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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



State Rep. McLaughlin dies

Rep. Rosemary "Rozo" McLaughlin, a Democrat from South Royalton who last session championed a bill that strives to put more locally grown food in Vermont schools, died Monday night.

The 54-year-old had suffered from a fast-moving cancer. She was just completing her second term in the Legislature and was running for re-election.

Funeral services are tentatively planned for Friday.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Time for the wave

Neither cold nor rain nor big puddles will keep candidates from busy street corners with their signs during the coming week. It's visibility time.

Early this morning in Richmond, three Democratic state Senate candidates were trying to connect with commuters at the town's main intersection. Ginny Lyons brought her lion friend to help her catch drivers' attention. Hinda Miller clutched a standard campaign sign. Doug Racine propped up a big sign of the season -- an orange and black number that declared "Happy Halloween. Vote for Doug Racine."

In Burlington, the Main Street commuting artery was lined with candidate surrogates waving for Scudder Parker, Democratic candidate for governor, and Peter Welch, Democratic candidate for U.S. House.

John St. Francis, Republican candidate for Chittenden state's attorney, staked out a spot up the road a few hundred yards -- still plenty of traffic passing his way.

Candidates say this annual rite is part of their effort to connect with voters -- even it is through a wind shield. What makes their day is a honk or a wave in response. Look for a candidate near you.

-- Nancy Remsen



$urvey $ays?

WCAX says its pollster has determined the House race is close and that Democrat Peter Welch has a small lead over Republican Martha Rainville.

Heck, they could have figured that out just by looking at how much money Peter and Martha have been burning up on ads the two and their parties have been running on the state's biggest television station.

Here's why. According to a perusal of the public file at the South Burlington station, Welch is on track to spend $329,736 on his bid. Add that to the $249,630 his friends at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee say they're spending at WCAX an ad campaign on Welch's behalf and you get a total of $579,36.

Meanwhile, the Rainville camp has booked $242,115 in ads at Channel 3, some of it subsdized by the Republican National Committtee. Her pals at the National Republican Campaign Committee have spent another $296,175 at WCAX on their ad campaign boosting he candidacy. That adds up to $538,290.

The result: Welch and the Dems have spent 52 percent of the $1,117,656 spent at WCAX in the House race and Rainville and the GOP have spent 48 percent. (I didn't check out the money being spent at WVNY, FOX, WPTZ or elsewhere, but we can assume the ratios are probably in the same ballpark.)

Bottom line: The four-point spread in the WCAX money poll is about what some folks think Welch will win by when the votes are cast on Nov. 7.

Who was it who said money makes the world go round?

-- Sam Hemingway


In the mail

The Vermont GOP sent out a flier this week that takes aim at the whole Democratic Party lot. "Democrats will raise taxes in America ...," it starts out. "The Democrats are angry ... and they are going to take it out on YOU."

It goes on to describe the sorts of people Democrats will raise taxes on (which includes everybody but single men who don't own small businesses).

Candidates say property taxes are the big issue on everybody's minds, so does the tactic work?

- Terri Hallenbeck



D.C. talk

The Hill newspaper in Washington reports today that Vermont's U.S. House race is not among those the National Republican Congressional Committee has on its "Final Push List" for those "most in need of support right now.”

Here's what the story says on our race:

"Open seats that the NRCC is not making a final push for include the
competitive contests for retiring Reps. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) and Jim Kolbe
(R-Ariz.) as well as Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Senate.
Peter Welch, the Democrat seeking to win Sanders’ seat, enjoys a major
cash-on-hand advantage over Republican Martha Rainville.

"Patru said Rainville is 'where she needs to be in fundraising.'
Rainville’s campaign did not return a phone call
seeking comment."

Here's a link to the full STORY.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The letter

Last night's WPTZ Senate debate between Republican Rich Tarrant and independent Bernie Sanders had plenty of memorable moments, but there's one that Tarrant must have hoped had worked out better for him.

Late in the debate, Tarrant said Sanders had such an anti-business record that he proclaimed that if Sanders returns to Washington "we're not going to have any more businesses think about coming to Vermont with that kind of record."

Tarrant's prime example was how Sanders, when he was mayor of Burlington "harrassed" the General Electric weapons manufacturing plant in the city by allegedly encouraging folks to stage protests outside the factory gates. And Tarrant thought he had the goods to prove it, a letter Tarrant had tucked inside his jacket written by GE officials to Sanders in 1986.

