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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Douglas proposal for education stimulus money

The House Appropriations Committee members were hunched over copies of the budget Monday afternoon, giving it a read before their scheduled 4 p.m. vote on the bill.

Up the stairs comes Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon with an envelop. He's delivering a proposal from Gov. Jim Douglas on how the administration would like to use some $38 million in federal stimulus dollars. He hoped to present the proposal.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Martha Heath, D-Westford, was surprised, to say the least. Thirty minutes before the committee's vote the administration wanted to make a proposal? Too late, she said. The panel would look at it --- next week!

The committee already had a plan for the use of these dollars. Legislative leaders announced a proposal for these dollars last Thursday as well as how they would use another $8 million or so, all from a pot of money called State Fiscal Stabilization Funds. The Douglas administration unveiled its plan for the smaller portion, but not the education portion -- until late Monday afternoon.

At least one of the Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee said he didn't know anything about the administration's proposal -- even late Monday.

All Reardon brought to Heath was a spreadsheet. He said the funds would be used to transition the state to a new way to pay for schools -- a way which has yet to be developed. The governor has a task force, which includes legislators, that is working on this issue, but there is no replacement system on the horizon yet.

So why come so late to the House budget process? It's not like the administration was in the dark about what the committee was doing. One of their own sits with the committee at all times with a cell phone and computer. It was a peculiar move.

When asked, Reardon said it's taken time to unravel exactly what the rules were for different funds. And he bristled at criticism focused on the process, which he said lawmakers always resort to when the administration puts a proposal on the table. He wants to focus on substance, he said.

Sometimes, however, the way things are done overshadows what is done. For the exhausted House Appropriations Committee facing a long week in the spotlights, the strange timing of the administration proposal overshadowed whatever ideas are contained on the spreadsheet.

-- Nancy Remsen



Leahy's moneygoround

With just a little more than 24 hours before the books close on first-quarter fundraising for U.S. House and Senate candidates, the re-election campaign of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is apparently banking on the "truth" for some extra campaign cash.

In an e-mail appeal sent out to supporters today, the Leahy campaign used Leahy's call for a "truth commission" to investigate the goings of the departed Bush administration as an incentive for donors to send some money Leahy's way.

Attached to the top of the e-mail is this note: "Tomorrow's end-of-quarter fundraising report will be used to gauge the level of public support for Senator Leahy and his efforts in the Senate. Please contribute today -- and let's make sure we show our support and enthusiasm for Senator Leahy's strong, principled leadership." (Underlined emphasis from Leahy campaign e-mail).

The rest of the e-mail contains a letter from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., talking about what a good idea the truth commission is and how the idea is gathering support down in Capitol Land, including a Pat on the back from the editorial pages of the Washington Post.

"It's critical that we understand all that went wrong over the past 8 years of the Bush-Cheney Administration so we can be sure it never happens again. And there's one Senator who's leading the charge in that fight: Patrick Leahy." Whitehouse wrote.

Hey, all's fair and politics and war. But does the idea of using the truth commission initiative to score campaign cash seem a tad unseemly to you, or no?

FYI: Leahy already had $1,218,785 in his campaign account at the end of 2008, with no Republican opponent yet on the horizon for 2010.

-- Sam Hemingway


How many votes does it take to override?

I used to blame myself for never being able to remember how many votes it takes to override a veto in the House.

Then, last week I walked in to the House clerk's office to double-check and there was former Rep. George Schiavone, who is counting votes for the same-sex marriage opponents, asking the same question. While we talked it over, Assistant Majority Leader Lucy Leriche, D-Hardwick, stopped to listen in.

I'm not the only one who can't remember.

You see, it takes two-thirds to override, but that's two-thirds of those present. Throw in one case of the flu, a dental appointment and a nervous legislator taking a walk and you're talking real math that's needs doing.

Today, I asked House Clerk Don Milne if he has a cheat sheet that outlines how many votes are needed based on various numbers in attendance. He does, and yes, he was willing to share.

So now you can all play along at home:

150 present=100 votes needed to override

If there are fewer than 135, then something else is afoot.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Dean, Stewart and Vt. politics

In case you missed it this weekend, Howard Dean and Jon Stewart both weighed in on same-sex marriage.

I was away for the weekend, but our man Joel Banner Baird was there. You can read about Dean HERE and Stewart HERE.

