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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Newfangled devices

It's a changing journalistic world. Used to be, not even that long ago, when we pasted up newspapers by hand. You had to be careful not to get a line of copy stuck to your sleeve as you checked over the page.

Now, our stories are transmitted directly from our brain waves onto the press. Well, not quite, but there have been many changes. Biggest among them is the onset of Web sites. Some of you don't even read the newspaper on print over your breakfast cereal anymore - you read it instead on your laptop over latte at the coffee shop. I happen to think that's wrong - that there's nothing like poring over the print edition, neatly categorized and laid out for you by a thoughtful copy editor. But hey, that's just me showing my gray hair.

Once you're doing business on a Web page, though, that means you're no longer confined to traditional forms of delivery. You can, for the first time, do things with sound and video. So you will see on the Free Press Web site video of basketball games, hockey games, snow removal - and - most recently an interview with Rep. Peter Welch. Click here to see it.

It's a seven-part video, mostly involving questions from the public. Welch told me this week that the questions were not the kind he typically gets. Cool. That means he can't give the answers he usually gives. Well, not necessarily.

- Terri Hallenbeck



On the war front

Longtime Rep. Francis Brooks takes charge of the Statehouse tomorrow, in his new role as sergeant-at-arms. Friday, the second day of his new job, war critic Cindy Sheehan comes to visit, which is to say Brooks gets a full 24 hours to get comfortable on the job before managing a crowd.

Brooks, an outwardly calm and inwardly spiritual man, is looking to the heavans. A snowstorm is possible Friday, and it would suit him fine if it turned into a dandy. Of course, it's hard to imagine Brooks having a hard time keeping the peace. He did, after all, teach high school for many years.

Speaking of Sheehan's visit, Sen. Vince Illuzzi, whose committee is hosting her noontime Friday visit, was having trouble finding someone to offer the counterpoint to her points against the war. He said Tuesday afternoon, though, that the American Legion was planning to do it.

- Terri Hallenbeck


A conflict that's of interest

Last Thursday, I was working on a story about the proposed Wal-Mart in St. Albans, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and I went to the contacts page to look up some phone numbers. VNRC represents a citizens group opposed to the Wal-Mart location, and had shared with us a copy of a recent letter it sent to the St. Albans Development Review Board questioning the board's alleged conflict of interest.

I noticed on the contacts page, there at the bottom of the page, John Odum’s name. He’s listed as a membership coordinator. Odum, as some of you know, is one of the most prolific bloggers in the state, writing at the left-of-center blog, Green Mountain Daily and a frequent commenter on other blogs.

It got me thinking, isn’t VNRC a non-profit? I did some research and found that they are a 501(c)(3) organization, the type of organization that can enjoy some tax exemptions, and has some restrictions on certain types of political engagement.

I’m no tax lawyer, but a quick search on the Internet (where everything is true of course) showed me this site, explaining some myths about what 501(c)(3)s can and can't do. See #10 on that list -- "employees of 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from endorsing, contributing to, working for, or otherwise supporting (or opposing) a candidate for public office. However, this does not prohibit ... employees ... from participating in a political campaign, provided that they say or do everything as private citizens and not as spokespersons for or agents of the organization, and not while using the organization's resources or assets in any manner."

I looked back at pre-election postings on GMD, and there certainly are pro- and anti-candidate statements by Odum on GMD. Some of them look like they were posted during regular business hours. I sent Odum an e-mail Thursday to make sure I had his correct e-mail address, and was going to ask him about this, but the Wal-Mart story took every last minute I had in the office that day and then some. I was going to follow up, but then my attention got directed to this post, where Odum says an ongoing dispute with the folks over at Second Vermont Republic has turned personal, and therefore, he's not going to be blogging anymore.

I'm not going to get into the details of the debate between SVR and GMD, but in short, there's a debate over one of SVR's connections to a person who may or may not have racist viewpoints. Anyway, SVR on Monday sent out a release questioning VNRC's ties to GMD, and other issues about Odum's employment there.

This afternoon, I called VNRC Executive Director Elizabeth Courtney. I broached the GMD subject and Courtney said, "I really couldn’t say anything about it – it’s something John does on his own time."

