Ya gotta feel a little sorry for Vermont Democrats.
They dominate the state legislature, holding 94 out of 150 seats in the House and 23 out of 30 seats in the Senate. They control four of the six statewide offices (governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer). They occupy two of Vermont’s three seats in Congress — and the third guy caucuses with the Dems.
You’d think that with the Dems’ iron grip on the state’s politics and purse strings, Vermonters would show them a little respect.
Last Saturday, some cranky labor activists, uppity environmentalists and those damned “occupy” hippies had to go and ruin a pair of perfectly polite Democratic gatherings — one a fundraiser — with pesky demands for fair treatment of state employees, protection of the state’s ridgelines and taxation of the rich to help the “99 percent.”
Next thing you know they’ll be asking for “hope” and “change.”
The Democrats’ no good, very bad day started inside the Barre Municipal Auditorium when party chairman Jake Perkinson quashed an effort to vote on a pro-labor resolution at the party’s annual organizational meeting, pissing off members of the Democratic State Committee, many of them union members.
The Lamoille County Democratic Committee approved the resolution three weeks ago, after Gov. Peter Shumlin called state workers “greedy in a time of crisis” for seeking emergency pay for work they did in the immediate aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. The Washington County Democratic Committee followed suit, passing the same resolution in support of the 80 state employees who brought the grievance.
Perkinson, a Burlington attorney, refused to allow the resolution to come to the floor for debate under “new business” because not all committee members received a copy of the resolution five days prior to the meeting — a stipulation required in the party’s bylaws.
Supporters cried foul that the party leader was using parliamentary tricks to defeat a grassroots measure that spoke to the core of the party’s beliefs.
“I think this shows the Democratic Party is more concerned about raising money and getting candidates elected than holding candidates accountable to the party platform once they are elected,” said Conor Casey, a member of the Democratic State Committee and interim co-executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, the union that represents state workers. “Labor issues used to be the bread and butter of this party.”
Casey, along with other state committee members, briefly walked out of the meeting in anger.
“For the first time, I am actually disgusted to be a Democrat,” Peter Burgess, chairman of the Lamoille County Democrats, told Fair Game as he left the meeting. “This was just shameful.”
Burgess said he plans to reintroduce a similar resolution to the full state committee at its next meeting in January. By then, more details should be known about just how badly Team Shumlin wants to stick it to state workers.
The two sides are presently in bargaining talks, and word is the administration may renege on its promise to restore a 3 percent pay cut accepted by state workers last year, and freeze pay for two years going forward.
Stuff that in your holiday turkey!
Protest the Plutocracy
A few hours after state Democratic leaders angered labor activists, 50 environmentalists from around Vermont confronted the governor, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other lefty bigwigs as they entered the Socialist Labor Party Hall in Barre for the party’s fall fundraising dinner.
The group was protesting the industrialization of Vermont’s ridgelines, specifically the Shumlin administration’s approval of the Lowell Mountain wind farm, and the state’s increasingly cozy relationship with the wind farm’s developer, Green Mountain Power.
Shumlin arrived with an entourage that poured out of his taxpayer-funded, gas-guzzling Ford Expedition and strode over to the protesters to mingle as they chanted, “Save our mountains!” and sang “We have had enough!” One protester repeatedly asked him, “How much are you getting from GMP, governor?”
The gov didn’t take questions or offer much of a defense. He just smiled and attempted to shake hands — most refused.
Peggy Sapphire, one of the rally organizers, was happy with the turnout, given that most people had less than 24 hours’ notice to attend.
“There is a mind-set that what happens in the Northeast Kingdom is very far away, but that doesn’t mean we’re voiceless,” said Sapphire, who lives in Craftsbury. “It takes a lot to agitate people like this, but the governor and GMP have managed to do it.”
One of the agitated was Eric Wallace-Senft of Woodbury. He held a sign that read, in part, “You are the Gov. of Vermont Not the Bedfellow of GMP.”
