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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Live from governor's office

Here's a shot of the newest Statehouse videographer, Jason Gibbs, filming today's news conference.

As you may have read, the governor's office has taken over videotaping the governor's news conferences instead of contracting that work out. This will save $10,000 this year, Gibbs said.
Instead of telling the governor that that's all the time we have at the end of the news conferences, Gibbs will be able to say, that's all the film we have. (Yeah, I know it's not film, per se, but you get the idea).

Here's the gist of what the governor had to say today:

- Doesn't like the new border ID rules that took effect today.

- Thinks the lobbyist he's no longer going to hire in Washington (again, to save money) was helpful. For example, he helped arrange Douglas' appearance before a Senate committee over the auto emissions. Considering that Sen. Bernie Sanders serves on that committee I would have guessed Sanders' office arranged it. Maybe the two aren't that close after all.

- Doesn't think legalizing the growing of hemp should be a legislative priority, (a bill is headed to the House floor) as the feds don't allow it anyway.

- Would love a four-year term but accepts that he may not get it.
Depending on Jason's videography skills, you'll be able to catch it all on your local public access channel soon.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dean: It'll be up to Vt.

Howard Dean was at the Statehouse today to talk about term lengths for governor, but given that he is head of the Democratic National Committee and we are in the midst of a presidential primary, we queried him about issues farther afield.

He steered clear of most questions. What about the controversy between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Not going there. What about reinstating Florida and Michigan's delegates? Not weighing in.

He did, however, say he didn't think the Democratic primary would be decided Feb. 5, and that Vermont just might decide this thing March 4.

And he said the battle between Democrats will be good for the party and the eventual nominee in the long run.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Message from George Bush

So here it is, folks, the President's executive order forbidding earmarks, just as he promised in his State of the Union address.

What will the effect be on Vermont?

Executive Order: Protecting American Taxpayers From Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the Federal Government to be judicious in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. To ensure the proper use of taxpayer funds that are appropriated for Government programs and purposes, it is necessary that the number and cost of earmarks be reduced, that their origin and purposes be transparent, and that they be included in the text of the bills voted upon by the Congress and presented to the President. For appropriations laws and other legislation enacted after the date of this order, executive agencies should not commit, obligate, or expend funds on the basis of earmarks included in any non-statutory source, including requests in reports of committees of the Congress or other congressional documents, or communications from or on behalf of Members of Congress, or any other non-statutory source, except when required by law or when an agency has itself determined a project, program, activity, grant, or other transaction to have merit under statutory criteria or other merit-based decisionmaking.

Sec. 2. Duties of Agency Heads. (a) With respect to all appropriations laws and other legislation enacted after the date of this order, the head of each agency shall take all necessary steps to ensure that:
(i) agency decisions to commit, obligate, or expend funds for any earmark are based on the text of laws, and in particular, are not based on language in any report of a committee of Congress, joint explanatory statement of a committee of conference of the Congress, statement of managers concerning a bill in the Congress, or any other non-statutory statement or indication of views of the Congress, or a House, committee, Member, officer, or staff thereof;
(ii) agency decisions to commit, obligate, or expend funds for any earmark are based on authorized, transparent, statutory criteria and merit-based decision making, in the manner set forth in section II of OMB Memorandum M-07-10, dated February 15, 2007, to the extent consistent with applicable law; and
(iii) no oral or written communications concerning earmarks shall supersede statutory criteria, competitive awards, or merit-based decisionmaking.

(b) An agency shall not consider the views of a House, committee, Member, officer, or staff of the Congress with respect to commitments, obligations, or expenditures to carry out any earmark unless such views are in writing, to facilitate consideration in accordance with section 2(a)(ii) above. All written communications from the Congress, or a House, committee, Member, officer, or staff thereof, recommending that funds be committed, obligated, or expended on any earmark shall be made publicly available on the Internet by the receiving agency, not later than 30 days after receipt of such communication, unless otherwise specifically directed by the head of the agency, without delegation, after consultation with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to preserve appropriate confidentiality between the executive and legislative branches.

(c) Heads of agencies shall otherwise implement within their respective agencies the policy set forth in section 1 of this order, consistent with such instructions as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget may prescribe.

(d) The head of each agency shall upon request provide to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget information about earmarks and compliance with this order.

Sec. 3. Definitions. For purposes of this order:
(a) The term "agency" means an executive agency as defined in section 105 of title 5, United States Code, and the United States Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission, but shall exclude the Government Accountability Office; and
(b) the term "earmark" means funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction (whether in statutory text, report language, or other communication) circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process.

Sec. 4. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) authority granted by law to an agency or the head thereof; or
(ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budget, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented in a manner consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

January 29, 2008.

-- Nancy Remsen



Dean v. Kunin

Tomorrow's Statehouse drama will feature a showdown between former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean. They will each take a different side in the debate over whether Vermont should go to a four-year term for governor, and perhaps throw some legislative seats into the mix too.

Kunin has presented her point of view at a couple of public sessions. She's for the four-year term because she says you just get going with things and you have to go through another election.

At a November 2006 debate, Kunin said: "Most big issues take time. If you're always thinking of the next election it's very hard to do that."

She cited the Act 200 planning law, which passed while she was governor. "If there had been a longer period of time, it would have been a better law," she said.

In past debates, Kunin's verbal sparring partner has been University of Vermont political science professor Frank Bryan. This time, she's got a fellow former governor, who's looking at the issue with a national as well as a Montpelier perspective.

In a preview of tomorrow's testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee, here's what Dean has to say on the issue:

Over the last four years I have flown over 2 million miles, visiting every
state in the union, most of them on multiple occasions. Among the many things I
learned since I left the governor’s office to run for president and eventually
to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee is that there is no
place like home. Vermont is among the most friendly, politically
responsible, fiscally well-managed states in America. Vermonters are more
engaged in the process of self governing, with all its warts, than almost
anywhere else in America. And Vermonters are less cynical about their own
government than anywhere else I have been. ...

For that reason I have concluded that Vermont ought to keep our
two-year term for governor and for the Legislature. It is incredibly
tempting to get rid of 50 percent of our political campaigns by only having them
every four years. All those horrible ads, the long-winded speeches. All that
money that could be spent elsewhere. The truth is that four year campaigns would
only begin earlier and be even more expensive.

But it is so hard to get anything done in two years.

The truth is we get more done faster in Montpelier than in other states
because of the two-year term. We are held responsible for our election promises
in two years, and we usually deliver. Examples include civil unions, Act
250 under Deane Davis, the Bottle Bill, Pay As You Go highway funding — which
has kept Vermont out of the enormous debt problems many states have — and school
funding equalization, which 26 states have been ordered to do by their courts
and only two have complied, including Vermont. The truth is Vermont is
well-governed. We tend to be less partisan. Our voters are closer to our
governments than in virtually any other state in the union.