I said it looks like a lot of the posts are during typical work hours, but maybe he works part time, and that's the explanation? Her response: "We have flexible hours, and I’m confident that if he has posted on his blog during what appears to be work time, it hasn’t been work time for him. And he doesn’t use any of the machinery in the office for his work."

Next I called Odum -- and he just got back to me. He said he couldn't say much.

"I have not blogged from work," he said. "I use lunch hours, I use late mornings, I have flex time, I take days off." Odum said he goes to Langdon Street Cafe to blog, and he called SVR's claims "demonstrably outrageous." He added that he can set posts up to post at certain times, when he knows it's going to be slow -- so there's fresh content, I assume.

I asked him then, if all of this is on the up-and-up, why did he stop blogging?

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked him if VNRC asked him to stop, and he said he couldn't talk about that either. He asked me not to do a "hit job" on him.


A blogging addict, I'll miss the Odum-Snarkyboy back-and-forth for sure. And it's interesting to think about the issue between the freedom of speech and the 501(c)(3) restrictions.

More importantly however, what do you think?

--Sky Barsch



Head scratcher

Interesting letter to the editor in Saturday's Free Press. Click HERE if you missed it. It's the fourth letter from the top.

Chuck Lacy of Jericho takes on Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin for calling it a waste of time to take up gay marriage legislation when the governor doesn't support it. Chuck Lacy is, of course, the husband of House Speaker Gaye Symington.

Try as we might, we can't control all the actions of our spouses, but this one is a bit odd, particularly given that Symington's chamber is also not expected to pursue the gay marriage legislation.

What's next? Penny Dubie writing in to criticize Gov. Douglas?

- Terri Hallenbeck



The T word

To give you an indication of just how touchy the word "tax" is around the Statehouse these days, consider this.

House Speaker Gaye Symington ducked her head into the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to check in with Chairman Robert Dostis late Friday afternoon. Dostis said something like they were firming up the new tax and everything was on schedule to pass out a global warming bill by the end of next week.

Symington couldn't speak because she was choking on the very air she breathed. New tax? There was not supposed to be any new taxes, she sputtered. And there I was sitting in the potential crossfire between them.

Dostis quickly recovered to say it was not a new tax, but a new way of measuring property taxes for such things as wind power projects or biomass plants based on how much power they produce rather than their unknown value. It's supposed to give developers more certainty when planning projects.

Symington relaxed and ducked back out of the room.

- Terri Hallenbeck



See-saw action

Gov. Douglas today criticized the Legislature for being too slow on some of the items that matter to him – property taxes, college scholarships, the e-state initiative that would bring broadband and cell coverage to every corner of Vermont by 2010.

"I just haven’t seen any action," he said at his weekly news conference. "What I’m talking about is the urgency I don’t see to move key issues forward."

Just two days earlier, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin had a news conference of his own to criticize the governor for being too slow to do come up with a new Vermont State Hospital. Legislators had similar criticisms of the administration’s urgency on the Bennington State Office Building.

"We’re concerned about the lack of leadership," Shumlin said. "We’re concerned about the lack of direction."

So goes the see-saw.

Douglas said he doesn’t know Shumlin as well as he knew former Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch. There may be some revisionist history there. Welch and Douglas didn’t love each other every step of the way last session (the governor had some pretty harsh things to say about the Legislature at the end of the 2005 session), but they did manage after a few years of working together to play tug-of-war without either one sending the other flying into the mud pit.

Of course, there was a different political dynamic at work, particularly last year. Welch was running for Congress, which meant he was under pressure to produce legislation that would be palatable to a cross-section of voters. He must have said a thousand times during the campaign that he worked in a bipartisan manner with the governor. He couldn’t afford not to.

Shumlin no doubt has his eyes on higher office, but first he has to re-establish himself after four years away from politics licking his political wounds from his Lt. Gov. loss. He is walking a line by which he is on the one hand promising to work with the governor ("because that’s what Vermonters want") while also making his own imprint ("We’re concerned about the lack of leadership.")

This see-saw will probably keep going up and down through the session. It may look like pure political gamesmanship, but it has an impact on policy. Each side lights a fire under the other. The Legislature pushes the administration on the Bennington state office building. The governor forces the Legislature to do something about broadband and cell coverage. The Legislature suggests a tax to help farmers. The governor pushes them to find the money in the existing budget.

