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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Tuesday's Buzz

vt.Buzz's weekly print edition makes its second appearance in Tuesday's Free Press and here on the Web:

After 28 years in the state Legislature, Rich Westman started work this week in a building down the hill from the dome in another branch of government.

Now 50, Westman has been representing his hometown of Cambridge in the House since he was 23 years old, a young pup just out of Johnson State College (what else would a political science major do when he realizes he might not want to work on the family farm full-time?). He has been House minority leader, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee — the only Republican this past year to head a committee in the Democratic-controlled House.

This week, he becomes state tax commissioner. Why the change after all this time?

"It was really a good time for breaking off," Westman said. "It’s time for me to learn new things."

After five years of trying to call attention to funding problems in transportation, Westman finally managed this year to get a gas tax through. He was also in a transition, ending one contract and starting another, on his job at Vermont Student Assistance Corp.

This week’s job change is also a move back to the future for Westman. Growing up on the farm, he said, taxes, land value, how land was categorized by the state were always big topics around the milking parlor.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Who gets Westman’s seat?

Too soon to tell. Gov. Jim Douglas is awaiting three names from the Cambridge Republican town committee (with concurrence from Belvidere and Waterville Republicans, too?). He will conduct interviews and then decide, but his spokeswoman, Dennise Casey, noted that since the Legislature isn’t in session, there isn’t a lot of urgency.

Westman is backing Adam Howard of Jeffersonville, co-founder of the company that publishes Backcountry Magazine and whose family has known Westman’s for years.

Heather Sheppard of North Cambridge is working to drum up support to be one of the three nominees and promises, appointed or not by Douglas, she will run for the seat next fall.

No chairman yet

House Speaker Shap Smith has yet to pick a new chairman of the House Transportation Committee, not surprising since it is a politically tricky decision.

Smith is sure to take some criticism if he fails to fill the slot with another Republican. Representation in committee leadership is seen as a measure of whether a speaker is inclusive or partisan.

If Smith looks within the committee for a Republican, his choices are Rep. Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall, or Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester. Brennan, one of Westman’s lunch buddies, would seem the more likely of the two based on his more moderate politics and his work on behalf of a gas tax.

Smith could find politically tricky waters choosing from the Democratic ranks. Does he give the job to the committee’s vice chairman — Rep. David Potter, D-Clarendon? If not, why not? Or maybe he’s considering someone who exhibited a lot of energy on transportation issues in the past — Rep. Sue Minter, D-Waterbury. She now serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

Smith offered these criteria for his next chairman: "Someone well versed in transportation issues who cares not only about transportation infrastructure but public transportation and bike and pedestrian issues. It is important to have someone who can work well with the group of people on the committee and someone who has a keen interest in money issues."

Smith could shake up a lot of committees as he fills this vacancy, but he said he isn’t inclined to do that. "My preference is to minimize the amount of moving people around, but that isn’t to say there might not be some shifts."¶

Smith said he hopes to have a new transportation chairman selected by Sept. 10 when the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee meets.

— Nancy Remsen

New conservative in town

The Ethan Allen Institute has a new president - Richard H. Bornemann. He moves to the helm of the conservative think tank that John McClaughry founded and headed since 1993. McClaughry stays on as vice president.

Bornemann, 53, arrives with a economic, energy, transportation and inside-the-Beltway background, serving most recently as strategist and lobbyist for Governmental Strategies Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Google his name and you find he gave donations to Republican lawmakers, but he says he now prefers to characterize his politics as pro-growth, pro-liberty conservative.

A search also shows he once paid a fine to the Federal Election Commission. I was accused of being an unregistered bundler, he said, referring to a term for people, usually lobbyists, who solicited and packaged campaign contributions. "For that I had to pay a civil penalty."

Why leave the nation's capital?

"After 24 years in D.C., you burn out," he said. "It was a lot of fun, but as the years went on, it got personal, it got nasty."

Bornemann expects to set up an office for the Ethan Allen Institute in Montpelier or Burlington - as part of an expansion of the institutes work under his leadership. McClaughry ran the institute from his house in Kirby. 

— Nancy Remsen

Civics lesson indeed

C-SPAN’s civics bus is coming to Vermont this week. Before it arrived, C-SPAN got a civics lesson of its own from Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier.

