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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



It's not the property tax

Sen. Mark MacDonald, the Orange County Democrat, had the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office work up a sheet for him that examines the percent increase in property taxes, as adjusted for income, compared to other high-flying items the average Vermonter is saddled with - home heating oil, gasoline and health care.

Home heating oil: up 114.41 percent between 2002 and 2006.
Gas: up 90.44 percent.
Health care: up 32.95 percent
Property taxes: up 11.28 percent
Average annual inflation: 2.9 percent

His point: It's been too easy for Gov. Jim Douglas to rail about property taxes. And talk that the global warming debate is a waste of time? He says work on that issue will help Vermonters slice those other items.

He makes no allowances for the actual amount the average Vermonter is paying in gas or heat. Those are per-gallon prices, while the others are the average amount spent.

What do you think? Vermonters have been hollering a lot about property taxes.

- Terri Hallenbeck


welch and W.

Peter Welch made his debut as a Congressman on VPR's Switchboard program last night, and wouldn't you know it: A caller to the program brought up the business about his smiling exchange with President Bush on the floor of the House last week after the State of the Union speech.

The exchange has been bandied about on Vermont political blogs, including this one, ever since. Some think the incident is proof Welch will bend to the ways of Washington instead of sticking to his principles; others think it shows he knows how to put aside partisanship and get along with with political opponents when the occasion arises.

Here's a shortened version of the Switchboard exchange:

MICHAEL, FROM WORCESTER: To see you basically reduced to a schoolboy cheerleader, clamoring to get his autograph and slap his back and then, to add insult to injury, to not see you show up at the peace rallies in Montpelier, not show up at the peace rallies in Washington D.C. last Saturday, and worse, not put your name on important pieces of legislation ... which offer specific targets in reduction of troops and truly oppose President Bush."

CONGRESSMAN WELCH: My voting record so far is very clear. I've voted on all of the legislation that's been in direct conflict with the Bush positions ... I've also joined with the many other members of Congress who are opposed to the war and are taking concrete steps to try to bring that war to an end.
On the question of President Bush, the first time I net him was at the Congressional orientation... I had a chance to interact with him as the rest of us did ... I asked him about Vermont farmers and could he help and then he asked me about a friend of his who lives in Burlington and who is somebody he when to high school and college with, Jack Sartore. He asked if I would call him and say hello, which I did. And it was President Bush, when he was leaving after the state of the uinion, he saw me -- the man has a memory -- and he asked me if I had called Jack Sartore and I said I had... and he asked me if I would let him know he was asking about him again at the State of the Union and so I did that.

So does any of this change your view of Welch, or what you think of his exchange with the Prez that night? One final note, the video of the exchange does not show that Welch slapped the back of the president during their chat. It was actually the other way around.

-- Sam Hemingway



Destination Bennington

Last week, we learned that Administration Secretary Mike Smith would be making a trip this week to Bennington to soothe employees' nerves over the growing number of cases of the rare disease sarcoidosis in the state office building.

The Senate Institutions Committee also planned a trip for this Thursday.

Tuesday, Gov. Jim Douglas abruptly announced he'd go too. He was to join Smith in meeting with employees this afternoon and touring construction of the new temporary buildings going up near the state office building.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi, who took some heat for highlighting employee concerns in his Economic Development Committee even though it was quite a stretch to call it an economic development issue, couldn't help but think Tuesday that he'd had an impact.

At the very least, the interest he's generated has to be helping the economy of Bennington. The Institutions Committee will be eating lunch there. Maybe the governor's driver had to fill up the gas tank.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Free speech on the line?

There has been talk in recent years of trying to limit the length of vote explanations in the Vermont House. Let me explain. On a roll call vote, members are allowed to ask for an opportunity after voting is completed to state for the record why they voted yes or no. This is after they had the opportunity to make speeches on the floor. These explanations must be written and are turned into the House staff for publication in the House Journal the following day.

Vote explanations have become increasingly popular. They also have been getting longer and longer.

The solution: The committee on House rules offered a resolution today that would set some official limits. It said, "It is generally recognized that vote explanations should be rare and brief. Only those explanations of 50 words or less will be printed in the House Journal."

In other words, House members could still go on and on with their vote explanation, but only 50 words would be reprinted in the Journal.

Rep. Judy Livingston, R-Manchester, who serves on the rules committee, explained to House members that lots of lengthy, hand-written explanations put a burden on the House staff trying to turn around the Journal overnight. She reminded members that their fulll remarks would be heard on the radio, wouldl be on file and would, of course, be heard on the House floor.

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre, objected to the limit, saying it violated members "free speech" rights.

It was clear that House members were going to struggle with this vote. Many might favor a way to restrict the verbose vote explanations, but who among them wanted to be on the record voting against free speech, especially their own. And they were going to be on the record. Koch had asked for a roll call.

Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, came to the rescue. He asked for a short recess, and after a group conference at the Speaker's podium, the resolution was tabled until Friday. My guess is some rewriting will take place between now and then to suggest limits, but eliminate the mandate.

-- Nancy Remsen



Grand Old Positioning

So the Republicans elected a new party chairman Saturday.

It is Rob Roper, 38, of Stowe, the state director of the anti-tax, pro-small-government group Freedom Works, author of Vermonters for a Better Education and opponent of publicly run pre-school.

If you're a Democrat, that's the guy you hoped won the race. Roper is considered more conservative than the other candidate, former state Rep. Alan Parent of St. Albans. As far as the Democrats are concerned, if the Republicans take a more conservative swing, that's a good thing for them because it leaves the D's more of the middle.

If you're a Republican, there is an argument for staking out your own territory and distinguishing yourself from the other guys, becoming the voice of certain issues, such as property tax rights.

Is that a wise way for the Vermont Republican Party to go? Look at the sort of Republicans who get elected in Vermont. Jim Douglas, not Ruth Dwyer. Diane Snelling, not Skip Vallee. There are only seven Republicans in the state Senate this term, most of them moderates.

When it comes to recruiting candidates for public office, will the party remember that its success has rested with moderates? Or will it go the way of national Republicans and leave no room for the likes of Jim Jeffords? If you do that in Vermont these days, can you elect anyone to office?

I'm not saying that's what they've done, but those are questions for y'all to chew on.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Signature moment

Green Mountain Politics1 brought this to our attention. Video on YouTube shows Rep. Peter Welch snaring the president's autograph at the State of the Union.

It does make you wonder why the avowed critic of the president would want his John Hancock. Welch spokesman Andrew Savage reports that he was seeking the signature for his nephew, who is not a fan of the president but was in the audience for the State of the Union.

Shows you the power of the presidency, and of American tradition. Even those who might choke on what the president says want to acknowledge the historic moment of the State of the Union. Welch said as much when he went to the White House during orientation and met Bush. The White House still means something even when you don't like the decisions coming out of it.

Still, you have to wonder if it wasn't a little hard for him to bite him lip and hand the paper for Bush to sign.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Jobs for journalists

If I had a dime for every time somebody asked me today at the Statehouse what state agency I'm going to work for, I'd have more money than your average journalist.

For the record, I'm not going to work for any state agency. But Darren Allen, our competitor over at the Rutland Herald/Times Argus, is. He's taken a job doing communications for the Agency of Natural Resources. Because he is about the 80th reporter in the last three weeks to jump ship into state government (yes, that's an exaggeration, but it's close), plenty of people are wondering what's going on.

I can't answer that. Journalism pays poorly, the hours are unpredictable and long, and the deadlines never-ending, but there's nothing new about that.

The real question is what the Douglas administration is doing with all these former journalists. Does he feel sorry for them? If that's the case, couldn't he just establish a fund for all of us? Does he hire them because he's tried of reading what they write about him? More than one person intimated that. Or does he think they have some skill the state desperately needs?

Any thoughts?

- Terri Hallenbeck


AG report card

Attorney General William Sorrell, who joined with AGs around the country to sue and win a settlement with big tobacco companies worth millions of dollars, has been taken to task for this effort in a just-released study sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Sorrell was ranked seventh among the top ten worst AGs in a study by Hans Bader for CEI. Bader argues Sorrell and the other offending AGs have made a practice of exceeding the powers of their offices.

"Few attorneys general have done more damage to the fabric of the law than William Sorrell," Bader's article begins. Ouch! Bader complains that Sorrell successfully convinced the Legislature to pass a law that made tobacco companies retroactively liable for the state's Medicaid expenses for Vermonters with smoking-related illnesses. This was the basis for the lawsuit that Vermont and other states pursued with tobacco companies. The result was a settlement. Vermont now receives roughly $25 million a year in settlement payments from tobacco companies and beginning next year, will get an extra $10 million a year for a decade.

Bader argues this law sets a dangerous precedent for other businesses with products that could be alleged to have ill effects on public health.

I don't think Sorrell regrets what he did, but Bader thinks he should. Bader also criticizes Sorrell for joining other AGs in "meritless, overreaching global warming suits against out-of-state utilities and the Environmental Protection Agency."

To check out this study for yourself, go here.

-- Nancy Remsen



Fort Knox in Vermont

Hours before the president delivered his State of the Union, commentators were talking about the content of his speech. No such thing happens here in Vermont.

Gov. Jim Douglas' 2008 budget was as tightly held a secret as the Oscar winners. Democratic leaders weren't too pleased about that Tuesday as they tried to figure out what was in the budget so they could comment on it. "We haven't even been given the courtesy of seeing this budget in outline form," said House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho.

House Republican Leader Steve Adams of Hartland had a briefing from administration staff, but he wasn't allowed to leave the room with any of the paperwork.

