All posts by jvwalt

“It was all a joke!”

A video that appeared just after midnight today on the Campaign for Vermont website has sent shock waves across the Vermont political landscape.

In a clip allegedly recorded in an unnamed tax haven, former Wall Street plutocrat Bruce Lisman announced that his last three years of dabbling in state politics was all an elaborate prank.

“I can’t believe you rubes took me seriously!” he said, lounging on a plush sofa with his trophy wife, as they clinked their champagne glasses together. “Me — Bruce Lisman, super-rich Master Of The Universe — waste my time and energy on Vermont? Bwahahahahaha!

“It was all a joke, and you fell for it!”

Lisman went on to explain the origin of his caper.

“We were driving our Bentley — well, Manfred was driving, we were in the back, of course — and we saw this old schmo by the side of the road with a ‘WILL WORK FOR FOOD’ sign. And you [he points to his wife] said, ‘Gee, honey, he looks just like you after a long weekend!’

“I realized she was right. And the idea came to me just like that!”

Lisman hired the man on the spot. And while Lisman lived it up in his luxurious hideaway, his doppelgänger moved into the Lisman manse in Shelburne and began appearing in public as “Bruce Lisman” offering his insights into the Vermont economy. The real Lisman thought it would just be a brief escapade, a little something to chuckle about at the country club, but it turned into much more.

“I couldn’t believe you bought the swill he was peddling! So we just rolled with it. Pretty soon, a bunch of those gullible Vermont ‘elites’ had signed on board. Boy, were they easy to fool! Especially that Pelham guy — what a maroon!”

He also mocked the reporters and pundits who constantly speculated about him running for Governor. “Why the hell would I waste my time being Governor?” he said. “I could buy and sell the entire misbegotten state if I wanted to. But it’s not worth the bother.”

Lisman ended the video by announcing he’d fired his double and stopped writing checks to Campaign for Vermont.

“It’s been a blast, but it’s all over now. So long, suckers!”

Big ol’ lead airliner

Crossposted on The Vermont Political Observer.

There’s an absolutely devastating piece on VTDigger this morning. If you haven’t read it, go. Now.

For those who didn’t immediately take my advice, the story outlines the role Governor Shumlin played in holding a pillow over single payer health care’s face until it stopped breathing. Or, as the headline says, “Shumlin built ‘lead airplane’ for single payer.”

If the story is true, here’s basically what happened. At some point, the governor decided that he couldn’t win on single payer. Then, rather than face the music directly, he larded his single payer proposal with assumptions that added to its cost and suppressed its revenues. As the story says, “he cast the program in the most negative light possible.”

And then he walked away.

After the jump: the grim details.

How did he do it?

Well, first of all, he presented only one plan, when he’d promised a menu of options.

Aside from that, his plan offered top-shelf coverage, paying for 94% of clients’ health care costs – a 94 Actuarial Value. He could have gone with a lower figure; “Act 48, Vermont’s single payer law, directed the administration to shoot for a plan that covered 87 percent of costs.”

So he ignored the law. Not much new there.

The 94 AV added $300 million a year to single payer’s cost.

He also chose to add out-of-state residents who work in Vermont, which added another $200 million. And he called for the elimination of Vermont’s provider tax, which cut $160 million in revenue.

He also chose to assume the new system would yield no administrative savings – which had been one of his big selling points for single payer.

You can see where this is going. Shumlin projected a first-year cost of $2.6 billion, but he could have brought in a perfectly acceptable plan for well under $2 billion.

And he knew it. And he chose not to tell us.

The massive report released by the administration at year’s end included not one, but 15 plans. But Shumlin chose to present only one.

Among the 15 different models in the document dump is Financing Concept 12, which uses an 87 percent actuarial value and would require $1.6 billion in state revenue for the first year.

It excludes out-of-state workers and does not offer supplemental coverage to federal employees or people with employer sponsored coverage, all of which is contained in the plan Shumlin chose.

It’s hard to read that and feel anything other than betrayal.