In its announcement, C-SPAN said it would be stopping from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. today [tha: 8/25: ]at the Statehouse in Montpelier, which it helpfully said was at the corner of Gov. Clay Aiken Avenue and State Street.

Kitzmiller fired off an e-mail to C-SPAN. "What in the world were you thinking?" Kitzmiller said, pointing out that Clay Aiken was a runner-up on "some lame TV show" (that would be "American Idol") while the street is actually named after the late George Aiken.

"Our late governor (and U.S. senator) GEORGE Aiken stands as a legend in Vermont political life," Kitzmiller wrote.

He received a quick apology and correction from C-SPAN.

— Terri Hallenbeck

D.C. doings

The cost of living, technically speaking, is going down, even if it doesn’t feel that way. That means seniors likely won’t be seeing an increase in their Social Security checks.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he plans to introduce legislation to provide one-time payments to Social Security recipients. "I think a lot of seniors do not know what’s coming down the pike, and I believe that when they hear that, they’re going to be upset," Sanders said. "It is my view that seniors are going to need help this year, and it would not be acceptable for Congress to simply turn its back."

— Terri Hallenbeck

Health care on their minds

Howard Dean — you know, author of "Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform as well as holder of a few political offices, stops by Vermont Sunday. He gives a free speech at the Rutland Band Stand at 5 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders reported big turnout — about 600 people — for the last of his three heatlh care forums in Peacham on Saturday.

— Nancy Remsen

In case you missed it

Chris Graff, former Vermont bureau chief of the Associated Press, weighed in on how much politicians dread a contested primary in this month’s Vermont Business Magazine.

He warns there are good historical reasons to avoid an in-party dust-up like the one Vermont Democrats are headed toward in the 2010 governor’s race. He ends, though, with more recent history — a primary battle didn’t hurt Barack Obama.

Graff does neglect to identify all the Democratic candidates in the race.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Roar of the crowd

"I must say, I’m at a loss as to why the Burlington Police Dept waited until now to investigate," Stinger44 wrote in a comment that reflected others’ thoughts on a story last week about the police investigation of Sen. Ed Flanagan’s behavior at the Burlington YMCA.

Quote of note

"It’s just a timing shift; it’s not an overall increase in the purchases that are made," said Mark Robyn, staff economist at the conservative Tax Foundation, on sales-tax holidays such at the one Vermont had Saturday. "They’re bad tax policy, essentially just a political gimmick."

Why no road signs?

Tom Evslin, chief of the state’s Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery, says Vermonters keep asking him why other states have signs identifying projects funded with federal stimulus money, but Vermont doesn’t. He answered in his blog.

"Those signs cost $1,500 each. You need at least two for each project. The exact form for the sign and the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) logo are spelled out in federal guidelines along with a "recommendation" that the signs be displayed," he wrote.

"Here in Vermont we decided that we’d rather spend the stimulus highway dollars on roads than signs. We have lots of projects but we don’t have signs. Once I explain almost everyone agrees with this decision."

Question of the Week

Should Vermont post signs declaring which road and bridge projects are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act like other states have done or are the signs a waste of money?

LOVE the new format!
Losing Richie Westman is a major blow for the Republicans in the Legislature. He was one of the few Republicans that could work well with the Dems in the majority, so he maintained his clout throughout the years. I suspect that no matter who is appointed, the seat will become a Democrat controlled seat in 2010. I wish Richie well in his new position.
Re: the Clay/Geo Aiken flub,there is a Clay connection to Govt/ White House. In 2006 Clay Aiken was appointed for a two-year term to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities by George Bush.
So Richard Borneman has just arrived in town after being chosen to lead a Libertarian (not conservative) think-tank, and all N. Remsen bothers to tell us is that he donated to some republican candidates and paid a civil fine for violating FEC guidelines.

Aw come on! What is his education? What issues are important to him? Why was he chosen from among many(?) applicants? Did the EAI Board comment? Did John McC?

The tone of Remsen's piece is clearly negative and seemingly calculated to discredit this new arrival before he's even opened his mouth.

No wonder the BFP is shrinking by the week. The local coverage is quite off-putting to many of us who actually read the articles.
"The tone of Remsen's piece is clearly negative and seemingly calculated to discredit this new arrival before he's even opened his mouth."

Nothing like the way Shay Totten arrested, tried, and convicted the guy already over at Seven Days.
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