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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Iowa slurpy

If Democrat John Edwards pulls off a victory in the hard-fought Iowa presidential caucus on Thursday, he may owe Ben & Jerry's founder Ben Cohen a double-scoop debt of gratitude.

Cohen has been the driving force behind Caucus 4 Priorities, a group dedicated to fighting wasteful Pentagon spending and getting the government to redirect the money toward more useful ends, like education, health care and energy development.

Over the last year, 20 field workers hired by Caucus 4 Priorities have managed to get 10,000 Iowans to sign a pledge promising they would go to their caucus on Thursday and vote as a bloc for the presidential contender who the group thinks will do the most to address their concerns on Pentagon spending.

Cohen himself has visited the Hawkeye state six times to promote the Caucus 4 Priorities cause. To see the group's Website, click HERE.

So where does Edwards come in? Caucus 4 Priorities also asked all the candidates hundreds of questions designed to see which one of themo most agreed with the group's positions. Last month, the group announced that Edwards was that person.

The Edwards endorsement is looking more and more critical now that the North Carolinian has pulled even or even inched ahead of his two major rivals, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, in Iowa despite their their advantages in fundraising and media coverage. Hey, John Kerry only won the Iowa caucuses by 6,400 votes in 2004.

Cohen is presently out of the country on a holiday break, but he's planning to be in Iowa Thursday night when the votes come in. Gotta think there will be a heck of an ice cream party if Edwards prevails, plus pictures of Cohen's grinning mug if the Edwards express really does take off.


-- Sam Hemingway

PS: Cohen's also involved in New Hampshire with the Priorities New Hampshire group, which has been pushing the candidates there on education issues.


Happy New Year

What is my wish for 2008, you ask? That we can all get along.

I am a tad naive, I know. But I will persist in believing in the free exchange of ideas here on the blog. I will persist in trying to bring you thought-provoking political tidbits. I will persist in believing that a lively, rational banter will prevail over vitriol-filled outbursts.

You know how when you were a kid and your sibling persisted in being annoying (not that this ever happened to me)? You stuck your fingers in your ears and said "la-la-la-la-la I can’t hear you" until said sibling went on to other things.

That’s what I suggest you do with the blog comments that you find annoying here. There are a few really persistent siblings out there trying desperately to get attention. Don’t take their bait.

Happy New Year. I have no evidence to prove it, but I think 2008’s going to be a good one.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Closer to home

It's a little odd to think of the connections Benazir Bhutto had back here to relatively regular people. A woman whose death has shaken the world was once a fellow student, a friend, a girl in the next dorm, albeit an already famous one.

Vermont ACLU director Allen Gilbert remembers her as a classmate at Harvard.

So does state Sen. Diane Snelling, who said she knew Bhutto indirectly through friends. Snelling was in the class after Bhutto's. Snelling's own father would go on to be governor of Vermont, but that doesn't meausre up to the kind of royalty Bhutto represented. People talked about Bhutto around Harvard as one whose feet never touched the ground, Snelling said, meaning that she was accustomed to having things done for her.

Peter Galbraith perhaps does not live as regular a life as your average Vermonter, but there the Townshend resident was receiving e-mails from the former Pakistani prime minister in the days just before his assassination seeking his help in preventing her death.

It's also an indication that if Galbraith were to run for governor of Vermont, as some suggest he might, that he likely has an roster of people in his e-mail address book and cell phone call list.

- Terri Hallenbeck


The missing link

Here's the corrected version on VTW viewers' top 10 with the missing #6 filled in. As you contemplate the importance of the year's stories, do you take into consideration the hubbub the story created at the time, or its lasting impact on the lives of Vermonters?

As selected by Vermont This Week viewers (39 votes)
1. Democrats fail to override Governor's vetoes
2. Leahy assumes leading role in battle with White House
3. Vermont Yankee cooling tower collapse causes alarm
4. Communities back impeachment resolution
5. Rep. Welch targeted by anti-war activists
6. Federal court upholds Vermont's emissions law
7. School spending caps increases
8. Climate change dominates much of legislative session
9. Valentine's Day blizzard sees up to 30" fall
10. Catamount Health begins

- Terri Hallenbeck



Tehran connection

Media in Iran are turning their eyes to Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House, freshman Peter Welch:

This report was in the Dec. 23 Tehran Times. A similar report aired Dec. 22 on PressTV, which describes itself as taking "revolutionary steps as the first Iranian international news network, broadcasting in English on a round-the-clock basis.

13 members of U.S. Congress call for direct talks with Iran

WASHINGTON (Reformer) – Representative Peter Welch is urging President
Bush to engage in "direct, unconditional and comprehensive" diplomacy with Iran.

The freshman Vermont Democrat cites a recent National Intelligence
Estimate, which determined that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. He also
says Iran had no weapons shipments to Iraq.

"The release of the National Intelligence Estimate… clearly
demonstrates that our nation’s differences with Iran can and must be resolved
diplomatically," Welch wrote in a letter to the president this week.