Maybe there were perfectly sound reasons for Shumlin’s choices, but he didn’t give them and he didn’t provide any options. Instead, he “buried” them in his pre-holiday document dump.

So, Vermont misses a chance at single payer. Even worse, the entire idea of single payer has been significantly set back, perhaps by decades. Because now we have a liberal governor, a strong advocate of single payer, concluding that it’s not practical.

This hurts.

The new boss can’t be as bad as the old boss, right? …Right?

Crossposted at The Vermont Political Observer, and written late Monday morning.

On November 12, 2012, I wrote a piece on this very blog entitled:

Expect IBM to leave Vermont within three years. No matter what we do.

And today comes the news that IBM is “selling” its semiconductor business, including its plant in Essex Junction, for negative $1.5 billion. Yep, it’s paying GlobalFoundries to take the business off its hands.

Allow me a little tiny bit of gloating here. Mmmmm, ahhhh.

Okay, get on with it.

That GMD post was inspired by the work of technology journalist Robert X. Cringely, who’d reported that IBM was in an all-out blitz to shed domestic workforce and basically cut itself into profitability. My point was that if IBM left Vermont, it’d be because of global corporate strategy. Not because we didn’t build the Circ Highway or our electric rates are too high or then-Senate leader Peter Shumlin once called an IBM lobbyist a “liar.” (Which, Republicans, just stop. It happened years ago. And if a lobbyist and his employer takes lasting umbrage at an offhand comment during the heat of legislative debate, well, they’re just way too damn sensitive.)  

So here we are, less than two years later, and IBM is on its way out.

My prediction was right on the facts — but wrong on the implication that IBM’s Essex plant was a goner. Fortunately, GlobalFoundries sees potential in the plant and/or its skilled workforce. In the short run, this is very good news, because the way things were going at IBM, it’s a relief not to have thousands of good jobs and the Chittenden County economy dependent on Big Blue.


While GlobalFoundries is saying all the right things  — it plans “to provide jobs for ‘substantially all’ IBM employees at both Essex Junction and East Fishkill who are part of the transferred business,” it assured Governor Shumlin that it “plans to continue employment, investment, and operations in Vermont,” and it told the Burlington Free Press that it is committed to Essex for the “foreseeable future” — this deal should not significantly reduce the concerns over the Essex plant’s future.

After all, it’s not like GlobalFoundries has a lot invested in Essex. It agreed to accept a boatload of money and the IBM chip business. And when you combine the GF and IBM chip capabilities, you’ve got two manufacturing plants in the Hudson River Valley — one of which is a brand-new $8 billion facility — and one up here in Essex. If there’s any consolidation in GF’s future, I’d have to guess it’ll lean to the south.

Aside from the fact that reassurances like this are worth approximately the toilet paper they’re written on, there are some obvious caveats in today’s crop.

GlobalFoundries says it “plans” to provide jobs for “substantially all” IBM employees at Essex “whoa re part of the transferred business.” That’s a lot of weasel words in a single sentence. “Plans” can change. “Substantially all” is a matter of definition. And how many in the Essex workforce are NOT “part of the transferred business”? Will they be cut by IBM? If given the opportunity to remain at IBM, will they have to relocate? After all, IBM won’t have a presence in Vermont anymore.

Governor Shumlin is meeting with GlobalFoundries officials later today. Color me cynical, but I’d expect GF to put the screws to the Governor. The corporation will provide generic promises and make very specific demands. And the Governor is in a weak bargaining position: he knows that the Essex plant means a lot more to Vermont than it does to its new owner. He might even come out of the meeting with a piece of paper in hand, proclaiming a new deal that’s good for Vermont and for GlobalFoundries.

Not that I could blame him. We’re over a barrel with the Essex plant. Its closure would be a huge blow to our economy. In the short term, the IBM/GF deal is good for the state — if only because I’d hate to continue depending on the good graces of IBM. But there’s a whole lot of worms in this apple, and the moral of the story continues to be “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

I grew up in Michigan, a state that grew and prospered with the domestic auto industry. The Big Three had its roots in Detroit. It did a lot of good for Detroit. But when the global winds shifted, they had to shift with the times, and Detroit was left to hang. The takeaway: it’s not healthy to be too dependent on one business or market sector. Sooner or later, it’s gonna bit you in the butt.

