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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Douglas staff takes Shumlin to task

Gov. Jim Douglas’ senior staff unleashed a torrent of complaints Friday against Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, taking him to task for inaccurate statements he has made in recent days.

A couple of things are at play here:

1) This comes in the same week a couple of people publicly said Shumlin is interested in running for governor in 2010.

2) Shumlin is prone to exaggeration.

Six agency and department heads sent Shumlin letters objecting to things he had said to the media.

Shumlin’s aide said he concedes misstating one fact, but stands by the others.

Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon said Shumlin erroneously told The Bennington Banner that the Legislature would save 14 percent of its budget by cutting two weeks off the session. It’s actually 11 percent, Reardon said. That may seem like a small difference, but it adds up to real money, he said.

Alex MacLean, Shumlin’s aide, said Shumlin misspoke in that case. "I find it very difficult to believe the governor has never misspoken," she said. MacLean said Shumlin would not be available late Friday to comment.

Among the other complaints from the administration was another comment he made to The Bennington Banner that "three-quarters of our roads and bridges are in bad shape."

Transportation Secretary David Dill wrote to correct Shumlin: "About 18.5 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient, while an additional 17 percent are functionally obsolete."

MacLean said Shumlin stands by his statement. "Most of our roads are in bad shape," she said.

Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham, Economic Development Commissioner Betsy Bishop, Tourism Commissioner Bruce Hyde and Human Resources Commissioner David Herlihy also sent Shumlin letters complaining about statements he’d made.

"It’s frankly shocking that the governor’s highly paid professionals are using time to play these political games," MacLean said.

If all our technical skills hold together, you can read the letters below.

— Terri Hallenbeck



First look at the framework

Legislative leaders laid out a "framework" for their 2010 budget today.

The gist:
- $33 million in new revenues, including $24 in new taxes. Among the tax increases that would be considered - expanding the scope of the sales and use tax, raising income tax, raising rooms and meals taxes.
- Getting $14 million out of state payroll. Senate President Peter Shumlin wouldn't say that means not layoffs, but he said there wouldn't be 600, as Gov. Jim Douglas proposed. They would also look at cutting state contracts.
- Relying on $153 million in stimulus money.

They laid out some changes in the way government runs - nixing the Commerce agency, restructuring public service, etc., but it was not entirely clear on first blush that these would add up to the certain savings they would need.

It's the first look at where legislators are headed. Have at it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Out of the Wilderness

Rep. Peter Welch joined the battle, so to speak, about the Wal-Mart store that is proposed near to a Virginia Civil War battlefield where Vermonters played a key role.

In a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, Welch and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) expressed their “profound disappointment” in the company’s plan.

The Legislature weighed in earlier this month with a resolution calling on Virginia officials not to allow the project to go ahead.

"These lands and lands near them should always be spared from commercial development," the letter says. "There are countless other locations your company could consider for a more responsibly sited development in this region. "

- Terri Hallenbeck



Queen city's gay vote

It's been a lively mayoral race in Burlington, with four viable candidates in the running to run City Hall, and so it's not surprising that there's a push on from a local group urging the mayoral hopefuls to do their best to reach out to the queen city's gay and lesbian vote.

But, as you can see below, this isn't just any group. It's the "League of Drag Queen Voters" and it is suggesting a little makeover might be in order for some our our mayoral candidates if they are to win the hearts of gay/lesbian voters in town.

That's Mayor Bob Kiss on the left, and Democrat Andy Montroll on the right, as the league might like them to look, based on this humorous link we just got from Burlington drag queen Amber LeMay. For a look at the full link, and how Kurt Wright and Dan Smith were treated in the spoof by the "House of Le May" click HERE.

-- Sam Hemingway


Leahy on Obama escort team

News flash.

Gov. Jim Douglas will not be the only Vermonter getting a bit of face time on TV tonight when President Obama makes his first speech to a joint session of Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy's office announced this afternoon that Leahy has been tapped to be on the team of Senators and House members who will escort the president into the House chamber before his speech.

Wonder if Leahy will use the opportunity to tout his Truth (or consequences) Committee idea to the president...

