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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



The call of Vermont

The state's job networking Web site is up and running. The site - http://www.pursuevt.org/ - is supposed to lure out-of-staters to Vermont so that when we baby boomers retire there is someone to do the work.

The site was unveiled at an event in Boston this week, where the goal was to bring in those who attended Vermont colleges and sell them on the idea of moving back. State officials say 75 people showed up to connect with 20 Vermont employers.

"Focusing on this supply of talent that is already attracted to
Vermont represents a more compelling strategy than trying to hold on
to those who have chosen to leave," says an April report the state commissioned to study the matter. "Trying to keep Vermont’s young people from leaving
is ... an exercise in futility."

Never mind that keeping Vermonters in Vermont was one of the goals of the governor's Promise scholarship plan (you'd get the money if you agreed to work here for three years). We are on to other things.

The new networking Web site offers links to various places that might be helpful to someone plotting a move to Vermont. Media, companies, trade groups, transportation options.

It also asks viewers to sign up for a monthly newsletter, which I tried to do. It doesn't, however, allow for really long e-mail addresses, such as mine. My company e-mail address is the bane of my existence, as it is both long and illogical, but hey this newsletter only allows for the first 29 characters to fit and I've got 36. That's OK for me, I already lured myself back to Vermont, but what about those poor, deprived, long-addressed ex-patriots out there?

They've fixed the e-mail thing. Now it is equal opportunity access no matter how long your e-mail address. Cudos to Rep. Steve Adams, who is not the independent running for president, for helping to make that happen.

- Terri Hallenbeck



No ID needed

I did not attend the Chertoff event this afternoon, but our man on the scene, Adam Silverman, tells me that the Homeland Security secretary took just four questions from the media. Most of them centered on the enhanced driver's licenses that were the focus of his visit.

The warning that "Journalists may be asked to present media credentials or valid government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license or passport," turned out to be just hype. I was picturing some sort of surreal moment where media attending an event that was about enhanced driver's license might show up with their non-photo paper Vermont driver's licenses, and have to have the governor intercede to get them in. Alas, media were apparently allowed to just wander in incognito.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Chertoff's visit

The Democrats are eager to pin today's visit by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Gov. Jim Douglas.

An e-mail from Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton to party members (and the media) is slugged: "Bush Administration in Vermont." It goes on to declare that Douglas should be asking Chertoff serious questions, then lists some questions:

- There are no federal funds to pay for the enhanced driver's license
program. How much will this program
the State of Vermont? Will the federal government provide funds?
- Implementation of the enhanced driver's license program is scheduled for
November 2008, but Secretary Chertoff has insisted on the use of passports for
crossing the U.S.-Canada border by June 2008. Since Secretary Chertoff is
insisting on passports by June 2008, how will an enhanced driver's license
benefit Vermonters 5 months later?
- Is this the beginning of a National
I.D. System? If not, can you assure us that there will not be a National I.D.
- How will the enhanced driver's license benefit Vermont businesses,
when they do not help Canadians, who travel to Vermont, spending tourism, retail
and business dollars that are critical to the Vermont economy? Current lengthy
back-ups at the border are already hurting Vermont business, and the Customs
& Border Patrol (CPB) has failed to assign the new agents it promised on
Vermont's border with Canada when CBP Commissioner Thomas Winkowski visited Vermont
earlier this year
. The Department of Homeland Security will also miss its
promised target of Border Patrol Agents on the Northern Border by as many as
100. When will these jobs be filled?
- Will you support the AGJOBS
legislation that would provide a stable, legal workforce on our dairy farms?
- Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper has expressed
that the Department of Homeland Security has been ineffective in
communicating with state & local law enforcement. How has DHS addressed
these concerns?

Here's my question for you all. Who does it help to have Chertoff here - the Dems or Douglas?

Does the attempt to link Republican Douglas with Republican Bush fly with voters, even acknowledging that Douglas headed up Bush's election efforts in Vermont and has slept at least twice in the Bush White House?

Or does Douglas win points with Vermont voters by showing that he's taking the Bush administration to task on three recent issues: immigration, auto emissions and SCHIP? And if so, is Douglas doing it on purpose so that when Democrats accuse him of being a Bush supporter he can point to those as example where he was not?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Another one bites the dust

State government has lured another journalist to the dark side, as we say. Sabina Haskell will be the new spokesman for the Agency of Natural Resources. She replaces Darren Allen, former Vermont Press Bureau chief who stayed at ANR a short time before continuing his foray on the drak side at the Vermont NEA.