IBM’s departure should be a reminder, or a wake-up call: Vermont’s economy should be as diversified as possible. Eventually, the winds are going to shift again, and we need to be ready.  

Jim Douglas accuses Governor Shumlin of public corruption

Crossposted at The Vermont Political Observer.

The most dramatic moment of Saturday’s first gubernatorial debate had nothing to do with the 2014 campaign or the positions of the four candidates. Instead, it emerged from former Governor Jim Douglas’ new memoir, “The Vermont Way.” At about the 36-minute mark, moderator Mark Johnson asked Governor Shumlin about a passage in the book.

Here is the direct quotation from Douglas’ book, as read by Johnson:

“The Senate leader, who succeeded me in the governorship, was a strong proponent of gay marriage. Since he was nominated by a scant 200 votes in the Democratic primary, their support may well have provided the margin of victory. He later reciprocated by appointing one of the leading lobbyists of the movement to the Vermont Supreme Court.”

Am I the only one who is shocked by that?

Jim Douglas is accusing Peter Shumlin of public corruption at the highest level – of giving away a seat on our state’s highest court as part of a political deal. By doing so, he implies that the recipient of Shumlin’s putative largesse, Beth Robinson, is unqualified to be on the Court.

Jim Douglas has said repeatedly that he isn’t in the business of criticizing his successor. He sure has a funny way of showing it.

Not only did Douglas think this, not only did he say it – he committed it to writing in his own official account of his years in office. (His editor/publisher, Democratic State Senator Chris Bray, allowed it to stand. What was he thinking?)

This is despicable, and Douglas deserves full criticism for it. And it is certainly not, in the words of his self-aggrandizing title, “The Vermont Way.”

Funny thing, though: Every media outlet in the state produced stories about the Douglas memoir. As far as I know, not a single one mentioned this passage, in which Jim Douglas accuses Peter Shumlin of public corruption. A crime.

Mark Johnson was the first, and only, media person to report this.

Most of the media accounts of the Douglas memoir (aside from Paul Heintz’ hard-hitting review in Seven Days) were softball affairs. They sorta mentioned Douglas’ long-held grudges against the media, but otherwise downplayed anything that might be controversial or reflect badly on Douglas. That is a remarkable failure by our watchdogs of the Fourth Estate.

By the way, the other three candidates for Governor recognized a white-hot potato when they saw it. None expressed the tiniest bit of criticism for Shumlin or Robinson. They all, including Republican Scott Milne, backed away from the question as fast as they could. None even mentioned the name “Jim Douglas.” A wise choice.

Rank hath its privileges

Crossposted over yonder at The Vermont Political Observer.

Well, well. Looks llike there was more to the story of Louis Freeh’s car wreck than we were led to believe.

The former FBI director was driving on state Route 12 in Barnard on August 25 when his vehicle left the road and smashed into a tree and some shrubs. It’s assumed that he fell asleep at the wheel. State police had said they would not seek charges nor even write a ticket. But look what the Burlington Free Press’ Mike Donoghue dug up:

An out-of-control SUV driven by former FBI Director Louis Freeh almost struck head-on three motorists, who were forced to take evasive action to avoid crashing in southern Vermont, according to one of the drivers.

The driver, Van Coleman, gave a written statement to a Windsor County deputy sheriff, who was the first police officer on the scene of the Aug. 25 crash of Freeh’s vehicle. Deputy Sheriff Justin Hoyt said he gave the eyewitness report to state police.

Donoghue reports that a motorcycle and two cars were forced to “swerve into the left lane when Freeh’s vehicle crossed the center line… and headed at the trio at a high rate of speed.”

