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



Nonpartisan most of the time

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, says the public mistakenly believes partisan politics rule the day in the Statehouse. "The reality is that people across all parties work constructively."

Now that doesn't mean there aren't partisan votes, Zuckerman said. Those tend to take place when bills come to the floor of either the House or Senate. There could be a few of those kinds of votes this week, in fact, when the health care bill, budget, pay act and transportation bills come up for debate in the House.

To prove his point, however, Zuckerman asked Legislative staff for a tally of the votes on bills coming out of committees -- from January of 2007 through Town Meeting a few weeks ago. In committee, lawmakers often shed their partisan capes because they are working from common sets of information, they are deliberating with people they have gotten to know and respect, and they generally feel like they have opportunities to raise concerns and get them addressed.

Zuckerman passed out the results of the staff's research:

Committees voted on 159 bills between Jan. 1, 2007 and Feb. 29, 2008.
On 132 bills, the votes were unanimous --- that's 83 percent.
On 14 bills, one lawmaker voted 'no' ---- that's 9 percent.
On three, there were two 'no' votes --- that's 2 percent.
On five, there were three 'no' votes --- that's 3 percent.
On four there were four 'no' votes --- that's 3 percent.

"This is how nonpartisan this building really is," Zuckerman said.

--Nancy Remsen



Leahy: Hillary should quit race

Sign up Patrick Leahy as another leading Democrat trying to send signals to Hillary Clinton that it's time for her to quit her quest for president.

Leahy is quoted today on Vermont Public Radio as saying Clinton's candidacy is doomed and that at this point, she's hurting the Barack Obama's and the party's chances of capturing the White House in November. Leahy officially came out for Obama in January, but it's been obvious who he was going to back since attending an Obama fundraiser in Norwich last summer.

Here's what Leahy said today: "There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously that's a decision that only she can make. Frankly, I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate."

Leahy also said the longer the Obama-Clinton battle goes on, the more it helps the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain: "John McCain, who has been making one gaffe after another, is getting a free ride on it because Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have to fight with each other. I think that her criticism is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said. I think that's unfortunate."

Listen to VPR's interview with Leahy here: http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/79888/

The let's-rally-behind-Obama drumbeat has gotten distinctively louder in recent days.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson threw his support to Obama a week ago and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is doing so tody. Yesterday Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said he thought Obama had already won the race, for all intents and purposes.

And old friend Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in an Associated Press interview today he's worried that the increasingly personal battle between Obama and Clinton is demoralizing the Democratic base and thereby hurting the chances for victory in November.

Then again, the voters of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana haven't had a chance to have their say, and the polls show Clinton remains competitive in all three states and ahead by double digits in Pa.

So what do you think. Should Hillary get out or go on?

-- Sam Hemingway



Pollina to Carleton

The back and forth continues between Progressive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina and Democratic leadership. Here's Pollina's recent letter responding to a letter from Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton on the D's state committee decision to not to meet with Pollina -- at least not yet.

Dear Ian,

Thanks for the summary of the recent meeting of the Democratic State Committee. What I understand from you and others is there was a healthy and lengthy discussion of my request to meet with the committee and questions about how we may or may not work together to defeat Jim Douglas.

It seems the questions are much the same as those raised and answered at meetings I have had with Democrats and others around the state.

For example, local campaigns. The question as I understand it, is whether -- once supported by the Democratic Party -- I would support Progressive challengers over progressive-minded Democrats in races where both were involved. The short answer is no. More importantly, I hope the State Committee recognizes these circumstances are unlikely in the first place. For years, Progressive and Democrats have done a good job of dealing with local races (generally, I believe, without the involvement of gubernatorial candidates) and those involved are much better prepared than I to go over that history. And, as you may know, recently elected Progressives have generally had the support of local Democrats, leading me to conclude that local folks have done a good job of working these things out.

We are separate parties, but I believe our shared interests are being so badly thwarted by the current governor that cooperation is needed. I have told you and others that a strong coalition effort in the governor's race would build stronger cooperation at the local level. While I do not see my role as micro-managing local campaigns, I would certainly work to encourage this cooperation. And I cannot help but note that even at this early date there is a Democratic challenger to Progressive incumbents in Burlington. I look forward to supporting the incumbents in that race -- just so we are clear.

It is interesting to me that while the State Committee chose not to invite me at this time, these questions continue to be fodder through websites and other media. I fully appreciate that this discussion needs to take place, but I do not believe the best way to move forward is through the media, online or otherwise.

I continue to think that questions like those raised at your meeting are best resolved with a face-to-face sit down. As such, I continue to look forward to meeting with the State Committee or any of its members who are interested.