Haskell will be in an interesting position at ANR. As a journalist and head of the Vermont Press Association, she fought for open meetings and public records. ANR is an agency that has had its own fights over public records, for which the Conservation Law Foundation took the agency to court.

The story is in today's Brattleboro Reformer, with a convenient link HERE.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Political work

Some of you will look at Sen. Bernie Sanders' hiring of Will Wiquist as a spokesman to mean that Sanders is adding a new mouthpiece.

I look at it this way: Things aren't looking good for the Hungry Vermont softball team. Will was a smooth and versatile infielder with a steady bat on a very inconsistent, and some would say, bad team this summer. I was the pitcher on that team. I would say the 2008 season was in jeopardy anyway, but Will's departure isn't going to help.

Wiquist is joining Sanders' D.C. staff, to crank out the senator's words of wisdom to the media alongside Michael Briggs. He will, in essence, replace Erin Campbell, who did the speaking for Sanders when he was in the House but left his employ in the spring.

Wiquist is the latest from a team of young, politically charged former Welch for Congress staffers to find his way into a full-time political gig. It's clear that that campaign has been good for the careers of more than Peter Welch.

Wiquist, at 29 one of the older members of the crew, has worked for the Vermont Democratic Party, for the Federal Election Commission and as a volunteer for Howard Dean's and Bill Bradley's presidential campaigns before coming back to Vermont to work for Welch's 2006 House campaign.

Some others from Welch's staff who found gainful political employment after the campaign: Andrew Savage, Welch's communications director; Calvin Garner, Welch's press assistant, Claire Benjamin, a Welch legislative assistant; Molly Gray, Welch's scheduler; and Jill Krowinski, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. Welch's former state Senate aide Chesley Thurber also landed a spot on his D.C. staff.

The fact that so many of them are young is no coincidence. Youthful exuberance, a willingness to move and a lack of expectations concerning salary are key factors to snagging political jobs. Most campaign jobs are part-time, seasonal and low-paying. Every cycle it seems like there are people eager to do it, though.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Virtual law

Oddest thing. I've had three people in the last few weeks refer to the state's new ban on the use of cell phones while driving.

The state, of course, doesn't have a ban on the use of cell phones while driving. That was a bill the House and Senate both considered, but in the end couldn't agree on in that way that the Senate and House Transportation Committees usually can't agree on anything. It's still sitting there as a possibility for next year, but no such law went into effect.

The people who brought this up to me were each quite convinced there was such a law, and that it went into effect Sept. 1. At least two of the people were in a position to know what the Legislature did and didn't do. One of them even said he thought he'd seen a sign somewhere, maybe near Rutland, that said something about hands-free as of Sept. 1. Given that we don't have billboards, I don't know where such a sign would be seen. But if anybody else has seen such a sign, please do tell.

So I've come to the conclusion that the Legislature doesn't have to pass laws, but can just talk extensively about them until people think they've passed them.

And in the meantime, if you want to go thinking that you can't drive while talking on the cell phone in Vermont, go ahead. Then maybe you'll use your turn signal.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Donning the white coat

For the last two days, I’ve been off at Fletcher Allen Health Care/UVM College of Medicine getting a brain chip implanted about the good work going on at our state’s largest hospital and med school. They do this by:

a) feeding us;
b) introducing us to extremely interesting people who are doing extremely interesting work they are very excited about and who genuinely acted like their favorite thing in the world is to tell other people about it even if those other people are grasping about 1/999th of the science involved.

Nine of us from various walks of Vermont life were in Fletcher Allen’s latest "Community Rounds Intern Program." Also in the class that might be of interest to political blog readers: former state Sen. and possible future candidate for something Matt Dunne of Hartland and former state Rep. Frank Mazur of South Burlington. Dunne, a Democrat, and Mazur, a Republican, pondered for a moment while we were visiting a gene lab whether there is a gene that makes one a liberal or a conservative. They quickly agreed such things do not run in families.

We spent time alternately hearing from hospital mucky-mucks and shadowing doctors, touring labs, seeing the real work of the place. We did not get lost only because someone was always came back to fetch us and take us to the next place, but lemme tell you that new building is sprawling.

I can’t tell you the specifics about the patients I saw or the Fletcher Allen people will come to my home in the middle of the night and put a syringe of something deadly into my veins. Plus, it would be really rude to the patients who unanimously let me watch them while they were at their most vulnerable. (Doctor: "Is it OK if this random person from the community whose knowledge of medicine is limited to pain=bad stands here while I discuss the intimate details of your person?" Patient: "Yeah, sure." Me: "Aw, thanks.")

