Friday, April 06, 2007

The Shumlin Shakedown: Say One Thing, Do Another and Blame Others

If Gaye Symington, the Speaker of Vermont’s House of Representatives, would bother to turn around once in awhile and see who it is that keeps pushing her into one losing political battle after another, she’d see the happy hands of Senate President Peter Shumlin. These two rivaling Dems who should be reveling in the dreamland of having veto-proof majorities are, instead, locked in a scorpion-like fight toward their own political deaths. And it would make a great sporting event if Vermonters weren’t counting on them to actually get something done.

But, once again, the joke’s on us, folks. Us, as in: the fine people of Vermont who trudge to the polls every two years thinking this state really is different, that our citizen legislature really does listen, and that our politicians are going to solve problems not just dance around them like props for their next campaign photo-op. And, frankly, that sucks.

The toxic rivalry between Shumlin and Symington began over a job called the governorship. When this legislative session began with all the hope and hype the Dems could muster, the word on the street was that one of these two Dem leaders was going to be coming out of the session looking like a front-runner to challenge Douglas in 2008. Now, however, it looks like they’re now going to be fighting about who’s going to be getting into the political ambulance first.

Let’s face it, Shumlin and Symington are just plain fucking up – big time. They’re fumbling on every major issue that Vermonters expected them to address (taxes, health care, education funding, etc.) and ignoring the issues their hardcore constituents would like them to address (Iraq war, impeachment, etc.). And, no matter how you add it up, you get little but a big, fat zero.

Worse, the dysfunctional Shumlin/Symington duo are so preoccupied with making the other look like the ass that they’re forgetting that the public can very clearly see that they’re both acting like three-year olds in a protracted battle. After a while, all you hear is the screaming and the finger pointing but you realize neither one of them remembers how it began or, better yet, that they’re in the same play group. So off to their rooms – er, houses – they go, seemingly satisfied that they isolated the other without noticing their own isolation.

Like I said, the joke’s on us. Damn it.

While slick Shumlin is pretending that he’s coming out better than Symington in this mess of a legislative session, I think he’s in for a rude awakening in the end. He has, for example, been rocking Symington back on her heels by running to the media first on a number of issues and saying he’s “waiting for the House to act first.” And, so far, Symington’s been falling for it, even to the point of getting all weepy over getting her political ass whipped from the left by Shummy and the right by the Guv.

But, sooner or later, the public is going to realize what a slimeball Shumlin’s been during his first few months back into politics after repairing his relationship with his wife. Hmm, what’s next, some time away from his wife to repair his relationship with Symington and his fellow Dems? And around and around he goes…

Take, for example, the impeachment issue. A few weeks ago, Shumlin put his finger into the political winds and noticed a strong gust from the pro-impeachment crowd – especially those who form the activist base of the Dems (you know, the folks who vote in primaries that he thinks he’ll need in the not-so-distant future). So Shumlin marched himself to the Dems’ statewide meeting and made a big rhetorical show of his support for the impeachment of President Bush. And the crowd – and the media – went wild, heralding Shumlin as the courageous man of the people.

But now those same people are trying to gingerly remove the hooks from the mouths. Because, you see, Senator Shumlin was just playing political games with them – shamelessly. Worse, his little game was not only about grandstanding for himself but – of course – also taking a big political dump on Symington. It’s the one-two punch those in the Statehouse have come to expect from the politically-reborn Shumlin.

You see, when Shumlin was asked how he was going to put his new-found impeachment fondness into action, he turned and pointed his finger right at Symington, saying “she’s got to move an impeachment resolution in the House first.”

Nice try, Senator, but – with all due respect – you’re full of shit and you know it. As all of us who didn’t sleep through Civics 101 remember, legislation can be introduced in either the House or the Senate. But Shumlin was hoping like hell we’d all forget that not-so-insignificant fact and, instead, let him talk about impeachment to appease his base and walk away from it to screw his colleague in the House (hey, she won’t act on it!). Like I said, it’s slimy. Not to mention gutless and transparent. Or, should I just say, very Dem like in this modern age of leaderless Dems.

The tide is turning on Shumlin, though. He seems to have gotten away with a few months of this kind of political gamesmanship (read: backstabbing colleagues like Symington). But it’s starting to wear thin amongst his colleagues and in the media. Yo, Shummy, people talk, you know – especially when they’ve got one of your knives in their back. Ouch.

It’s too bad Symington hates politics as much as she does, because the solution to this Shumlin nonsense is quite easy: Call his bluff, start moving significant legislation in the House (beginning with impeachment), stay in contact with the media, and build some alliances with the growing number of Dems in Shumlin’s Senate who are just waiting for the opportunity to knock him down a few pegs (just ask Senator Doug Racine). Oh wait, what do they call that? Oh yeah, politics.

So get going. The people of Vermont are waiting.