Anthony Pollina

-- Nancy Remsen



Hitchhikers' guide to the Statehouse

The oddest thing I learned today was that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie picks up hitchhikers on his way to work, or at least that he did today.

Dubie relayed the story when speaking to the crowd that had come to the Statehouse for Nick's Day, in memory of 18-year-old Nick Fournier of Swanton, who died in a car crash in November. The car Fournier was riding in was hit by an alleged drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 89.

The two dudes Dubie picked up on his way to Montpelier this morning were in want of a car because one of them had been charged last night with driving under the influence and his car was towed.

Dubie, who'd be meeting later with the Nick's Day crowd, had an easy lecture ready for them, given the reason behind the gathering at the Statehouse. "I told them that just a little bit over the limit as it translates in operating a vehicle doesn't cut it," Dubie said.

Let this be a lesson to you - if you're hitchhiking and a car with the license plate "2" pulled over to give you a ride, you better have not just violated a law that's up for discussion at the Statehouse that day. I don't think there's any pending legislation about hitchhiking.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Doyle survey results

Recogning the unscientific nature of the survey that Sen. Bill Doyle asks folks attending town meetings to fill out, the results are nevertheless interesting.

Here are the responses in percentages based on a count of 6,800 surveys. He expects eventually to tally more than 11,000.

Should drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while driving?
y: 70 %
n: 22 %
not sure: 8 %

Do you support same-sex marriage?
y: 54%
n: 37%
not sure: 7%

Should Vermont take the lead in addressing climate change?
y: 64%
n: 24%
not sure: 12%

Should Vermont lease its lottery?
y: 6%
n: 74%
not sure: 20%

Are you optimistic about Vermont's economy?
y: 33%
n: 44%
not sure: 23%

Do you support the legalization of hemp?
y: 55%
n: 32%
not sure:13%

Should jail time be removed for the possession of one ounce of marijuana?
y: 65%
n: 26%
not sure: 9%

Do you support a four-year-term for governor?
y: 62%
n: 30%
not sure: 8%

Do you support a four-year-term for legislators?
y: 43%
n: 47%
not sure: 10%

Should Vermont Yankee's license be renewed in 2012?
y: 43%
n: 30%
not sure:27%

Should the gas tax be increased to improve our roads and bridges?
y: 31%
n: 51%
not sure: 18%

Do you believe the Vermont Legislature is doing a good job?
y: 41%
n: 33%
not sure: 26%

Do you believe Gov. Douglas is doing a good job?
y: 42%
n: 38%
not sure: 20%

Presidential preferences: (these are actual counts, not percentages)
Hilary Clinton: 1419
Barack Obama: 2,708

Mike Huckabee: 274
John McCain: 1,095

Obviously, based on presidential preferences, you can get a sense of who was filling out these surveys. Still, how closely do you think these self-selected respondents reflect public opinion on each of these issues?

--Nancy Remsen



Dean's depo

Former Gov. Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, appears to be in some deep do-do with the gay-lesbian community if the outtakes from a deposition of Dean that appeared today in The Sleuth, a prominent Washington Post blog.

Dean and the DNC are being sued by Donald Hitchcock, who was the DNC's gay/lesbian outreach director until he was fired in 2006 with Dean's approval. Hitchcock claims he was shown the door because he gay and because his partner had griped publicly that the DNC hadn't done enough to oppose anti-gay ballot initiatives around the country. BTW, it appears many in the DC gay/lesbian community take issue with Hitchcock's criticism of the DNC.

In any case, a couple of weeks back Dean was deposed in connection with the case. It wasn't a pleasant experience for our sometimes short-tempered former guv.

To check out the full report in The Sleuth, click HERE, but to give you a sample of what I'm talking about, here's some back-and-forth between Dean and Hitchcock's attorney, Lynne Bernabei, after Bernabei needled Dean about why he didn't hold a public ceremony after signing Vermont's civil union bill into law in 2000.

Dean: "You don't get to put words in my mouth If you want the truth and whole truth and nothing but the truth...You have to let me answer your question."
Bernabei: "You can say anything you want. You are a politician, Mr. Dean."
Dean: "You are not behaving in a manner which is professionally competent or qualifying. You are an embarrassment to this profession, counselor."
Bernabei: "Well, it is not your profession. Thank you."
Dean: "It is my daughter's profession. I am going to show her this tape so she never behaves like this."


