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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Show you the money

So here is the money picture for the top race:

Douglas: Raised $737,596, spent $388,000.

Symington: Raised $205,309, spent $71,000.

Pollina: Raised $166,201, spent $143,000.

That Pollina has spent most of his money is likely a problem for him, particularly given how little Symington has spent.

- Terri Hallenbeck


It's money day

The calculators are busy in all the campaign offices this morning. They are adding up those contributions and checking their math before filing their campaigning contribution and spending reports by 5 p.m. with the Secretary of State.

This could be telling concerning the viability of some candidates -- although it's early and there's plenty of time for a later surge.

Money matters, as a sign of support and as a tool to help get out a message. But just how much discretionary money do Vermonters have this year -- with worries about winter heating costs and driving expenses? Will that take a bite out of campaign contributions?

Any guesses as to which candidate will have raised the most? My prediction, without hesitation is Douglas.

Nancy Remsen



The countdown

The Vermont Democratic Party has launched a Web site with a day-by-day countdown over the next 100 days of "Jim Douglas' real record."

The entries so far:

100. Under Jim Douglas' failed leadership, the gap between rich and poor is growing faster in Vermont that any other state but one. (Vermont Housing and Finance Agency)

99. Under Jim Douglas' failed leadership, 35 percent of Vermont's 2,700 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete -- that's eighth worst in the nation. (Federal Highway Administration)

98. Douglas' so-called "Comprehensive Energy Plan" mentions the potential risks associated with radiation from Vermont Yankee only once. In a footnote. (DPS Energy Plan 2009, p.69)

97. Under Jim Douglas' failed leadership, good jobs are leaving the state: Vermont has lost 2,800 high paying jobs in the manufacturing sector since Douglas took office, a 7.3 percent drop. (Vermont Economic & Labor Market Information).

You can catch it HERE.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Campaign mis-speakings

The governor's political opponents were quick to jump on the notion that the state was going to charge the Vermont State Employees Association $1,700 for looking through public records related to state job cuts.

Maybe too quick on the part of the Symington campaign.

Tuesday, the campaign sent out a release criticizing the charge, suggesting the state should have the requested information handy. It said, in part, "itʼs difficult to imagine that the Douglas administration would not have already compiled a list of the job cuts."

It wasn't a list of the job cuts that the VSEA was looking for, however. The union has that. What it wanted was written exchanges among state officials related to the job cuts to see what was behind the decision to cut specific jobs.

A day earlier, the Symington campaign sent out a release with some odd math related to the state's job growth. The campaign claimed that Vermont was projecting the slowest job growth rate in New England. Rhode Island, which lost jobs, didn't count in the rankings, the reasoning went, because the state didn't have job growth.

The release asked: "The question is, do you include a state that lost jobs in a comparison about job growth?"

The answer should have been yes, you do.

Quite separately, I assure you, Douglas campaign manager Dennise Casey and I came to the same analogy. She used the National League. I'm more of an American League kind of person. Under the Symington campaign theory, the reasoning goes like this: The Toronto Blue Jays are the last-place team in the A.L. East among those with at least a .500 record. My Baltimore Orioles, playing below .500, don't count. As an O's fan, you don't have to tell me that, but technically they're still in the standings. Even bad teams are still teams.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Rep. Hutchinson dies

Rep. Jim Hutchinson, a two-term Democrat from Randolph, has died. He was found dead yesterday in his home, fellow Rep. Patsy French said. He was a week shy of his 61st birthday.

Hutchinson, a big man with a big beard and booming voice, also served on the Selectboard in his native Randolph. He served on the Appropriations Committee in the Legislature.

"He was a wonderful person," said French, who knew him for many years and whose husband grew up with Hutchinson. The retired construction manager, who had worked as a crane operator, was a natural for local civic involvement, she said. "He loved being in contact with people, talking with constituents."

He had planned to run for re-election, filing his candidacy by last week's deadline.

House Speaker Gaye Symington said of Hutchinson:

"His booming voice never left anyone wondering where he stood, either in
principle on an issue, or in location in the House. His easy and deep
laugh must have made him a ready stand-in if Santa got way-laid on his travels
to rural Vermont.

"On behalf of the entire House, I send my deepest regrets to Jim's wife,
Leslie, and their family. I know his colleagues in the House will miss Jim
tremendously. Randolph has lost a true leader and voice of common sense
and integrity. Vermont is a wiser and kinder place because of his

- Terri Hallenbeck



The view from Severance Corners

It took you a few tries, but y'all finally came up with some worthwhile questions. Nice work.

While you were doing that, two of our election combatants have been going at it today. Gov. Jim Douglas used the setting of a new development at Severance Corners in Colchester to point out the ways in which he believes Democrat Gaye Symington is anti-business.

Then she pointed out that he's been governor for six years, so if business isn't booming in Vermont, he ought to take the blame.

Douglas, in his comments, didn't mention independent (Progressive) Anthony Pollina a single time, but he quite pointedly used Symington's name about a dozen times. Odd, I thought. Usually an incumbent doesn't want to help a challenger with name recognition.

On the scene for Douglas' event were former Rep. Malcolm Severance and his wife, Gladys. The field where he used to grow corn is now sprouting condos. Quite a change, he acknowledged.