A report issued by UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei on November 8
confirmed the transparency of Iran’s nuclear program and said it found Tehran to
be generally truthful about key aspects of its nuclear history.

He was joined by Representative Peter DeFazio. So far, 13 House members
have signed onto the letter.

"We urge you to build upon the progress made by our own intelligence
agencies’ positive assessment of Iran’s responsiveness to diplomacy," he adds.
"It is time to begin direct, unconditional, and comprehensive negotiations with

Welch spokesman Andrew Savage said the letter stems from the
congressman’s "profound distrust with the president, in particular on the issue
of Iran and foreign diplomacy."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Rank 'em, cowboy

Truth be told I'm not a big fan of ranking things. Favorite album/song/book/movie of all time? Must we pick one? I can't hold them all together in my brain long enough to set them up next to each other for comparison.

So it is with ranking the year's news stories. I see some value in it once it's done - it allows us to take stock of what happened over the course of a year and put it into a measure of perspective. Doing the actual ranking, though, that scrambles my neurons. This year, especially, seems to lack an obvious front-runner.

Which accounts for why I never got around to casting a ballot for Vermont This Week's annual rankings. Looks like they managed without me. Here, for your mulling purposes, are the results, first from VTW panel members, then from VTW viewers. (The show on which VTW panelists discuss the top 10 will air Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 11:30 a.m.) Then, I'll let you play the game yourselves using The Associated Press' ballot (because I happen to have it sitting here handy).

As selected by Vermont This Week panel members (18 votes)
1. Vermont Yankee cooling tower collapse causes alarm
2. Federal Court upholds Vermont’s emissions law
3. Climate change dominates much of legislative session
4. Democrats fail to override Governor’s vetoes
5. Leahy assumes leading role in battle with White House
6. Catamount Health begins
7. PSB OKs industrial wind project for Sheffield
8. Verizon seeks to sell landlines to FairPoint
9. Valentine’s Day blizzard sees up to 30" fall
10. Communities back impeachment resolution

As selected by Vermont This Week viewers (39 votes)
1. Democrats fail to override Governor's vetoes
2. Leahy assumes leading role in battle with White House
3. Vermont Yankee cooling tower collapse causes alarm
4. Communities back impeachment resolution
5. Rep. Welch targeted by anti-war activists
6. TBA (there was an error in the list that was sent)
7. School spending caps increases
8. Climate change dominates much of legislative session
9. Valentine's Day blizzard sees up to 30" fall
10. Catamount Health begins

RANK 'EM YOURSELVES (choose 1-10 from these 21 choices):
— CLIMATE CHANGE: The Vermont Legislature focuses on global warming in its session, but after passing a bill aimed at addressing it, cannot muster the votes to override a veto by Gov. Jim Douglas.
— WAR BACKLASH: Protesters target Vermont’s congressional delegation over war funding, with arrests at three sit-in demonstrations and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch enduring much of the criticism.
— VERMONT YANKEE: The nuclear plant suffers through two serious incidents within 10 days of each other, shaking public confidence and leading to stepped-up calls for safety reviews.
— KILLINGTON SOLD: Killington Ski Resort is sold, and changes by the new owners upset local businesses, longtime Killington patrons and others.
— SIMPSONS-SPRINGFIELD: The town of Springfield, which wasn’t even invited to participate, wins a contest to host the premiere of “The Simpsons Movie,” with thousands turning out for the first public showing of the movie.
— PRO-LEGALIZATION PROSECUTOR: Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand comes under fire over a decision to permit court diversion for a pot suspect, prompting a war of words with Gov. Jim Douglas and new calls for changes to Vermont’s drug laws.
— PHONE DEAL: FairPoint Communications announces $2.7 billion deal to buy landlines in three northern New England states from Verizon, but stiff opposition to the deal delays action on it.
— CATAMOUNT HEALTH: The state’s new health program kicks off.
— AUTO EMISSIONS: Vermont wins a legal victory in the fight against greenhouse gases when a federal judge in Burlington finds for the state in a lawsuit brought by auto makers over emission standards.
— CANADIAN DOLLAR: The strong Canadian dollar triggers a border-crossing exodus, with Canadian shoppers descending on stores in Burlington and other Vermont towns.
— GAY MARRIAGE: Pressed to go beyond civil unions and permit gay marriage, the Vermont Legislature appoints a task force to go around the state seeking input before reporting back to lawmakers.
— IMPEACHMENT: Citing “serious questions of constitutionality,” the state Senate calls for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, becoming the first state lawmakers in the country to do so.
— LIZ JEFFORDS: The wife of former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords dies at 68.
— VETO-PROOF GOVERNOR: Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican in a Democrat-dominated state, maintains his political grip, fending off veto overrides and discouraging would-be 2008 challengers.
— HUNTING FATALITIES: Two hunters criminally charged after accidentally shooting people are sent to prison, signaling tough new stance by law enforcement on hunting deaths.
— HEAVY WEATHER: Severe storms take a toll on Vermont, with an April 16 nor’easter unleashing 70 mph winds that felled hundreds of trees in Rutland and a July 11 downpour inundating downtown Barre and washing away some roads.
— SICK BUILDING: After years of complaints from workers who said it was making them sick, state officials relocate workers from a Bennington state office building into a hastily-arranged temporary site while cleanup work continues and employees ask not to be returned to it.
— PRIEST SEX: The first priest sex case against the Diocese of Burlington to go to trial ends with a jury blaming the Diocese but saying the suit was filed too late.
— BACKWARDS BANDIT: A convenience store thief dons a hooded sweatshirt — backwards, with eyeholes cut out so he could see— for a string of heists before being caught and pleading guilty.
— BORDER WOES: Long lines at checkpoints, a proposal to block off three streets linking Derby, Vt., with Stanstead, Quebec and a pending plan to require passports for border crossings elicit concerns on the U.S. side, with merchants saying they are losing business from Canada.
— WEIRD WINTERS: A late-arriving winter spells trouble for ski resorts, winter festivals and other outdoor pursuits, some of which had to be canceled or postponed for lack of snow and ice.