-- Sam Hemingway



Douglas secures another Obama invitation

Gov. Jim Douglas will site in the presidential box in the balcony of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday night as President Barack Obama delivers his first speech to Congress.

Anybody jealous?

“It is a great honor and privilege to accept the President’s invitation,” said Douglas, a Republican. "I appreciate his efforts to reach out to governors of both parties as we work together to bring our nation through these extraordinary times.”

Douglas has been in D.C. for the winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association. He's vice chairman. Although that meeting ended today, he's chairman of a subcommittee working on health information technology that meets Tuesday. So he was going to be in town anyway.

Douglas won't be the only governor. According to his deputy chief of staff, Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, also got an invitation.

Douglas doesn't expect Obama to point him out, but surely some inside-the-beltway politicos will notice. Wonder what they will make of Douglas relationship with the new president?

-- Nancy Remsen


VSEA releases its cost-saving offer

The Vermont State Employees Association offered to freeze worker pay, forgo reimbursment for meals and tuition and take four days off without pay -- to save $8.5 million in General Fund dollars.

The union said it hoped these savings, plus a reduction in the use of private contracts for services, could avert the need for any layoffs.

The Douglas administration proposed 600 layoffs to save $17 million in General Fund dollars. The administration is looking not just for short-term savings to address revenue shortfalls, but long-term savings.

The union proposed most of its concessions last only a year. However, the VSEA offered to forgo the cost of living pay increase for two years -- because it's willing to put off contract negotiations for a year.

The union said the way to achieve longer-term savings would be to offer early retirement, with incentives. There are a lot of folks who are or soon will be eligible to retire and some of their positions could be eliminated, union leaders said.

What's missing here is more detail about which private contracts the union would propose eliminating.

If that were on the table, it would be easier to make comparisons about impacts once the administration releases its list of 600 job cuts.

-- Nancy Remsen


On the TMD docket

Town meeting is just around the corner. Among the items of interest this year:

- Burlington will decide who is going to be mayor for the next three years. Instant runoff voting makes this one especially hard to predict.

- For the first time, some schools face the two-vote barometer. If they want to spend over a certain amount, they have to split it in two and let voters have at it twice. School officials avoided this like the plague if they could, but a few fell victim to bad timing on construction project payoffs and such. We'll get to see next Tuesday if voters are willing to say aye twice.

- A bunch of towns - 45 or so - will "decide" whether Vermont Yankee should be shut down with a non-binding resolution. There's no question where organizers of the movement stand - they want it shut down, so it will be interesting to see if voters in any of these towns say otherwise.

Any other items out there in the land that you've got your eyes on?

- Terri Hallenbeck



VSEA makes offer to Douglas administration

The Vermont State Employees Association has given the Douglas administration a proposal that union officials say could avert the need for massive layoffs.

The union isn't releasing any details, but Director Jes Kraus suggested more information might be released Monday.

The Douglas administration confirms it received information from the union and will review it.

Gov. Jim Douglas proposed 660 layoffs in his budget. He identified 60 positions. Agency and department managers have submitted plans to achieve the rest of the cuts. Those are still under review. Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville says he expects to share those cuts with legislators by late next week.

Lawmakers go home next Friday for two weeks, so a lot is likely to get put on the table in a hurry. The question is whether any agreements can be reached quickly.

--Nancy Remsen


Democratic Party shift

This is not surprising, as in people don't last forever in these positions, but Ian Carleton leaves the Democratic Party helm at a time when it does not have an executive director either.

In an e-mail slugged "time to move on," he announces he's moving on, listing accomplishments of the party. Missing, as one might expect, is any mention of the 2008 gubernatorial race.

After three rich and exciting years of serving as Chair of the Vermont
Democratic Party, it is time for me to move on. As of this Saturday, I
wish to resign from my position as State Chair. Our able Vice Chair Judy
Bevans, with whom I have already discussed this decision, has graciously agreed
to serve as acting Chair until such time as the Party wishes to hold a special
election for Chair (see Article XX of the VDP Bylaws), or until this November
when the Party is statutorily required to undergo complete

Looking back over the last three years I am struck by the array of changes, accomplishments and milestones this Party has experienced. Here are a few that come to mind as I write this morning:

For the first time in decades the Party undertook, and
completed, a comprehensive, multi-phase revision of its Bylaws.

