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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



They kept shopping

When I first saw this headline, I thought it was made up.

"Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down"

But no, you can't make this stuff up.
NEW YORK (AP) — A Wal-Mart worker was killed Friday after an “out of
control” throng of shoppers eager for post-Thanksgiving bargains broke down the
doors at a suburban store and knocked him to the ground, police said.
Nassau police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the store doors at the mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the man to the ground as he opened the doors, leaving a metal portion of the frame crumpled like an accordion.
Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help the man were also getting trampled by the crowd, Fleming said. Witnesses said that even as the worker lay on the ground, shoppers streamed into the store, stepping over him.
Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like “savages.”
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people
were yelling 'I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’” she said. “They kept

It's just astounding on so many levels. You know, it almost seemed like the nose-diving economy was at least giving people some perspective, some sense that maybe they'd overdone it on "things" and needed to just chill for a bit. Apparently not.

_ Terri Hallenbeck



The less-traveled road to grandmother's house

Here's an alternative solution to the problem of our decaying roads and bridges: We could simply stop using them.

Every now and then, the Agency of Transportation's monthly traffic count report ends up in my mailbox and last month's numbers provide further evidence that people are driving less.

With very few exceptions, the numbers are down from last year.

Burlington's Beltline: Down 6.4 percent.

U.S. 2 in Williston: Down 2 percent.

Interstate 89 in Swanton: Down 2.4 percent.

I-89 in Waterbury: Down 4.6 percent.

Vermont 100 in Weston: Down 7 percent.

Interstate 91 in Vernon: Down 5.4, and that's despite all the engineers filing in and out of Vermont Yankee.

Traffic on U.S. 2 in Montpelier is down 6.2 percent because half the cars were swallowed in potholes.

Be careful driving to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. And have a happy one.

- Terri Hallenbeck



On the roads again

We gave a preview of this in a story last week, but now the Snelling Center's transportation study is officially out.

Charlie Smith, president of the Snelling Center, said:

Our surveys told us that Vermonters want transportation to be a high
priority. Bridge repair is at the very top of the priority list. While few
people are enthusiastic about new taxes, a large majority supports taxes as part
of the solution.

When asked what tax source they would favor most, a strong majority cited
user-related taxes such as gas and diesel fuel taxes, rather than income, sales
or property taxes. The surveys also indicated support for major public
borrowing to accelerate road and bridge repairs.

For the full Vermont Roads and Bridges report, the Executive Summary, and the Critical Data Guide, go to: www.snellingcenter.org/vermontroadsandbridges.

This report puts the Douglas administration in an awkward spot. Charlie Smith used to be Gov. Jim Douglas' secretary of Administration, overseeing the state budget. Now he has put together a report that runs counter to much of what Douglas has been saying.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Meeting with the president-elect

Gov. Jim Douglas will join his fellow governors Tuesday in a meeting with President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Douglas, as vice chairman of the National Governors Association, said he expects he will have the floor to address the incoming leaders. With $64 million in immediate budget-cut decisions facing him, Douglas plans to appeal to them for moola. Namely Medicaid and road/bridge moola.

This, he said, is among the best ways to counteract the financial crunch.

Anything else you'd like to have the governor tell the president-elect?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Board deals VY a setback

Vermont Yankee learned today it won't win relicensing from the NRC without further inspection.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that Entergy Nuclear, owner of the Vernon plant, must do more analysis of the effects of metal fatigue on core spray and reactor recirculation outlet nozzles.

The ruling was based on concerns raised by the New England Coalition and the state Department of Public Service.

Sarah Hofmann of the state Department of Public Service said of the ruling: "It is an historic decision to actually have an intervenor or a state to prevail at the board level."

Read more in Tuesday's Free Press.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Turkey of an idea?

I don't know how many of you caught TV coverage of the governor pardoning Wishbone the turkey on Friday, but it struck me as I saw it that if they were so inclined, Democratic legislators whom the governor has accused of wasting time on boutique issues could suggest that pardoning a turkey in these economic times might not be a priority.

Unless Wishbone can make some budgetary miracles occur.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The circle game

You do have to wonder about Gov. Douglas' penchant for staying within the same circle of friends.

He's made a fairly high number of key staff changes since the election, but he never reached farther than 50 feet to tap anybody on the shoulder. He apparently is not among those reading Abraham Lincoln's "Team of Rivals." He is not reading any books on how to cultivate new friends, let alone rivals.

Were there no more bankers willing to jump to state government work, and so he ran out of people?