Same went for the media. During a briefing, we could look at a summary of the budget numbers, but when it came time to leave, Administration Secretary Mike Smith wanted the pages back. It wasn't until after the speech that we - or anyone - could have the budget booklet.

We were given copies of the governor's speech just before he started speaking. Jason Gibbs, Douglas' spokesman, said those were given to some lawmakers last year, but he said there was too much shuffling of pages during the speech. They'd have none of that this year. The speech wasn't available to most people until afterward.

- Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen


Watching Welch Watch

Have you seen/heard about the anonymous blog born two weeks ago? It's aimed exclusively at questioning the performance of first-term Democratic Congressman Peter Welch.

And we do mean exclusive. The blog is named Welch Watch and promotes itself as "your one-stop resource for all things pertaining to Vermont's At-large Congressperson." Senator Pat Leahy has been in Washington since 1974 and Senator Bernie Sanders since 1991, but Welch gets the honor of being the first politician to have a blog dedicated to watching his every move. And he's only been on the job three weeks. You gotta love it!

Here's what the accompanying blurb purports to be the purpose of the blog: "We imagine there will be occasional discussions of Welch's past statements, campaign pledges, voting record, etc, as well as perusals of his donor database, connections he has made, his committee actions in Washington, his staff, and the like ... Please feel free to contact us with tips, suggestions, angry denunciations, songs, stories or poems."

No clue who's behind this little endeavor, but we may have gotten a hint about the true motivations of the blog last week when whoever Welch Watch is wrote this in response to a question from someone who had written to ask if Welch Watch was pro- or anti-Welch: "It should be obvious to everyone that at this point I am much more interested in character assasination than substance."

Let the 2008 campaign begin!

-- Sam Hemingway



This is "yooge"

So we already noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders was quoted Friday on the air waves of National Public Radio in a story by Elizabeth Shogren on global warming legislation. That's just the tip of the iceberg, it turns out.

Sunday, Sanders was featured in the New York Times Magazine. Mark Leibovich wrote a profile of "the Socialist Senator." The story mentions Sanders' hair, of course, and his rise up the political ladder electoral loser to fluke to winner. My favorite part was how the writer picked up on Sanders' pronounciation of the word 'huge' as 'yooge.'

Want to read more about Sanders. According to his staff, he's being quoted a lot in his new role as one of the country's elite 100.

Erin Campbell said in an email to us, “The national press Bernie has been receiving of late is exciting and very helpful in spreading the word about his progressive agenda, which includes closing the gap between the rich and the poor in America and moving our country towards sustainable energy. On Friday alone NPR, the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and the Nation covered Sanders in stories discussing his global warming legislation, his amendment to the ethics reform legislation, and his questioning of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke. He was also recently the subject of international print profiles in the BBC as well as Agence France-Presse.”

Wow. That's yooge. Of course, Washington knows how to keep all this attention from going to his head. Leibovich writes that Sanders and staff remain in some temporary office space --two months after winning his spot in the Senate and several weeks after taking his oath of office.

-- Nancy Remsen


Tally ho

I learned a couple things about write-in votes Friday, as the Senate Government Operations Committee heard from Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.

Because I've spent a few election nights with my stomach churning over whether we'll get the results in time to put in the newspaper, you won't catch me using the write-in method of voting lightly. Those pesky write-in votes are laborious to count on election night and I want to do nothing that will delay the tallying process.

Markowitz said she learned the same thing when she became immersed in elections. In her naive youth, she used to write in her husband's name if she didn't know who else to vote for. No more, though. She knows how laborious it is to count those write-ins.

They don't even bother counting all those clever votes for Mickey Mouse - only the ones for real people. If your name really is Mickey Mouse and you're launching a write-in campaign in Vermont you might want to alert the authorities.

Still, Burlington elections director Jo LaMarche told the committee the city had something like 1,200 write-ins on Election Day. "It created a very long night," she said.

Even if you don't have pity for the poor election worker, have pity for yourself. Until they've counted all the votes, you don't get to know who won the election.

Markowitz said her office will soon have a proposal for legislators about write-ins that involves requiring write-in candidates to register with the Secretary of State's Office just before the election.

Does that kill the serendipity of write-in campaigns, stifle the voters, squeeze out the little guys and gals who have a last-minute surge? What, then, is the answer?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Sanders on NPR

Anybody catch Sen. Bernie Sanders on National Public Radio this morning? The topic was global warming, and Sanders was quoted saying anybody'd have to be a "moron" not to be concerned about climate change. Yes, folks, this is not your typical senator.
- Terri Hallenbeck


On Iraq

Rep. Peter Welch signed onto a resolution calling for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Is this a sign that the earlier talk of bringing the troops home with a year is no longer the thing?

Welch signed onto Rep. John Murtha's House Joint Resolution 18, which calls for an immediate reployment of our troops from Iraq. It goes like this:
"The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is
hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest
practicable date."