I can’t say that I played on see-saws much as a kid, but I recall that if one side has a lot more bulk than the other does, they pretty much leave the other side hanging up in the air. We don’t know yet if that’s going to happen on this see-saw, or if both sides will hold their own.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Obama drama

It was about four years ago this winter that Howard Dean's longshot campaign for president first started gaining some traction around the country, thanks in large measure to his ability to connect with young people via the Internet.

He never made it to the finish line, although being chairman of the Democratic National Committee isn't too shabby. In looking back, the source of his "netroots" strength was the surprise of that campaign cycle. Dean spoke often of how awestruck he was at walking into wildly enthusiastic and well-organized campaign events that weren't put together by his staff, but by people in the blogosphere.

This time around, it looks like Sen. Barack Obama is getting the same kind of love, if you believe the story in the latest edtion of The Nation. The article compares the grassroots event organizing that targeted Dean in 2003-04 to what Obama walked into at George Mason University in Fairlfax, Va., on Feb. 2, a week before he announced he was indeed running for prez.

Here's a snippet from the piece: "The room exploded, and if it hadn't fully registered before, Obama and his staffers understood that there was genuine potential for something like a Howard Dean 2.0 movement that could be anchored by an even younger grassroots base empowered with newer, sharper online tools."

Joe Trippi, the architect of Dean's insurgent bid for the White House comments laterin the same article that "The Obama campaign had nothing to do with it, and they're already at 250,000 people. That's amazing--the Dean campaign, it took us six months to get to 139,000 people."

Whether you like Obama or not, the article will bring back memories of the heydays of the Dean campaingn. To read the full article, click HERE.

-- Sam Hemingway


Pinching pennies

I was talking to Sen. Dick Sears about public safety funding yesterday. He was fuming in Sears-like manner about how we all have our heads in the sand about the drug problem, that somewhere we have to find the money to fund police, this most basic function of state government.

Money being scarce, that led him into a rift on the emergency farm aid, which will amount to $12 million once the Legislature squares away the final $3 million in the coming days. He wondered if the money was really going to solve the problems facing dairy farmers. "It’s a debate we haven’t had," Sears said.

Sen. Sara Kittell, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, just happened to be sitting nearby, so the debate ensued. Kittell took umbrage, and said she wouldn’t have supported $12 million if she didn’t think it was imperative and useful.

Police coverage vs. farm aid – that’s just one example of the quandaries of budget balancing. Every turn you take in the Statehouse, you run smack into some part of state government that is gasping for money.

Roads and bridges, colleges, cops, the state psychiatric hospital, prisons, environmental enforcement. I surely have left off a score of other areas that are desperately underfunded, and have been for decades.

How do we turn those barges around? The thought of it is enough to make you hammer your head on the pillars of the Statehouse.

Surely, there must be treasure troves of hidden cash somewhere in state government that can be snared before some bridge decays right at the moment somebody’s driving over it. We’re not talking about flooding the colleges with so much cash that they hire someone to carry the students’ books, but just enough to eke Vermont out of the bottom of state support for colleges.

Without raising taxes, that is.

At the risk of sounding naïve, where is the money hidden? Where are the holes down which state money is being flushed, whether in small bills or large? What programs just don’t stack up anymore when you look at those that are starving? Are there pennies out there to be pinched?

Any ideas?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Snowstorm injury

Mary Lacy, daughter of House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, is recovering from a broken vertebra in her neck, Democratic House Leader Carolyn Partridge told the full House Tuesday morning. Partridge reported on Lacy's condition as she explained to the members why she was running the session instead of Symington. Many legislators had been informed of the accident over the weekend.

Mary, a page at the Statehouse in 2005 and now a sophomore at Mt. Mansfield Union High School, apparently fell off a snowbank onto her neck on Friday afternoon, causing the serious injury. She had surgery at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Partridge reported. "Her fingers and toes are wiggling and have feeling."

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie provided a poster of a Vermont hiking scene that legislators were signing with their get-well wishes.

-- Nancy Remsen



Changing climate

You don’t – or at least I don’t – think of Florida as a state on the cutting edge of environmental consciousness. If ever there was a state where suburban sprawl was considered a good thing, it’s Florida. Progress seems to be measured in number of traffic lights installed.

