Don’t Blame ‘Sexism’ for the Demise of Jane Sanders’s College

by Jim Geraghty

Maybe it’s “sexism” that’s driving the investigation into Jane Sanders, the wife of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, as she claims . . . or maybe not.

The story is convoluted, but one thing is clear: Jane Sanders has had enough of [attorney and state GOP vice chairman Brady] Toensing and his tactics.

“I find it incredibly sexist that basically he’s going after my husband by destroying my reputation, and that’s not OK,” she said in her first interview about the man responsible for an FBI probe that centers on her leadership at Burlington College, a small liberal arts school on Lake Champlain that she led from 2004 to 2011.

But did you know that the college Sanders ran shut down last year? It’s an ugly story, and it’s hard to shake the sense that whether or not financial fraud was involved, the college grew wildly financially overextended during Sanders’s tenure.

Burlington College officials announced Monday that the school will close effective May 27 because of the “crushing weight of the debt” incurred with the purchase of a lakefront property on North Avenue.

College trustees voted unanimously Friday — the day before commencement — to close the school. . . . 

Burlington College, under the leadership of former President Jane Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, bought for $10 million the former headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in 2010 as part of an expansion plan. The purchase was made with $6 million in bank debt and a $3.5 million loan from the diocese. The college never collected many of the pledges made under Sanders’ tenure that were used as collateral for the deal, and ultimately, the diocese lost about $2 million in the deal. Sanders left the school in 2011 under a cloud and with a $200,000 buyout package.

Obviously, every husband is going to defend his wife, but the argument from the senator doesn’t really hold up: “My wife is about the most honest person I know,” Sanders told CNN. “When she came to that college, it was failing financially and academically. When she left it, it was in better shape than it had ever been.”

Really? The debt from the land purchase she directed appears to have been at the heart of the college’s financial woes.

Governing Is Supposed to Be Boring

Maybe Robert James Ritchie — a.k.a. Kid Rock — would make a great senator for the state of Michigan, maybe not. But there’s something I’d like to ask him, neither endorsing nor denouncing the idea of a Rock senatorial bid.

Mr. Rock, are you sure you want to actually do the work of being a senator? Because I imagine it’s a lot less fun and exciting than being a rock star.

Governing is different from campaigning. It involves a lot of hearings and markups of legislation. It involves getting up to speed on a lot of issues that a lot of Americans, even politically active Americans, don’t really pay much attention to in the course of their days. It involves getting into the weeds and figuring out the details of obscure federal programs, figuring out whether they’re needed at all, and if so, how best to make them work. It means constantly encountering people who want you to use your limited amount of power and authority to help them, and frequently having to tell them, “no.” Being in public office usually means being criticized no matter what you do. And with a few exceptions, there are a lot fewer groupies.

Let’s take a look at the last couple things the incumbent senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow, has done or discussed. This is not an endorsement of Stabenow, just citing this as an example of the sort of issues a senator worries about and thinks about on a day-to-day basis.

Stabenow recently boasted that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration Runway Incursion Mitigation Program will provide $3.4 million to construct a service road and rehabilitate runways at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. She also pointed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants program which provided $141,715 for the Graafschap Fire Department to help purchase equipment.

She’s touting the fact that 29 Michigan counties will receive $4.6 million through the Department of the Interior’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. “Michigan is home to more than two million acres of federal lands, meaning that county governments throughout Michigan miss out on important property tax revenue every year.”

She urged Defense Secretary James Mattis to establish the TRICARE Acquisition Cost Parity Pilot Program, which “will allow beneficiaries to get their medications from local pharmacies while preserving access through the existing military treatment facility and mail order systems, and reduce costs by allowing the Department of Defense to purchase non-generic medications at the same lower rate it pays for drugs dispensed through the mail or MTFs.”

She’s searching for nominees for the vacancies on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and one vacancy on the United States District Court for the Western District, as well as both U.S. attorney positions.

In late June, “an eight-pound adult Silver carp was caught only nine miles from Lake Michigan,” by a commercial fishing vessel whose activities to combat Asian carp are funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.” Stabenow said. “GLRI funding is also providing resources for emergency monitoring and response actions that will be taken over the next two weeks by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of Illinois to detect and stop any additional Silver carp in these waters near Lake Michigan.”

Maybe Kid Rock hears about relatively obscure issues such as these and feels excitement and interest in tackling them. Maybe this stirs an appetite to learn more about these issues and problems and to figure out the best way to solve them. If it doesn’t . . . he probably shouldn’t run for Senate.

Kid Rock may very well be a great guy with his heart in the right place, good instincts, and values shared by many Michiganders. His efforts to help the youth of Detroit and revitalize its arts community point to a genuine empathy and passion for helping others. But governing isn’t just about values; it’s about getting the details right.

(I recall one of the 2012 presidential debates, when President Obama was asked about Social Security, and he began, “the basic structure is sound. But — but I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare and then talk about Medicare.” Everybody loves to talk about values because there is no math involved. But that doesn’t change the reality of the math.)

Obviously, there are celebrities who do successfully make the jump to governing: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken. It’s easy to forget Clint Eastwood served one term as mayor of Carmel, California. And then there are cases like Jesse Ventura, who seemed to get bored with the job, taking time to referee for the World Wrestling Federation and work as a color commentator for the short-lived XFL, before choosing to not run for reelection.

Donald Trump didn’t invent the idea of celebrities running for public office, but his success undoubtedly has plenty of Americans famous in other fields asking themselves, “Why not me?” The most important question after that initial inquiry is, “Do I really want to do the work involved in this job?”

Manchester, N.H.: The Next Big Test Case of VA Accountability

Sunday morning, the Boston Globe offered a horrific portrait of conditions at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Hampshire:

One operating room has been abandoned since last October because exterminators couldn’t get rid of the flies. Doctors had to cancel surgeries in another OR last month after they discovered what appeared to be rust or blood on two sets of surgical instruments that were supposedly sterile.

Thousands of patients, including some with life-threatening conditions, struggle to get any care at all because the program for setting up appointments with outside specialists has broken down. One man still hadn’t gotten an appointment to see an oncologist this spring, more than four weeks after a diagnosis of lung cancer, according to a hospital document obtained by the Globe.

And when patients from the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center are referred to outside specialists, those physicians are sometimes dismayed by their condition and medical history. A Boston neurosurgeon lamented that several Manchester patients sent to him had suffered needless spinal damage, including paralysis, because the hospital had not provided proper care for a treatable spine condition called cervical myelopathy.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin, M.D., announced actions the department is taking immediately to respond to whistleblower concerns at the Manchester medical center.

The VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection are being sent in beginning Monday to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Manchester VAMC, including all allegations in the article.

In addition, effective immediately, the department has removed the director and chief of staff at the facility, pending the outcome of the review. Alfred Montoya, the director of the VAMC in White River Junction, Vermont, will serve as the new director of the Manchester VAMC and the new chief of staff will be announced shortly.

Dr. Shulkin said, “These are serious allegations, and we want our Veterans and our staff to have confidence in the care we’re providing. I have been clear about the importance of transparency, accountability and rapidly fixing any and all problems brought to our attention, and we will do so immediately with these allegations.”

The bad news is that once again it took a media report for these problems to come to the attention, and spur serious action, from top officials at the VA in Washington. The good news is that it didn’t take long for Shulkin to move. We’ll see if this change in director and chief of staff becomes permanent.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who listened to the return of the pop-culture podcast. Naturally, as soon as I make a public assessment of Twin Peaks, the subsequent episode of the show makes my view outdated . . . 

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty