by Peter Freyne
No brown bags at Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington’s regular Friday noon-time “Brown Bag Lunch” with the Statehouse fourth estate. No lunch either, as usual.
And the fewest number of reporters we’ve seen this session - just four, including yours truly, AP, the Freeps and the Rutland Herald/Times Argus bureau which each provided a warm body in Speaker Gaye’s office.
Usual suspects who were missing were reps from Vermont Public Radio, WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV.
Hey, it’s not like she’s the governor, ferchrissakes, right?
It’s clear that Professor Symington views her mythical “Brown-Baggers” as an opportunity to update her class of note-taking reporters on where various items of legislative action are in the legislative process House-wise. Awfully nice of her. Such a Good Government Queen, eh?
Yours truly shut up for the housekeeping-type Q and A, instead taking a “big picture” “from-the-outside-looking-in” perspective. I noted that on the day before, we reporters had received Republican Gov. Jim Douglas’ "message," as we do every Thursday - a message that “all you people over here in the Legislature want to do is raise taxes!!!"
That’s the message Ol’ Scissorhands sends out every week, week after week, I noted. (And nobody does it better, eh?]
“He’s correct, isn’t he?” this reporter asked the Speaker who is allergic to "politics."
SYMINGTON: "What we are focusing on is addressing, in a real way, where Vermont is going, where Vermonters are headed, and what it’s going to take to have this be a prospersous state in the future. And I think that the kind of...that...my counter would be - I think that the proposals the Governor puts forward either ignore huge issues or takes a very short-sighted approach and do not serve the interest of the state in the long run.
"On proposal after proposal, what we are talking about is, in the long run, what’s the right thing to do to save money whether it’s through weatherization and energy conservation or promoting long-term stable contracts for renewable energy, or whether it’s by encouraging Vermonters to change their driving habits and making it available to the public, transit resources that allow them to do that. And I think we’re looking at what kinds of measures do we have to take now, and they’re not earth-shattering here, to build a more prosperous future.”
Got that? All over the map with the ultimate promise of a "prosperous future."
Pretty exciting, eh?
Look. In politics, it helps to be concise and focused. Trust me. Fewer words the better. Easier for the voters to remember. Duh!
Do you ever get the impression, that while they may both have second-floor offices under the golden dome, Gaye Symington, seen afterwards [right] connecting with Senate Boss Peter Shumlin in the cafeteria, and Gov. Jim Douglas are on different planets when it comes to politics?
The back-and-forth on more specfic matters continued for another 20 minutes or so. We learned among other things that Madame Speaker is, at 5’ 10 1/2”, the shortest member of her family, that she finds Professor Frank Bryan’s argument for a four-year gubernatorial term “compelling,” AND that she knew before the Democrats’ unsuccessful veto-override vote Thursday, that newly appointed Democratic Rep. Jon Anderson of Montpelier was voting “No” on the override and with the side of the damn Republican Governor who appointed him. Anderson had minimal support among Montpeculiar Ds and was not one of the top-three they recommended to Douglas to fill Francis Brooks' seat. (Francis was elected Sergeant at Arms.)
Maybe it was the Easter spirit, the Peter Rabbit inside of me that made me do it, but before things wrapped up, I felt like giving the House Speaker one last bite at the chocolate. Pitched Gaye a big, fat softball. However, she didn't see it as a big, fat softball. In fact, she got a wee bit defensive.
FREYNE: What’s the one thing, if there is one thing, that you would like the taxpayers of Vermont to know right now - out of this? Is there a message? What’s your message today? You’re all over the map, as usual, but is there a message?
SYMINGTON: You ask me that every week and I give you the same answer every week. You don’t like the answer, but I give you the same answer.
"The answer is that our focus is [on] what decisions do we need to make today that build a more prosperous state in the future. That we’re thinking long term and we’re willing to take some risks, and we’re willing to stand up even though, that what we do may be subject to , you know, the governor’s , ah, spin. We’re going to stand up and say this is the right thing to do, to create a more prosperous state in the future. To make sure as folks decide, as their kids are raising kids that they have good jobs, that they have affordable health care, that they have stable reliable energy, and that’s the work we’re up to and you see it in the bills we pass. You see it in every bill we pass. See it in education that there aren’t easy answers, but we’re willing to take some controversial first steps.
"You see it in energy and health care building on last years' first steps. We’re taking second steps.
"You see it in the budget and the kinds of choices that we make that within this box , smaller than we all wish it would be, and that doesn’t satisfy all the needs of the state, we’re going to say where do we need to be devoting our resources so that we’re not growing our corrections budget at the rate of 10 percent-a-year, so that we’re not, you know, building unsustainable future, or taking resources away from the promises we made when we established programs like Catamount [Health].
"That’s what we’re about."
Jim "Agenda of Affordability" Douglas has to be chuckling if he read the above. Some message, eh?
Ten words or less, Madame Speaker, a message that’ll ring in the ears of the commoners is what’s required in this business...and, yes, it is a business.
In fact, the talk in the building today was pretty clear - Vermont Democrats simply do not have a candidate on the radar screen to beat Gentleman Jim Douglas in 2008.
Potential challengers like Sens. Peter Shumlin, Jim Condos and Doug Racine aren't quite that stupid.
The talk is the Ds are searching for a sacrificial lamb for the 2008 gubernatorial.
Hey, anybody see 2006 Lite-Gov Candidate Matt Dunne lately?