Nonetheless, there on the front page of my parents’ newspaper while I was visiting was a story titled "Legislators warm to energy, climate challenges." The Florida Legislature is talking wind and solar incentives, net metering, alternative energy research funds. The very same topics the Vermont Legislature is mulling.

Taking notice of their ample sunshine, Florida lawmakers are thinking they could become leaders in solar energy. That, perhaps, does not bode well for Vermont becoming a solar leader as some legislators have proposed, but the fact that Florida is thinking about global warming does suggest that Vermont would not be tilting alone like Don Quixote at windmills.

As the story acknowledges, Florida "sits in mediocre ranks nationally with its energy and climate policies," yet as the fourth largest state has the potential to wield some power.

Another un-Florida-like sign of change I saw: traffic circles along some new roads where there might otherwise have been traffic lights.

Now, that's climate change.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Fleeting thoughts of flights

Of all the places to be stranded during a historically large snowstorm, Florida is not a bad one.

The word "stranded" takes on new meaning when it’s sunny, warm, you’re playing tennis and eating Mom’s home-grilled salmon. So, no, I don’t expect any sympathy.

I did, nonetheless, catch some flavor of the disarray that swept the nation’s transportation system last week. And I’m not sure what to make of it. Is there something wrong with the system, or with the people using it?

I wasn't one of those unfortunate travelers stuck inside an airplane sitting on a tarmac for 10 hours, but it's easy to say something was wrong with the system that let that happen. Nine JetBlue plane-loads of people were stuck for six or more hours during Wednesday's storm. JetBlue seems to be acknowledging that it blew it bigtime, but the fact that it did has prompted talk of congressional hearings on a passenger bill of rights law.

Air passengers, now more than ever, live at the mercy of others. We must take off our shoes, leave home our pen knives, put our tiny little liquids into just the right bag and separate that bag out. We must accept all culpability if we didn't hear every little bizarre instruction correctly. Compliance is the name of the game. Chances are that when those JetBlue travelers reached their fifth hour on the tarmac, they wanted to storm the door, but they were afraid they'd be arrested as terrorists. And that'd be hard to explain back home.

But how far should that bill of right go? No piece of legislation can make travel go smoothly when 27 inches of snow is falling. And what about non-flying travelers? What recourse do the motorists who weren’t warned that the Pennsylvania highway they were getting on was blocked have? What about the would-be bus traveler I heard about who was sold a ticket and left waiting while a sign declared that all departures were on time, when really they’d all been canceled?

On a brief jaunt to visit my folks in Florida, we were supposed to fly home Wednesday, the very day Vermont was getting pounded with more snow than the state has ever seen in one 24-hour period. Sometime Tuesday, when it became abundantly clear that the storm was going to be a biggie, I called the airline and postponed our flight to Thursday. Took only about 10 minutes on hold to reach a human. Though she first tried to tell me our flight hadn't been canceled yet, she didn't argue when I suggested it was likely to be.

Thus, we spent Wednesday in pleasant warmth instead of airport hell.

Thursday, we awoke to learn that our afternoon flight out from Orlando to Dulles had been canceled, though earlier ones had not been. Back on the phone, it took a little longer to reach a human, but we switched to one of those earlier flights. We arrived at Dulles to a sea of despaired passengers waiting for flights that never seemed to depart. Our flight to Burlington flashed the promising "on time."

When our time came, though, we learned what a ruse that was. For the next three hours, we watched our departure time inch farther into the night. Every seat in the waiting area and then some was taken while six planes sat unused outside. Flights were canceled to un-snowy destinations like Jacksonville. The corridor was full of disgruntled travelers, some of them on their second day of delays, some on uncertain stand-by status. It wasn't necessarily the weather, but having the right flight crew and the right plane in the right place. It was, as one passenger said, the luck of the draw.

It didn't look any more fun to be the solo airline employee fielding an endless line of rerouted travelers, trying to pretend you know when the flight's really going to go or the real reason it isn't, or to be the flight attendant who didn't know whether she'd be going to Providence or Burlington. Given the airline bankruptcies and the fact that we paid $193 apiece for our tickets to Florida – a price that can’t be any higher than it was 20 years ago – you have to wonder if the airlines aren’t the ones being held hostage.

