Majority whip of Vermont House steps down to take job with single payer advocacy group

Tess Taylor, Cary Brown and Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference on March 10, 2014.

Tess Taylor, Cary Brown and Gov. Peter Shumlin. VTDigger file photo

Rep. Tess Taylor, majority whip of the Vermont House of Representatives, announced today that she would be leaving the Legislature immediately to become executive director of Vermont’s CURE, a pro-single payer 501(c)(4) organization funded by the American Federation of Teachers.

The Vermont Coalition for Universal Reform, a newly formed issue advocacy group, will work to build broad-based public support for the Shumlin administration’s planned universal health care program. The American Federation of Teachers recently gave $100,000 to VTCURES. The Montpelier lobbying firm KSE Partners will promote VTCURES’ advocacy work.

Taylor, a Democrat who represents Barre, has been a member of the House since 2008, became majority whip in 2013.

Taylor told the Democratic caucus that she would be leaving her seat and her post in the leadership immediately. She described the announcement as a “bittersweet moment for her.”

But Taylor said that in her new role, she would “help to push us toward universal health care in 2017.”

The caucus gave Taylor a standing ovation before she could continue.

As whip, Taylor was responsible for rounding up votes — a tough job that she acknowledged sometimes led to discord.

Whenever she had to have a “tough conversation” with a member of the caucus, she said she tried to think about what she liked about her colleague and “really feel it,” then she said it was a different kind of conversation.

“I have found something to like about every one of you since I became the whip,” Taylor said. “I have loved it. It has been an honor. This is a great caucus. We are a family and like family we have sharp tongues and elbows but we always get together.”

In remarks about Taylor’s departure, House Speaker Shap Smith said he is “disappointed” that she is leaving and stressed how difficult it is for citizens to sacrifice four months of income to serve in the Legislature. A new House whip will be elected by the Democratic caucus on Tuesday.

Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, said she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for lawmakers in legislative leadership to lobby the General Assembly without a waiting period of two years. Taylor joins Floyd Nease, who also served as the House majority whip and is now in charge of the Shumlin administration’s legislative push for single payer, in efforts to persuade lawmakers to accept a financing plan for universal health care in 2017.

“It puts one side at a distinct advantage over another,” Komline said.

Komline said the House has tabled action on an ethics bill that would require a two-year waiting period before administration officials can take a job with a lobbying firm or corporation.

Smith has said an ethics statute regulating legislative conduct is not necessary. He has said he would prefer to see changes to House rules.

Smith said the immediacy of Taylor’s departure eliminates the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:23 p.m. on March 21.

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Joyce Wilson :

    So goes the revolving door between lawmaker and lobbyist.

    The union would have a better idea if their money will be well spent on Tess Taylor, if they had a better idea of the feasibility of the single payer financing plan. Vermonters and their lawmakers are still in the dark on this most important issue on going forward with the single payer plan. Call me skeptical, but if the financing wasn’t a problem I think we would have already heard the funding details.

  2. Jim Barrett :

    Just another socialist moving from one job to another….all the same.

    • Ethan Rogers :

      All the out-of-state carpetbaggers love the Green Mountain State; only problem is to them the color green means money to line their pockets. Should be an interesting two years as we watch the greedy drawn to single payer to rake in the dough. Perhaps even Bob will come out of retirement.

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “Just another socialist moving from one job to another….all the same.”

      Jim, I am curious if you would say the same if the person in question were a conservative legislator doing the same thing for a conservative group? Not saying you are right about Representative Taylor being a socialist, just curious if you would say the same if she were a conservative.

      • Bob Goldberg :

        I love the way conservatives endlessly play the poor little victim card.

        The endless whining and wailing about their powerlessness is always an interesting tactic from the party that claims to advocate people take personal responsibility.

      • David Dempsey :

        Walter,
        I am more curious to hear what you would say if the person was a conservative. Vermont’s representatives and senators are elected by their constituents for a two year term. In my opinion, resigning to take another job, any job, is not a valid reason leave office early and end their commitment to represent the people that elected them. If the new job entails lobbying the Vermont legislature that they just left, then it becomes a question of ethics.

  3. Patrick Cashman :

    “Smith said the immediacy of Taylor’s departure eliminates the appearance of a conflict of interest. ”
    Ahhhh…..what? Because the new paycheck from the union replaces the paycheck from the taxpayer immediately, there is no conflict of interest? Ever wonder if Mr. Smith understands the concept of conflict of interest?

