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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



The gubernatorial top begins to turn

Thanks goodness for the WCAX poll. It lets everyone start spinning the gubernatorial race even though the election is a year away.

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is the only confirmed candidate and the poll asked two sets of questions that provide some insight into his status with the public. One question weighed his job performance at this midpoint in his third term. He got high marks from 16 percent of the 400 who responded to the survey and good marks from 38 percent, according to Kristin Carlson's report. She quotes Douglas as saying in total, 81 percent thought he was "a decent job." The complete breakdown for the responses wasn't available.

Another question asked these likely voters whether they would vote to re-elect Douglas in 2008. Here his score was 42 percent yes, 33 percent would like to replace him and 25 percent weren't sure yet.

So is that good news or bad news for Douglas -- that 58 percent aren't committed to his re-election?

And what about the result of the question testing the waters for some other names circulated as potential Douglas challengers? Matt Dunne, a Democrat, bests Progressive Anthony Pollina by 10 percentage points, 22 to 12. Any significance to that spread?

I'm not sure the rest of the results for challengers means much since they've all said they aren't in for 2008. Interesting, however, that Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2002 and lost (and Democrats say Pollina was a spoiler in that race), scored higher at 8 percent than the three other Democratic statewide officers. The poll showed Secretary of State Deb Markowitz at 7 percent, Attorney General Bill Sorrell at 5 percent and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding at 4 percent. In the middle, House Speaker Gaye Symington at 5 percent. She's never run as a statewide candidate.

As WCAX's Kate Duffy notes in her report on the re-election question, there are now a couple of other Democrats whose names have been offered up as potential challengers: Senate Democratic Leader John Campbell and Peter Galbraith, a former diplomat. My guess is both would have polled toward the bottom as neither has much statewide name recognition.

You can read the stories and squint at a couple of charts showing the poll results by clicking here. I couldn't find the actual poll at the WCAX site -- you know with the questions, respondents' tally or demagraphics. It would be interesting to see that stuff, wouldn't it?

Happy spinning. I can hardly wait to read the chat.

-- Nancy Remsen



Rainville in charge of warnings

When I read about the famous fake FEMA press conference of the other day (FEMA staff posed questions to FEMA staff while real reporters tuned in by phone and were not able to ask questions), I naturally wondered about the only person I know of who works at FEMA, and whether she had a role.

Didn't really believe Martha Rainville would be involved (she'd had all the lessons she could bear about staff-written fake position papers during her congressional campaign last year). Indications are that indeed she was not in the thick of the recent mess.

According to Washington Post columnist Al Kamen: "We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin. "

But a FEMA/Rainville search did tell us a little about what that the former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard and former congressional candidate was up to at FEMA. Here's a recent article from the publication Washington Technology that talks about her new role overseeing public warnings and alerts. If only she could have warned her FEMA colleagues about the idiocy of a fake news conference.

Be prepared
By Alice Lipowicz
Most emergency alert opportunities will lie with the states, FEMA official

The 2007 hurricane season has been relatively mild so far. But it is still
a busy period for Martha Rainville in her new position overseeing national
public warnings and alerts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

She joined FEMA in April as deputy administrator of continuity programs.
Rainville’s responsibilities include FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning
System (IPAWS). It will expand the nation’s longstanding emergency alert system.

If you want to read more, go there yourself from HERE.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The fretting behind climate change

The Governor’s Commission on Climate Change came out with its final report Friday, as you surely noticed.

It lists six items that the commission urges the governor to do immediately, among them is beefing up energy efficiency, that little old item that hogged so much of the spotlight during the legislative session and refuses to go away.

One of the other items is a collaboration between the state and the University of Vermont and other state colleges on climate change issues. The state would use the colleges’ expertise, the colleges would use the state as a laboratory, or something like that.

This one caused a tussle on the commission because some wanted it to be the focal point of the commission’s report and some thought that if it the final report focused on a collaboration and not on specific ways the state could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that the specifics would get lost. The administration, particularly Agency of Natural Resources Secretary George Crombie, was a big backer of the collaboration idea; so was commission Chairman Ernie Pomerleau.

I always love a good tussle, so I became intrigued about the genesis of this idea. I asked ANR for correspondences between UVM and the agency just to see what I’d learn about it. E-mails back and forth contain a few interesting items I’d like to share with y’all.

- First, there’s no doubt ANR was working out the details of this thing, rather than the commission. E-mails about the agreement are between UVM President Dan Fogel and ANR Deputy Secretary John Sayles. Crombie, Pomerleau and the governor’s staff (Chief of Staff Tim Hayward, Administration Secretary Mike Smith, press secretary Jason Gibbs and aide Dennise Casey) are all included on the e-mail exchanges.

- The e-mails also offer a little insight into worries about whose feathers might get ruffled, the way they did on the governor's scholarship proposal last year. Fogel says in an Oct. 12 e-mail to Sayles (and copied to the rest of the crowd):

" ... we see an opportunity to draw good lessons from the experience with the
Vermont Promise Scholarship proposal." (you might recall a protracted
disagreement between the governor and the legislature on that one) "In a
nutshell, we think we need to be as inclusive as possible in the very early
stages of the work on this agenda. We should therefore probably avoid, in the
draft, statements that suggest that the General Assembly will not be a partner
in this project (e.g. statements like point 11 and 13 on the draft, as
transmitted by you at 3:23 p.m. yesterday, that the blueprint for the transition
to a green economy will be drawn up without legislation.")