We vastly increased representation on the Party’s Executive Committee by tripling
its size and creating specific positions for representatives from all across the
democratic spectrum.

We expanded and standardized our endorsement
policy so that the Party was empowered to reach beyond its own membership to
support candidates of any political persuasion if the circumstances warranted
such support.

Then we promptly used our newly expanded
endorsement authority to discuss, debate, and ultimately embrace the successful
candidacy of Independent Bernie Sanders for U.S. Senate, in the process
defrosting nearly two decades of unnecessary and unproductive political

We hired our first female Executive Director ever, Jill Krowinski.

In 2006 we had one of the most successful elections in
Vermont political history, obtaining unprecedented majorities in the State House
and Senate, sending Peter Welch to Congress, Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Senate,
and obtaining four of Vermont’s six statewide constitutional offices.

With the help of Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy, we tripled the Party’s staff, moved into new offices, and vastly increased our organization’s ability to organize the grassroots, communicate with activists, and help our candidates win office.

And finally, in the 2008 presidential election we not only led the charge by being the first state in the nation to be declared for Obama, but we also reached beyond our own borders to deliver victory in other states by making over 100,000 get-out-the-vote calls to Florida and Pennsylvania and knocking on 35,000 doors in New Hampshire.

- Terri Hallenbeck



An unexpected turn of events

Today is a busy day at the Statehouse, with lots of topics vying for top billing: sex offender bill on the House floor, Chief Justice Paul Reiber addressing the full Legislature, budget adjustment bill on the House floor, the governor's weekly press conference, judicial retention hearing.

One event that was expected to take a lower profile was the joint assembly to elect the sergeant-at-arms, the adjutant general and three legislators to the University of Vermont Board of Trustees. The sgt-at-arms and adjutant general were both unopposed for re-election. Four legislators were seeking three spots on the UVM board.

That election took an interesting twist, however, with a tie vote tying up the works. Last I knew they were calling in the Florida Board of Elections to oversee the recount.

By the way, at the governor's press conference today, Gov. Jim Douglas stood side by side with Treasurer Jeb Spaulding to celebrate Moody's decision to grant Vermont a top-notch AAA bond rating. What are the chances, do you think, that Douglas would have invited Spaulding in if Spaulding were still a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2010?

And the governor, who hadn't clarified whether he's running in 2010, said Thursday he is indeed running for re-election - as moderator of the Middlebury town meeting.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Meeting by the pole

The Senate this year is meeting as a whole just two days of the week (Tuesday and Friday) for the first part of the session. The idea is to give committees more time to work and compress the full Senate action into fewer days.

It's too early to tell whether committees will produce better stuff with the new quality time, but it has cut down on a lot of wasted, high-school-recess-like time involved in convening the Senate each day.

It also means they are more apt to shuffle things around, though the Senate has always done this to some extent.

Yesterday, some of that shuffling went on. A brief break was called so that the Senate Finance Committee could meet "over by the pole" to vote on a bill that would change the fines for trucks violating the weight limits on interstates to $1, a bill that was not on the calendar.

Why, I asked Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, are they meeting over by the pole. By which he understood that I wasn't concerned about why the pole was chosen (it's near Chairwoman Ann Cummings' seat) but why they were meeting at all.

The committee had talked about the bill but not voted on it, so they met by the pole (I joined them) and voted unanimously and the bill was hastened along. Hastened so that it might pass before the Federal Highway Administration weighed in.

Then Shumlin went on to declare that since the Senate has to meet Thursday this week to elect the sergeant-at-arms and three University of Vermont trustees, it would do all its business Thursday and not meet Friday. It takes more than a calendar to keep up with the Senate.