Suffice to say, though, there was stuff that made you want to cry, wince, shake your head and smile.

What I can tell you is this:

- The new Fletcher Allen buildings are pretty cool, though plenty of people still bring up the name Bill Boettcher in a less than favorable way. I was told that the space with really nice views that was to be Boettcher’s office before he got convicted of hiding the costs of the parking garage is now, rather ironically, the endoscopy department, where people go to have their ends scoped.

- When you look at the cost of the equipment around you, you start to feel like you have a fever. It’s not hard to imagine why health care costs so bleeding much.

- Then when you see somebody who’s really sick, and what that equipment can do for them, you can’t believe you ever gave a thought to how much it costs. You wonder instead why there isn’t more of it.

- Technology has changed things in ways I hadn’t anticipated. The hospital just submitted a certificate of need for an electronic records program that is all the rage, but the amount of stuff going on electronically surprised me. Digital X-rays are available in minutes. Lab reports pop up on a doctor’s computer screen almost as quickly. Doctors check which patient they’ll be seeing next from a computer screen or a BlackBerry. When the computer system goes down – and I’m told it happens from time to time – they have to scramble to revert to non-computerized ways of doing things.

- Really smart people who are performing cutting-edge procedures on patients and finding ways to thwart cancer in laboratories are younger than me. Which felt odd.

- People at Fletcher Allen and the University of Vermont College of Medicine really are finding ways to thwart certain cancers.

- They are also teaching medicine in different ways than they used to at UVM. No more anatomy class. Anatomy is filtered into lots of different classes, because as you might suspect, knowledge of the human body comes up frequently in the practice of medicine. Stats from the first class to be taught this way for all four years indicate the students are faring well on national tests with it. Med students also have access to just about all their class information online.

- There aren't enough of those youngsters in the pipeline to do this kind of work. Despite all the advances in technology and medicine, the hospital is still facing trouble down the line from a shortage of doctors, nurses and every other job connected to health care. When we baby boomers start needing those probes put down our veins, will there be enough radiologists to go around? Will there be enough health care money to pay for the probes?

So the brain chip is working, to a degree. I learned about a lot of cool things Fletcher Allen and the med school are doing. Don’t worry, though, I kept the cynicism gene. When they were talking about the new way of teaching medicine, I asked if that had gone over without objection among all the instructors. No, we were told, it was a close vote.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Blurry lines

One of the things you gotta love about politics is that it doesn't fit into nice, neat lines.

To wit:

You can read in tomorrow's Free Press (I can't give you a link to the future, so just find it on your own) about the Snelling Center's plans to study the state's transportation outlook. The political lines get very blurry.

Republican Charlie Smith, who used to work for Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, proposes a study of what the state's roads and bridges to need and how we might pay for it. Smith, now head of the Snelling Center (created in memory of former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling), finds a willing ear in Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington and Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman Rich Westman. State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, a Democrat, also thinks it's a prudent thing to do.

Republican Douglas, however, thinks it's a waste of money. So does Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Mazza, a Democrat.

It was enough to make Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs say, "I'd be a Democrat if more of them were like Dick Mazza."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bunks vs. ballrooms

Had the occasion recently to take a spin around the new Davis Center at the University of Vermont — the rather sizable building still being completed along Main Street that is the college’s new student center.

If you think it looks big on the outside, it doesn’t feel any smaller on the inside. It seems like there’s always one more flight of stairs going to one more floor. There are more ballrooms than Cinderella ever could have dreamed. UVM went from having a handful of places where people could gather for meetings to having more than I suspect the United Nations has.

The goal of the new student center is to have a place where students might actually convene, thus enhancing the college experience. I am a big fan of the old Billings Student Center for the architecture of the old building (minus the antiseptic newer part that was glommed onto it), but Billings geographically just didn’t work as a student center. It wasn’t at the center of anything. A good many students could have gone through four years of school without a reason for going there.

The Davis building seems, at least so far, to have solved that problem. It is in the middle of things. There are lots of reasons a student might go there, from buying books to buying a cup of coffee, to just stopping on the way to somewhere else.

OK, so that’s one of UVM’s outstanding campus-life hang-ups perhaps put to bed.

There’s another one, though, that’s still nagging. The UVM administration has expressed an interest in making the campus more cohesive – the kind of place where you’d want to spend time living and studying and making the kind of amazing human connections that college fosters. The Davis Center was supposed to be one step toward that, and so were the new dorms that have popped up in the last couple years.