Steve Wark was not one I would have guessed as Douglas' new spokesman. Having dealt with him a bit in his role at the Public Service Department, I will say that he is a perfectly affable fellow. However, I do hope he learns to be better about returning phone calls promptly. This is a guy who still uses a pager. That's got to change.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Gov's new spokesman

Stephen Wark will move across State Street from the Department of Public Service to the Pavilion office building where he will become director of communications for the governor.

Sounds like being an Eagle Scout is one of the criteria for a job with Douglas.

Wark, 45, of Colchester, has been director of consumer affairs and public service with the Department of Public Service, as well as the director of the Governor’s Fuel and Food Partnership. He is an Eagle Scout and a graduate of the University of Vermont, Champlain College and Vermont Technical College. He served for twenty years with the Burlington Police Department, and retired in 2006 as deputy chief. He and his wife Wendy have two daughters, Caitlin and Amanda.

Wark succeeds Jason Gibbs, an Eagle Scout, who was recently appointed Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Gibbs leaves the governor's office this afternoon and will report to Waterbury on Monday.

Wark has been earning $83,408 over the public service department.
Gibbs has been paid $75,025 most recently for his work for the governor.

-- Nancy Remsen


Let's try this again

Some of you have misintepreted what I said about blog control and jumped to the conclusion that we're not going to do anything to change the system.

I was merely giving you an update, telling you the factors going into our thinking. It's not going to change today because it takes time for the web people to make it happen and because we have other things to do. But no one is more eager to block JW than we are.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Blog thoughts

Thanks for your input on blog control.

As I said before, our goal is to foster candid conversation. We don't like trash talk any better than the rest of you who don't like trash talk.

We are pondering some changes that would allow us more control, but I have to be persuaded first that a different, more cumbersome format will be worthwhile in actually bringing the intended results.

I know you all think it's as simple as a flick of a keystroke, but the reality is that it isn't. For instance:

- If we were to approve or disapprove of each comment as it came in, we'd become drones tied to our computers (those of you who think we already are can just stifle it right there) and the comments would be significantly delayed.

- I tried once upon a time deleting offensive comments as they came in, but I found that it had a significantly deleterious effect on my life. I'm sure you can appreciate our lack of interest in working 24/7, not to mention the laws against it.

- The story chat system on the Free Press main Web site allows for offensive people to be barred, and we might switch to something like that, but if you've ever scrolled story chat I think you'll agree that it's not completely free of rudeness and the conversation is not always productive.

In the meantime, I recommend you disregard JWCoop's comments entirely.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Speaking for the gov

Gov. Jim Douglas is expected to announce tomorrow who will do the talking for him now that Jason Gibbs will be out talking to the trees.

Gubernatorial staffer Heidi Tringe says it isn't her. She will, however, have the new title of secretary of civil and military affairs, a ceremonial title Gibbs has most recently claimed.

Perhaps that means Douglas brings someone new into his cozy circle or reaches from just outside the circle.

It probably doesn't matter to anyone else, besides Douglas himself and us in the media. He was pretty much lock-step in sync with Gibbs these last six years. I can recall maybe two or three times when Gibbs got in trouble with Douglas for saying something he should have.

It's got to be an adjustment to have someone new telling the world what you think, but Douglas is not the sort for reflection.



More election thank yous

As I surmised last week, Gov. Jim Douglas has appointed his campaign manager, Dennise Casey, as his new deputy chief of staff. That Casey would wind up back in the governor's office after the campaign never seemed in doubt. She did the same switch from campaign to staff two years ago.

What is kind of interesting is that she will now be the governor's chief liaison to the Legislature. After a campaign in which Douglas had some not-very-nice things to say about the House speaker, who was his opponent, some legislators might find Casey on the incendiary side.

Then again, people have a way of moving on.

Casey replaces Betsy Bishop, who moved to commissioner of Economic Development.

This more than likely also means Heidi Tringe will be the governor's next spokesman. After six years of having the same person - Jason Gibbs - represent the governor to the media there could be a noticeable change. Tringe most recently was an adviser in the governor's office, and before that the communications person at the Agency of Human Services.

That position, last I knew, was still open. An opportunity for the governor to offer up a vacant job for elimination?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Back in the Statehouse

A short while ago, Senate Democrats elected Peter Shumlin as their candidate for Senate president pro tem. Because they have a huge majority, 23-7, their candidate is the candidate. John Campbell stays on as majority leader. Claire Ayer stays on as assistant majority leader.

This time, with no controversy, they voted in public, unanimously, unlike two years ago when the secret ballot was said to be by one vote.

Legislators are in Montpelier for orientation in preparation for the new session in January. They'll learn some things about the state's power supply this afternoon.