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      the new crusade is AKA single payer

  4. Jack Ewell :

    Almost certainly a deal has long ago been struck between the Gov, Shap and the Teacher’s union trading immunity from the exploding costs of Single Payer in return for public support. No single group of Vermonters have paid less for their health insurance than teachers at the expense of taxpayers who have no such deal or access to one. Does anyone think the teachers union is ready to stand up and take their medicine with the rest of us as the cost of single payer comes crashing down on everyone in the form of new taxes for equally or even more costly health insurance premiums? I doubt it.

  5. John Fairbanks :

    No, Republicans don’t leave public service to take cushy jobs in the private sector that allow them to come back and influence legislation, no siree bob.

    Oh, one other thing: this decades-old complaint about taxpayers supporting public employees? Last time I checked, public employees pay all the same taxes as everyone else.

  6. Michael Colby :

    Really? A lobbyist is offering a job to a legislative leader during the session? And the only thing that could make it worse is that she accepted it and quit on the spot. Both of them should be expelled.

    Please, tell me again how Vermont is so different?

  7. Kim Fried :

    I don’t know Ms. Taylor and I do think that universal health care needs a very careful look and consideration. I also can’t stand this administrations revolving door. This is why Vermont needs ethic legislation. Having a legislator step into a full time position as a lobbyist for a state sponsored, paid for plan just isn’t what I would ever expect of Vermont.

  8. Lyle M. Miller, Sr. :

    This is an outrageous example of someone leaving the legislature to then lobby for an item that isn’t in t he best interest of Vermonter and one more reason why we need ethics legislation in this state to prohibit individuals from engaging in this kind of action. I sincerely hope Our representative from Stowe jumps on this and cries foul, foul, foul.

  9. Lyle M. Miller, Sr. :

    This is wrong all the way wrong and I do believe that the Attorney General of Vermont needs to look into the issue of a conflict of interest now before it is too late. Another example of the national Teacher’s Union getting involved where they don’t belong. We tax payers already pay enough for the teacher’s health insurance without the State of Vermont adding to the burden with this fiasco of a so called Single Payer plan.

  10. Sharon Toborg :

    At least Rep. Taylor resigned. Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, a staunch defender of the assisted suicide bill that passed last year, was subsequently hired as Vermont director for one of the out-of-state organizations that lobbied for it. http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/conflict-resolution-should-vermont-legislators-go-to-work-for-those-who-lobby-them/Content?oid=2309854

    • Bob Goldberg :

      As opposed to radical right wing conservatives who never take lobbyist jobs?

  11. Michael Colby :

    I think this story – and the ethics involved – need to be looked at without any partisan glasses on. And, in my opinion, that is exactly what is NOT happening here.

    First, I have to wonder if Anne Galloway has soft-pedaled this story (“standing ovation,” “bittersweet”) because KSE is a “sponsoring business” of VTDigger and the co-publisher of VTDigger was recently hired straight out of KSE. Sorry, but at the very least, there needs to be some disclosure here.

    Secondly, the response to this story has been almost completely partisan driven: total silence from the liberals and cries of “socialism” from the conservatives. Both are wrong-headed responses and will only keep the discourse in the gutter.

    The silence of the liberals is most disturbing here. Because Taylor’s new job involves lobbying for universal health care, liberals have obviously decided that their “cause” is more important than the ethics here, thus the silence. Imagine the outrage, for example, if a Republican quit his political seat on a Friday and showed up as a lobbyist for Vermont Yankee or Vermont Right to Life on the following Monday. Sorry, but we would have heard their outrage. Understandably.

    Strip this story of the partisan ninniness and this is what you’ve got: A legislative leader was offered a job during the legislative session by a lobbying firm, accepted it, immediately quit the legislature, and will show up on the next work day at the Statehouse as a lobbyist.

    Sorry, but that’s just ugly. Even in our pathetic U.S. Congress, members aren’t allowed to lobby their former colleagues for at least a year after they leave office. It’s the ethical Wild West in Vermont, where the time it takes for the ink to dry on your resignation letter is all the time you need to switch hats from legislator to lobbyist. Again, that’s just ugly – and wrong.

    We can’t let “sponsoring businesses,” the political parties or our own partisanship cloud this issue. Otherwise, we will all continue to lose. Come on VTDigger and the rest of the Vermont media world (who aren’t fishing for their own Shumlin/KSE appointment), just give us some truth here.

    • Thanks for writing, Michael. Haven’t heard from you in a while.
      Perhaps you missed the previous article we posted exposing the fact that Todd Bailey’s wife will be on the board of the 501c4 and that KSE Partners will be a beneficiary of the VCURE’s largesse.
      http://vtdigger.org/2014/03/20/national-labor-groups-pour-money-campaign-universal-health-care-vermont/
      BTW, we list our more than 70 underwriters here. http://vtdigger.org/support-2/sponsor-vtd/
      Anne Galloway, editor

      • Annette Smith :

        Michael commented just the other day on a vtdigger.org article. Always worth reading his comments.