Don't know if Thursday's session will involve any meetings by the pole. They might choose over by the couch next time.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Calling the shots

The New York Times had an interesting take on the state of the national Republican Party this morning, pointing out that while the Congressional Rs are all about opposing all things Obama, especially the stimulus package being signed today in Denver, the gubernatorial Rs are far more supportive of the president.

Our Gov. Jim Douglas, who is in line to become chairman of the National Governors Association, gets prominent mention in the piece (click HERE to read it). The NYT also included a interesting tidbit that shed more light on the hastily arranged Oval Office meeting between Obama and Douglas on Feb 2.

It turns out that Douglas set the wheels for that meeting in motion when he asked for a meeting with Obama's people at the NGA's liaison office at the White House. Obama responded by turning the request into a chummy one-on-one visit inside the Oval Office, as the cameras clicked.

It says here that once Douglas takes over the NGA this summer, his national profile as a pragmatist Republican will give him a prominent voice in the national discussion about the country's economic problems and, if he so chooses, rehabilitating the GOP's national image.

-- Sam Hemingway



To the west, and then some

What another state is doing:

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has suspended income tax refunds and may not be
able to pay employees on time, state officials said Monday.

The state doesn’t have enough money in its main budget account to pay its
bills, prompting Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to suggest borrowing $225
million from other accounts throughout state government. But the move required
approval from legislative leaders, and Republican leaders refused Monday.

Budget Director Duane Goossen said that without the money, he’s not sure
the state can meet its payroll. About 42,000 state employees are scheduled to be
paid again Friday. He added that the state might also have to delay
payments to public schools and to doctors who provide care to needy Kansas
residents under the Medicaid program.

Goossen said the state stopped processing income tax refunds last week.

- Terri Hallenbeck


How much for a gallon of milk?

I went to pour milk into my coffee yesterday and the price tag on the top of the jug says, "$2.79." My husband has been buying the milk the last few times so I kind of lost track of how much we were paying. Last I knew it was $3.25

The subject of milk prices came up last week when some senators said they were working on a bill to put a cap on how much stores could charge. Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, said they were charging $4.69 at Shaw's in Derby.

So I figured if the price we were paying at our local convenience store had dropped from $3.25 to $2.79, perhaps the price had dropped everywhere and that would take the oomph out of the legislation.

Well, it sorta has and sorta hasn't. At Shaw's in Montpelier today, they are charging $3.69 for Shaw's brand and $4.69 for Booth Bros. At the Capital Deli convenience store, it's $3.29 for Booth Bros.

I don't think many of us quite understand why supermarkets are charging so much more than convenience stores for milk, unless they have done surveys to show people will buy their milk wherever they buy the rest of their groceries. At my house, we are not fiscal geniuses, but we figured out a while back that milk is cheaper at the convenience store and it's not all that inconvenient to stop there.

I've also figured out that two supermarket chains that have stores across the road from each other charge vastly different prices for cheese. I no longer buy my cheese at the one that insists on selling it for lots more.

Perhaps in areas of the state where there is only the one store and no competitor across the road, that's more of a problem.

What remains to be seen is if the Senate leaders can sell their colleagues and the governor on the idea of legislating the price of a gallon of milk.

- Terri Hallenbeck


From Vermont to Virginia

Here in Vermont, the Legislature passed a resolution calling on officials in Virginia to protect a key Civil War battlefield near a monument to Vermont soldiers rom encroaching development.

The actions did not go unnoticed down in Virginia. Here's the story in the Fredericksburg paper:


- Terri Hallenbeck




Dean to be honored back home

Howard Dean might not be welcome in the Obama administration, but he is apparently welcome back home in Burlington. Which probably means, welcome back and help us raise some more money.

His friends back here are holding a welcome back party for him Feb. 21 at the Burlington home of Liz & Eric Miller.

The event is billed as a reception honoring Dean and the success of his 50-state strategy as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Neighbors to the east

This from AP for those of you interested in the topic in general:

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — NH gov proposes closing a prison, 9 courts, 16 liquor stores, & laying off 300 in new budget.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Republican mulling secretary of state run

Chris Roy, a lawyer from Williston, announced this morning he's exploring a run for secretary of state in 2010 as a Republican. He said he has formed an exploratory committee.