Hint: There are no right or wrong answers here, but if you chose "heavy weather" you are seriously bordering on "wrong answer."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Turn down the heat and chill

If Santa were to be perfectly frank, he would pronounce some of you not worthy of presents this year, but Santa's always been kind of a sucker. Sees the good in everybody.

So whether you've been naughty or nice in your comments here on the blog, we're going to wish you happy holidays, hope that you have some time in the coming days to sit back, breathe deep and reflect. Maybe take advantage of that perfect snow that coats the state before the mean, old rain gets to it.

You are going to need your strength in the new year.

Poof, right off the bat you have the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, the N.H. primaries and the start of the Vermont legislative session both on Jan. 8. By then, too, Congress will be investigating something or other, you'll have shelled out another $400 for a tank of fuel oil and five more baseball players will say they only used growth hormones once.

You might even learn sometime in those first weeks of the year who's going to run for some of Vermont's top elected offices. Before you even learn to write 2008 in your checkbook you will already be awash in all the political mud you can manage.

In the meantime, chill. There's more to life than all that stuff. Happy holidays from vt.Buzz.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Gov. Jim Douglas said today he assumes Progressive Anthony Pollina is indeed a candidate for governor in 2008. He then added that he’s really not paying any attention to that sort of thing. Do you think that’s because others are paying attention on his behalf, perhaps doing opposition research on Pollina?

At one time not that long ago, Pollina said it didn’t have to be him, but he wanted the Progs and Dems to work together to come up with a candidate for governor to take on Republican Douglas. It looks very much now like it has to be him. Once you have a logo, do you back down and defer to someone else? Or do you plow ahead, beat the Dems to the punch, then blame them for creating a three-way race?

Predictions? What does Pollina do if Doug Racine declares his candidacy? What about John Campbell? Peter Galbraith? Matt Dunne? Unspoken candidate A?

Speaking of Douglas, I learned this about him today. He can’t cook worth beans. He was shown in some news media reports stirring a cauldron of food at the Barre Foodbank yesterday. Douglas said his wife, Dorothy, was surprised to learn he had any such ability.

Cooking isn’t the only part of the Douglas household over which Dorothy presides. Douglas shared this tale: The day after he was elected governor in 2002, she called their auto insurance company, explained that her husband had just been elected governor, and as such, would no longer be driving their Dodge Neon (governors are driven by their assigned state police detail). Could they get a reduction on their rates? This was not a situation the agent had a ready answer for, but as it turns out, yes, the Douglases got a reduction in their rates. So you can see there are more benefits to being governor than the pleasure of attending all those chicken dinners and chamber breakfasts.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Pollina update

As you may have read in our post earlier today, Anthony Pollina has an ad in Seven Days seeking campaign volunteers, staff and contributors with a logo that says: Pollina Governor '08, all indications that Pollina is running for governor in '08.

During the course of the day, Progressive Party Executive Director Morgan Daybell said, when asked if this means Pollina is running, "I would say yes."

In a more roundabout way, so would Chris Pearson, a Progressive from Burlington who's been working closely with Pollina. When I said that this ad runs contrary to Pollina's previously claims he's not a candidate yet, Pearson said, "I don't think he would say today 'I'm not a candidate yet'."

So that's what the people around Pollina are saying - that if it looks like he's running that's because he IS running.

Moments ago, I spoke with Pollina. This is what he says,

"As I told you before, we're taking steps. Nothing has
"You become a candidate when you announce you're a candidate. I haven't done that. We'll see what happens in January."

Pollina claims that the people around him are wording it differently because they are so eager to get things going.

He did say, though, that people are urging him to make that next step (to official candidacy) soon. "My sense is that come the New Year we're going to have to step it up," he said.

The Prog is trying to win the support of Democrats, but Democrats say they still have some of their own in the mix.

