Good Santa, Evil Santa, Coal in the Stocking

A holiday-themed edition of our usual Monday feature “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down…”

Jason “I Ran for Secretary of State and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt” Gibbs, for getting his new PR business off to a flying start by attaching himself, lamprey-like, to the second-biggest cash cow in Vermont politics: Bruce Lisman’s Campaign for Vermont. (The first is, of course, Lenore Broughton’s vanity project, Vermonter(s) First.)

Gibbs isn’t directly working for CFV; he’s got a contract with Capital Connections, a Republican-leaning lobbying shop* which numbers CFV as one of its clients. Sounds like featherbedding to me. Why does a lobbying firm need to outsource its communications strategy? And why should Bruce Lisman pay Capital Communications to pay Jason Gibbs?

* CC may well balk at that characterization, but when the testimonials on its website are all from prominent Republicans and conservative business groups, it’s pretty clear who’s buttering their bread.

Last week, Gibbs announced the opening of his very own communications firm, modestly dubbed “Jason Gibbs, LLC.” Its home on the Interwebs will be the equally modest “,” which had been his campaign website for that ill-starred 2010 run for Secretary of State.

And now, you can buy a piece of the (ahem) expertise and (cough) connections that helped him lose to Democrat Jim Condos by a mere ten percentage points, and that fueled his run as Jim Douglas’ utility infielder — taking on whatever cabinet post was open, regardless of relevant experience.

But congrats to Gibbsy for turning the chickenshit of his resume into the chicken salad of a well-connected consultancy. He must actually have some communication skills; otherwise, how could he convince anyone to buy the expertise of a warmed-over Republican operative in a Democratic town?

Low-income working Vermonters, for taking it in the shorts under the next step of Governor Shumlin’s health care reform plan. VTDigger reports that ShummyCare, as it stands today, would lay the financial smackdown on Vermonters with incomes above the poverty level but still low enough to offer not much more than raw, precarious sustainability. Those people currently get subsidized care through Catamount Health or the Vermont Health Access Plan (VHAP); when the system switches to an insurance exchange in 2014, those two programs will end and their clients will pay higher rates in the exchange.

How much higher? Try almost $10,000 for a couple earning $45,000 a year. Or $6,000 for an individual making $33,500 a year. That’s not a total of 10K or 6K — those are the increases.  That couple would be paying a total of almost $17,000 for health insurance. That’s 38% of their income, just for health care.

Last week, Governor Shumlin said the state can’t afford the $18 million it would cost to hold working Vermonters harmless. Well, merry f*cking Christmas to you too, Governor. That seems awfully harsh, especially since Mark Larson, Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, has said that the state expects to save $10-15 million because it will no longer be subsidizing health care through Catamount and VHAP. Perhaps Shumlin already has other plans for that money.

The process is just beginning; we’ll see what Shumlin comes up with, and what the Legislature can do. But they’d better come very close to eliminating this draconian levy on the working class, or ShummyCare will seem like a bitterly unfunny joke to the very Vermonters it’s supposed to be helping.

It’s times like these that I appreciate the existence of the Progressive Party. I’d hope the Prog caucus can hold the Dems’ feet to the fire on this, especially considering that Martha Abbott withdrew from the gubernatorial race in order to lend full support to ShummyCare.

After the jump: Shoutouts to two good Vermonters, a State Police Moebius Strip of disinformation, and Bruce Lisman, Sooper Genius.

Robert Appel, outgoing head of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, for eleven years of service in a challenging job. He will join a Hinesburg law firm and begin to enjoy the higher earning potential of a lawyer in the private sector. Which, after his long tenure in public service, I can’t begrudge him.

Appel told VTDigger that his most important case was a 2006 state Supreme Court decision that defined prisons as “places of public accommodation,” which meant, among other things, better psychiatric treatment for inmates. He also represented a lesbian couple in their suit against the Wildflower Inn of Lyndonville, after it refused to host their wedding. Allen Gilbert of the VTACLU said Appel’s biggest accomplishment was clarifying the legal definition of discrimination, which is a murky area in Vermont law. And Gilbert concluded:  

Robert dedicated a large chunk of his life to assisting people who are often maligned, marginalized, and forgotten, helping them to seek a measure of justice. He should be honored for that.

the Vermont State Police, for an iffy adherence to transparency, and for giving an apparent promotion to the guy who signed Jim Deeghan’s timesheets. VSP Lt. Marc Thomas was Deeghan’s supervisor at the Williston barracks during a good chunk of the time that Deeghan was apparently faking vast amounts of overtime and writing hundreds of fake traffic tickets. Thomas was removed from the Williston post after the scandal broke; now he’s been named by VSP Director Tom L’Esperance to serve on a Violent Offender Task Force run by the U.S. Marshals’ Vermont office.