If it seems early to be starting a campaign for secretary of state, Roy is apparently reading the tea leaves. The seat, held these last 10 years by Democrat Deb Markowitz, could be lacking an incumbent, as Markowitz is exploring a run for governor.

Roy, 44, an a native of Barre, is a partner with the law firm Down Rachlin Martin. He serves on the Williston Selectboard.
In his announcement, Roy said he prides himself on working cooperatively, but he said little about what he would do as secretary of state. "At this time, Vermonters are looking for fresh voices and new leadership in Montpelier," he said.
- Terri Hallenbeck



Speed of compromise a surprise

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, has been working the phones for the past few days, trying to get other House speakers to join him in a letter to Congress about the pending stimulus package.

He'd said he had called speakers in Maine, Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Jersey -- to name a few. He had hoped to have a group letter ready for delivery at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Then he heard that the U.S. Senate and House had essentially reached agreement on the stimulus package -- just a day after the Senate passed its version.

That was unexpectedly fast. And it short-circuited Smith's effort to try out some speaker muscle.

Now he and others have to delve into the deal to see what it means for Vermont.

No matter what all the details are, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said, "This is a great deal for Vermont because without it our situation would be so desperate it is unthinkable."

-- Nancy Remsen


Fools on the Hill

It was a tough day Wednesday on Capitol Hill for the captains of the financial industry, and for that you can thank our own sharp-tongued Senator Bernie Sanders, at least in part.

A group of the money men made appearances before the House Banking Committee that Sanders once served on and things didn't go well, even when the bankers tried to apologize for the mess they've made of things.

“You come here today on your bicycles after buying Girl Scout cookies and helping out Mother Teresa,” growled Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass. “You’re saying, ’We’re sorry. We didn’t mean it. We won’t do it again. Trust us.’ I have some people in my (district) who have robbed some of your banks and they say the same thing.”

Ouch. That's gotta hurt.

Sanders, who now sits on the Senate Banking Committee, did not exactly provide a warm welcome to new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner when Geithner showed up for his own private grilling.

Sanders let Geithner know what he tought of the perceived reluctance of the Obama administration to insist on the removal of people like the head of Goldman Sachs as a pre-condition to receiviing government help.

The exchange, and more, was featured on an ABC News online report that was promptly posted on Sanders' Web site. To read it for yourself, click HERE.

“You have a person who made hundreds of millions for himself and he led his institution and helped cause a great financial crisis," Sanders said to Geithner at one point. "We have put as taxpayers $10 billion to bail him out and we have no say as to whether or not he will stay on the job?”

Geithner told Sanders there would be times the government would set "tough conditions" for the management of such companies, but said in Goldman Sach's cases, he expected he would let the company's board of directors make the call.

“We’re not going to fire the leadership?” Sanders fumed. "We’re going to keep these same guys who caused the crisis in power and who made huge sums of money?"

So what do you think? Is it practical to show these guys the door? Will their replacements be any better? And should Geithner and the feds have that kind of power in the first place?

Your turn.

-- Sam Hemingway

-- Sam Hemingway



Caucus moment

House Majority Leader Floyd Nease is kind of a tough guy - stocky in build, who has long played the role of “enforcer” in the Democratic caucus.

Today, he interrupted the caucus meeting to take a phone call. He came back to announce he’d just become a grandfather. Somebody asked him the boy’s name and the tough guy could not talk.

The voice would not cough it up. After a few attempts, it became apparent that the word he was trying to emit was Oliver.

Congrats to the new grandpa.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Budget cuts and bags

A couple hundred or so people gathered at the Statehouse today to protest the proposed budget cuts. "Save Our Services. Save Our State," they chanted amid the snowbanks on the Statehouse steps, decrying cuts at a time when people need more services.

Before the noon-time rally, most of them funneled into the Statehouse. There, they were met by security guards asking to look into bags. One of the wonderful things about the Vermont Statehouse is that this sort of screening is not a regular thing.