Going into the weekend, the Vermont Republican Party was making some hay out of the fact that legislative leaders such as Peter Shumlin were critical of Jim Douglas for his stance on same-sex marriage (calling him a coward), but gave President Barack Obama and Curtis Award keynote speaker Sen. Claire McCaskill a pass for having similar stances.

Were there any awkward moments with McCaskill when same-sex marriage came up? Does the GOP have a point?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Survey says: Now's not the time

You may have received an automated call on your phone about same-sex marriage and wondered who's behind that. The Vermont Republican Party is coordinating the calls.

For $200, the party will help coordinate the poll is a given legislative district. You can see the pitch here: http://www.vtgop.org/NewsBack.aspx?guid=f26028be-5147-48cf-bcb2-b881526a388a. The money pays for the polling, says party Chairman Rob Roper, it's not a money-maker for the party.

The calls give recipients three choices for an opinion on the topic:
1. Now is not the time. The Legislature should be focused on economic issues.
2. The Legislature should legalize same-sex marriage now.
3. The Legislature should not legalize same-sex marriage.

One of the calls rang into the home of House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, who of course supports the same-sex marriage bill. Smith didn't answer the phone, though. His young son did. And Shap reports that his son responded the way many kids have been told to when mom and dad are busy: Now is not the time.

You can't make this stuff up.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Mud season at the Statehouse

This same-sex marriage debate is heated. And when things heat up in Vermont in March, that means only one thing: mud. Stepping in it, slinging it, wiping it off your shoes.

A string of statements from both the governor and the Legislature on same-sex marriage lean toward the disingenuous.

A Nov. 21 article by Associated Press staff writer Dave Gram is one example. In it:

Gov. Jim Douglas: "I never indicate what I might do when a bill gets to my desk, but I've been quite clear that I don't support the legislation."

Well, sometimes he indicates what he might do, like yesterday.

In the same story, Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, one of the sponsors of the same-sex marriage bill: Campbell criticized Douglas for not saying whether he'd veto a same-sex marriage bill. "This is too important of an issue for a governor to be evasive. He should let the people of Vermont know where he stands now," Campbell said.

And when Douglas did that yesterday, Campbell seemed not to like it.

The list goes on:
Legislative leaders said Douglas shouldn't be deciding the fate of a bill before the bill passes, yet they decided three weeks ago that a bill would pass before any committee started taking testimony.

Douglas said yesterday: "I'm sure that legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they did not have the votes to override a veto." I would argue that he is playing games when he says that, that he suspects otherwise and merely wants legislators to look bad if they don't have the votes.

It is mud season.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Governor changes topic

Gov. Jim Douglas will not hold his previously scheduled Statehouse news conference today, but instead will go to Williston and unveil his new economic stimulus plan at MicroStrain Inc.

The money will be used to support existing companies and invest in new companies looking to grow or locate here in Vermont, according to the governor's office.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Live coverage: Douglas on same-sex marriage

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Marriage up for vote in New Hampshire

As Vermont is in the midst of a debate on same-sex marriage, so is its neighbor.

In New Hampshire, the upside down state, the House will vote Thursday.

According to the Boston Globe:

Jim Splaine, a member of the New Hampshire House and chief sponsor of its
bill, said the vote will be close in a chamber with a majority of Democrats,
most of whom he said support the bill.
"It's going to be tough, but we stand a good chance," Splaine said. "I think most people have realized that we need full equality, not just civil unions."
New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, also opposes same-sex marriage. But, like Vermont's governor, he is not saying whether he would veto such a bill.
"He thinks the civil unions that he signed into law prevents discrimination and provides the same legal protections to all New Hampshire families to the extent that it's possible under federal law," said Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch.

You can read more here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/vermont/articles/2009/03/24/same_sex_marriage_bills_gain_in_ne/?page=1

- Terri Hallenbeck



Marriage bill a distraction?

This morning, the Senate gave its final approval to the same-sex marriage bill with barely a whimper of dissent in a voice vote.

All in all, it did not take much floor time in the Senate to pass the bill, despite its heft as an issue. An hour and a half yesterday, maybe 10 minutes today.

Based purely on that you could argue it wasn't a distraction at all, as Gov. Jim Douglas has argued it is. But floor time doesn't tell the whole story.

Most senators will tell you this issue has not prevented them from attending to their other matters. The Transportation Committee is still working on transportation issues, the Economic Development Committee is birthing an omnibus bill, the Institutions Committee is building a capital budget.

