A-Gerrymandering We Will Go
Election 2010 just won’t go away. That’s great news for political junkies, but probably not for the campaign-fatigued general reader.
Last week, “Fair Game” examined leftover legal battles from the election. This week, it’s election results that are in question.
Nine House recounts are under way — two of which were settled as “Fair Game” went to press. One upheld a four-vote Progressive victory over a Republican in Williamstown; the other confirmed a single-vote victory in the Tunbridge-Royalton district — by a Democrat over an incumbent Republican.
Six more recounts are scheduled next week, and a seventh will take place on December 7. The GOP could pick up as many as four seats from these redos, which would give them 52 out of 150 seats in the House.
They’ll need every seat they can get to ensure they aren’t gerrymandered out of existence when legislative districts are redrawn over the next two years. The GOP once dominated state politics, but now holds only two elected statewide offices — lieutenant governor and auditor. Democrats and their allies have a 27-seat advantage in the House and a seven-seat advantage in the Senate.
“We want to continue to gain seats in order to get some balance back in the legislature,” said Erik Mason, the Vermont GOP’s executive director.
Every 10 years, a special committee reviews results from the most recent U.S. Census survey and, if warranted, redraws legislative districts. The committee then submits a new map to the legislature, which decides whether to adopt or tweak it.
The “tweaking” can have far-reaching implications. In 2002 Democrats nixed a single-seat Progressive district in Burlington and redrew the boundaries of a two-seat House district to make it more difficult for Progs to win. It worked. Former Progressive State Rep. Steve Hingtgen ran for statewide office in 2004, and the Progs failed to hold his seat.
In 2012, the battle is between the GOP and Democrats, particularly in Rutland City and Bennington, where the GOP and Dems have swapped seats since 2002. Gerrymandering the district by just a few blocks could easily tilt the district into the Democratic column for another decade.
Outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is using his appointment power to lend a hand. The gov gets to appoint three members — one person from each major party — to the state’s seven-member reapportionment board. Then the parties themselves each get a pick. The chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court selects the committee’s chair.
Douglas chose his former campaign manager and political whiz kid Neale Lunderville for the Republican seat. For his Dem pick, he turned to Frank Cioffi, a charter member of the fan clubs known as “Democrats for Douglas” and “Democrats for Dubie.”
On Tuesday, the gov named Meg Brook as his Prog pick. And, no, she’s not part of some clandestine “Progressives for Douglas” club.
Chief Justice Paul Reiber, a Douglas appointee, tapped former State Rep. Tom Little, a Republican, as the panel’s chairman. Party picks are former Vermont GOP executive director Rob Roper; former Democratic Sen. Gerry Gossens from Addison County, and Hingtgen, whose seat was gerrymandered out of existence.
The GOP hopes to avoid a similar fate in 2012.
“I think the reapportionment board will take a very nonpartisan view and come up with districts that are fair,” said Mason. “I hope the legislature does the same.”
Officially, Governor-elect Peter Shumlin doesn’t take the reins of state government until January 5. In the meantime, he’s rapidly assembling his “teams.”
Last week, Shumlin announced his budget team. This week, he named his jobs team: Lawrence Miller is commerce and community development secretary; Chuck Ross is agriculture secretary; Patricia Moulton Powden is deputy secretary of commerce, and Annie Noonan will serve as labor commissioner.
Miller founded Otter Creek Brewing and is the current CEO of Danforth Pewter; he’s also served as chairman of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, which oversees several tax-credit programs. Miller is as comfortable in conservative chamber-of-commerce circles as he is with the more liberal Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility crowd.
“VBSR is encouraged that Gov. Shumlin has chosen a secretary of commerce who has direct experience in socially responsible businesses,” VBSR executive director Andrea Cohen told “Fair Game.” “We welcome a new era of economic development which capitalizes on Vermont’s unique strengths — our Vermont brand and high quality of life.”
Ross is a former state lawmaker and longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Well liked and connected, his appointment was praised by the advocacy group Rural Vermont and the current ag secretary Roger Allbee.
Moulton Powden held several jobs in the Douglas administration, including labor commissioner. Shumlin plucked her from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, where she was vice president of public affairs.
