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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Howard Dean to host 'Countdown'

Keith Olbermann is on vacation this week. MSNBC announced the "Countdown" guest hosts, including former DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Dean is set to take the anchor chair on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The former Vermont governor posted the news on his Facebook page: "

"Howard Dean will be guest hosting for Keith Olbermann on 'Countdown' this Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. on MSNBC."

See more on this story from The New York Observer.

"Countdown" airs at 8 p.m. Monday-Friday on MSNBC.

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Echoes from the upside-down state

This from our neighbors in New Hampshire.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has told his department
heads to make plans for the state to lay off 750 workers beginning in September.

Lynch said the State Employees Association, which represents most of the
state’s 11,500 workers, has not agreed to a furlough plan to avoid layoffs.
Lynch said he agreed to limit layoffs to those already planned in the state
budget. He said that means if revenues continue dropping he won’t lay off
workers to save money.

Lynch said he also agreed to shut some state offices on selected days for
some of the furlough days. Negotiators meet Thursday, but Lynch said the
state can’t wait to make plans for layoffs

Sound familiar?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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The public option

Yesterday, Gov. Jim Douglas spoke against the "public option" for health care. Today, one of his Democratic opponents dumped on him for it.

Says Sen. Doug Racine, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor:

"Jim Douglas does not understand that his reliance on private insurance
companies has not produced the affordability, accessibility, or accountability
that Vermonters really need and never will. He is out of step with
President Obama, our congressional delegation, and most Vermonters who
understand that providing people with the choice of a public health care option
is essential.

"While it is an honor to have a Vermonter as chairman of the National
Governors Association once again, it is unfortunate that Jim Douglas does not
understand what the last Vermonter who held the position does. ...
Sadly, Jim Douglas is using his new position to oppose real change."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Douglas takes helm of NGA

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas becomes chairman of the National Governor's Association today down in Biloxi, Miss.

Theoretically, this is a good thing for Vermont. It puts him in a position to help sway the national debate. Do you see it that way?

How would you like to see him use the position?

To help shape federal health care reform? To help shape the way farmers are paid for their milk? To look out for border states' needs on immigration/security issues? Something else?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Should they endorse me, Mr. President?

Sen. Patrick Leahy was mingling with members of the Vermont Democratic State Committee on Saturday morning just before they were to vote whether to endorse him for re-election.

Leahy’s cell phone rang. "Hi, Mr. President. How are you?"

More in Sunday's Free Press.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Leahy and his pix

Sen. Patrick Leahy, who's a bit of a photo whiz, took his turn behind, instead of in front, of the camera at this week's confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. His office proudly sent the link.

His photographing won him teasing Thursday from comedian Jon Stewart (click there for the episode) who showed a page of what he said were Leahy's photos of women's knees. I don't know if that's a Vermont thing or an old person's thing, Stewart joked.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Haskell: From PR to deputy secretary at ANR

Gov. Jim Douglas promoted a couple of environmental staff members today.

Justin Johnson, who has served as deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, was named commissioner, replacing Laura Pelosi, who left state government in May. That move was not a big surprise.

This one was. Sabina Haskell, the Agency of Natural Resources communications director, was appointed deputy secretary of the agency. She replaces John Sayles, who left state government in March.

You can read more about it in Friday's Free Press.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Vt. faces new $25M hole

State officials are staring down at a $25 million hole in the ground today. That's how much less economists say the state can expect in revenues in the coming months.

Given the recent sparring between the Legislature and the governor on solving earlier gaps that included an override of his unprecedented veto of the state budget, we are headed for another interesting round.

Predictions? Does this mean more layoffs of state workers? The wholesale cutting of some service or another? More taxes?

What's your preference?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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The Vt. elections paper chase

Every time a campaign finance reporting date comes along and we truck on over to the Secretary of State's Office to be there for the 5 p.m. deadline, it strikes me that we should be able to get this stuff electronically.

