What Do We Do Now?
Whew, Election 2010 was quite a ride. Buckle up, though, because the fun is just beginning.
Vermont voters have put Democrats in charge of the legislature and the governor’s office — only the seventh time since 1962 Democrats have had that much control. Why now? I’ve been offering theories all week on Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog.
Within 24 hours of Republican Brian Dubie’s gracious concession, Governor-elect Peter Shumlin transformed from candidate to state CEO.
Shumlin and his team — led by former Gov. Howard Dean and Liz Bankowski, a longtime Democratic insider and former chief of staff to Gov. Madeleine Kunin — have started vetting cabinet candidates. Also weighing in on the process is Kathy Hoyt, formerly secretary of administration under Dean.
All seasoned veterans, in other words. Bankowski assembled Kunin’s transition team in 1984, which was the last time an elected Dem gov replaced a Republican one. Dean’s 1991 “transition” was a result of Gov. Richard Snelling’s death. He assembled his team over a period of years, not weeks.
The burning question among politicos today is whether Shumlin, like Pres. Barack Obama, will assemble a “team of rivals” cabinet — offering top posts to his former Democratic rivals Sens. Susan Bartlett and Doug Racine, former Sec. of State Deb Markowitz, and Google exec Matt Dunne.
It’s likely Bartlett will be named secretary of administration, the hands-on person who runs state government. She is already helping Shumlin shape the FY 2012 budget he’ll have to present to lawmakers in less than two months.
Racine is more likely to wind up running the Agency of Natural Resources than the Agency of Human Services. Why? Shumlin and Racine don’t see eye to eye on health care reform, and AHS will be health-care-reform central. Besides, who wants to run an agency that is underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed?
As of Monday, Racine told “Fair Game” he hasn’t been offered a post.
Has Dunne been offered the all-important secretary job at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development as some have suggested? Dunne said he’s happy with his Google gig, but is giving Shumlin suggestions on who should fill the commerce post.
Word has it Shumlin may promote from within some agencies. If so, expect to hear the name Patrick Flood, now deputy secretary of AHS. Flood is well liked by nonprofit providers and lawmakers.
Agriculture Sec. Roger Allbee — a Gov. Jim Douglas appointee — is a probable keeper. Historically, incoming governors have been disinclined to replace the ag head.
The first round of appointments will be announced early next week, according to Alex MacLean, the governor-elect’s successful campaign manager.
If Bankowski and Dean are the old-guard Democrats on the transition team, MacLean and Bill Lofy represent the new generation. Both are politically astute and well versed in policy. MacLean proved herself during the election cycle by focusing Shumlin’s rambunctious, and at times erratic, energy into that of a winning candidate — twice.
Lofy worked for the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash, before coming to Vermont to assist Shumlin and former Speaker Gaye Symington as a political aide. He also worked as a communications director for the state party, a role he could assume in a Shumlin administration. He lives in Jericho but works for the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headquartered in D.C. In 2008, he helped elect Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).
Not only is Shumlin shopping for cabinet members, he’s looking for a house closer to Montpelier, to avoid the daily drive from Putney to the capital. He’s rented a place all four years he’s served as president pro tem.
That’s good news for the state troopers who will have to drive him back and forth. For eight years, they’ve been schlepping Douglas through snow and ice from Middlebury to Montpelier, over the treacherous Appalachian Gap.
The senatorial departures of Shumlin, Bartlett and Racine, as well as Phil Scott and Ed Flanagan, have left a leadership void in the upper chamber of the Statehouse.
Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) thinks the eight Senate Republicans need to be more forceful in the coming session.
“We need to do a much better job advancing ideas,” said Brock. “We need to make sure that alternatives are effectively articulated to other members and the public to draw a contrast. It’s of heightened importance given the Democrat-controlled legislature and governor’s office.”
The Senate’s GOP leadership team will remain the same: Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington) as minority leader and Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) as whip, or assistant leader.
But everything else is up for grabs in the 22-member Democratic caucus. Senate Majority Leader John Campbell appears to have a lock on the job of president pro tem, the post Shumlin vacated. Two other senators have expressed interest: Sens. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons (D-Chittenden) and Ann Cummings (D-Washington).