-- Sam Hemingway



Pollina's take

The previous posting was the D's letter to the P candidate for governor. Here's what P Anthony Pollina told me in response - that the concerns the Dems raised are the very things he'd like to talk to them about:

"As you know, I have been talking to and gaining the support
of many grassroots Democratic Party activists. I also requested a meeting with
the Democratic State Committee to discuss questions they have about how we can
work together to defeat Governor Douglas. The State Committee decided
not to have that conversation. In doing so they raised questions about how our
mutual support might work. These are exactly the kind of questions I
hoped would be discussed in the meeting they refused. And, in
fact the same questions I have answered in many other

"I would rather not carry on this conversation
through media. I continue to hope I can talk to the Democratic State
Committee in the near future. If they have questions, it would be
best to sit down and talk about them."

- Terri Hallenbeck


VDP tells Prog a thing or two

Vermont Democratic Party Chairman sent a letter this week to Progressive Anthony Pollina vis-a-vis Pollina's request to speak to the Democratic State Committee and the committee's decision to say not now, Anthony.

Here it is for your reading pleasure. I am expecting a response from Pollina but didn't want to keep you waiting.

March 19, 2008
Dear Anthony,
I write to report on the Vermont Democratic State Committee’s discussion last Saturday of your request to be placed on the agenda of one of our upcoming meetings. The Committee’s discussion of your request, which lasted well over an hour, was thoughtful, respectful, and consistently focused on the ultimate goal of finding the most viable candidate to challenge Jim Douglas in November. Ultimately,
however, the Committee decided not to place you on an upcoming agenda, but rather to revisit the issue at our June meeting.

You are, of course, already aware of the Committee’s decision, since I called your colleague Chris Pearson shortly after the meeting adjourned to let him know of the result. In the press, however, it was reported that you were “bewildered” by the State Committee’s decision. In an effort to remedy your bewilderment, let me provide some of the details of the discussion.

On the one hand, several Committee Members were of the opinion that little harm could come from simply listening to you make a case for your candidacy. There was even some discussion of trying to arrange an informal meeting with you after a subsequent State Committee Meeting. As the discussion progressed, however, a greater number of Committee Members expressed concern, in one way or another,
that you have not demonstrated a genuine interest in working with Democrats – in this election cycle or previously – sufficient to warrant having you present your candidacy to the State Party at this point in time.

Let me offer concrete examples of what some State Committee members said. Concerns expressed by the Committee included:

(1) your lack of interest in running in the Democratic primary;

(2) your apparent disinterest in our party’s formal endorsement process – a simple process, laid out in our bylaws, which I have explained to you on more than one occasion, and which was utilized with great reciprocal benefit by Bernie Sanders in 2006;

(3) your refusal to agree not to actively campaign against Democrats seeking legislative seats in this very election if Progressives are running in the same race (some opined that until Democrats see that you are willing to do for them the same that you are asking of them, you will likely experience a continued lack of enthusiasm for your candidacy);

(4) your lack of support for even progressive-minded Democrats for any state or federal offices in past elections (one committee member noted that, while you ran for office as a Democrat in the mid-80’s, there is no evidence to suggest that you have done anything to support the interests of the Party since then, but rather have consistently sought to undermine it);

and finally
(5) a few Committee Members referenced, but did not specifically discuss, the concerns that I raised in my last letter to you, i.e., your negative campaigns against Democrats in the recent past, your recent litigation against Democrats, and your public celebration with Republicans of Peter Shumlin’s defeat in the 2002 lieutenant governor’s race.

None of these concerns were raised with a tone of disrespect. They were points made as matters of fact to consider. In light of the foregoing, and especially given that you will not rule out actively working to defeat Democrats in this very election, but rather are merely hoping that Democrats will vote for you in November, there is no rush for the Party to embrace your candidacy at this juncture.

As a general principle, our Committee collectively believes that our meetings should be open to any speaker or topic. However, in this particular case, concern was expressed by several Members that you might attempt use the occasion of speaking to the State Committee to inaccurately construe it as some sort of implicit support
for your candidacy. Many believe you did this after your recent meeting with
the Barre City Democrats.

Let me return for a moment to the issue of the Democratic primary. It is still my strong belief that the Democratic Party will field a strong and highly qualified candidate for governor this year.

Therefore participation in the Democratic Primary remains an option for you,
and in my view could go a long way towards changing Democratic sentiment
towards your candidacy. Please consider once again the enormous difference in
sheer vote totals between the Progressive and Democratic primaries. While
the recent Progressive primaries have attracted substantially less than 1000
voters, Democratic primary turnout this year may well exceed 40,000. As I
have stated before, anyone who hopes to defeat Jim Douglas in November will
need the enthusiastic and unified backing of the Vermont Democrats.
These primary numbers certainly bear that out.