Doug Racine left a message to say that contrary to a statement in a column by Peter Freyne, he's still considering a gubernatorial run. Racine, now a Democratic state senator, is a former lieutenant governor and 2002 candidate for governor. He lost a close contest to Republican Jim Douglas -- the guy still in the top job.

"I'm still very interested in it," he said. "I'm trying to do due diligence ... about where the money is and where the support is."

Word is that Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, also is still weighing a run.

The more things change ....

-- Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen


Pollina's next step

There's an ad in today's edition of Seven Days that, if you didn't know better, would make you think Anthony Pollina is running for governor.

It is an appeal for campaign help.

"Volunteers, paid staff, contributors," it says. "You can help make Vermont
an even better place to live & work. We're looking for volunteers, donors
& campaign staff to help build this important grassroots campaign.

Join us today!

It's got a logo and everything:

With a sunburst coming out of the o in Pollina

The number is the number for the Progressive Party office. The Web site, technically, isn't working, but party Executive Director Morgan Daybell said it should be later today.\

As you know, Pollina, a Progressive from Middlesex, who has made runs for governor and lieutenant governor in the past, has been making noises about running for governor in 2008. He has indicated with each candidate-like movement that he's taking steps toward a candidacy, while courting the support of the Democratic Party. He has not announced his candidacy.

I asked Morgan if this ad, which makes it look very much like Anthony Pollina is running for governor, means that Anthony Pollina is, in fact, running for governor. "I would say yes," he said. "We are definitely moving forward. Though you should call Anthony for his quote."

I have a call in to Anthony. I wouldn't be surprised if he says this is another step toward running, but that, no, he would never officially announce his candidacy through an ad in a weekly newspaper. At some point, though, one has taken so many steps that one has gone through the door, whether one has announced one's entrance or not.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Oh those controversial rankings

So Vermont has the highest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita, but ranks dead last for economic competitiveness.

We ran an article on Vermonters in the Peace Corps in the newspaper today. Check that out if you are interested in a feel-good story.

Looking for a political ranking you can wrangle about? Check here at the Web site of the American Legislatigve Exchange Council for the report "Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index."

Vermont lost lots of points for its minimum wage, regulations and marginal tax rates -- among other findings.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, according to its Web site, was formed in 1973 as a bipartisan association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty.

One of its Vermont members -- Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, is quoted in a press release about the report saying "Vermont has a lot of room for improvement if we are to remain competitive with the other states for job growth and retention." He calls for quick action to make Vermont more attractive to economic growth.

The question some of you will ask is whether Vermont wants to make the "progress" that ALEC advocates.

In the report's executive summary, Jonathan Williams, director of ALEC's task force on tax and fiscal policy, concludes with this statement of purpose for the report and ranking:

This is not about Republican versus Democrat, or left versus right. It is simply a choice between economic vitality and economic malaise. To become competitive in the global business environment of the 21st century, states must have free-market, pro-growth tax systems in place, rather than increasing the ever-burdensome role of government on citizens. May this publication help lawmakers act responsibly by encouraging capital formation and allowing the dreams and entrepreneurial spirit of their fellow man to flourish.

So the obvious question is whether Vermont should be ranked 50th for economic competitiveness?

-- Nancy Remsen



Qimonda qestions

Qimonda was the poster child of the kind of companies and the kind of jobs Vermont wanted. Just a few months ago, Gov. Jim Douglas put them up on that pedestal.

These days, those jobs and the Q-with-no-u company are being warmly embraced in North Carolina. Every state has a pedestal for those who pay well.

The company employed 125 in Vermont. Some 50 of them will apparently be offered transfers to North Carolina. (Here's a tip to those who take the transfer: It may seem superfluous, but take your snow shovel. My friend Jeff was pretty proud of being the only one in his neighborhood to have one when a rare snowstorm hit after he made the move.)

Just a few months ago, Qimonda stood ready to receive $210,000 in state incentives to expand here in Chittenden County. Which raises these questions:

- Was there anything else the state should have done to try to keep Qimonda here?
- Or does a company's lack of regard for such things indicate that $210,000 would have been a waste of money?
- Is there any hope of replacing salaries in the $80,000 range?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Clean it up

As a reminder, our terms of service include guidelines on use of the site. We require that you avoid posting or transmitting abusive information of any kind.

We provide a lot of leeway on this blog for all participants to engage in the political discussion. We receive a lot of interesting back and forth, but we note that on occasion a few of our users venture well beyond the terms of service.

-- The BFP bloggers




House Republicans face a handicap as they return for the legislative session. Their leader -- Rep. Steve Adams of Hartland -- undergoes aortic valve replacement on Jan. 7, one day before the Legislature reconvenes. He will be out for at least a month to six weeks, he said Friday.

While Adams is recuperating, Assistant Republican House Leader Patti Komline of Dorset will run the caucus alone. No temporary assistant has been selected to help her, but Adams said he expects everyone will pitch in.

Adams announced his need for surgery to the caucus at their private meeting on Dec. 8. He told House Speaker Gaye Symington today (Dec. 14) in a face-to-face meeting.