And yet, this year we read that UVM is back to tripling students up in dorm rooms built for two. Now, you can argue that there are plenty worse things in life than living in a room with two other people. Students in many countries in Africa would seize such a living arrangement. But if UVM is looking to compete with other U.S. colleges on the notion of creating a great college experience, triples are not the way to go.

I was in a triple my sophomore year at UVM a couple of decades ago. We did it sort of "voluntarily." If we doubled up, the college couldn’t guarantee us a room at all the next year. It was based on a lottery and my roommate and I had bad lottery numbers, so we decided to triple up, which leapfrogged us ahead in the lottery. Nothing calamitous happened in our triple – no knockdown, dragout fights – but nothing particularly good came from it either. None of those friendships survived the year. One roommate left UVM at the end of the year. I considered leaving too, but ended up choosing to do a semester in Washington, then came back to UVM. Living in a triple did nothing to foster the kind of campus experience that UVM seems to be looking for.

The Davis Center might be one step, but it won’t take UVM all the way. Unless those kids could bunk in a ballroom.

- Terri Hallenbeck



There's no going back

This should have run Monday night or Tuesday -- but life got in the way.

At Monday's meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee on the property tax privacy question, several people suggested that the best solution would be to go back to sending prebate checks. That was Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham's recommendation. Milton Town Clerk and Treasurer John Cushing thought that might be the way to go, too.

If you pay your property taxes based on your household income, don't expect a check next year. Here's why. Pelham noted that by the time the Legislature meets in January, the tax booklet will be printed for 2008 will be printed. It would be too late to switch gears, even if the change were the first thing lawmakers did on the first day they met and they worked as fast as they do at the end of the session. (By the way, that kind of speed doesn't happen in January. )

There's a political reason, too, which Rep. Mary Peterson, D-Williston, hinted at without mentioning the word "election." If there were a way to revert back to the prebate checks, she noted that taxpayers would also revert to getting much bigger property tax bills. "That would be a tough nut to swallow," Peterson said. Tough for the taxpayers who would no doubt take out their frustrations on the politicians who gave them that present just a few months before asking for support on election day. That won't happen.

So my guess is that if anything is done to create more privacy for the property tax adjustment information, it will happen in the town office. It's going to pit those who don't want anyone to have even a hint about their household income against those who believe they and the rest of the public have a right to know everything about local tax revenues and expenditures. What one person sees as privacy, another might see as secrecy.

There also were some strange political winds blowing Monday in that committee room. Rep. Rick Hube, R-South Londonderry, has been one of the Republicans beating a drum about the privacy problem, with some emphasis on Democrats failure to address the problem. Hube and other House Republicans hoped to create a firestorm of political opposition -- but their flame never caught. Two other Republicans on the committee declared their support for the switch from prebate check to reduced property tax bill and Committee Vice Chairman Bud Otterman, R-Topsham, repeatedly said one couldn't definitely arrive at household income using the tax adjustment figure and even if you could get close, what did you have? Not a taxpayer's income, which is the really sensitive information, he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, were getting mixed messages. Democratic Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who said she did get calls from folks concerned about the public availability of their income-related tax adjustment, went public saying there was a problem with the change and suggested town clerks and treasurers redact the information on tax bills provided to anyone other than the taxpayer. Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington agreed with Markowitz that "there is a basis for concluding that the property tax adjustment information is private and should not be disclosed." After six hours of testimony, most of the Democrats on the committee declared themselves undecided -- read that unsure politically -- about what to do.

Politically and practically blocked from going back to the old system, they found they faced a mine field of hidden implications if they committed to some new privacy protections in town offices. Don't look for any quick answers here.

-- Nancy Remsen



Does it stick?

There on the front page of your morning newspaper today you'll see the new logo that the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce has chosen for Burlington. You can see it here too, as a matter of fact.

As I was walking up my driveway with the paper this morning, it struck me that it looked sort of like Burlington in the midst of a tsunami. The buildings are wobbling on waves. I can assure you that Burlington's buildings remain firmly planted in the ground today.

What do you all make of it?

This logo goes along with the slogan referring to Burlington as "The West Coast of New England."

It doesn't seem easy to come up with a killer logo or slogan, though when a good one comes around it sticks. ("I'm stuck on Band-Aid brand cuz Band Aid's stuck on me" is with us for life, New York's "What a great vacation" may not be with you but I think it's going to be taking up valuable space in my memory banks for some time to come).

With this logo or slogan stick? Does it have to be sung as a tune to have staying power?

- Terri Hallenbeck



It's a go on greenhouse gas standards

Results of the big auto manufacturer/greenhouse gas emissions lawsuit are in. It has to have environmental groups dancing in the streets and auto manufacturers grumbling in their offices.