Trouble was, when Tarrant pulled the letter out and started to read it, WPTZ co-anchor Stephanie Gorin ordered him to stop, saying candidates were not allowed to use "props." Tarrant tried to keep going, but Gorin would have none of it.

The letter, provided to yours truly by the Tarrant team after the debate concluded, is a doozie. The letter was signed by the plant's manager, Fred Breidenbach, several union officials and other GE employees. Here's a sample of what it said:

"We were very dismayed to see you quoted last week calling for more local protests ... The morning after your comments, we were the target of the very protests you inspired, and we have had more incidents for several days since. As a result, more than 2,000 hard working Vermonters at General Electric have been subjected to insults and had their morals challenged and the source of their livelyhood threatened by blockade and harassment."

The letter, now 20 years old, goes on to demand an apology from Sanders. At Monday's debate, Sanders said he recalled respecting both the right of protesters to exercise their 1st amendment rights to protest and the company's right to do its business. "It was a very controversial time and, as mayor, I was in the middle and I did my best to work with both groups," Sanders said.

Tarrant must have been thinking that revealing the contents of the letter on live TV might have turned the debate in his favor, or he wouldn't have made sure to have the letter tucked inside his jacket in the first place. Gorin didn't give him that chance, but the question remains: How big a deal is this to voters? After all, the letter is 20 years old.

What do you think?

-- Sam Hemingway



Name game

If you look at Democratic U.S. House candidate Peter Welch's campaign schedule an odd thing pops out. He'll be attending a Rainville farm meet and greet this evening. Rainville? Why would Welch be attending his opponent's event?

The Rainvilles in question are not directly connected to Martha Rainville, Welch's Republican opponent.

If it seems whimsically eye-catching, it was meant to be, concedes Welch spokesman Andrew Savage, though he said it's also meant to be a genuine campaign event.

There's got to be some Welches out there who'd be willing to host a Rainville event.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Independence streaks

Gracing Vermont TV screens in recent days on behalf of Republican U.S. House candidate has been Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, telling Vermonters she will be an independent voice in Congress. "It takes a tough person to be independent," he says. Rainville proved her independence by standing up for the Green Mountain Boys headed to Afghanistan, he says.

Starting today on Vermont radio airwaves, Liz Jeffords and Marcelle Leahy, wives of Vermont's two U.S. senators, make their pitch for Democrat Peter Welch. They say Welch is the one they are convinced can carry on Vermont's tradition of independence. "Republicans in Washington have shown they aren't interested in listening to moderate voices like Jim's anymore, "Liz Jeffords says. "We trust Peter to carry on Vermont's tradition of leadership and independence."

Is anybody winning the battle of independence?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Senate debate

U.S. Senate candidates Rich Tarrant and Bernie Sanders will be debating this afternoon at the VFW in Burlington. You can't go to the debate unless you're a veteran or related to one (and even then you'd have to drop everything and bolt out the door right now because it starts at 2 p.m.), but there are numerous opportunities to catch the debate over airwaves.

The debate will be aired on WDEV AM (550AM), WDEV FM (96.1FM) and WJOY (1230AM), plus on the world wide web. If that's not enough for you, Channel 17 is taping it for later broadcast on TV and online.

- Terri Hallenbeck


And now for the quiz

As you look over the previous posting about absentee ballots, I pose this question: Should the parties be allowed to take a voter's permission over the phone to request an absentee ballot, or should a signature be required?
- Terri Hallenbeck



Absentees with malice?

For several election cycles now, Vermonters have been able to ask for an absentee ballot and vote early. The parties love the idea and encouraged people - via mail - to request a ballot.

This year, they've stepped up their efforts with phone calls, filling out the ballot request form on behalf of voters who give their permission. Well, first the Democrats did, and now, because the Republicans aren't happy about it, they are joining in.

There have been reports of confusion from people who didn't remember or didn't realize they were requesting absentee ballots, as Associated Press reporter David Gram outlined in a story that ran in Saturday papers. You can read it here. Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett called the phone solicitations "an aggressive interpretation of Vermont election laws."

Wednesday, Barnett sent a letter to town clerks across the state saying the Republican Party will start taking ballot requests by phone:

"Because the law is being interpreted to allow authorized campaign workers
to request ballots for voters, the Vermont Republican Party is now adopting this
procedure to ensure a level electoral playing field."