Welch also co-sponsored H.R. 353, sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey, that prohibits the president from spending funds to escalate the troop presence in Iraq without prior congressional approval.

Questions remain about whether Congress will have any sway when it comes down to it in Iraq, or whether they have any better answers for solving the jam the U.S. is in over there.

- Terri Hallenbeck



U.S. Attorney-gate?

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, has been pressing for answers for why the Bush administration has quietly replaced at least seven U.S. Attorneys around the country with interim appointees that will never have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Today, she got to grill Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the matter, and when she didn't get the answers she asked for, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., stepped in and demanded Gonzales do the right thing. The blog Muckraker.com has been following this little drama, and to review the exchange between Feinstein, Leahy and Gonzales, click HERE.

Feinstein's gripe is both that the Bush administration is circumventing the advise-and-consent powers that the Senate has for such appointments and that the White House is possibly inserting replacements who are GOP political hacks.

Exhibit A is what happened in Arkansas, where federal prosecutorBud Cummins was abruptly replaced in December by Timother Griffin, the former the research director of the Republican National Committee.

Feinstein said it appears the White House has been able to pull off these switcheroos using a little-known provision put into the Patriot Act by Leahy's predecessor chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Interesting, no?

--Sam Hemingway



What numbers don't tell

Gov. Jim Douglas, today in his news conference, referred to a Vermont business owner who told him about losing out on hiring a new employee after the prospective employee weighed property taxes in Vermont vs. wherever else he or she had job prospects.

We all know that property taxes are the number one concern of just about everybody in Vermont, and I'm not trying to downplay that. I know people take property taxes in consideration when making decisions about where to live and where to build businesses, and with good reason.

The comment did, however, prompt me to picture this prospective employee, who apparently chose to live in another state. How many states were in the running we do not know. This person must have researched the average property tax payment in each state in question, looked down at the figures scratched on a piece of paper and announced to the spouse and kids, that this was how they were going to shape their lives - based on the property tax bill.

I can't help but think that's some kind of nerd we're talking about.

Those of us who are lucky enough to live here know that the nerd is missing out on something that can't quite be summed up by numbers on a page. Have you seen the mountains on a clear, sunny day like today, just to name one of the unquantifiables?

Not that we shouldn't also worry about the numbers on the page.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Sweating the small stuff

Economists Jeff Carr and Tom Kavet work for different masters. Carr provides economic advice to the Douglas administration while Kavet works for the Legislature. Twice a year they are charged with analyzing economic trends to discern what kind of tax revenues the state can expect.

The pair undertake separate analyses. Then they are charged with reaching a consensus. They reported to the governor and the chairman and women of the Legislature's money committees Tuesday.

They are old hands at this process, so they reported they had no trouble reaching agreement on the economic trends and tax implications. The tougher challenge was agreeing on what slides to include in their first-ever power point presentation to Gov. Jim Douglas, Reps. Michael Obuchowski and Martha Heath, and Sens. Susan Bartlett and Ann Cummings -- all Democrats.

"It took us more time to put the slide show together than write the report," Carr told the assembled group, also known as the Emergency Board.

Kavet had offered a similar assessment several hours earlier when he briefed the House Ways and Means Committee on the revenue projections. And just what did they disagree about? Kavet said one area of dispute was a cartoon he wanted to include that shows a couple standing on green grass, the guy in shorts and sandals. The man asks, "What's that? as a single snowflake falls. The woman answers, "Winter."

The slow start to winter has taken a toll on many Vermont recreation businesses, which will impact the revenues of the state. Kavet and Carr estimate at least $2 million in tax losses.

"I guess the administration thought it was too serious a topic for a cartoon," Kavet told House Ways and Means.

Hey, if you can't laugh at bad luck, you'll cry. At least you get some health benefits from laughing.

--- Nancy Remsen



School talk

There's probably not a school in Vermont in session today, between MLK Day and the snow, so let's use their day off to talk about what's on the minds of many trying to tackle spending issues: school consolidation.

Education Commissioner Richard Cate starts his five-month, statewide road show this week in Bradford, where he'll talk about whether Vermont schools could be governed more efficiently and hear from folks in the real world. In May, Cate proposed cutting the number of school districts from 284 to 63.

Maine is having the same debate. Gov. John Baldacci recently launched a proposal to shrink the number of districts there from 290 to 26. The idea wasn't immediately embraced. Read some of it HERE.

Change is tough. As soon as you walk the mental path toward bigger school districts, you have trouble imagining how parents in Williston would feel if their schools were overseen by a single school board that covered all of Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Gasp! Those impudent people from Shelburne would probably be pushing their ideas.

What gives, though? How can Vermont just keep doing things the same way as school populations decline and the number of staff does not?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dear Mr. President

You could argue - and perfectly rationally - that it doesn't amount to a hill of beans what the governor of Vermont says about the president or Iraq. That said, Gov. Jim Douglas is often asked at news conferences to comment on national and world events. He's a committed reader of newspapers (let that be a lesson to all of you), so he's usually up to speed on said events.

