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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



The inundation of Vermont

I know the mantra is that not enough people (for whatever short-sighted reason) want to live in Vermont, but I can tell you this: The entire nation is here visiting Vermont this holiday weekend.

On my way to work this morning, I encountered more than the usual traffic, and almost all of out-of-state cars. Whether for Champlain College orientation, the holiday weekend or whatever, somehow the entire population of the United States decided to descend upon Burlington.

This afternoon, they are choking the streets of Burlington. I watched one SUV driver from Michigan try to go the wrong way down the one-way street between the hospital and Main Street. She was some surprised to see all the cars coming at her.

With the splendid weather that's going on out there, some of these people are bound to come back for good. Just not all of them, please. We don't have room for all of them.

As for the rest of you, take a chill from your political angst, get out there and soak up Vermont on this Labor Day weekend.

- Terri Hallenbeck



VY woes continue

Vermont Yankee has something in common with Alberto Gonzales. The troubles continue and the scrutiny isn't going away. Today, the plant shut down:

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant automatically shut
down Thursday during what plant officials said was testing of a turbine valve.

“Plant technicians are in the process of investigating the cause of the
automatic shutdown. The plant remains in a safe and stable condition and will be
restarted after a thorough evaluation of the shutdown is completed,” said a
statement issued by plant owner Entergy Nuclear.

Entergy spokesman Robert Williams said plant technicians were
“trouble-shooting one of the turbine valves,” when the shutdown occurred at 3:12
p.m. He could not provide details on what the problem was with the turbine valve
that prompted the trouble-shooting.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Gonzales inquiry

This just came over the wires. Alberto Gonzales' own former people are investigating whether he misled Congress.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department said Thursday it is investigating
whether resigning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied or otherwise misled
Congress last month in sworn testimony about the Bush administration’s domestic
terrorist spying program.
The inquiry, confirmed by Justice Department Inspector General
Glenn A. Fine, comes three days after Gonzales abruptly announced he was
stepping down despite months of vowing he would remain on the job.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, who
two weeks ago asked for the inquiry, Fine said his investigators believe they
“will be able to assess most of the issues that you raise in your letter.”
Leahy had also asked Fine to look into whether Gonzales
gave inaccurate testimony about the firings of several U.S. attorneys last year.
“You identified five issues and asked that we investigate whether the
statements made by the attorney general were intentionally false, misleading, or
inappropriate,” Fine wrote in his four-paragraph response to Leahy in the letter
dated Thursday. “The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of
the subjects addressed by the attorney general’s testimony that you identified,”
Fine told Leahy.



A "spy" is coming to Vermont

Valerie Plame Wilson, a former agent with the Central Intelligence Agency, whose "outing" took place after her husband criticized in print some of the evidence used to suggest Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That, of course, is part of the reason the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Want to hear her take on what occurred? Vermonters will have that opportunity on Oct. 28. Vermont Woman, a 20,000 circulation newspaper, has secured Plame Wilson as the speaker for its Fourth Annual Vermont Woman Newspaper Lecture Series. Her talk is entitled, "Taking on the White House in an Abuse of Public Trust."

In announcing Plame Wilson's upcoming appearance in Vermont Woman's August edition, Publisher Suzanne Gillis said the speaker will talk about "this unprecedented effort to silence a critic" and will relate what it is like to be a CIA mom. She has two young children.

Reservations are going fast, a Vermont Woman spokesperson said today. A ticket to the 4 p.m. speech costs $28. The Sunday afternoon presentation takes place at the Sheraton.

Wilson Plame has written a book entitled Fair Game which may be out by the time she comes to Vermont. Gillis reported that the book's publication has been held up by the CIA.

For more information or to reserve a seat to hear a spy, go to the Vermont Woman website.

--Nancy Remsen


Terwilliger for AG?

Senator Patrick Leahy says he wants President Bush to consult with him when the prez is deciding who will replace Attorney General Alberto "Gonzo" Gonzales.

Well, consult this. According to NBC and other Washington sources, one of the names being floated around D.C. today is that of George Terwilliger III, a former Deputy Attorney General during Daddy Bush's administration and the Acting Attorney General at the end of the Bush One presidency. He's currently in private practice in the nation's capitol, and an occasional guest on TV talk shows.

