Good government, smart politics

Here at GMD, we tend to focus on the bad stuff — poor decisions, controversies, the missteps and foibles of the high and mighty. But it’s also good to take note when things go well. Those of the liberal persuasion believe that government can be effective in solving problems and providing a countermeasure to the jagged edges and wretched excesses of the free-market system. When government actually does those things, it does more for the cause than a year’s worth of GMD snark.  

And this week, we have two prime examples: a crisis averted at the Vermont Veterans Home, and a huge development project that could lift the Northeast Kingdom out of its seemingly-endless doldrums.

First, and the lesser of the two: addressing troubles at the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, thus ensuring Medicare and Medicaid funding. The Home had faced a September 28 deadline — hey, that’s today! — for cutoff of federal funding. Which would have blown a huge hole in the Home’s budget.

And it would have been a big political black eye for the Shumlin team, right in the middle of a campaign.  

But things got busy behind the scenes, and the Home passed a last-minute inspection. Through the combined efforts of the Home’s staff and administration, the state government, and our Congressional delegation, the crisis was averted two days before the deadline. Make that crises: the governmental, and the political. Board of Trustees President Joseph Crawczyk Jr.:

“I mean, you talk about jubilation. The patients are going crazy. They were our biggest cheerleaders during this whole thing, our resident veterans. They didn’t understand what was going on, why it was going on. They didn’t believe what they heard. I’ll tell you, this is there family and they know it.”

Good government, good politics.

The second, and bigger, is the massive development project in the Northeast Kingdom.  Say what you will about massive developments, but the NEK needs this desperately. A half-billion-dollar investment, a top end of 10,000 new jobs? Seems like a miracle. What it is, is the creative use of government power. VTDigger:

Ninety-five percent of the money will come from the EB-5 Visa program, which enables foreign nationals to invest $500,000 in “targeted employments areas” in exchange for a two-year green card. Each investment must result in 10 jobs.

There’s a slightly greasy feel to the EB-5 program, which allows wealthy foreigners to jump the queue for green cards. But in this case, it’s hard to argue with the results: a massive infusion of growth into our most downtrodden region. Since 95% of the investment capital is coming through EB-5, it seems safe to say that this project would not have happened without the federal program. Lead developer Bill Stenger heaped praise on Sen. Patrick Leahy, who worked hard to win an extension of EB-5.

It’s a wonderful example of the power of government creating opportunity where the free market had failed to deliver. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that can convince working-class conservative voters that, yeah, maybe government can make a positive difference in their lives.

I’ll close with an odd little passage from yesterday’s announcement of the project. The only cautionary note was sounded by the guy you’d think would be the biggest cheerleader: the “King of the Kingdom,” Vince Illuzzi. Freeploid:

He said he had an inkling of what would be said, but had no idea of the scale. Illuzzi admitted to some trepidation.

“Having served in this area for 32 years, we’ve always tried to attract investment income, but I have to admit it’s a bit scary to have $500 million flowing into two counties, and all this construction,” he said. “It almost feels a little overwhelming. Can the area absorb that much change?”

Weird. He ought to be doing cartwheels. Well, maybe I’m just cynical, but do you know what I think? I think two things: First, he was a bit put off because he wasn’t let in on the project beforehand*. And second, Vince has been a big frog in a small pond for a long time, and he doesn’t really want to see the pond get bigger. Might attract more frogs, y’know?

*Political kudos to announcement organizers for not giving a Republican candidate for statewide office a turn in the spotlight. Must have been some interesting backstage moments before the big unveil. I can almost picture Vince banging on a locked door, begging to be let in.

VTDigger had a similar Vince quote with a really strange ending:

State Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R/D-Essex-Orleans, said he found the prospect of the developments “almost overwhelming and a bit scary to have all of this happening essentially at the same time, but it’s a window of opportunity, not only because of EB-5 but because the world economy has all but collapsed.” More investors, he said, are seeking a safe haven in North America.

Huh. i must have missed the total collapse of the world economy. Where does this guy get his financial news? And is this the kind of insight and deep thinking we want in our Auditor?

Illuzzi weirdness aside, yesterday was the best day the NEK has had in a long, longn time. And it was a government program that made it happen. And as I said at the top, effective government is the strongest evidence for the liberal cause.  

9 thoughts on “Good government, smart politics

  1. All the hyperventilation over what a great opportunity this is for the region might cause some to be tempted to weaken or even waive environmental review standards.  We can’t let that happen.  

    We’re talking BIG impacts here, both good and, potentially, bad.

    I know that saying this will make me extremely unpopular with many folks… but there it is.

  2. Of course the Veterans’ Home patients were jubilant and major cheerleaders for the place to be re-certified and thus to stay open: any other result would have meant major upheaval in vulnerable lives. Where else would they have had to go?

    And anyone who has worked with victims of abuse knows that often they’d stay with the abuser rather than risk a worse fate elsewhere.