We are better off in Vermont because we are not like
everyone else. We ought to keep what we have.


Vermont stands out as a state in which our people are civil,
thoughtful, neighborly, politically well informed, and most importantly
respectful of the notion of a common good. This is an extraordinary place to
live, non-withstanding the normal tendency of all human beings to focus more on
what we want than on what we have. We ought to keep Vermont Vermont.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dems back a Peter

The state Democratic Committee met Saturday in Randolph and voted to endorse a Peter for election in the fall. It was Welch for Congress, not Galbraith for governor.

Peter Welch, seeking his second term in Congress, won unanimous approval (with one abstention) of the committee to endorse his candidacy. Really the only question in that race is whether he'll also win the de facto endorsement of the Vermont Republican Party. No candidate in sight for that one.

Speaking of sighting possible candidates, Peter Galbraith did speak to state committee members after their meeting Saturday. About half the committee members stayed to chat with Galbraith, party Executive Director Jill Krowinski said. "He did not announce," she said.

Galbraith is making the tour of county Democratic committees in the coming days, she said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Delicate dance

As you may have read, Gov. Jim Douglas went to Washington yesterday to testify in support of Vermont's right to set emissions standards for cars. He was testifying in Sen. Bernie Sanders' Environment and Public Works Committee.

Gannett News Service captured an awkward picture of the two greeting each other in a crowded committee room, which I've conveniently provided for you at right. Almost makes you think the two can't bear each other. Either that, or Sanders was somehow physically harming Douglas, and Douglas was about to cry.
I wasn't there, of course, but Douglas's spokesman Jason Gibbs relayed this story about another Douglas-Sanders moment. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she wanted to ask Douglas,
reminding him that he was under oath, what it was like to have Bernie Sanders as his senator and did he have any good Sanders stories to share, but because she had only 5 minutes, she would pass.
Gibbs said he asked the governor what he would have said. The answer: He would have come up with something nice.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Two takes

Peter Galbraith took a field trip to the Statehouse yesterday. Escorted by Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton and Executive Director Jill Krowinski, he met the cast of Democratic state legislators.

He spoke to the Democratic caucus just before Gov. Jim Douglas gave his budget address. In that speech, Galbraith blamed the Republicans, Douglas included, for the current state of economic affairs, noting the plunging stock markets.

"At home and abroad, we are surely reaping what we have sowed with the Republican policies of the last eight years."

An hour later, Douglas was taking credit for the fact that Vermont is not in as dire a financial situation as other states.

"Five years ago - as I stood at this podium to deliver my first budget address - Vermont was mired near the bottom of a global economic slowdown. Our economy had stalled, our government had overpromised and Vermonters were demanding a change from business as usual.

Together, we took immediate action to spur job creation, focus on affordability, resist tax increases and restrain spending. ... We emerged from that slump a stronger state - with more Vermonters working than ever before, with poverty down, with health care for more families and with opportunities for our people more bountiful than ever."
Which is it, then?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Budget guidelines

Later today, Gov. Jim Douglas will deliver his 2008 budget address. He has already suggested that this has been the most difficult of the six budgets he has prepared since becoming governor in 2003.

When Douglas first took office, the state and nation were emerging from an economic downturn. In his premier budget address, the governor outlined the principles that guided the decisions in his spending plan. They are likely the same principles he has used in 2008. Here’s what he said:

  • First, government must live within its means because every dollar we spend beyond our capacity to pay is a dollar that must be repaid by our children.
  • Second, government will fulfill its commitment to the neediest Vermonters because a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable.
  • Third, we should not dip even further into the pockets of struggling taxpayers.
  • Fourth, sacrifice must be shared broadly so that no one is asked to carry an undue burden.
  • Finally, the most direct route back to prosperity is to invest in Vermonters' education, skills and aspirations.

He concluded by saying, "My budget lives up to these principles and any budget that arrives on my desk for signature must as well."

Expect the same message from Douglas today. He obviously will promise no new taxes. He will propose money for job training and telecommunications -- investments designed to help reverse any economic downturn.

The question is who will feel the pain as the budget belt tightens elsewhere? We'll see soon, assuming it is obvious.

-- Nancy Remsen


Making his move

Looks like former Ambassador Peter Galbraith is running for governor for sure.

The latest sign? Galbraith just sent out an e-mail to Democrats around the state announcing that he is giving "serious consideration" to becoming a candidate for governor and criticizing the incumbent Republican, Jim Douglas, for "six years of stagnation."

In the e-mail, Galbraith also discloses he has created a fund along with the state party called the Vermont Leadership Fund to, as he puts it, "support Democratic leaders on all levels around the state, and cultivate new leaders who will help build Vermont's future."

Party officials say the fund is not a candidate PAC, but clearly having Galbraith as the face of the fund is a signal he wants to be a player on the Vermont political scene this year. For a look at the full text of the e-mail, click HERE.

Galbraith, the son of the famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, is best known as an international diplomat, as a U.S. ambassador to Croatia in the 1980s and a U.N. ambassador to East Timor in the 1990s. He's also written a well-regarded book on Iraq called "The End of Iraq." But the guy's got electoral politics in his blood: As a 20-something in the 1970s, he was chair of the Vermont Democratic Party.

There are other Ds thinking of taking the plunge, like Sen. John Campbell. But only Galbraith, with this move, has taken it to the next level.

-- Sam Hemingway



Primary list

With the filing deadline moments away, Vermont's March 4 presidential primary ballot is assured of having least five Republicans and four Democratic candidates.

For the Republicans, the list of candidates who have filed the proper number of signatures (1,000) and fee ($2,000) are former Mass Gov. Mitt Romney, former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizonan Sen. John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texan Rep. Ron Paul. Romney's and Huckabee's people filed their paperwork with the Secretary of State's office Monday; Giuliani's stuff came in last week.

The candidates on the Democratic ballot include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Clinton and Edwards filed Monday.

The remaining question is former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Word is Thompson has enough signatures, but is so close to folding his tent nationally that he may choose not to file here.

Vermont's primary is a winner-take-all contest for the Rs while the Dems divy up the delegates based on how the candidates do in the primary with a handful of super delegates thrown in for good measure.

-- Sam Hemingway


Dean on the screen

If memory serves, I first met Heath Eiden the day Howard Dean formally announced on Church Street in June of 2003 that he was running for president.

Heath had a video camera in hand, and he was interviewing anybody who would talk to him about the Dean for America undertaking. I figured he was some obscure TV guy or documentary filmmaker and was glad to answer a question or two.

What I didn't know until later is that he was a Morrisville guy doing this on his own dime with the support of a very understanding family. He put everything he had into it, traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and New York and other places to capture the behind-the-sense images as the campaign rose up from the grassroots and then got mowed down by John Kerry and Dean's own mistakes out in Iowa.