Fogel also worries over whether legislators will object to UVM"s higher profile in the agreement over Vermont State Colleges.

Sure enough, the final wording of that section of the report includes everybody except your grandmother, calling the agreement:

"a strategic partnership among the State of Vermont, including its agencies,
departments, the General Assembly and the Office of Governor; the University of
Vermont among the nation’s leading centers of environmental education and
research, and Vermont’s other premier academic and research institutions; and
the private business and non-governmental sectors."

- Fogel also offers some insight into how the thing was going to be publicized, indicating there was going to be a news conference that was postponed. In the Oct. 12 e-mail, he says:

"We may want to consider, for example, having the initial press conference
feature the Governor and the Chair of the GCCC rather than the Governor and the
president of UVM, but of course I will defer to the Governor’s best judgment on

In an Oct. 13 e-mail, Fogel refers to plans for a public announcement of the agreement "in 10 days or so." He worries in that e-mail about whether the public debut of the agreement "is a great leap forward or will seem, in retrospect, to have been a misstep."

What’s all that mean? Well, the fact that ANR worked the agreement out and the import Crombie gave it by calling it the "commission’s signature proposal" in an ANR press release issued Friday indicate that this is what the governor is going to focus on. No matter that the commission’s report ended up treating the UVM agreement equally with a handful of other priorities, this is the one the administration cares about.

And all the fretting wasn't about the substance of the agreement (who's opposed to "working together?"), but the politics of the agreement.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Welch v. Rice

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday morning and took a beating.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a committee member, was early on the list of members to toss in a question. He asked if the evidence suggested that Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was protecting corruption in Iraq, did the American taxpayers have a right to know.

Yes, Rice said, before cautioning against responding to uncorroborated evidence.

Welch interrupted Rice several times.

Would she ask President Bush to repudiate the prime minister’s grant of immunity on corruption?

Rice started to say that corruption prevades many countries throughout the world, not just Iraq and that there are boards within Iraq, aside from the prime minister, to investigate corruption.

Welch told her she hadn’t answered the question. "Will you ask the president to repudiate that blanket grant of immunity?"

The U.S. will not support a policy that prevents investigation and bringing to justice of corruption, she said.

It sounds like the president will tolerate secrecy, Welch said.

Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana who followed Welch, then apologized to Rice for the prosecutorial treatment she’d been given and complained to committee Chairman Henry Waxman that Welch had gone over his time alotment by 2 minutes.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Condi takes the stand

Vermonters who are unhappy with Rep. Peter Welch's response to the war in Iraq might want to tune in tomorrow to a committee hearing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and see if he and his colleagues on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform make any headway.

Rice is scheduled to testify on “The State Department and the Iraq War” at 10 a.m.

“Secretary Rice has a lot of questions to answer. This administration must be accountable to Congress and the American people,” Welch said in a news release today.

The hearing is supposed to examine questions regarding the performance of the State Department on Iraq, including the impact of Iraqi corruption and the activities of Blackwater USA. The committee may also question the secretary regarding allegations of wrongdoing associated with the construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Welch's office said.

It's all expected to be carried live on CSPAN 3 and CSPAN Radio. I personally did not know there was a CSPAN3 and have no idea if people like me get it, but I don't think so. Fortunately for you, it's also available online at www.cspan.org.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Dubie not cleared for takeoff

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie didn't get the job as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, but he has stepped up his public call for something to do be done about the nation's air industry that is seeing increasing flight delays, a shortage of air traffic controllers, security strains and other issues.

Dubie is also a pilot, so he gets to be the guy in the cockpit who informs the passengers that they'll be sitting on the ground a while longer.

With the announcement that Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell will be the president's nominee for the job, Dubie issued a statement calling for changes:

There’s “a huge challenge ahead,” he said, “to fix our nation’s air traffic
control problems, city-to-city, state-to-state and coast-to-coast. Bobby
Sturgell’s experience and leadership ability will be key. The sooner he’s
confirmed, the sooner he’ll be able to devote all his energies to leading
the FAA.”

Dubie stated, “Air transportation safety, security and
service are a huge concern for local economies in every state, no matter
whether you’re flying in and out of a major urban hub or a regional airport
in rural America. Aviation is as local as it is global.”

Dubie isn't talking about whether he will run for another term as lieutenant governor in 2008. He has said he won't discuss it until the calendar approaches the year-out mark from the election.

For now, though, Dubie has more important matters on his mind. His father, Clem Dubie of Essex Junction, died Tuesday at home.

- Terri Hallenbeck



An inconvenient vote

Looks like the friends and followers of Democracy for America aren't as impressed with Barack Obama as you might have thought.

The Burlington-based grassroots political action committee is running an on-line poll on its Web site asking folks to vote for who they'd like to be president, and Obama is running a strong second, behind Al "I'm not Interested" Gore. For a look at the results to date -- the "poll" is open until Nov. 5 -- click here.

It also looks like DFA is using the poll numbers to call on Gore to say whether he's in or out as a presidential candidate. DFA rules forbid it from endorsing someone who is not an announced candidate.

"Despite the fact that Al Gore has not announced that he will run and wasn't even included in the endorsement poll, DFA members have seized the power and written him in. With over 65,000 votes cast so far, the time has come for Vice President Gore to make a decision," Arshad Hasan, DFA's executive director, wrote in the e-mail.

Funny. I thought the former Veep made it pretty clear he's not interested in the post he sought (and some say won) in 2000. Even after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, that message was reiterated.

