McDonald’s criticisms of Shumlin draw blood; fire

by Rob Roper 

Pat McDonald, Chairwoman for the Vermont Republican Party, has not been shy about taking on the Shumlin Administration. In recent weeks she has raised issues and offered solutions on the state economy and flood recovery that don’t exactly make the governor comfortable. That McDonald has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2012 seems to have raised the stakes for Shumlin, the Democrats, and in some cases, the press.

McDonald, who served as Commisioner of Human Resources under both Governors Snelling, a Republican, and Dean, a Democrat, and has an extensive, bipartisan resume within Vermont state government, discussed Shumlin’s failure to issue relocation letters to displaced state workers, requiring (so says the state employees’ union) double-time pay for those employees.

“What I think should have happened,” said McDonald, “is that this should have been prevented through discussions between the Administration and the Union to see what they could do not to have this grievance filed. It seems to me there should have been a little bit better communication between the VSEA and the Administration…. It sounds like the union was trying to help them understand what they needed to do to be in compliance with the contract.”

The way the issue was handled left no one looking good. The union employees filing the grievance look greedy and opportunistic in the wake of a natural disaster, the Shumlin Administration looks incompetent, and the foul-up could end up costing the taxpayers a million dollars.

Indeed, a number of of Shumlin’s actions since Irene hit have been odd. Lashing out against the town of Waterbury for hiring a lobbying firm to advocate on the town’s behalf and belittling the lobbyists was an angry, petty thing to do. Though it may make Shumlin’s decision making process harder, it’s not fair to expect a community to roll over and die economically, which is what will happen if the state office complexes are not re-opened, without a fight.

McDonald drew the ire of the Vermont Democratic Committee for putting out a five point action plan in the wake Irene, calling on the governor to (in brief):

  • Call a special session of the legislature to begin re-prioritizing the current year budget (SFY12).
  • Complete work on a comprehensive recovery plan that can be presented to the Legislature ahead of the special session… includ[ing] strategies to aggressively jump-start Vermont’s economic recovery.
  • Call upon the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to embargo all appropriations in VHCB’s fiscal 2012 budget, so that the Legislature has the opportunity to reallocate these funds were they are needed most.
  • Implement a freeze of all other non-essential, non storm-related state spending across state agencies, and should use his influence to encourage taxpayer funded non-governmental organizations to do the same – and prepare to return some taxpayer dollars to the state treasury.
  • Encourage the Governor to take immediate steps to implement education finance reforms.

These suggestions were labeled by VDP Communications Director, Alicia D’Alessandro, as, “embrac[ing] the extremist partisan agenda of the Tea Party movement,” “a strategy of dividing Vermonters,” “cut[ting] heating assistance to Vermonters in the Northeast Kingdom,” “Embrac[ing] the views of extremist Washington Republicans,” and “Inject[ing] partisan politics into the state’s efforts to get Vermonters back into their homes.”

Most recently, McDonald took note of the fact that Governor Shumlin decided to take a vacation over the Columbus Day weekend to his property in Cape Breton, Canada. Shumlin did this despite the promise, “I’m not going to rest, we’re not going to rest until we get the better of Irene and we put Vermont back to better than the way she found it.” But, more importantly, despite the fact that Vermont tourist businesses are desperately trying to send a message to the rest of the world that in the wake of Irene Vermont is, in fact, open for business and is the place to come visit.

“When Governor Shumlin should be encouraging people to vacation in Vermont, he has instead chosen to leave the state for his own vacation,” concluded McDonald. “Vermonters can’t afford such a lack of leadership.”

This insight brought the wrath of the online news organization, VTDigger, who, in it’s news section (not its editorial section) lashed out at McDonald’s comments as “partisan sniping,” and a “a nastygram.”

But, McDonald shows no signs of letting up. The stakes for Vermont and Vermonters are just too high. “We need to shift our priorities. This has got to be a different [legislative] session than any we’ve had before, and we need to approach it in a little bit different way…. What we agreed to in the last legislature has completely changed. Irene has hit us all…. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to focus on individuals and businesses, and reprioritize.”