House Republicans, who have 48 of the 150 seats, last night chose Patti Komline as their minority leader and Pat McDonald as assistant minority leader. Last term's leader, Steve Adams, chose to resume life away from the front lines.

In other moves, the Senate pro tem's assistant, Katie Maneras, is making us all envious by leaving for a months' long trip to New Zealand, Thailand and British Columbia. She may have the most sense of all of us. She will be replaced in the pro tem's office by Alex MacLean, who has for the last two years been the assistant in the speaker's office.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Brooks finds a new home

Here's a little thank you from Jim Douglas to Tayt Brooks, who ran the drive for Republican legislators in the election as executive director of the state party.

Even though Republican ranks slipped by one in the House, Douglas appears grateful that they didn't lose more. He appointed Brooks to be the new deputy commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs.

Before going to the Republican Party this year, Brooks was a lobbyist for the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont. His new boss will be Agency of Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn, who used to head the home builders group.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Who'll be the next speaker?

As the vote for a new speaker of the House grows nearer, the field shrinks.

Rep. Johanna Donovan, a Democrat from Burlington, has dropped out of the race. That leaves Reps. Shap Smith of Morristown, Mark Larson of Burlington and Carolyn Partridge of Windham.

It is said to be a tight race. The winner replaces Gaye Symington, who ran unsuccessfully for governor instead of seeking re-election to the Legislature. House Democrats make a decision Dec. 6.

They'll also be deciding on a majority leader between Reps. Floyd Nease of Johnson and Janet Ancel of Calais.

Anything could happen, including dark horse candidates.

Two years ago, the Senate had a tight race for president pro tem. By the narrowest of margins, Peter Shumlin defeated John Campbell. This year, there doesn't seem to be any question Shumlin will keep the job and Campbell will return as majority leader.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bad news on the rise

The Joint Fiscal Committee has gathered in Montpelier for a day that is expected to include dour news.

Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, put it this way. "I jumped out the window, but I have a one-story building so it didn't hurt much."

A physical yesterday showed her blood pressure's surprisingly not high. So she expects her heart to make it through the next few months. "I'm not so sure about my soul," she said.

Legislative leaders this morning sent this letter to the governor.

Dear Governor Douglas
We are sobered by our recent
conversations with the legislature’sconsulting economist, Tom Kavet, in
preparation for today’s meeting of the Joint Fiscal Committee.
It is clear that the current economic crisis is hurting
Vermonters and significantly impacting our state revenues.
Despite the care of prior budgeting and last summer’s
rescissions, we have more difficult choices ahead if we are to bring our fy2009
budget into balance and prepare for fy2010.
These extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary
cooperation between political parties and branches of government. Today,
the Joint Fiscal Committee will review preliminary revenue forecasts for the
remainder of Fiscal Year 2009 and for Fiscal Year 2010. The forecast the
Emergency Board will hear today is bleak.
We have asked our Joint Fiscal Office staff to work with your
Administration to develop a list of ideas to address the shortfall for fy2009.
We recognize that the federal government is discussing options for economic
stimulus that may affect Vermont’s outlook or present new options to us. We
will continue to work with the National Conference of State Legislatures and our
federal delegation to encourage steps that will have a meaningful impact on
Vermonters and minimize the impact of the economic crisis on Vermonters. Given
the level of uncertainty of federal response, the size of the projected revenue
shortfall, and the already painful impact of earlier budget rescissions, it is
impossible now to determine what the process will be for making
adjustments. Like you, we have received a great deal of feedback from
Vermonters asking for an opportunity to provide input and ideas. Certainly, we
need to ensure that whatever process we work within allows Vermonters’ concerns
to be heard. For now, the important first step is that our staffs
work together to develop a list of options to consider. We look forward to
working with you to ensure that state government faces these challenging times in
a way that works for all Vermonters.

Sincerely, Senator Peter Shumlin
Representative Gaye Symington

- Terri Hallenbeck


Tell it to Welch

Pardonez-moi, but I had posted about a Welch telephone town meeting and apparently I was too eager for this week to be moving along and misspoke on the day. So hold your calls until Wednesday. Sorry for the jumpstart.

You have a chance to tell Rep. Peter Welch how you feel about the bailout - or anything else - WEDNESDAY NIGHT on the telephone.

He'll be holding another telephonic town hall meeting. You can dial in toll-free at 1-877-229-8493 and enter PIN code: 13785.

The call takes place 7-8 p.m. That's Wednesday.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Who's in for the bailout?

Here's my question to you on this fine morning: Who among you thinks the federal government should bail out the auto industry. And why?