        Vermont’s legislature has become more like an insular club increasingly disconnected from the realities of the lives of average Vermonters. As an observer of the institution for 15 years, it is most disturbing to see the revolving door swinging fast and furious.

        Another example is Lucy Leriche who was a trusted person by people concerned about the Lowell wind project when she was their Rep., and many people confided their concerns to her. She abruptly left the legislature to work for GMP to help see them through the construction phase, including delivery of components and dealing with protesters — many of whom were her former constituents — who got arrested in front of her. And then just as abruptly she left GMP and is now well paid by Vermonters at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Whatever expertise she has is tainted by her total lack of ethics.

        No matter whether it is Ds or Rs or Is or Ps, Michael is right, the taint on Vermont’s legislature is increasingly smelling rotten across all parties. The people of Vermont are the losers.

      • Michael Colby :

        Good to hear from you, too, Anne. I missed the original article about VT CUR. Wow? That’s the best these high-paid-lobbyists can come up with? VT CUR? You’d think someone in the room would have thought to add an “E.”

        I appreciate you including the connection between Todd Bailey of KSE and KSE’s hosting of the group, and the fact that Bailey’s wife is on the board of the newly found organization that, quite clearly, is being financed, controlled and otherwise dominated by…wait for it…KSE and its donors.

        But come on, Anne, you buried it.

        Yes, thanks for mentioning it. But dig, Anne, dig.

  12. Avram Patt :

    I don’t like this and I agree that it raises questions about ethics and money in the legislative process. Sure, it’s a small state, everyone knows everyone else , we have a citizen legislature and legislators sometimes become lobbyists and visa versa. But this really crosses the line, both because of the timing and because of the leadership position. It adds to the public’s cynicism.

    I would react the same way regardless of the issue, person, party, or funding source. And I say this as a supporter of single payer, and as the son of a family doc who was shunned by his peers in the early 1960s when he advocated for and spoke out in favor of the creation of Medicare, which he hoped would soon become “Medicare for All.”

  13. George Cross :

    As a legislator I have not always agreed with Tess Taylor, but I do not doubt her commitment to Vermont and Vermonters. She worked hard for her constituents and will work hard for Vermonters in her new role.

    Perhaps Vermont could use stronger laws around the ” revolving door” issue. But in its absence everyone is granted the same opportunity, if that is the correct word.

    Maybe Vermont needs to pay its legislators better so that those who need to make a living can actually do it while serving. The current situation certainly favors retirees (like me), the wealthy, the self-employed with seasonal flexibility and those with well-employed spouses. Many, many Vermonters are unable to be a legislator and at the same time feed themselves and their family.

    Here’s wishing Tess the best of luck in her new job and hoping that she will be highly successful so that all Vermonters will have great health care.

    • Michael Colby :

      So, George, what I hear in your comment is: I was a member of the club and I think she’s a fine member of the club. Sorry, but that does little to soothe those of us outside of the club.

    • Patrick Cashman :

      “Maybe Vermont needs to pay its legislators better so that those who need to make a living can actually do it while serving. ”
      Wow. Sounds a little mafia-esque. “Pay me more or who knows, maybe a little bit of unethical behavior might happen.”
      On a side note, as long as the union is paying Ms. Taylor’s paycheck any benefit she provides to Vermonters while working as a political mercenary will be strictly accidental.

    • Peter Liston :

      This is a great point. Legislative pay is horrible. What’s the result? We get legislators who are either retired or independently wealthy.

      Working class people with regular jobs and kids usually can’t serve. In rare cases when they can (Lucy Leriche, Floyd Nease, Tess Taylor) they’re easily lured over to the side of lobbying for a steady paycheck and benefits and a respectable benefits package.

      As we take the time to consider ethics reform, we should reevaluate the quaint olde-timey notion of the citizen legislature.

      • Maybe if Vermont & the whole country had a real single payer plan then more could afford to be in government service.

  14. Fred Woogmaster :

    It’s all relative, is it not? Transparent? Yes.

    Like it or not, this move is open, above board in that way, and publicized for the people to scrutinize. It still stinks.

    The Statehouse Club is still the statehouse club.

    The institutionalized practice of the “quid pro quo” is far more insidious than such an obvious move.

    The Quid Pro Quo Club requires no party affiliation.

    Quid pro quo is almost always invisible.
    Imagine those things we will never know;
    products of the quid pro quo.

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “Like it or not, this move is open, above board in that way, and publicized for the people to scrutinize. It still stinks.”

