For week three of "Fringe Friday," we feature independent candidate for governor Dan Feliciano, a corporate "change consultant" and workout buff who wants to run state government like a lean, mean business.
Fringe Friday is Seven Days' weekly web series about the independent and minor party candidates running for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate — many of whom are pitching more radical ideas for bettering the lives of average Vermonters.
While "fringe" might seem disparaging, we don't mean it that way. Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third party candidates on the ballot, giving voters the option to choose from a wide menu of ideologies. Still, these candidates rarely garner more than 1 percent of the vote, perhaps due to their less-traditional ideas, or poor organization or even lack of media exposure. As such, they remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
Candidate: Dan Feliciano
Office Sought: Governor
Education: Virginia Commonwealth University (bachelor of arts in Production Operations Management, 1997) Feliciano dropped out of high school, joined the Navy and later got his GED.
Occupation: Strategy and Change Consultant for IBM Global Business Services
Family: Feliciano grew up in Monroe, N.Y., 40 miles north of the Big Apple, the eldest of three children in what he says was a traditional Puerto Rican family — "Father worked, mother was home, rice and beans twice a day." His wife, Carol, is an MBA and stay-at-home mother. They have three children: Daniel, 12; Jaime, 10; and Julie, 5.
Platform: Feliciano subscribes to the Lean (developed by Toyota) and Six Sigma (developed by Motorola) business methods for making companies less wasteful and more efficient — and that's how he wants to run Vermont government. He's spent a career helping make businesses lean, a job that's often resulted in major jobs lost — a process he calls "brutal."
He's running to "cut spending and waste," especially in education and health care. Feliciano says he sees government waste first hand; his daughter Jaime is non-verbal autistic and gets state-mandated assistance from an aide every other week — not nearly often enough to make a difference for the child, he says. He wants to "improve productivity" of government and eliminate "fluff" in the state budget by creating a "cost-conscious culture," while at the same time streamlining state services that "coach" and "mentor" private companies to help them grow.
Social issues, however, are not on his agenda. "There's a lot of things getting in the way of running Vermont, like all those gay rights," he says. "I say, sign the legislation and be done with it. Let's move on. Imagine you're in the ER and you're dying and the doctor's like, "Hey, you want a manicure?" I don't want a freakin' manicure. I want you to save me. Let's focus on the key things. Gay marriage is a thing that's distracting people. I would say...bigger fish to fry."
We caught up with Feliciano at his Essex home earlier this week.
Seven Days: In a nutshell, what is your job?
DF: My job is to help public sector and private sector organizations develop the focus that they need to executive on a strategy. So how do we focus in on the few key things we need to accomplish and then how do we communicate that to employees and then develop the action plan and focus to stay on track to execute them. There's a lot of waste. You think you're doing the right thing. I'm doing what I think is the right thing. But I'm working counter-intuitive to what you're doing so there's waste involved. We're not doing the right things, we have different priorities because no one's really made that clear. So my job is to help businesses stay focused, on task with the right measures.
SD: How would you describe your own political views on the left-right spectrum?
DF: I'm very very fiscally conservative. I'm tight with the money. On the other side — socially — do what you want, but I don't want to pay the price. We need to get the government out of people's lives. For instance, the gay marriage thing. You love each other, have at it. You're gonna pay a higher tax rate, though.
SD: Have you ever run for office before?
SD: What inspired you to run for governor?
DF: I've been doing this consulting for public and private sector for a long time. And I see what [the gubernatorial candidates] are offering and bringing to the table. They have experience in the bureaucracy of things, but I haven't seen anyone who can really have the background to actually execute on what they're saying. From my background, I can look quickly and I can separate the hyperbole from the actual results of things. And I said, You know what, I'm doing this for private and public sector companies, and my wife and I were talking and she's like, Why don't you do that for the state of Vermont? Why don't you just come in, apply your techniques and skills, clean up the balance sheet, get rid of the waste. It's almost like declaring bankruptcy we can everything taken care of and we can move on from there."
SD: You make it sound so easy.