Were you sitting there at the breakfast table this morning thinking of the ways the government should spend your money and deciding that bailing out an industry that purposefully squeezed every last dollar out of the Big Honking SUV while blindly refusing to plan for the future would be a really good thing?

Or could you think of a thousand other places you'd rather that money goes?

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders said he will introduce legislation today to stop the release of a $350-billion second round of the bailout.

Sanders said he has serious concerns about how the Bush administration and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are spending the bailout money that was already released. He also said it was unacceptable that the oversight provisions in the bill were ignored.

“We should use the second $350 billion tranche to create millions of good paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling bridges, roads, culverts, schools and water systems. We can also create millions of jobs by moving away from foreign oil and fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies,” Sanders said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Bernie on the bandwagon

Sen. Bernie Sanders joined in the call this afternoon to boot Sen. Joe Lieberman from positions of power, following Sen. Patrick Leahy's comments on the matter.

Lieberman should not chair the Senate Homeland Security Committee or his two subcommittees under Environment and Public Works and Armed Services, Sanders said.

“To reward Senator Lieberman with a major committee chairmanship would be a
slap in the face of millions of Americans who worked tirelessly for Barack Obama
and who want to see real change in our country,” Sanders said.

“Appointing someone to a major post who led the opposition to everything we
are fighting for is not ‘change we can believe in.’ I very much hope that
Senator Lieberman stays in the Democratic caucus and is successful in regaining
the confidence of those whom he has disappointed. This is not a time,
however, in which he should be rewarded with a major committee

Are they equally willing to question any consideration of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state? Didn't she vote for the war?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Cast your vote for blogging

Cast your votes. Should we continue to allow anonymous comments on our blog, or switch to a format where you have to sign up to comment?

Here's the dilemma we have faced. It's lovely to have the potential for a free and easy discussion. Whether one is a state worker or a private person with too much as stake to affix a name, they can still ask a question, offer a comment, propel the debate forward. I never wanted to cut that off.

Trouble is, it also allows people to propel the debate into the gutter, which is where a determined few seem to enjoy living. I've never enjoyed giving them that opportunity.

So, what you think? Anonymous or not?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Leahy disses Lieberman

Sen. Patrick Leahy said on VPR's Vermont Edition today that Sen. Joe Lieberman should not be rewarded with a major chairmanship in the next Senate.

The former Democrat-turned-independent is chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He backed Republican John McCain for president, but Leahy suggested he went farther in that support than he should have.

The blog Daily Kos is all over Leahy's comments, which are:

"Every senator will have to vote the way he or she believes they should,"
Leahy said, in a reference to the upcoming vote on Lieberman's fate in the Dem
caucus next week. "I'm one who does not feel that somebody should be rewarded
with a major chairmanship after doing what he did."

"I felt some of the attacks that he was involved in against Senator
Obama...went way beyond the pale," Leahy continued. I thought they were not
fair, I thought they were not legitimate, I thought they perpetuated some of
these horrible myths that were being run about Senator Obama."

"I would feel that had I done something similar," Leahy concluded,
"that I would not be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next

_ Terri Hallenbeck


Housing, econ development to merge

The latest staffing change in the Douglas administration includes plans to lop off of one commissioner position - a savings on the order of $100,000, though that commissioner slot had been empty for a few months.

Gov. Jim Douglas' Deputy Chief of Staff Betsy Bishop will become commissioner of the to-be-merged Departments of Economic Development and Housing and Community Affairs.

In addition to saving money, the move is supposed to improve coordination. That is the sort of things people say when they are cutting. Just like your cereal box tells you it's new improved cereal when it's really less cereal.

Bishop, as deputy chief of staff, was the chief liaison between the governor's office and the Legislature. I'm guessing - just guessing here - that job now goes to Dennise Casey.

As commissioner, Bishop replaces Mike Quinn, who said he wanted to return to the private sector and will start looking for a job there. She also sort of replaces Bill Noyes, who was filling in as interim commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs after the previous interim,
Molly Dugan, left to become a project manager for Cathedral Square Corp. in September, after the previous commissioner John Hall left in the spring.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Here's a rundown of the day's transactions in state government:

- Rob Hofmann replaces Cynthia LaWare as secretary of the Agency of Human Services. LaWare might stay in state government.

- Jason Gibbs, the governor's spokesman for the last six years, replaces Jonathan Wood as commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Wood was named last week as secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

- Gibbs' replacement as the voice of the governor is "TBD," he says. One would have guessed it would be Dennise Casey, most recently the governor's campaign manager but when not in campaign season a gubernatorial staffer. However, Gibbs says Casey "will be promoted to a different position on the senior staff."

