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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Noblesse Oblige?

Madame_speaker The Associated Press eventually decided to describe it as a news conference in which Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington of Jericho (at right with House Democratic Caucus Leader Carolyn Partridge of Windham), "became emotional a few times out of frustration."

Other possibilities included "getting teary-eyed" or "choked-up" or "showing signs of stress."

Hey, we're all human.

Regardless of the description, Friday's was a House Speaker's Brown-Bag Lunch you didn't want to miss - even if there were no "brown-bag lunches" in sight. And lucky for Speaker Gaye, no TV cameras showed up either.

The cause of the Vermont House Speaker's "frustration" was the crash-and-burn of the education spending "reform" bill she wants passed this year. Unfortunately for Gaye, her beloved "reform" bill is so Caspar Milquetoast weak, lame and inconsequential, it fails to excite even enough of the 100 Democrats and Progs to get the 76 votes needed for passage in the 150-member House.

Members of the Statehouse press in attendance at the Speaker's Friday "Brown Bag"" in addition to your favorite blogger were Ross Sneyd of the Associated Press, Louis Porter of the Vermont Press Bureau, and Nancy Remsen and Terri Hallenbeck from the Freeps "Capitol Bureau."

The Symington Spin is that the "reform" bill (which would have "saved" all of $9 million in a $1.2 BILLION annual state public-school bill) got pulled from the House Floor this week because of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' "lack of leadership." It's all his fault, damnit!

Here's a taste of the back-and-forth:

East_dome_2 Madame Speaker: "I did not expect that the governor was going to be  as out-of-the-picture, as in terms of trying to move something through.

"I didn’t expect, I didn’t know, (guffaw), the governor had not asked - I mean, the leadership of the Republican Caucus was never asked to garner support for the bill. The governor basically figured it was enough to sit in his office and say it doesn’t do very much and that was leadership?"

Press: "This is what I don’t get. You’ve known for weeks that the governor has not been real crazy about this bill. He hasn’t kept that exactly secret. You really thought that, while he was out in public hammering it behind the scenes, he’s trying to win votes for you? There was never a conversation between you in all that time?"

Madame Speaker:  "There were conversations every week saying, ‘Governor, this isn’t going to pass without your being part of helping it pass.’”

Press: "Did he ever commit and say 'I’ll do that', or 'I want this to pass?'"

Madame Speaker: "Did he ever commit? He never said ‘I promise I can get you X votes.' They understood that I needed their help to move this bill."

Press: "And the Progs [the Progressive Party Caucus of six members] said that they had never been approached. That doesn't add up to trying to line up votes for this thing."

Madame Speaker: "That’s where we are now. I’m realizing it falls entirely to the Legislature to make this bill pass."

[About fricken' time, eh? How long has she been in the House?

Oh, only 10 years!]

Press: "Why didn’t you talk to the Progs?"

2_madame_speaker_2 Madame Speaker: "I don’t understand why the [Democratic] Leadership wouldn’t have talked to the Progressives. I can’t answer that question."

Press: "What kind of score would you give your leadership, Madame Speaker?"

Madame Speaker: "I believe I’ve worked really hard to move this bill through, and given the level of resistance to many of the ideas in the bill....I think that the leadership, that our leadership, has -  I’ve done well in terms of moving this bill forward."

Pat on the back - self-inflicted! Nice work, Madame Speaker!

Madame Speaker: "Well, I think there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship going on now in terms of just, ‘Let’s watch them fail.’

"That’s gets back to the point are we playing games here and playing politics? Or are we gonna try to move  forward with what’s best for the state and if people just want to play games with it, that’s one thing."

Press: "Isn’t it always both, though?"

Madame Speaker: "Well, that’s the constant rub in this position, and you know, I have to tell you, there are so many other things I could be doing with my life than this. So many other."

Press: "Name three?"

Madame Speaker: "Being with my kids. Being with my husband. Traveling...I don’t sit in this position because I enjoy the role of making one group of people look better than another.

"I’m trying to sit in this position because, I am sitting in this position, because I’m committed to figuring out what’s best for the kids of this state. I know it sounds old-fashioned. I know it sound hokey, but there is no other reason that I get up in the morning and take this job."

Battle_of_cedar_creek Press: "Madame Speaker, those are your intentions and those are noble intentions, indeed. No one would question that, but what would you say to those who would say you have a personal style, one you are echoing again right now, of the desire to take the politics out of politics?"

(Scene from Julian Scott's Battle of Cedar Creek painting at Statehouse.)

Madame Speaker: "You know I have to tell you I think the people of this state are sick of the politics in politics. I think the people of this state believe that good policy can be good politics. I think the people like that, not everybody. It makes for less spectacular events, but I think in general people want to have their politicians focusing on what’s right for the state, and working together and they get sick of the back-and-forth and the gamesmanship and they tune it out!" 

And the winner of the 2007 Vermont "Noblesse Oblige" Award is _________________?


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sandy ward

Leaders don't whine, they take care of business. The award goes to Senate Pro Tem.


Can we assume the word "Press" in this little dialogue is a code for "Peter Freyne?" If not, I'm curious who was doing the grilling.

Sir Winston Thriller

You know, you have to admire someone who wants to change politics and the political dialogue in this state, aiming to make it more inclusive and more responsive to the people who send them to Montpellier. But...on the other hand, politics is a dirty, grinding, and most time cutthroat business. If the other participants aren't going to meet you halfway or even respect your attempts to get things done without the hard-nosed politicking, you lose. Or, the people of the state lose.

I think that Ms. Symington has been a disaster as Speaker. Education reform? Health care reform? Tax reform? Dairy and farm assistance? Aid to college students? What, really, does this session of the lege have to show except for a no cell phoning while driving bill? With a clear majority in the House, the Democrats still can't seem to get it together enough to pass the lefislation that Vermonters need, and to justify the reason they were elected. The republicans and Progressives don't get a pass n this either. They can work FOR the good of Vermonters or FOR the good of their parties and ideology. Can't have both.

Time for new leadership.

Peter, I've noticed some frustration (and a little sniping) in your reportage of Ms. Symington's actions. Most of the comments here in the past few weeks on this attack you for this. Few discuss Ms. Symington's actions. You must be doing something right.


It's only the end of March and the Speaker is already telling us that there are so many other things she'd rather be doing with her life? One can make room for anyone getting down in the dumps in the early months of the year in Vermont, but this public display sounds pretty unfortunate.

It's not about politics, Speaker; it's about the bill. If the Vermont Lottery Commission can generate more poor-tax revenue than this bill can save in CLA adjustments, than it's time to start thinking about a more progressive tax infrastructure to provide for education in Vermont.

Despite the "succcess" of school budget votes on town meeting day, Vermonters of all political stripe are ready for an overhaul of the education funding system. If you don't know this, you have followed your noble heart into an the blind corner of policy-making. The policy change implemented by Act 60 and watered down by Act 68 regard equitable educational opportunity. This policy will still be maintained while we look to solve cost and revenue issues. So even if we depart from our current education finance policy, the impact and legacy equity is secure.

You are a good and decent person, Madame Speaker. But it's time to turn around from the corner you have boxed yourself in. You have to initiate two-way communication with Ds, Ps, Rs and Is on this issue. It's not time to call it in and go home -- it's time to get back to work.


The Speaker is quite right. It's a citizen legislature. There are tons more important things to do in life. What if all Vermonters did their own thing? Who would be left to figure out laws, budgets, judicial appointments, etc.? Perhaps Gaye is one of the few with a pure enough heart to admit that she's just another citizen doing more than the rest of us by stepping up the the plate and trying - in her own way - to pass sound policy.

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