When it all ended after Wisconsin, Heath ended up with miles of priceless footage but no money to edit it into a finished movie. So he had to do that work when time allowed in the years since, which explains why what he is now calling "Dean and Me: Roadshow of an American primary" is just now about to be premiered.

Well, premiere might be overstating it. This weekend, Heath will be showing a "rouch cut" of his movie in Montpelier (Savoy, 11 a.m. on Saturday) and Burlington (Roxy, 11 a.m. Sunday)/ If you're a card-carrying political junkie or Dean aficionado you'd be crazy to miss it. You can check out a Web site dedicated to the movie HERE.

For a suggested $10 donation, you can see what Heath's put together and be invited to offer a critique on what should be in or out of the final cut, all in the spirit of the people-powered candidate himself.

See you there.

-- Sam Hemingway


Cola Hudson passes away

Rep. Cola Hudson, R-Lyndonville, died Sunday, of congestive heart failure, serving right up to the end, as he undoubtedly would have wanted.

Hudson was at the Statehouse two days last week before seeking medical attention.

The 81-year-old retired farmer and school janitor had served in the Legislature since 1973. He started the same year a young Jim Douglas did. They both served on the House Government Operations Committee. Hudson was still serving on that committee.

"He epitomized the Yankee values that bind all Vermonters together – hard work, dedication, and a commitment to serving one’s community," House Republican Leaders Steve Adams and Patti Komline said in a joint statement.

"He was a straight-talking, matter-of-fact gentleman with a particular interest in making government more responsive to the people," Douglas said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Not so fast

Many House Republicans have signed onto a resolution calling for the House Appropriations Committee to take $1 million from the Legislature's budget and add it to funds to help low-income Vermonters pay for heating fuel this winter.

Here's a link to the resolution.

How could the Legislature save $1 million? The resolution says by going home early -- on April 12.

When have lawmakers exited Montpelier in recent years? Last year it was May 12. In 2006 it was May 10. Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, did a little research and noted that when Republicans controlled the House (Democrats hold the majority now), the legislative sessions ran long.
2001 -- adjournment was June 3
2002 -- June 13
2003 -- May 30
2004 -- May 20

Larson is especially concerned about how the appropriations committees in the House and Senate could wrap up work on next year's budget by April 12. He listed dates when the House passed the budget during most recent years when Republicans controlled the House as well as the past three when Democrats were in charge.

2001 -- House passed budget on March 28
2002 -- March 29
2003 -- April 2
2004 -- March 23
2005 -- March 22
2006 -- March 21
2007 -- April 3

This year it will be particularly difficult to write a budget because there isn't a lot of extra money, but a lot of extra demands. Lawmakers have been in session for two weeks, but have yet to start on next year's budget because Gov. Jim Douglas and his staff won't release any details until his gives his budget address. That's at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

So Larson wonders how House Republicans can expect lawmakers to carry out their responsibilities in the budget process by April 12 "given that under their leadership they weren't able to do it?"

No one should expect the Statehouse to empty on April 12. However, Rep. Alice Miller, D-Shaftsbury, quipped in the Democratic caucus last Tuesday, "I'm going to circulate a petition ... that allows Republicans to go home early."

-- Nancy Remsen



Backing Obama

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont's Democratic members of the congressional delegation, announced Thursday they will back Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the party's presidential nomination.

Said Welch:
"I have great admiration for all the Democratic candidates in the race. But
it is Barack Obama who has brought new energy into the political process,
inspiring all Americans to believe that it is possible to restore America's
promise at home and in the world."

Said Leahy:

"We need a president who can reintroduce America to the world and actually
reintroduce America to ourselves. I believe Barack Obama is the best person to
do that."

Sen. Bernie Sanders won't be endorsing a presidential candidate, according to his staff.
This from press secretary Will Wiquist: "The independent Senator from Vermont won't be endorsing any candidate inthe Democratic Party primaries. He will do everything he can to helpthe eventual Democratic nominee move the country in a different direction."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Tale of two committees

Legislators were so eager to take up the administration’s lottery leasing proposal (and in the process reaffirm their opposition to it) that three committees have scheduled testimony on it this week.

Trouble is, the administration isn’t ready to make the rounds of committees to testify on the lottery. Committees have been told that will have to wait until after the governor’s proposed budget is done. Gov. Jim Douglas delivers his budget address Tuesday.

Two committees nonetheless went forward with testimony from other people on the topic today.
I would suggest that in the second committee, particularly, it strongly would have behooved the members to wait, but three factors prevented that:

1) Legislators resent that the administration isn’t available when they want them to be, and don’t cotton to being told to wait, especially to hear an administration proposal.
2) Legislators, particularly those in the Democratic majority but Republicans too, fairly strongly oppose this proposal and are eager to discredit it. One doesn’t need testimony from supporters of the proposal to accomplish that.
3) If the administration is going to count on $50 million in upfront money from leasing the lottery in its budget proposal, legislators need to start thinking about that.

Not all committees are created equal, though, and here is the evidence of that:

Testimony started early Wednesday in the House Ways & Means Committee – 8:30 a.m. and this is one committees that starts on time. The committee heard from Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, Vermont Council on Problem Gambling Director Joy Mitchell, a representative of the Tax Foundation and the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office.

Committee members had read the Lehman Bros. report that pitches the proposal to Vermont. Though they had not heard direct testimony from the administration, they were familiar with the proposal, which has been out for more than two months. They fairly efficiently collected facts that they can pair later with testimony from the administration.

Downstairs, the Senate Government Operations Committee heard from Spaulding, Lottery Commission Chairwoman Martha O’Connor and Lottery Director Alan Yandow. Yandow was reluctant to say anything about the proposal, as he described it as too vague. The committee made no attempt to take advantage of the fact that Mitchell was already in the building to hear from her. In fact, committee members seemed not to know that she or her gambling council exists.

More alarmingly, they hadn’t read the Lehman Bros. report and some didn’t seem to know there was a report. That suggests that though they also don’t read the newspaper or listen to the radio, where this report has been talked about. What that lack of preparation meant was that they spent a fair amount of their time bantering about misinformation and seeking information from people who weren’t in a position to know it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Kunin on Clinton's win

Maybe you saw it already, but for what it's worth, the Washington Post featured an op ed last Friday from Madeleine Kunin, the former Vermont governor. The piece offered up an interesting theory on how Hillary Clinton pulled off her stunning comeback win in last week's New Hampshire primary.

Kunin, author of a forthcoming book on women in politics, says HRC won New Hampshire because voters were already accustomed to voting for women candidates so voting for Hillary was not such a big deal.