Here's the dilemma for Leahy. Terwilliger is a former federal prosecutor with a distinctly Vermont connection: The man was U.S. Attorney in Vermont for four years, from 1987 to 1991. Leahy also voted to confirm Terwilliger to the Number Two spot at Justice in 1992.

Terwilliger, in his time here, was seen by some as a tough-guy prosecutor. The law enforcement community loved his aggressive pursuit of the illegal drug trade and his embrace the Zero Tolerance punishment policy that was all the rage at the time. Others saw him as too heavy handed and sexist. During Terwilliger's 1992 confirmation hearing, a woman attorney in Burlington told the Senate Judiciary Committee of the time he responded to her announcement that she had some interesting news to tell him by saying "Are you pregnant?"

Another Terwilliger negative, from Leahy's vantage point, is that he headed up the GOP legal team that won the legal battle over the disputed votes in Florida after the 2000 election that put Bush II into the White House.

That may be enough to sink him, but what if? What if the trial balloon with Terwilliger's name on it is the one Bush decides to pull down and offer as his choice for AG?

-- Sam Hemingway



Gonzales gone

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned this morning. Here's a bit from the AP on it:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alberto Gonzales, the nation’s first Hispanic attorney
general, announced his resignation Monday — ending a nasty, monthslong standoff
over his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department.

Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his resignation over the
botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys,
but President Bush had defiantly stood by his Texas friend until accepting his
resignation Friday.

“It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of
Justice,” Gonzales said, announcing his resignation effective Sept. 17 in a
terse statement. He took no questions.

Gonzales had become quite the nemesis of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who was quoted today as saying of him: The Justice Department under Gonzales “suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., credited Leahy and the congressional inquiry with holding Gonzales responsible. He said:

"Alberto Gonzales will go down in history as one of the nation's worst Attorneys
General. His legacy will be one of reckless politicization of the Justice
Department, lying to Congress, and undermining our nation's cherished civil
liberties. Vigorous congressional oversight, particularly under the
principled leadership of Senator Patrick Leahy, is holding this Administration
accountable and producing results."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered only muted support for the attorney general when some Republicans called for Gonzales’ resignation, blamed the troubles on Democrats, the AP said. “It is my hope that whomever President Bush selects as the next attorney general, he or she is not subjected to the same poisonous partisanship that we’ve sadly grown accustomed to over the past eight months,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.

Does Gonzales' departure restore the credibility Leahy argues was damaged? Does his departure make it any more likely we will hear the whole story of how U.S. attorneys were fired?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Tower trouble

Just curious what people think will be the political fallout from the collapse of a portion of a cooling tower structure at the Vermont Yankee plant.

Anti-nukers had grave doubts about the wisdom of letting plant owner Entergy Nuclear go ahead with a 20 percent upgrade of the plant's power output, saying the Vernon plant was too old to handle the upgrade . Now they've got some I-told-you-so proof to back up those concerns, thanks to those incredible photos taken by who-knows-who that began appearing on the Internet Wednesday night.

So now we've got the New England Coalition and VPIRG were calling for the plant's immediate shutdown. We've got the state Public Service Department investigating the incident. Plus, the state's Congressional delegation has co-written a letter to the NRC demanding it investigate the matter and Gov. Jim Douglas says he's asked the Public Safety Department to look into the collapse as well.
That's four inquiries by my count. This has got to be Entergy's worst nightmare, but like Vermont Yankee or not, the joint is our most major source of electrical energy in the state. A political hot potato for one and all?
You betcha.
-- Sam Hemingway



Awkward politics

Gov. Jim Douglas finds himself in an interesting political position these days with the Bush administration, don't you think?"

Vermont and other states will take financial hits under the new, out-of-the-blue rule changes for the State Children's Health Insurance Program that the Bush administration just announced. Bush and Douglas are in the same political party, of course, and Douglas supported (read that worked for) Bush's election and re-election.

Yet the headline over the governor's statement on this change says "Bush administration proposal to "gut" children's health care program. Douglas goes on to describe the Bush action as shortsighted and unconscionable. Wow, those are strong words for someone who's supposed to be a friend and political ally.

On this issue -- health care for kids -- it looks like the Douglas administration wants to make sure Vermonters see their governor as willing to stand up to Washington.