Our flight was finally called and we proudly passed the other despaired passengers, only to sit at the gate for an hour because there was no one to load our baggage. Yes, that was an absurd reason to be sitting there, especially given that it was a fairly small load. Yes, there was grumbling. But give the flight attendant and the pilot credit - they went out and pleaded our case.

At one point the pilot got off the plane, prompting groans from the seats. He came back with a pizza for the flight attendant, who said she hadn't eaten in 10 hours. A nice gesture, I thought. Another passenger, though, grumbled that he should have brought her pizza, too. Some passengers think it's all about them.

So a passenger bill of rights? Yes, I'd like to have the power to object to being held on the tarmac for hours. I'd like to know the real reason my flight's being delayed. But I don't think the pilot has to buy me pizza. It’s not always all about me.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Idle chat

The Vermont Senate was voting this morning on a bill that would require schools to establish a bus idling policy by 2008. The legislation also says that the Education Department should write a model policy.

What with all the focus on global warming this legislative session, restrictions on where, when and whether buses may idle, which have been brewing in both the House and Senate for several years, have about as good a chance as they ever have had.

When this bill got its airing on the Senate floor, however, its flaws began to show.

Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, questioned why the state and the local boards should be making separate policies. Why the duplication?

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, responded: "I believe we're all great believers in local control." The idea, he said, is to simply encourage schools to form a policy, but not tell them what that policy has to be.

"We all want to do something for cleaner air," Mazza said, "but this does nothing to do that."

Heads around the room started shaking, signals were being flashed in Morse code.
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, rose to say that any idling bill would eventually become part of a larger climate change bill. As in, don't worry, this exact bill is going nowhere anyway.

That, apparently, allowed many senators to vote for it, even if they wanted something stronger, lest they be accused later of favoring idling. The bill passed 25-4. Mazza, Sens. Alice Nitka, Hull Maynard and George Coppenrath opposed.

Perhaps the oddest part of the little charade was a comment from Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. "I hope eventually to do away with school buses," he said. That should be interesting legislation.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Making waves

Rep. William Canfield, R-Fair Haven, simply wanted to explain why he had voted against a resolution calling for an orderly withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq. He and other opponents didn't like the message it would send to the troops. Canfield also said it seemed more appropriate for the state's Congressional delegation to make statements about foreign policy rather than --- and here is where he got in trouble --- the Vermont Legislature trying to "microwave" Washington.

Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington raised her eyebrows and held up one finger in that universal sign for "there's an idea." All around the House, lawmakers considered Canfield's suggestion and applauded. They had just finished voting on a non-binding resolution, (final vote was 95-52 for passage) but, hey, microwaving "them" whoever the individual lawmakers had in mind, would be much more effective.

Canfield smiled at the effect, then repeated the sentence, saying the word he really intended -- micro-manage.

So DC, if the Vermont Legislature doesn't get your attention with this non-binding resolution about the majority's opposition to a troop buildup in Iraq, beware. There seemed to be a lot of consensus about this wave thing.

-- Nancy Remsen


Peter's perch

The U.S. House debate on the non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge for Irag was barely underway when freshman Congressman Peter Welch, D-Vt., got in his two-cents (actually his two and a half minutes) on the floor of the House'

Thanks to his exalted position as a member of the Rules Committee that set the terms for the three-day debate, Welch was at the podium just a half hour into the proceedings. He was, if anyone's counting, the seventh member of Congress to speak, the fourth Democrat and the first member of the 42-member Class of 2006.

The speech itself was short, necessarily so, potent and to the point. His best line was, take your pick, either "No more troops. No more phony intelligence. No more blank checks. We must end this war," or "America must change the direction of this war. If the President won't, we will."

For a view of the text of Welch's remarks, click HERE. Or, take a gander at Monday night's meeting of the House Rules Committee, where Welch made many of the same points while endeavoring to persuade the panel to back an up-or-down only vote on the resolution.

Who says Welch is still wishy-washy on the war?

-- Sam Hemingway


Different voices, same melody

Wrote a story for Tuesday's paper about what Senator Bernie Sanders thinks of President Bush's proposed $2.9 trillion budget (hint: not much) and, especially, the plans of prez has for cutting or eliminating a bunch of programs critical to low- and middle-income Vermonters.