All told, what do you make of the changes?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Dean debt

Howard Dean prided himself for his fiscal conservatism when he was governor of Vermont, never letting the state go into debt, but not so with his leadership of the Democratic National Committee, or so it seems.

Faced with what party insiders say is $15 million in red ink, the DNC needs help and it looks like it's going to get it from no less than Barack Obama. The campaign operation of the of president-elect has lent its vast e-mail contributors' list to the DNC and this week Obama campaign chairman David Plouffe authored a fundraising letter asking the masses to help pay off the debt

"The DNC's 50-state field strategy was crucial to our campaign's success, as well as victories for Democrats up and down the ballot," Plouffe wrote in his appeal. "Their organizing infrastructure allowed us to compete -- and win -- in states that seemed insurmountable just four years ago. They took out substantial loans to make it happen. The DNC didn't hold back, and now, neither can we."

Plouffe goes on to ask folks to send in $30 or more and, in return, they'll get a T-shirt commemorating Obama's victory. Nice.

Coupla thoughts. Dean's presumeably in the hunt for a cabinet post, now that he's confirmed he'll be leaving the DNC in January. Does the DNC predicament help or hurt his chances? And you gotta wonder how the Clinton folks feel about the Obama campaign's swift pitch in to retire the DNC debt. Hillary asked Obama months ago for help in retiring her $20 million campaign debt, but last I heard, help for HRC has not been too forthcoming.

And one more thought for the road. I thought the Obama campaign was so awash in money it didn't know what to do with it all before Election Day. Guess not.

-- Sam Hemingway


More changes

More changes today in the Douglas administration. Rob Hofmann promoted from Corrections commissioner to Agency of Human Services secretary.

Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Jim Douglas today announced that Commissioner of
Corrections Rob Hofmann will soon be Secretary of Human Services.
Cindy LaWare, the current agency head, is stepping down to explore other
opportunities to serve Vermont.

Governor Douglas thanked LaWare
for her service. “Cindy has been an important and dedicated member
of my cabinet and has served Vermonters with diligence and professionalism for
the past seven years. I greatly appreciate her work to advance important
elements of our agenda, including fighting to make health care more accessible
and affordable, improving services for Vermonters with mental illness through
the Futures plan, and implementing the Incarcerated Women’s Initiative, the
Children’s Integrated Services initiative, and the statewide Housing Now
initiative,” Governor Douglas said. “I hope and expect she will continue
to serve Vermonters in the future.”

Governor Douglas said Hofmann,
who served as Vermont’s finance commissioner before moving to the Department of
Corrections, has the right financial and human services management expertise for
the new post.

“Rob shares my views that the best social program is
a good job and the best way to balance the budget is to grow the economy,” the
Governor said. “He has proven to be an innovative, caring and pragmatic
leader at the Department of Corrections, addressing some of our state’s most
pressing challenges with balance and common sense. He also understands the
challenge of building a responsible and compassionate budget during difficult
financial times that protects the most vulnerable.. He will serve
Vermonters very well as secretary of human services.”

appointment is effective November 23, 2008.

Robert D. Hofmann of Waterbury Center, Washington County was born on
August 3, 1960. He graduated from SUNY College at Cortland (BA
History: Summa Cum Laude 1985). After working as a Business Analyst
at Dun and Bradstreet in New York City, he attended Columbia Graduate School of
Business (MBA Finance 1985), where he met his future wife, Kit Walker, a former
Vermont teacher. Rob worked at American Express in New York City
(1985-1990) in progressively challenging positions in financial services.
From 1990-2003 he worked at Chittenden Bank in Burlington, VT first as Director
of Marketing and later as Senior Vice President for Business Services.

Rob served as Vermont’s Commissioner of Finance and Management
from 2003-2005 and Corrections Commissioner since February 2005. He has been
involved in his church, coaching his children’s sports teams and is a former
board member of his college alumni association and the Vermont Chamber of
Commerce. The family holds dual citizenship: United States and Ireland and
Rob hopes to work overseas after the kids leave the nest.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Official count

The official vote count and turnout has been published on the Secretary of State's Web site, which you can access here.

So what do we see?
In the governor's race, Republican incumbent Jim Douglas received 53.4% of the vote to independent Anthony Pollina's 21.8% and Democrat Gaye Symington's 21.7%. The difference between Pollina and Symington was 257 votes.

In the lieutenant governor's race, Republican incumbent Brian Dubie got 55% to Democrat Tom Costello's 39.1%.

All the other incumbents for statewide office -- all Democrats -- won re-election with greater than 70 percent of the vote. Treasurer Jeb Spaulding had 89.9%.