Democrats and independent Senate candidate Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, revised the script that their volunteers use when calling voters. Party spokesman Bill Lofy said his party calls only known supporters of this year's Democratic candidates. Here's the script:

Absentee/Early Vote Script – For Those Who Have Not Yet Requested 10-12-06
Identify Yourself
Hi, I’m _______________ and I am working/volunteering for
the Vermont Democratic Party in (community) today. How are you doing?
Deliver Message
I just wanted to talk to you a little about what some of our
candidates, like Bernie Sanders, who are working on to make Vermont an even
better place. They’re working hard to lower healthcare costs, expand the number
of good-paying jobs in Vermont, and provide tax relief for middle class
This will be an incredibly close election, can our candidates
count on your support this fall?
(Other candidates are Peter Welch for US
House and Scudder Parker for Governor)
3) If Yes:
That’s great! Your vote
will be crucial, and you don’t have to wait until Nov. 7th to cast
Vermont law allows any registered voter to either vote by absentee ballot
from home or early vote at your Town Clerk’s office. Both are extremely easy and
voting early will be incredibly helpful to our candidates. Just visit your Town
Clerk at (insert local town clerk address) anytime during weekday business
hours; or you can request an absentee ballot to be mailed to your home right now
over the phone – you will receive your ballot within a few days. Simply fill out
the entire ballot, stamp it (if needed) and mail it back to the Town Clerk in
the self-addressed envelope they provide.
[ASK: Could I fill out an
application to have a ballot mailed to you on your behalf? OR Can I take you to
the Town Clerk’s office to vote early? I could pick you up whenever it is
convenient for you]
IF YES (get all information for application, OR check to
see what time local clerk is open; schedule a day and time for pickup) AND YOU
The Vermont Democratic Party will now request
an absentee application for you, on your behalf. This will go directly to the
town clerk, from the Party. You will then receive your ballot from the town
clerk within a few days. If you decide to vote in person early at the town
clerk’s office or on Election Day, you must bring your ballot with you to the
polling place. If you have any questions about your ballot or early vote, call
us immediately; toll free at 877-277-9015. Thank you for your support.
If not
interested in voting early or they will do so on their own thank them for their
support and finish the call.
4) If NOT supportive of our candidates:
there any questions that I can help answer regarding our candidates? [Answer
questions, thank for their time – "good bye"]
5) Left Message for Phone
Hi, this is _______ from the Vermont Democratic Party. This will be an
incredibly close election and your vote for our candidates can help ensure that
Vermont continues to have strong leadership in Washington DC and here at home.
This year, in addition to voting at the polls on November 7th, you can now vote
early - just visit your Town Clerk at (insert local town clerk address) any
weekday during business hours; or Request an absentee ballot to be mailed to
your home. If you have any questions about Bernie Sanders, Peter Welch, Scudder
Parker, Matt Dunne or any of our candidates, or if you would like to request an
early ballot, please call us toll free at 877-277-9015.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Live from Brattleboro

Just listened to the live web-streamed broadcast of the Rainville-Welch debate from Brattleboro.

We learned a little bit more about who did or didn't ask Martha Rainville to consider running for political office. Brattleboro Reformer Editor Sabina Haskell asked her to clarify the rumors. Rainville said Sen. Patrick Leahy encouraged her to continue her public service after her career in the Vermont National Guard, though she indicated he did not specify which office she should pursue. House and Senate were mentioned, she said.

She never talked to Hillary Clinton about running for anything, she said. Some people encouraged her to run for governor, some for lieutenant governor.

I was doing other things as the debate streamed through my earphones, including being interrupted about 1,000 times by (undoubtedly) innocent co-workers, so I might have missed some subtleties. Did anybody out there hear anything they'd like to share?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bifurcated debate

Two U.S. House debates will be going on at the same time on nearly opposite ends of the state today.

Republican Martha Rainville and Democrat Peter Welch will be meeting at 5:30 p.m. for a Brattleboro Reformer-sponsored debate at the Hooker-Dunham Theater. It is supposed to be broadcast on WKVT radio (1490 AM) and web-streamed through the Reformer's and WKVT's Web site.

Meanwhile, Channel 17 in Burlington will be holding a House debate at 5:25 p.m., which can be seen on Burlington area cable. Impeach Bush Now candidate Dennis Morrisseau, whom I just saw on Church Street, will be among those attending that one.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Still friends

Gov. Jim Douglas and his New York counterpart, George Pataki haven't exactly seen eye to eye on International Paper's plans to test tire burning at its Ticoderoga, N.Y., plant. With Douglas' support, Vermont has gone to court to fight that test.