Regretably, I wasn't able to get in Gov. Jim Douglas's thoughts on the subject in time for my deadline. That was too bad because, when I belatedly got the guv's take on the subject from his press secretary, Jason Gibbs, it turns out he was more in agreement with our self-proclaimed Socialist Senator than with the Republican leader I did manage to reach, state party chairman Rob Roper.

Roper said Sanders' remarks were the same "rehashed rhetoric" we always get from him. Whoops. Here's what Douglas, via Gibbs, had to say:

"The governor has some very serious concerns about the president’s proposed budget, particularly some of the cuts he’s proposed in health care and social service programs ... It sounds like he (Sanders) and the governor share many of the same concerns. We are in the process now of evaluating the impact of the president's budget proposals on the state, and we’ll have a better sense of that as the days go by this week."

"Having said that, however, we’re optimistic that our Congessional delegation and other members of Congress will be able to restore funding for many of these vital programs and protect Vermont to the extent possible. The budget obviously has to go through a long Congressional approval process. We will continue to provide our point of view as that process moves forward."

Okay, so it lacks the vitriol of Bernie's remarks and there no talk of rolling back Bush's tax cuts that benefitted the rich. But, as a Republican governor, Douglas has certain, uhh, loyalties to consider and disagreeing openly with your party's president can't be something he relishes doing.

-- Sam Hemingway



Pink stinks

You've heard of email and snail mail, but how about pink mail. That's an inter-office system in state government that uses pink envelopes.

It seems that Rep. Rachel Weston, D-Burlington, put her letter requesting inclusion on the list of legislative candidates for University of Vermont trustees in pink mail at the Statehouse on Tuesday -- sure that it would travel down State Street and up the hill to the office of the Secretary of State by the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline. It didn't. It arrived Friday morning.

As a result, Weston's name isn't among the candidates listed on the ballot that will be handed out to the House and Senate Thursday when they choose three new legislative trustees. Ouch! She's not the only lawmaker whose paperwork didn't arrive on time. Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, also missed out.

The names of four other lawmakers will be printed on the ballots: Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, Rep. Mary Peterson, D-Williston, Rep. Harry Chen, D-Mendon and Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham. Peterson said Chen carried their letters to the Secretary of State's office and handed them to the staff. Smart.

David Crossman on the election staff at the Secretary of State's office stayed late Thursday waiting for last-minute letters. Friday, when Weston's and Branagan's arrived, he said them too late. "A deadline is a deadline."

Weston chalks this up to a freshman mistake. She is serving her first term in the Legislature and is still learning the ways things operate.

"I'm still running," she said Friday, despite her disappointment. Both she and Branagan can run as write-in candidates.

Guess we won't be able to say if pink mail cost either candidate the election, but it certainly didn't make running any easier.

--Nancy Remsen



Visions of Dean

It had to happen. Someone was going to run for president in 2008 and, in their words and actions, conjure up memories of former Gov. Howard Dean's ill-fated 2004 bid for the White House. And some big-media entity was going to quickly label the dude the "Howard Dean of 2008."

This week, Time Magazine bestowed that honor on John Edwards, the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Okay, in some ways, the shoe fits. Time points out that Edwards, now a Washington outsider, has worked to present himself as a "bold, straight-talking candidate, as Dean did in 2003." And Time notes that Edwards recently gave a fiery speech calling on elected Democrats to show more "courage" in questioning President Bush's troop surge plan for Iraq and has become a champion for universal health care. Sound familiar? For the full Time story, click HERE.

The story also notes that, like Dean, Edwards is drawing support from the blog world, noting that in an on-line "poll" conducted by the well-regarded lefty Daily Kos blog, Edwards was Numero Uno, garnering 26 percent support to Senator Barack Obama's 25 percent.

The magazine couldn't resist tossing in a few golden oldie zingers about Dean. "No, no, the former vice presidential nominee hasn't replaced his Southern drawl with a Northeastern screech," the article said while pointing out the similarities between the two men.

So does Edwards remind you of Dean? What do you think of the rest of the Democratic -- and Republican -- presidential field as we get ready for the 2008 presidential nomination dance?