But they were doing that amid a torrent of messages, via via e-mail and on little pink while-you-were-out slips delivered by pages. And they were doing that amid making some what for some was a pretty heart-wrenching decision. Even for those who'd already made up their minds, it was an emotional moment.

Senators yesterday after the vote said they were exhausted, emotionally spent. Many of them spent the weekend fielding calls, e-mails and comments from neighbors back home. Some cast their vote not knowing if they will pay for it at the polls next year.

So was it/is it a distraction? The jury's out. You can argue that the adrenaline rush of this bill gives them energy for other work, that the more you have to do the more you can do, but you can also argue that a bunch of senators were exhausted and it was only Monday. Some of them have some very tough budgets to build. The answer will be in how that goes.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dean joins CNBC

Former Gov. Howard Dean has added another hat to his collection as he adjusts to life after being chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Dean, along with being a speechmaker, political consultant, health care reform advocate, Democratic think tanker and Democracy for America chief cheerleader, will now also be a regular "contributor" (code for talking head) on CNBC, the cable biz outlet for NBC.

Dean was on the air this morning at his CNBC gig, chatting up the Obama administration's new bank bailout plan. Here's a peek at how it went...

BTW, Huffington Post covered the news of Dean's newest parttime gig this a.m., noting that while Dean's no economist, he "worked on Wall Street after graduating college and has family ties to the financial sector."

True, but do ya really think that's why he got the CNBC gig.

-- Sam Hemingway

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Live coverage of Senate vote

As you may have heard, the Senate will vote this afternoon on the same-sex marriage bill. You can catch that vote live at www.burlingtonfreepress.com . We're always thinking of you.

- Terri Hallenbeck



First vote is unanimous on gay marriage

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 today to recommend that Vermont allow same-sex couples to marry.

The outcome wasn't in doubt, but the unanimity was a surprise.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, put his political future on the line by voting to recommend the change in the marriage statute -- but not until he tried to delay the vote for a year so a non-binding referendum could be held next Town Meeting Day.

Mullin said many in the public feel they haven't been heard on the question.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, opposed the referendum, saying it would invite oodles of out-of-state money and media buys. Think California, he said.

Steve Cable, one of the most outspoken opponents to the change, promised political consequences, particularly for Mullin. "I know one senator who will pay the price, he said after the vote.

Lawmakers know there could be political consequences from this vote. "That comes with the territory being the Legislature," Sears said after the vote.

Advocates of the change were cautiously optimistic. A bigger test will come Monday or Tuesday when the full Senate considers the bill. I assume someone will call for a roll call to get all 30 on the record.

I expect some among the 30 will be losing sleep this weekend and probably all will receive lots of e-mail and phone calls.

-- Nancy Remsen



First vote scheduled Friday on same-sex marriage bill

In the wake of Wednesday's big public hearing, a week of testimony and hundreds of e-mails and phone messages, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to revise and vote on the same-sex marriage bill Friday morning.

The panel has two hours for its deliberations.

Steve Cable, an opponent of the bill, suggested to Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, that he didn't have to rush to action. Why not delay until after holding a statewide referendum or at least a summer study? Cable asked.

Not likely.

Not even Gov. Jim Douglas sees merit in slowing down the process -- now that legislative leaders "seem intent on doing this." At his news conference earlier this afternoon, Douglas said, "I think the better approach is to get it over quickly."

Assuming a bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples passes both the Senate and House and lands on his desk, what would the governor do?

"I think I've made my position quite clear," he said. "Marriage should remain between a man and a woman." He added that he thinks civil unions provides gay couples with all the rights of marriage and ought to be sufficient.

Does that mean a veto? He wouldn't say, as usual. "I'm going to do what I think is right."

I guess we can feel safe in predicting he won't sign the bill. Would he let it become law without his signature or veto it? What are the political consequences of letting it become law versus a veto? Does he need to care?

-- Nancy Remsen


Last night's scene

Last night's hearing on same-sex marriage was a marvel of civility, with kudos to the sergeant-at-arms for creating a situation that was neither heavy-handed nor disruptive.

The Statehouse was packed with people who were passionate, angry, scared, nervous and none of them took it out on anyone. Coming up with a crowd total is always a bit of a guess, and of course that's the thing in the largest type the next day in the paper.