But then, in politics, you never say never.

-- Sam Hemingway


Another cup of Joe

The Washington Post has an interesting piece today about old friend Joe Trippi, the campaign manager for former Gov. Howard Dean's meteoric presidential campaign of four years ago.

Trippi is now senior advisor for the presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards but, says the Post, has quietly emerged as the defacto manager of the Edwards effort, adroitly burnishing Edwards' image as the outside-the-beltway candidate in the race.

The Post says Trippi's increasing influence in the Edwards camp is the result of a bond established more with Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, that with the candidate himself. Both are struggling with health issues -- cancer for her, diabetes for him -- and both have come to view this race as being a cause as much as a campaign. To read the Post piece, click here.

A lot of Dean backers from '04 blame Trippi for mismanaging the campaign and causing Dean's fall in Iowa. On the other hand, where would Dean have been without him? What do you make of Joe's taking over the controls of the Edwards campaign?

-- Sam Hemingway



Mukasey won't get Sanders vote

Sen. Patrick Leahy's Judiciary Committee seems unlikely to block attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey's confirmation. Sen. Bernie Sanders isn't quite so content with Mukasey.

Sanders put out word today that he will vote against Mukasey's confirmation.

President Bush’s choice to head the Justice Department holds views on the sweeping powers of the presidency that are at odds with what the framers of our Constitution intended, Sanders said in a news release. The nominee also demonstrated at Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings a disregard for civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, he said.

He also said:

“We need an attorney general who does not believe the president has unlimited
power. We need an attorney general who understands that torture is not what this
country is about, and we need an attorney general who clearly understands the
separation of powers inherent in our Constitution. Unfortunately, it is clear
that Mr. Mukasey is not that person.”

"Mukasey, a former federal judge
from New York, testified that Congress may be powerless to bar the president
from conducting some surveillance without warrants. He incredibly claimed to be
unfamiliar with the technique known as waterboarding, and refused to say whether
or not it was torture."

The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on Mukasey. Committee members are expected to ask Mukasey written questions. The committee vote is unlikely to happen before next week.

Leahy had indicated he felt pretty good about Mukasey, right up until the second day of the committee's hearings with Mukasey, when the nominee hedged on waterboarding, among other issues, as Sanders indicated.

- Terri Hallenbeck


True colors

When it’s 70 degrees out and the leaves are at their flaming foliage peak and it’s the third week of October, it’s bound to happen.

It's bound to ignite more than one conversation about whether this is global warming or just a freak of nature, and whether this is bad or just different.

The world seems to be divided among those who say global warming is over-hyped, that nature ebbs and flows that if you Chicken-Little it too much you're going to turn people off, and those who say it is one sign that global warming is for real, that the fact that humans are sucking the earth dry is irrefutable and that it doesn’t matter one wit if it’s over-hyped because people are so reluctant to change and do anything that’s inconvenient that they need all the dire warning they can get.

Peak foliage in the third week in October? Never heard of such a thing.

Which is it, folks? Take a proverbial walk in the woods and have the conversation with your proverbial walking partner - should leaf-peepers adjust their late-September, -early-October timing for mid- to late-October? Or is this a one-year thing because of the dry summer?

Are we helping matters by turning away from carbon-emitting foreign oil to corn ethanol or will the immense amount of water that process requires cause worse problems?

Is all the talk about global warming raising awareness or turning people off? Do people argue against global warming just to be contrary or do they have some knowledge the bulk of the world is discounting?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Show us the money

You'd think if politicians got up on a stage or held a press conference to announce their endorsement of a particular presidential politician that they'd back up that support with a donation to the campaign.

But then you'd be wrong, mostly wrong anyway.

Remember when Attorney General Bill Sorrell, state Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle appeared at Nectar's in Burlington last month to say Barack Obama was their guy?

A check of the latest Federal Election Commission reports shows that only Spaulding put his money where his mouth was, contributing $460 to the Illinois senator. Zippo from Sorrell and Clavelle.

Gets even worse when you check out what, if anything, those nine Democratic lawmakers did for Hillary Clinton after holding a July press conference to announce their endorsement of the New York senator.

Not a penny did Hillary get from Reps. Donna Sweeney, Johannah Donovan, Kathy Keenan, Bill Aswad, Steve Howard, Sonny Audette or Daryl Pillsbury, or from Sens. Sara Kittell and Hinda Miller. Not yet, anyway.

Some of the state's political luminaries did open their wallets for their presidential preferences, the FEC records show.

On the Republican side, Sara Gear, the GOP national committeewoman, gave $250 to Mitt Romney; former state auditor Randy Brock sent $2,300 to John McCain and former GOP Senate candidate Rich Tarrant and his wife both sent Rudy Giuliani $2,300.

On the Democratic side, Chuck Ross, the Dem national committeeman, gave Obama $1,000 and former Dem national committeeman Terje Anderson gave Obama $489. Other than that, the names of high-profile Vermont Dems were noticably absent from the FEC reports.

But, hey, they've got the endorsement gig covered.

-- Sam Hemingway


Full disclosure

In the spirit of full disclosure, a bit more should be said about the "Conversation with Gov. Jim Douglas" on health care reform in Vermont that was recently published in the journal Health Affairs. (Scroll down this blog to read my previous entry.)

The man who interviewed Douglas for this question and answer piece was James Maxwell. The tag line on the piece identifies him as director of health policy and management research at JSI Research and Training Institute in Boston, MA.