    So what happened to the nurse accused of punching a resident in the face? Is that nurse still employed there? Still has a license to practice?

    A nurse who caused one of the deficiencies by improperly changing a dressing on a wound has been placed on administrative leave, according to a person familiar with the changes.

    Additionally, a licensed pratical nurse facing a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly punching a resident in the nose, is also on leave.

    Keeping the home open might be a political win for the Shumlin administration (after all, the governor appointed the administrator and the board of the directors) but it remains to be seen whether any reforms in the practices at the home stick. The fact that it took political intervention from our Congressional delegation for the inspectors to pass the Veterans’ Home suggests string-pulling is stronger than real reform.

    One other observation: both the threat of closure (for failure to meet standards) and the reprieve came from the government. How does that make this story one of governmental goodness? Sure, if bad things are happening in a nursing home, it’s actually governmental goodness for that to be recognized and dealt with, even if the penalty is de-funding the place. And yes, the reprieve is a good thing, if the reforms are real. But focusing on the reprieve as the only governmental goodness, especially when there’s so much political pull involved, is emphasizing only half the story, and not necessarily the better half.


    Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

  3. the key is whether there is a firm commitment to hiring NEK residents, doing all this work at once could exceed the area’s ability to supply the necessary workers

    and I hope the window manufacturer and the biotech firm will work with the state to train local workers for those jobs

  4. I attended (along with 250 others) yesterday’s rollout in the NEK. I watched Illuzi work the room like he was on a mission. Glommed onto every press type there and shook hands with EVERYONE introducing himself.

    Paging Mr. Hoffer, Mr. Hoffer…

    Need to be seen bro!  

  5. More times than not, the cry of “jobs, jobs, jobs” seems to subordinate many other worthwhile endeavors.  We need jobs: Cut Medicare.  We need jobs: Don’t cut the defense (a.k.a., war) budget.  We need jobs: Ignore environmental considerations.  We need jobs: Hello F-35!  You need a job: Work longer and accept lower pay.  You are a woman and you want a job: Don’t let that glass ceiling bruise your head.

    Based on what has happened at Jay Peak ever since Weyerhauser dynamited the top of the mountain in 1966 to put up the Tram Haus, I have come to think that mountainside destruction is a fundamental and necessary component of the business model of ski execs.  Actually, calling them ski execs is a misnomer; they are real estate developers and amusement park operators.  They sell high-priced real estate and pay low-value wages.  One of the most offensive things I have ever heard came out of the mouth of one ski area/amusement park PR flack is when he said that they are selling “weather-free amenities.”  Egad! Parts of Vermont are coming to resemble the dome in The Truman Show: Namely, a fabricated setting that could be anywhere.

    Regarding Vince Illuzzi, I think he had the gumption to be a discordant note to the public officials’ chorus assembled to sing Bill Stenger’s praises.  By the way, I got to listen to the Hoffer/Illuzzi debate on WDEV on the radio and in person today.  I felt that both Vince and Doug had valuable insights to offer Vermonters.  I was impressed by how they both conducted themselves.

  6. Ironic to see Shumlin, Sanders and Leahy supporting a massive energy-consuming, traffic-generating (air and auto) proposal while at the same time claiming that climate change (and doing our part) is the single biggest issue Vermonters must address.  

    Gov. Shumlin says there is no time to have a conversation about technologies (like big wind), we have to move ahead quickly building everything we can as fast as we can.  I guess he forgot about climate change when he decided to jump on this bandwagon.

    In my area, the ski are and hospitality jobs cannot be filled by Vermonters, but require immigrant workers.  Will NEK residents be trained to clean the toilets at the proposed base lodges?

    What happened to supporting the local economy, local agriculture?  This just seems like another project too big for Vermont plunked down amidst the locals, colonization gone wrong, with everyone jumping on the JOBS JOBS JOBS bandwagon before looking at what a massive development like this means to the people who actually live there.

    Yes, the NEK needs jobs, about 1800 to 2000.  

  7. Johnson State College is in just the right place for a training program to train people for these positions. And a whole bunch of teens are graduating from local schools who could be great assets in biotech, among other things.

  8. Sometimes massive make-overs of depressed areas raise property values so much that the cost of housing becomes impossible for the traditional population, forcing them to move somewhere more affordable.

  9. I don’t know where you live or what you do but I can assure you I’ve been working.

    Here is a list of recent media coverage (out or expected soon):

    WDEV (radio debate today)

    Free Press


    Seven Days

    Brattleboro Reformer


    Addison County Independent

    WKVT (Brattleboro radio)

    Stowe Reporter

    Newport Daily News

    St Albans Messenger

    The Commons (Brattleboro)

    ORCA (Montpelier PEG TV)

    BCTV (Brattelboro PEG TV)

    MCTV (Middlebury PEG TV)

    You may not have seen me but this is solid media coverage as we come down the stretch.  

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