The turnout Tuesday night at the George Middle School gym was impressive. More than they get for town meeting, on par perhaps with the crowd you might see for a school concert, when grandma, grandpa and aunt milly bring the video camera and capture footage for the ages.
This crowd _ I estimated about 400 _ was there for a discussion that reverberates around the state. They were deciding whether, in the face of mounting costs, they were willing to change their educational setup. They answered with a resounding no. They love their K-8 school like Boston fans used to love Manny. They love their school choice for high school at least as much. You've never seen a group of people more happy with the way things are.
In Georgia's case, the question was whether they should think about giving up school choice for high school and consider pairing permanently with a district that charges less than others. The hope would be to save money.
Around the state, whether a town has a school of its own or not, this debate about whether Vermont can afford to continue its small-sized, uncentralized, local-local- local system of educating kids has been lurking under the surface. Gov. Jim Douglas
Georgia is not what I would consider a hot-bed of liberalism. It is in Franklin County, sends one Democrat and one Republican to the state House and along with the rest of the county does the same in the Senate. Yet, the residents Tuesday night cheered when, on several occasions, their neighbors said cost wasn't the driving factor for them in education.
Superintendent Bruce Chattman, a veteran of Vermont schools, was trying to warn them that the rising costs are unsustainable and that as a result, change is on the horizon whether they like it or not. They would have none of it.
That, in a microcosm, is the education debate in Vermont.
Apparently, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, has a bit of a swagger to his stride today, his staff report, because Bono of rock fame described Leahy as "the John Wayne of Washington" during a U2 concert Tuesday night in DC.
Leahy and Bono, born Paul D. Hewson in Dublin, Ireland, have worked together over the years on a host of issues -- health care, humanitarian, human rights.
Leahy missed the concert Tuesday. Soon after lead singer Bono made his pronouncement about his senator friend, however, Leahy got some emails from folks who heard Bono's praise.
"He appreciates the compliment but down the road this could become a dilemma," said David Carle, Leahy's spokesman."May the day never come that he has to choose between John Wayne and Batman."
Vtbuzz: on financial disclosure, the latest gubernatorial race news and kicking cans and balls
Vermont ranks last for public disclosure of officials’ financials
While five states recently enhanced their financial disclosure requirements for public officials, a Washington D.C. investigative reporting non-profit identified Vermont and two other states as standing out “somewhat notoriously, for, well, doing nothing.”
Vermont law doesn’t require the governor, other statewide officers or legislators to disclose for public review any personal/professional financial information. The same goes for Michigan and Idaho, but the Center for Public Integrity noted disclosure legislation at least comes up for consideration in Michigan and Idaho. Not so in Vermont.
“I’ve never heard a single Vermonter raise an issue about it,” said Senate Government Operations Chairwoman Jeanette White, D-Windham.
Check out the center’s update and earlier reports on disclosure here.
Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said financial disclosure wasn’t a top priority for his organization, but he agreed that transparency about finances and potential conflicts of interest were legitimate public goals.
Burns recalled the controversy in the 2008 gubernatorial election when Democrat Gaye Symington released incomplete data on family finances, while Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and Progressive Anthony Pollina provided complete tax returns. Burns suggested the state takes a first step toward disclosure by enacting a requirement for all statewide offices.
— Nancy Remsen
Still so many unanswered campaign questions
It’s hard to believe that a year from now, General Election ballots will be on their way to town clerks so early voting can begin. At the moment there are so many unanswered questions about whose names will end up on those ballots.
Take for example, the gubernatorial race, where everyone is waiting and waiting and waiting for Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie to announce whether he’s running or not for the state’s top job.
Will it come this week? “You will hear something this week,” said Susie Hudson, a Dubie political insider.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates abound. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin has just about jumped into the race. He has been crisscrossing the state to talk with movers and shakers about his candidacy compared to the three Democrats with hats already in the ring — Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Sen. Doug Racine and Sen. Susan Bartlett.
“All of them would be great governors,” Shumlin said Monday. Still he confirmed, “I’m strongly leaning toward running.”
“Vermont needs a governor who has run a business, met a payroll,” he explained. Shumlin and his brother run a student educational travel business.