Unless I hear otherwise, the State Committee will revisit your request at our June meeting. As always, I am happy to discuss the governor’s race, Democratic-Progressive relations, or any other matter of political concern you may have at any

Ian Carleton
Vermont Democratic Party Chair



Mr. President ...

I was sitting in the Senate chamber today and in between much deeper thoughts was wondering why exactly is it that members have to address each other through the Senate president, rather than directly, especially right after asking said president for permission to address another member.

In other words, if Sen. X wants to ask Sen. Y a question about a bill on the floor, he has to pretend he's asking the Senate president the question and that with reflector rays, the president is beaming the question over to the other member.

Just then Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, got up and asked why was it that they had to so awkwardly ask questions of each other through the president (i.e. the lieutenant governor). He said it wasn't so during his previous stint in the Senate.

This required a brief recess while Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie consulted with Senate Secretary David Gibson.

They came back to say nice try, but that when members ask questions of each other they still have to awkwardly pretend they're talking to the Senate president, and apparently it was done incorrectly in those free-wheeling days when McCormack served previously. I believe it has something to do with affirming civility. But that Sen. McCormack is welcome to take the issue up with the Senate Rules Committee.

He apologized for taking up the time involved in answering the question, then launched in to his questioning of a fellow member, "Mr. President ... "

- Terri Hallenbeck


Good luck, Peter

Perhaps you have heard the news that fellow blogger Peter Freyne is hanging up his column writing in Seven Days. I can't say that I'm surprised. He had not looked particularly motivated in recent times.

I wish him luck in licking the depression thing, for which I have great sympathy. I also think it's great for him to come right out and say that's what's up because it is not something one should hide in shame. We all know, too, that it is not easy to stay motivated over many decades through all the changes that life brings.

Peter's heyday was before my time in the political fray here, so I will leave talk about that to others, but I will say that generally speaking the world is better off with more, not fewer, people focusing on the people's business.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Swaying votes

The housing bill is on the House floor this afternoon. Just before debate started someone mentioned to me that the debate will influence the votes of a few people. Based on the monotone, passionless speeches on the floor, this is a little hard to believe. It seems more likely that the goal, for both sides, is to numb the opposition.

The bill is said to be headed for a close vote, but to pass. There are a few people with sore arms, but no one sporting an actual cast or sling.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Support and challenge

Couple of developments in the gubernatorial front.

1. Former Gov. Phil Hoff, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the editor printed yesterday in the Free Press that he supports Progressive Anthony Pollina. It's a place many other high-profile Democrats are not willing to go. So much so that the Democratic State Committee didn't even want to hear from Pollina until they have a chance to see if a Dem is looming in the candidacy wings. Does Hoff's support carry enough weight to break the ice jam for other D's?

2. Broadsides blogger Michael Colby has paused long enough in his Iraq war protests to declare that he's taking on Pollina in the Progressive primary.

He writes:
"A Run for Governor? Hello folks, it’s semi-official. After being
approached and encouraged by many people, I am now actively considering a run
forgovernor of Vermont under the banner of the Progressive Party.


"The only declared candidate for governor in the Progressive orDemocratic
parties is Anthony Pollina, and he has been seemingly more interested in playing
footsie with the powers-that-be than offering a true alternative to them. I, on
the other hand, believe in the importance and necessity of building an
alternative base to politics as usual amongst the dominant two parties. I think
it’s important for a progressive to be in this race to offera true contrast to
the failings of the other major parties when itcomes to stopping the war,
providing health care for all, addressinge conomic inequality and celebrating
and protecting Vermont’s natural resources."

Will he have the Progs shaking in their third-party boots?

Terri Hallenbeck



Veto session

Mark your calendars now, House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, told the House late last week. The Legislature will schedule a return appearance on June 26 -- that's a Thursday -- should there be any need to override a veto.

Symington said she was giving lawmakers early notice of this date so they could keep their calendars clear or reschedule trips to Peru, Alaska or other interesting places. Why worry?

Remember last summer when several Democratic lawmakers had long-planned trips and didn't come to the veto session? The result was the House failed to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of the campaign finance bill -- by a single vote. Democratic leaders don't want a repeat of that situation.

Symington suggested lawmakers keep June 27 clear, too.

Does this foreshadow some looming political disagreements that won't be resolved with last minute compromises?

Nancy Remsen



Leno sighting

I don't want to brag, but I was on Jay Leno's show Monday. Apparently, anyway - that's what people tell me. I don't actually stay up that late anymore.

The headline over a story with my byline about Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie weighing in on the marijuana legislation came up in his Monday review of funny headlines and ads from newspapers.

Dubie takes on marijuana bill, it said.

Which is funny, of course, in an eighth-grade kind of way. I didn't write the headline. Nor did I give the man his last name.