There are signs, though, that Douglas' and Pataki's friendship is not irreparably harmed by the difference. Pataki, who's not running for re-election but is sniffing out a presidential run, has sent some of his spare campaign money Douglas' way, to the tune of $5,600, according to an Associated Press article out today.

Will the thank you note mention anything about burning bridges?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Entertaining costs

They say it takes money to make money, and that holds true when it comes to campaign fundraising. A big name can bring in relatively big money, but the bigger the name, the more it costs to get him or her here. Here’s a look at some of the recent visitors in Vermont’s U.S. House race:

When Martha Rainville and the Vermont Republican Party brought in first lady Laura Bush, they raised about $150,000, but they also had to pay $15,000 for Bush’s travel expenses and another $6,070 for the Inn an Essex, where the finger-foods luncheon/speech/photo opp were held. The two entities shared in the expenses and the money raised.

When Laura Bush’s mother-in-law, Barbara, came to visit, it cost $7,475 in travel expenses and $2,942 for the finger-foods luncheon/speech/photo opp at the Sheraton.

When Christie Whitman came to town this week, travel expenses were minimal because she was coming from New Hampshire, Rainville campaign manager Nathan Rice said. At two fund-raisers — a luncheon with 15 people in Stowe and a Burlington house party, the Rainville campaign raised about $5,000, campaign spokesman Brendan McKenna said. Expenses for a couple nights’ stay at the Trapp Family Lodge and the luncheon aren’t in yet.

Welch events have tended to be cheaper while also raising less money. Reps. John Murtha and Earl Blumenauer paid their own way via their own political action committees. Expenses for the Murtha speech at Lake & College in Burlington amounted to $120, Welch campaign spokesman Andrew Savage said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. brought in about $15,000 with a fund-raising luncheon attended by about 100 people, Savage said. The campaign is paying for RFK’s airfare ($278.40) and rental car, for a total of about $400, Savage said. Renting Ira Allen Chapel for Kennedy’s speech cost $400.

— Terri Hallenbeck


The radio waves sizzled

It was the first real debate among three of the four candidates for lieutenant governor and they came to score some political punches.

Mark Johnson hosted the three-way debate during his morning show on WDEV, with the candidates joining him at the senior center across the street from the radio station in downtown Waterbury. Mary Alice Herbert, the Liberty Union candidate from Putney, wasn't present.

Democrat Matt Dunne and Republican Brian Dubie put Progressive Marvin Malek between them at the round table -- good thing.

Actually, Malek started it. He critcized the Gov. Jim Douglas team, which includes Dubie, of proposing what he said was an "irresponsible" cap on school spending. He also criticized the "team" for inadequate action on energy and extending Internet access.

But it was Dunne who really took off the gloves, ciritizing Dubie for failing to work fulltime as lieutenant governor while taking an annual state salary of $61,000. Dunne says Dubie's office in the Statehouse is usually empty when the Legislature is out of session.

Dubie responded that Dunne didn't have any idea how hard Dubie worked. He said Dunne was mistaken "if you think working hard is defined as sitting in an office in Montpelier."

Dubie got in his own zinger on the subject of dedication to a state job, charging that Dunne missed 36 percent of the votes.

Dunne said he had to balance his job with politics, but noted that every time he missed a day at the Legislature, he returned a day's pay. Did Dubie do the same, he asked.

Johnson cut off the quarrel and Malek advised, "It would be preferable for everyone to refrain from personal attacks."

-- Nancy Remsen



Sparring partners

One hosts Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The other brings in Christine Todd Whitman. One brings John Murtha to town, the other John McCain. It's almost as if the visitors coming on behalf of Vermont's U.S. House candidate are paired up on purpose.

We weren't the only ones to see RFK Jr. and Whitman as sparring partners on the environment. Outside magazine brought the two together in 2003 for a three-day trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. Along the way, the two went head to head over global warming, environmental regulations and politics. It's all chronicled in a article printed in 2004 and available HERE .

Somebody out there has probably put Murtha and McCain in a bunker for a weekend to debate the war. Post the article here if you find it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Controversial letter

Secretary of Administration Michael Smith sent a letter Thursday to House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch that created a bit of a political stir. You will be able to read the full text below.

Smith said the administration is in the midst of developing a budget proposal for next year and he wanted to keep legislative leaders up to date with "where we are going." That's not controversial. Smith said the Douglas administration -- assuming Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is re-elected -- would propose a budget that wouldn't require any increase in any tax and he asked Symington and Welch "to join me in a pledge that urges the incoming legislature not to raise taxes in fiscal year 2008."