Apparently, Coleman’s account failed to make it up the chain of command. VSP spokesperson Stephanie Dasaro, who issued three news releases that didn’t mention the close calls, said “I did not have that level of detail.” And Public Safety Commissioner told Donoghue “This is the first I have heard about that.”

Flynn added that he “would ask for an explanation.”

He’d better. This smells as bad as a week-old fish. If Freeh is not charged or ticketed, the State Police needs to provide a solid, thorough, convincing explanation. Otherwise it’ll look like the Good Old Boys’ Network got the better of justice.

Corry Biiss, serial Republican loser, continues to fail upward

(Abridged version of a pair of posts on The Vermont Political Observer.)

Out in Kansas, the reddest of red states, the Republicans are uncharacteristically nervous. Their longtime U.S. Senator, Pat Roberts, might actually lose the election due to a combination of his own lackluster efforts and the emergence of a popular independent.

Sensing trouble, the national GOP has parachuted in a veteran operative to take the reins of Roberts’ troubled campaign.

And the name of Pat Roberts’ would-be hero?

Corry Bliss.

Corry freakin’ Bliss.

Good God in Heaven.

Bliss, for those with short memories, is widely credited with bringing the Jim Douglas era to a crashing halt by piloting Brian Dubie’s gubernatorial campaign straight into the ground. He’s a prime example of a Republican campaign consultant who loses every time but somehow continues to get new gigs. And I mean every time: Bliss’ record is a stunning 0 wins, 7 losses.

His appalling career includes managing the re-election defeats of a pair of Virginia Republicans, helming the very expensive campaign of pro wrestling magnate Linda McMahon to a 12-point defeat, and managing the unsuccessful campaign of Karen Handel for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia earlier this year. But he’s best known around these parts for piloting the 2010 gubernatorial campaign of Brian Dubie straight into the ground. Or, as one informed observer put it:

“Corry Bliss took a candidate that was up 20 points and turned him into a loser by election day,” said Bradford Broyles, a Republican activist from Mendon, a town in the central part of the state, near Killington. “We’re still repairing the damage to the Republican party.”

Bliss ended his Vermont tenure by writing a court-ordered letter of apology to settle a libel suit.

Everywhere he’s gone, he’s been known for his scorched-earth tactics. Often, in the process, tarnishing the image of a politician formerly known as a good guy. Sound familiar, Brian?

After the jump: Corry Bliss’ other new job.

More details of Bliss’ dismal career are available in this GMD post or over at the VPO. And now, despite Bliss’ 0-7 record, he’s been called upon to save Pat Roberts’ political hide.

But wait — that’s not all! Bliss has also signed onto Texas Governor Rick Perry’s new political action committee; he’s serving as assistant treasurer for RickPAC. I don’t know why Republicans keep hiring the Joe Bftsplk of modern politics, but his presence at RickPAC should keep America safe from the potential catastrophe of a Rick Perry presidency.  

The existential uncertainty of the Scott Milne campaign

(Adapted and condensed from posts on The Vermont Political Observer.)

Is it really happening? Is he really serious about running for Governor? Is this some bizarre work of performance art?

Who knows. Who cares, really. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, or stranger, for Scott Milne, it gets worserer. And strangerer.

Take his latest campaign finance statement, filed today.

Total donations, since the last filing deadline on August 18: $10,305. For his campaign so far: $53,000.

Total expenditures: $33,000 since August 18, and $62,000 for the campaign. In other words, it’s two months until election day and the Milne campaign is in the red.

Well, it would be, except that Milne loaned his own campaign $25,000. (Something that, earlier in his campaign, he vowed never to do.)

But wait, there’s more bad news within those numbers. Of the $10,305 total, $7,350 came from people named Milne or Milne-related businesses. The breakdown:

— $2,000 from Milne Travel

— $2,000 from B&M Realty, the firm co-owned by Scott Milne and David Boies III

— $2,000 from Donald Milne

— $1,000 from George Milne

—    $350 from Jonathan and Nancy Milne

Aside from that, Milne managed to raise less than $3,000.