A correction to my last post - the minority leader does have an office, as does the majority leader, down the street from the Statehouse, too far to be convenient enough for them to use. Sounds like a potential future location for the state archives.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Out of the mouths of out-of-staters

One of the coolest things about the Vermont Statehouse is its simplicity. There isn't a whole lot of spare room there, which I would venture to say is a good thing. It means there's no place to hide, and that's good for government, though it can be tough on the knees.

Today I overheard someone asking a page (the 8th-graders who spend a few weeks working in the Statehouse delivering messages) where the minority leaders' office was. Clearly an out-of-stater. The minority leader's office is his desk in the House chamber. When the House isn't in session, you can often find him there conferring with the assistant majority leader. The majority leader's office often is a table in the cafeteria or a space in the corner of the speaker's office.
Space was at a premium this morning in the Senate Economic Development Committee, where I squeezed in with about 50 people who were interested in the Abenaki recognition issue (shown here at right). If I've learned one thing after four years of traversing the Statehouse, it's how to pick a spot in a room. In this particular one, there's a lot more space at the far end than near the door, so it's worth climbing over people to find sanctuary on the other side. Get caught near the door and you likely will get caught upside the head by the door.

Based on the looks on their faces, it wasn't very comfortable for the people crammed in on that side of the room, but it's the price we pay for government that's close to the people.

The governor himself has a spacious ceremonial office, large enough to host several Scout troops at a time, but his staff has an oversized water closet. It's a wonder they can stand each other.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Pollina plan kickoff

For those of you wondering whether Anthony Pollina's lack of an official campaign announcement meant he was giving himself an out if the right Democrat came along, wonder no more.

Progressive Pollina will hold that kickoff at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Center for Technology in Essex.

"No matter where I go, people come up to me and thank me for running," Pollina said in a news release. "There is a lot of frustration with the current administration and politics as usual. Vermonters know we can do better."

Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen and dairy farmer/Irasburg Democratic Town Chairwoman Maureen Lehouillier will join Pollina on the stage.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Find your scissors

That's the message that Gov. Jim Douglas says he's sent to his staff. He explained in a letter to Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin sent Monday that he expects state revenues will be revised downward when his economic advisor and the Legislature's issue a special forecast in April.

"I have asked my administration to make contingency plans that further reduce state spending to accommodate any downturn in state revenues," he wrote to the two Democratic leaders in the Legislature. He hasn't given his staff targets yet, but those will be coming, said Jason Gibbs, Douglas spokesperson. Right now, department and agency chiefs are supposed to be thinking about where they might cut. Seems like a tough assignment until you know whether you have to take off an arm or a leg.

Any new belt-tightening would be in addition to the 150 positions that are being eliminated by July 1 and the 250 more position cuts required by July 1, 2009. And state government must cover the increased costs of wage increases without an extra appropriation.

Douglas told lawmakers he expects to accomplish all the belt-tightening without layoffs or tax increases. He's challenging Democrats to offer up their ideas to meet the current financial challenge under the same restraints -- no layoffs and no new taxes.

Democrats have rejected at least one of ideas Douglas suggested as a way to slide along the edge of any recession with the least possible impact. That's was the proposal to lease the lottery. In the coming days, it should become clear how House Democrats plan to answer the Douglas challenge -- at least in first draft. The House Appropriations Committee has to wrap up work on a budget soon.

Word in the halls at the Statehouse is that Democrats still haven't found a way through the thicket when it comes to paying for transportation projects. Senators haven't either. The Senate Institutions Committee sent out a capital bill Tuesday that deleted $4.65 million in bonding for road and bridge projects. The committee chose to cover some of the state's obligation to schools instead -- with the hope that someone in the building or the Douglas administration might still find the $4.65 million (which draws down $20 million in federal funds) under a yet-to-be identified sofa cushion before the final gavel sounds on this session.

-- Nancy Remsen



Douglas' vice chairman

Gov. Jim Douglas today expressed surprise at the situation his New York counterpart is in and called it a shame, but he did not specifically call for Eliot Spitzer to resign, though the Republican Governors Association has.

"It's a decision for him to make," Douglas said.

Douglas is chairman of the Coalition of Northeast Governors and Spitzer is his vice chairman. "This was very big surprise to me," Douglas said.

The timing of Spitzer's apparent meeting with a highly paid prostitute had Douglas' mind whirring because the the National Governors Association met around the same time in Washington, but apparently Spitzer's encounter was a week or two before that meeting. Douglas said that is most decidedly not the atmosphere surrounding governors' meetings.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Idiot's guide to politics

This from the Empire State. Not only personal and professional bad judgment, but who's throwing around that kind of money?