Capital Police Chief Les Dimmick told me he thought it was 1,000 to 1,200. Sergeant-at-arms Francis Brooks estimated around 900. So I offered you 1,000 as a total. If you were standing in the aisle for three hours or listening by speaker from Room 10, you probably felt like it was more. The Associated Press pegged it at "more than 500." The Vermont Press Bureau called it "hundreds." I submit to you that at least I put some effort into coming up with a tally.

Nine years ago, a civil unions hearing in a snowstorm brought out 1,200, according to our account at the time. People who were there for both said this was less tense. This time, there were also many more ways to tune in from afar, courtesy of newfangled technology.

I'm not sure anyone changed anyone's minds inside the building last night, but they had a chance to tell their stories and be heard. Perhaps the real goal is to help people make up their minds outside the building, which then helps people inside the building make up their minds.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Same-sex marriage hearing live

A reminder that you can watch tonight's hearing on same-sex marriage live at www.burlingtonfreepress.com.

We will also have a live, interactive thingy (that's the technical term) where y'all can converse with me and each other about the event. Here's the thing, though, you have to be civil in your discourse. You can also find that at the aforementioned www.burlingtonfreepress.com.

The hearing, with the House and Senate Judiciary committees, starts at 6 p.m., goes til 8:30 p.m.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The question of religion

Same-sex marriage is front and center in the Statehouse this week.

I wasn't covering this issue nine years ago when civil unions came into being, though I was reading the stories closely 40 miles down the interstate. It is unlike most other issues to cover. That may be because everybody thinks the reporter has an agenda.

To wit: When I asked opponents Monday what the driving force for their opinion was, if they had trouble articulating it, I asked it was religious or something else. That often made them defensive. No, it's not just religion, they said, it's also social. I wasn't suggesting that having an opinion based on one's religion is a bad thing, I was just trying to get at what that particular person's reasoning was so that I could explain it to the world.

According to a quote in the Rutland Herald from same-sex marriage opponent Stephen Cable, this is how the people I was asking took it:

"Do go ahead and use your religious and moral arguments, but the press
would like nothing more than to de-legitimize us … by saying 'oh, this is just
about their religion.'"

That's a shame because I was in no way trying to "delegitimize" anybody's argument by asking whether it was based in religion. But now I know why they were uncomfortable with the question.

In a sense, no opinion is ever just based in religion. Religion is a belief structure and if you are against something because it's against your religion, you're also against it because you think it's wrong. I suppose to suggest you are only against something because of your religion suggests that you swallow religious doctrine without thinking. I guess I can see why people would not want to be accused of that.

Still, I'll be asking people on either side of the issue what it the driving force for them. That's legitimate any time.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The job cut list

At this point, I don't know where folks can find the list of 320 job cuts the Douglas administration released Wednesday.

Reporters were handed paper copies at the briefing. (How old-fashioned!)

I've asked if the list is or could be posted. Stay tuned.

-- Nancy Remsen


The choice: Pay and benefit cuts or 320 layoffs

The Douglas administration has put two options on the table for state employees to ponder. The choices are something lawmakers will have to consider as well as they write their versions of the budget.

To fill the big gap in tax revenues that has developed as a result of the slowing economy, Gov. Jim Douglas first suggested he would need to layoff 600 workers. Actually he proposed 660 layoffs of which 60 were spelled out within his budget. The other 600 were to be identified later.

Wednesday, the administration identified 320 jobs that it was prepared to eliminate -- a lot fewer than the previously announced 600 because the administration would be willing to find some of the $17 million in payroll savings by going along with a concession the Vermont State Employees Association put on the table. Namely, a pay freeze -- no cost-of-living increase and no step increases.

Douglas made clear minutes ago that layoffs aren't his preference. He'd rather reduce state payroll expenses by asking state workers making more than $30,000 to take 5 % pay cuts and to pay 30%, rather than 20% of the cost of the health insurance premiums.

Administration officials have stressed they are looking for ongoing payroll savings, so the pay and benefit rollbacks wouldn't be restored when (not if, we hope) good times return.

The layoffs, by contrast, would create lasting changes since many involve discontinuing some service or program. For example, 67 jobs Correction Department jobs would be eliminated by closing the prison in St. Johnsbury.