He's hoping, though, that the project will become a modern-day version of the old New England village. Holding onto prime land smack in the middle of the area Colchester designated for growth wasn't an option either, he said.

Severance, who's been out of the leggie for a term now, had some observations about that scene too. Things are better when the House and Senate are controlled by different parties, he said. He doesn't see that happening in 2009, though, and he conceded his Republican Party could lose a few seats.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Ask it

How about a single question that could be asked off all the gubernatorial candidates?



Questions, please

Time was when newspapers were solely this thing that plopped on your doorstep in the morning to become your breakfast companion. We're still that thing, but we're so much more.

Thus, as we propel into the 2008 election season, we here at the Freeps will haul out of the video camera, take moving-pictures of some of the candidates, record their voices and post it on our Web site for your benefit. Yes, you'll still get the written word, but you'll also have the voice and mannerisms to go with it.

The video will be there throughout the campaign, so two months from now, when your neighbor wakes up and realizes there's an election going on, he'll be able to check out said video too.

We'll start with the governor's race, asking candidates a few questions on key topics. I have plenty of questions I can ask, but because we're open to hearing from all kinds, we thought we'd offer you the opportunity to suggest a question too.

Try to keep it fairly contained, clean and well-meaning. Have at it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The picture

Looking over the candidate filings across the state (which you can peruse here, some morsels for thought:

House members not seeking re-election (that's 12 Democrats and 3 Republicans):
Peter Hunt (D) of Essex Junction, now serving as Gaye Symington’s campaign driver
Gaye Symington (D) of Jericho, now running for governor
Mary Peterson (D) of Williston
Denise Barnard (D) of Richmond, running for Senate instead
Don Bostic (R) of St. J
Steve Larrabee (R) of West Danville
Jim Fitzgerald (D) of St. Albans
Avis Gervais (D) of Enosburg
Kathy Lavoie (R) of Swanton
Al Perry (D) of Richford
Gail Fallar (D) of Tinmouth
Harry Chen (D) of Mendon
Harry Monti (D) of Barre
Robert Dostis (D) of Waterbury
Hilde Ojibway (D) of Hartford

Darryl Pillsbury of Brattleboro has said he’s not running again, but as an independent he would have to file yet anyway.
Republicans Tom Depoy and David Allaire of Rutland will try to win back the seats they lost two years ago, as will Progressive Winston Dowland of Derby Line.
Ron Allard of St. Albans, a Democrat who irritated the Democrats by siding with the governor on vetoes, will indeed have Democratic challengers as promised.
Senate members not running:
Jim Condos (D) of Chittenden
George Coppenrath (R) of Caledonia

That's the way it looks, pending write-ins and independents and the like.

- Terri Hallenbeck



So the Progs biggest fish decided to swim in a different pond. What, folks, does this mean to the Progressive Party?

Martha Abbott sat there and said she's on board with what Anthony Pollina is doing. So were Reps. David Zuckerman and Sandy Haas.

Should they be?

- Terri Hallenbeck




So who won the debate, you ask? It's not that simple. It rarely is.

Nobody lost, I would say. Nobody bumbled, stumbled or fell. Nor did anybody put the others away with the finest shot ever. They all took their turns at not answering the question. I think they all agreed that Vermont should keep its forests. How? Well, by really meaning to.

Pollina's supporters were the loudest, which I think comes down to two things. They were more apt to disregard the rules against cheering and Pollina is a more fiery speaker than the others.

Douglas, though not in friendly territory (American Flatbread owner George Schenk acknowledged upfront that he is left of center but that right of center people should feel welcome on the property), did not act overly defensive.

Mostly, all three stayed with what they've said in the past.

With the possible exception of Douglas saying he thought that while waiting to see if Vermont Yankee is safe enough to continue operating, the state should be developing renewable energy.

Though his opponents had hit on him prior to that for relying too much on nuclear power, they didn't pounce on that statement like I thought they might. They might have been expected to use the moment to say he hasn't embraced renewables with sufficient fervor before this.

Pollina went at Douglas over local products purchased by the state, challenging Douglas' claim that 80-something percent of commodities are local. Just because they're delivered by a local company doesn't mean they're local, Pollina countered.

I don't know if Symington really meant that she ate only home-grown raspberries all day, but if anybody saw any of the candidates chowing Cheetos or some other clearly un-local and unhealthy product, please let me know, because none of them were fessing up.

- TH



In closing, Symington said there are real differences among the candidates. Douglas, she said, stands in the way, sees environment as obstacle.

Pollina urged the crowd to be courageous and vote for real change.

Douglas said that indeed there are differences among the candidates. They want government to do more, he wants government to be at people's sides, not on their backs.

- TH



One in seven Vermonters experience hunger. State's role?

JD: Grow an extra row and contribute to food shelf. Restarted Commission on Hunger.

GS: Grow extra row = short-term. Need long-term thinking such as breaking reliance on petrouleum-based products.

AP: Create jobs and hunger goes away..

- TH


In the woods

Climate change. Making goal of maintaining forests a reality.

AP: Let's maintain those resources. To be productive, need to invest in value-added products.

JD: Vermont Climate Collaborative will pursue all the ideas climate change commission came up with. Vermonters will have greater access to forests for fuel for this winter.