NEW YORK (AP) — Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the crusading politician who
built his career on rooting out corruption, has told senior advisers he was
involved in a prostitution ring, The New York Times reported Monday.
A law enforcement official tells The Associated Press
that Spitzer’s involvement in the prostitution ring was caught on a
federal wiretap.
Spitzer apologized to his family and the
public on Monday at a hastily called news conference. He did not elaborate on
the story. With his wife at his side, Spitzer told reporters that he
“acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family.”

“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” he
said. “I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”
The Times reported that a person with knowledge of
the governor’s role believes the governor is identified as a client in court
papers. Four people allegedly connected to a high-end prostitution ring called
Emperors Club VIP were arrested last week.
The Web site of the Emperors Club VIP displays photographs of
scantily clad women with their faces hidden. It also shows hourly rates
depending on whether the prostitutes were rated with one diamond, the lowest
ranking, or seven diamonds, the highest. The most highly ranked prostitutes cost
$5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.

- Terri Hallenbeck


D's for P

A group of Democrats is announcing a write-in campaign this morning to get Progressive Anthony Pollina's name on the Democratic Party line for governor.

Pollina's name will be on the Progressive Party ballot in the September primary, and you can only run in one, but he'd love to have enough write-in votes to also have his name on the Democratic line in November.

Of course, many-a-Democrat has said if Pollina wants to show he has support among Democrats he should run in the Democratic primary.

"That's what Peter Clavelle did and it didn't work," said Prog Chris Pearson, friend and political confidant to Pollina. "People know him as a Progressive and for him to suddenly run as a Democrat doesn't pass straight-face test."

If Pollina did run in the Democratic primary, that might make a Democrat or two more willing to jump into the race and take him on head-to-head in September, but the potential that this would be a three-way race in November among Republican Jim Douglas, Prog Pollina and Mystery Democrat has kept would-be candidates at bay.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Tortoise or hare

I'm sure many politically tuned-in Vermonters are surprised that we are sitting here in March without a known Democratic candidate for governor, but it indeed we are.

Peter Galbraith is, of course, considering running for governor. He has been laying low of late, however.

What should the good voters of Vermont make of that? "You're to make nothing of it," Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton said.

Yes, party officials and Galbraith have all heard from nervous Democrats who think that a candidate needs to get in there yesterday if he/she wants to have a stab at it, but there's another theory that Vermonters' attention these days is not on the governor's race, Carleton said.

To wit: Those who are paying attention to political affairs are paying attention to the Legislature. When that's done with in May, they'll turn their attention to the governor's race. That will be the time to catch the momentum.

Do you buy it? There is some logic to the notion that a quick sprint to the finish line can be more effective than a long race with lots of ebbs and flows.

Here are some other theories I've heard in recent days:

- The lack of a Democratic gubernatorial candidate means the Legislature has less power against the governor. He knows he's the cat and they can't muster a dog to chase him.

- That there is a plan B if Galbraith doesn't run. Your guess is as good as mine as to who that is. Pure speculation: If Barack Obama ends up being the Democratic presidential candidate, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin jumps into the race in hopes of coat tailing the call for change.

- That Dems will use polls such as the recent one from WCAX, which showed non-candidate Galbraith comfortably leading Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina, to persuade Pollina to yield the right of way to the Dems.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Hanging primaries

This little matter of seating delegates from Florida and Michigan could prove more divisive to the Democratic Party than any wounds Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might inflict on each other.

Clinton argues that it was a Republican-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor who moved up Florida's primaries in conflict with Democratic Party rules. So the votes should count.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean disagrees. He said today Florida and Michigan should hold new primaries, paid for by the state parties. The Associated Press reports he could have trouble getting that passed Clinton's network.

I don't see, however, how Clinton could get her scenario past the American voters.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former head of the Democratic National Committee
said Thursday it was doubtful DNC Chairman Howard Dean would be able to get
approval for a plan for do-over presidential nomination contests in Florida and
“It’ll be a hellacious battle,” said Don Fowler, a
former DNC chairman who sits on the party’s rule-making committee. Before
the primaries started, “Howard Dean had enough votes to get most everything he
wanted. Now that this thing has gone as far as it has and the lines have formed
according to candidates. I’m not sure how that vote would shake out now,” said
Fowler, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Now, everything is being viewed in terms of how it
benefits a particular candidate, not the party or the process, Fowler said.
Nonetheless, Fowler said, something has to be done, “the rules be damned”
to seat delegates from states Democrats have to and can win in the general
“All they have to do is come before us with rules
that fit into what they agreed to a year and a half ago, and then they’ll be
seated,” Dean said during a round of interviews Thursday on network and cable TV
news programs. The two state parties will have to find the funds to pay
for new contests without help from the national party, Dean said. “We
can’t afford to do that. That’s not our problem. We need our money to win the
presidential race,” he said.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Churning irony

Can't escape the layers of irony on this one:

On April Fool's Day, the state Agency of Natural Resources will hold a Vermont Organics Recycling Summit, designed to promote composting.

