Updated: The Week of Three Pressers, pt. 2: Shufflin’, shuckin’ and jivin’

Here is hte promised updated version, mostly containing a very lengthy, entertaining and irritating exchange between Shumlin and the press corps regarding gun control. That’s after the jump.

The main subject of Governor Shumlin’s presser today was some appointments and personnel shuffles in his administration. Most notable: Armando Vilaseca is Vermont’s first Secretary of Education, but he’ll only stay on the job for a year or so.

Vilaseca has been Commissioner of Education since 2009; now that his department has achieved cabinet status, he becomes Secretary. But he wants to leave within a year, so a national search for our second Ed-Sec will begin in a few months.  

Vilaseca explained the unusual move this way:

When I first took the position [of Commissioner] four years ago, one of the things I was hoping to do was to have some consistency in this position. We had had a revolving door of comer’s over the previous decade, and one of the commitments I made was to about five years.

… With so much going on, and our close relationship right now, and with the change from a dept to an agency and all the other work that needs to be done, I think that it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to make this transition smoother.

Shumlin hinted at major initiatives on education to come in his State of the State address next week, but he refused to give any details.

Also two former lawmakers are joining the Shumlin team. Ex-State Rep. Lucy Leriche will become Deputy Secretary of Commerce, replacing Patricia Moulton Powden. Former Rep. Floyd Nease is assuming the newly devised post of Director of Systems Integration in the Agency of Human Services, where he will try to create a “one-door” entry point for Vermonters seeking assistance from an array of programs.

Also moving to AHS with a brief to make services more accessible and efficient is Susan Bartlett, former State Senator and current Special Assistant to the Governor. She will become Special Projects Coordinator in AHS, focusing on paving the way for low-income Vermonters to get the training and education they need to move up in the workforce.

In answer to a question, Shumlin expressed opposition to a proposed moratorium on wind power development, and (again) reiterated his opposition to any increases in broad-based taxes.

The funnest part of the presser was near the end, when Shumlin parried a barrage of questions about gun control. (The pen may be mightier than a sword, but is it mightier than a Bushmaster AR-15?)  The transcript coming up… after the jump.

The gun-control exchange occurred near the end of the presser. It began when the Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck asked a question about education reform. Before Shumlin answered it, he paused and made a statement in response to Terri’s blogpost earlier this week in which she pointed out inconsistencies between Shumlin’s deference to the federal government on gun control, and his advocacy for Vermont to lead the way on a variety of other issues.

Shumlin: I just want to point out that I just pointed out that the federal government can lead in some areas, like taxation.

Hallenbeck: But not on all?

Shumlin: I just wanted to point out that I’m consistent.

He then answered her question. Whereupon Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz of Seven Days asked a follow-up that launched the exchange. The transcript is below; reporter’s questions in italics, and Shumlin’s answers — well, really more like non-answers — are in plain text. It’s a long transcript, but I thought it worth presenting as a whole, because it’s such a classic example of a politician determined to evade uncomfortable questions.


Heintz: Do you disagree with Terri’s thesis?


Heintz: On energy, we can’t do much to stop global warming in tiny Vermont. That seems to be something we should try to make a difference in, but on guns, it’s not worth trying?

Listen, there are areas where a Governor must lead and areas where the federal government must lead. And what I feel very strongly is that it’s up to me to lead when the federal government isn’t. The federal government isn’t leading on single payer health care; they won’t even say the word. They’re not leading on renewables.

Heintz: Are they leading on gun control?

Well, the last I saw, the President of the United States held a press conference and asked the Vice President to lead a group that will come up with a national policy to deal with a crisis that we have before us, and get results. I have confidence in them to do their job.

Heintz: Well, the President is trying to lead on health care, he’s trying to lead on energy.

Slow down. When was the last time you heard the President of the United States advocate for a single-payer health care system in America?

Heintz: I recall him passing a pretty comprehensive health care bill.

If that bill would solve our health care problems, we wouldn’t be working so hard to build a better system here. You know the special interests in Washington will not allow a single-payer health care system to pass, and we think we can get it done here in Vermont.

Heintz: And the special interests in Washington probably won’t allow a strong —

Let’s give ’em a chance. The President has just embarked on an effort which he hasn’t done in the past, to come up with some comprehensive solutions to our problems with gun crime and violence in America.

Peter Hirschfeld, VT Press Bureau: Vermont legislators could pass a bill this session —

It’s not an unreasonable position, Paul.

Hirschfeld: — that would prevent a mentally unstable person form walking into R&L Archery and buy a high-capacity magazine for his assault rifle. Why shouldn’t they do that?

Because he can go buy it in New Hampshire, in another state, or go online or buy it at a gun show. My point is, you need a 50-state solution.  We’re not an island.

Hirschfeld: Why not take that step?

Because it doesn’t work. As you know, Connecticut has tougher gun laws than Vermont. Enough said.

Heintz: And most states have different energy laws. I’m not understanding the difference when we should lead and when we shouldn’t lead.

We should lead when the federal government won’t. The President of the United States gave a very compelling press conference on this subject with the Vice President next to him. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Joe Biden, and I think we can only solve this problem with a 50-state solution.

Heintz: So if they fail, and the Republicans still control the house, if the President fails at advancing that legislation, then you will subsequently take a leadership role?

The problem, Paul, is the state-by-state solution, in this case, won’t work. In the case of health care, we cn actually get single payer health care for Vermonters. We can actually build renewables and have a cleaner carbon footprint, and in the future, I believe, cheaper, more reliable energy. In the case of this challenge, when you can buy a gun in another state or on the Internet or at a gun show, Vermont does not have the power to solve the problem. It’s that simple. It’s common sense.