GS: Vermont's forests define the name of our state. Legislature has led by embedding current use into ta policy - taxing forest and farmland at its current use.

- TH


On the genetic farm

Rain has stopped. Makes hearing easier.

Genetic safety of crops:

GS: Legislature passed with Douglas administration farmer protection bill, which Douglas vetoed.

AP: Time to declare independence from industrial ag. (His people keep cheering and being excoriated by David Moats)

JD: Two sides to GMO debate. I don't want to pit farmer against farmer. That's why I rejected that bill.

- TH


Compost happens

Compost happens at a Vermont political debate.

Anthony Pollina questioned the state's willingness to let Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant crumble while shutting down Vermont Compost Co. in Montpelier/

Gaye Symington jumped in, saying she would work regardless of political affiliation to facilitate composting.

Jim Douglas piled on, saying everybody has to adhere to environmental standards.

Underlying the thread is the fact that Symington worked until January at the Intervale Center, which was the first composter to fall in state trouble.

- TH



First chance she had to rebut statements made, Gaye Symington took Jim Douglas on over the housing bill that passed last session.

His proposal wouldn't focus growth in village centers, she charged. Nor would the houses it fostered be affordable to middle class Vermonters, if 15 percent could be sold for $275,000, as proposed, she said.

Douglas fought back at his next chance, calling the legislature's choice as not New Neighborhoods but No Neighborhoods.

- TH



House Speaker Gaye Symington started the opening statements, the order based on flip of the coin.

The rain came down harder than ever. It wasn't easy to hear.

Symington focused on her background of connecting people with their food, starting with the bakery she opened as a young college graduate.

Anthony Pollina focused on his grassroots background, creating Rural Vermont, running VPIRG, working with farmers.

Jim Douglas pointed to his efforts to work with the Localvore movement.

- TH



The pavilion, by the way, is packed. People are even standing outside the covering in the rain.

- TH


Diamondstone in the rough

Little bit of a delay in starting the debate as Liberty Union candidate Peter Diamondstone sat on one of the three stools reserved for the debaters.

He accused the nonprofit Vermont Natural Resources Council of violating his civil rights by choosing the other parties over his.

"I'm going to ask you to please stand up," a state trooper told Diamondstone.

"I'm not going to get off the stage," he responded.

Finally, the trooper physically removed Diamondstone. "Am I being arrested?" he called as he was led out of the pavilion.

VNRC spokesman Jake Brown said Diamondstone wasn't invited because the other three parties were seen as more "in the political game in Vermont."

- TH



The VNRC meeting's over. Debate to start soon.

- TH


Live, from Waitsfield

We're here and connected. The rain just won't stop, so the event's been moved over to a pavilion rather than the lawn. If it rains any louder we won't be able to hear the pols.

WiFi works on one side of the pavilion but not the other, but it works.

VNRC is holding its meeting ahead of the debate. Some legislators are being honored: Rep. David Deen and Diane Snelling for their groundwater work.

- TH


Debate: Live right here

Here's the theory:

Provided that the back lawn of the Inn at Lareau Farm in Waitsfield has not washed away with the torrent of rain and provided that the WiFi waves cooperate, we will be live-blogging the gubernatorial debate tonight right here at vt.Buzz.

This means that you get to sit in the comfort of your home while I wade through the monsoon. The monsoon of rain or the monsoon of political rhetoric, you ask? Both, I suspect.

Just to put you at the edge of your seat, I will remind you that this is the first meeting of the campaign for Republican incumbent Jim Douglas, Democrat Gaye Symington and Progressive Anthony Pollina.

Our first chance to see what points they will be most eager to make. First chance to see how much ammo they'll come out firing. First chance to see the real flavor of the race up close.

Off the top of my head, I would say that if Douglas were picking the venue and the topic for the first debate this would not be what he'd choose. The topic is environment. The event is the annual meeting of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a group that has challenged the Douglas administration over it environmental enforcement and the boundaries of Williston's growth center, among other issues.

So will Douglas be on the defensive?

Will the relative rookie status of the other candidates show on the debate stage?

Better plan your evening accordingly. Debate is scheduled for 5:30-7:15 p.m. tonight.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Who's running?

Don't look for a Republican candidate to file papers to fun against Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. on Monday. Tayt Brooks, new executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, said it would be unlikely someone would be recruited over the weekend to fill that slot on the ballot.

There will be other vacancies on the statewide Republican ticket as of Monday: treasurer and auditor, Brooks said.

Karen Kerin will run again for attorney general. She ran in 2006, but was bumped out in a Republican primary by Dennis Carver -- who went on to lose to Democratic incumbent Bill Sorrell.

The new Republican face on the statewide ballot will be Eugene Bifano of Warren. Brooks said Bifano would challenge Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, the Democratic incumbent.

We know that two Democrats will turn in papers to run for lieutenant governor -- Nate Freeman and Tom Costello -- setting up a primary to decide which will face Republican incumbent Brian Dubie. Costello and Freeman will have a fun August.

Will there be any surprises on the statewide ticket? We'll have to wait to Monday evening to find out.