“When Gov. Shumlin opposed Vermont Yankee, he was doing the right thing and we supported him. But then Green Mountain Power turns around and buys power from Seabrook [Nuclear Power Plant] and he says nothing,” said Wallace-Senft. “He’s allowing Green Mountain Power to get everything it wants. We need to stop this kind of corporate dominance of our energy future.”
After Shumlin ran the gauntlet of protesters, he probably thought he had escaped the rabble.
He was wrong.
A half dozen people affiliated with Occupy Vermont disrupted the wine-and-cheese mixer to chant, “We are the 99 percent!” and “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” One protester even chastised Shumlin for refusing to tax the rich as a way to solve the state’s fiscal crisis.
Fundraiser attendees joined in the chants and applauded at the end, said Kevin Hurley, one of the Occupy Vermont protesters who videotaped the disruption. The video is posted on the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt.
“I am increasingly irritated by the polarization of the two parties and that’s why I’m a supporter of the occupation,” Hurley said. “The message, for me, is that it’s the plutocracy that’s dividing us.”
You’d think after the weekend’s events, Team Shumlin might have steered clear of labor issues for a few days. Or weeks. Nope.
Bright and early Monday morning, the gov (or a staffer) tweeted this message: “Vermont’s minimum wage is increasing to $8.46 an hour! Another reason why #VT is a great place to work, live and raise a family. #vtgov”
Really? Earning $17,500 a year allows one to work, live and raise a family? The gov should do his homework. You need almost four of those minimum-wage jobs to earn a “livable wage” in Vermont.
According to the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, a single parent with kids living in rural Vermont needs to earn $28 an hour to afford a “basic-needs budget” of housing, health care, transportation and, you know, food. The same person living in “urban” Vermont needs to earn $32 an hour.
Like the old saying goes, moonlight in Vermont … or starve.
Watching last weekend’s spat between labor-friendly Democrats and the powers-that-be was Democratic Party newcomer Anthony Pollina.
The longtime Progressive won a senate seat in Washington County last year as a “fusion” candidate — he sports both a “D” and a “P” after his name.
Pollina’s take on the Democratic dis of labor?
“I think it reaffirms the need for a Progressive Party — a party that stands up for regular folks,” said Pollina.
In fact, the Progs plan to take up a pro-labor resolution virtually identical to the one Democrats killed at their meeting last week. The Progs will meet at the Statehouse on November 19.
Could this be the start of a Progressive bid for governor in 2012?
On the party’s blog this week, Rep. Susan Davis (P/D-West Topsham) asked, “If the administration won’t support labor, why should labor support the administration in the next election?”
Progressive Party director Morgan Daybell told Fair Game that Pollina isn’t running for governor in 2012, and said it’s too early to tell if any other Prog will. “We’re several months away from even beginning that discussion,” he said. “We’ll know more once we get into the legislative session.”
The Progressives didn’t run a candidate in the 2010 election after Democrat Peter Shumlin promised to fight for key Prog priorities, namely enacting single-payer health care for Vermont, shutting down Vermont Yankee, and addressing shortfalls in the state pension and unemployment compensation funds without asking more from state employees or the jobless.
On the first two, Progs are likely to give Shumlin high marks. He’s continued the legal fight to shut down VY and to create a single-payer health care system, though it’s uncertain if he’ll prevail on either front.
On that last item, though, Shumlin’s actions and those of his party have shaken unions’ support — unions that worked hard last fall to help him eke out a 4000-vote victory over Republican Brian Dubie.
It’s unclear yet if Dubie will seek a rematch, but if he does, and a Prog jumps into the race, Shumlin knows all too well the likely result.
In 2002, Shumlin, Dubie and Pollina — then a Progressive — squared off in the lieutenant governor’s race. Shumlin and Pollina largely split the left and Dubie walked away the victor by more than 20,000 votes.
I’m taking a break from Fair Game next week to attend the inaugural New England First Amendment Institute.
The institute selected 25 journalists from around the region to take part in a three-day workshop for investigative journalists. Two other reporters from Vermont are attending: John Briggs of the Burlington Free Press and Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org.
In my stead, Andy Bromage will bring you the results of the Burlington Democratic mayoral caucus and the rest of Vermont’s political news.