Column | Brock in a Box | Fair Game | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Brock in a Box 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published October 3, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

In Randy Brock’s world, the key to getting Vermonters back to work is to eliminate 10 percent of the jobs in state government. In Randy Brock’s world, all figures showing Vermont’s economy improving are bunk, while those showing its decline are gospel.

In Randy Brock’s world, unemployed Vermonters are stuck in a “cycle of dependency” — unwilling to work $14.50-an-hour jobs because “they found they earned more from benefits they got from state government than they got from the job.” And in Randy Brock’s world, the solution to unemployment is simple: Let the state come up with pre-fab “businesses in a box” and dole them out to the unwashed masses.

Oh, and let them eat cake!

This was the world that Brock, a Franklin County state senator and the Republican candidate for governor, outlined for reporters Monday afternoon in the lobby of a Williston consulting business.

It was here that Brock unveiled his latest spaghetti-against-the-wall campaign plan. Two weeks ago, it was 25 ways to cut the cost of health care; this time, a campaign handout promised, “25 ways to spur economic development & put Vermonters back to work.”

Among them?

At least seven involve actually cutting jobs — government jobs, that is. As a quarter of the state workforce retires over the next five years, Brock would eliminate through attrition some 10 percent of 7800 state jobs.

How? By “breaking down silos,” as he said at least half a dozen times during the hourlong press conference.

“What I want to do is I want to make government more efficient and more effective,” he said. “I want to take our processes and make them work. I want to take the silos and break through them. I want to do things across organizational lines instead of through them.”

Brock’s other proposals? A handful are initiatives that his opponent, incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, is already tackling: improving math and science instruction, refining the state’s point-of-origin rules, and securing foreign investment through the EB-5 investor visa program.

Others still are just too vague to take seriously. Brock would “cut red tape.” He’d “establish key metrics for every governmental function” and he’d “reward success, question stagnation, address sluggishness and not tolerate failure.”

Now that’s change we can believe in!

The government-cutting Brock would establish a new “Department of Innovation” — but hastened to add he’d do so without expanding the state’s total workforce. And he’d launch his own moon shot: to make Vermont the home of a Fortune 1000 company.

“Just as President Kennedy in 1961 set a grand goal — a goal that would take a decade to achieve — of putting a man on the moon, well, perhaps our man on the moon might be something like saying, ‘Imagine if Vermont were the headquarters of a Fortune 1000 company,’” Brock told the assembled reporters Monday. “If Walmart can be headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, we can bring a Fortune 1000 company to Vermont.”

The Vermont Press Bureau subsequently noted that Waterbury-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was ranked No. 766 on Fortune’s latest list; Montpelier-based National Life Group made the list in 2010.

Ground control to Major Brock?

Beyond the vague, contradictory, duplicative and clichéd ideas were some just plain kooky ones: in particular, Brock’s ballyhooed “business in a box” proposal. He explained:

“One of the outside-of-the-box thoughts we have is to create businesses in a box, in which we look for businesses that people who are unemployed or underemployed could actually run … that we package like franchises,” he told reporters at the press conference. “We package them with business plans. We package them with preassigned financing arrangements. We package them with expertise from retired executives and others who are familiar with a particular business model.”

If you’re wondering what the shit he’s talking about, you’re not alone. Pressed for more details by Associated Press Montpelier bureau chief Wilson Ring, Brock elaborated:

“What should be in these boxes? They could be like franchises. They could be businesses that need to be done in a particular area because they’re not being done,” he said. “They may be new ideas. They could be anything. It depends on our imagination and our ability to package them.”

OK Willy Wonka.

Looking unimpressed, WCAX’s Kristin Carlson sternly shot back: “I don’t understand how that would work.”

“How would it work?” Brock said. “Well, for example, suppose you’re unemployed and you want to buy a franchise. What would you do? You’d go and buy a franchise.”

Right. Next time I’m unemployed, I’ll just go buy a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

Asked later in the press conference if he had a particular type of business in mind that might go well in a box, Brock said, “These could be anything.”

OK, but what kind of anything? Do you have one in mind that would work especially well?

“I don’t want to go into any depth because I don’t want to box in the box,” Brock said with a chuckle. “I want to have people think about what would work.” (For the record, an Australian-based company called DIY Business in a Box will happily sell you a business start-up kit for the totally reasonable price of $6500. Among the professions they box up? Beauticians, mechanics, Pilates instructors and lawyers.)