The list of specific job cuts is 18 pages long and there are lots of impacts that have yet to be discerned. Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville highlighted several -- no more red-meat inspection, and reduced inspections of milk. Elimination of the Public Oversight Commission that reviews hospital capital budgets and certificates of need. Elimination of the home school program, with responsibilities (and some money) shifted to local school districts. Elimination of a solid waste program that reviewed permit applications and certification requests for transfer stations, again with responsibility and dollars distributed to local entities.

The 320 job cuts would save $11.2 million. The pay and benefit cuts would produce about the same savings. Choose your poison.

Learning that their jobs were on the line was harsh for 320 folks. One person called me, crying and not sure where to turn.

Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, complained that telling the workers yesterday was cruel since it's not a done deal. He sees it as a negotiating tactic, a way to put pressure on the union.

On the other hand, how can the union or lawmakers weigh the impact of proposed job cuts without knowing what jobs would be cut?

Another caller said the union and administration shouldn't be limiting themselves to these two options. Why not consider a shortened work week for a few years until the economy rebounds. That would give everyone time to consider and carry out more thoughtful restructuring, the caller said.

No easy answers here.

-- Nancy Remsen



A Democrat for secretary of state

Wow. The hot race in 2010 may be for secretary of state?

Democrat Charles Merriman, 50, of Middlesex, threw his hat in the ring today. Chris Roy, a Republican from Williston announced his interest a few weeks ago and has formed an exploratory committee.

Why all this activity? Because Deb Markowitz, current Democratic officeholder, is exploring a run for governor.

So who is Merriman? Here's what his press release says: He's a municipal attorney and partner in the law firm of Tarrant,Marks & Gillies. He's a former assistant attorney general who specialized in property tax issues.

"Vermont should have a Secretary of State who understands the needs of Vermont municipal officials in serving our fellow citizens," Merriman said. He promises to "ensure that Open Meetings and Public Records laws are respected and that the rights of voters, taxpayers, and citizens are protected." He notes those are causes Markowitz championed.

Merriman plans to head out on the campaign trail soon -- visiting every town to talk to local folks and officials about their concerns.

So I wonder what he thinks of instant runoff voting?

-- Nancy Remsen


Dean: No on surgeon general

The Washington Times, of all newspapers, has a story today on what former Gov. Howard Dean plans to be doing, now that he's no longer head of the Democratic National Committee and won't be Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You've heard some it before. He's going to be an advisor to a huge international consulting firm and promoting health care reform. But, he tells the WTimes, he's also into alternative energy and getting the generals at DoD involved. Check out this paragraph from the story:

Mr. Dean said he couldn't talk about the alternative energy projects he's working on, but hinted at some top secret news on a "breakthrough" he is working to get into the Defense Department: "There are some extraordinary inventions out there being moved forward."
He's also talking about something the WTimes called "Baby College" to help kids aged 0-3 get off to a better start. And, speaking of health care, he said he told the White House "thanks but no thanks" on whether he wants to be considered for Surgeon General now that CNN's Sanjay Gupta has declined to be nominated. Check it all out by clicking HERE.
--Sam Hemingway



Chris Roy lining up support

Another bit of evidence that the scramble is on among politicians seeking office in 2010.

Lawyer Chris Roy, a Republican from Williston who is "exploring" a run for secretary of state, has announced that Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon will be treasurer for his exploratory committee.

Roy grew up in Barre and he and Lauzon go way back. As a first-time candidate for statewide office it would be important for Roy to have a network of support outside Chittenden County where he now lives.

By the way, Roy has been raising a lot of questions about instant run-off voting in chats out there in ether land. Extending IRV might well be an issue in the next secretary of state's race even if the Legislature were to make some decision in the interim -- don't you think?

-- Nancy Remsen


Costello staying in the game

Tom Costello, unsuccessful Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor last fall, is going to keep his hand in the political pot.

He has announced the formation of a political action committee called Advance Vermont.

Costello said the group isn't affiliated with any particular political party. OK, but it is a political action committee which one could anticipate would push for something or someone in the next election.

Costello argues that fundamental restructuring is necessary for health care and economic development, but big changes can't happen this year because of the economic crisis.

"The purpose of Advance Vermont is to take positive and meaningful steps to learn and educate on these issues; to develop the policies which will serve the best interests of the state; and to advocate for them," Costello writes.

It will be interesting to see just which this PAC and Costello do over the coming months. One this is clear, the 2010 election cycle is underway.