How many folks voted? Lots. The secretary of state says 326,822 or 71.9% of the registered voters. Nearly one-third of those voters cast their ballots early.

Which county had the highest turnout? Addison at 77.8%. The lowest? Orleans at 68.5%. Where were the most early votes cast? Chittenden County with 36.3% of voters casting ballots before Election Day. Where were the fewest early votes cast? Essex County at 17.3%.

The town with the highest turnout -- Shelburne. One district in the town recorded 89.9% turnout and the other came in at 88.9%. Where was turnout lowest? A section of Barre city, with 46.8%. The other two voting districts in Barre were 52.9% and 56.8%. The other low spot in the state was Norton at 49.2%.

There's other interesting stuff in the lists. Take a look.

-- Nancy Remsen


Who's melting?

You know how the economy is melting down around us?

Well, here's something to noodle on: According to the New York Times, the 20 hardest-hit ZIP codes in the housing foreclosure part of the meltdown are all in four states: California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

All of those except California are places often touted as "affordable" places to live - people move there because of the cheap housing. Maybe there's a price to pay for cheapness?

I don't know about you, but I'm still surprised whenever I hear that this economic meltdown is only the worst since 1994 or 1991 or sometime in the 1970s. Because I don't remember any other time when it felt like the economy was in such a free-fall.

How does this compare for you all?

- Terri Hallenbeck



The sorta final results

The final counts have been posted on the state elections Web site, with some races to be confirmed still. If you're looking for an excuse to avoid doing the dishes, you can check out the results HERE.

Independent Anthony Pollina finished second in the governor's race over Democrat Gaye Symington by 257 votes. Of course, both of them are well behind Republican Jim Douglas, by like 100,000 votes.

The results offers some interesting fodder. To wit:

- Pollina discounts the fact that his 21 percent of the vote showing is less than the 25 percent he received in 2002 in the lt. gov. race. You'll recall, too, that during the campaign he made note of that 25 percent and said that if those 25 percent bring a friend, he'll win. Well, the 56,564 people who voted for him in 2002 don't seem to have many friends. He had 69,791 votes this time.

- Symington pointed out that every Republican governor in the country won re-election last week, a suggestion that incumbency prevailed over the Obama wave in all governor's races, not just here. Except that there were only a few Republican governors up for election this year - Vermont, Utah, North Dakota and Indiana - and those other states are hardly Obama-friendly in the way Vermont is. Vermont, I would venture to guess without even checking, is the only state where the Democrat came in third in the governor's race.

- Progs took it on the chin in the congressional race. Thomas Hermann came in fourth, after winner Peter Welch and independents Mike Bethel and Jerry Trudell.

- Terri Hallenbeck




From preliminary results of the 2008 elections, it looks like the Liberty Union Party will no longer have "major-party status" in Vermont. One earns such status by winning at least 5 percent of the vote in a statewide race (Congress doesn't count).

The Progressive Party, meanwhile, will keep major-party status, along with the Democrats and Republicans. Progs won enough votes in the auditor (12 percent for Martha Abbott), attorney general (6 percent for Charlotte Dennett) and treasurer's (7 percent for Don Schramm) races.

The closest the Liberty Union came was Jerry Levy's 4 percent in the auditor's race.

So what does this mean? Not a lot. The Liberty Union Party doesn't have to bother with a primary in the next election and might get invited to fewer debates, though they were not on a lot of people's invite list this year.

- Terri Hallenbeck


ANR change

George Crombie out, Jonathan Wood in as state Agency of Natural Resources secretary.

Crombie has been with the Douglas administration less than two years, lured the one-time Burlington Public Works director back from Massachusetts to run the agency after Tom Torti left.

Wood has been with Douglas from the beginning, serving as Forest, Parks and Recreation Commissioner since 2003.

For those of you who follow enviro issues, what do you think this means?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Staff changes

Gov. Jim Douglas, elected to a fourth term in office Tuesday, said he expects some changes in his administrative staff, including departures from a few who have been with him for the duration and are looking to return to the private sector.

The first of them emerged Thursday, when Michael Quinn, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, announced he was stepping down. Quinn has worked for Douglas all six years he has been in office.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said more changes are expected this week. Douglas said he hopes to have replacements in place before January.

Anybody in particular you'd like to see shuffle off? Any replacements you'd like to recommend? Or should be pare some of the jobs? (I mean besides the pr ones?)

- Terri Hallenbeck


Web sites

I was curious what I might find at the gubernatorial Web sites today -- now that the dust has settled.

The winner, Rep. Gov. Jim Douglas, hasn't updated his Web site to shout out about his victory. I'm kind of surprised. Seems like the campaign could have had something splashy in the can ready to go.