-- Nancy Remsen



Push poll buzz

It's only July, for heaven's sake, but already there's talk about a push poll. The candidates aren't even official yet. (That occurs Monday for major party candidates)

A couple of people have posted to blogs that they received telephone calls last weekend that they judged to be promoting one gubernatorial candidate over another. Assistant House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson also asserted in a published column that a push poll had taken place. These various account report that push was against House Speaker Gaye Symington, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and toward Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, who is running for re-election.

"The governor has never and will never push poll," said Dennise Casey, Douglas' campaign manager. "He doesn't believe that this tactic has a place in Vermont politics."

Eric Davis, who recently retired from the political science department at Middlebury College, has followed the buzz. "I would say there probably was some calling going on. I don't think these bloggers made it up."

Was it a push poll? Who paid for it? Both unknowns, Davis said.

What is a push poll? Davis defined it as a coordinated sometime automated calling effort designed to spread less than complete or biased information about a candidate. It is used to spread information rather than do public opinion research.

Push polls are sometimes conducted by unaffiliated partisan groups without the knowledge of a candidate, but could be perceived as advancing the cause of the candidate.

Will we ever know what really took place last weekend?

-- Nancy Remsen


Douglas moves up NGA ladder

This just in. Gov. Jim Douglas is now vice chairman of the National Governors Association. That means next year -- I assume only if he is re-elected -- he would become chairman.

It seems the NGA alternates between an R and a D and this year's new chairman is Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania. He's a Democrat.

If Douglas gets the chance to move to the top NGA job, he would join a roster that includes Gov. Howard Dean (1994-5) and Gov. Richard Snelling (1981-2).

So I wonder what he will make as his focus for the year. The gov at the top gets to pick a topic. Any suggestions?

-- Nancy Remsen



Crowded stage

My goodness, the political stage got crowded today.

First a couple of Democratic Senate leaders -- Peter Shumlin and Dick Sears -- stood with Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Assistant Senate Republican Leader Kevin Mullin to announce their plans for a six-week examination of past, present and future sex offender legislation. The goal would be to come up with some remedies for consideration in a special session or next January.

Dubie, by the way, joined the group as a show of unity, he said, even though Monday he had called for speedier action. That's when he urged Gov. Jim Douglas to call a special session in 30 days. Dubie praised the list of issues that Sears and Shumlin said would be addressed during the special meetings of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Then at dinner time, the governor jumps on the stage. He says he supports calling a special session soon and supports a more deliberative process, too.

His message also suggested some people (left unnamed) were grandstanding! in response to the death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett.

About the only person who didn't try to squeeze into the limelight Tuesday was House Speaker Gaye Symington. She had said Monday that since she's challenging Douglas in this year's race for governor, her involvement would create a political distraction to whatever work was going on. She opted to leave it to the Senate to take the lead for the Legislature.

Now the dynamics have changed. Douglas wants to meet with Shumlin, Symington and others to discuss a possible special session. Hard to see how folks will navigate the issues that Douglas plans to put on the table without partisan politics rearing its ugly head, but we'll see.

I thought some of you might enjoy the governor's statement. Since I don't see it on his Web site, I've copied it below.

Nancy Remsen

Gov. Jim Douglas's official statement on a special session and Senate hearing on safe communities legislation:

As public servants, our most important responsibility is to protect the most vulnerable among us from harm. Children represent our greatest hope for a better tomorrow and it is heart-wrenching for all of us when we are confronted with cases of abuse – especially sexual abuse against children.

There has been a great deal of talk, finger-pointing and grandstanding in recent days regarding the tragedy of Brooke Bennett’s death. This does nothing to serve Brooke’s memory. This does nothing to address the failures of that particular case and, more importantly, it does nothing to protect children all across our state who deserve to grow up in a safe and loving community.

We must remember that the ultimate responsibility of Brooke’s tragedy lies with the person or persons who ended her life. As a society, our responsibility is to ensure that we do everything possible to prevent future victims.

This isn’t about one community or one case; this is about every child and every community in our state. I will not rest until I can look every parent in the eye with the confidence that we have done everything possible to give parents the tools they need to protect their children.

Last week, I called for an immediate and aggressive internal investigation surrounding a probation officer’s 2004 recommendation that a judge grant Michael Jacques an early discharge from probation. Both the position of the probation officer and decision of the judge in that case couldn’t have been more wrong. I have demanded an overhaul of the department’s policies and practices to ensure that no judge can irresponsibly use the misguided recommendation of a probation officer to release a repeat sex offender from probation.

While that investigation is underway, and until a full report is issued by the Department, I have ordered that under no circumstances will a probation or parole officer or any other individual, department or agency support the early release of any sex offender before they have served their maximum sentence.

Additionally, I have asked Corrections to work closely with Senator Dick Sears and his committee to explore judicial and corrections improvements to protect Vermonters. The department has worked closely with Senator Sears in the past and Vermonters expect that he will conduct his review with the same objectivity and thoughtfulness that have characterized his prior efforts.

In order to effect positive change at every level, we must thoroughly examine judicial decision-making in these types of violent sexual cases to ensure that dangerous sexual predators are never again released before serving their maximum sentence. To that end, I expect the judiciary to conduct a similar review to ensure that missteps are not repeated by judges in future cases.