Tuesday's rally, though, was bringing in an unknown number of people from a variety of groups, said Sergeant-at-Arms Francis Brooks, so he brought out the extra measures. He added security personnel from the state Buildings and General Services Department and from state police, including Oak, the bomb-sniffing black lab whose main function seemed to be that he was the cutest thing in the building.

Brooks, who had early in his tenure considered more permanent security measures at the Statehouse, said he beefs up the scrutiny for large gatherings, including the inaugural address. He didn't do it for Friday's even larger gathering of gay-marriage proponents because he and the organizers weren't expecting quite that many people, he said.

Brooks acknowledged he'd gotten some grief Tuesday from legislators for the searches.
"Change, whether it's right or not is absolutely the hardest thing for this building," Brooks said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



One down in gov's race

Jeb Spaulding will not be running for governor, he announced this morning.

In an e-mail to staff, Spaulding said:

"After a good deal of consideration, conversation, and introspection, I
have decided to forgo a campaign for Governor in 2010 and instead focus intently
on fulfilling my responsibilities as Vermont's State Treasurer.

I thought you might like to know this before the word gets around.Many of
you know how enthusiastic I am about serving as State Treasurer with all of
you. In these difficult economic times, the job is especially challenging
and rewarding.

I can serve Vermonters best at this time by paying close attention to the
financial affairs of our State with as few distractions as possible. I look
forward to working together."

What's your best guess: Did Spaulding find himself already behind others in the race for supporters? Did he look at the economy and say now's not the time to beat an incumbent? Did he decide he just didn't want to do the campaign?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Facebook faux pas

Facebook, for the uninitiated, is all the rage as a new way to waste your time away. Everyone I know who's on it isn't quite sure why or whether they even like it, but they are nonetheless compelled.

It's a little like high school, though less traumatizing. Almost everybody's doing it.

Jason Gibbs, the erstwhile spokesman for the governor who now runs the state's parks and forests, is the first person I've heard of who got kicked off Facebook - sent to the principal's office, so to speak.

Gibbs explains that he sent messages to his Facebook friends to encourage them to become "supporters of the state parks." That was a violation of the Facebook's anti-spamming rules, he was told in a message from Facebook, and he was thus suspended from the Facebook world.

Gibbs said he has asked the Facebook people when can he get back on. He's awaiting word.

Meanwhile, his wife has launched a petition drive to restore him to Facebook. There are now 56 members. I signed on. If I'm going to be caught up in that world, he should be too.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Stimulating police

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling were quoted today in the New York Times, on the inclusion of money for police in the federal stimulus package.

Here's the link:

Leahy defends use of stimulus money for this item that does not particularly seem to meet the definition. He says:

''In police hiring, nearly 100 percent of the money goes to creating jobs.
'This is particularly important in the current economic crisis, since many
police departments are already reporting increases in crime and cuts in their
budgets and their forces.''

A senior analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, David B.
Muhlhausen, who has written about the COPS program, disagreed, saying there was
''no evidence that funding for these kinds of programs will stimulate the

Schirling talks of the potential - as yet unseen - of an increase in crime with the tanking economy.

Michael E. Schirling, the police chief in Burlington, Vt., a city of 40,000, said in an interview that while he expected crime to rise because of the troubled economy, it had not done so yet. But Chief Schirling said that ''the wave of economic troubles surely has the potential to drive not only crime but the stresses that drive people to alcohol and drug abuse, and that increases the volume of calls to law enforcement agencies.''

It's hard to argue against police, and it's really hard to argue that Vermont as a whole isn't sorely understaffed in that area, but is this stimulus?

- Terri Hallenbeck


The new media model?

You can't escape talk of the declining news business. On NPR, this morning, there was a segment on nonprofit and employee-owned models. This from an interview news corporation Belo executive vice president Jim Maroney III (publishers of the Dallas Morning News):

Q: Rumors have circulated for a while that perhaps The Dallas Morning News
will begin charging for at least some of its online content. How likely is that
at this point?