This, while Thomas’ culpability in Deeghan’s alleged fraud is still under investigation. And when the Freeploid came looking for answers on the appointment, the following bit of transparency comedy ensued:

[Public Safety Commissioner Keith] Flynn referred other questions on Friday to L’Esperance, who punted to department spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro, who was unable to provide any information.

Yeah, that’s why they call ’em “public servants.”

Now, I have mixed feelings about the Freeploid’s incessant poking at the transparency issue. On the one hand, our state and local governments tend to be too closed-off, and that’s not good for the quality of governance or for the public trust. On the other, sometimes I think the Freeploid spends so much of its time on document hunts because it’s an easy way to do “investigative journalism.” Put in a records request; if there’s a delay or a refusal, you’ve got a story. If you don’t get everything you wanted, you’ve got a story. If you get everything on time, you can usually find something to write about. The Freeploid is constantly patting itself on the back for being a public watchdog, and constantly referring to its past transparency scoops (real or inflated), but there are other ways to serve the public interest, and the Freeploid too often falls short of the mark.

Arts impresario Meg Hammond, for continuing to bring creative cultural activities to central Vermont. Hammond and partner Ben T. Matchstick were the team behind the beloved and lamented Langdon Street Cafe, which maintained an insane schedule of concerts and other activities in a tiny Montpelier space.

Hammond is now Events Manager at Goddard College, and has amped up Goddard’s profile in the local cultural scene. She’s organized a really interesting series of concerts at Goddard’s Haybarn Theatre (coming in January: jazz legend Archie Shepp!!!) and she’s scheduling special exhibits at the Goddard Art Gallery in downtown Montpelier. Its latest is a showing by Vermont sculptors Kat Clear and Torin Porter; before that, there was a show of political art by Peter Schumann and the Bread &  Puppet Theater. I’m glad she’s found a new outlet for her talents.  

Vermont’s mental health care system, reeling from the departure of two key leaders and the news of a looming budget shortfall. Last month, Patrick Flood announced his imminent departure as Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. Even as he was leaving, he maintained that all was hunky-dory with the refashioning of a new health care delivery system.  

It’s hard to believe his assurances now that he’s been joined on the way out by Dr. Jay Batra, DMH medical director and pre-Irene director of the now-closed Vermont State Hospital. And now that we’ve heard two different versions of bad budget news for the mental health care system. By one account, its expenses will rise by almost 50% next year. By another account, the gap is quite a bit smaller than that but still significant, at a time when Governor Shumlin is looking to cut expenses. Not a good time to be a provider or a patient.

Bruce Lisman, Wall Street sooper-genius and newly-bashful* founder of the Campaign for Vermont (Prosperity). for drinking the Republican consultancy Kool-Aid and simultaneously killing whatever remained of his “nonpartisan” credibility. Lisman’s CFV has been repped by the Republican-leaning lobby shop, Capital Connections; now, CC has farmed out the strategic messaging part of that work to Jason Gibbs, LLC.

*On the CFV website, the section formerly known as “The Lisman Perspective” has now been dubbed “Our Perspective.” How communal of you, Mr. Lisman! Is that one of Gibbsy’s rebranding ideas?

So, let’s see. In the first few months of the year, Lisman poured over $200,000 into a completely failed attempt to influence the 2012 political dialogue. After that, Bruce pulled back his horns; no paid advertising, only a smattering of public appearances and op-ed pieces, and the rollout of an energy policy platform full of free-market bromides that was universally ignored and sunk without a trace.

And now he’s turning to a former Douglas Administration functionary and failed Republican political candidate to handle what appears to be a relaunch of CFV. Inspired, I have to assume, by Lenore Broughton’s success in following the same course with Tayt Brooks. International Man of Mystery?

And not only that, but he’s paying a middleman to employ Gibbs, thus throwing bad money after bad. And this is a guy who’s supposed to bring world-class business acumen to our public policy debate?

No thanks.  

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