What the tag line doesn't say is Maxwell was the "project manager" for a $50,000 consulting contract with the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration to design and assess health care reform plans. In other words, he was on the governor's team during the health reform debate.

JSI isn't a stranger to the Douglas administration. In recent years the consulting firm has had three other contracts with departments of state government.

There was a contract valued at up to $20,000 with the Department of Aging and Independent Living for services related to the Governor's Commission on Healthy Aging.

It had another with the Department of Health, valued at up to $20,000, for work on pandemic planning.

It had a second with the Department of Health, valued at $14.200, for development of a strategic plan for rural health.

Maxwell is a frequent contributor to Health Affairs. Chris Fleming, a spokesman for the journal, said some articles are solicited and others are submitted, reviewed and accepted. The "Conversation with Gov. Jim Douglas" was submitted, Fleming said.

The journal's practice is to ask contributors whether there are any conflicts of interest or relationships that should be disclosed, Fleming said. In this case, Fleming said Maxwell didn't volunteer that there was any conflict in connection with the "Conversation" piece.

After I made inquiries, Fleming called Maxwell. Fleming said the interviewer now says he should have disclosed the contract, but noted that it wasn't in effect when the interview was conducted. Fleming reported tonight that Maxwell plans to submit some clarifying information to Health Affairs. Fleming said the tag line could end up revised based on what Maxwell submits.

Also, for the record, I didn't note in the earlier blog entry (because I didn't notice) that Health Affairs published a companion piece with the "Conversation" by Kenneth Thorpe, the consultant hired by the Legislature to help them analyze health reform plans. Buried within his commentary, Thorpe discloses that he was hired by the Legislature.

To read Thorpe's account, go here.

--Nancy Remsen



Negative energy

The buzz at the Renewable Energy Vermont conference Wednesday at the Sheraton in South Burlington was over the fact that Gov. Jim Douglas wasn't there. Why not, given the number of growing Vermont companies that had booths there? Why wasn't he there embracing that piece of economic development?

One reason was that he wasn't invited. REV Executive Director Andy Perchlik indicated he didn't think the governor would feel comfortable. "I think he's worried about this crowd," he said. If Douglas had asked to be included in the agenda, he would have been, Perchlik said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie was at the conference, just as he attended many of the global warming discussions in the Legislature last winter. Dubie and the energy crowd get along pretty well.

Douglas considered attending the conference, spokesman Jason Gibbs said. "We discussed it but came to the conclusion that organizers didn't want the governor there," he said.

Douglas attended the conference last year, at which he debated Democratic opponent Scudder Parker. Parker, now an energy consultant, was at this year's conference. Indeed, the crowd at one session I attended was heavy on the applause for the Democratic-controlled Legislature and not so enthusiastic about the governor.

You do have to wonder if this apartheid between the governor and renewable energy people is good for Vermont. For once, it might be nice to see Douglas touting the growth of one of these businesses at a news conference, as he has done with other high-tech firms. For once, it might be nice to see renewable energy advocates not hissing at the very mention of the governor's name. Just a thought.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Who's he talking to?

With a U.S. House vote pending to override the Bush veto of the re-authorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent out a last-minute letter he hoped would be published quickly. It made the case for the veto.

Here's what Brian Golden argued in the email I received late Tuesday:

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is an important program that President Bush wants to see renewed. SCHIP provides health care for children in families living below 200 percent of the poverty level, but who do not qualify for Medicaid.

But many in Congress want SCHIP to become a radically different program, one that provides public assistance not just to the neediest of American children but to middle-class children, many of whom already have private insurance. President Bush rejected Congress’s massive expansion of SCHIP because it is bad for America’s health care system.

The President has made clear his commitment to ensuring that no children currently on SCHIP lose their coverage and that all those eligible can be enrolled. But the program should remain focused on those who need it most. It was not created for adults, it was not created for children who already have health insurance, it was not created for affluent families – it was created for poor children.

Congress knew the President would not sign the bill they sent him. But scoring political points – instead of passing meaningful legislation – was the priority on Capitol Hill. Now it’s time to get something done.

My point in sharing this is to wonder why Golden bothered to send a letter like this to Vermont? Who was he trying to reach? The state's congressional delegation is committed to the SCHIP program -- not surprising since they are two Democrats and an independent. But more politically interesting is the fact that Republican Gov. Jim Douglas also supports the program and thinks the president is wrong.

As to Golden's accusation that this was all about scoring political points -- DUH! -- but members of Congress aren't the only players in the game.

-- Nancy Remsen



Welch weighs in

Congressman Peter Welch isn't known as much of an orator, but he was about as fiery as he can get -- publicly at least -- when he launched into an attack over the State Department's effort to re-classify certain U.S. assessments that reveal ongoing corruption in the Iraq "rebuilding" effort.by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

On Tuesday, he took to the House floor to refute a Republican member's defense of the Bush administration stance on the issue. Check it out by clicking HERE. Some of the stories Welch related from testimony he'd heard about the killings of people connected with the corruption probe are pretty grisly, so you might want to have the little ones in another room when you watch this.

In the end, what the House is fighting over is a a non-binding resolution chastizing the administration for what it's trying to do. The GOP thinks it's grandstanding by the Dems. So give it a look, and tell us what you think is going on.

-- Sam Hemingway


Some health history

Jason Gibbs, the governor's spokesman, alerted us to an interview with Gov. Jim Douglas that appears in the latest issue of Health Affairs. It's titled "Comprehensive Health Care Reform in Vermont: A conversation with Governor Jim Douglas" and can be read here.