Now we must look to the future – to steps we can take today to strengthen Vermont’s sex offender laws in every way possible. We must not put off action on those changes we can make immediately. I stand ready to call a special session of the Legislature to pass civil confinement, an expanded sex offender registry and a Vermont-style Jessica’s Law to enhance mandatory minimums. These proposals have already been deliberated at length and do not require additional testimony.

I have reached out to the offices of the Speaker and President Pro Tem to request a meeting with them, the minority leaders and the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to urge them to support a one day special session for the sole purpose of considering these proposals. I would ask them to return for one day to give an up or down vote on these important reforms.

In the coming months, my administration will be an active participant in Senator Sears’ hearings and will work with him to advance a comprehensive package of reforms when the Legislature returns in January. I hope the Legislature will join with me in the same spirit of bi-partisanship to take immediate action in a one day special session to pass civil confinement, an expanded sex offender registry and a Jessica’s Law to enhance mandatory minimums.

Children trust adults. That bond is the basis for every healthy successful family and community. When that trust is broken and is used to harm a single child, the fabric of our community is torn. It is our responsibility to join together to take action that reassures the parents, families, and communities that we are doing everything possible to protect Vermont’s children.



The politics of tragedy

Politicians walk on quicksand whenever there is a tragedy. As people charged with public duties by virtue of elected office, they have must respond. But in an election year, how they respond matters to their political future.

Now I'm not saying politics is the motivation for any of the actions I will list below. I'll leave that to all of you. I simply want to point out a lot of political quicksand.

We'll start with Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Republican, who is running for his fourth term. He held a news conference (Monday) to suggest that Gov. Jim Douglas -- a Republican running for re-election -- should call a special legislative session in 30 days. The focus would be reforms to the state's sex offender laws.

Now Dubie and Douglas agree essentially that some tougher measures should be on the books and they haven't been happy that the Legislature disagreed. Those measures include a Jessica's Law that would put convicted sex offenders behind bars for at least 25 years, and a civil confinement statute that would let the state hang on to people considered threats -- even after they have served their sentences.

Here's the political quicksand. Dubie favors urgent action and has put his political running mate in a bit of an awkward position near some quicksand. Douglas already said he wouldn't call a special session unless Democratic legislative leaders were ready to consider bills such as civil confinement.

By the way, since Douglas was out of state this weekend, Dubie was in charge and could have walked into quicksand by called a special session himself.

Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin has recognized the quicksand of inaction as a response to the death of Brooke Bennett. He has called news conference for Tuesday so he and Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, can outline a plan of action. They aren't saying a special session is necessary -- yet, but they are promising public hearings and an investigation into how the state could strengthen its laws on sex crimes.

House Speaker Gaye Symington, who would like to unseat Douglas this fall, has argued that it's premature to focus on new laws until it's clear why existing laws failed in the Brooke Bennett case. She has used strong language to suggest the Douglas administration failed here and now is responding with a weak look-back.

Symington said an independent investigation is needed -- but she recognized the political quicksand of having the House Judiciary Committee look into the matter. She said. "I don't want my status as a candidate for governor to be a distraction in this process." She decided she won't convene the House panel, but leave the investigation to the Senate.

The question going forward is whether this tragedy will become a political football or whether the politicians can find the high ground.

-- Nancy Remsen



The purchase not made

This is a story of a purchase not made during Vermont's sales-tax holiday this weekend.

There was a couple that decided this winter to spruce up their living room and kitchen, which were feeling the dinginess of an aging paint job. It seemed like a big job, but the couple told themselves that when all this hard work was done, they would reward themselves with a new dining room hutch that would help make the whole place look even spiffier.

As they looked more closely at the work at hand, they decided that before painting they really needed to fix the peeling joint tape on a couple of the walls. And when I say they, I mean one member of the couple decided this while the other offered his sincerest moral support.

Despite the fact that this couple has no experience at such work and no indication of any skill at it, they decided to muddy the joints themselves. And when I say they, I mean one member of the couple decided this while the other offered his sincerest moral support.

A great quantity of weekends passed that involved buying spackling knives and buckets of goop before the new joint tape and artlessly applying them to the wall and ceiling. All the while, the reward of a new hutch dangled.

The couple finally sent about painting the walls and ceilings. Many more weekends went by and the couple grew resentful of the fact that the living room and kitchen were in perpetual disarray. But there was a new hutch to look forward to.

Meanwhile, the federal government promised to send money that would pay for the new hutch they had in mind.

Then the state government promised a tax-free holiday that would make hutch even cheaper. Never mind that when considering the cost of the hutch, the couple never really thought about how much the tax would be.

The couple finally finished painting the walls and restoring some order to the disarray. Though one member of the couple can't help but see every flaw, especially on the muddying job she did, and both members of the couple aren't sure that the colors they used were quite what they intended, the rooms really did look better.

By this time, though, when the couple thought about buying the hutch, they couldn't help but think about how much the economy was tanking all around them. The price of oil, the price of cheese, the disappearing jobs. Somehow buying a hutch didn't seem like such a good idea.

They started thinking about how they'd done just fine without the hutch all these years. They noticed how other people's hutches, which were probably once the source of great pride, were now jammed full of stuff. And even though the federal government and the state government were offering to help, the couple figured they would save even more money by not buying the hutch at all.