Instead, candidates, parties and political action committees converge on Montpelier from all over the state, with paper in hand. Usually at 4:58 p.m. A handful of reporters and others geeks are on hand, waiting for copies. Staff run off the copies and lots of trees give their lives for the sake of democracy.

Mind you, it's a very congenial time. Elections Director Kathy DeWolfe points the way to the bathrooms and water cooler. Staffer David Crossman is a wizard of efficiency at handing over the documents.

But every time I wonder about the absurdity of people traveling hither and yon to give and get this information.

It is available online eventually, but not immediately and immediacy is key in our business.
DeWolfe said her office is looking into an electronic filing system, but they don't come cheap. She said she's heard prices from $350,000 to $1 million. And then, she pointed, out who's going to be willing to make that kind of an expense a priority? There are about seven people in the state who want the information that quickly.

And then it hits me. The only people willing to go in person at an inconvenient hour to get the information and disseminate it immediately are reporters. So the world does still need us. I'm down with that.

By the way, the Vermont Democratic Party didn't make the 5 p.m. deadline for filing the party's contributions and expenses. Staffers said someone was on the way at 5 p.m., but somehow it was going to take them a half-hour to get there, which suggests they were not quite on their way. There aren't really any consequences for being late other than the public humiliation of it (if somebody never files the AG's office could act on it, but a day late isn't going to prompt legal action). It does raise the question whether the party is walking the walk on transparency in elections.

On that front, candidates and parties can file these reports on a computer disk, which would speed the inputting process for the state, but they don't. Apparently, they fear that makes the information more readily usable for their opponents. Paranoia?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Racine says he raked in $100,000 in six weeks

Sen. Doug Racine, a Democratic candidate for governor, will report raising more than $100,000 toward his race.

He didn't match his chief Democratic competitor dollar for dollar, but Markowitz has been fundraising longer. Racine didn't get serious until after the Legislature adjourned. Her figure, as you may have seen in the previous blog entry, will be about double Racine's.

"We've had a very successful month and a half," reported Mark Larson, a state representative from Burlington who is working on Racine's campaign. Racine wanted to hit six figures and did, Larson said.

There will be a lot more details about candidate fundraising available from filings due to election officials Wednesday.

So what do the figures say about the strength of the two candidates? Is it too soon to tell anything?

Larson suggested that taken together the fundraising for Markowitz and Racine shows strong interest in unseating Republican Gov. Jim Douglas -- should he choose to run for re-election.

It will be interesting to see what Douglas reports tomorrow.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Markowitz tells her competitors -- Match this!

Deb Markowitz, presumably a candidate for governor in 2010, released how much money she had amassed for this effort on the day before the filing deadline -- a challenge to her would-be opponents.

Her total -- more than $190,000, she said, with 90 percent from Vermont and Vermonters. In all, more than 1,000 folks have lined up behind Markowitz, a Democrat from Montpelier who currently serves as secretary of state.

Markowitz started before the rest of the field of potential Democratic candidates, so it is hardly surprising if she ends up with more money when all the reports are filed. The other folks who have said they are in the race are Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, and Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille. Racine has been busy since the legislative session wrapped up, while Bartlett went public only a few weeks ago.

Obviously a head start in raising money and securing supporters is important. Time will tell if Markowitz's presumed advantage now sticks. Sometimes a leader steps out of the pack and runs away with the race and sometimes a leader is only a rabbit who loses momentum on the steeps because everyone else held back until it counted.

Markowitz argues in her announcement about her funding -- "This early success is a demonstration of a true movement for real change and new leadership for Vermont."

How important do you think the money tallies are in July 2009, 16 months before the election?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Efficiency at work

The Joint Legislative Government Accountability Committee is meeting today in Montpelier to talk about what efficiencies can be found in state government. They face the task of finding $30 million under state couch cushions, so to speak.

They started off with an efficiency of their own. Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, asked the rest of the panel members if they minded whether she knitted through the meeting. They voted to allow her to knit away.