What's interesting about this interview by James Maxwell is how Douglas explains the origins and development of Catamount Health, the new health insurance program for Vermont's uninsured. (If you are uninsured and need coverage, check it out here. ) It's interesting to note, too, how Douglas explains to a national audience how Catamount is paid for and who he credits with political leadership (besides himself) in making compromise possible.

Here's one paragraph to ponder:

Catamount Health is a premium subsidy program that allows the uninsured to purchase affordable coverage through their employer or directly through Catamount. These reforms are a key part of my strategy to make Vermont a more affordable place to live, work and raise a family. The reforms are part of my Affordability Agenda ......

I wonder if Democrats remember Catamount as Douglas' idea, as this paragraph seems to suggest, or their idea?

The interviewer asked Douglas what compromises had to be made to reach agreement following the stalemate of 2005 that ended with Douglas' veto of Green Mountain Health, Catamount's muscular political predecessor. Douglas answers the extremes on the ideological spectrum had to be rejected -- especially, he notes, the extreme he couldn't stomach, a government-run, taxpayer-financed health plan. Only later in the interview does Douglas explain how he had to give in on how to pay for the program. The health reform package that he signed into law includes an employer assessment of one dollar per day for each uninsured employee. "I didn't support the assessment, but it was part of the compromise."

Who does Douglas credit by name for leadership in the reform effort? Sorry Jim Leddy and John Tracy, it's U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, formerly president pro tempore in the state senate. Douglas called Welch "one of our most important partners." Douglas explains what Welch brought to the table. "It was clear to me that he wanted to accomplish something and to get a bill that we could all feel good about."

Later, Douglas spreads the praise more broadly. "I would give much credit to my Democratic colleagues -- it took both parties, and in the end the legislators saw that we had to abandon the extremes."

The governor is certainly getting a lot of national mileage out of Catamount Health. Remember he already collected an award from AARP for his critical role in reaching the compromise in 2006 that resulted in Catamount Health. Anybody jealous?

-- Nancy Remsen



Match Game '08

Here's a little toy for all of you who feel like you haven't quite zeroed in on a presidential candidate who fits your needs.

Two Web sites ask a few questions and find you the candidate that supposedly most closely matches your answers. I'm not vouching for the accuracy of the matches, I'm just giving you something to play with.

One of them asks you for ZIP code. I have no idea why, but if it makes you paranoid put any old ZIP in there.

The second link asks more detailed questions than the first. They are pretty specific questions that might force a brain hemorrhage on the average, not-paying-attention person, but you sophisticated readers of vt.Buzz should have no problem.

Here are the links:
From WQAD TV in Illinois: LINK.
And from Minnesota Public Radio (where of course everyone is above average): LINK.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Howard's story

According to The Hollywood Reporter, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio are talking about making a movie based on an upcoming Broadway play based on Howard Dean's 2004 roller-coaster presidential campaign.


The play, Farragut North, is by Beau Willimon, who worked for Dean during his short-lived presidential run. According to Borys Kit of the Hollywood Reporter, the play "follows a young, idealistic communications director who works for an inspiring though unorthodox president candidate." The play opens next fall -- just before the presidential election.

The Hollywood Reporter says Clooney would direct and produce the movie adaptation while DiCaprio would star and produce. Star as who?

I can't wait to see that famous campaign-ending scream recreated.

Nancy Remsen


Ropered in?

When Rob Roper was elected chairman of the Vermont Republican Party in January, he was filling the remaining months of former Chairman Jim Barnett's term. That term is up in November, and the party's state committee will be voting later this month on the chairmanship.

Roper, of Stowe, is the only declared candidate. He said he wants to keep the job and has heard no rumblings of other candidates.

Roper, who is still listed as the state director of the anti-tax group FreedomWorks, beat out former state Sen. Alan Parent of St. Albans, for the job in January. There was talk at the time that Roper might be too conservative to represent the party's interests and Parent was considered the more moderate choice.

Republican National Committeeman George Schiavone of Shelburne said at first people thought Roper might not be experienced enough for the chairmanship, but now he thinks party members are happy with Roper's work. "He sized things up pretty well," Schiavone said. "He responds to opportunities in the world every bit as effectively as Jim Barnett."

Candidates for the job can be nominated from the floor at the Oct. 27 meeting - 9 a.m. at the Montpelier Elks Club.

Are Republicans out there happy with Roper's work?

By the way, speaking of Republicans, word has it that Gov. Jim Douglas and his wife, Dorothy, boarded a tour bus with 50 other people, including his state police escort, and are bound for Boston to watch the Red Sox open their playoff series against Cleveland. You can't make this stuff up.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Hearing etiquette

Two men arrived early at the auditorium at Johnson State College where the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection planned its first hearing. One asked commission chairman Tom Little where he could sign up to speak. Little said he would put out the sign-up sheet in about 45 minutes. The commission planned a meeting and briefing on the history of civil unions prior to its public hearing.

As soon as Little set out the sign-up sheet, the man who arrived early signed up. The whole first page of the sign-up sheet was filled by the time Brian Pearl, long an opponent of gay marriage and the state's civil union law, inquired of me where to sign up. I directed him to the table where the commission's assistant had put the pad.