“Whether it’s me or Ann or Ginny, any of us would be foolish not to work in collaborative fashion,” Campbell observes. “If there is splintering of the caucus or indecision as to our direction, we’re almost doomed to fail.”
Two other senators are being talked about as possible caucus leaders — Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison) and Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland).
Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) might lose ground this year. Some Senate Democrats are unhappy with him because he never actually endorsed Shumlin. Plus, Mazza supported Republican Phil Scott over Democrat Steve Howard in the lite-gov race.
Will Mazza lose his sought-after spot on the Committee on Committees — the three-person group composed of Mazza, the lieutenant governor and pro tem — that makes all the other committee assignments in the Senate? Mazza and Scott, who are good friends, would be in it together.
Incestuous? Senate Dems have a similar challenge.
“We’ve got Peter Shumlin as our governor,” said Lyons. “One of our challenges as a Senate caucus is to distinguish ourselves and maintain our relevancy,” said Lyons.
House of Hope
In the House, Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) is running for reelection. But Majority Leader Rep. Floyd Nease (D-Johnson) is stepping down.
In his stead, last year’s Democratic Whip Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick) wants to be majority leader. Rep. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton) is running for whip. All three are unopposed at this point. The 94-member Dem caucus is holding elections on December 4.
The House Dem caucus is hopeful, said Leriche, because Shumlin is expected to be more sympathetic to its policies.
“Gov. Douglas seemed to be of the mind that his job was to stop everything we did,” said Leriche. “It’s like going from famine to feast for us — Peter’s agenda is very ambitious and wants to do a lot of good things, which is exciting but also very challenging because we don’t have the resources.”
Nease has been named the new executive director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health, replacing Ken Libertoff. I suspect he’ll resign his seat once a Democratic governor is sworn in. That way, Gov. Douglas can’t appoint a Republican to take his place.
The GOP needs all the recruits it can get. Without Douglas in power, the party will be crafting a new identity.
Rep. Don Turner (R-Milton) is currently the sole candidate for minority leader, while outgoing minority leader Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset) is running for minority whip. The 48-member House GOP will pick its new leaders in mid-November.
Honey, I Shrunk the Caucus
Vermonters may have turned the keys of government over to the Democrats, but nationally the Dems took a “shellacking,” to paraphrase the prez.
They lost control of the House, and, as the party regroups, Rep. Peter Welch is playing a key role in shaping the next House leadership team. Welch caucuses with the progressives but is also close to the conservative “Blue Dog” Dems.
Welch was quick to support Blue Dog Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in his bid to be minority whip. He’s also backing Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for minority leader.
Another one in the leadership mix is Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a member of the Progressive Caucus, a group formed almost 20 years ago by then Rep. Bernie Sanders.
Welch believes Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn speak to multiple, and key, constituencies in the party and should all be given leadership posts.
“The caucus knows that Pelosi was a very effective leader,” said Welch. “The Republicans didn’t offer an alternative vision; they offered a caricature of the speaker. We accomplished a lot in the past two years that we can be proud of. We’re going to have to defend the progress we made and make the case that we need to do more to protect the middle class.”
Democrats lost six seats in the Senate, barely retaining a majority. They now have a razor-thin majority of 53 seats — including the two independents who caucus with the Dems.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the second most senior senator in the U.S. Senate, says, “It’s time to bring some of the grown-ups in the House and Senate together.”
“I know there are some in the GOP caucus who want the president to fail because they think they will win,” said Leahy. “But if the president fails, the country fails. That’s a mistake.”
Louis Porter is leaving his journalism post at the Vermont Press Bureau to work for the Conservation Law Foundation.
He’s the second journalist in as many months to depart the capital bureau of the Rutland Herald/Barre-Montpelier Times Argus for a lefty nonprofit. Earlier this fall, Dan Barlow went to work for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Burlington Free Press journalist Mike Donoghue is also making a change: swapping the sports desk for the newsroom.
The Freeps created a new post for Donoghue: He will be the paper’s “open government/First Amendment” reporter, writing about public records law, the public’s right to know and free speech.