They are going to need to promote composting to find someone to take the waste that's now being handled at the Intervale, which the agency that is cracking down on and which has announced it will be closing.

From the news release on the event:
"It will also give participants an opportunity to learn more about this
underutilized resource, and to explore ways to increase organics recovery in
"Currently Vermont is only recycling about 7
percent of the organics being disposed, even though these materials can make up
30-50 percent of the waste stream."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Exit rants

Barack Obama has got to be loving Vermont today. If he hadn't won this state Tuesday, he would have gone 0 for 4 on March 4, and Hillary Clinton would be crowing about her big upset in Vermont as much as her wins elsewhere. Just a thought.

In any case, Obamania remained intact in the Green Mountain state. Here's some findings from exit polling done of 1,007 people in 20 selected precincts for the Associated Press, giving us some insight into wthatDemocratic primary voters people (at least the ones who submitted to being interviewed) were thinking as they left the polls in Vermont yesterday.

1. Obama won more than half the female vote.
2. Obama won 60 percent of people earning $50,000 a year or less.
3. Clinton won 40 percent of people aged 65 and older.
4. Obama won almost 66 percent of people aged 18-29, who made up 10 percent of the Democratic primary turnout.
5. Clinton won the late-breaking deciders _ people who made up their minds in the last three days - by a small margin.
6. The Iraq war and the economy tied as the number one issue for voters. No other state in the country rated the war as highly.
7. Nearly half the people who voted in the Democratic primary identified themselves as independents, and they broke heavily in Obama's favor.
8. About two-thirds of voters identified themselves as liberals and less than a third said they were moderates. Both groupings went for Obama.
9. People who said the ability to bring change to the country mostly supported Obama. People who rated experience as the top quality favored Clinton.
10. The exit pollsters were unable to gather enough interviews from Republican voters to produce a viable exit poll for Republicans.

-- Sam Hemingway


Delicate delegates

In Texas this morning, they are having the morning-after-caucus roundup to decide which candidate gets to run off into the sunset on the best horse. No, not really, they limit themselves to just the primary and the caucus (which one of the people related to me in Texas reports was fairly chaotic - something about the Clinton people running out of pens).

But this delegate-divvying business strikes me as a tad crazy. I know I said recently that I now embrace the fact that every town in Vermont conducts town meeting slightly differently from every other town, but I've not quite come around to the same feeling about the way we pick delegates who choose the leader of the free world.

In Vermont, if you want to keep track of the delegate count you'd better hope you remember some of that trigonometry because I'm pretty sure cosine is involved.

Ten delegates were directly at stake in yesterday's voting. They're divvied up by percent of vote. If it ends up 60-40 for Obama, he gets 6 delegates and Clinton gets 4. Those 10 choose five more, the presumption being they would end up 3 for Obama, 2 for Clinton (total now=9 for Obama and 6 for Clinton). Those 5 choose 1 more, who presumably would be for Obama (10-6).

Add in the state's seven super-delegates, five of whom have pledged to Obama, 1 to Clinton and Howard Dean staying neutral and you have 15-7.

Carry the one and multiple by the participle minus the barometric pressure plus Howard Dean's blood pressure and you have your final results.

Can someone explain to me what committee came up with this and why this system is better than a more direct vote-delegate link?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Election scene

So it looks like the whole Democratic primary race is only getting tighter. Hillary Clinton wins Ohio and Rhode Island. Barack Obama wins Vermont. Texas up for grabs.

As I made the rounds to parties for each of the Democratic candidates tonight, there was some talk of the need to decide this thing soon so the party can get on with healing before the general election.

House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Clinton supporter, said it was odd to have a different sign on her lawn than her neighbor has. She's used to being on the same ideological side as her neighbor.

"I think we would all like to unite," Symington said.

Of course, neither side wants their candidate to be the one to give in, but at 7:30 p.m. with the Vermont results in and the other states still pending it seemed like Clinton would be the one. A few hours later, that's changed.