A: Two years ago, I would have told you that asking people to pay for
content on the Web is a ridiculous notion. Today, I will tell you it's almost
imperative we experiment with it to see what the consumer will respond to. We
know the consumer is paying for newspapers on Kindle.
So there's that example. Maybe it's something like $5.95 a month. But somebody's
willing to pay for it for some reason. That's a discussion I would bet most
newspapers, including this one, are having in a way where, two years ago,
they didn't.

For us, I wouldn't have thought we'd be having the discussion. I was
convinced it wasn't possible. I am not so certain about that any longer, and
some experimentation will happen. The consumer will tell us if it's a bad idea.
We can try anything we want, but, ultimately, the consumer will tell us if it's
a good idea or not, and if we find out not enough make it worth doing, then,
obviously, whatever experiment we're doing is not a path to go down."

Would you pay for online news? What if the choice was that if you didn't, it might no longer exist?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dean's prospects

As we reported on the print side this morning, the chances that Howard Dean is nominated to be Health and Human Services Secretary in the aftermath of the Tom Daschle debacle aren't great, but that isn't stopping some for promoting him for the job.

The latest sign-up? Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who backed Dean during Dean's meteoric 2004 run for president and who was on the stage in Des Moines the night Dean went down in the Iowa caucuses and uttered his infamous "scream" heard round the political world.

Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Ryan Grim are reporting today that Harkin thinks Dean's the one. "I think that would be a very good move," Harkin is quoted as saying. "He brings all the background and experience. He's very strong on prevention and wellness, which I'm very strong on. I think he'd make an outstanding secretary of HHS." For a full read of Harkin's thoughts, click HERE.

Will President Obama heed Harkin's call? I doubt it. Dean might make a great HHS chief, but he annoyed too many folks inside the beltway during his campaign and as chairman of the Democratic National Committee to be able to sweet talk them now into backing a health care reform package. He may be a veteran of the national political stage, but he's still an outsider to the folks on the Hill.

Here's a thought. If Obama agrees Dean's service to the party makes him deserving of a seat at the White House table, why not hire him for the accountability czar post that Nancy Killifer was on track to fill before she backed out earlier this week.

As everyone in these parts knows, Dean as governor was a real tightwad when it came to spending the public's money. And that job wouldn't require him to be Mr. Nice Guy with the Congress.


-- Sam Hemingway


Betting on the lottery

Here's what they're talking about in Iowa - leasing the lottery to raise money.


In this case the Legislature can't get the governor interested. Are they onto something?

- Terri Hallenbeck



In the Oval Office

Gov. Jim Douglas was not inclined to get all googly-eyed about his quality-time in the Oval Office this week. Gubernatorial aide Heidi Tringe, who accompanied him on the trip, was more reflective of the experience. (That's Heidi on the left standing against the wall)

Tringe, who worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology and had been in the Oval Office twice before, still found the situation awe-inspiring.

Not often you get to see the president of the USA up close, in person for a good half-hour or so. The tall, lanky President Barack Obama was an impressive presence with a spocial aura about him, she said.

Obama, ever the gracious host, moved two sofas back into their proper place after the media was ushered out, she said. She stood there thinking she ought to help, but she was in heels and, well, he's the president, so what are you supposed to do?

The walls leading to the Oval Office are normally lined with presidential photos. The walls of this administration, in its infancy are almost blank, ready for memories to be created.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Calling Dr. Dean?

I don't know whether Howard Dean is paid in full on his taxes, but if so here's a job opportunity for him:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Faced with problems over back taxes and potential conflicts of interest, Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination on Tuesday to be President Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Stimulating talk

A Web site done by the Democratic National Committee lists the estimated benefits by state in terms of jobs created of the economic stimulus plan on the table in Washington.

Vermont would save or create 7,170 jobs by the end of 2010, according to the site. The plan would have a -1.8 percent influence on our unemployment rate, they say.

I'm not entirely sure how they make that estimate because it's going to depend on how the states use the money they have coming.

The site also talks about the meeting between President Barack Obama and Gov. Jim Douglas. Obama is quoted as saying:

"People are being laid off, and that means that governors like Jim are
having to not only deal with declining revenue, but increased social services to
provide support for people who are unemployed as they're seeking work."