Thursday, the subject was the president's speech the night before declaring that he's sending more than 20,000 more troops to Iraq. If you sit at the news conference table often enough you get used to Douglas defending Bush, not always vociferously, but at least steadfastly.

That didn't happen Thursday. Douglas said flat out he thought the president was going down the wrong path. Why the change of heart? Because things just haven't turned around in Iraq, Douglas said, and he and most Vermonters and most Americans are sick of it. Clearly, he read the papers the day after the election.

Earlier in the week at a different news conference table, brand-new Congressman Peter Welch said the Democrats' game plan on the war in Iraq is to get Republicans on their side, speaking out against an increase in troops, in hopes of dissauding the president. If Douglas is any indication, it sounds like Welch will find them.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Global delay

Amory Lovins, today's Statehouse global warming speaker from the Rocky Mountain Institute, was delayed this morning in New York, thus postponing his speech from 10:30 a.m. to - last we heard - noon. That, in turn, meant the police chiefs had to postpone their legislative lunch to 12:45 p.m. Given legislative time (i.e. not always punctual), there could be some police chiefs digging into their desserts well into the afternoon.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Global warming class

Sixth-graders at Montpelier's Main Street Middle School learned firsthand Wednesday that global warming is an uncomfortable subject.

The students filed into Room 11 in the Statehouse to hear Bill McKibbon's opening speech in the global warming hearings for legislators, took seats on the right side of the room, then quickly learned that would be relegated to sitting on the floor so legislators could have the chairs.

The room was, in fact, packed, which is not hard to do when you have eight committees attending, a class of eighth-graders and various other interested parties. That is typical life in the Statehouse.

Some of the kids were drawing pictures unrelated to global warming, others appeared to be listening intently as McKibbon told the crowd that Western Europe manages to live a good life with 50 percent less energy, that the state should make it easier to build small hydro power plants and solar systems, should discourage big-box development, and ensure that lettuce doesn't have to travel thousands of miles to reach the Northeast.

We'll have the details in tomorrow's Free Press.

Today's global warming schedule will provide more room for the curious. Amory Lovins will speak in the House chamber at 10 a.m.

Are these sessions changing minds, generating genuine debate or are firing up the already converted?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Book report

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington has given members of the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks to read "The Innocent Man," John Grisham's latest book.

Lawmakers are accustomed to lugging home stacks of documents to read, but Judiciary Committee members looked surprised Wednesday when Sears handed out hardcover books -- and an assignment.

He explained he thinks the book would give the committee background on a bill they will consider in two weeks. It would set up procedures for convicted offenders to follow to try to prove their innocence using DNA evidence that might have been collected in their cases.

"The Innocent Man" is Grisham's first nonfiction book and came out in the fall. The book tells the story of Ron Williamson, who was convicted of a murder he didn't commit.

"Once you read it," Sears said, "you say this couldn't happen in America, but it did."

Sears plans to schedule testimony from representatives of The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic set up in 1992 to assist offenders in cases where DNA evidence could be used to prove innocence or guilt. To read more about The Innocence Project, check this link.

--Nancy Remsen


Welch and Waxman

The new Democratic House leadership sure does like Peter Welch.

First, the freshman Congressman was given a seat on the powerful House Rules Committee. Now he's been been assigned to a second committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Under Republican control, the committee has been mostly an investigative wall flower during the Bush hears. As Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., put it in an interview with the Washington Post in 2004, "Our party controls the levers of government. We're not about to go out and look beneath a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn."

That's going to change with Waxman at the controls. In the past, he's used his position on the committee to raise concerns about global warming. Waxman says now that he's chair of the committee, he plans to have the panel aggressively investigate waste, fraud and abuse of government funds in connection with homeland security, Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

That's headline material, and while it's not the same as "bringing home the bacon" for Vermont, knowing that Welch is digging deeply into such matters is something that will warm the hearts of many in blue-state Vermont.

In Welch's press release announcing the committee assignment, he quotes what Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to say about putting Welch on Waxman's panel.

"Peter Welch is an experienced and skilled legislator who brings to Congress a record of effectiveness in achieving legislative reforms," Pelosi said. " We have an ambitious agenda for taking our nation in a New Direction and having a leader like Congressman Welch on this committee charged with government reform will help guide that change. Vermonters can be proud that Peter Welch is representing their interests on these two influential committees."

No matter what your political views are, Welch is off to a heck of a start as far as freshman members of Congress are concerned.

-- Sam Hemingway



House committees

Here are the House committee assignments for the 2007-08 session, announced Tuesday. A few new chairmen: Kitzmiller in Commerce, Ancel in Education, Deen in Fish & Wildlife, Helen Head in General, Steve Maier in Health Care.

