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Post-Partisanship Era? Puhleez

Fair Game


Published June 29, 2011 at 10:24 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

When Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the new health care bill into law last month, he gave a shout-out to a pair of Progressive politicians: Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington).

“Credit where credit is due: Pollina and Pearson have been on this for a while,” quipped Shumlin.

It’s true: Progressives have been calling for a single-payer health care system since they were all crawling around in red diapers.

Which is why it seems odd that the Vermont Democratic Party is now lambasting Progs for undermining health care reform.

Really? How?

In a fundraising email — titled “Redistricting Tactics Threaten Healthcare Reform” — Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg said an alliance between the two Progressives and two Republicans on the seven-member Legislative Apportionment Board would “threaten the success of Governor Shumlin’s health care plan and many other democratic efforts that we’ve all worked hard to advance.”

Not sure that letter helps Shumlin’s effort to keep Progressives happy by acknowledging their hard work and in return hoping they don’t (ahem) run a gubernatorial candidate in 2012. Or run against incumbent Democrats in Prog-leaning districts.

As “Fair Game” noted earlier this month, legislative reapportionment is usually as exciting as watching paint dry. Not this year.

Progressives and Republicans have embraced a plan to redraw the state’s House districts into 150 single-member districts, rather than the mix of single and two-member districts in place now. The current map helped Democrats create the “supermajority” they enjoy under the Golden Dome.

The Dems see no reason to mess with success, even if it means disenfranchising a few voters. It’s all for the greater good, right?

“This year the GOP and Progressive Party representative board members have taken an activist role and have politicized this process by threatening to reshape the entire landscape of the state in order to score electoral gains in 2012,” Bragg wrote in the fundraising email.

Local officials will soon review the LAB’s proposed House map. After that review, the LAB will put final touches on its proposal and send it to the legislature by August 15. A new political map for the state’s 30 senators will also be sent to the Senate on August 15.

Once the plans hit the legislature, lawmakers can accept them, rework them or toss them out and start fresh. One hundred sixteen of the 180 are Dems.

Progressives responded to Bragg’s email appeal with a mocking fundraising request of their own: “Partisanship Threatens Redistricting (but is good for fundraising).”

In the Progs’ email, party executive director Morgan Daybell responded directly to the Dem’s charge: “So what is the nefarious Progressive plan for killing health care? Apparently we will kill it by giving Vermonters greater access to their elected representatives!”

Daybell went on, “Thanks for reading, and for supporting the party that supported single-payer health care before it was another opportunity to compromise.”


Pollina sent a separate letter to Bragg, noting that all legislative Progressives played critical roles in shaping and championing the bill Shumlin signed into law. They all voted for it, too.

The same cannot be said for all Democrats. Reps. Jim Condon (D-Colchester) and Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) voted “no.” So did Sens. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden/Grand Isle) and Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans).

GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald said the Republicans have no intention of using the redistricting fracas to scare up some cash.

“It’s incredibly disingenuous that the Democratic Party has decided to use this as a fundraising opportunity,” said McDonald. “Our representatives on the board worked in good faith, as we are assuming so did the other members of the committee. The supermajority is in charge. There is no balance in Montpelier anymore. Once this recommendation gets to the legislature, it will be as the supermajority wants it — and that is a fact.”

She makes a good point.

House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) told “Fair Game” earlier this month that if there was any whiff of “political chicanery” he’d call the legislative apportionment board’s plan “dead on arrival.”

What if his own party is the source of the chicanery?

Park Your Politics

Large deficits and complex policy decisions can have a numbing effect on taxpayers. It’s the little perks and privileges pols grant themselves that really piss people off. That’s why it was surprising to see two potential mayoral candidates sponsoring a recent effort to give Burlington city councilors year-round free parking.

Councilors Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1), Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4), Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) sought the creation of a new city ordinance that would have given councilors carte blanche to park at any city-owned meter, garage or park free of charge — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It’d be great if more councilors led by example, getting around the city by bike or bus. But Burlington isn’t exactly a bike-friendly town.