I was checking the sheet to add names and towns to my notebook. It's critical to get spellings (assuming handwriting is legible) because once a hearing starts, it's hard to chase people around a room and still listen to the next speaker. With a deadline looming, I couldn't hang around after to track down speakers.

Returning for a final check of the list, I noticed Brian Pearl had put his name at the top of the list, squeezing it above the name of the man who arrived early and signed up first. I couldn't help myself. I went over to Pearl, seated in the back row, and asked him what he was thinking by jumping in line. He said he did it because there was room above the first signer's name. Really. And that's a good reason?

Pearl wants to be taken seriously in politics. He says he's going to challenge Gov. Jim Douglas in the Republican primary. He says he speaks for social conservatives across the state. His explanation for this little ethical infraction -- I did it because I could -- provides a glimpse into the man behind the moral rhetoric.

-- Nancy Remsen



Drafting horses

It's three months before the first of the presidential primaries/caucuses and fans of Al Gore are hoping to slip him into the race. This from the AP today:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Draftgore.com, which describes itself as a group of
grass-roots Democrats, underwrote a full-page open letter to Al Gore in
Wednesday’s New York Times, imploring the former vice president to enter the
presidential campaign.
The ad, which says 136,000 people have signed Draftgore’s online petition, was published two days before this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is expected to be announced. Gore has been nominated for the prize because of his campaign to bring attention
to global warming.

We are just over a year from a gubernatorial race here in Vermont and Democrats are trying to do some drafting on that one too. Here's where you get to play.

Who would you like to see the Vermont Democratic Party draft to run for governor in 2008:

a. Matt Dunne
b. Bill Sorrell
c. Anthony Pollina
d. Vince Illuzzi
e. Jim Douglas (hey, if you can't beat him ...)
f. Another Democrat - please specify

- Terri Hallenbeck



On tour

House Speaker Gaye Symington doesn't send out statements after every road trip she takes around the state (a recent visit to Vermont Yankee produced no statements, for example), but she sent this one today after visiting St. Johnsbury Academy.

"Today I visited St. Johnsbury Academy, where the juniors are taking the
New England Common Assessment Program exams over the course of three days. So are other juniors and students in third through eighth grade throughout the
state. The NECAP test is taken by students in several New England states (NH, RI
and VT) and the results become part of the picture in assessing the outcomes of
our schools.

"Tests disrupt the regular school day as they require time for
preparation and administering the tests. And they require students to attempt to
do their best on a test that, as my own eleventh grade daughter reminded me
yesterday, doesn't really impact them individually. I'd like to thank Vermont
students and teachers who are engaged in taking these tests.

"Time and again, the performance of our schools ranks among the highest
in the nation. Vermont recently received the results of the National Assessment
of Educational Progress, which showed that Vermont's students not only performed
better than the national average on the NAEP test, they also increased their
previous, above-average scores in 3 out of 4 area/grade level combinations.

"It is important to keep in mind these outcomes as we
discuss how to contain school costs in Vermont. Clearly our system, in which local voters have control over the choices we make to improve our schools, has paid off when it comes to the outcomes we consistently see from our kids and their schools. While we need to continue to look for ways to contain costs, particularly health care
and energy costs, we should all appreciate the tremendous work that our
students, educators, and school boards are doing to make our schools some of the
best in the nation."

What do you make of it?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Farming out

There are still i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed, but Progressive Rep. David Zuckerman and wife Rachel Nevitt are planning to buy farmland in Hinesburg through the Vermont Land Trust, and move their city farm to the country.

The first thing Zuckerman, who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, assures those he tells the news to is that no, he's not moving out of Burlington for a few years. There is not a house on the Hinesburg property at the moment, he says. So he plans to continue representing Old North Enders in the Legislature. Rep. Bill Lippert of Hinesburg need not fear that he has competition next fall.

Zuckerman and his wife run Full Moon Farm on rented land in Burlington's Intervale, though they are taking a semi-hiatus this year. Next year's tilling will still be done at the Intervale. Then the plan is to farm Hinesburg soil in 2009, he says.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Random thoughts

- I happened to catch Bob Newhart on Late Night with David Letterman the other night and thought he looked more like state Sen. Dick Mazza than Gov. Jim Douglas. The Valley News had reported a couple weeks ago that Mitt Romney had said President Bush referred to Douglas as "Bob," as in Newhart.

- Why is milk cheaper at the convenience store than at the supermarket? Discovered that a couple weeks ago, so now I buy my milk at the convenience store.

- Why is it that Europeans are not glued to their cell phones the way Americans are? Our compatriot Sam Hemingway just returned from the land of old buildings and good wine and came back scratching his head over that one just as I did a few months ago. Even in places like airports and trains, where Americans are cell-phone manic, in Europe you hear the precious sound of normal conversation – people talking to the people next to them, as opposed to anyone except the person next to them.

- Speaking of milk, do you all assume that Progressive Anthony Pollina is running for governor? Or is he holding it over the Dems as a threat (if you don't seriously challenge Douglas I'll have to run) as he did during the health-care debate (If we don't get serious health-care reform, I might have to run for lieutenant governor)?

- Terri Hallenbeck



The shield

The Senate Judiciary Committee, the one down in Washington that is, passed legislation today by a 15-2 vote that would establish a federal reporters’ privilege law to protect the exchange of information between journalists and confidential sources.

It's something the Vermont Press Association, among others, has argued for in light of an increasing number of cases in which journalists have been forced to testify in court. That has a way of quashing the public's sense that we are independent, not tools of the government. It would even apply, apparently, to bloggers (what a world). Of course, the Scooter Libby case is the most high profile recent national impetus for such a law.