-- Nancy Remsen



Pollina takes issue with Obama

On St. Patrick's Day, Gov. Jim Douglas will host one of five health care forums the Obama administration is holding around the country. Mind you, this was the Obama administration's idea, and they turned to their new best Republican friend, Jim Douglas.

So how is this going over among those who've never seen Douglas as much of a health-care reformist? Funny you should ask, because Anthony Pollina has some thoughts on that:

“The irony here is far too great to ignore.

While Vermonters are fighting to maintain health care services, even in hard times, Douglas is leading the charge to throw people off health care programs and raise costs for lower income and middle class working families. So, a health care summit convened by Douglas on behalf of Obama has to be seen as a farce by anyone who knows Douglas’ record on the issue.

The fact is, Vermonters have been sending their message of universal
health care to Jim Douglas for years and he has ignored it.

Vermonters have made it clear they believe health care is a right. Jim Douglas does not. Vermonters support real universal health care and a single-payer type system. Jim Douglas does not.

Obama wants to instill hope. Douglas turns his back on Vermonters in
need and ignores the solutions Vermonters support.

Sure, Obama wants to showcase Douglas as a Republican political ally and Douglas is more than eager to be seen with the popular Democratic president. But, when it comes to health care the charade just goes too far.

While we all appreciate Obama’s efforts to tackle this issue and appreciate efforts to be non-partisan, this summit can only be a farce if Jim Douglas is running the show.”

You can just picture the letters he and some others might be drafting:

Dear Barack:
Please stop being friends with Jim Douglas ... .

- Terri Hallenbeck


The campaign is on

If you flicked the TV on last night you might have seen the Freedom to Marry Task Force's new ad, promoting same-sex marriage legislation in Vermont.

If you live behind a mountain and no longer get TV reception because the federal government decided we all needed to "upgrade," you can still see it here.

The ad is one indication that the drive to pass legislation this year is solidly funded and coordinated.

By the way, you'll notice that this this ad cites a series of newspaper editorials. Makes you wonder what people will do when there are no newspaper to cite, when there is no neutral entity to turn to. Wait, no one would let that happen.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Speaking for the governor

Gov. Jim Douglas officially made Dennise Casey his spokeswoman today.

Steve Wark, who has held that job for just three months, will return to the Department of Public Service. Wark has been out sick a fair amount in recent weeks, which had not really allowed him to gain his sea legs in a job where there is a lot of turbulence. Casey had done most of the media contact.

Back at DPS, Wark will handle the stimulus package maneuverings, which will include lots of potential telecommunications action.

The governor's staff will not shrink, however. Dave Corielle, who had been on the staff and had also been on his campaign staff but most recently had been in the Finance Department, will return as a staff assistant.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Changing Web sites

You can't tell exactly office she might be running for, but as Deb Markowitz revs up her gubernatorial campaign, she has made some changes to her campaign Web site, including the tag line: "Paid for by A Lot of People Supporting Deb Markowitz - Exploratory Committee."


- Terri Hallenbeck


Post-town meeting thoughts

Some post-Town Meeting Day thoughts:

- Democrats have come in third in the last two big Vermont races - for governor and mayor of Burlington.

- I wasn't at City Hall for the November election, but I was there for the September primary at which a team of vote counters unconscionably went home before they finished because they were tired. Though turnout yesterday was considerably less, I can tell things looked a lot better organized than they were that day in September. A lot better.

- School budgets fared pretty well, but plenty had pared them in the final days of budget preparation. You can credit the school boards' sensitivity to the economy or you can credit the governor's call for level funding, depending on your view of the world. In Shelburne, a budget that is the same as this year's passed by just 10 votes. In Burlington, a 9 percent increase passed easily.

- People in 33 towns told Vermont Yankee to go away. This will give armor to those who want to close it and will be disregarded by those who don't.

- There were lots of signs that participatory democracy was alive. Even in Essex, a town you might think is too big for this town meeting stuff. It's pretty cool to think that a whole auditorium full of people came out because they cared.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Live, it's Election Night

Over to the Free Press main site tonight you will find a live conversation about the election.



Bernie battles Bernanke

Sen. Bernie Sanders got into it pretty good this morning when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared before the Senate Budget Committee, of which Sanders is a member. Have a looksie, below.

Sanders was hot because Bernanke was shrugging off his efforts to find out which financial institutions have gotten the $2.2 trillion in loans from the Fed, and under what terms was the money loaned. Bernanke said he wouldn't do it because if he did it would "destroy the value of the program and they will not come forward..."