Kunin wrote that, because the state in the past elected a female governor and currently has a woman Speaker and Senate president, "it's not startling to see women in power, because they are there in significant numbers. Their hairstyles, color choices and range of emotions are less newsworthy because they are no longer one of a kind."

She said that in doing research for her book, she found that "electing women is contagious. The more you see, the more you get." Iowa hasn't been one of those states -- yet -- and that's perhaps why Barack Obama got 35 percent the female vote and Clinton got 30 percent. In New Hampshire she got 46 percent of the female vote; Obama got 29 percent.

Kunin also had this take on Hillary's now infamous "tearing up" episode at the Derry diner.
"Running or president is different for a woman than it is for a man. The difference became clear when Clinton's voice quavered and she showed deep emotion while meeting with a group of women at a diner. It was a "just us girls" moment, when she felt she could let her hair down and they would understand. A lot of New Hampshire women apparently did."

For a read of the whole column, click HERE.

Based on Kunin's theory, Clinton won't do well in South Carolina, where she said some still hold the view that a woman's place is in the home.

-- Sam Hemingway


Pollina says he has hit $100,000

Got my first e-mail from "Pollina for Governor" a short time ago.

Progressive Anthony Pollina announced that he has met his goal of raising $100,000 by mid-January. Six hundred donors contributed, he said.

He also claimed support from Democrats, citing Laura Cary, Becky Moore, Crea Lintilhac and Ben Cohen as examples. Pollina wants the Democratic nomination for governor. There are, however, some Democrats who don't want him to have it.

Pollina also has a campaign coordinator - Meg Brook, who is also the South Burlington and Chittenden County Progressive Party chairwoman.

As you saw in today's FREE PRESS, Pollina says he will be giving up his "Equal Time" radio show soon. And no, despite the name of the show, WDEV is not bound by equal time rules in this case. Those are federal rules. Pollina is running for a state office. If there is a question surrounding his time on the air, it's whether the donations that pay for it count as a campaign contribution.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Republican outreach

The 49-member Republican caucus in the Vermont House of Representatives unveiled a new Website this morning. You can check it out here.

In the back and forth between the Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate and the Republican Douglas administration, the voice of this minority in the House can get lost -- except when it comes time to hold a veto vote.

To make sure folks outside the Statehouse know what they are thinking and saying, the caucus has set up this Website.

House Republican Leader Steve Adams isn't at the Statehouse right now, having just undergone heart valve surgery. (Reportedly successful according to the Website) Still, he offered this advice at the Website:

"So, if I can’t be in Montpelier myself, at least let me share this thought with my colleagues from both parties, and hope it stays with you in my brief absence. This session, focus on what is really important. All the issues that we know divide us, set them aside for now. Don’t let them be a distraction that keeps us from fixing the things that our constituents need us to fix. This is what the people of Vermont deserve, and we will all be better for it."

Assistant Republican House Leader Patti Komline of Dorset is in charge for now and she outlines the caucus' priorities for the session at the site. Obviously, if folks outside the Statehouse like any of these ideas, they will need to lobby to get them to happen, because if the House Republicans' proposals don't coincide with the priorities of Democratic Speaker Gaye Symington and her leadership team -- and some don't -- they won't happen. Remember the split in the 150-member House is 93 Democrats, 49 Republicans, six Progressives and two independents.

-- Nancy Remsen



Congressional mice

There is a relatively new way of measuring constituent services from your politicians - and that's by looking at their Web sites and how useful, or not, they are. As anybody who has a Web site knows, they are useless if they are not kept updated. There's nothing like turning to a Web site and seeing the latest item posted was in 1999 to give you confidence.

Vermont's delegation fared well in the 2007 Congressional Management Foundation Mouse Awards. A gold mouse went to those with the best Web sites. Our representatives did not snare one of those. But Sen. Bernie Sanders won a silver and Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch won bronzes. Leahy was cited as one of only three members to win an award each year they were given - 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007, though he's taken a tumble - in all the previous years he won a gold.

The Foundation, a nonprofit organization that says it is dedicated to promoting a more effective Congress, said overall congressional Web sites are disappointing, "with more than 40% of congressional Web sites earning a substandard or failing grade."

Some 16 percent of the members received a gold, silver or bronze award, meaning they earned an "A," while 20.9 percent received a "B;" 20.7 received a "C;" and 22.8 received a 'D." A full 18 percent received "F." Unlike when you and I were in school, an A- is from 86-89 (they called that a B in my day), an A is from 90-95 and an A+ is 96-100.

The elements of good Web sites were described as: Design and Layout, Legislative Content,
Constituent Services, Press Resources, State/District Information, Communication Tools.

Sanders' site was noted for its use of interactive polls. Welch's and Leahy's were cited for the info they provide on their districts.

Have you all used your congressional representatives' Web sites? Found them to be useful? Anything lacking?

Here are links just to make your lives that much easier:
Welch: http://www.welch.house.gov/
Leahy: http://leahy.senate.gov/
Sanders: http://sanders.senate.gov/

- Terri Hallenbeck



The day after

Every time the governor delivers a State of the State or inaugural or budget address, here's the rub when it comes to seeking reaction: In the minutes immediately following the speech, nobody's had time to figure out exactly how they feel.

That's why House Speaker Gaye Symington delivered a pre-written speech of her own immediately afterward. That's why the opposition party in Washington does the same thing after a State of the Union.

Several people I talked to right after Douglas' speech weren't quite sure what to say. Not only was it too soon, but he hadn't said anything particularly outrageous or particularly awesome. Figuring out how you feel about the middle ground between those extremes is not always simple.

A day later, here's what Symington said of Douglas' address: "I found a number of aspects of his address yesterday very favorable."

Indeed, it seemed Douglas was trying hard not to tick anybody off. He gave a couple nods to climate change, lest anybody try to accuse him of not caring. He said he'd work with the Legislature on health care, housing. His new ideas - housing incentives for condos on the upper floors of downtown buildings, for example - were not earth-shattering but they were also not objectionable.

It makes one wonder - is this positioning for the November election? He's the governor who works with the Legislature. I know, some people will always be trying to look at everything through that lens.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bopp the weasel?

Remember James Bopp, the sharp Indiana lawyer who represented the state Republican State Committee and Vermont Right to Life in their successful federal court challenge of the state's campaign finance law?

Ole Jim's one of the conservative circle's most favorite attorney, so it's not surprising he was the lawyer making the case in federal court recently that the right-wing financed "Hillary: The Movie" and advertizing for it shouldn't be subject to campaign finance law restrictions regarding disclairmers for ads and when the movie can be broadcast.

Bopp, representing Ci
itizens United, a conservative advocacy group, tried to persuade a three-judge panel that the movie and ads for it was part of what he called "issue oriented speech" not political advocacy.

It didn't go well. Here's a portion of the exchange between him and one of the judges, courtesy of Associated Press.