Scudder Parker, the Democrat challenging Douglas in the gubernatorial race, called Smith's letter "outrageous." Why? "I think it is destructive to have the secretary of administration engaging in political posturing on the part of the governor," Parker said. He also thought it was poor form to communicate through a letter, rather than a face-to-face chat.

Smith is asking the pair of leaders to take a pledge without knowing any of the details of the budget. Symington, a Democrat running for re-election to the House, said she wasn't ready to make such a commitment without knowing the choices the Douglas administration proposed to make to cover the obligation to the teacher retirement fund or to whittle the backlog of road and bridge projects.

So here's the letter.

October 12, 2006
State of Vermont
Agency of Administration
Office of
the Secretary
Pavilion Office Building
109 State Street
VT 05609-0201
Rep. Gaye Symington, Speaker
Vermont House of Representatives
Sen. Peter Welch, President Pro Tempore
Vennont Senate

Dear Speaker Symington and Senator Welch:

In a few short weeks, this election season will be over and Vennonters will begin to
focus on the upcoming legislative session. It is my job to start looking ahead.
Given the very short time frame between Election Day and the beginning of the
legislative session, I felt it was important to share with you some thoughts
about our current fiscal situation as the Governor's budget is being prepared.

I feel very strongly that the fiscal year 2008 budget can be balanced
without raising taxes. As the current leaders of your respective legislative
bodies, I am hoping that you - along with your leadership team and appropriation
chairs - will join me in a pledge to that effect. We have the opportunity
today to assure Vermonters that their tax burden will not be increased and
persuade the incoming legislature of the need to establish as a priority an
agenda to reduce the overall tax burden on Vermonters.

I have seen frustration - and outright anger - about the high level of taxation in this
state. It has been expressed most often at the property tax. The perception
of many is that the current system of funding our schools is creating
needless divisions between communities. It is creating divisions within
communities as well: taxpayers who own non-residential property - as well as
those residential taxpayers who do not qualify for income sensitivity - have
come to the realization that they are being asked to pick up the lion's share of
ever escalating property tax burdens.

The Governor believes that property taxes must be a primary focus of this upcoming session. Vermonters are demanding change without raising their tax burden, and,
especially, without raising the income tax.

As we struggle with property taxes, there is good news regarding the state's finances. Despite an earlier dire prediction from the Joint Fiscal Office, our projected Medicaid deficit is shrinking. We project a shortfall of roughly $11 million for FYO8, a far cry from the $43 million that your analysts warned of in June. This deficit may shrink even further as we examine expenditure trends. The Governor's 2008 budget will be presented in January with no Medicaid deficit and will be able, as was the case with his previous 4 budgets, to protect those most vulnerable Vermonters. I am sure you agree that the Global Commitment waiver the Governor secured from the federal government has helped pull us out of the mess we were in and put
Vermont's finances on a much more sustainable track. I thank you for your
support of Global Commitment through last year's budget process.

Our stable finances should be comforting news to Vermonters, who are fearful that they will be asked yet again to make up the shortfall between what state government collects and what it spends. General and Transportation fund revenues remain on target, and the Vermont economy continues to grow. Vermont is ranked number one in New England for year over year job growth in private and public sector jobs.

The Governor will submit a balanced and compassionate budget for FYO8. It
will be balanced without raising taxes.

As the leaders of your respective chambers, I ask you to join me in a pledge that urges the incoming legislature not to raise taxes in fiscal year 2008. Your voice will have considerable impact upon every returning and new legislator and will set the
agenda for the upcoming legislative session. Vermonters are already struggling
with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation; it is only fitting that
we heed their pleas and promise that we won't make their plight even worse.

Mike/Michael K. Smith, Secretary, Agency of Administration

So is that policy or politics? Probabaly depends, right?

-- Nancy Remsen


House work

The national committees have been busy in the Vermont U.S. House race.

A poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee indicates an 11 percent lead for Democratic U.S. House candidate Peter Welch. The poll, done with 401 voters Oct. 8-9 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research with a 5 percent margin of error, has Welch leading 52 percent to 41 perent over Republican Martha Rainville.

Rainville's campaign spokesman, Brendan McKenna, laughed upon hearing the numbers. "We think it's a lot closer than that," he said. He would not say whether the Rainville campaign had fresh polling numbers of its own.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is making automated phone calls on Rainville's behalf. The calls seem to be going to just about everybody in Vermont, including Welch, who said he was unpersuaded by it to change his vote.