But wait, Sen. Brock, are you saying that unemployed Vermonters are just sitting around at home, desperate for business plans they’d otherwise merrily implement?

“Well, I think there are lots of folks who would love to start a business, but they don’t know how — who have the mind-set, ‘Gee, I’m not employed, but I know how to do thus and so. I’ve worked in a particular business. I’ve worked in a particular industry, and I know how to do it,’” Brock said. “What this does is it makes it easier.”

Got it. Thus and so.

“It’s just like the person who wants to go into business so often, who has a little money and who goes and buys a franchise,” the millionaire candidate continued. “And that’s what a ‘business in a box’ really is. It’s a homegrown, state-sponsored, state-assisted franchise opportunity for people who are unemployed.”

State-sponsored businesses for the unemployed? Sounds like someone’s channeling his inner Bernie Sanders.

“And it’s something that isn’t going to cost the state virtually anything to do,” Brock concluded.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendar. Monday, October 1, at 2:15 p.m. is the moment Randy Brock’s gubernatorial campaign officially jumped the shark.

Even among reporters who bend over backward to pretend every race is neck and neck until the final vote is cast, it seemed clear after the presser that Brock’s goose was cooked. That is, unless Brock wins the super-PAC lottery or Shummy finds himself a scandal right quick.

Brock’s problem isn’t just that his “business in a box” plan is totally crazy-town. I mean, it is — but that’s almost beside the point. The problem is that the guy who has thus far sunk $300,000 of his own money into a long-shot — OK, hopeless — campaign doesn’t seem to grasp the plight faced by struggling Vermonters.

You don’t need a focus group to know that “just go buy a franchise” doesn’t play well with those who can’t find work or who are barely eking out a living working several part-time, low-wage jobs.

Brock made clear how he feels about that riffraff. And he was a hair shy of his own “47 percent” moment.

“We have a growing culture of dependency. And many people are concerned about passing folks as they go to work who are not working, who are on state assistance and who are receiving state money,” Brock informed the group. “Many are the most vulnerable and they can’t work, but many of them are people who can work — who are entangled in what we’ve created as a safety net. And one of the problems about safety nets is they sometimes entangle people in dependency for long periods of time.”

Brock elaborated on the point shortly thereafter, regaling the press corps with stories of his capitalist friends who valiantly attempted to provide a hand up to these dependent types — only to see them lured away by the government teat.

“I hear stories from other businesses [about new employees] who look at the first week’s check and quit because they found they earned more from benefits they got from state government than they got from the job,” he said. “We gotta break the cycle of dependency in cases like that and make it worthwhile to go to work. We may need to soften the cliff that people fall off when they do get weaned off unemployment.” He corrected himself, “Not unemployment, but welfare benefits.”

What we really need to do, Sen. Brock, is buy these lazy welfare queens a business in a box.

In fairness to Brock, he does know a thing or two about businesses in boxes. In fact, he bought one just this year. It’s a $647,000-plus gubernatorial campaign that came replete with overpriced, out-of-state consultants, debunked television commercials and recycled talking points from the far-more-competent campaigns of former GOP governor Jim Douglas.

How’s that box working out for Brock? We’ll find out soon whether it creates a new job for him. If not, I’ve got a franchise to sell him.

Media Notes

Hard to believe, but Vermont Public Television’s “Vermont This Week” on Friday is celebrating its 30th year of showing viewers just how homely we print reporters really are. Since its 1982 premiere, the Vermont version of “Meet the Press” has featured just three regular hosts: Jack Barry, Chris Graff and now Stewart Ledbetter. Senior producer Joe Merone has produced every last show since 1992 — back when dinosaurs roamed the airwaves.

And in case your New York Times subscription lapsed, the Gray Lady came to the Queen City last week for a look at the recent redesign of the Burlington Free Press. In a B1 story in Monday’s Times headlined, “In Vermont, a Venerable Paper Fights for Readers,” the paper of record covered the Freeps’ new printing press, tabloid format, online paywall and higher subscription price.

The Times story also ran in two daily papers that compete with the Freeps: the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, both of which are owned by the Mitchell family. The TA, however, went with a notably different headline: “State’s Biggest Paper Criticized for Changes.”

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.


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