The caucus also loses veteran lawmaker David Sunderland of Rutland, who has resigned because of a new job. Sunderland was the assistant House Republican leader in 2005-2006.

Gov. Jim Douglas will appoint someone to complete Sunderland's term. Gubernatorial spokesman Jason Gibbs said the process has begun. The local Republican committee has been asked to suggest a list of candidates -- at least three, Gibbs said. The goal will be to find someone to fill Sunderland's seat early in the session. Gibbs said he didn't know if the selection process, which includes interviews, could be completed in time for opening day on Jan. 8.

A Democratic seat will be vacant on opening day, too. Rep. William Aswad will undergo surgery on the same day as Adams and be out for about two weeks, he said.

-- Nancy Remsen


Primarily speaking

Over at Vermont Public Television, they have started an online discussion about the Vermont primary. Yes, that’s right, the one that comes March 4, after the primary races migth have already been decided. Nonetheless, Vermonters who are presidential primary junkies will be able to gather in a virtual sort of way and blab away.

The catch for those of you used to hiding behind the mask of anonymity is that they are requiring registration with your name and e-mail address. Bubba and friends need not apply.

Freelance journalist Jon Margolis will moderate the discussion. Jon posts an item and invites discussion about it. There is, at the moment, also a poll asking: "Two of the Republican candidates -- Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson -- have proclaimed that our political freedoms come from God, not from government. Do you agree?" Four people have responded, three voting no and one yes.

The site is designed, for whatever reason, for those ages 50 and above, but they let me sign up and pick the "under 49" age category. Nothing about the discussion seems to exclude the younger set.

So far it appears state Rep. Jim Condon is the only one besides Margolis to post anything. Condon won't be 50 until March 19, but he's there trying to talk up Bill Richardson for president.

To check it out, visit: www.vpt.org.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Who's the bigger idiot?

As a lifelong Baltimore Orioles' fan let me tell you what a relief it is to know that team members were using drug enhancement drugs. Without the help of these drugs, the team would surely not have been able to nail that second-to-last place in the standings. Thanks for taking the extra step, guys.

In reality, this steroid scandal does make me ask. Who's the bigger idiot - the players who took drugs to desperately hold onto their zillion-dollar-a-year job or the fan who insists on rooting for a team despite consistent efforts to shake my faith?

To wit:

- The Orioles treated my hometown like so much dog dung that said hometown finally felt compelled to break a 40-year Triple A affiliation with the O's.

- The Orioles watched other franchises build success by creating a strong minor-league system and adding a few veteran free agents, but refused to follow such a sensible framework and instead went out and paid big money for washed-up big names who couldn't spell w-i-n.

Yet still, I clung to some notion that this was my team, that to abandon them in hard times was wrong, that the very sight of an Orioles' uniform still did something for me. Things got so bad my brother went off to root for the Yankees, but not me.

And now I learn that they not only were bad, but they had to cheat to even be that good. At least when the Yankees cheated, they won.

Is it the same in politics? Do you find yourself wondering why you stick with certain candidates or certain parties despite their every effort to shake your faith? Is that faith a good thing?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Hillary's nod to Bernie

Sen. Bernie Sanders won some accolades from Sen. Hillary Clinton on the energy bill that passed Thursday night for his work on "green-collar jobs."

Here's the gist of the bill, which passed easily and now awaits House action, according to the AP:
The car companies will have to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per
gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years, an increase of 10
mpg over what the entire fleet averages today. And it would boost use of
ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly sixfold increase, and
impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances,
lighting and buildings."

Another piece of the bill that didn't make the AP story would create a program to train workers in the energy efficiency and renewable energy fields. That's where Sanders came in. Says Clinton:

“Today the Senate passed an energy bill that is an important step towards
increasing our energy independence and fighting global warming.

"It also includes a provision that I worked on with Senator Sanders to
create a program to train workers to join the growing energy efficiency and
renewable energy fields."

- Terri Hallenbeck



New spokes-voice

House Speaker Gaye Symington has hired a new communications guru to replace the departed Bill Lofy.

Kenneth Russell, 40, a 1985 graduate of Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, moved back to Vermont with his wife and kids in July and lives in Montpelier.

Russell recently completed master of public administration at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and worked for American Civil Liberties Union in California.

He comes from a politically active family, he said. His mother, Virginia Russell, was an adviser to Gov. Howard Dean, he said. For him, political activism started brewing inside when he lived in California and the city of Palo Alto was going to outlaw sitting or laying on sidewalks to curb homelessness. "I ended up marching down to City Hall in my flannel shirt," he said.

Lofy, who's gone to work on New Hampshire political campaigns for the year, worked for both Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, helping them shape and articulate their messages. It's still being decided if Russell will work some of his time for Shumlin or just for Symington.

The position is paid for out of the speaker's political action committee.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Douglas lifts Sand ban

Gov. Jim Douglas has rescinded his order requiring state police and other state law enforcement officials in Windsor County to send any first-time marijuana possession cases involving significant number of plants or dried weed to the Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney for prosecution or at least initial review.