Don't hold your breath. The Associated Press reports that the legislation faces opposition in the full Senate and the White House.
"The Bush administration opposes the measure on grounds it would make it
harder to trace the source of leaks that could harm national security.

"So does U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who subpoenaed reporters to
testify against White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in a case that grew
out of Fitzgerald's CIA leak probe. Libby was convicted of obstruction, perjury
and lying to the FBI; his sentence was commuted by President Bush."

The law that passed the committee today, co-sponsored by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would:

- Establish a federal qualified reporters’ privilege to protect and
encourage the free flow of information between journalists and confidential

- Reconcile a reporter’s need to maintain confidentiality -- in order to
ensure that sources will speak openly and freely -- with the public’s right to
effective law enforcement and fair trials.

- Balance the public interest in combating crime and protecting national
security and the public interest in ensuring a free and vibrant press by
providing that a federal court can only force a journalist to reveal
confidential source information when the information is truly crucial to a case
or investigation.

- Require the party seeking a reporter's confidential information to
exhaust all reasonable alternative sources before turning to the media.

- Contain exceptions to the privilege for those situations where
information sharing is critical. For example, a reporter may not withhold
source information where such information is needed to prevent a terrorist
attack, significant harm to our national security, death, kidnapping, or
substantial bodily harm. Journalists who witness crimes also cannot refuse
to share their eyewitness observations.

- Defines “journalist” to include anyone who regularly engages in
journalistic activities -- so that legitimate bloggers that disseminate
information about matters of public interest are covered by the qualified

You can read the whole thing HERE.

And here you can read the Vermont Press Association's input:

Dear Senator Leahy:
On behalf of the Executive Board of the Vermont
Press Association, which represents the interests of the 10 daily and four dozen
non-daily newspapers circulating in Vermont, I have been asked to write in
support of all efforts to create a shield law that will provide further support
to the U.S. Constitution so reporters are able to gather news without fear of
being subpoenaed into court for just doing their job.

There has been an
increase in problems at both the federal and state court levels. Judges are
failing to properly interpret the Constitution when it comes to the First
Amendment and protecting journalists from unwarranted subpoenas.

Over the past year there have been two cases in Vermont where reporters
were forced to testify or provide video about public events when there were
scores of other witnesses, including law enforcement personnel.

In the most recent case, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Spooner v.
Town of Topsham that a reporter for the tiny Journal Opinion in rural Bradford,
Vt. had to testify in court about a public meeting of the town selectmen that
the reporter covered. Others attended the meeting and minutes were also
recorded. A shield law would have prevented the subpoena.

The Journal Opinion reported about a decision made during a public meeting
of the board on Sept. 10, 2001 to appoint a new road foreman. The newspaper
reported that two of the three selectmen said part of their reasoning for
picking between the two finalists was that their choice was "younger." The other
finalist later filed a civil suit against the town claiming age discrimination
as the reason he was not hired. His allegations were based on the public
comments the two Select Board members made at the open meeting.

The trial court rejected efforts to get the reporter on the stand, citing
much of the precedent used at both the federal and state level. For some unknown
reason the Vermont Supreme Court took an ill-advised U-turn on this case.

This is a case that clearly shows a "chilling effect" on the right to
gather news. This small newspaper (circulation about 4,500 weekly) spent more
than $12,500 fighting the subpoena and winning at the trial court level, only to
learn of a last minute appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court. The pricetag is now
over $25,000 and the paper has thrown in the towel because it can not afford to
take the case further. The legal bill has had serious consequences for the cash
flow and monthly profit attempts by this small community newspaper.

The court thought the case would not create a burden for the newspaper. It
clearly has at the Bradford paper and for all the other newspapers in Vermont
upon learning about the poorly reasoned decision. The same can be said for all
those 1,000s of community newspapers spread across America that would be unable
to afford such a costly fight.

I know Ross Connolly, the longtime publisher and editor of the Hardwick
Gazette also has sent you his concerns. The VPA Executive Board would echo his

This is a time when the nation needs a strong news gathering effort not
only in Vermont, but across the nation. Newspapers can not afford to have their
reporters sitting around waiting to give depositions or testimony in court when
the information sought is protected by the First Amendment of the

Thank you for your time and if you wish any clarification or further
elaboration please don’t hesitate to contact me or the association.

Mike Donoghue
Executive Director
Vermont Press

- Terri Hallenbeck



On the half shell

As Freyneland pointed out, Gov. Jim Douglas’ name came up in The Washington Post’s "In the Loop" column Wednesday.

Here’s the item:
"Free lunch today! We got an invite yesterday from Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas
(R), former South Carolina governor Jim Hodges (R) and some contractors who are
inviting all the state governors' Washington office directors to a fine meal at
tony Johnny's Half Shell, where they'll hear why it is important to strip from
the farm bill a provision that bans some outsourcing of the food stamp program.

"The companies and their supporters perhaps could have held this
briefing at a National Governors Association committee meeting, but food stamp
matters obviously are better discussed over oysters. Be there by noon!"

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs, speaking today by phone from Tennessee where he and the governor are attending the State Alliance for e-Health Conference, said the item was an inaccurate and an unfair characterization of the lunch, but when it came down to it, it was clear that it was the sarcastic tone that rankled him. For one, he said he didn’t know if the restaurant was "tony," per se.