It's the second time in a week that I've heard fightin' words from the Douglas administration towards the Bush administration. In an interview last week, Secretary of Administration Michael Smith expressed the same consternation about the Bush administration's decision on the state's request for permission to use federal dollars on the soon-to-launch Catamount Health. Smith said, "I don't understand the Bush administration on this at all. They are dead wrong."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, doesn't have those kinds of political entanglements to worry about, so it was easy for him to take aim at the Bush administration on the SCHIP rule change.

He called it "sick" and "outrageous." "Frankly, even for the Bush administration this is a new low. While he pushes for billions in tax breaks for the richest 1 percent, he is throwing kids off of the health insurance they already have. What a set of priorities."

It was an easy call for Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, too, who joined the Bush bashers on SCHIP late this afternoon. He said, "By attempting to gut successful children's health care programs, President Bush has yet again demonstrated his morally misguided priorities."

-- Nancy Remsen



Setting "the agenda"

So Gov. Jim Douglas drives up to Alex's Restaurant in South Burlington this morning -- well after the morning breakfast crowd departed -- to announce he'll be visiting places like this across the state at prime time (7 a.m.) to find out what's on Vermonters' minds.

It's an eight-week "Set the Agenda Tour," give or take a few days, to allow Vermonters of all persuasions to tell him what they want to see accomplished during the next legislative session. He'll also visit fairs and spend 45 minutes chatting with fair-goers. He'll deliver meals to the elderly. He'll eat sandwiches with small business owners.

If I hadn't checked the calendar, I might have thought the year was 2008 and we were headed into an election. I know Alex's was a campaign stop in 2006.

Jason Gibbs, Douglas spokesman, assured me there was nothing political about this tour. "This is not a political, partisan event," he said with a straight face. "It is about engaging Vermonters in conversations about their priorities for this legislative session."

Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington of Jericho said she didn't have a problem with the governor making a tour. "I think the issues are clear," she said, but she added that perhaps the governor needed to be reminded of what the issues are.

Symington noted that she and most lawmakers spend a lot of time -- especially during summers -- meeting with Vermonters and listening to their concerns. "This is our job this time of year. We are all doing that."

Senate Democratic Leader John Campbell said the tour is all about politics. "If the governor isn't aware of what our priorities should be, then I'm quite surprised."

Campbell said listing the problems that need to be solved is easy. Finding answers is the tough work.

I would add that finding political consensus about those answers has been the real challenge under the state's current political makeup -- Republican governor with veto power and Democrat-dominated Legislature.

Anyway, check the schedule on the governor's Web site and give Douglas a piece of your mind over coffee or fried dough. He said it was OK to call your legislator, too, and share your concerns -- if you haven't already. Douglas said he would report back to all of us in the fall about what he learns. I wonder if there will be any surprises.

-- Nancy Remsen



Obama visit

They didn't actually come out and endorse the guy, but the appearance of Vermont's ENTIRE congressional delegation at a Norwich fundraiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama last Sunday is a pretty clear indicator of who they're for in 2008.

Obama spoke to an upbeat crowd at the event hosted by Bill and Jane Stetson of Norwich, two behind-the-scenes political players who went all out for Howard Dean four years ago and now are behind the man from Illinois.

So to, it would seem are Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as well as Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. Check out the video put up on the Web today by the Vermont Obama folks by clicking HERE.

Oh, sure, Bernie qualified his introductory remarks by saying that "whoever the next president is." But, hey, Obama came to Burlington last year to stump for him and Clinton didn't. Same goes for Welch. And Leahy's remarks at the Norwich event were perhaps the most pro-Obama of the three.

Finally, we learn from the video that Carolyn Dwyer, the state's top Democratic campaign strategist, is now "working" for Obama and raising money for him.

'Nuf said.

-- Sam Hemingway



Howard's end

Was listening to the VPR interview with Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former Vt. guv and U.S. presidential contender and it got me thinking. What does this guy do when his term as DNC chair is over after the 2008 elections.

Dean will have been a high-profile politician for 17 years when he departs his DNC job. He'll also only be 60 years old, and it's hard to imagine he'll be ready to walk away from politics at that point, especially if a Democrat wins the White House. He's also one of the more opportunistic, right-place, right-time pols you'll ever come across.