Plus, the kitchen looks pretty darn spiffy without the hutch, what with the new paint job.

That's the story of why one couple was not at the store this weekend spending their federal money and taking advantage of the state sales-tax holiday.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Tree bending

The news that Vermont Tubbs will be closing its Brandon plant is, as you can imagine, causing a furor on the campaign trail.

Immediately, Democratic Coordinated Campaign Director Kristina Althoff fired off an e-mail, charging Republican Gov. Jim Douglas with a failure to deliver well-paying jobs. She also accused him of wasting a half-million dollars in state money on the company.

That wasn't true, however. The state did approve a community development grant for Tubbs in February, but Tubbs never completed the process to receive the money, said David Mace, spokesman for the state Agency of Commerce and Development.

Althoff was unabated. Today, the Democratic Party posted a video on YouTube blaming Douglas for announcing a $500,000 grant in an April 15 news release that never ended up reaching its destination.

Althoff's new statement: "Jim Douglas needs to explain why he misled Vermonters that he was giving $500,000 to help Vermont Tubbs when in fact he never delivered on that commitment."

One does wonder why Douglas highlighted a grant that wasn't a done deal, but to say that he never delivered on the commitment? Did anybody really want the state to insist that a company take the money? You have to figure that at that point Tubbs execs were already calling the movers to arrange the move out of town.

Don't be surprised, too, if somewhere along the way Douglas puts the blame for these job departures on the Legislature. If only the state were more affordable ...

So it is with the election season. Some healthy questions are raised. For some points, the truth is bent farther than a palm tree in a hurricane. The finger-pointing is alternately a healthy piece of democracy at work and a destructive turnoff to voters. There's a fine line between the two.

- Terri Hallenbeck



No more pens and pads

Got an email first thing this morning from PhRMA, the association for the drug manufacturers. It follows stories that have appeared this week about the annual report on spending by drug companies on marketing and education -- money paid primarily to Vermont doctors. Drug manufacturers spent $3.1 million in Vermont during a 12-month period that ended a year ago. That doesn't count free samples, drug rebates or scholarships to educational programs.

Anyway, the email declared that PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) had revised its "code on interactions with health care professionals." The new code takes effect in January.

PhRMA doesn't like Vermont's disclosure law. Ken Johnson, senior vice president, said in a statement issued earlier in the week that it discouraged important interaction between doctors and pharmaceutical representatives -- collaboration and education. This morning's email elaborates on his argument. "Providing physicians with up-to-date, accurate information about the medicines they prescribe clearly improves patient care and advances health care in general. Pharmaceutical research companies that discover and develop new medicines are the most knowledgeable about their products and are in the best position to inform health care professional about a wide range of topics related to these medicines, including new treatment options, appropriate dosing, emerging safety development and potential interactions with other drugs."

Ken Libertoff, executive director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health, worries that drug companies promote sales to enhance the bottom line more than educate. That's why he objects to doctors taking drug money and is calling for a statewide weaning -- by individual docs, hospitals, the medical school, and advocacy groups. His own organization went cold turkey a year ago. The Vermont Medical Society takes no drug dollars and neither does the Vermont Psychiatric Association -- but Vermont doctors do accept the dollars.

So in the wake of stories about the increasing amount of money being spent in Vermont on "marketing" and Libertoff's call to "just say no," PhRMA sends this email with its new responsible marketing guidelines.

1. No more promotional items such as pens, mugs and other "reminder objects" with company logos. Such items, although of minimal value, "may foster misperceptions that company interactions with health care professional are not based on informing them about medical and scientific issues."
2. No more free lunch, meaning no restaurant meals, but companies can help pay for occasional meals at the offices of health professionals in conjunction with informational presentations. Further, the code says companies shouldn't provide any entertainment or recreational benefits to health care professionals.
3. Companies are supposed to ensure their staff know the rules of ethical conduct and PhRMA suggests they check up periodically.
4. PhRMA asks companies to promise to abide by the code and have their top officials certify each year that they are.

My, the times they are a changin'.

Libertoff called the drug companies giants, but it looks like people like him and Vermont's disclosure law have put some pebbles in the giants' shoes. The last line of PhRMA's email identifies the "blister" that's developing. The changes in the code and the drug companies' "acceptance" of proposed federal legislation shining a light on physician payments "reflect PhRMA's position that appropriate transparency in relationships with health care professionals can help build and maintain patient trust in the health care system." There is it -- the looming problem -- patient or public trust.

So, is Libertoff right? Should docs swear off all drug company dollars?Or is the PhRMA spokesman right that who better to talk about a drug than a representative of the company who developed it? Or a local doctor who has had some experience with a medication? (hence the speaker fee)

-- Nancy Remsen



Wanna run?

Just 12 shopping days left for the state's major political parties. Who are they shopping for? Candidates.

We've discussed the top of the ticket here several times. Some parties -- Republicans and Progressives -- will have empty slots up top of the ballots.

The hustle going on now, however, is to fill as much of the dance card for the House and Senate.

Assistant House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease, D-Johnson, predicts his party will field candidates in 130 of the 150 House contests. He called that impressive. "It's fun talking to people who are excited about serving."