"It’s a well-known D.C. lunch spot. It’s not formal," Gibbs said. Of the reference to the oysters, he said, "that’s just unnecessary."

But he said the part about "stripping" a provision from the farm bill was inaccurate. The governor isn’t looking to strip the entire provision, but to allow an exemption for states like Vermont that use nonprofit organizations to administer the food stamp program, Gibbs said.

Also, Hodges is a Democrat.

Other than that, there was indeed a lunch at Johnny’s Half Shell, though Douglas wasn’t there for it. Coincidentally, he was at that time jetting toward D.C. on his way to Tennessee, but he was represented at the lunch by his now-famous lobbying firm, Dutko, who along with others was lobbying representatives of other states on the food stamp issue. The gist of that issue is that the Farm Bill includes a provision that would limit states’ ability to privatize the administration of food stamps, whereas Vermont and a bunch of nonprofit organizations believe it would prohibit their collaboration that has worked well.

The lobbying effort is focused on the Senate, where changes could still be made to allow exemptions. Vermont's congressional delegation has indicated a willingness to work on an exemption.

Tony or not, Vermonters did not pay for the lunch, Gibbs said. It was sponsored by IBM and Maximus, the government consulting firm, he said.

Why not, as "In the Loop" point out, just conduct meeting in a committee room sans oysters? Gibbs said it was important to get "off campus," because some Democratic governors' reps were being pressured by unions to support the provision and taking the meeting off campus allowed for a more free exchange. Apparently, union reps don’t eat oysters.

Or was that unnecessarily sarcastic?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Are you ready to revolt?

Tom Licata of Burlington launched a tax revolt this morning -- or at least he hopes he did. He has set up a Web site, appropriately found at http://www.vermonttaxrevolt.org/, where he provides a petition for like-minded Vermonters to sign to try to stir up some change in Montpelier. The petition is short -- none of those lengthy whereases and resolves. It says only:

Our unsustainable and oppressive tax burdens need to be addressed with a comprehensive, Long-Term Economic Plan. One that provides a road map of hope and opportunity through economic and productivity growth, leading to the kind of quality job growth and affordable living standards all Vermonters deserve.

Licata lays out the case for joining his petition drive/revolt in the section of the Web site entitled Vermont's Economic and Demographic Crisis. It's long, but references mushrooming increases in government spending, decreasing population and tax bases, and significant liabilities such as deteriorating roads and bridges.

Licata said in a telephone interview that political leaders are ducking the crisis, preferring to focus on issues that don't have a direct impact on Vermonters such as global warming. "There is no long term comprehensive plan," he said, meaning an economic development, government reform plan.

Many critics just complain, but Licata offers solutions on his Web site, too. First, he says, people need to see a sense of urgency to the discussion. Then start planning change. "We need to grow our economy," he said. Why not pre-permit selected areas for economic development?

He also suggests state government ought to be shrunk. He suggests the target should be 20 percent reduction in government spending. If programs can't be cut, he urges privatization. When asked where he would insert the knife, Licata said, "I don't know state government, but my gut tells me there is fat in there we could cut."

Licata is serious about trying to start a revolt. He has not only sent out batches of emails, he's buying advertising in newspapers across the state to draw attention to the movement.

"I just got mad and I really feel a calling. I feel really strongly about telling people of the state what is going on," Licata said.

Licata lives in Burlington and has made several runs for the city council. In those campaigns, he raised similar fiscal concerns. He runs marathons, coaches kids sports etc. In others words, he has a life beyond this cause. So while he said he's passionate about trying to stir up the public about the current state of affairs in Vermont, he's not giving his life to it.

"If nothing happens," he said, "I'll move on."

-- Nancy Remsen



Scanning the calendar

On a list of state primary dates at Project Vote Smart (which you can see HERE), seven states' Democratic primaries are listed in italics, meaning the date is still up in the air. New Hampshire's is marked simply with a question mark, so make that eight states without a firm date. In the case of the Republican primary, 10 states haven't pinned down their plans.

With a date of March 4, 2008, Vermont isn't as alone as you might think. A good number have later ones too.

On this day when Hillary Clinton reported raising $22 million in the last three months (Barack Obama still leads her in overall fundraising for the primary), are you all expecting the goose to be well cooked before Vermont gets to vote? Does the recipe change between now and whenever New Hampshire votes? Or is three-plus months a long time?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Bound for Vietnam

I ran into Rep. Rachel Weston yesterday. The first-term Democrat from Burlington is headed to Vietnam for a couple of weeks this month, in the same program that took Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Jill Krowinski to the Philippines this summer.

It’s the prestigious and cool sounding American Council of Young Political Leaders, who conduct two-week international exchange programs. The program takes "emerging leaders" aged 25 to 40 to show them firsthand the political and cultural dynamics of other countries, according to its Web site.

Weston, 26, said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy nominated her. Council spokesman Mike Garretson said Leahy nominated her "based on her stature as a rising political star in the State of Vermont and her potential to assume higher office."

Weston will be among a group of six, led by Oklahoma Rep. Dennis Adkins, R-Tulsa, studying the e Vietnamese political system, talking about international issues and making connections with Vietnamese counterparts from Oct. 11-25.

Other than Krowinski, other Vermont alumni of the program are: State Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, state Rep. Mary Morrissey (R-Bennington), Gov. Jim Douglas and Rep. Peter Welch.

Weston noted that she has a fair number of Vietnamese immigrants in her district, people who might have more than a casual interest in the state of affairs in Vietnam.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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