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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



A safe bet

Now here's a political stance few can argue with ...

Governor Jim Douglas issued a two-page press release Friday which boldly proclaimed: Governor Urges Safe Holiday & Summer Driving

Among the presumably non-partisan tips:
  • "Governor Douglas said it was particularly important to drive carefully because this time around Fourth of July celebrations often has a high rate of alcohol-related crashes and deaths."
  • "Put away cell phones, watch out in work zones, take a break if tired, and avoid stressful situations."

Wonder what the Democrats think.



Just before the heavens reopened and spilled more rain out, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker was out on Church Street in Burlington this afternoon showing off his new "people-powered engine."

The "engine" is four bicycles attached to a boat trailer with a fifth bicycle doing the steering. The whole thing is covered in metal like an old train car. It will be on the parade circuit this weekend, then on the campaign trail.

Parker plans to use the vessel to draw attention to his campaign, start the conversation about alternative energy and transportation.


verdict in

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz has issued a ruling that Vermont's pre-1997 campaign contributions law takes effect, now that the Supreme Court has jettisoned that part of the 1997 law.

She also said that parts of the law not challenged (such as the deadlines for telling the public how much candidates have raised and spent) will stand.

Candidates for state office will be able to hit their friends up for more than a few hundred bucks. Now they can write checks totalling $2,000 for the primary and general elections.



Mini conversations

Democratic congressional candidate Peter Welch's proposal to hold four "Sunday Conversations on the Green" around Vermont this summer didn't sit very well with Republican Martha Rainville, but it sounded like a great idea to Republican Mark Shepard.

Shepard, who like Welch serves in the state Senate, said the two of them chatted today about having the conversations with or without Rainville. An interesting strategy that might work well for both: Shepard gets more visibility. Welch gets to pretend Shepard is his only real opponent. The idea presents a tricky decision for Rainville about whether she joins them.

- TH


New Cook

Mark Shepard reports that he brought on a new campaign manager with more experience, making for a mutual departing between the candidate and Guy Page.

The new guy, Paul Cook, lives in Cornwall, teaches political science at the Community College of Vermont and worked on Tim Philbin's 1992 congressional campaign, in which the candidate won the Republican primary and came in second to Bernie Sanders in the general election.

"He knows the nuts and bolts of what we need to do," said Shepard, the Bennington County state senator who is fighting an uphill battle for the Republican nomination.

- TH



Page turns

Guy Page, the former journalist who has served as Mark Shepard's congressional campaign manager these last few months, is no longer with the campaign. In his stead is Paul Cook. Page said he has returned to "selling and fixing roofs and
planning several lobbying/grassroots endeavors."

Cook did not return a phone call Wednesday.

_ TH


'Everything's fine'

U.S. Senate candidate Rich Tarrant campaign manager Tim Lennon said he and the ad production people in California traded phone messages today, and they report: "Everything was fine and taken care of" regarding use of three published songs in a Web ad.

So, does that mean they paid for use of the ads or that they had some reason they didn't need to pay? Lennon said he didn't ask and they didn't say. "I don't know the details," Lennon said. "They've taken care of it."

Jeff Barry, co-author of "Sugar, Sugar," told the Associated Press his office had no word of an agreement for Tarrant to use one of his songs. Lennon said he sees no need to inquire further.

"Sugar, Sugar" was among the songs used in the made-for-the-Web-only ad criticizing a contribution to Sanders' campaign. The ad inappropriately used footage of Sanders from Channel 17. After Channel 17 objected, the Tarrant campaign withdrew the ad.

Paul Hortenstine, spokesman for Tarrant's opponent, Bernie Sanders, said the misstep was one of a growing number from Tarrant's campaign that also include a radio ad that incorrectly claimed Tarrant-founded IDX Corp. was the largest employer in the state and a paid staffer posing as a neutral blogger. "It seems to me there's a pattern of the Tarrant campaign thinking rules don't apply."

_ TH


We have contact

After several misconnections Friday and over the weekend, Peter Welch dialed the phone and reached Martha Rainville on Monday. Congressional candidate to congressional candidate, they spoke.

That doesn't mean they came any closer to agreeing about whether he would accept her offer to limit spending to $1 million each or she should accept his offer of holding four Sunday forums. Reports from each campaign indicate that Welch reiterated his concerns that the candidates could not control outside forces when it came to spending. Rainville repeated her response that if they make their intentions to limit spending clear to potential outside supporting organizations, they should be fine, and that the reward outweigh the risks. It doesn't sound like either side had a revelation that the other was right all along.