You can check it out:

- Terri Hallenbeck



Douglas and Obama chat about economic stimuli

Gov. Jim Douglas reported Monday evening he spent about 30 minutes with President Barack Obama earlier in the day -- although he admitted he really hadn't kept track of the time.

They talked about the economic recovery legislation pending in Congress. Douglas said he stressed he didn't have a favorite -- there is a House and Senate version and will likely be a third version in the end. His message was simply that states need help so please do something fast.

Obama told Douglas, according to the governor, that he's trying hard to find a package that wins at least some bipartisan support.

The invitation to meet the president came over the weekend and out of the blue (kind of an apt term when talking about a Democrat, don't you think?) Douglas had a speaking engagement and decided to piggyback onto his trip to DC some meetings about the stimulus package. He had contact the White House office of intergovernmental affairs to provide some ideas about what states need/want in the package -- flexibility and more money for infrastructure.

My take is the Obama staff saw an opportunity to showcase an ally who happens to be Republican but wants the federal government to give the states some spending money. Voila, a half-hour audience complete with an opportunity for the press to see the pair seated in front of the fireplace amiably chatting.

Douglas said he didn't feel used -- he got a chance to say some things directly to the guy in charge.

They had a comfortable conversation. "He's a very genial guy," Douglas said. Did Obama offer refreshments? Water, "but I declined." Douglas had gotten just outside before the "audience."

Douglas twice visited the Oval Office when Bush was president -- but always with a group and never when cameras recorded the visit.

Did he say anything interesting, unexpected? Did you? Douglas answered that before leaving he brought up another topic. I waiting anxiously wondering what topic he might have raised with the president.

Douglas explained. "I said I wanted to thank him" for the directive to the Environmental Protection Agency about reconsidering states' requests for waivers allowing stricter tailpipe emissions standards.

Well, did you invite him to Vermont? Remember Bush never came during his eight years as president. Douglas said they talked about whether Obama had been to Vermont -- he said he had while campaigning. Douglas told Obama he hoped he would come again -- soon. In fact, Douglas shared later, the president may not know it, but an invitation has been issued for him to come to the big Lake Champlain celebration in the summer.

So who gained the most out of this session and did anyone lose?

-- Nancy Remsen


Douglas in the Oval Office

Gov. Jim Douglas will shortly take a seat on a sofa or chair in the famous Oval Office to talk with President Barack Obama -- one-on-one -- about the economic stimulus package. WOW.

He was going to DC anyhow to meet with Vermont's congressional delegation about the package and to make the rounds with a few other senators, I think, to talk up the need for a stimulus package -- now -- with as few strings attached as possible. He's also giving a speech on electronic technology in health care.

Douglas is the vice chairman of the National Governors Association. He noted last week that he and most other governors, regardless of political party, support the various versions of stimulus under consideration because they could help states get out of some big troubles. Without help, states will be doing things that certainly won't help the economy, I think Douglas will point out to some fellow Republicans who serve in Congress.

Apparently the sit down with Obama didn't materialize until over the weekend. Word went out late Sunday -- with only a few minutes to spare before our deadline. Douglas met Obama in December at an NGA event and reported that Obama had told him (Douglas) he must be one heck of a politician to win re-election as a Republican in a very blue state.

Below I printed the test of the White House announcement about Obama's Monday's schedule. I love the line about "pool spray."

"President Barack Obama will attend the Presidential Daily Briefing, the Daily Economic Briefing and a meeting with senior advisors tomorrow morning in the Oval Office. These meetings are closed press. Late morning, President Obama will meet with Governor Douglas of Vermont in the Oval Office to discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. There will be a pool spray at the top of the meeting.

In the afternoon, President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet with Secretary Gates in the Oval Office. This meeting is closed press. Later, President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet with Congressional Leadership in the Roosevelt Room. This meeting is closed press."

Vt.BuZZ will update later after hearing from Douglas about his private conversation with Obama. Do they drink coffee together? Talk about the weather first? Politics? Or is it just the business at hand?

-- Nancy Remsen

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