For you folks at home, it could mean the average car gets something on the order of 43 mpg by 2016, or that the average car in some other way runs cleaner than it does today.

U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions ruled that there's no conflict between a state regulating greenhouse gas emissions in cars and the federal mileage standards. Which means states, such as Vermont and California, can have their own regulations.

Meeting those standards will be a challenge for automakers, Sessions said, but "the court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California’s GHG regulations.”

You can read the 240-page decision HERE.

The regulations would start in 2009, requiring a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks by 2016.

Gov. Jim Douglas praised the ruling and the work of the state's lawyers in defending the standards:
“Most of Vermont’s greenhouse gases are emitted by automobiles and for us to make significantly reduce our carbon footprint the innovations that occur in states like Vermont are critical.”

“Setting high – but achievable – standards for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles is a tool every state must have the option of employing. Now, thanks to our victory, every state will.”

Don't be surprised if the auto manufacturers appeal this.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The Vermont for Obama gang will hold a rally this evening at which three politicians will declare their support of Sen. Barack Obama for president.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle are endorsing the Democrat from Illinois.

Their calling this an organizing party, but they're already pretty much organized, as in they've been meeting, collecting signatures to get their man's name on the Vermont primary ballot, lining up endorsements and holding fund-raisers.

The event is from 6-9 p.m. tonight at Club Metronome, above Nectar’s, 188 Main St., Burlington.



Six years later

It does get harder to sum up Sept. 11 as the years go by, and harder to remember what it felt like at the time.

Remembrance Day was taken, so they call this one Patriot Day. Human instinct, though, causes us to take these watershed moments and remember them. We fall back most easily to remembering where we were, what we were doing. If you were older than I was when Kennedy was shot, you remember where you were. Same for the Challenger explosion, and for 9/11. What’s perhaps more important is to take one step further into the memory bank and remember what it felt like, and take account of how far removed we are from that feeling now.

Remember how we didn't know whether this was the beginning of the end? We still don't, I suppose, but no longer with the same feel of impending doom. Remember how we suddenly quite clearly knew what patriotism meant? It's safe to say we don't have that shared sense of the word any more.

Because I'm a journalist and not a normal human being, I think I didn't have as many normal human being-like responses that day as I might otherwise have.

I was out for a run in South Burlington when the attacks happened. I was night metro editor at the time and hours from needing to be at work. A radio was playing at a house where a painter was working outside. I remember thinking that the radio sounded inordinately serious - more urgent than your typical mid-morning radio - and I wondered vaguely if some big news had happened. It was just idle speculation, though, because I couldn't hear the specifics, so I kept running. When I got back to the gym where I was a member, a couple of women were staring at the TVs in the locker room, talking about a plane crash and how it didn't sound like an accident.

I looked at the TV for a minute, then went into automatic mode. I needed to get to work. When I got to the Free Press, my job was to put together pages of local stories for the special edition we were putting out that morning. It was a frenzied task, and yet I was clumsy at it because it had been more than a year since I had done page layout. Amid my frenzied clumsiness, every now and then I looked up at the TV and more destruction was going on. I watched the second tower come down one second and was back to typing the next.

That's an odd way to absorb huge, emotional news. I didn't realize it until that night, sitting at home in front of the TV and having the whole story settle in. My husband commented that I hadn't reacted like the enormity of it had hit me. It had and it hadn't. I knew intellectually about the scope of the thing, but I had shut down the emotional enormity.

It may have been similar for others. Teachers who had to pretend in school like everything was going to be all right. Nurses and doctors in hospitals who had to go on with surgeries and regular-life emergencies. Emergency officials who had to think strictly logistically.

Whenever it is that you had a chance to let it all sink in – and to some degree it wouldn’t all sink in because it was too big - think back today to how you felt then. It seemed for a brief time that those feelings were not political, they were just human feelings. Was that bound not to last?

What did you do that day that reflected how you felt? Line up to give blood? (And have you gone back to give again?) Buy a flag? (And are you still flying it?)

There was a sense that everything changed that day. Did it? Or are most things really the same?

For what it’s worth, it seems like each of us shouldn’t forget what we felt.

— Terri Hallenbeck



Presidential visits

Interesting tidbit from Vermont This Week this past Sunday (or Friday depending on when you watched it). Rob Roper, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said he expected President Bush would not leave office without making a visit to the only state he has not yet visited - Vermont.

Roper quickly hedged his comments with the fact that no such visit is explicitly in the works, but the notion that Roper assumed he would visit caught fellow guests Ian Carleton, chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, and Martha Abbott, co-chairwoman of the Vermont Progressive Party, by surprise.