If nothing else comes of the discussion, there will at least be a knitted product of some kind.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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For now, no more layoffs required

The Douglas administration released its plan Friday to achieve $13.4 million in personnel savings in the current budget year -- and it didn't include any more layoffs.

Earlier this spring, the administration sent layoff notices to more than 100 workers. As a result, 102 are no longer in state employ. In all, the administration has cut 247 positions from state government. That results in $8.45 million in savings -- a big step toward the $13.4 million target the Legislature set in its budget.

The plan spell out how to find the remaining $4.94 million. A big chunk -- $2.5 million -- will come from leaving 122 positions vacant if 325 workers take the retirement incentive offered in the Legislature's budget. Anyone eligible to retire can get cash and insurance benefits for leaving by Sept. 1. About 1,000 workers could qualify, but lawmakers capped the program at 300. Now the administration suggests bumping up the allowable retirements to 325 and increasing the number of job vacancies.

Most people seemed to expect a lot more layoffs would be needed since the union had failed to agree to any pay and benefit cuts. Turns out the retirement program could produce savings sooner than expected. If it doesn't, however, Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville said layoffs will occur. That should become clear by October.

Another sharp revenue decline could also trigger layoffs -- so no one is out of the woods yet.

The administration also banks on savings from continuing the pay freeze that affect many salaried and all temporary workers. There could begin to be some hard feeling in the workforce as these folks feel the pinch while those in the union bargaining unit get their pay increases as usual. Of course, the salaried personnel tend to be at the higher end of the pay scale.

Most workers have dodged the bullet for now, but who can tell what's to come.

-- Nancy Remsen

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There's no getting used to it

My brother, who works for the company that makes film in little yellow boxes that you don’t buy anymore, says that after 18 or so rounds you get used to the threat of layoffs hanging over your head.

I have trouble believing that. I have just been through my third round of layoffs in less than a year. I don’t see getting used to it.

I have watched co-workers walk out the door — good people whose work and friendship I’ve enjoyed over the years — laden down with the news that they no longer have a job, a career, a livelihood. My mind flips through what I know about that person and what it will be like for them. It breaks my heart.

Just the specter of layoffs hanging overhead changes a lot of things, casting a shadow on virtually every thought and decision you make.

When the eye doctor told me recently that I have encroaching cataracts (yeah, I know I’m too young – he thought so too), my first thought was whether I would have health insurance when the time comes for surgery.

At a recent family gathering, we were asked if we had any trips planned. It depends, we replied. Everything suddenly depends.

Wednesday, on the eve of our latest layoffs, I was reporting a story on the lottery and bought my first-ever lottery ticket. Sadly, I didn’t win, but I had a new understanding of why people put their hopes in that basket.

I survived this round of layoffs, nicked but still standing. I feel no cause for celebration, though. I am watching as my profession of 23 years is dismantled, employee by employee. I am haunted by the image of the backs of my co-workers who walked out the door for the last time.

I don’t see myself ever getting used to it.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Sanders' health care sagas

Sen. Bernie Sanders has put out a booklet of stories from around the country about health-care coverage woes.

"It is my intention to read some of these letters on the floor of the Senate. Every American needs to hear what’s going on with health care in this country," Sanders said.

Some samples:

"My younger brother, a combat decorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict, died three weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He was laid off from his job and could not afford COBRA coverage. When he was in enough pain to see a doctor, it was too late. He left a wife and two teenage sons in the prime of his life at 50 years old. The attending doctor said that if he had only sought treatment earlier he would still be alive.
Swanton, Vt.

"My daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 22, just when she was finishing college and launching into her own life to be self-supporting. Not only was she unable to find a job that included health benefits; she could not make enough to pay the enormous cost of daily care and regular visits to a doctor in order to learn how to control this life threatening condition. As a result she put her expenses for diabetes on her credit care and soon found herself with an unpayable balance of over $14,000 with over 20 percent interest added. She became depressed and overwhelmed and said to me sadly, "Mom, I know they will never find a cure for diabetes in my lifetime because they make too much money on supplies and treatment."
West Halifax, Vt.