Same goes for the forums. Rainville didn't come out and say no to Welch, but indicated she prefers to concentrate on her primary race with Mark Shepard and Dennis Morrisseau. Rainville would rather spend the time campaigning on her own, talking directly to Vermonters, spokesman Brendan McKenna said.

The cordial conversation didn't exactly end with an explicit game plan. Which leaves both candidates the option of saying throughout the campaign that the other didn't agree to their suggestions.

_ TH


Hot Spot

The latest issue of Newsweek highlights Vermont's race for the U.S. House as one of three (along with Virginia and Iowa) Election 2006 "hot spots" in which the war is playing a factor.

The item cites Republican Martha Rainville, former commander of the Vermont National Guard, as saying a troop pullout would help the insurgent, while Democrat Peter Welch wants a withdrawal plan. "Welch's anti-war stance resonates in this liberal state. To counter, Rainville has emphasized the need for more body armor."

_ TH



Tuned out

Last week, we raised questions about songs in U.S. Senate candidate Rich Tarrant's Web ad. So what of them? Campaign manager Tim Lennon said he has spoken with people from Sony, who say that as long as the ad is no longer on the Web site, he's all right.

But Lennon said Tuesday morning he had not yet reached the production people who made the ad to find out whether they sought permission to use three songs in the ad.


trading playbooks

Democratic congressional candidate Peter Welch took a page out of Republican Martha Rainville's playbook Tuesday. Not wanting to yield that issue to the former head of the Vermont National Guard, Welch held a news conference on the topic of homeland security.

With the Montpelier Fire Department as a backdrop, Welch called for more federal money for first responders. Since Sept. 11, 2001, local first responders have had more responsibilities, he said, while the Bush administration has put the resources into the war in Iraq.



Court rules

On the last Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court's session ends, the panel finally issued a decision on Vermont's 1997 campaign finance law this morning. The ruling: The Law is too restrictive.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell learned the bad news about his case in defense of the law while on an out-of-state trip. He was still gathering the details late this morning.

For Peter Langrock, the Middlebury attorney who represented the Vermont Libertarian Party, the results were good news. He, too, was still taking in the details. After all, the justices produced six separate opinions on the case.

For a report on the decision and the reaction, check Tuesday's Burlington Free Press.

_ Terri Hallenbeck



Permission Impossible

U.S. Senate candidate Rich Tarrant’s campaign had to make some quick "ch-changes" of its own this week. A Tarrant campaign Web ad, featuring David Bowie’s famous "Changes" also featured some footage of Tarrant's opponent, Bernie Sanders. ¶

Under many circumstances, a politicians’ words are fair game. You don’t need Sanders’ permission to use his melodious voice. But Tarrant didn’t have permission to use Channel 17’s tape of Sanders’ voice. When Channel 17 called to complain this week, Tarrant pulled the ad.

As of Friday afternoon, the ad was gone from Tarrant’s Web site, but still available if you had the direct Web link, which we do (http://www.tarrant06.com/media/changes.html).

What was still unclear Friday afternoon was whether Tarrant had the rights to use Bowie’s voice, or those of the Archies, who were singing "Sugar, Sugar" on the ad, or the musical strains of Darth Vader’s entry music from "Star Wars."

You need written permission to use somebody else’s music for commercial purposes. And unless the publisher of that music is feeling generous, you have to pay. The process of getting a synchronization license for the right to use three songs is fairly cumbersome. You have to find the publishers of the works, fill out a form detailing what you plan to use, where you plan to use and for how long. You submit it and get a price quote from the company.

It’s a lot to go through for an ad that was airing nowhere but on the candidate’s Web site.

Tarrant spokesman Tim Lennon said he didn’t know if the campaign had gotten permission or paid for use of the songs. He said Thursday he would check with those who made the ad. By Friday afternoon, Lennon was out of town, but campaign aide Kate O’Connor was still trying to reach the makers of the ad.

Lennon said the ads were meant to be posted on the candidate’s site for just a day or so, and were designed to draw the attention of the media and voters who are paying particularly close attention to the race at this early stage.

The ad accused Sanders of changing his tune on accepting political action committee money because of $500 he accepted from Florida Crystals, a sugar farm that operates in the Dominican Republic where workers are allegedly paid $2 a day.
— Terri Hallenbeck¶


Welch response

The congressional campaign rivals haven't actually reached each other on the telephone, but they're on their way to becoming regular pen-pals.