The two of them would undoubtedly love for Bush to visit Vermont, stand arm in arm with Gov. Jim Douglas for all the cameras. You can bet that footage would roll all campaign long in 2008.

Which is why, if Bush makes a presidential visit to Vermont, I would bet it's going to be sometime between Nov. 4, 2008, and Jan. 20, 2009. Of course, there's also a chance it's not all that important to him to complete the set of 50 states he's visited as president.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Politics with plywood

I stopped by today to see Matt Dunne's Service Politics Institute at work in Colchester.

Dunne, the erstwhile state legislator and unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, has started this nonprofit group to forge a connection between service and politics.

Saturday, that meant convening a handful of volunteers at the home of Patricia Hamilton. Her roof was leaking, which has led to mold in here paneled walls of her mobile home, which in turn created breathing problems for her.

The volunteers were prying off paneling, scrubbing walls and tarring the roof. In the midst of their work, they paused and gathered in Hamilton’s living room to chat a bit about the kind of services Hamilton receives, how those services help the senior citizen stay in her own home and what all that means to the state budget and policy-making.

Whether this is really a stage-setter for Dunne’s future political career is a matter of speculation. He says it’s not. "There are easier ways to do these things," he said, holding up his tar-covered hands.

Nonetheless, Dunne, 37, has shown his political ambition from a young age. He was elected to the Legislature in 1992 at age 22. He is considered a possible candidate for governor or lieutenant governor in 2008. He won’t make an announcement on that until at least November, he said.

Mary and Evan MacEwan of Essex were among the volunteers who were lured to Colchester on Saturday. She scrubbed walls while he pried paneling free. They received an e-mail through their connection to the Democratic Party and decided to help out, Mary MacEwan said. She didn’t know personally Dunne or the other politicians who joined him.

Those were Sens. Ginny Lyons and Hinda Miller, both Democrats from Chittenden County who took on the job of caulking windows. Miller, who has a flare for style, caulked the way one might frost a bakery cake. Lyons took the more practical route and smoothed her caulking out, the way one might frost a Betty Crocker cake.

Dunne, with virtually no experience in tarring, was spreading the goo on Hamilton’s roof.

Everybody was depending on contractor Andy Gray, who volunteered his expertise, to do the most technical work.

In Hamilton’s living room, Champlain Valley Area Agency on Aging Executive Director John Barbour talked about the Medicaid waiver that allows Hamilton, who has trouble walking, to receive care at home instead of moving to a nursing home. She has up to 23 hours of in-home care, receives food from Meals on Wheels and can call for emergency help with a click of a button. Hamilton talked about how important that is to her.

"I love my home," she said."Without the help of all the people who work on my behalf I wouldn’t be able to be here."

Staying home is preferable to Hamilton. It’s also typically cheaper, Barbour said.

Barbour noted that with population aging more people will be seeking these services. Lyons, who serves on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, noted the importance of planning for those costs.

In the other room, Evan MacEwan was eager to get back to work on replacing the moldy wall.

- Terri Hallenbeck



One crisis down

The State Department reports today that the passport backlog is gone and processing time is back to the normal six to eight weeks, or three weeks for expedited (i.e. pay more money) service. It had been up to 15 weeks, and paying for expedited service didn't help.

This comes just as Sen. Patrick Leahy's office announced that the Senate passed a State Department budget bill Thursday that included the money for the State Department to hire more passport-processing workers. That was $40 million transferred from elsewhere in the department. What backlogs will develop from that $40 million being averted from other duties we won't likely find out for months. And will the State Department be able to keep up with what surely will be a heavier demand for passports from here on?

OK, so now everybody who can afford one, can get a passport within a reasonable time span. Next crisis to be resolved: What about those people who live on the border and for whom it is not practical and arguable not necessary to show a passport every time they back out of their driveway? And what about those backlogs of cars at the border crossings?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Safety in numbers

It appears now that the fallout, no pun intended, from the Vermont Yankee problems of the last few weeks has now reached Washington D.C.

In the hours before Rep. Peter Welch announced he was introducing legislation giving governors in states with aging nuke plants in their midst the power to instigate independent safety assessments, he was able to find four co-sponsors for the bill -- two each from New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

It's a fact that wouldn't have happened if the VY problems hadn't happened. When Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the identical bill six months earlier, he couldn't get a single co-sponsor, according to Ray Shadis of the nuke watchdog group New England Coalition. Sanders downplayed the lack of sponsors for his bill, saying co-sponsors aren't so critical to have when you need to get things done in the Senate. Not sure Sen. Patrick Leahy would agree, but maybe it's all perception.