DF: It's focus, right? It takes focus and it takes the ability to execute and govern. Leadership to me is being involved in the game but also having expertise and experience to coach and mentor people through the process. One of the things that's going to be the biggest challenge is there's going to be a lot of re-education of the state employees because I'm going to demand a business-type model where — here are the results we've [wanted from] you, you need to be able to produce those results. We're not going to punish you but we're going to coach and mentor you because we know we failed you as leaders. We put you in a position where you can't execute well. But now we're going to fix that and move ahead. I call it cocooning. Get it wrapped around you. People are going to get excited. ...I can't be successful if I'm leaving everyone behind. I need everyone to come with me up the pyramid so we can reach the top.
SD: A lot of people talk about running government more like a business. Few people are really successful at that. Government is a really different animal, isn't it?
DF: Fort Wayne, Indiana. The mayor there fully embraced Six Sigma. I'm not saying that is going to be the magic pill. That's just one of the tools in a quiver of multiple other tools but it's a way to get at really nasty problems. The Army is using the program to cut down cost and waste. The Navy has embraced it. So those are big government entities with more bureaucracy than you'd have here in the state.
SD: Whoever becomes Vermont's next governor is going to inherit something like a $150 million budget deficit...
DF: Do you believe that?
SD: That's what they say.
DF: You know how budgets are created? In the federal government? It is a horrific process. I just went through it with two federal agencies and it's BS. The people creating the budgets don't have the financial and operational acumen to really understand the cost drivers of their businesses, so subsequently they just tack on numbers to the previous budgets that were passed. So I would argue that if I went in there and took someone's budget and said, "Show me your operation. Show me what's going on," I would find that budget was inflated by at least 20 percent. So that number they're talking about, I don't think it's nearly that large. A lot of it's fluffery and a lot of it's scare tactics. I'm sure it's padded with all sorts of future head counts that people are hoping for.
SD: What do you think is a more accurate estimate for the deficit in Vermont?
DF: Yeah, I have no idea and I think [Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt] Dunne has done a good job. Poor Dunne went out there trying to get data on what's going on in the state of Vermont. He found that you can't track it down. I think our financial tracking systems and the way we cost things are broken.
SD: You're not the first person who's talked about cutting spending and waste in these ways, and yet it hasn't been done. So what does that say to you about the challenge you'd face if you did get elected in accomplishing all these reforms?
DF: It hasn't been done because people didn't want it done. The problem is we're brokering all these deals on the side with our constituencies and our donors not to get things done. It takes someone who says, "You know what, I don't have that many alliances. My loyalty is to the job and it's not to you."
SD: What's a Vermont business success story in your view?
DF: IDX. Remember IDX? I was bought by GE Healthcare. That is by far -- and I've worked for a lot of companies -- is the best company I've ever worked for in my entire life. They had fabulous leadership, they had focus, they had great goals and objectives. Every day you went to work thinking, "This is my family, we're going to do a good job. We can do it together." They were doing cool shit for cool clients.
SD: How would you address Vermont's struggling dairy farms — both from an economic and environmental perspective?
DF: It's romantic — dairy farms. It can't stand on its own. I don't think we can continue to subsidize milk prices — it's not attractive, it's not popular, it alienates the dairy farmers and stuff like that. We should give them the same type of training I'm talking about now. How do we make them more productive and efficient and see if they can cut it on their own? If they can't, I'm sorry, you going to have to let big companies or something do it. ...It may come time to sell out.
SD: Let's talk about housing. Vermont, and Burlington in particular, have a serious shortage of quality, affordable housing. What would you do about that?
DF: I was reading on a plane somewhere that Vermont has the largest gap between median income and median home price, which makes the position even worse. I know it comes down to this Act 250 and permitting and stuff. We've gone overboard with that and we need to bring it back and say, "Here's the areas we're going to focus development in, and here's how we're going to build these homes."
SD: What do you do for fun?
DF: I like to work out. My wife and I actually work out together. There's this thing on TV — it's this infomercial, P90X. It's 12 DVDs, and you can get buff in 90 days. My wife and I have done that routine for over a year and a half now. I've lost over 30 pounds and I've never felt better in my life. And the kids see us do it. My autistic daughter Jaime, who's nonverbal, she can say Tony Horton (pictured). That was one of the first two words she can say. My wife and I like to head out and dance too. You're likely to find us at Retronome.
Previous Fringe Friday profiles:
Week 1: Emily Peyton, Independent candidate for governor
Week 2: Ben Mitchell, socialist (Liberty Union) candidate for governor