“What’s the issue?”
Bopp: “That Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist.”
Judge: “Which has nothing to do with her campaign?”
Bopp: “Not specifically, no.”
Judge: “Once you say, ’Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,’ aren’t you saying vote against her?”
Bopp said no, arguing that the movie did not use the word “vote.”
Judge: “Oh, that’s ridiculous.”

Later, Bopp tried to compare the movie to TV shows like Nova and 60 Minutes, evoking laughter from the same judge.
“You can’t compare this to ’60 Minutes,’” the judge said. “Did you read this transcript?”

Seems Citizens United would rather not be forced to disclose where the money for the movie and ads for it came from. The movie is just out and is about to have screenings in six states that are sites for primaries. It's also available as a DVD. To visit the movie's Web site, click HERE.
The court, in Washington D.C., has made no ruling in the case as yet

Among the cast are such "actors" as Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Jeff Gerth, Michael Barone, Tony Blankley, Dick Armey, Bay Buchanan, Michael Medved and Kathleen Willey.

Don't think this movie will be appearing at the Savoy or the Roxy anytime soon.

-- Sam Hemingway



State of State: wrap-up

"Affordability" certainly was the word of the day around here in Montpelier. Both Gov. Jm Douglas' State of the State speech and Democrats' response evoked the image of hard-working Vermonters struggling to make ends meet. Douglas proposed half a dozen steps he said would help folks -- some more health care cost-reduction steps, an affordable housing package, the promise of a one-time $25 million property tax cut, help with reducing home heating costs. Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington agreed that compromise is within reach on affordable housing and said health care would be Democrats' priority, too.
Douglas called for raising taxes -- he called it "closing a loophole" -- on unearned income. He told the audience it is "grossly unfair" that people who earn a paycheck pay taxes at a higher rate than those who simply collect income from their investments.
Much of the governor's speech listed a series of small initiatives or investments in new technology, training and business development.
Today was a day for kind words and exhortations and promises of cooperation. But if history is any guide, those kind words and promises are headed for the archive vault along with the speeches. Then the real work will begin.
That's it from the Statehouse. Thanks for checking in with this experiment in live blogging.
-- Candace Page


The Democrats respond (updated at 3:30 p.m.)

House Speaker Gaye Symington just finished delivering her mini-State-of-the-State to an audience of legislators and lobbyists crammed into a downstairs hearing room at the Statehouse. Like Gov. Douglas, she began on a high, bipartisan note. Democrats and the Republican governor agree on the year's first priorities, she said -- helping Vermonters cope with the rising cost of health care, home heating fuel, housing and property taxes. "Vermonters want us to work together and I believe we will," she said.

But her first focus -- and first applause line -- was a reiterated promise to quickly pass a campaign finance reform bill to "reduce the influence of money" in elections.
part of her 10-minute speech focused on the need to avoid "short-term band-aid solutions" to Vermont government's money woes. This was a clear reference to Douglas' proposal -- repeated in his state of the state speech, to lease the Vermont lottery for a one-time payment of $50 million. That's a one-year solution, she said. "What asset will we sell next year?"

Like Douglas, she called for more economic development effort that will create 21st century jobs in Vermont. But returning to the "band-aid" criticism, she said employers tell her they need employees with a strong work ethic. Leasing the lottery to a private company that will step up advertising to sell more tickets, she said, teaches the wrong message: That the way to get ahead is gambling, not hard work.

Symington said she had not seen Douglas' proposal to raise taxes on unearned income, but said she was open to considering it.

-- Candace Page


Governor departs, Dems prepare (updated at 2:47 p.m.)

A delegation of lawmakers has escorted Gov. Jim Douglas out of the chamber. House Speaker Gaye Symington will deliver a Democratic response downstairs in 15 minutes. I'll be back then.

-- Candace Page


State of state: Conclusion (updated 2:46 p.m.)

The governor ends with an appeal for a "can-do attitude." "hard-working Vermont remain at the heart of all we do and all we strive for." He continues: We must now rethink, revitalize and where necessary, reform the work of government. We are ready for the challenge... God bless each of you and the great State of Vermont."

Speech ends. Audience gives a standing ovation of modest length.

-- Candace Page


State of state: "go Vermont" (updated at 2:41 p.m.)

Douglas, who loves catchy program names, has another one: Go Vermont, a "3-pronged apprach to provide cost-effective transportation alternatives." He's talking about more park-and-ride spaces, an online database of carpools and the like.

-- Candace Page


State of state: energy (updated at 2:41 p.m.)

Governor says he wants to "reach a responsible agreement on an all-fuels efficiency program that helps Vermonters make their homes more fuel efficient..." The all-fuels utility, you'll remember, drew a veto from Douglas last year. The outcome will depend on how lawmakers and the governor define "responsible."

-- Candace Page


State of state: Green jobs (updated at 2:37 p.m.)

Governor says the state should make environmental service companies eligible for significantly larger incentives to create jobs here. And, he'll urge state retirement boards to invest some of their funds -- up to $10 million -- in providing additional capital for "green" entrepreneurs and new companies.

-- Candace Page


State of State: Education (updated at 2:34 p.m.)

Here's an interesting one, 20 minutes into the speech: Governor says U.S. students aren't keeping up with students around the world in math and science ability. He says he'll ask the Board of Education to help student "implement more innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula." And he'll propose another $8 million in college scholarships and workforce training.

-- Candace Page


State of the State: Trouble for trust-funders (updated at 2:28 p.m.)

Here's the surprise tax proposal the governor's staff had promised: Closing the "tax loophole" that taxes UNearned income at a lower rate than earned income. "This is grossly unfair," Douglas said. "What this means is that a working man or woman in vermont making $50,000 a year pays nearly 50 percent more tax than someone who does not work and simply lives off investment or trust fund capital gains income in the same amount," he said. People over 65, though, won't pay the tax. neither will "middle-income investors" because their first $2,500 of long-term investment income wouldn't be taxed.

Not good news for trust-funders.

-- Candace Page


State of the state: Affordable housing (updated at 2:26 p.m.)

No surprise here. Douglas wants affordable housing measures the legislature didn't act on last year. Among the proposals, an "urban homesteading" initiative. Tax incentives for first-time homeowners to renovate underused space on the second and third floors of downtown commercial buildings. Lofts come to Vermont!

-- Candace Page


State of the state: more on health care (updated at 2:23 p.m.)

Douglas' appeal for a health care bill "before Town Meeting Day" got big applause from the balcony, where his appointees sit, but lawmakers were notably silent. You can lead legislators, I guess, but you can't push them.
-- Candace Page


State of the State: Health care (updated at 2:20 p.m.)