Heintz: So you’ll veto any —

I didn’t say that. I welcome debate on any subject. Let’s see if I get sent a bill. I never, as you know, discuss when I might veto a bill. But I will tell you this: I believe that the solution to our challenges are for all 50 states to have the same rules apply to them.

Terri Hallenbeck: Do you agree that some restrictions should be made on guns?

Let’s see what they come up with.

Hirschfeld: Do you have an opinion on that?

I have this opinion. I have seven days in a week, shortest term of any Governor with the exception of two, and I focus on the things that I can change and that I can get done. This is not mine, this is the federal government’s job to fix.  

Unidentified reporter: Do you think a Vermonter should be able to walk into a gun store and buy an assault rifle?

I think the fed govt should come up with a 50-state solution.

Same reporter: But you, do you think a Vermonter, you’re a hunter, you like guns. Do you think a Vermonter should be able to go into a gun store and buy an assault rifle?

What I think doesn’t matter. They can. That’s the reality.

Heintz: Why doesn’t it matter? You’re the Governor.

Because I can’t change it for all 50 states. I’m not the President.

Hallenbeck: You couldn’t change DOMA either, but you argued that we need to chip away at that.

No, that’s a different story. In VT, we were the first state in the nation to make it possible for anyone who loved another person, who wanted to declare their love for the rest of their lives, to marry. That’s very different than the ability to buy an assault weapon.

Heintz: Do you regret any of the positions you took on that NRA questionnaire you filled out earlier this year?

No, for the reason that when I fill out those surveys, I fill them out in my capacity as Governor for the laws that we have in the State of Vermont.

Heintz: But had you been asked if you supported a federal ban on assault weapons or a ban on high-capacity ammunition, you would have said what?

I would have said no, not in Vermont.

Heintz: But would you have said you support a federal ban?

If it applied to all 50 states and was sensible, I’d obviously consider it, but since I don’t vote on federal bills, I’m not a member of Congress, I’m not the President of the United States, it’s not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

Heintz: Would you consider, or would you support? There’s a difference.

I want to see what they come up with.

Hallenbeck: What does sensible mean? Some people think sensible is “ban ’em all.’ Some people think sensible is ban none of them.

That’s why we’re going to have a vigorous debate.

Hallenbeck: Is sensible somewhere in the middle?

I think that Washington, working together with the Congress, the  President, Joe Biden, our Congressional delegation, can come up with a sensible answer to your question.

Dave Gram, Associated Press: As an American citizen, which you are, is it legitimate for you to have an opinion on what Congress should do on this issue?


Gram: Okay, so do you have an opinion about what Congress should do on this issue?

As I’ve said, there can’t be an American with a heartbeat who didn’t witness and go through together the tragedy in Connecticut and think that we have a sane policy in America, where people who shouldn’t have weapons of war have weapons of war. So I would like to see them come up with a policy that ensures that weapons of war are not in the hands of people who are going to go in and shoot up kindergarten kids in a classroom. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable position.

Heintz: Has your position changed at all since Newtown?

I’ve never been asked the question as if I were a federal person. If you’re asking me, do I think that we need to make changes so that people who are gonna go shoot up little kids in a school shouldn’t have assault weapons, the answer is absolutely, yes.

Heintz: But I’m just saying, have you personally  —

Yes, I’ve evolved. Yes. That incident has definitely changed my opinion in terms of the federal government’s necessity to come up with a 50-state solution to the challenge. I want to add that Aurora, Colorado made us all think. There have been a number of tragedies that just don’t make any sense. So we have a national problem.

We have 250 to 300 million weapons being sold in America. You can’t buy a clip right now because folks are grabbing them up so fast. So we have a lot of weapons out there. The question is, how can we come up with a 50-state strategy that ensures that we get those weapons of war out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them?

Hallenbeck: Do you consider an AR-15 an assault weapon?

I really haven’t given it that much thought.

Hallenbeck: Because it’s an issue, with gun advocates saying it’s being misused as an assault weapon when it’s a semiautomatic.

I’m going to leave that definition to the Feds, who are going to solve this problem for us, we hope.

Heintz: You keep talking about weapons of war.

Hallenbeck: Is that a weapon of war?

Let’s see what they come up with.

Heintz: Is there anything you know of that is a weapon of war?

You know, I’m telling you folks, I’m not trying to mislead you or evade you. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what a weapon of war is because this isn’t the issue I’m focused on. I’m focused on jobs and economic prosperity for Vermonters, I’ve got to give a speech next week that charts a future for this state. Those are the things I work on every day. Because this isn’t a problem I’m solving — I’m not a member of Congress, I’m not the President of the United States, I don’t sit around and think about what the definition of automatic weapons should be. It’s that simple.

Thanks so much.

(That was his unsubtle signal that the press conference was over.)

One thought on “Updated: The Week of Three Pressers, pt. 2: Shufflin’, shuckin’ and jivin’

  1. Susan Bartlett, former State Senator and current Special Assistant to the Governor.

    I’m just curious: what does it pay to be “Special Assistant to the Governor”? Do you get a retainer, with a bump whenever you actually make a public appearance or respond to a request for advice or an order to resolve a thorny issue the governor doesn’t want to handle himself (aka providing “plausible deniability”)?

    Looks like Shummy’s padding the admin for AHS (where the now-head guy, Doug Racine, was the gov’s closest rival two years ago), just when his pledge not to raise “broad-based taxes” in the face of a $250 million budgetary shortfall will likely require some serious AHS budget cutting for services.

    If I were receiving benefits or assistance from AHS and saw them disappear without a word in opposition, while the Democratic governor makes the agency’s administration more top-heavy with heavy-hitter Democrats (i.e., Bartlett and Neace), I might be excused for feeling a certain amount of cynicism and disgust.


    Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

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