Same for Independent Anthony Pollina, although recognizing his limited resources, updating a Web site after a defeat probably wasn't a priority.

Still, over at Democrat Gaye Symington's site, all the debris from the campaign is gone. All that's left is her concession speech with a cheerful photo and a big 'thank you.'


-- Nancy Remsen


Unite or fight?

Interesting missive from Burlington city Democratic Chairman Jake Perkinson this morning. The theme is uniting, but there's quite a few signs of friction within it. He revels in a Democrat defeating a Prog in the state House while claiming newly elected state senator Tim Ashe as a Dem rather than a Prog.

"Burlington Democrats enjoyed major victories in the recent election and are
poised to continue the spirit of unity and cooperation President-Elect Barack
Obama’s campaign has fostered.

In one of only two contested House
races in Burlington, Democrat Kesha Ram bested Progressive Party stalwart, Chris
Pearson in a decisive victory. Pearson was not elected to his seat, but
was appointed and faced a challenger for the first time in this election.
Presented with this opportunity for choice, voters in the University District
overwhelmingly favored the dynamic and positive Kesha Ram to represent them in
the State House. Kesha is dedicated to the environment and social justice and
worked extraordinarily hard on her campaign with the active support of many

In addition to the election of Burlington residents
Hinda Miller and Ed Flanagan, the recent election added a third Burlington
resident to the Senate: newly minted Democrat Tim Ashe. After a counting
snafu at City Hall, it was determined yesterday that Tim edged out former
Richmond Representative Denise Barnard for the sixth spot from Chittenden County
by less than 1%. The Democrats enthusiastically welcome Senator-elect Ashe
and look forward to his contribution in preserving a strong Democratic majority
in the State Senate. The Democratic Senate delegation from Chittenden
County has always served Burlington well and been responsive to the needs of the
State’s largest city and now there is every reason to expect that will
continue. Congratulations are also in order to top vote-getter Doug Racine
and to Ginny Lyons on their re-election successes. Looking at the numbers,
it’s clear that Diane Snelling also enjoyed some Democratic support to carry her
over the line. Which brings up an important point:

Although many missed it in the euphoria of Obama’s stunning
victory, one of the highlights of this presidential campaign came from Senator
John McCain, whose concession speech was a sincere and moving example of what
politics should be about: the recognition that, despite our differences, we are
all in this together and need to work together to solve our problems. Here
is an excerpt of Senator McCain speech summing up this sentiment:


This election saw some significant changes in
Burlington’s political landscape, change that reaffirmed the fundamental
principles of our political system in general and the openness of the Democratic
Party in particular. The Democrats were the only party to field a full
slate of candidates for every office and, true to the ideal of the democratic
process, actually had some primaries which tested incumbents and provided
opportunities for people who have never held office before to

Despite the overwhelming support for Barack Obama’s message
of change, unity and cooperation across party lines (echoed by his former
adversary, Sen. McCain) which resonated with the entire spectrum on the left, we
are once again faced here in Burlington with threats of obstructionism based not
on principles, but on petty power struggles. Thus, even before the
election was over, the Progressive leadership was threatening to punish the
Democrats for having the temerity to participate in the democratic
process. Here is what the sole Progressive Representative from Burlington,
David Zuckerman, had to say:

Zuckerman warned that a defeat for himself or Pearson would mean "it will be time for Progressives to seriously reflect on how Democrats have behaved in this race and how cooperative we should be in the future."
Is this really happening? Will the Progressives thwart legislation aimed
at benefiting Vermonters solely to “punish” Democrats purely out of political

“It is time to stop this absurdity,” said
Burlington Democratic Committee Chair, Jake Perkinson. “It is clear that
the failure of the Progressives and Democrats to unite is driven by the personal
vitriol of a few, and does not reflect the shared, principled positions of many
calling themselves either Progressives or Democrats. In order to achieve
positive change, we must unite and reject the politics of personal hatred and
political gamesmanship.”

Perkinson followed up by making an open
invitation to voters to join the Democratic Party: “We, as the Democratic Party,
invite all progressive voters, regardless of labels to join with us for
change. The Democrats have always welcomed all those who subscribe to the
principles of equality and justice to join with them in the fight for a better
future. Together we can do better.”

The Burlington City Democratic Committee will hold an open caucus to nominate their choice for the mayor of Burlington on December 3, 2008 at 6:30 pm. Perkinson emphasized that any Burlington voter interested in participating is welcome to come and expressed the hope that City Democrats will be joined by “our brothers and sisters who share the Democratic ideals that have enabled our country to advance from a slave-holding oligarchy to a truly democratic nation accepting of all people and embracing the differences that make us great.”