Douglas describes the new Catamount Health Plan as "a good beginning" but urges lawmakers to send him a bill advancing affordable health care "before Town Meeting Day." Among other things, he says he and the legislature agree on allowing parents to keep young adults on the family health insurance plan; putting a prevention specialist in each region; and improving health information technology. What will lawmakers say?

-- Candace Page


State of the State: "What about the War" (updated at 2:15 p.m.)

Protestors hold up banners "What about the War" and "Miltiary out of Schools. Prvacy is a right." Statehouse security removes them while the speech is suspended.

-- Candace Page


State of State: Top priorities (updated at 2:15 p.m.)

Douglas puts "affordability" first: "With health care premiums increasing by double digits, fuel topping three dollars a gallon and property taxes continuing a steady climb, families are feeling the squeeze... we must keep our vision far-reaching, but our goals practical, achievable and affordable."

-- Candace Page


State of the State: First applause line

Lawmakers just escorted Gov. Jim Douglas into the House chamber. Applause all around. Douglas opens his speech with flowery words about Vermont: "For centuries our people have been held by a faith in tomorrow, by the glory of God's gift: the promise of Vermont."
Then straight to an invitation to applaud members of the Vermont National Guard, with firefighters, police officers and emergency workers added for good measure. Lots of applause.
-- Candace Page


In the audience (updated at 2 p.m.)

Who packs the House when the governor delivers his State of the State? From where I'm squeezed with other members of the press herd, I see UVM President Dan Fogel, front and center in the balcony; all the top brass from the state bureaucracy; members of the governor's staff; and the ever-so-well connected Steve Terry (former Rutland Herald editor, v-p at Green Mountain Power). Downstair, lobbyists, lawmakers' families and plain folks line the walls. It sounds like Fenway Park before the game begins (no hots dogs, though)

-- Candace Page


What they're saying, pre-speech (Updated at 1:28 p.m.)

What do Statehouse regulars, and visitors, want or expect to hear when the guv takes the stage in an hour? Feedback from the bus, the cafeteria and the hallways:
-- "Legislators don't like to hear about limits, but they need to." John O'Kane of IBM. State government grown bigger than we can afford,he said, and there isn't going to be enough revenue to go around.
-- "We'd like to hear about universal, affordable health care." -- Lindol Atkins, a retired Water Department worker from Burlington who lobbies for the State Labor Council.
-- "I think the message is going to be more upbeat and optimistic." -- Sue Allen, editor of the Barre-Montpelier Times-argus and a former press secretary in the Howard Dean administration. Democrats have gotten some ink with their complaints that Douglas sends a negative message about the difficulty of doing business in Vermont. He may respond in his speech, she thought.
-- "Highways and infrastructure." -- Rep. Bill Johnson, who represents a huge swathe of the far Northeast Kingdom in the House. His constituents are tired of their cars bottoming out on "crumbling" state highways, he said.
- - Candace Page


Bats, bomb-sniffing dog and a tortured metaphor

And speaking of how things have changed at the Statehouse, there's been a state trooper with a bomb-sniffing dog in the halls today. No specific threat, says security chief Dave Janawicz, just a chance for the dog and handler to become familiar with the Statehouse. Janawicz says the bats already are -- "I've seen them doing laps in the House chamber" he said.

State Sen. Mark McDonald, a Democrat from Orange County, hit the animal theme, too, when he was asked what he expected to hear in the governor's state of the state speech: "The ostrich-head-in-the-sand, possum in the middle of the road Affordability Agenda," he said. "You can't catch any tuna if the boat never leaves the harbor." He'd lost me by then, but these clearly weren't words of praise for the GOP governor. Republican Sen. Diane Snelling of Chittenden County was standing nearby and observed (avoiding animal metaphors) how "intense" the partisan sparring already has become, one day into the legislative session.
-Candace Page


It takes a village...

This is a governor's moment. Alone on the podium, before 180 lawmakers, TV cameras, radio microphones and newspaper bloggers. It's a "glorious moment" former Gov. Madeleine Kunin once said. At best, the State of the State speech offers ideas that capture the imagination of Vermonters across the state. At the least, it tells lawmakers just exactly what the governor is going to fight for this year.

So who writes the State of the State? Kunin, a talented writer, penned her own. Gov. Howard Dean -- NOT a gifted writer -- also laid down the first draft of his speeches, according to people who should know. (Which may explain why so many of them read like laundry lists).

(Update from the lobby -- the bat has been captured. According to reporter-on-the-spot Louis Porter, "there was a lot of squeaking.")

Gov. Jim Douglas, according to his spokesman Jason Gibbs, follows a more complicated procedure. In Douglas' case, it takes a whole government to write a speech -- though Douglas decides the priorities he'll discuss and sets the tone.

The process began more than a month ago, when the governor met with his senior staff to create an outline. Then departments of state government were asked to provide details on the programs in the outline. After more meetings, Gibbs assembled a draft. "Then the governor takes this policy-driven draft and rewrites it in his own language," Gibbs said. After more drafts, the speech ran to 5,000 words -- about 40 minutes. Too long, advisers said. Gibbs was trying to cut 500 to 600 words this morning. The governor, he said, will still be tweaking the speech minutes before he enters the House chamber.
-- Candace Page


Here at the Statehouse

Welcome to the Statehouse, on this day when the corridors and balconies are typically at their most crowded. (Among those looking for a way into the House chamber -- an uninvited bat just spotted flitting around in the lobby[see photo to right].) Gov. Douglas will deliver his 6th State of the State message at 2 p.m., the latest in a series gubernatorial messages stretching back to 1779.

The dissonance of change (word of the moment, post-N.H. primary) hit me like a brick when I sat down just now in the balcony of the House chamber. I'm surrounded by red velvet, looking at a chandelier once lit by gas -- and prepared to blog with people spread halfway around the world (you know who you are).

Others would say continuity, not change, is the real lesson from this annual ritual. I talked with archivist Gregory Sanford earlier this week, and that's certainly his take. It's not quite fair to say "heard one State of the State, heard them all," but there are constant themes.

Vermonters, and their governors, have been complaining about property taxes and school costs since at least the late 19th century. Governors worry aloud about highway maintenance, they call for more economic development and -- almost year in and year out -- ask lawmakers not to raise taxes. Governors have been scolding lawmakers for profligate spending almost since the legislative and executive branches were created.

Take this little excerpt, from the 1890 State of the State: "The tendency of each succeeding Legislature for the past ten years has been to guard the treasury with less and less care against the demands made upon it in the interests of special objects. " That was Gov. Carroll S. Page, speaking when Vermont's state budget was $1,477,898 and convict labor still provided revenue to help cover those expenses. (Sanford has posted all the inaugural addresses -- one form of the State of the State message -- on the Secretary of State's website.)

Money will certainly be on Gov. Douglas' mind today. We know he wants to trim the number of state employees, for example. But, no matter how penny-pinching, every governor wants to make his or her mark by offering something new -- and new usually means "more expensive."

