Noblesse Oblige? | Freyne Land
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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Noblesse Oblige?

Posted By on Sat, Mar 31, 2007 at 9:02 AM

click to enlarge madame_speaker.jpg

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:

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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?"

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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."

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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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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

More by Peter Freyne

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