The message goes like this: "We need a leader like Martha Rainville to stand up for Vermont values and bring fresh thinking to Washington. Martha Rainville was named Vermonter of the Year by The Burlington Free Press for her leadership. She's had the courage to pave the way and lead with honor. Elect Martha Rainville."

Rainville was the Free Press editorial board's 2004 Vermonter of the Year.

Meanwhile, back at the Democratic camp, the DCCC has a new ad in support of Welch that declares him as the only candidate ready to end the war in Iraq. You can see it here.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Hill and the flag

If Craig Hill, Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, intended to make a statement at a recent candidate forum at the Williston School, he succeeded.

Hill stood with his hands behind his back and his face turned away from the American flag as the other candidates and the student audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The moment was caputured in a photograph published Saturday in the Burlington Free Press.

Readers have been calling almost every day to ask the name of the candidate who looked away.

-- Nancy Remsen



Dad fills in

The man introducing Rep. John Murtha, U.S. House candidate Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy at Tuesday’s Democratic rally in Burlington was Gavin Wright of Essex.

Wright’s son, Matthew, is serving in Iraq with the Vermont National Guard as we speak. Dad said his son asked him via e-mail to go to the rally. The night before he was deployed Matthew Wright stopped by the Welch for Congress office in Burlington with a campaign donation, Welch said.

Gavin Wright said his 30-year-old son is a soldier, but he opposes the war in Iraq. So does Dad. Dad secured a Welch campaign poster, signed by Murtha, Welch and Leahy for his son.

— Terri Hallenbeck


Start your voting

The Democratic and Republican parties sent out notices today reminding voters that they can start voting today (via absentee ballot in person at their town or city clerk's offices or by mail).

Both parties provided links to help people find their town clerks. The Democrats also have a nifty Web site where you can look up where you - or your friends, neighbors and enemies - are registered to vote. Here's the link.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Jeffords weighs in

Sen. Jim Jeffords didn’t take too kindly to seeing his face on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s ad for Republican U.S. House candidate Martha Rainville.

The retiring senator has written to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds of western New York, and asked that the NRCC cease running the ad immediately. Jeffords, who says he is not endorsing candidates this year, then comes pretty darn close to doing that.

“I must advise that while I think Martha Rainville is a talented leader, I feel very strongly that the country will be better served with the Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in the 110th Congress. Therefore, I believe Peter Welch is a better choice for Vermont,” Jeffords says in the letter.

The NRCC has no plans to stop running the ad, which first appeared on Vermont TVs last Thursday, spokesman Ed Patru said. The committee doesn’t consider Jeffords’ presence in the ad as a suggestion that he’s endorsing Rainville, Patru said.

— Terri Hallenbeck


Your new best friend

Perhaps you, like many Vermonters, received a brochure in the mail from the Vermont Republican Party urging you to ask for an absentee ballot. It came with a form you can fill out and return — to the Republican Party.

The Vermont Democratic Party plans a similar mailing.

Republicans followed their mailing to my house with an automated phone call from Gov. Jim Douglas, reminding me to fill the form out, just in case I’d shoved it off to the side of the kitchen table underneath five credit card offers and 14 catalogs.

Plenty of Vermonters prefer to vote via absentee – 20 percent in the last presidential election, about 15 percent in 2002.

However, wise and wary voters ought to be aware that if they make their request for a ballot through the parties, the service doesn’t come without a cost. If you fill out the form attached to the mailing, it will go back to the party, which then turns the request over to your town or city clerk.

The advantage for party officials is that they now have your name, and they’ve marked you down as someone who’s inclined toward them. They will also follow up your request with a phone call just to make sure you actually fill out the ballot. They will check with your clerk to see if you’ve returned it. They will become your new best friend. That friendship will be noted in your permanent file.

With a modicum of motivation, you can cut out the middle man and request an absentee ballot directly from your town clerk. You can even fill it out on the spot and hand it back. Or you can wait until Nov. 7 and go to the polls for that good, old American traditional style voting.

It’s sort of like the difference between ordering pizza delivered to your house, or going out to the pizzeria to pick it up yourself. In this case, though, if you order delivery, the pizza place is going to keep you on its list and call you up now and again to remind you that you like pizza.

Maybe you like those kinds of reminders. It raises the question, though — do the 40 percent of Vermont voters who claim they are independent really want to be on a political party’s best-friend list?