I chatted with Jason Gibbs, the Douglas spokesman, this morning about how the governor puts the speech together. I'll post about that shortly.
-- Candace Page



Wha happened?

The pundits will be plodding through the numbers out of New Hampshire's primary results for some time as they try to explain how they, and the pollsters got things so wrong on Tuesday night, at least on the Democratic side of the ledger.

I got it wrong, too, and so did you, I bet. As part of the Freeps walk up to Tuesday's vote, we identified three New Hampshire towns to watch as indicators as to how the Democratic vote was breaking. The towns we picked were Hanover, a traditionally Democratic town, Wolfesboro, a GOP dominant town, and Milford, which has an especially large percent of independent or "undeclared" voters.

I decided to see how things went in the three towns. Here's what the numbers show.

Obama 2,779
Clinton 1,248
McCain 740
Edwards 459
Romney 260
Paul 105*

Romney 789
McCain 675
Obama 640
Clinton 517
Edwards 250
Huckabee 161

Clinton 1,092
Obama 1,052
McCain 978
Romney 867
Huckabee 512
Edwards 496

*Paul finished ahead of both Giuliani and Huckabee in Hanover. For a town-by-town look at the GOP results, click here. For a town-by-town look at the Democratic results, click here.

I found a couple of things interesting in these numbers. One, Obama did better than Clinton in a GOP town and, two, McCain was competitive with both Obama and Clinton in the "independent" town of Milford nad the overall division between the Rs and the Ds was nearly 50-50. As for Romney's win in Wolfesboro, that happens to be where he summers, so that may explain his win there.

Finally, while Hanover is a Dem town, it's also a college town, and such places are known to be Obama territory.


-- Sam Hemingway


State of the art

Ain't technology grand. I can now bring you grainy, distant photos, taken by my cell phone. This one from the governor's press conference this morning. While he was talking, those pushing for universal hospital coverage were in the next room singing. It was a little surreal.
Microscopically in the distance is Administration Secretary Mike Smith, who probably would have preferred spending the time preparing the governor's budget proposal, due out Jan. 22.
Gov. Jim Douglas said he's still preparing his State of the State address, trying to trim it down and punch it up. He'll be giving that tomorrow at 2 p.m. And lucky you, you will be able to tune in to vt.Buzz for some live blog action with Free Press icon Candy Page.
Douglas said his address will focus on "rethinking how we do business as a state."
- Terri Hallenbeck


Vermont to decide this thing?

It's sort of amusing to hear people who were surprised by the Iowa results. They had assumed Hillary Clinton would prevail over Barack Obama and John Edward et al. Today, there are undoubtedly plenty of people surprised that Clinton came back in New Hampshire.

I would not necessarily have predicted that things would play out exactly as they have, but let's face it, there are ebbs and flows to this stuff. I don't think we can assume anything. Didn't Howard Dean prove that in 2004?

Perhaps the New Hampshire primary results even mean this whole presidential picking will still be in play when Vermont gets its turn March 4.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz will hold a live chat tonight at 7:30 p.m. pn Vermont Public Television's Primary Tracker. She is supposed to talk about why it's important for Vermonters to vote in the primary.

For info on that, visit http://www3.vpt.org/vermontprimarytracker/chat.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Getting the message

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, had a bit of advice for senators Tuesday morning as the new legislative session kicked off.

After outlining some of the work that he expected senators to start soon, Shumlin noted that many senators had spent some recent days in New Hampshire, campaigning for their favorite presidential candidates. Shumlin said he had been there working for Barack Obama. He said it was clear that candidates of all political persuasions seem to be talking a lot about change in response to what voters were telling them.

He suggested that voters' call for change in the presidential races is a message that shouldn't be lost on Vermont politicians.

"I don't think they will tolerate politics as usual," Shumlin said. "I throw that out as a cautionary note." In other words, Shumlin was warning against bipartisan bickering, not that much can take place in the Senate where Democrats hold 23 of the 30 seats. Perhaps he was sending a message to the Republican Douglas administration -- work with us.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who presides over the Senate, said he agreed with Shumlin's advice, but added, "In many ways, the state of Vermont is an example of the way politics should be run."

--Nancy Remsen



The breakfast crowd

Half the free world, it seemed, was at the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning at the Sheraton in South Burlington. Gov. Jim Douglas spoke.

If you've been reading the newspaper not much of it would have been news to you, and I have to believe that not much of it was news to anyone in the crowd, unless there was some poor lost soul from Omaha who'd been staying at the Sheraton, went down for breakfast and accidentally got caught in the hoopla.

Those of us not from Omaha were listening for nuances.
- No new funding sources for transportation, other than a little bonding.
- He's going to stick with the lottery leasing idea. He's standing by finishing the Circ.
- He'll consider incentives to help schools consolidate.
- He's intent on reminding people that the 38 recommendations from the Governor's Climate Change Commission came from the larger plenary group, not the actual six-member commission.
- He'll tweak the housing proposal that went nowhere last year but not in a major way.
- People might just be stuck with the one-year pre-existing condition clause in Catamount Health.

Aside from the fictional tourist from Omaha I mentioned, the chamber breakfast attracted somebody who has not attended these things in recent years: Anthony Pollina. The Prog who's running for governor needed to do some circulating. There are no subtleties intended in his use of tenses, he said. Friday, after Pollina said he will be a candidate for governor, Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton questioned his use of the future tense. Pollina said he used the future tense because he hasn't held a formal campaign announcement yet, but he's running.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Primary picks

Okay, sports fans, time to be a New Hampshire primary prognosticator.

Everybody thinks Barack Obama wins the Ds primary. Any chance of that not happening? Do you think John Edwards can catch Hillary Clinton for second place? If Edwards can't do that, can he keep going? If he does pass Hillary, is it over for her?

On the Republican side, suffice to say it's a much tougher call. John McCain is surging, but will the independents be drawn to the bright lights of the Obama-Clinton-Edwards primary this year and do to McCain what they did to Democrat Bill Bradley in 2000, when McCain was the voter magnet? I'm saying Mitt Romney can win this, maybe.

Who comes in third in the GOP primary -- Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani or Ron Paul?

Who drops out after Tuesday? Fred Thompson? Bill Richardson?

As you political junkies out there surely know, deciphering what will go down in the Granite State can be tricky. The state just loves to spring surprises on the nation.

A quick story in that regard. When I was over there last week working the Jim Barnett-McCain story (see Saturday's Freeps) we stopped by MaryAnn's Diner in Derry, where McCain and new best friend Sen. Joe Lieberman had showed up for lunch as dazzled diners watched nearby.