"For 15 years, my wife and I were self-employed as craftsmen, making jewelry for our own business. One of the biggest problems we had to deal with was affording health insurance for ourselves and, later, our son. Now, we have been forced to abandon this business partially due to insurance costs, and I do not think that it is possible for us to restart it with the current system of health care. "
Sharon, Vt.

Will it be effective?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Stirring the pot

California's Marijuana Policy Project is proposing a solution to that state's budget problems: legalize and tax pot.

Now, California has worse budget problems than Vermont and a longer growing season, but are they onto something?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Baruth's fundraising countdown

Philip Baruth, a Democratic candidate for the state senate, created quite a chronicle of his first fundraising achievement at his blog -- Vermont Daily Briefing.

It reads a lot like the Vermont Public Radio fund drives -- as in "we need only xx more dollars to raise or individual pledges by the end of Morning Edition."

Would that Baruth shared how much he raised as well as how many folks contributed. His ActBlue tally doesn't seem to have caught up with his achievement yet.

Soon enough we will know all the details. I can hardly wait until the campaign finance reporting goes to real time, online.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Is this healthy enough?

Health care changes are moving along _ if not smoothly _ in Washington.

Today, a deal with the hospitals.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s hospitals will give up $155 billion in
future Medicare and Medicaid payments to help defray the cost of President
Barack Obama’s health care plan, a concession the White House hopes will boost
an overhaul effort that’s hit a roadblock in Congress.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the deal at the
White House on Wednesday, with administration officials and hospital
administrators at his side.

Tomorrow, former Gov. Howard Dean will hold a telephonic press conference to urge Vermonters to back what's going on in Washington.

Should they?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Racine and Markowitz are building their bases

Interesting this period so early in potential campaigns when candidates and their supporters are busy, but most of us are focused on summer and seeing the sun.

Last week, Doug Racine, Democratic state senator with his eye on the state's top job, sent out an email from three lawmakers declaring their support for him because of his support for them and issues they consider important -- not the least of which was enactment of the gay marriage law. At Racine's Web site you can also see proclamations of support from some notables -- such as former Gov. Phil Hoff.

Over at Deb Markowitz' Web site you can see a different kind of list under her "We're for Deb" label. It's a list of people by county. Markowitz, the state's Democratic secretary of state, also is considering a run for governor.

Different strategies. Get some big names and hope that's persuasive when it comes time to rally the troops in a primary or get lots of names and hope that builds momentum.

Susan Bartlett, another Democratic state senator, also has gubernatorial aspirations, but doesn't yet have a Web site that I could find. Wonder what her strategy is?

What will be the most effective way to win the behind-the-scenes game and how important is that to a primary victory?

-- Nancy Remsen

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The political comedy club

A funny thing happened on Al Franken's way to the Senate. State Rep. Jason Lorber, D-Burlington, was quoted by Congressional Quarterly.

Lorber weighs is with what it's like for a professional comedian to join a group of politicians who are more often funny without meaning to be.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Vermont at fault for Sanford's slips??

Can it be true that Jenny Sanford -- whose governor husband found a soul mate in Argentina -- issued a statement today blaming passage of gay marriage laws for destroying the sanctity of marriage and her marriage in particular?

Read it here.

Whatever you might think about Vermont's decision on gay marriage, isn't this a bit of a stretch if it's true?

UPDATE: Apparently the item is a parody. Hard to tell these days when the truth is so unbelievable.

-- Nancy Remsen



Ed Flanagan is running for lieutenant governor

Sen. Ed Flanagan, D-Chittenden, has made it official -- he's not just thinking of running for lieutenant governor, he's running.

He said in a telephone interview that he plans a statewide tour next week -- then he'll do his campaigning behind the scenes until after the 2010 legislative session.