As for expenditures, he threw almost $19,000 into pre-primary TV ads. He also paid another $4,600 to campaign manager Brent Burns’ firm “Pure Campaigns LLC.” And he spent $2,500 on his infamous Tele-Town Meeting.

So here we are, at the launch point of Milne 2.0 – the time when he pivots from attacking Governor Shumlin’s record to finally, belatedly, rolling out his own policy ideas – and he’s in negative territory.

And on top of that, he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. Last Saturday, the Milne campaign released his schedule for the coming week. It included the equivalent of approximately two days of campaign activity. In an entire week.

The details:

Sat 8/30: Four hours at the Champlain Valley Fair

Sun 8/31: No events.

Mon 9/1: Walking the Labor Day Parade in Northfield

Tue: 9/2: A full day of activities in Bennington County, from 9 am to 6 pm.

Wed 9/3: An apparent joint event with former Gov. Jim Douglas at 2 pm in Burlington, and a live interview on WCAX-TV in the late afternoon.

Thu 9/4: Nothing listed

Fri 9/5: “No Public Appearances – Meeting Policy Advisors”

It’s things like this that make me wonder if Scott Milne is actually running for Governor. Seriously. This is the last week before Governor Shumlin formally enters the race. It’s Milne’s last chance to have the stage to himself. And he’s doing nothing to draw media attention outside of the tiny Bennington market and one short interview on Channel 3.

When Milne formally announced his candidacy, he promised “a spirited, but unconventional” campaign. Well, it’s certainly unconventional. But spirited? Only if you mean it in the sense of “ghostly,” “apparitional,” or “insubstantial.”

The Artful Roger has a moment of artlessness

Crossposted at The Vermont Political Observer.

Oh dear. The Republicrat candidate for State Senate in Windham County, Roger Allbee, put his foot in it at a candidates’ forum last week.

For those just joining us, The Artful Roger is a longtime Republican and Ag Secretary under Jim Douglas, but he’s now running in the Democratic primary because, well, a Republican can’t possibly win in Windham. Or because of principle, your choice.

Anyway, there he was on August 21 at the American Legion Post 5 in lovely Brattleboro, along with the three actual Democrats in the race: incumbent Jeanette White, plus Becca Balint and Joan Bowman. Fortunately for all of us, the local community access cable folks recorded the event and posted it online. So we can all witness Allbee’s closing statement, which included the following example of acute political tone-deafness:

Whoever is elected represents all the people, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, they’re colored, they have alternative preferences, we represent everyone in the county. Everyone. We represent every citizen.

If you want to hear it for yourself, it’s right at the 108-minute mark.

Wow. How many people did Allbee offend in that one sentence? Well, obviously, “colored” is a longtime no-no. There’s also “alternative preferences,” by which he apparently means LGBT. But as we all know, “preference” is the right-wing code word for “you’ve got a choice, and you chose EVIL.” I guess he just can’t bring himself to utter the dreadful word “GAY.”

Plus there’s the Republican formulation of “Democratic.”


I haven’t had time to go back and listen to the whole forum, but based on this one statement, I have to say I really, really hope that the voters don’t choose this guy as a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.

Sorry, Rog. I mean “Democrat Party.”

Marion Milne 1935-2014

Crossposted at The Vermont Political Observer.

I’m saddened to hear of the death of Marion Milne, pioneering lawmaker, businessperson, and mother of gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne. VTDigger reports that she “died unexpectedly Monday morning at her home in Washington.”

I saw her in person for the first time at Milne’s campaign launch last month, and now I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself and express my respect.

Marion Milne founded the family travel agency in 1975 shortly after graduating from Goddard College. That agency has grown and thrived under her leadership and Scott’s, during very challenging times for the travel agency field.

Of course, her most significant public moment came in 2000, when she was one of a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of Vermont’s groundbreaking civil unions law – the first step on the road to marriage equality. For her courage, she was voted out of office that fall after serving three terms in the State House. Today, only 14 years later, it’s hard to recall the deep passions the issue brought forth — and the consequences faced by Milne and her fellows. 