David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, chairman
Albert Perry, D-Richford, vice-chairman
Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndon
David Ainsworth, R- Royalton
Christopher Bray, D- New Haven
Reginald Godin, D-Milton
Steven Larrabee, R-Danville
John Malcolm , D-Pawlet
Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham
Kristy Spengler, D-Colchester
Will Stevens, I-Shoreham

Martha Heath, D-Westford, chairwoman
Mark Larson, D-Burlington, vice-chairman
Robert Helm, R- Castleton
Joseph Acinapura , R-Brandon
Donald Bostic, R-St. Johnsbury
Peter Hunt, D- Essex
Jim Hutchinson, D-Randolph
Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero
Kathy Keenan, D-St. Albans City
Alice Miller, D- Shaftsbury
John Morley, R-Barton


Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, chairman
Judy Livingston, R-Manchester, vice-chairwoman
Ernie Shand, D-Weathersfield
Clem Bissonnette, D-Winooski
Bill Botzow, D-Pownal
John Clerkin, R-Hartford
Michel Consejo, D-Sheldon
Susan Davis, P- Washington
Michele Kupersmith, D- South Burlington
Mike Marcotte, R-Coventry
David Sunderland, R-Rutland Town


Janet Ancel, D-Calais, chairwoman
Gregory Clark, R-Vergennes, vice-chairman
Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington
Denise Barnard, D-Richmond
Gary Gilbert, D- Fairfax
Carol Hosford, D- Waitsfield
Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport City
Patricia McDonald, R-Berlin
Anne Mook, D-Bennington
Kitty Oxholm, R- Vergennes
Peter Peltz, D-Woodbury


David Deen, D-Westminister, chairman
Loren Shaw, R-Derby, vice-chairman
Jim McCullough, D-Williston
Steve Adams, R- Hartland
Gale Courcelle, D-Rutland
Bill Johnson, R-Canaan
Dexter Randall, P- Troy
John Zenie, D- Colchester
Vacant seat


Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chairwoman
Leo Valliere, R-Barre City, vice-chairman
Richard Howrigan, D-Fairfield
Joe Baker, R- West Rutland
Francis Brooks, D-Montpelier
John Moran, D-Wardsboro
Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle
Kurt Wright, R-Burlington

Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, chairwoman
Ken Atkins, D-Winooski, vice-chairman
Cola Hudson, R-Lyndon
David Clark, R-St. Johnsbury
Dennis Devereux, R-Mount Holly
Debbie Evans, D-Essex
Tim Jerman, D-Essex Junction
Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington
Linda Martin, D-Wolcott
Floyd Nease, D-Johnson
Chris Pearson, P-Burlington


Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, chairman
Harry Chen, D-Mendon, vice-chairman
Topper McFaun, R-Barre Town
Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D- Bradford
Bill Keogh, D-Burlington
Lucy Leriche, D-Hardwick
Virginia McCormack, D-Rutland City
Virginia Milkey, D- Brattleboro
Patricia O’Donnell, R-Vernon
Hildegard Ojibway, D-Hartford
Scott Wheeler, R-Derby


Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chairwoman
Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, vice-chairman
Anne Donahue , R-Northfield
Peg Andrews, D-Rutland City
Bill Frank, D-Underhill
Patsy French, D-Randolph
Sandy Haas, P-Rochester
Norm McAllister, R-Highgate
Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington
Mike Mrowicki , D-Putney
Scott Orr, D- Charlotte


Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chairwoman
Linda Myers, R-Essex, vice-chairwoman
Darryl Pillsbury, I-Brattleboro
Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington
Gail Fallar, D-Tinmouth
Tom Koch, R-Barre Town
Leigh Larocque, R-Barnet
Joan Lenes , D-Shelburne
Jason Lorber, D-Burlington
John Rodgers, D-Glover
Don Turner, R-Milton


Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairman
Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, vice-chairwoman
Peg Flory, R- Pittsford
George Allard, D- St. Albans Town
Allison Clarkson, D-Woodstock
Andrew Donaghy, R-Poultney
Avis Gervais, D-Enosburg
Willem Jewett, D-Ripton
Patti Komline, R-Dorset
Richard Marek, D-Newfane
Kathy Pellett, D-Chester


Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury, chairman
Joyce Errecart, R-Shelburne, vice-chairwoman
Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury
Bill Canfield, R-Fair Haven
Margaret Cheney, D-Norwich
Sarah Edwards, P-Brattleboro
Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier
Joseph Krawczyk, R-Bennington
Kathy Lavoie, R-Swanton
Mark Mitchell, D-Barnard
Rachel Weston, D-Burlington


Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, chairwoman, ex officio
Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham
Floyd Nease, D-Johnson
David Deen, D-Westminster
Steve Adams, R- Hartland
Patti Komline, R-Dorset
Judy Livingston, R-Manchester
Donald Milne, House clerk, ex officio