— Terri Hallenbeck



Sanders safe?

Charlie Cook's Political Report out of Washington. D.C. is considered by political insiders the last word when it comes to divining the status of governor, House and Senate campaigns around the country.

If that's the case, then maybe Republican Rich Tarrant may want to rethink making many more big-check investments in his self-financed bid to beat independent Bernie Sanders in the Senate race.

Cook's latest report just moved the Sanders-Tarrant contest from the "likely Democrat(I)" column to the "solid Democrat(I)" column, meaning Cook believes its game over for Tarrant in Vermont.

You have to be a Cook subscriber to read his analysis, so I won't put in a link. But here's a peek at some of what Cook had to say about the Vermont race in his new report.

"Republican health care magnate Richard Tarrant has spent $6.1 million in an effort to win this open Senate seat, shattering just about every imaginable record for political spending in the state. Unfortunately, the most recent poll indicates that all that money has only earned Tarrant 33 percent of the vote."

"He he hasn't made any inroads against his opponent Rep. Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who has represented the state's At-Large congressional district since 1990 as an independent ... After 25 years in public office, the first nine as Mayor of Burlington, voters know Sanders pretty well. If his liberal voting record wouldn't play well in many states, it suits Vermont just fine. As such, voters here do not seem that open to Tarrant's criticisms of Sanders' record. They've heard it all before."

"If $6.1 million spent over the course of 12 months can't put Tarrant within striking distance, nothing can. This race moves to Solid Democrat (Independent). "

Then again, Cook hasn't been in Vermont and seen the forest of yellow-and-red Tarrant lawn (and other) signs that have popped up around the state.


--Sam Hemingway



Daggers drawn

Hasn’t there been anything else going on? "anonymous" queries. Why, yes, anonymous, there have been a few things. Perhaps even a few things too many. So we have fallen slack in our blogging.

We are awash in abundant signs that the political daggers have been drawn, and they are sharp. Here's a sampling of recent examples:

Monday, after the story broke that a campaign staffer for Martha Rainville had plagiarized policy statements, it didn’t take long before Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett sent out a statement chronicling how a letter from Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton to President Bush contained wording that mirrored Democratic National Committee talking points.

Democratic Party spokesman Bill Lofy responded that a party official taking talking points from his own party is different than lifting another candidate’s words. As we spoke, Lofy hauled out a 1992 newspaper article in which Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Douglas made the same argument when he was accused of using another Republican candidate policy points.

Barnett, surprisingly, did not have a copy of the 1992 article within arms length, but guessed – correctly – that in it, Democrats were the ones accusing Douglas of copying those points.

Fast forward to Thursday. Democrat Peter Welch’s campaign announced that Rep. John Murtha will be visiting Vermont next week. Within hours, Barnett sent out an alert calling on Welch to answer questions about Murtha since the release of a 1980 video, as written about in a recent "American Spectator" article and discussed on Fox’s Hannity & Colmes. Murtha was investigated as part of the Abscam bribery scandal and never charged.

According to Fox’s Web site, Murtha’s response was: "This is nothing but a political stunt designed to distract attention away from the message that we must change the direction of the war in Iraq. I am the guy that didn't take the money. I have been re-elected to Congress 13 times since this tape was made 25 years ago. I will not be distracted."

So tell us, dear bloggists. Are these distractions? Are they points well made? Or what?

— Terri Hallenbeck


Murtha moment

Add John Murtha to the list of leef-peeping politicos headed to Vermont. The Pennsylvania congressman who made a name for himself as a Marine veteran speaking out against the Iraq war, will be stumping for Democrat Peter Welch on Tuesday. Details TBA.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Leaf-peeping politicos

It is as if they are hovering over Vermont airspace, lined up and ready to land. Political figures from Oregon to New Jersey are headed to the Green Mountain State to help out the Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. House. 
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer from Portland, Ore., will be here Thursday to spend the day with Democrat Peter Welch. They will, among other things, visit a Charlotte farm and attend a global warming forum in Middlebury. Blumenauer is not exactly a tip-of-the-tongue name, but Welch’s campaign said it’s a good chance to show off Vermont farming to a congressman from elsewhere who might have some sway on the issue. 
Christie Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and former Environmental Protection Agency head who runs a political action committee called It's My Party Too, will campaign for Republican Martha Rainville on Oct. 16. A trip to Stowe is on the agenda. Whitman's PAC lists Rainville and Gov. Jim Douglas as "supported candidates," but says Vermont has no state PAC captain.
Robert Kennedy Jr., prosecuting attorney for the environmental organization Riverkeeper, will join Welch at an environmental rally at the University of Vermont on Oct. 13. 
Perhaps it’s an easy sell to lure a politician from elsewhere to Vermont the first half of October. Will they still be coming when all the leaves are gone and before the snow flies? 
— Terri Hallenbeck


Who earned those stars?