In the end, councilors yanked the proposal late Monday night. Many had gotten heat from constituents who learned about it last Friday on the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt, or Sunday on NewsChannel 5.

You have to wonder what the hell Hartnett and Wright were thinking. Both represent the fiscally conservative New North End. Wright and Shannon are potential mayoral candidates.

It’s a perfect example of the tone deafness I noted in last week’s “Fair Game” — a disconnect the Burlington City Council shares with Mayor Bob Kiss.

Adrian said it’s unlikely he’ll reintroduce the measure. Instead, he’ll try to make the case for a boost in councilor pay. The part-time elected officials currently receive $3000 a year — poor compensation, according to Adrian, for all that work and oversight.

How much more should they get? On Blurt last week, Adrian noted that $15,000 to $20,000 a year is an average wage for councilors in cities comparable to Burlington.

Parting Ways

At his final Burlington City Council meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold was fêted with a bouquet of flowers and a special resolution extolling his many years of public service to the city.

Leopold retires on June 30 after serving two separate mayors — Mayor Bob Kiss and Mayor Bernie Sanders — over the past 30 years. Leopold is revered as a financial whiz and workaholic and reviled for being arrogant and secretive.

Two of his harshest council critics — Ed Adrian and Joan Shannon — authored a resolution singing Leopold’s praises as a civil servant, noting Leopold “has worked diligently to improve Burlington with a high level of energy and commitment.”

Throughout the night, other speakers — including department heads and members of the city airport and fire commissions — told Leopold that while they may not have always seen eye-to-eye, they enjoyed working with him.

The council even gave him a standing ovation.

Leopold’s last day on the job is Thursday, but he won’t be retiring to beachfront property just yet. He’s named as a defendant in a pending civil lawsuit seeking $16.9 million in damages to be repaid to taxpayers.

Nice parting gift.

Fogel’s Fundraisers

The University of Vermont’s office of Development and Alumni Relations laid off six of roughly 70 employees last week.

The layoffs were not a result of the ongoing internal investigation related to Rachel Kahn-Fogel, wife of UVM President Dan Fogel, and her longtime personal relationship with Michael Schultz, the associate vice president for development.

Instead, the layoffs are part of a long-awaited plan to turn the UVM-run DAR into a private, not-for-profit foundation as of January 1, 2012, said Rich Bundy, UVM’s vice president of development.

Schultz was not among those let go, said Bundy. He remains on paid leave while UVM conducts two separate internal reviews. One review, related to his doctoral dissertation, has been completed. The other, concerning his relationship with Kahn-Fogel, will be completed by the end of July.

“There are a few folks who we had to let go because we either reorganized business functions or … we’ve had some performance issues,” said Bundy.

Though staff members received six months’ pay in lieu of notice, they can take advantage of UVM’s human resource office to find new jobs.

The plan to move DAR functions into a private foundation has been in the works for almost 12 months. Staff learned about it earlier this year.

Bundy said the foundation approach allows UVM to have a single entity focused exclusively on building stronger ties with alumni and supporters.

“The simple premise is that the university needs to build donor and alumni connections,” said Bundy. “We’re really a little bit late to the game and one of only a half-dozen public flagship universities that have not moved to a private function.”

Selling Green

Remember that adage, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”? It could explain why HMC2 — the advertising firm that came up with the pro-Vermont Yankee marketing campaigns “I AM VY” and “VY4VT” — just landed a six-figure contract to lure out-of-state tourists to Vermont.

Of course, state officials say the firm was chosen as a result of an exhaustive bidding and review process.

“HMC2 has a long track record of working with tourism-related organizations,” said Megan Smith, Vermont’s tourism commissioner. HMC2 has been among the tourism department’s preferred advertising vendors since 2006.

HMC2 beat out three other firms in the final round to land the two-year, $250,000 annual deal with the state Department of Tourism and Marketing. In all, nine firms bid on the job.

Maybe they’ll give the Green Mountain State a new slogan: “Vermont: It Radiates Beauty.”