Democratic congressional candidate Peter Welch said he tried calling his opponent, Republican Martha Rainville, today to discuss her proposal to limit spending in the campaign to $1 million. She wasn't available. He did send her a two-page letter in response to her request for a pledge to limit spending on the campaign to $1 million. In it, he lists several issues he'd like clarified before he considers her pledge.

Welch pointed to the $4.5 million the National Republican Congressional Committee spent on a California special election and asked, "What recourse will candidates have if a large sum of money is spent by a third party in the final weeks or even days of the campaign?"
He wanted to know what Rainville's plans for three joint fund-raising committee and a bank account in Washington she established.

He also asked her to disclose every contribution and expenditure on her Federal Election Commission filings. Such detailed disclosures aren't required, but Welch's campaign has made them from the start.

Beyond talk about spending, Welch proposed four "Sunday Conversations on the Green" with all of the congressional candidates this summer. If they meet face to face, will they still keep up the letter writing?
_ Terri Hallenbeck




GOP Senate candidate Rich Tarrant got under rival Bernie Sanders' skin a bit when he zinged Sanders this week for taking money from the sugar lobby in general and, in particular, a corporate farm entity accused of paying workers in the Dominican 16 cents an hour to cut sugar cane.
The shot over the bow even got a grudging acknowledgement from Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver. "If those allegations are true, that’s deplorable conduct," he told the Associated Press. "Bernie has been a leader in fighting child labor abuses in the Third World, and to prevent U.S. employers shipping jobs to Third World countries where people make substandard wages.”

Tarrant's troops were chortling. "Congressman Sanders has repeatedly pledged throughout his career in politics not to accept corporate PAC money," said a Tarrant campaign press release announcing the formation of “Hypocrisy Watch.” This new addtion to the Tarrant web site will keep track of how many more days that Sanders keeps the contribution, Team Tarrant promised.

One thing's for sure: As the annointed preference of national Democrats in the Vermont Senate contest, Sanders is getting money for his inaugural Senate race that he never got in his nine House races -- and more scrutiny about the sources of that money. Sanders may call himself an independent, but for the first time he's taking dough from big-time, mainstream Dems. Tom Daschle's leadership PAC has sent some green Sanders way, and so have PACs controlled by Sens. Barak Obama, Barbara Boxer and our own Pat Leahy.

Still, Tarrant might want to be careful about that "Hypocrisy Watch" stuff, though. Tarrant is self-funding his run for the Senate, but that doesn't exempt him from questions about where he's invested fortune -- besides his own campaign.

Thursday, the Sanders campaign released a press release, noting Tarrant owns stock in China Mobile Hong Kong, a company the Sanders folks described as a "Communist China state-contolled company. Tarrent also owns a bunch of stock in several major pharmaceutical companies and in CitiGroup, a firm which owns an Indian outsourcing company.

Hey, it's only money. Or is it?



Poll Positions

So much money, so little progress. At least that's what a new Rasmussen Reports poll says about Republican Senate candidate's Rich Tarrant's effort to close the gap between him and Independent Bernie Sanders in the contest to replace retiring Senator Jim Jeffords. The Rasmussen poll of 500 likely voters, performed on May 9th and released last week, gave Sanders 67 percent and Tarrant 29 percent. Tarrant's GOP primary rival, Greg Parke, was even further behind Sanders, 73 percent to 19 percent. The lead Sanders has over the two Republican rivals is almost identical to what a WCAX-TV poll conducted a week earlier in May also showed.

Tarrant, a first-time candidate, has dropped $4.35 million of his own money on the race as of Jun15, and the poll shows his wall-to-wall advertising campaign has made him a recognizable name to 85 percent of Vermont. It just hasn't won him a whole lot more support -- not yet, anyway.

Here's another Rasmussen raspberry for the Tarrant camp to munch on. Democrat Scudder Parker hasn't done any TV yet and is hardly a household name, but the poll found he had 31 percent to two-term incumbent Republican Jim Douglas's 54 percent. In other words, Parker is 15 percentage points closer to Douglas than Tarrant is to Sanders. Hmmm.




This is the new political blog of Burlington Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen who will be covering Campaign '06 in Vermont.

They will share tidbits from the trail, offbeat occurrences, insider info and news on the campaigns.

The blog will be updated regularly.

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