      I wish we could convince the supreme court that it stinks, but when they created citizens united, well, now they almost seem like a necessity if one side hopes to stay equal to the other.

      • Fred Woogmaster :

        Justifying unprincipled behavior, Mr. Carpenter, on the basis of a horrible Supreme Court decision, does not remedy the problem.

        “…well, now they almost seem like a necessity if one side hopes to stay equal to the other.”

        I disagree. A deep, dark, bottomless hole is a deep dark bottomless hole from which there is no escape. The remedy lies outside of “the two party system – and therein lies the rub.

  15. Warren Vail :

    I concur with Patty Komline on the public /private sector consultant waiting period. It is an ethical issue and a rule problem that should be addressed. It gives special interest group causes a distinct advanatage when money is abbundantly offered to influence the vote with insider lawmakers by setting them up in a high paid lobbying position.

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “I concur with Patty Komline on the public /private sector consultant waiting period. It is an ethical issue and a rule problem that should be addressed.”

      I agree too, but that it also should be done in Washington on the national scale and it should apply to all business/political persuasions. This happens with great regularity down there and is one of the reasons why it is happening here.

  16. After reading this article I had one of those “smack myself in the forehead moments” with disbelief. I shook my head and pondered about, “what State do I live in”! Then I remembered, Vermont! Oh how far down the rabbit hole we have fallen. Our State sovereignty has been discarded, like a shoe that has lost it’s sole. Reeling in the transgressions of collectivism, centralization, political correctness, social engineering and special interest. Opinions, used as bludgeons, which are not our own but rather those of politically motivated special interest with policies rendered to an agenda to change our thought and move us away from individuality.

    We are individuals! After reading this page it has become clear, those people who are unable to think for themselves put these (Majority Whip) people in office. And to think, some are still defending them, even after the worse betrayals.

    Just a last thought, can a Representative Lobby themselves?

  17. Walter Carpenter :

    “Opinions, used as bludgeons, which are not our own but rather those of politically motivated special interest with policies rendered to an agenda to change our thought and move us away from individuality.”

    I do suppose that you have also included entities like the heritage foundation or the Cato Institute in this sentiment as well, or the Vermonters First (or Vermont First) super pac which formed last election cycle.

  18. Ron Pulcer :

    The “revolving door” problem is a problem with BOTH political parties in both state legislatures and Congress. This time it is a Democrat.

    Although I would prefer universal coverage for all citizens, I am not too keen on the “revolving door” issue, regardless of party. I would prefer to see Gov. Shumlin’s plan for FINANCING universal coverage (aka single payer), rather than just having yet another lobbyist to cheer-lead for the issue. Is VT CUR a lobbying org or Super PAC or both?

    According to VT Legislature website, Rep. Taylor was a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products. When someone runs for office the first time and enters the Legislature, the town voters who vote for them have no idea what committee they will eventually serve on. The candidate themselves don’t have much control over committee assignment, except once they have served several years and get to know more members of legislature and leaders.

    I don’t know Rep. Taylor, but a question I have is whether her interest in healthcare issue trumped her interest in agriculture and forestry? People run for office for various reasons and issues, but they don’t necessarily end up on the committees relating to their pet issues.

    I’m not defending Rep. Taylor, as I am not keen on the “revolving door”. But I wonder if committee assignment is another angle to this story, besides the wage rate for legislators.

    http://www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/comms.cfm?Body=H

    Regarding: “House Speaker Shap Smith has said an ethics statute regulating legislative conduct is not necessary. He has said he would prefer to see changes to House rules.”

    I think the Speaker’s view is kind of lame. But on the other hand, based on the outcome after 2007 Congressional rules (see below), it would seem that there could be loopholes in a Vermont ethics statute, just like there is with similar Congressional laws.

    The changes in the U.S. Congress rules were made in 2007 to institute a waiting period or cooling off period. But even so, a former member of Congress can still be hired by a lobbying organization, and just be an “inside consultant” to the other lobbyists in the org that actually set foot in the Capitol or Congressional offices. As long as they don’t step into the Capitol building, the former member of Congress or staff member can still advise the other internal employees at lobbying firm. So I wouldn’t put too much faith in the current Congressional rules. Maybe they are an improvement, but as with any law, there often are loopholes, whether intended or not, that are the result of legislation.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/02/02/us/politics/02revolving-door-documents.html

    New York Times
    The Revolving Door: An Annotated Case Study
    By ERIC LIPTON
    FEB. 2, 2014

    “Since 2007, when Congress revised ethics rules, more than 1,600 House or Senate staff members have registered to lobby in less than one year of their departure from Congress, a sign of the many loopholes in rules intended to impose a so-called “cooling off” period on former lawmakers and senior staff.”

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