-- Sam Hemingway



Cold shoulder

The temperature was in the teens, the wind speed at a number higher than that when a group of legislators and gay/lesbian activists gathered in front of Montpelier City Hall this afternoon to put out the call for gay marriage legislation.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, following directions of the event's organizers, shed his overcoat in the interests of looking more professional. Given how cold I was with a coat, hat and gloves on, I can only imagine he and the others who dressed likewise have still not thawed hours later.

Patricularly for Campbell, who is the lead sponsor of the gay marriage legislation in the Senate, returning to the Statehouse might not have made him any warmer. Though Campbell is Senate majority leader, it doesn't sound like he's going to have a lot of say in seeing his legislation reach the floor.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin said it's not happening. Too much else going on to let such an emotionally draining issue take over the session.

It's a cold shoulder Campbell will feel down to his toes.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Disorder on the court

This morning, the Vermont Frost Heaves - the new semi-pro basketball team that calls both Barre and Burlington home - visited the Statehouse. Thursday, legislators will return the visit on the Frost Heaves's own court at the Barre Aud.

Apparently, there will be a legislative pick-up game at half-time of the Frost Heaves' game. It'll be refereed by House Speaker Gaye Symington. A perfect time to find out who's a team player, who's the go-to player, and who has the nobbiest knees.

Sen. Bill Doyle, a Frost Heaves season-ticket holder, will be the team's 110 percent Community All-Star, which means he'll be on the bench ready to fill in for the Frost Heaves. Doyle is, of course, 80 years old, so I wouldn't recommend counting on his for the game-winning shot.

Thursday’s game will be against the Bellingham (Wash.) Slam, at 7:05 p.m.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Money matters

Some musing on the final House and Senate campaign finance reports, which were filed with the Federal Election Commission last week.

Consider this. The year-end FEC filings show that Democratic Congressman Peter Welch ended his campaign with $328,351 in cash on hand. That's a nice chunk of change to build on for his re-election run in 2008. It's also a new post-election record for a rookie member of Vermont's Congressional delegation.

According to the ever-useful folks at Political Moneyline, Bernie Sanders had only $3,216 in his campaign account balance after winning his first race for Congress in 1990. Heck, Sanders didn't amass the kind of post-election cash-on-hand money Welch has right now until after Bernie had won his fourth re-election race in 1998.

Still need to be impressed? Political Moneyline records indicate Welch is more flush with post-election cash than Jim Jeffords was when he won his initial Senate race in 1988, and that was AFTER Jeffords had been in Congress for 14 years. Even Leahy didn't have this kind of post-election stash until after his 2004 non-contest with Republican Jack McMullen, 20 years after Pat's arrival in Washington.

Other do-dads from the FEC files. It appears Republican Martha Rainville had to pass the hat among her friends in December in order to collect $3,407 in additional funds after her November loss to Welch in order to stay in the black with her final report-- barely. She also got a $1,000 donation post-election donation from what looks a political action committee fr state Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry. Bottom line: Rainville has just $162.71 left in her account. Makes you wonder if she wants in on a 2008 rematch with Welch.

Over in the Senate, Sanders ended up with $177,466 in his account after the most expensive Senate race in Vermont history. Sanders went into the 2006 election cycle with $612,195 in cash on hand. You can bet he'll be replenishing that account bigtime between now and 2012.

And what of Rich Tarrant, the multi-millionaire IDX co-founder who had already spent a jaw-dropping $6,925,000 of his own money in his 33-percentage loss to Sanders. Turns out he had to drop another $25,000 into his account on Dec. 21 in order to pay some final campaign-related bills. He has $15,459 in cash on hand left in his federal account, but who's counting.

You can go to fec.com to check the latest FEC reports out for yourself, but I suggest you click HERE, which will take you to Political Moneyline. It has the figures and easier access to past campaigns, plus some interesting breakdowns on contributors and expenses.

-- Sam Hemingway



They've got some explaining to do

An update on the House debate about a proposed rule that would restrict the length of a representative's explanation of a vote that are published in the House Journal.