Nearly every candidate worth talking about has passed through the joint this winter. I spoke to the diner's owner, Bill Andreoli, about who he liked. He said he was "undecided" noting that Hillary was due in for a visit on Sunday and that Bill Clinton had spent 90 minutes there the previous weekend.

Sure, he said, he liked McCain -- who wouldn't when the fella was is eating your food and schmoozing your customers. But when I asked him who he voted for in '04, he said John Kerry. And in '00? Al Gore.

So you never can tell what some voters in that crazy state might do at the last minute on Tuesday.

Your thoughts, predictions?

-- Sam Hemingway



Douglas backs McCain

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas will stand up at Dartmouth College on Monday and support Sen. John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination. The endorsement will come on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.

Douglas will say that it's McCain's character and experience that make him the best choice for the nomination, spokesman Jason Gibbs said Sunday.

"John McCain is a principled leader whose character, judgment and experience make him best prepared to lead the nation on Day 1," Douglas said in a prepared statement. "John McCain is a reformer who is willing to stand up for taxpayers and against special interests."

Not a big surprise that McCain is the one Douglas chose. McCain came to Vermont for a Republican Party fund-raiser not too many years ago. He was supposed to come for an event with congressional candidate Martha Rainville (whom Douglas strongly supported) last year but fog prevented his plane from landing in Rutland. And, of course, former Douglas campaign aide Jim Barnett is heading McCain's New Hampshire campaign.

Does it matter, though, what the governor of Vermont says about the presidential race?

If you were Joe or Josephine Voter sitting in New Hampshire pondering your choices in Tuesday's primary, would you be turning to your spouse and saying, "Well, honey, Jim Douglas likes McCain, so I guess that decides it"? Probably that would not stand on its own as a deciding factor, but it also can't hurt a presidential candidate to have as many friends up on the dais as he/she can find.

Gibbs said all the top-tier GOP candidates sought Douglas' backing. His theory is that particularly N.H. voters along the Vermont border hear a fair amount about Douglas from their newspapers and TV stations, so when they hear that Douglas is endorsing McCain it has some merit.

Funny, though, that last Thursday Douglas specifically said he had no plans to go to New Hampshire in the coming days. Define the word "plans." Apparently he had plans to make plans.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The move to Montpelier

The moving van pulled in and we are back in Montpelier (we being Nancy Remsen and me). Spent the last six months of office time in the big city of Burlington. Lovely place, really, but it is good to be back in the capital.

Spent most of the day unpacking boxes of files, finding the right spot on the desk for the Kleenexes and the pens. Moving is not one of my favorite things.

Other parts of the day included press gaggles with the governor and the House speaker. Yesterday we chatted with the Senate pro tem. Lots of talk about lottery, marijuana, energy, money, or the lack thereof.

We will be previewing the upcoming legislative session in the paper Sunday-Tuesday, so be sure to tune in. The fun kicks off Tuesday inside the domed building.

Speaking of political fun that's about to kick off, Gov. Jim Douglas said he has decided on a presidential candidate, but he's not saying who it is. Wouldn't say whether former Vermont GOP Chairman Jim Barnett, who's heading John McCain's campaign in New Hampshire, would be happy or angry with his choice.

Speaking of candidates, we ran into Anthony Pollina in downtown Montpelier. He says it (meaning candidacy for governor) gets closer and closer all the time. Also says he keeps hearing wild rumors about who's running and who's not. Some of them, he believes not to be true.

Got to get back to unloading boxes.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Citizen legislature in jeopardy?

Legislators are revving up their engines, ready for takeoff to Montpelier.

Nobody's been doing this longer than Bill Doyle, the 81-year-old Republican state senator from Montpelier, who is also a political science professor at Johnson State College. Doyle has some thoughts about the revving of those legislative engines - that perhaps they are idling at too high a speed.

Here's what he has to say:

In recent years, there has been no contest in a significant amount of open
legislative seats during the election year. The political parties have worked
harder than ever to recruit candidates. Potential candidates always ask about
the time requirements and many have expressed they would like to serve, but the
number of months away from their occupations is too great.

Recruitment of legislative candidates is also adversely affected by a
more recent trend, the proliferation of study groups. Senator Peter Shumlin, the
president pro tem, has said: "The line between the citizen legislature and the
full time legislature is the summer study committees. My philosophy has always
been, the fewer the better. Those lawmakers who are appointed to study
committees are often those who do not hold full-time jobs, which has the effect
of limiting input from any lawmakers whose jobs don’t allow them to sit on the
off season study panels."

In recent years, the number of study committees has averaged over 30.
Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, has written: "Those who fear we are moving more and more toward a full time legislature and oppose it (like myself) be on guard.
There are more and more legislative committees that are meeting on special
topics during the "in between" of a two-year session, in addition to the
oversight committees, the study committees, and the special meetings. The
increase this year is a significant jump." Thirteen new interim study committees
were added this year and the total cost of all the committees is estimated to be

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of bills introduced
in the Vermont General Assembly over the years. During the past 40 years, the
number of bills has doubled from approximately 500 1965 to approximately 1200 in
recent years. This has had the effect of increasing the length of the session
and increases operating costs and has led to increased staffing. In fairness,
legislatures throughout the nation have taken on more responsibility, and the
issues have become more complex.

Increased partisan bickering during the legislative session is another
unfortunate development. It extends the length of sessions and contributes to
the difficulties of recruiting candidates to run for the general assembly.
People who would otherwise be inspired to serve their state listen to the noise
of politics and prefer to stay home.

The ideal of a citizen legislature is in jeopardy in Vermont when we
cannot attract good people to serve. Lack of candidates also has implications
for citizenship in the democratic process. The system works best when the
individual voter has a choice and there is competition for legislative

How can this be fixed? Indiana and Colorado have a limitation on
the number of bills that a member can introduce during the session. Nebraska has
a limit on the number of bills a committee or a member may introduce. In
Connecticut, legislators may introduce a bill proposal with a short statement of
purpose. This short form is then considered by the committee, and if the
committee is agreeable, it will be drafted into long form.

In recent years throughout the nation, the public has favored limiting
legislative sessions, and according to the Book of the States, published by the
Council of State Governments: "Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada and
Oklahoma all approved constitutional amendments that resulted in shorter
legislative sessions. Vermont is one of the few states that place no limit on
the length of legislative sessions." Maybe it’s time to restrain ourselves, and
make a greater commitment to productivity (and consequently a reduction the
amount of political wrangling).

Decreasing the introduction of bills could decrease the length of
legislative sessions, would increase the possibility of recruiting more people
to run for the general assembly, would create greater public confidence in the
legislature, and would result in better utilization of staff time.
It would help preserve the citizen legislature and aid the democratic process by
increasing the possibility of competition for a legislative seat.

If we expect good management practices from our state agencies, we
should implement good management practices for the Vermont General

- Terri Hallenbeck

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