Mitch Wertlieb of VPR must have been thinking along the same lines, because the very last question he put to Dean in the interview that aired just before the DNC's meeting with state party officials in Burlington on Saturaday was this: Is there any possibility that you may seek the presidency again some time in the future?

Dean's response was dodgy, to say the least: "Ah, heh, who knows, but hopefully I don't have to even have to think about it until 2016, b which is when the end of the term of the next president of the United States, eight year term, and we hope that person is a Democrat." For a full listen of the interview, click HERE.

So here's the question of the day, campers. Does Dean:
A) Take a job in the next administration if the prez is a Democrat
B) Stick around Washington in some other capacity
C) Land a cushy job and prepare for a future run for the White House
D) Come home to Vermont and run for something here
E) Return to being a doctor
F) Other

-- Sam Hemingway



Coming to Vermont

Say what you want about Gov. Jim Douglas' plans to help Vermont companies find former Vermonters who might want to move back (see story here), but this is one issue that people feel passionately about.

I've heard from a bushelful of people today who either want to know how to find these jobs now, or want to talk about why it's hard to move back to Vermont .

Let's start with the premise that anybody who once lived in Vermont wants to come back. Or at least wants to say that they'd like to - if only x, y or z were possible - some of which may just be posturing and some true.

Trouble is x, y and z aren't always possible. It's not always the salary, or the housing cost or the availability of jobs. Sometimes it's subtletlies like letting go of retirement benefits in one state for lesser ones here, as one man described. Or trying to find a job in Vermont that lets you do what you do full-time when your small company wants you to answer the phones in between curing cancer. Then, sometimes it is the salaries or the cost of higher education here.

Truth is, if it were easy to live in Vermont everybody'd be doing it, and then Vermont wouldn't be Vermont. Then nobody'd want to live here.

And if the issue of luring people to live here were easy there wouldn't be so many theories out there about how to do it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Democrats coming to town

The Democratic National Committee's Executive Committee and the Executive Committee of the Association of State Democratic Party Chairs will convene Saturday in Burlington, the hometown of the DNC's boss, former Gov. Howard Dean.

Dean, who could ride his bike to the meeting at the Hilton (which until today was called the Wyndham), will speak about the DNC's 50-state strategy, the Democrats' victories last November, the DNC's partnerships with state parties. You might recall that Dean dispatched DNC staffers to states, including Vermont, to help them run their on-the-ground efforts last fall and left some of them in place for the next cycle.

Also on the agenda: The Democratic Party’s plan for keeping its majority and taking back the White House in 2008.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Leaning left and right

It appears from the photo in today's paper as though Gov. Jim Douglas and Rep. Peter Welch were getting along like old chums. With new-fangled technology your daily newspaper can now bring you more than just words and pictures. You can catch the audio and visuals of yesterday's little exercise skit HERE, by clicking on Audio Slideshow next to the photo.

You will note that the Republican governor and the Democratic congressman joked about leaning right (Douglas encouraging Welch to do so; Welch proclaiming it uncomfortable), leaning left, and finally both of them finding comfort in a stretch that has them in the center.

How did we come up with the audio, you ask? I have no idea. Just accept that it is a changing world.

- Terri Hallenbeck


The Doyle report

Just spoke with Sen. Bill Doyle, the 81-year-old Republican from Washington County who had an accident yesterday while test-driving a car at Twin City Subaru in Montpelier. In case you missed it the story is HERE.

"I've demonstrated Phil Scott is a better driver than I am," Doyle quipped. Scott, of course, is a fellow Washington County Republican senator who races cars.

Aside from maintaining his sense of humor, Doyle is otherwise maintaining pretty well. "I feel as strong as a bull moose," he said. He will put off any decision on buying a new car until after an upcoming trip to the Council of State Legislators meeting in Quebec City.

Doyle had back surgery in the month between the end of the session and the July 11 veto session. He attended the veto session in a wheelchair, spent time at a rehab facility, but is back home and getting around with a walker. Somewhere along the way, he lost his driver's license, which is why he was doing his test-driving in the parking lot of the dealership.

If you thought for a moment that all this has diverted his focus away from state business, you thought wrong. Doyle chatted about a host of topics, including border security and passports, which he will be addressing in Quebec City.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Making bacon

Here is the challenge, if you are a member of Congress (which very few of you are, I realize). You spend all that time in Washington and when you come home you need to show people what you've done. You want to see and be seen by the players in your district. You realize that you can reach all the more people if you do this seeing and been seen in front of the media.