It remains to be seen if the bills Welch and Sanders are boosting will ever become law.
These assessments are an anathema to the NRC and the nuke industry, as you could see in the comments from the NRC and Entergy spokesmen in today's story. Both said the assessments aren't necessary because the NRC's scrutiny of nuke plants encompasses the same work. Critics, of course, will argue that if that's true, then how come that VY cooling towerwork collapsed so unexpectedly.

Another reason the industry will fight the Welch/Sanders legislation is because of what happened at Maine Yankee a decade ago. MY was the subject of the only independent safety assessment ever conducted, and while it wasn't the sole reason why the joint subsequently was shut down, the problems it uncovered were nails in MY's coffin.

Sanders, by the way, is the godfather to the Welch's initiative. He said on the phone that he brought up the idea of Welch introducting a companion bill in the House during a conversation with Welch over the Labor Day weekend. Voila. Three days later we have a bill in the House with four co-sponsors.

Quick work by Welch. And smart politics by Sanders.

-- Sam Hemingway



TV's best drama

Been channel-surfing past your favorite public access TV station and wondered why you haven't been seeing the gripping drama of the governor's press conferences? That might be an indication that you need new hobbies. Nonetheless, I know there are people out there who tune into these events, and yes, it's true that they haven't been on the air since July.

Why? Because gubernatorial spokesman Jason Gibbs is still trying to find someone to tape them.

The state puts the work out to bid. It's a process that preceded the Douglas years. The most recent contractor, Mad River Community Television, was paid $300 per event for taping, producing and distributing the tapes to various public access outlets and for the governor's Web site. The group didn't want to do it anymore when the contract ended in July, Gibbs said.

The first round of bids yielded people seeking twice the pay, he said, so he nixed them. Gibbs said there were a few bidders whose applications were tossed by the Purchasing Department because they didn't follow the directions.

Gibbs sought a new round of bidders and is awaiting the results. If those don't work out, Gibbs may be stuck behind the camera himself, he said. Would be quite the sight to have the cameraman pop his head out to tell the governor it's getting time to wrap up. Gibbs said he's hoping one of those bidders who didn't follow the directions the first time will get it right this time.

From my seat at the table I sometimes forget that the entirety of the press conference is being taped, but I've sensed more than once that Gov. Jim Douglas doesn't forget it. He'll be answering a question with the exact same wording he used the day before, emphasizing some point that seems passe and you look up and see that he's speaking directly to the camera. And you realize he's no longer talking to whoever asked the question but instead to the folks who were channel-surfing at home. Doesn't happen all the time, but every now and then.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dubie to the FAA?

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is on the list of possible candidates for administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. That’s the top job at the FAA, the big enchilada.

Dubie, who is a commercial pilot and a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is not considered the front-running candidate, according to Aviation Week, but he’s on the list. The Washington Post mentioned the leading candidate might be Barbara Barrett, a former deputy FAA administrator under President Reagan.

Peter Freyne, over at Inside Track, came up with the FAA connection, but I do believe he got the job wrong. He said it was the FAA’s chief operating officer Dubie was in line for. Today, Dubie’s chief of staff Martha Hanson issued a statement with Dubie referring to it as the administrator’s job. That’s also how I read the story in Aviation Week on the subject, which you can see by clicking here.

Though we would have liked to ask Dubie if he’s planning to run for lt. gov. in 2008, he could not be reached for direct comment Wednesday. He said in his statement that he’s still focused on his work as lieutenant governor and doesn't know what may come of the FAA thing. He also said: "I am aware that my name has been under consideration, and it’s an unexpected honor just to be considered for the FAA administrator’s job at this pivotal time in the direction of our nation’s air travel system performance and infrastructure."

The Republican who lives in Essex said his chairmanship of the Aerospace States Association, his role in creating a Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association and a column he wrote in Aviation Week in February about making an effort as a pilot to fly more fuel-efficiently raised his profile.

The FAA administrator is appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Current administrator Marion Blakey’s term expires Sept. 13. She has already landed a job as head of the Aerospace Industries Association, according to The Washington Post.

What’s Gov. Jim Douglas, a fellow Republican, think of all this? Spokesman Jason Gibbs said Dubie had informed the governor he was under consideration for the job. "We think it speaks to how well-respected Lt. Gov. Dubie is in the aviation profession," Gibbs said.