At that point Sanders said sarcastically, "Isn't that too bad," that "large, greedy, reckless financial institutions" aren't being held accountable to the public who is bailing them out. Bernanke showed he could give as good as he got from Sanders, so you decide who won this round.

But, clearly, Ben and Bernie won't be on each other's Christmas card lists, as if they ever were.

-- Sam Hemingway


Who will it be for Burlington mayor?

As you may have heard, Burlington is voting for mayor today. From a field of four viable candidates, with instant runoff voting in play, it seems no one feels confident to predict a winner.

What do you think it'll be:

- Incumbent Progressive Bob Kiss, who three years ago surprised many by beating Democrat Hinda Miller and carries a Progressive mantle that has held consistent power in Burlington?

- Democrat Andy Montroll, who lost in the primary to Miller that year and is back for his own stab at it this year?

- Republican Kurt Wright, the unlikely council president in a city where Republicans could almost fit under one bus shelter?

- Independent Dan Smith, who's never held office but who has built an unusual network of supporters?

Even if you don't live in Burlington you can cast your entirely non-binding, unscientific, not-to-be-misconstrued-into-anything vote here.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Life v. death

It's no done deal, but it's looking less likely that Michael Jacques of Bethel will face the death penalty if he's convicted of killing his 12 year-old niece Brooke Bennett now that there's a new top cop in town in Washington D.C.

It's just been learned that President Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, has told prosecutors in a heavy-duty murder case involving gang leaders in San Francisco to kill the idea of seeking the death penalty in the cases. A California law journal has the story, and you can check it out by clicking HERE.

Tom Anderson, the outgoing U.S. Attorney in Vermont, has recommended the government seek the death penalty in the Jacques case if he's convicted of kidnapping, raping, drugging and killing Brooke, but the man Pat Leahy has tapped to replace Anderson, Tris Coffin, isn't so inclined and, it appears, Holder may not be either. That's important, because Holder as AG has to sign off on any case where the death penalty is being recommended.

-- Sam Hemingway


Dean and the DFA

Chances are we'll all be seeing more of former Gov. Howard Dean around town now than we might have thought -- and he might have wished.

Huffington Post's Sam Stein is reporting that Dean, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, plans to be an active part of the Democracy For America grassroots activist organization based in South Burlington that evolved out of his Dean For America presidential campaign in 2004.

"I'll be most interested in their health care stuff," the physician-turned-politician told Stein. "Not only pushing for a health care bill but for one with meaningful reform." For a full read of the HP item, click HERE.

Dean's remarks came as President Obama was announcing his follow-up choice of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebilius to be Secretary of Health & Human Services, the post former Sen. Tom Daschle was supposed to get until some tax problems popped up and he withdrew his name. Dean admits in the posting that he wanted the HHS job but understands that the prez had decided to go in the proverbial "different direction."

That's not the only thing Dean's going to be doing. He says he also plans to share his wisdom about politics with interests across the globe, be a paid speechmaker, work with the National Democratic Institute and be a consultant for an international consulting company.

Busy guy, but I'll bet that if Obama decides to tap him for something, Dean's still available.

-- Sam Hemingway


Town meeting survey says ...

Many of you are headed to town meetings tonight and tomorrow. When you get there, you'll see the familiar Doyle town meeting survey.

Sen. Bill Doyle, who was first elected in the Buchanon administration (slight exaggeration acknowledged), asks Vermonters every year to weigh in with their opinions on the issues facing the state.

Some of the questions will look familiar.

- Should use of cell phones while driving be prohibited?
- Should the drinking age be lowered to 18?
- Should Vermont have a mandatory seat belt law for adults? (It's not a primary, pull-over-able offense now)
- Do you support same-sex marriage?
- Should the gas tax be increased to pay for road/bridge repairs?
- Should we reduce the Vermont prison population with alternatives for non-violent offenders?
- Are you satisfied with the public schools?
- Are you satisfied with your health insurance?
- Are statewide cell service and broadband important to the state's future?
- Is Vermont an affordable place to live?
- Should Vermont Yankee's license be renewed in 2012?
- Is the Legislature doing a good job?
- Is Gov. Jim Douglas doing a good job?

You can find some early responses to the survey at billdoyle1.com.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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