt over how mean his gubernatorial primary opponent Bruce Lisman is being to him. Says Scott’s campaign: “For month’s Bruce Lisman has lied to voters about Phil’s record.” Philscottphilscott

In aggressive campaign ads, Lisman is raising the appearance  of a conflict of interest over Scott’s ownership in Dubois Construction company should he win election to the Governor’s office. Dubois does millions of dollars in contracted State of Vermont business: Since 2001, DuBois Construction has received $3.785 million  in payments from the state Agency of Transportation, The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and the Departments of Buildings and General Services  and Fish & Wildlife.

If elected, Scott says, he is planning to form a blind trust to handle his interest in the business, but Lisman and others are skeptical that this maneuver adequately addresses the ethical implications. The Vermont Democratic Party commented: “Scott would still be completely aware of where his private profits were coming from and which policies could increase them while he collects a state salary.”

I wrote a diary in May about how Scott has handled the issue in his past.  When he began his campaign Scott commented on his contracting ethics to Vtdigger.com:  When a project he has supported as an elected official goes out to bid, Scott said he makes sure his company does not seek the contract. So he said. But a closer look reveals that this hasn’t exactly been his practice.

As a state senator Scott served on the Senate Transportation Committee and successfully lobbied Senator James Jeffords (PDF p. 10) to put a certain provision in Federal  legislation for specific transportation funding.  Vermont (USA) Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) credited Vermont State Senator Phil Scott (R-Washington County) with the provision in the new federal transportation legislation adding modern roundabout projects to the list of safety improvements eligible nationwide for 100 percent federal transportation funding.

And then, first while Scott was a state senator and later as Lt. Governor, Dubois Construction  submitted bids on contracts  receiving this particular federal funding when the monies became available in Vermont. Total potential worth of the bids on these projects: $15 million.

Over several years, Dubois Construction bid on at least three Vermont state roundabout projects, including two since he became Lt. Governor.

One bid in 2008 was worth $1,388,412.00, one in 2011 worth $1,754,788.83, and in 2013 (what would have been a biggie) worth $11,953,592.58. All his bids were in the middle of the pack, but not being the lowest bid, none was awarded to Scott’s company.

But the important point is he did bid on them  after lobbying for specific funding; taken together, the three bids would have been worth over 15 million dollars to Phil Scott and Dubois Construction.

Scott’s tax returns indicate that the bulk of his wealth is tied up in Dubois Construction. He has said he would temporarily distance himself from his construction business should he become governor, but he wants to return to it afterward.dividingcoin_zpsf67dd6e4

Phil Scott may not like Lisman questioning his possible business conflict in the primary, but it is fair game. And regardless of his promised temporary blind trust arrangement, a good hard look at his company’s past and future state bidding is likely inevitable in the general election.

And, as Phil Scott himself asks in his response tv ad to Lisman’s attack, “Who are you going to trust?” wherein he cites Governor Jim Douglas’s support as proof of his trustworthiness. Shall we trust Phil Scott, who promised his company wouldn’t bid on contracts he was politically involved in? Or the record of Dubois Construction’s bids on at least three such major contracts?

Trust shouldn’t be blind.

Carbon Tax Hysteria

I’ve been staying off the GMD front page during my campaign to return to the House, but I just can’t stay silent while the Vermont GOP slings hyperbolic lies in Franklin County and on the internet. Our friend at the Vermont Political Observer has been covering the fuzzy math on this, but I want to call attention to a couple of local candidates who are beating the drum louder and louder in Franklin County.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.59.16 PM

I walked in to get some documents about my parent’s property at the Swanton Town Clerk a few months ago around the end of the session, and Rep. Marianna Gamache had left a petition on the counter.  It had a shocking headline: “STOP THE DEMOCRATS’ CARBON TAX!”

A Franklin County Republican once told me that there’s a big difference between being an advocate and being a legislator and boy does someone need to take his advice. The more radical Carbon Tax proposals have no hope of moving forward as is, but they bring up important conversations that we need to be having. I wouldn’t support a carbon tax that dramatically increased the cost of gas or heating fuels in a single year, but there are some related policies that are going to be critical to our energy and transportation infrastructure in the coming years.

One such policy, with bipartisan support, is moving from “cents-per-gallon” fuel taxes to a “vehicle miles traveled” approach to paying for our transportation budget. I drive a hybrid and get 52 mpg in the summer. That means I fill up half as much as the average car, and pay half the amount of fuel taxes. As cars have become more efficient, and some drivers have gone fully electric, the transportation fund has taken a hit. With alternative fuels there is a disconnect between how much fuel you pump and how many miles you drive. We have to make sure the way we pay for the roads is fair and doesn’t overburden a particular group of users. Wow, something Phil Scott and I agree on.
Another example is a heating fuel surcharge to support low-income weatherization. I’ve always thought that it was crazy to give heating subsidies to folks year after year (LIHEAP) when we could make their homes more comfortable and energy efficient with a one-time investment in insulation and other cost-effective weatherization.
So, would Mike McCarthy support a big scary carbon tax that radically increases costs to everyday Vermonters? No. I would however make improvements to how we pay for the heating and transportation programs that are smart policy and better for the environment. These energy policies will save the vast majority of Vermonters lots of money compared to the way we currently pay for heat and transportation programs.
Most of what you just read was published as a response to the County Courier’s candidate question of the week: “Do you support the proposed carbon tax?” Do you know what Rep. Corey Parent’s response to this question was? One line: “No, because we cannot afford it.”
Thanks for the thoughtful discourse on climate change and energy policy Franklin County Republicans. This is about what we’ve all come to expect.