by Rob Roper
Randy Brock is currently serving his second term in the Vermont Senate, representing Franklin County. He also served a term as Auditor, and, as a Republican who has won statewide office, is mentioned in every conversation that comes up about who is going to run in 2012.
Brock reflected upon this past session, “To be a Republican in the Senate in Vermont, you have to have a very thick skin, you have to have a high frustration level, and you have to enter the legislative session with low expectations. So with that in mind, my expectations were met this session.”
This impression is in stark contrast to the attitudes taken by the Democrat leadership, which Brock was quick to note. “I kind of expected t see [Peter Shumlin] land on an aircraft carrier in Lake Champlain with a banner reading Mission Accomplished. And, we know the last time we saw something like that, it didn’t quite work out.”
Brock did see some positive progress coming out of the 2011 session, including the telecommunications bill, which he sees as being an important step forward in expanding broadband access in Vermont, and some elements of the jobs bill. Anything to create jobs in this economy is a positive thing. However, the major legislation that passed – the healthcare bill and the tax bill – are of great concern.
Some good stuff in the jobs bill, but not enough.
Asked if he thought Governor Shumlin’s promise not to sign any bill that didn’t reduce costs was a real threat, or simple posturing, Brock responded, “I’m concerned that the statistics can be manipulated to almost produce whatever result that you want. And I’m very reluctant to trust the kinds of statistics that are projections of future costs…. We have our history here in Vermont in which we did projections about the costs of Catamount just a very few years ago, and we see what a disaster that is now… I don’t have a great deal of comfort in the projections that I think are going to be forthcoming, particularly when those projections are going to be made by an unelected board of bureaucrats appointed solely by this Governor.”
Brock elaborated on the frightening amount of power that this five member board – called by some the “Jedi Counsel” — has taken. “From the beginning, this board will have the authority, which is truly unprecedented, to set the rates that every healthcare provider in Vermont can charge, whether they accept insurance or not. So, essentially, this is a wage and price control ability that I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere in Vermont, and I question whether we’ve seen it anywhere in the nation.”
Governor Shumin has said on several occasions that Vermont is going to succeed in delivering the mathematically improbable promise of covering more people with less money without negatively affecting care because, this time, we’re going to put “really smart people” in charge. Brock has a problem with this logic.
“The real question is this,” he said. “Do we believe that we’re smarter than everybody else? And, if we do believe that, why didn’t we get Catamount right? Why is our Medicaid situation what it is right now?… The arrogance associated with the answer that we’ll get it right because we’re smarter than everybody else falls flat given our history.”
As for the prospect of saving money through efficiencies and eliminating profit, the auditor ripped those assumptions apart, pointing out, among many other things, the one profit making insurance company left in Vermont is Cigna (Blue Cross and MVP are non-profits),and Cigna is the one that services the state employees’ union.
Though Brock assured that he will be running for something in 2012, he isn’t ready to say for what. “I’m thinking about 2012 and the potential opportunities that are there… I haven’t made up my mind. I’m still talking with a lot of people. I’m enjoying my time in the senate despite the frustrations, and I hope that by being a voice in the senate I’ve been of some use at least helping in preventing some of these bills from being worse than they are,” he said with a chuckle. “So, over the next several months I’m going to continue those conversations, and if anyone out there has any thoughts or advice, I’d be happy to hear from them.”