During Monday’s phone chat, Shumlin launched into what would likely be his campaign theme – “Vermont has to stop plodding along and get a piece of the extraordinary job opportunities as we move off our addiction to oil.”
Shumlin said he isn’t afraid of a free-for-all primary with his Democratic friends. “We have a real opportunity to have a civil discussion about where Vermont should go,” he said of the run up to next year’s Democratic primary election. I think Democrats will be strengthened.”
— Nancy Remsen
If you are keeping tabs on the announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates, note that Doug Racine just hired Brendan Bush, 29, of Original Gravity Media, Inc., to provide him with some Internet strategy. “Bush will redesign Racine’s campaign Website, develop online outreach materials, and work with field director Amy Shollenberger to add to the campaign’s grassroots outreach strategy.”
Also last week, Deb Markowitz released a second video and launched a spread-the-word campaign. She wants supporters to share the link in the hopes her video could go viral.
Susan Bartlett noted her competitors’ focus on the Internet. “It seems to me there is a made dash right now to get high tech stuff because Matt Dunne might get in,” she said, referring for former Sen. Matt Dunne, who now works for Google. Dunne has confirmed he is weighing whether to join the Democratic crowd running for governor.
Bartlett noted that many Vermonters don’t have high tech Internet connections. “My sense is Vermonters will want a good old-fashioned type campaign.”
Bartlett said she still hasn’t hired staff, although she has volunteers who accompany her as she travels the state. “I’m not in a yank to spend money.”
The trio — Bartlett, Markowitz and Racine — are scheduled to appear together before Shelburne and South Burlington Democrats at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Shelburne Town Office.
They will meet individually at closed sessions with members of the Vermont Business Roundtable beginning next week. Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss said the sessions give members a chance to get acquainted with the candidates, understand why they are seeking “this very difficult job” and hear what strengths they offer. As more candidates jump into the race, additional sessions will be scheduled, Ventriss said.
— Nancy Remsen
Local election news
Denise Barnard, former Democratic representative from Richmond who narrowly lost her bid for a Chittenden Senate seat in 2008, was mysterious about her political future Monday.
“I’m tanned, I’m rested and I’m running in 2010,” Barnard said, “ but I’m not telling you what I’m running for — yet.”
She did confirm she wasn’t running for governor.
She said she expected to go public with her plans soon. “I’m very excited about the future.
Meanwhile, Democrat Philip Baruth of Burlington kicks up his Chittenden Senate campaign at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Nectar’s in downtown Burlington.
— Nancy Remsen
Kicking the can or whatever
Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville said several times recently that he didn’t want to “kick the can” any longer when it came to making tough decisions about labor expenses. That’s why he, in the final negotiations with the union last week, refused to agree to a plan to cut $7.4 million from the current budget without some commitment from the Vermont State Employees Association on cuts in the next two fiscal years.
Jes Kraus, VSEA director, argued, the union and the administration should kick that can in separate talks about the next two-year contract, talks that are already underway.
Up the road from the state capital where the abortive talks took place, a pair of Democratic legislators focused on kicking the ball.
Reps. Sue Minter and Tom Stevens organized a “Causeball” kickball tournament that was held in the rain Sunday, but still raised $2,300 for local food shelves.
“Anybody can plan kickball,” Minter said.
That brings this entry back to kicking the can. Legislative leaders — particularly Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham — have worked the phones to try to bring the administration and union back to the table to resume talks. What about bringing them to a field and let kickball settle the aforementioned kick-the-can question?
Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates crank up their campaigns
In a race that isn't likely to be settled for nearly a year, Democrats Doug Racine and Deb Markowitz continue to up the ante in their competition to become the party's gubernatorial nominee in 2010.
They aren't the only Democrats running. Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, has announced she's in and several other Democrats have said they are considering runs, too. Racine and Markowitz, however, have been at it longer and seem to step up their efforts at about the same moment.
Racine, a state senator and former lieutenant governor, announced this week he had added to his "arsenal." He contracted with Brendan Bush of Original Gravity Media, Inc., in Burlington, as an Internet strategy consultant.