From a post-election account: 

Milne knew her vote could lead to the end of her career, as did others. State Rep. John Edwards, who represents two towns along the Canadian border, also got the boot in what became a single-issue race. Edwards, a former state trooper, said he started to get that sinking feeling while standing at a polling place Tuesday. He noticed the averted gazes, the voters who had never turned out before, the thumbs-up signs directed at the other two candidates.

… Edwards said he has lost longtime friends. Milne has endured slurs like “queer lover” aimed at her and her 13-year-old grandson and watched her travel agency lose business.

“There are a lot of people angry with me,” she said from her home, shaking her head.

She had endured a bitter campaign, often encountering hostility while going door-to-door and finding herself alienated from former supporters and friends. She was on the right side of history, but that must have been cold comfort at the time. And, as owner of a high-profile business that served the public, she almost certainly lost some clients as well as constituents.

Marion Milne was a hard worker till the end, as reflected in this word from the Milne family: “On the day she died, Marion had an appointment to have her hair done, planned to work at her desk in the travel agency, and attend a board meeting for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.”

I’ve written plenty about Scott Milne’s campaign, but now is not the time for partisanship. It’s a time for respect, love, and family. My best wishes to the entire Milne family and the agency, and to Scott, now faced with carrying on a long-odds campaign shadowed by the loss of his mother and business partner.

Godspeed, Marion Milne.

A conservative shitwar is breaking out

Hoo boy. Talk about your circular firing squads.

The already-measly ranks of Vermont conservatism are in danger of being decimated from within, as various worthies battle for pieces of a very tiny pie.  

I’ve reported on this in more detail at The Vermont Political Observer, but I’ll summarize for those who just want a nice warm dose of schadenfreude on this uncharacteristically chilly August night.

The first shot was fired by VTGOP Chair “Super Dave” Sunderland who, faced with something of a revolt in his ranks, sent out a letter warning fellow Republicans not to associate with the Libertarian Party. The Libs’ candidate for Governor, Dan Feliciano, is openly courting write-in votes in the Republican primary. Sunderland’s note included the following:

Let’s be clear about this:  Vermont Libertarians would release all the heroin traffickers and professional dealers who have peddled their poison on our streets.  And all those felons who were arrested, charged and brought to justice by dedicated members of law enforcement for importing and profiting from the hardest and most addictive drugs would be set free and have their criminal records expunged if the Vermont Libertarians had their way.  Then what?  You know the answer:  They’d be back at it.

That’s a rank exaggeration of the Libs’ stand on drugs. They favor decriminalization and the release of all prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. Most of the high-level bad guys are in stir for violent crimes as well as drug charges, and the Libs have no intention of releasing them.

It makes me wonder what Sunderland is so worried about. Usually, the Libs wouldn’t be worth his time. Can it be that he actually fears a Feliciano victory over Milne? If so, it speaks volumes to the state of our Grand Old Party.  

Sunderland’s rant triggered a very unfortunate reaction on Twitter by Darcie “Hack” Johnston, failed Republican operative turned Feliciano supporter.  

She brought up Republican Scott Milne’s youthful violations — which happened more than thirty years ago — and painted Milne as “more likely to be in favor of illicit hardcore drugs” than Feliciano.

An extremely low blow, that, even by the Hack’s standards. And Feliciano, rather than disavowing those gutter tactics, basically echoed Johnston’s words.

And the cherry on this shit sundae? The Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck reports an emerging split in Libertarian ranks over Feliciano’s solicitation of Republican support, and his failure to support key parts of the Lib platform. (Including their stand on drugs.)

To sum up, we have Republicans battling each other in very harsh terms, we have the party’s choice for Governor in a very serious fight with an unknown Libertarian for the Republican nomination, and we have the tiny Libertarian Party itself splitting over Feliciano’s candidacy.

Should be an entertaining last couple of weeks before the primary. Get your popcorn ready.