Rich Westman, R-Cambridge, chairman
Jim Masland, D-Thetford, vice-chairman
Harry Monti, D-Barre City
Sonny Audette, D-South Burlington
Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester
Timothy Corcoran, D-Bennington
James Fitzgerald, D-St. Albans City
Sue Minter, D-Waterbury
Janice Peaslee, R- Guildhall
David Potter, D-Clarendon
Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe

Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, chairman
Harvey "Bud" Otterman, R-Topsham, vice-chairman
Shap Smith, D- Morrisville
Bill Aswad, D-Burlington
Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia
Jim Condon, D-Colchester
Steve Howard, D-Rutland City
Rick Hube, R-Londonderry
Mary Peterson, D-Williston
David Sharpe, D-Bristol
Philip Winters, R- Williamstown


Local warming

The Statehouse turns to all things global warming tomorrow. The House and Senate will hear from local and national speakers on the subject Wednesday and Thursday this week, Tuesday-Thursday next week and Wednesday-Thursday the week after.

Read Candy Page's preview in today's FREE PRESS. Take a gander, too, at the comments her story has accumulated on the comment section to the right of the web version of the story.

Four House and four Senate committees (Ag, Econ Development/Commerce, Transportation and Natural Resources) will be spending a chunk of their time the next three weeks learning, talking and thinking about climate change.

This week the speakers will be Bill McKibben, the Middlebury writer/global warming activist, Alan Betts, president of Vermont Academy of Science & Engineering, and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (a nonprofit that fosters "the efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, just, prosperous, and life-sustaining.")

We will, of course, have coverage. So make sure your subscription is up-to-date.

Both House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin maintain Vermont can become a leader in the industry of global warming. Gov. Jim Douglas wants Vermont to become a leader in the budding environmental industry, a similar but slightly different take.

Is it time well-spent? Who else should they be hearing from? Do you buy the notion that Vermont is in a good position to take advantage of the economic opportunities that a changing climate presents?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Saying bye to Bob

If there was a Mount Rushmore for Vermont politicians, Bob Stafford's visage would be a candidate for inclusion. He never lost an election and touched nearly all the bases on his way up the political ladder, from AG, to Lite Guv, to Guv, the House and Senate. He also looked the part of leader -- tall, dignified and sonorous of voice.

Saturday's celebration of his life in Rutland drove all those points home, with touching speeches from family members, fond farewells from Gov. Jim Douglas and retired Sen. Jim Jeffords, and a particularly moving eulogy from Sen. Patrick Leahy.

What was most striking, at least to this scribe, was the gathering of Vermont's political elite who attended the memorial service and what their party afflliations said about the changing tide of politics in this state.

Leahy, Jeffords and their wives were in the front row of the dignitaries' section. Row two featured Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Peter Welch and Gov. Jim Douglas, the first Republican in the group. Row 3 had more Democrats: former Gov. Howard Dean, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding. Row 4 had Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, another Republican, sitting next to his Adjutant Gen. brother Michael Dubie and Democratic guv wanabe Scudder Parker. And behind them in Row 5, more Democrats: former Gov. Tom Salmon, Auditor Tom Salmon Jr. and Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

Oh, there were other Republicans in the church for sure, but you get the picture.

Think about it. When Stafford was coming of age politically, every statewide and national officeholder in Vermont was a Republican. By the time he died, the number was down to two.

--Sam Hemingway


Senate committees

Here's a look at this biennium's Senate committees, announced Friday. Ag gets its own room and full committees status for the first time at least in recent history. House committees are supposed to be announced tomorrow.

Senator Kittell, Chair
Starr, Vice-Chair

Senator Bartlett, Chair
Kitchel, Vice-Chair

Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs
Senator Illuzzi, Chair
Miller, Vice-Chair

Senator Collins, Chair
Doyle, Vice-Chair

Senator Cummings, Chair
Ayer, Vice-Chair

Government Operations
Senator White, Chair
Doyle, Vice-Chair

Health and Welfare
Senator Racine, Chair
Flanagan, Vice-Chair

Senator Scott, Chair
Mazza, Vice-Chair

Senator Sears, Chair
Campbell, Vice-Chair

Natural Resources and Energy
Senator Lyons, Chair
MacDonald, Vice-Chair

Senator Mazza, Chair
Scott, Vice-Chair



The guv's speech

So what of Gov. Douglas' speech Thursday?

He spent months on the campaign trail talking about his Agenda of Affordability, the alliterative proposal he put forth last year (and I don't know if it's just coincidence but so did Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin. Maybe both of them reached into the bag of gubernatorial phrases and came out with the same one).

Douglas mentioned the Agenda of Affordability briefly Thursday, but he surprised more than a few in the audience who thought he'd turned his gubernatorial global positioning about 170 degrees to focus on future technology. The Vermont Way Forward, he called it, not even looking for alliteration.

His staff told us that this is where Douglas has been headed from the start of his time in office. Everything he did before was to build toward this.