Why is he running? "Because I think the office isn't being used to promote economic recovery and to reach out to working Vermonters."

Nothing against Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie as a person, Flanagan added. "We get along very well, but I don't think he has used the office as it could potentially be used."

Flanagan said his eight years as state auditor and five in the state senate give him a good mix of skills for the office of lieutenant governor -- a job that has one foot in the legislature and another in the executive branch.

Flanagan was seriously injured in a car accident in 2005 and rarely sits long in the Senate chamber or committees, presumably because of discomfort. Still, Wednesday, he declared, "I'm totally recovered. I feel perfectly fine."

Dubie has deflected speculation about his political plans, saying it's too early to talk about the November 2010 election.

House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson has said he is considering a run for the office. He couldn't be reached Wednesday to find out if he has made up his mind yet.

If Nease is in, then he and Flanagan will face off in a primary about 15 months from now.

So why did Flanagan announce so early? "I just wanted to get out there and let everyone know what I'm doing."

-- Nancy Remsen


Fairpoint faux pas

The news about Fairpoint's situation is getting darker all the time, with even state Public Services Commissioner Dave O'Brien acknowledging bankrupcty could be coming down the road for the landline telephone service provider.

Errr, hello? Right now, you can't even get through to the darn company to purchase telephone services. Alert BFP reader Jeff Hill just informed me that if you dial FP's residential service toll-free number, you get a recording telling you the number can't be connected and try again later.

I checked it out and he's right. The message from the mechanized operator voice on the other end of the line went like this: "We're sorry. You're long distance call cannot be completed as dialed. Please try your call again later or call your carrier for assistance."

But how do you do that when Fairpoint IS your carrier?

-- Sam Hemingway


How green is Gov. Jim Douglas

According to Greenopia -- which bills itself as a guide to green living -- Gov. Jim Douglas is the eighth greenest governor. Check it out or continue reading. That's not because of the algae/moss growth spurred by all the rain or the fact that Vermont is home to Green Mountains.

"We looked at all 50 governors in the US and compared their policies, transparency, and interest group rating and ranked them. It was a monumental task," said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia's director of research. "People want to know which governors are the econ-leaders or laggards and especially identify those making repeated eco-gaffes."

Greenopia explains the basis for the rankings -- which suggests to me some weakness in research. Measuring politicians' accomplishments from their own web sites? Oh my.

Greenopia wrote, "Data for this study was collected from each governor's own web pages and cross-checked against credible sites such as VoteSmart and OnTheIssues. Energy and emission data was collected from the Department of Energy and the environmental platform data for each political party was collected from either the DNC or RNC's main site.

"Over the past few years we have begun to see certain states emerging as environmental leaders," remarked Gay Browne, Greenopia founder and CEO. "Those states enacting environmental laws stricter than federal guidelines have gone to greater lengths to protect the environment and to create more sustainable development, including green jobs."

Browne talks about states "enacting" laws -- which certainly involves legislators, so I'm sure some of them would take issue with giving any governor all the credit. It takes two branches of government to tango -- except when legislatures override gubernatorial vetoes.

Douglas was credited for undertaking "several programs to make Vermont greener. These include the Clean and Clear Water Action Plan, biofuel initiatives and programs aimed at making the state government greener. Vermont also has tax incentives in place to help consumers and businesses go green."

"As governor, I will continue to do all I can to advance our efforts to clear up impaired waterways, reduce our carbon footprint with tough automobile emissions standards and encourage green jobs in our state," Douglas said.

Who were the top ten governors?

1. Bill Ritter of Colorado

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California

3. Ted Kulongowski of Oregon

4. Christine Gregoire of Washington

5. John Baldacci of Maine

6. Martin O'Malley of Maryland

7. Bill Richardson of New Mexico


9. Jon Corzine of New Jersey

10. Jodi Rell of Connecticut

Who was number 50? Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana. Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska ranked 48.

-- Nancy Remsen

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