Noonan is the former executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, the union that represents state workers. Wow, a labor commissioner with a background in labor.
With four secretary-level appointments under his belt, Shumlin has three more to make: in human services, natural resources and transportation.
Party liberals hope he’ll find a place for State Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden), who lost to Shumlin in the Democratic primary by just 203 votes.
Racine told “Fair Game” he is interested in working for Shumlin, and the two have talked several times. “I think Peter has put together a very interesting team so far, and I think it shows that he’s focused on the themes of the campaign: tackling a tough budget and creating jobs,” Racine said.
On Monday, Shumlin told reporters: “Nobody will get hired in this administration who can’t answer the question ‘What are you going to do to create jobs for Vermonters?’”
Sounds like “Jim = Jobs” is being replaced with “Peter = Payroll.”
How many of his defeated Dem rivals will land jobs in Shumlin’s administration? Outgoing Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is rumored to be his top pick for state treasurer.
Treasurer Jeb Spaulding will step down shortly after being sworn in so he can be Shumlin’s right-hand man as secretary of administration. And so that Douglas can’t appoint his own man, or woman, to Spaulding’s job.
Feast or Famine
It’s gratifying to see the rest of the Vermont media picking up a story “Fair Game” first reported in August: the sorry state of Vermont’s social safety net as a result of budget cuts, layoffs and ham-handed bureaucratic “fixes.”
Thousands of people have either been denied benefits, kicked off programs or failed to be properly processed within an acceptable time frame.
It’s not just irresponsible. It’s illegal. Vermont Legal Aid, the nonprofit law firm that represents the poor, elderly and disabled, has met with outgoing Department for Children and Families Commissioner Steve Dale to let him know the state is in violation of state and federal law.
In 1994 Legal Aid successfully sued the state for similar shortcomings. At the time, the state was failing to process 15 percent of all food stamp and welfare applications within 30 days. Today, the state is failing to process 35 percent of applications within 30 days, 15 percent of applications within 45 days, and about 10 percent before 60 days.
“That’s just not good enough. They should be getting to 100 percent in 30 days,” said Kirstin Schoonover, the lead Legal Aid attorney on the case. “I think the commissioner agrees, but the question is, how are they going to fix it?”
Dale told “Fair Game” that the state has hired almost 30 temporary, full-time workers to process more paperwork. The two sides will meet again on December 9 to determine the state’s progress.
Tweeting for ’12
Campaign 2010 is almost over, but I’ve already got my first Twitter follower for Campaign 2012: @FriendsOfBernie, otherwise known as the reelection campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
So far, two Republicans are considering a bid against Sanders: Auditor Tom Salmon and Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon. It’s also likely national Republicans will try to woo Gov. Jim Douglas or Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie out of retirement to take on the socialist. If the GOP won six more seats in 2012, it could control the U.S. Senate.
Beating Bernie is unlikely, though, given that he’s arguably the best grassroots campaigner in modern politics. Another key factor is who else will be up for reelection that November: Obama, a Democratic president, Shumlin, a Democratic governor, and Welch, the state’s lone Democrat in the U.S. House.
Son & the Speaker
When Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is elected House Speaker in January, Vermonter Will Kinzel will have a front-row seat. Kinzel joined Boehner’s staff in early 2009 and currently serves as a “special advisor and counsel.”
If the surname sounds familiar that’s because Will Kinzel is the son of Vermont Public Radio newsman Bob Kinzel. Now, about that Republican push to defund National Public Radio…
Jon Margolis is retiring his Vermont News Guy this week.
Margolis launched the news website in December 2008 and has consistently published two to three meaty public-affairs stories a week on topics ranging from education reform to siting wind farms.
He plans to keep writing, off and on, for Vtdigger.org.
“I’m also talking to another Vermont news org about being a part-time special correspondent, but can’t go into detail until it’s a done deal,” Margolis told “Fair Game” in an email.
The last state treasurer to be appointed by a governor was Madelyn Davidson, not Peter Hincks, as “Fair Game” erroneously noted last week. When Hincks died in office, Davidson served out his term.