Douglas dropped this unusual requirement after Sand clarified his policy and practice in handling marijuana cases. Here's the communication from Sand to Susanne Young in the governor's office that helped end the tiff:

I will be on the radio tomorrow and I think someone from the Governor's office may be as well. I hope to make clear that my office does not have a policy and certainly not a blanket policy about diversion in marijuana cases and I intend to apologize if anything I have said has contributed to that perception or misperception. The first time it was reported I had a policy was on WCAX and that then morphed into my having a "blanket policy"

It is my sincere hope that with that clarification and apology we can both find a way to move beyond the Governor's directive and the business of comparing responses in different counties.

If you have any questions about whether we have a blanket policy I would encourage you to speak with attorneys in this County. Each and every case is reviewed individually with an eye toward a fair response. People may disagree on what a fair response is but we seek that goal not based on policy but based on individual case review.

I hope the Governor will seize this opportunity to move forward.


The squabble began because of the way Sand handled the case of a Windsor lawyer charged with possessing 36 marijuana plants and more than two pounds of dry marijuana. Sand referred the case to court diversion, rather than prosecuting the lawyer for a felony.

Douglas said this decision was too lenient and he worried that Sand had a blanket policy to let all first-time marijuana possession cases off the hook. That's why he direct that all the cases he could control as the state's chief executive to someone else other than Sand.

As you can see from Sand's e-mail, there was a misunderstanding about whether Sand had a blanket policy on marijuana cases. Douglas says he now believes Sand won't in the future have a blanket policy. The governor's statement is long, but deep in there he announces he has lifted his Sand ban.

Official Statement of Governor Jim Douglas
Confronting Vermont’s Substance Abuse Epidemic

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Vermont continues to confront a serious drug abuse problem. Too many out of state drug dealers view Vermont as a safe, profitable place to deal their poison. Every elected official has an obligation to evaluate what message their actions send to would-be dealers and when an action or practice fosters this view of Vermont, I have a duty to act.

If you ask anyone in law enforcement, ask anyone in social services, ask a teacher or a principal, ask a parent if drug abuse is a problem in Vermont, and the answer will be a resounding “yes.”

I support a discussion about how to improve our drug laws. Since becoming Governor, my drug education, treatment, enforcement and rehabilitation (DETER) program has been—and continues to be—one of my top priorities.

In my view, diverting all first-time marijuana possession cases regardless of the quantity involved turns a blind-eye to the law and the larger problem of substance abuse in Vermont. Such a practice pushes aside prosecutorial discretion in favor of a one-size-fits-all drug policy.

It is also my view that allowing a public official—who knows the laws and holds others accountable to them—to use court diversion in a case involving substantial quantities and a sophisticated operation to cultivate an illegal substance sends a message that those entrusted to uphold laws only get a slap on the wrist when they violate them. And, as Attorney General William Sorrell said publicly, “If all first-time marijuana possessors and cultivators in Windsor County are treated with diversion, I guess that’s the county in which you ought to be in that business…”

I was heartened to hear on the news last night—and again from him this morning in a communication to my office—that Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand will not have a one-size-fits-all practice or policy for Windsor County. Coupled with his dialogue with Windsor County law enforcement officials, and his acknowledgement that earlier statements may have created the impression of a “blanket policy,” represent a meaningful effort to restore balance in the criminal justice system in that county.

I consider these steps a good faith effort by Mr. Sand, and have decided to lift my order requiring state law enforcement officers to send first-time marijuana possession cases involving significant quantities to the Attorney General or U.S. Attorney for an initial prosecutorial review.

Ultimately, we will succeed in confronting substance abuse by preventing it before it begins. Through my DETER initiative we have invested nearly $22 million to help communities be healthier and safer, and we are educating young Vermonters about the dangers of drugs so they have the strength and courage to refuse them.

DETER has provided Vermont with a sustainable strategy to address today’s substance abuse problems and reduce tomorrow’s risk. It is a multi-faceted effort to address Vermont’s drug epidemic.

Through this program we have put more cops on the beat and more hardcore drug dealers behind bars. We’ve significantly increased capacity for outpatient treatment around the state; added heroin treatment capacity; put drug counselors in our schools and a recovery center in every region; added a new residential treatment facility for women and adolescence, as well as transitional housing for those in recovery; and taken steps to better address the needs of individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. All together, this is the most coordinated substance abuse prevention program Vermont has ever had. But there is much more to do.

Drugs like heroin, crack cocaine and prescription painkillers—and the out-of-state peddlers who push them—continue to be a problem. Moreover, binge drinking and marijuana use among young people in Vermont continue to be well above national averages. The social and economic cost of substance abuse is severe—contributing significantly to health care costs, crime, domestic violence and other serious social ills.

Our focus needs to remain on preventing substance abuse before it begins. But make no mistake, in word and deed I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Vermont’s law enforcement community as we fight those who poison our children for profit.

Why do you think the governor believed he had to draw this line in the sand?

So should these two have sat down together in the beginning to air their differences?