Earlier this week, lawmakers got into a tangle over a plan to limit published explanations to 50 words. Lawmakers would still be free to speak as long as they wanted -- and they certainly have gone on in the past. Some in the House have gotten tired of lengthy, after-the-vote commentaries that seemed more like election-protection. Opponents of the word limit said the rule was a violation of free speech.

Today a substitute proposal came up for a vote. The new proposal said only, "It is generally recommended that vote explanations should be infrequent and brief."

Most House members agreed with this admonition or wanted to just get done with this debate. The vote to pass the resolution was 125-19.

Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, objected to the original rule and still objected to the revised admonition. He said so in a explanation of his vote!

Here is what he said: "I do not need advice as to the exercise of my Constitutional right and duty to explain my reasons for a recorded vote. Neither will I affront or insult my fellow representatives in recommending how frequently or to what extent they exercise their individual rights of recording their reasons for their votes. To do so is an insult to the Constitution and the citizens of Vermont from whom we derive our power and authority.

-- Nancy Remsen



As the Statehouse turns

It was, in the words of one Statehouse reporter, "The best news conference in four years."

Indeed, Gov. Douglas' Thursday news conference took a strange turn.

It has been a bit of a shell-shocking week for the governor. There's this matter of the Bennington State Office Building, which is making employees sick. And then, the state's technology system seems to be scattering people's personal information all over the World Wide Web. Not to mention that moments after agreeing that new taxes wouldn't solve the school spending problem, the Legislature proposed a surcharge in the property transfer tax to pay for farm aid.

Those were the issues reporters grilled Douglas about at Thursday's news conference. Near the end, Ross Sneyd of the Associated Press asked the governor if it had been a rough week and was he being a bit defensive about the crises at hand. Sneyd was, in fact, putting words to the very thought that was in my mind.

That's when things turned strange. Douglas blamed his political opponents:

"There are obviously people who are not interested in my political success, and
they’re certainly exercising every opportunity to try to act on that belief this

Then he blamed the media:

"Some of the questions I get from the media sound an awful lot like some of the
e-mails that come out of the other party headquarters."

Huh? I was speechless. Was he saying that questioning the technology security breaches or the delays at the Bennington office building was somehow political? Which Democratic memo had I been unknowingly following?

Fortunately, Sneyd was not entirely speechless. He asked if Douglas was accusing us of carrying the Dems' water.

"I would never make that assertion," Douglas said.

"I think you just did," Sneyd responded.

Not long afterward - while I fumed about the accusations and Democratic legislators held a press conference of their own on the farm aid issue - Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs told us the governor wanted to see us again.

There, Douglas apologized for his comments. "It’s not characteristic, as I think you know," he said.

He said he let one question early on in the news conference get to him. That question came from Peter Freyne, the Seven Days reporter who’s long been Douglas’ chief combatant at news conferences. Freyne, just back after his first round of chemotherapy to treat lymphoma but obviously still ready to duel with Douglas, raised an issue brought to his attention the Vermont State Employees Association. Did Douglas know that the owner Fecteau Homes, the company putting in some of the modular buildings in Bennington, was a contributor to Douglas’ campaign?

At the time, Douglas responded calmly, but apparently was steaming underneath. He said he didn’t know that Fecteau was a contributor, but that the company submitted the lowest price and had the smaller of two contracts. Fecteau, he said, would also have to pay for cleaning up the mold in the modular buildings.

At his apology session, Douglas said the question was unfair and irritated him because it questioned his integrity:

"I reacted to a question earlier in the press conference that I think
questioned my integrity and that’s something I resent strongly and something
that affected my answers throughout the balance of the press conference today.''

I've never been one for soap operas, but this edition of the live reality show "As the Statehouse Turns" was a memorable one.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Battle of Bennington II

Mike Smith, the governor's right-hand man, just announced that they're working on moving employees out of the Bennington State Office Building sooner. How much sooner isn't quite clear yet.

This much is different, though. District court will be moved to other courts in Bennington and Manchester as soon as possible, until construction of the temporary modular buildings is complete.

Probation & Parole will be in their modular space by March 1.

Other departments will be working out a temporary move until their modular space is ready.

It doesn't mean they'll move tomorrow, but it does appear that employees caught the governor's ear. Mike Smith said yesterday of their Tuesday meeting with employees, "I actually came away from that meeting with a good and healthy respect for many of their concerns."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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