Bush, 29, will redesign Racine's campaign website, develop online outreach materials, and work with field director Amy Shollenberger to add to the campaign's grassroots outreach strategy.
Racine said Bush's credentials include work on two presidential campaigns, numerous U.S. senate campaigns, and two gubernatorial campaigns.
Markowitz, secretary of state, just released an online video she hopes will go viral. She wants supporters to share it with their friends.
The video is a kind of get-acquainted piece. Check it out. I'm not sure it's such a good idea to show Markowitz looking at the camera as she drives, but that's me.
Obviously, their latest campaign additions show that both Markowitz and Racine plan to use more than stickers and whistle stops to reach voters.
Democrats fire at former member Salmon over unemployment proposal
Judy Bevans shot some sharp criticism at Tom Salmon, a former Democrat who just switched to the Republican Party, after he suggested the state should signficantly lower the maximum benefit paid to unemployed Vermonters.
Bevans, Democratic Party chairwoman, wrote, "Just two weeks after switching parties, our state's Auditor, Turn-Back-Time Tom Salmon, testified this week that he supports turning back the clock to 2000 and reducing the state's maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $425 to $300!"
Technically, Salmon didn't testify before the Unemployment Trust Fund Reform Study Committee, but he shared his idea publically and followed it up with a letter to the committee. The Democratic Party has corrected its description of his comments.
Bevans paired Salmon's comments with the news that the Douglas administration and the Vermont State Employees failed to agree over how to save $7.4 million without layoffs. She argued Gov. Jim Douglas refused "to meet the state employees union halfway in their negotiations, a move that could result in as many as 300 pink slips for state employees."
Her double-pronged jab: "Seems that the Republican version of economic stimulus calls for fewer jobs and a weaker safety net. A little backwards, if you ask me."
No surprise that Democrats are bitter, but what did Salmon gain from airing this idea?
Salmon's letter to Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington,and Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, explains, "I hope to be a voice that adds productive material to the process."
The unemployment trust fund has a problem -- too little money coming in and a whole lot going out, thanks to the recession. It will become insolvent in January.
Salmon argues against significantly increasing employer contributions because that would slow the state's economic recovery.
Instead he suggests giving Vermont workers fair warning that the maximum benefit would shrink from $425 a week to $300 a week beginning at some date in the future -- such as next July 1. "We should forewarn Vermonters that the UI is not a strong or sustainable solution in assisting them in their household revenue/workforce planning."
Provocative stuff. Does it have appeal, I wonder? Lots of Vermonters can probably imagine themselves out of work these day, so how do they feel about signficantly reducing the maximum benefit -- since that would impact all the benefit levels? Not even the business groups that testified at the study committee's meeting Tuesday suggested such a dramatic change in benefits.
Talks break down between VSEA and Douglas administration
The Douglas administration and the Vermont State Employees Association spent seven hours in talks Monday in a last ditch effort to avert layoffs, but failed.
As a result, the administration will start the layoff process Tuesday. Two hundred or more workers may lose their jobs.
The irony is that the two sides agreed on how to find $7.4 million in labor savings this year and that was supposed to be the subject of the talks. They had compromised on four furlough days and three fewer paid holidays and tapping savings from a medical plan.
The dispute was over some other strings each wanted to attach to this deal. The administration wanted the union to agreed to permanent future savings -- because the state's financial problems are long-term. First the administration asked for about $38 million in savings over two years -- with details of how to be negotiated later. Monday night, the administration was willing to settle for $20 million over two years.
The union wanted to talk about that stuff out later, but made an offer Monday of $10 million over two years. In return, the union wanted a guarantee of no more layoffs this year, next year or the year after.
The gap was too big and no deal could be reached. The two sides walked away from the table with little hope of returning.
Lawmakers will be miffed. The Joint Fiscal Committee urged the two sides to find the $7.4 million in savings without resorting to layoffs. Lawmakers even told the administration they thought it was making a mistake to push for future concessions as part of these talks.
Lawmakers couldn't, however, get in the midst of contract talks that didn't involve them -- much as they would have liked to.