-- Nancy Remsen



5? 500? Whatever

This is why math and science are so important in our schools:

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — It’s every math teacher’s mantra: Check your
Apparently, Standard & Poor’s didn’t.
The company, which analyzed data for U.S. News &
World Report’s ranking of America’s top 100 schools, made a mistake in
calculating the score for Montpelier High School and erroneously ranked it the
nation’s fifth-best public high school.
Now, the magazine has apologized to the school, saying that while Montpelier High is among the top 500 of 1,800 high schools nationally, it is not No. 5.
Editor Brian Kelly told school officials in an e-mail Monday that he was sorry to say that due to a calculation error, the first edition of America’s Best High Schools, published earlier this month by U.S. News & World Report, mistakenly lists Montpelier High School as the fifth best public high school in America.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Balance of power

Count Rep. Kathy Lavoie, a Republican from Swanton, among those deciding not to run for re-election next fall. The St. Albans Messenger reports that Lavoie is pulling the plug on her legislative career after four terms, partly out of frustration but also to spend more time back home. Lavoie was in the midst of the debate over energy last session.

It's likely that a fair number of legislators have decided over the break whether they really want to keep making the trek to Montpelier.

Traditionally, about one-third of the Legislature turns over each biennium. The drama comes in how that will impact the parties' balances at the Statehouse.

The parties will be battling to hang onto or boost their numbers. Republicans, as we know, have just enough seats to make gubernatorial vetoes viable. Can they afford to watch legislators opt out voluntarily?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Your party night assignment

That I am posting a blog item on a Friday night while y'all are off having a life (you do have a life, right?) is not as pathetic as it might seem. We rotate night shifts here at the paragraph factory and the earth rotated toward me this week.

Here's my question for you as you consider knocking back a few cocktails: What should Vermont do to keep people who've lost their driver's licenses to multiple driving under the influence convictions from driving?

Undoubtedly, you read about the driver going the wrong way on the interstate a few weeks ago, killing a passenger in another car. I think we can universally say that that was an awful turn of events.

It can't help but make you scratch your head and wonder how a person could still be driving after landing four DUIs. In today's Free Press, a letter to the editor writer proposes that people be jailed upon receiving their first DUI and that they be sentenced to watch their car be crushed the very next morning. I understand the frustration that prompts such thoughts, but it does do away with a thing that is crucial to our Constitution called due process. Innocent until proven guilty takes longer than overnight.

Let's be realistic. Locking everybody up for life who gets a DUI is not going to happen, not here where we don't have enough prison cells as it is, and not even if you legalized marijuana at the same time. Nice try, but the solution is going to take more thinking than that.

You do have to wonder how somebody with four DUIs gets auto insurance that costs less than 400 gazillion dollars. Should proof of insurance be a prerequisite for getting a car registered?

Is it as simple as making sure that every cop has instant access to every probation client's status? Does Vermont have the resources to make that happen?

Those are a few thoughts for you to ponder. What are your ideas?

Speaking of knocking back cocktails, I was in the bank this afternoon and overheard some college students whose conversation was so cliched it was almost absurd. Some traditions are timeless. Went sort of like this:
"You have any exams today?"
"Yeah I had four. Got two more next week."
"Are you going out tonight?"
"Yeah, I'm going out. Give me a call."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Telling Vermont's story

House Speaker Gaye Symington today offered more details of her plan to play up "Why Vermont Works." You surely read about the idea in last Sunday's Free Press (but available here in case you missed it) after Symington pitched it to the House Democratic caucus.

Symington was listening to the Red Sox in the World Series on the radio when she heard Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick giving a Massachusetts business success story. Shouldn't Vermont similarly play up its successes? she said. Over the air during Frost Heaves games, Vermonters could be hearing the story of Company X in Vermont, planting seeds of thought among their themselves and their friends about how they, too, could build a successful business in Vermont.

How's the idea work for you? If it putting a new paint job on a sagging house or are Vermont's successes going untold? You can read the still-in-the-works proposal here.

The Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce has taken to Symingotn's idea. The governor's office isn't dismissing it. Which doesn't mean they're all on the exact same page about it.

Symington says this has been missing in Vermont, by which she means that Gov. Jim Douglas too often dwells on what's wrong with Vermont.

"I've gotten more and more frustrated with the negative message," she said. "Much of it is driven by Governor Douglas and the message he puts out but I also think it's the business community."

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs took exception with that notion (when Douglas is famously cutting ribbons around the state, he said, he is championing new business), but not with Symington's overall idea.

"It's certainly a worthy idea. At the end of the day, however, we've got to put together a complete package that makes relocating from one state to another a good idea," he said and that means making Vermont's housing, energy and other resources affordable. "The key aspect is they're turning attention to the top priority of the state."

Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, said Vermont has a long list of companies that are making a name for themselves and are worth touting, citing as one example Select Design, a Burlington marketing company. "The more we talk about the positive pieces without sticking our heads in the sand, the more other people in similar places are going to think if Select Design can do it, why can't I do it?" Torti said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Showdown in the Junction

Interesting session tonight in Essex Junction, where about 50 people turned out to Burlington resident Tom Licata's presentation on taxes and the economy. He attracted a bunch of angry people and they had a few showdowns with some of the legislators who showed up.