- Terri Hallenbeck



More election after-thoughts

This just in. Tom Costello has conceded defeat in the lieutenant governor's race.
Here is what he wrote to the victor, Republican incumbent Brian Dubie.

May this express my congratulations to you on your re-election as Lieutenant Governor.

I was finally able to secure some reliable results today and am confident that you have secured a majority of votes. I am sorry that I was unable to secure this information last night as I would have liked to visit with you and congratulate you at that time.

Thank you for your courtesy throughout the campaign.

Also, I have spent quite a bit of time today trying to understand the numbers in the Chittenden Senate race. There was a typo in the results we were given from Burlington last night that resulted in a much lower total for Tim Ashe than it turned out he had received. Once his Burlington tally was corrected, he edged out Denise Barnard for sixth place -- the last slot before the door closes.

-- Nancy Remsen


Passion at the polls

Most years, a reporter who stands outside a polling place to interview voters will get a fair share of people who don't want to talk, don't want to give their name, just want to slip quietly away.

Not this year. Voters yesterday wanted to talk, needed to tell the world how strongly they felt, were perfectly willing to give their names.

They felt strongly about a lot of things. Almost all of them had to do with Barack Obama.

They liked what he said about helping people get a college education. They liked what he said about the U.S.'s role in the world.

They liked him. They liked the hope he talked about.

They liked that he wasn't George Bush. They liked that his running mate wasn't Sarah Palin.

There were so many factors in what made them feel strongly it was hard for most people to articulate exactly what it was that had them jazzed about this election. Their willingness to talk - their need to talk - said it all.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Post election reflections part 1

As time and severely sleep-deprived brain power allow today, I'll try to put up some post-election observations and reflections.

Driving in this morning I saw Gaye Symington standing alone on the sidewalk in front of the Sheraton near the I-89 interchange holding a hand-lettered sign that read "thank you." She was waving at cars and smiling, alone in her thoughts, free to be herself again. No aides standing by her side.

When I spoke to Tom Hermann, the 29-year-old Progressive who challenged Peter Welch on his war record, he mentioned how nervous he'd been at every debate and speech and interview. And how ironic that he hadn't been that nervous on most days during his tour in Iraq. "Where's the common sense in that?" he asked rhetorically.

Tuesday morning I caught up with three Chittenden Senate candidates outside Essex High School. I spoke with each separately, but they all made the same observation -- the Chittenden district is too unwieldy and should be split up.

Democrat Denise Barnard said, "win or lose, I really think this district needs to be broken up. I think there would be better constituent service." Minutes later Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe said the same thing. And then Republican Robyn Myers-Moore echoed her rivals. "The size of our Senate district -- 110,000 people -- that is a pretty big step away from the approach to small, local politics that is how Vermonters like it. I worry that this big district doesn't represent the interests of all its towns."

More later.

-- Nancy Remsen


We're having a great time on the election blog over at www.burlingtonfreepress.com (or embedded in the post just below). It's political junkie heaven. Join us (especially if you can answer a just-asked question about Anthony Pollina and gun control).
-- Candace Page


Live blogging, chat and video: Election Day



Lonely at the top

Two years ago, Howard Dean strolled Church Street in Burlington, campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker.

This year, Dean sent an op-ed piece to Vermont newspapers declaring his support for gubernatorial candiate Gaye Symington. Not quite the same as the personal touch, but Dean is busy with national matters.

He's not the only one. There's a plethora of people too busy or too uninterested or to baggage-laden to campaign for any of the gubernatorial candidates.

Anybody seen Sen. Patrick Leahy out and about campaigning with anybody running for anything in Vermont?

How about Bernie Sanders?

They are too busy thinking about Barack Obama and the 2009 U.S. Senate.

Whether your name is Gaye Symington, Anthony Pollina or Jim Douglas, you aren't really getting a lot of personal help from your higher-up friends.

Symington put herself on the line for the party, but for the most party, the bigwigs have not reciprocated, at least not in public. Holding a rally for the party faithful in Barre doesn't count - that's preaching to the converted.

She apparently was honking-and-waving this morning and will again this evening with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. With the time change, they'll be lucky if evening commuters can see them.

But where is the mob-scene rally with Welch and Leahy and Madeleine Kunin and every big- name Democrat you could muster who would catch voters' attention?

Pollina touts his work with Sanders, but doesn't have his endorsement.

Douglas, meanwhile, can't afford to invite anyone into Vermont to campaign for him who might otherwise. Dick Cheney? George Bush? He'd be begging them to stay away.

It's lonely at the top of the state's ticket.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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