Certainly, he has mentioned some of the items in his VWF before. Broadband and cell coverage were big on the campaign trail. He's championed biofuels before.

Are those who have registered surprise at the governor's approach wrong? Is it a good approach. Read the speech here if you haven't and weigh in.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Welch in Washington

Newly installed Rep. Peter Welch made his mark on the House floor Friday, with a speech on civility, on behalf of the House Committee on Rules, and the passage of a bill naming Vermont's White Rocks National Recreation Area in honor of the late Sen. Robert Stafford.

Welch was chosen to speak for five minutes on civility. Here's a snippet:

"I served thirteen years in the Vermont legislature - sometimes in the
minority, other times in the majority. We in Vermont were proud of the
legislative process and standards we set. Those in the majority didn't do
things simply because they could- minority voices were heard, members were kept
informed, and our legislative process was respected. We had intense
debates- on the issues- but more often than not, at the end of the day, good
ideas were considered and were able to move Vermont ahead."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Information super-slowdown

It was with great irony that I wrote Thursday about the governor's proposal to expand broadband and cell coverage to every corner of the state. Here in our new office, we have both broadband and cell service. We are among the lucky ones, theoretically.

As Nancy and I typed the words about this technological initiative, I was having trouble navigating the Free Press system to which I was connected with our new broadband. Nancy was having trouble saving her part of the story.

I'm not sure it would have been much slower to etch the story out on stone and send it on the back of a pony.

The cell phone, though, is working great. Got two calls on it today from Washington.

Jill Krowinski relayed that she had just taken in the festivities surrounding Peter Welch's congressional swearing in, and that the load of Vermont goodies she'd driven down had gone over well. Jill worked on Welch's campaign and is about to become the new executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. I warned her that the announcement of her new role was bound to get lost in all the inaugural stories of the day.

Andrew Savage, Welch's spokesvoice, checked in too. He mentioned that Sen. Dick Mazza made the trip to D.C. for his former pro tem's inauguration. Mazza told them it was the first time he'd missed a day in the Legislature in his 22 years in office. Of course, House Speaker Gaye Symington went down for the occasion too, missing the governor's speech in the process.

- Terri Hallenbeck



1st day of school

The technology gods were not all that generous today, thus the late blog.

Here are some first-day-of-the-session moments:

- New Sen. Bill Carris of Rutland made it to the Statehouse for his swearing in Wednesday even though a building at his business, Carris Reels, burned down Tuesday.

- Returning Sen. Doug Racine of Chittenden County has been both Senate president pro tem and Senate president (i.e. lieutenant governor), but he returned to the chamber Wednesday as a regular old senator after a four-year break. He landed the most un-coveted seat in the row where the six Chittenden senators sit - the one in the middle. The coveted end-of-the-row seats typically are claimed by seniority. Sen. Ginny Lyons, who sits at one end, joked with Racine about whose seniority mattered more. They were just joking, but both recalled the time when Sens. Barbara Snelling and Jean Ankeney got in each other's faces about the same end seat. Ankeney prevailed.

- Sen. Ed Flanagan of Chittenden County has the other end seat, even though he has less seniority than Sen. Jim Condos, as Flanagan still moves a little gingerly from the affects of his near-fatal 2005 car accident. Flanagan, who flipped his car again last month, got a ride to the Statehouse from Sen. Hinda Miller on Wednesday. He said he's going to have tests done to see if there's anything wrong with his vision that affects his driving.

- Sen. Dick Mazza of Grand Isle/Chittenden is generally a man of few words. He used them concisely Wednesday. Mazza was sworn in to the three-member Committee on Committees after President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin's 40-minute speech. Mazza said, "I was going to give a speech but Peter took my time for the next two years."

- Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington County, who fought a few years ago for legislation that made it easier for adopted children to search for their birth parents, welcomed his newly found birth sister to watch Wednesday's swearing in.

- Racine, comfortable in his middle-of-the-row seat, said he prefers being senator to being lt. gov. because senators have more say in legislation. He also said returning to the Senate this time was not as weird as the last time he was presided there. After he lost the 2002 election for governor to Jim Douglas, Racine's job on the first day of the 2003 session was to preside over the Senate until Brian Dubie was sworn in as lt. gov. the second day. Because Douglas didn't win more than 50 percent of the vote, the Senate that day was voting to affirm Douglas' election - not exactly something Racine wanted to preside over.

- Terri Hallenbeck



New Year's greetings

Happy new year, vt.buzzards.

We are but hours from the dawn of a new legislative session. We plan to continue vt.buzz in the new year, with missives about the state and national political scene.

Nancy and I just moved into new office digs in Montpelier (we closed our former overly spacious capital bureau at the end of last session and spent the last six months working in the big city). Used more Mr. Clean today than I do in a typical day at work, but it's good to be back in the only state capital without a McDonald's.

If the technology gods are with us tomorrow, we'll share some of the first-day festivities here.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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