One of the interesting things about Licata's approach was that he did not get political, and that seemed to help. Without naming names, he pointed out that the federal government is helping the state less, that private-sector job growth in Vermont in the last seven years is zilch and that there is a pile of debt the state is facing. There are culprits in there of all political persuasion. His target, really, was government in general, of whatever party.

As a result, he had officials of all stripes trying to defend government. Mike Quinn, the commissioner of economic development, was there standing up for the administration's efforts to create jobs. So too were Republican state Sen. Diane Snelling and Democratic state Sen. Hinda Miller.

One of Licata's main points is that politicians respond to special interests, rather than to Vermont's interests. Snelling, particularly, argued that the citizen Legislature is quite accessible and listens to real people all the time.

A good many lobbyists would probably argue that they are looking out for the interests of real people.

Are they? Or do special interests generate an inordinate amount of power? Ponder that one for a bit.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Step 3: Open bank account

***Updated below***

If the road to running for governor is measured in steps, Anthony Pollina took step number three Monday. He filed a bank designation and treasurer appointment form with the Secretary of State’s Office. Such forms are required when one raises or spends $500, though one can also file the form before raising that much.

(Step one was thinking about running, step two was announcing to his party members that he’s really thinking about running, and this is step 3. Step 4, presumably, would be announcing one’s candidacy in an official sort of way, but let’s not go assuming that. We could see more steps added to the process than we imagined.)

Pollina designated former Democratic state Sen. Janet Munt of Burlington as his treasurer. For his own party designation, he listed Progressive. Pollina is, of course, courting Democratic support.

As for courting those Democrats, it’s interesting to watch how Progressives go about that. Prog Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott told me last month that none of the Democratic names floating out there for governor would cut the mustard with Progs. In a blog entry today, she seems to suggest that state Sen. Doug Racine doesn’t quite cut it either. At this point, it’s not hard to imagine that no matter what Democratic candidate emerges, the Progs will say he/she falls short. Abbott also uses the future tense, not the condition when speaking of Pollina's candidacy, as in: "Anthony Pollina will be an effective candidate for Governor."

Abbott writes:

"No one disputes that Doug Racine would be a bona fide candidate. However,
Anthony appeals to rural, traditionally Republican Vermonters and has the
potential to get votes from people who have voted for Jim Douglas in the past
and are ready for a change. Anthony’s work with Vermont Farmers over 35 years
has earned him many loyal supporters among farmers but also among many folks
whose livelihood in the rural economy depends on the survival of Vermont farms.
Anthony Pollina, like Bernie, can appeal to people who do not traditionally vote
for Democrats."

One other candidate has filed a bank designation form with the Secretary of State’s Office in the governor’s race. And no, it’s not Jim Douglas. It’s Tony O’Connor of Derby, the Civil War buff with a sense of humor who was featured in a Nov. 4 Ed Shamy column and said, "A month ago I had no chance. Now I'm up to slim to none. That's an improvement." He lists his party affiliation as "none."

**** update****
Pardonez-moi. It's been drawn to my attention that Douglas has said form on file and if he's making no changes, doesn't need to file a new one.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Racine mulling rematch

Sorry we didn't get this out sooner.

Doug Racine has begun telling people he's actually considering whether to become the Democratic gubernatorial challenger in 2008, setting up a rematch against Republican Jim Douglas. You remember that Racine suffered a painful defeat in 2002, losing to Douglas by 5,871 votes. Con Hogan nabbed 22,353 votes in that race as a centrist independent. The wounds have apparently healed enough so Racine would consider challenging the three-term incumbent.

Racine said he's been watching from the sidelines this fall as some Democrats declared that absolutely no, they wouldn't be the Democratic candidate in 2008 while three -- Matt Dunne, John Campbell and Peter Galbraith -- have allowed their names to float for weeks while they take the political pulse.

Meanwhile, Progressive Anthony Pollina has complicated Democrats' lives by seemingly beginning his campaign. Many Democrats can't forgive Pollina for what they see as his role in Peter Shumlin's defeat in the lieutenant governor's race in 2002. Republican Brian Dubie eked out a victory with 41.2 percent of the vote, while Shumlin finished with 32.2 percent and Pollina received 24.8 percent.

A few weeks ago, Doug Racine told me he wasn't a candidate -- no way in 2008. In the interim, people have been pressing him to consider a run. "People, when I talked politics with them, said, 'why don't you think about it?' So I'm thinking about it."

Would Racine be a candidate Progressives could rally around, allowing Pollina to back off?
Is Racine the Democrat that Democrats could rally around to mount a strong challenge of Douglas?
Is Douglas sufficiently vulnerable for Racine to risk his political ambitious in 2008 or should he bide his time until Douglas chooses to retire?

--Nancy Remsen

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