Other tidbits from the day:

- Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, didn't vote in the primary. he apparently voted on local Burlington issues, but stayed neutral as he has pledged to do, on the presidential primary.
- Sen. Patrick Leahy told the Vermont Obama crowd that if the Illinois senator is elected president, they can be sure he will visit Vermont, unlike the current president. If Clinton wins, will she visit Vermont?
- Some of the people I'm related to in Texas indicated that the caucuses there were heavily for Obama. I'm not related to a wide enough sample to tell you what that means for the overall results.
- Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who supports Clinton, said Clinton's vote for the war in Iraq is the one issue that bothers her about the former first lady. "It did bother me," Kunin said, but the issue now is getting out of Iraq and she believes Clinton is serious about that.
- UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson said if this race goes to Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, Obama has the edge there. Clinton never thought it would come to Pa.

- Terri Hallenbeck


7 p.m.: Polls close

CNN heralded the 7 p.m. closing of the polls in Vermont, then spent a few nanoseconds on the results before beginning to watch the half-hour countdown to poll closings in Ohio. Based on exit polling, Barack Obama and John McCain were declared the winners here.

Exit pollings don't give us an accurate margin of victory, however. One has to wait for the actual numbers for that.

Then CNN commentator Lou Dobbs mentioned his only Vermont friends - Jeb and Susan Spaulding. Jeb, of course, is the state treasurer.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Turnout talk

It's a sure bet that Vermont Democrats will set a new record for turnout for their presidential primary today, if only because it won't take that much to crack the 21 percent previous turnout record, set four years ago.

I'm not so sure we'll break the overall turnout record of 39 percent, though. I've been checking around a few spots in the state, and its running in the 20-25 percent range so far. The words I'm getting is that turnout is "good" and "steady" but not breathtakingly heavy. As for absentee ballots, a decent number were cast, but again, no record.

Maybe there will be a burst of activity when we get close to the 7 p.m. closing time. Or maybe not. Wondering what you folks are witnessing or hearing in your neck of the woods.

-- Sam Hemingway


TX two-step, Vermont slide

Some of the people I'm related to live in Texas, which you may have heard is also holding a primary today. Like Vermont (heck, like anywhere), Texas is not a place you can paint with a broad political brush. Yes, it is the home of George W. Bush, they drive big trucks across vast acres, they wear cowboy boots and some of them are actual cowboys.

But such a big place is also filled lots of kinds of people. Just for an example, San Antonio is only an hour from Austin and the two cities are hugely different - San Antonio tends toward laid-back and conservative, Austin hip and mostly liberal.

They don't wait until the last day to do their voting there (you don't have to here either, but it sounds more common to vote early there), and one person I'm related to said the line for voting in the Democratic primary in Austin last Friday was down the block and around the bend. But there was a line for the Republican primary too. Obama and Clinton, as the polls indicate, seem to be splitting the D's votes.

Of course, Texas has to do things different, which brings us to the Texas Two-Step of voting. They can vote early and often. Along with the primary, they have caucuses tonight, where some more delegates are decided. And they call Vermont weird.

Enough about Texas, though. What are your predictions for tonight's results here in sleet-filled Vermont? By what percent? Does it get decided for Obama tonight? If Clinton regains momentum, will there be any stopping her?

- Terri Hallenbeck



The rest of the ballot

With good reason, the focus of this Town Meeting has been heavily on the presidential primary. Don't forget, as you head to the polls, about local affairs too.

If you think it's cool that your vote might actually sorta count in the presidential race, well your vote and your voice really actually sorta counts in the matters of local government too. You want to protest the cemetery commission budget, as some in Isle La Motte do? Well, this is your chance. You want to know what the deal is with all those potholes? You go for it. Care what happens to the waterfront in Burlington? Cast your ballot.

For several years of my employment hear at the Freeps it was my job to coordinate town meeting coverage. One of the great joys of my life is that I don't do that anymore. It was like herding poisonous snakes. Every town does things differently. Some vote by ballot, some by show of hands. Some vote at the open meeting, some by day-long voting, some in a mixture of the two.

It is not easy to wrap all that up in a neat bun to put in the newspaper, but I've had a few years to step back away from worrying about that. Now I think the fact that every town does it differently is pretty cool. Chaotic, but cool. Just have mercy on the poor people whose job it is to wrap the results up neatly in the newspaper.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Privately involved

Sen. Bernie Sanders won't be coming out for either of the Democratic presidential candidates who face off in Vermont (and some other less important states) tomorrow. He's an independent, he declared, so he won't be stepping into the Democrats' decision, though he will be campaigning heavily for the Democrat in the general election.

He will, however, be voting in the Democratic primary, he said today. "Of course I'm going to vote," he said. Is that not a party event too? Sanders shrugged that off.

Publicly he's not getting involved, but in the privacy of the ballot he is. Wouldn't say which one he'd be voting for. I would say the odds are huge that he is checking off the box next to Obama's name.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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