The October issue of Inc. Magazine, which bills itself as the handbook of the American entrepreneur, has evaluated the 26 governors running for re-election this fall and awarded Gov. Jim Douglas a four-star ranking -- the magazine's highest score.

A four-star governor is "a true friend whose policies will benefit businesses over the short and long term, explains the magazine. Joining Douglas in this elite category are three Democratic governors: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

"We are very proud," said Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs. "The governor has made it a priority to promote Vermont as a competitive place to live and work," Gibbs said, adding that the ranking shows his efforts are working.

The magazine evaluated only governors seeking re-election, not their challengers. Douglas faces five challengers.

In a statement accompanying the ratings for each governor, Executive Editor Mike Hofman wrote, "The thinking here is that it's smarter and fairer to assess someone on the record he or she has built in office than on campaign promises."

"What attracted us to Gov. Douglas is he is in a state with a notorious liberal tradition," Hofman said in a telephone interview. He noted that the Legislature was controlled by Democrats these past two years. "He managed to work with them and make progress."

Douglas was one of four governors to receive special recognition for the state's progress on health care. Hofman said the recently passed health reform legislation "really is ambitious."

"A lot of things they are talking about are things he did with the Legislature," said Bill Lofy, a spokesman for Scudder Parker, Douglas' Democratic rival in this election. Lofy said health care reform wouldn't have been as business friendly if Democrats hadn't prevented adoption of some provisions in the Douglas' plan. The governor had proposed a tax on health insurance premiums that would have added to the cost of the health benefits that many businesses buy for their workers.

Inc. Magazine noted that Douglas blocked a Democratic plan to pay for expanding health care to the uninsured with a payroll tax.

The magazine also praised the state for spending $11,128 per pupil in 2005.

"If Jim Douglas had his way, Vermont would not rate the best when it comes to total school spending," Lofy said. "He complains regularly that we are spending too much per pupil."

"The governor supports our strong public education system," Gibbs countered. "He wants to be sure we put our continuing investments into that system on a sustainable track."

The report wasn't posted yet on Tuesday evening, but the magazine's Web address is www.inc.com.

--Nancy Remsen


Douglas Web site down

It used to be that a Main Street store front with big windows to display campaign signs was a prerequisite for a serious candidate. Perhaps I'm dating myself with that memory. Today, candidates need Web sites, complete with their biographies, stands on issues, their latest ads, buttons to allow for online donations and links to ask for signs or volunteer.

So with just over a month to go, Gov. Jim Douglas, Republican candidate seeking re-election, finds himself with an out-of-commission Web site because of a fire in downtown Bellows Falls. The fire Saturday night destroyed Oona's Restaurant and damaged Sovernet next door. Sovernet is the Web host for Douglas' online campaign "headquarters."

Dennise Casey, Douglas campaign manager, is thankful the campaign's e-mail has been restored, but she's getting anxious about the Web site. "It's a tool. We are without a piece of the puzzle here. We direct a lot of people to it."

Midmorning Tuesday, a check of www.jimdouglas.com offered only the hope the site would be back soon.

--Nancy Remsen



Policy re-statements

Martha Rainville has fired staff member Chris Stewart for plagiarizing material for her policy statements from other candidates.

"I’m just incredibly disappointed," Rainville said.

The plagiarized statements were uncovered by a Westminster woman who said she was researching the race between Republican Rainville and Democrat Peter Welch. She said she saw reference to one policy’s similarities with a White House statement and became curious about others. By Googling phrases she soon found several more examples of work copied from a variety of politicians.

Rainville’s energy policy, for instance, used the same phrase as U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton used in a speech. A Rainville statement about putting the federal budget online carried the same phrasing, with a grammatical error intact, as Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat.

Rainville’s campaign has taken its Web site down and is rewriting the policy statements, Rainville said. The thrust of those statements won’t change, she said, but the exact wording will.

She said she is investigating whether any other staff members took statements from elsewhere or knew that Stewart had.

We'll have more in Tuesday's Free Press.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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