This is all the more true if you are running for re-election every two years. It becomes less true the more six-year terms you pile on and the more times you are on national Sunday morning talk shows. Thus, for years, we saw Rep. Bernie Sanders hold a news conference many a Monday morning. He still holds a few now that he is Sen. Bernie Sanders, but once he realizes how long six years are, he'll scale back.

Sen. Patrick Leahy doesn't need to bother so much. He's getting enough Sundays TV air time.

Rep. Peter Welch, the first-termer, however, has to crank those news conferences like his political life depends on it.

So it was Monday that Welch convened a news conference at the Community Health Center in Burlington to highlight the work the House has done toward expanding federal health coverage of children and seniors.

I can't say that I blame Welch for doing what every member of Congress does, but I do blame us, the media, for lapping it up. For years, the Free Press irked Sanders by not showing up to his every news conference. We will likely irk Welch by not writing about every one of his too.

It just seemed that "Congressman praises own efforts" or even "Congressman amasses others to praise his efforts while media watch" was not a viable story. Can't blame him for trying - the system practically demands that members of Congress do this sort of thing to get attention.

The "system" is full of contradictory tugs like this. Take earmarks, for example. Welch was asked about legislation that requires members to make their earmarks public but that the New York Times showed had simply allowed members to more openly brag about their success in bringing home the bacon. Members are in a tough spot. If they don't bring bacon home, they don't win votes. If they all bring too much bacon home, the country gets fat and has high cholesterol. Who wants to be the first one to say no bacon for you?

- Terri Hallenbeck




I'm not in Montpelier at the moment, so I can't see it with my own eyes, but someone has sent me this photo that indicates there is or was a hand-drawn Illuzzi for Governor sign on the Statehouse lawn.

Sen. Vince Illuzzi says he's in Boston and had nothing to do with it.

It's worth noting, too, that this sign is not exactly the permanent variety. It might be a one-of-a-kind thing.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Thorns in the side

Here are two stories on the wire from Washington this afternoon that are an indication that Vermont might continue to be the only state President Bush hasn't visited right through January 2009.

Example 1:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush’s nominee to run the White House budget
office, former GOP Rep. Jim Nussle, appears to be a long shot to win
confirmation before the Senate’s summer break.
The Senate Budget Committee approved his nomination by a
22-1 vote Thursday, but one committee member, Sen. Bernard Sanders, said he
would hold up the nomination. Sanders’ threat of a filibuster is enough to delay
action until September at the earliest.
“President Bush is completely out of touch with the
economic realities facing working families,” said Sanders, a Vermont
independent. “He needs a budget director who will make him face the facts, not
his fantasies.”

Example 2:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators of both parties have shifted from simple
disapproval of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to tactical planning for how to
get rid of him if he does not correct what they say are inconsistencies in his
sworn congressional testimony.
Senate officials say they expect some response from the
embattled attorney general by Friday, the deadline set by Judiciary Committee
Chairman Patrick Leahy. But if Gonzales does not satisfy committee members, they
are likely to shift quickly to an effort to oust him.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Standing by his man

The Boston Globe had a story this morning about Sen. John McCain's dwindling staff and campaign. Standing next to the senator in the photo was one Jim Barnett, McCain's New Hampshire director and former chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.

Check it out at this LINK. They even dress alike.

When we asked him a few weeks ago how he'd feel about backing a different dog in this fight, he wasn't biting. McCain is the only name he knows how to say these days. But let's just say he had to come up with an alternative plan, and it probably wouldn't be working at McDonald's. Who would you pair him with?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Straw results

The Vermont Democratic Party just released the results of its straw poll of presidential candidates. And the winner is Barack Obama.

The party reports that nearly 800 people responded. They had to give the party a bit of information which may have turned some participants off.
Anyway, here's the tally:

Sen. Obama -- 36.0%
Sen. Edwards -- 29.2%
Sen. Clinton -- 10.2%
Gov. Richardson -- 9.7%
Rep. Kucinich -- 8.2%
Other -- 3.7%
Sen. Biden -- 1%
Sen. Gravel -- 1%
None -- 0.5%
Sen. Dodd -- 0.3%.

Anybody surprised with the results?

-- Nancy Remsen

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