Still, Gibbs said, Douglas is counting on Dubie to run for re-election and has every expectation that he will. "The governor is looking forward to running with him in 2008," he said.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Report card on the war

Rep. Peter Welch is pointing to a new report assessing the war in Iraq, and urging Republicans in Congress to join the call for ending the war.

This is AP's report on the report:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Iraq’s security forces have made “uneven progress” and
will be unable to take over security on their own in the next 12 to 18 months,
according to an independent assessment.

The study, conducted by a 20-member panel led by retired Gen. James Jones,
found the Iraqi Army shows promise of becoming a viable, independent security
force with time. But the group offers a scathing assessment of Baghdad’s
Ministry of Interior and recommends scrapping Iraq’s national police force,
which it describes as dysfunctional and infiltrated by militias.

The review is one of several studies that Congress directed in May, when it
agreed to fund the war for several more months but demanded that the Bush
administration and independent groups assess U.S. progress in the four-year war.

Welch called on Republicans to do as retiring Sen. John Warner has done. Warner recently called on President Bush to bring home 5,000 troops to show Iraq's government he's serious about speedier reforms:

“This non-partisan investigation confirms what a majority of Americans and
a growing majority of Congress already know: the President's policy in Iraq is a
failure and it is time to bring our troops home."

“Since the President refuses to act, Congress must. And the U.S.
House has. While we have passed legislation requiring the responsible
withdrawal of troops from Iraq, our efforts have been blocked by the President
and Congressional Republicans. As we press forward this month committed to
ending this war, it is imperative that reasonable Republicans, like Sen. John
Warner, acknowledge the urgent need to change course.”

- Terri Hallenbeck


Should he stay or go now?

Sen. Patrick Leahy's buddy Arlen Specter has gone and urged Sen. Larry Craig to reconsider resigning the Senate over his airport bathroom incident. Makes you wonder if Sen. Spector will do the same on Alberto Gonzales's resignation.

“The more people take a look at the situation, there may well be second thoughts,” said Specter, a former prosecutor, said Craig. If Craig had not pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, “I believe he would have been exonerated,” Specter said.

Craig's spokespeople indicated last night he might just fight this thing instead of resigning.

Also yesterday, Craig's children told the Associated Press that they grilled him about what happened there in the airport. “Our conclusion was there was no wrongdoing there,” said 33-year-old Jay Craig.

It might have gone a long way if Sen. Craig had shared that same defense with the public - and his Republican colleagues who, other than Specter, dropped him lead-balloon style.

You have to wonder, though, how a guy who is so indecisive (I should plead guilty; no I shouldn't. I should resign; no I shouldn't) managed to reach the U.S. Senate.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Club Obama

Senator Barack Obama's fans in Vermont continue to have a leg up -- heck, make that a whole body up -- over the in-state backers of Obama's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination. Word has it the recent Norwich fundraiser may have added $300,000 to the Obama coffers.

So it's not surprising that the group is formally finally kicking off the Vermont for Obama effort with an event at Club Metronome next week cleverly titled "Club Obama." For a look at the poster, click HERE.

Just don't get why the Edwards and Clinton crowd in Vermont has been so invisible, so far anyway. Hillary's the undisputed frontrunner and her husband won this state in 1992 and 1996. That's got to be worth something. And John Edwards support from unions and the activist trial attorneys group ought to be gaining him some traction here as well. Hey, even Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich ought to have stirred some interest in the Green Mountains by now.


-- Sam Hemingway


Does age matter?

Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain took some tough questions this morning from Concord High School students on the question of his age. (71) According to an Assoicated Press report, here's what one student asked.

“If elected, you’d be older than Ronald Reagan, making you the oldest president. Do you ever worry you might die in office or get Alzheimer’s or some other disease that might affect your judgment?”

Do voters think about age when looking at the field of presidential candidates? Is the public contradictory in what it is looking for in candidates -- someone with plenty of "experience" but not too old?

Or was this just a kids' view of a candidate who with his white hair may have appeared more like a grandfather than presidential material?

-- Nancy Remsen


Simmer down, kids

I can see that some of you did not take my advice to chill your political angst over the long weekend, despite the spectacular weather that would have afforded you to do about 1,000 things that would have been healthier than venting your political angst. Suit yourselves.

We must, however, ask you to be more civil, and not use those words that my mother would find offensive. It tends to generate a better discussion, wouldn't you say?

We took down a few of the most offensive comments from over the weekend, when you were supposed to be chilling.

Just because you're not looking across the table at the people you're talking to doesn't mean you should treat them worse than you treat the dirt on the bottom of your shoes.

Nice day outside, isn't it?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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