Democrats had about a dozen legislators retire. (Here's a few: Chen of Mendon, Dostis of Waterbury, Fallar of Tinmouth, Fitzgerald of St. Albans, Gervais of Enosburg Falls, Monti of Barre, Peterson of Williston, and Symington of Jericho) Nease said Democrats had been recruited to run for all those seats. There are other places where Democrats believe a candidate could successfully challenge -- if only they could find a willing candidate. Nease expected last ditch appeals would go out soon for those spots.

The Vermont Republican Party issued its invitation today with a mass email entitled "Vermont Needs You." The message is, 'If you ever thought of running for public office, NOW is the time to contact us."

Republicans had fewer retirees/departures. They include: Bostic of St. Johnsbury, Lavoie of Swanton, Larrabee of Danville and in the Senate, Coppenrath of Caledonia. The party had four seats filled during the recently completed two-year term due to death and resignation, so those "incumbents" would be running for the first time. The previously elected seat-holders were Sunderland of Rutland, Shaw of Derby, Clark of St. Johnsbury and Hudson of Lyndon.

Party Chairman Rob Roper said the Republican slate is shaping up well, "but we are still looking for some people in Windham and Chittenden counties."

Over at the Progressive Party, Executive Director Morgan Daybell predicted his party would field at least a dozen House candidates. His goal is to have 14 because if all were elected, then there could be a Progressive legislator on every House committee. "That is the next benchmark for us," Daybell said.

Like his counterparts -- those in the Democratic and Republican parties charged with recruiting candidates, Daybell said he'll be trying over the next week and a half to persuade a few more candidates to take the plunge.

Some time after July 21, when petitions are due, we will get a sense of the power struggle that will play out this fall for control of the Legislature.

-- Nancy Remsen



It's Jack the Villain

Just back from a week's vacation. Very little thinking went on during this time, but I did gain some insight on the whole gas-price issue that I thought I'd share with you.

This insight came during the evening entertainment at our extended-family gathering. Every year when we get together, the young nieces and nephews stage a skit, or series of skits, featuring Jack the Villain, a nefarious and shady character with a paper pig named Piggy for a sidekick who is forever escaping the clutches of a team of spies.

Jack the Villain happens to be played by my husband, who is otherwise not nefarious or shady but does have a fondness for bacon.

Ever a topical theater company, one of the skits this year was titled, "The Mystery of the Gas Prices." In it, Jack travels to the United Arab Emirates to take charge of the world oil market. His first action upon taking control: to raise the prices.

It's as good an explanation as any I've heard. And no, the spies were not able to detain him.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Costello is running

Tom Costello will run for lieutenant governor. That means a Democratic primary unless Costello or Nate Freeman change their minds before July 21.

There was a primary in 2006, too. Matt Dunne vs. John Tracy. Dunne won the primary but lost the race.

So is a primary a good idea for this race? Neither candidate has statewide name recognition so a little competition might help that. Will either have any money and therefore any money left to face off against Republican incumbent Brian Dubie?

All that will become clear in the coming weeks.

-- Nancy Remsen



Could it be?

Could it be that Democrats will have two candidates running for lieutenant governor come July 21 -- after the rollercoaster ride of recent months? That would mean a PRIMARY.

We know Nate Freeman of Northfield is in. He's the guy who runs an upholstery business and is a single parent to two young daughters. He said he watched from the political sidelines this year until he could watch no more. You might see him at some public events this weekend.

Tom Costello, Brattleboro lawyer and former legislator, is just days away from deciding. He said his law office is OK with his running and his family has given him the nod, too. Now he has to decide whether this is the right time and the right office.

Progressives don't expect anyone to take the plunge -- although Morgan Daybell said there have been conversations.

Brian Dubie, the three-term Republican incumbent, is the guy that Freeman/Costello? will face come November.

Stay tuned. (Shouldn't there be an updated version of this expression for blogs. Tuning, of course, refers to radio. Stay online? Stay connected?)

-- Nancy Remsen



Where there are flags and crowds this weekend, you will find candidates and political surrogates.

The Jim Douglas campaign boasts that no other campaign will work harder over the Independence Day weekend to be seen.

"Throughout his career in public service, Governor Douglas has worked tirelessly for the people of Vermont and Vermonters appreciate his hands-on style of leadership in their communities. This campaign will be no different," states a news release about this weekend's activities.

Democrats promise to be highly visible too. In addition to the parade scene, party members plan more then 30 voter registration drives across the state.

Liz Saxe, the party's communications director, "We're going to actually do something productive and encourage people to vote. There is nothing more patriotic than voting."

Happy Independence Day to all you in blogger land. Seems like a good opportunity to celebrate all the grand documents that paved the way for this very discourse.

-- Nancy Remsen


Iraq war costs

Here is an interesting website by the National Priorities Project. I'm not vouching for its validity, but even if biased, it offers food for thought.

Through some calculation, this group has set up a running counter of the cost of the Iraq War to the country and the share that would be considered to be coming from Vermonters or New Yorkers or whomever. The counter read $775 million as the cost of the war to Vermont.

The site also has a comparative calculator. You pick some defense related expense and then see how much of some domestic program it might have purchased.

The war has been an important issue for some Vermonters. Candidates such as Congressman Peter Welch, D-VT, and perhaps those running for governor could be asked questions about the toll the war is taking on Vermont. The numbers at this site may not be the right numbers, but some figures -- number of Vermonters killed, injured, plus dollars not available for (you fill in the blank) are relevant, don't you think?

-- Nancy Remsen



First gubernatorial debate

Mark your calendars. Cancel your vacation. The first gubernatorial debate will be held July 20 -- before the list of potential candidates is even final. (Candidates from major parties have until July 21 to file petitions)

Jim Douglas, the Republican incumbent, and challengers Gaye Symington, Democrat, Anthony Pollina, Progressive, will face off at 5:30 p.m. at the Lareau Farm in Waitsfield.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council, American Flatbread Co. and Vermont Localvores will sponsor the debate, which is open to the public. David Moats, editorial page editor of the Rutland Herald, will be the moderator.

Obviously, based on the sponsors, the focus of this debate will be the environment, energy, food and farming.

The candidates are apparently going to stick around after the debate for a supper and music by a jazz trio. Get the details here.

--- Nancy Remsen


Brock decides

Randy Brock finally decided what office to run for this fall -- a Franklin County Senate seat.

All the fun of a rematch with Tom Salmon evaporated when Salmon, who squeaked out victory over Brock in 2006, was deployed to Afghanistan.

“Although I seriously considered a bid for auditor this year, I decided that it would not be appropriate to run against someone who was serving his country in a combat zone and who would be unable to campaign,” Brock said. “I also feel that I could be of greater service in the Senate, where I could work on crafting solutions to Vermont’s fiscal crisis.”

Brock will be challenging Democratic incumbents Don Collins and Sara Kittell. Senate races in Franklin County are always interesting and competitive and this one is now guaranteed to be both. I hope Brock works on his milking skills, because that could be one challenge.

In a press statement announcing Brock's decision, the Vermont Republican Party had him using a phrase that must have scored some points in a focus group or poll because Republican legislative incumbents and hopefuls keep using it. Pick out that word in the following quote:

Brock accused legislative leaders of misdirecting their priorities on what he called “boutique issues,” like non-binding impeachment resolutions or trying to decriminalize marijuana while criminalizing advertising “puppies for sale” without a license.

Brock served a single term as auditor, ousting Democrat Elizabeth Ready in 2004.

He's lived in Swanton for 22 years, although he was a long-distance commuter to Boston before he retired from Fidelity Investments in 2003. He and his wife, Andrea, have one daughter.

He graduated from Middlebury College -- but before Jim Douglas did. He has a masters degree from Yale. He's a Vietnam veteran.

So who -- if anyone -- will run from the Republican Party for auditor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, Congress? In about 19 days, we will know.

-- Nancy Remsen


About the job cuts

There's a lot going on that will affect the size and shape of state government. Here are some highlights.

Effective yesterday (July 1) there were 150 fewer jobs on the books. The Douglas administration announced last November that it planned to downsize and gave managers six months to find 150 slots that would be eliminated. The list was released yesterday. Seems they succeeded, although some managers put of positions that were fairly recently authorized and not yet filled.

Now those same managers -- plus the constitutional officers who were spared job cuts in the first round -- have new targets. They must find another 250 jobs that can be wiped off the books by the end of December. Deputy Secretary of Administration Linda McIntire said some managers were "shocked" when they saw their targets, but since the state currently has 441 vacant positions, she said there was clearly opportunities.

All these cuts are to be made without layoffs. They are to some when folks retire, are promoted or transferred or leave state government.

It's that process that has legislators worried, since it doesn't lend itself to strategic (an overused word if there ever was one) downsizing, but rather haphazard downsizing. The Legislature told the administration that its off-season oversight committee -- Joint Fiscal -- would have to take a look at the cuts in the fall before they became final.

So that's the 400 job cuts without layoffs.

There have been layoffs. Corrections cut nine jobs, which results in some layoffs, because the budget it was given by the administration wasn't going to cover everybody. The Legislature didn't change the situation and the jobs are cut.

The Legislature added a $500,000 cut to the Commerce Department budget at the last minute and now Secretary Kevin Dorn has laid off four workers (all involved in information technology) and is looking elsewhere for more savings. Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, said she was surprised about these layoffs as Dorn never mentioned that would be a consequence of the budget cut. Commerce, by the way, only had to eliminate one position in the 150-job-cut exercise.

Back to Corrections -- by January, another 40-45 positions will evaporate with the closing of the Dale Correctional Facility in Waterbury. The restructuring that is getting underway -- moving all women to St. Albans and transforming Windsor into a work camp -- was designed to save money and cutting jobs does that.

The Legislature also requires a $2.3 million reduction in spending on temporary and contract workers. And in lawmakers' continuing effort to shrink the pool of public relations staff employed by the administration, there has to be another $250,000 cut from spending for exempt employees.

Then there were the pay freezes. The administration proposed a freeze on the highest paid staff. Lawmakers agreed and expanded it to a few more, including their own staff. The Judiciary went along, too, as did other constitutional officers.

So what does all this add up to? A lot of shifting sand within state government.

More interesting to this blog, is what does it add up to politically?

-- Nancy Remsen

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