Anyone see any chance this can have a different ending?
So when will Dubie say if he is running for governor in 2010?
“There will be an announcement when Lt. Gov. Dubie is 100 percent certain about what is right for his family,” said Susie Hudson, his campaign manager in past elections. “I expect it will be sooner rather than later.” When asked if that meant this week, she said it would more likely come next week.
— Nancy Remsen
Just say no
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., may be wishing they’d just done that last week when the Senate voted on funding for ACORN, the controversial activist group amid disclosures it fabricated voter registration forms and, more recently, had two of its workers caught on surveillance video coaching a purported prostitute and a pimp about how to lie and launder money in order to get housing aid.
After all, if 83 senators were okay with cutting money for ACORN. Who would have cared if it was 85 instead?
“You’ve got to be nuts to support ACORN,” one protester’s sign said.
Inside the meeting, Sanders fumed about all the attention his little ACORN vote has gotten. “We’ve got 17 million people unemployed or underemployed, 46 million people without health care, a huge national debt and we’re fighting two wars,” he groused. “And yet there are some who think we should have a debate about every one of a thousand organizations that have applied for federal grants.”
Looks like this ACORN matter isn’t going to get buried anytime soon. — Sam Hemingway
Welch would replace defense with respect
Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, is one of 90 sponsors of a House bill introduced in Congress last week that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and replace it with the Respect for Marriage Act of 2009.
The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, known as the federal DOMA, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The reversal Welch supports would re-establish that states have jurisdiction to define marriage. It also specifies that if states recognize same-sex marriages, those couples would be eligible for the same federal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. That’s not the case now, so same-sex married pairs in Vermont, for example, won’t be able to file their federal income taxes next April as married couples
“I’m sponsoring this out of fairness to Vermonters. They should be extended full benefits,” Welch said. “It restores what has been 200 years of practice, that the state’s define marriage.”
Welch doesn’t expect speedy action on the legislation. “I think it has a long way ahead of it.”
There doesn’t appear to be a Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act — yet. If there were Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, would support it. He voted against the DOMA in 1996.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, would support repeal as well. He voted for the DOMA in 1996. He says now that Vermonters have spoken through their legislators and he doesn’t want some Vermont marriages to be treated as less than other Vermont marriages.
Repeal of the federal DOMA is just one track in the effort to win full rights for same-sex couples. Seven couples and three widowers from Massachusetts, which allowed same-sex marriage since 2004, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal law.
Last week, the U.S. Justice Department asked for dismissal of the lawsuit — with an interesting caveat. The department’s filing agrees the law is discriminatory and ought to be repealed, but argues it is “constitutionally permissionable.”
— Nancy Remsen
Gearing up for her gubernatorial run
Deb Markowitz, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, has hired Paul Tencher, 29, a Rhode Island native, to manage her campaign.
Tencher currently serves as communications director of Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-OH, in Washington D.C., but he will arrive in Vermont when fall colors are likely still bright — Oct. 12.
Tencher has been working on campaigns since the day after he graduated from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He helped Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts win a primary and then an election in 2006 and became her chief of staff. He was communications director for Judy Baker’s unsuccessful congressional campaign in Missouri.
Markowitz launched her gubernatorial campaign last winter. She’s been secretary of state since 1998 when she unseated the Republican incumbent.
She’s had two staff, but both are moving on, she said. She interviewed seven people in a national search for a campaign manager. She said she chose Tencher because he shares her values and “I feel confident he has the skills and experience to jumpstart my campaign.”
Tencher, speaking on a personal cell phone outside the congressional office where he is still working, said he was eager to get involved in another campaign.
Markowitz isn’t the only Democrat interested in running for governor. Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden is in the race as is Sen. Susan Bartlett D-Lamoille. Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, also is a possible candidate and former Sen. Matt Dunne has said he’s giving consideration to a run.
Tencher isn’t put off by having to manage a primary fight. He quickly played up his candidate’s chances. “Deb has shown not only the ability to fund raise, but to develop a strong grassroots organization — which in a primary is key.”
— Nancy Remsen
More 2010 election news
Just to recap:
• T.J. Donovan , a Democrat and current Chittenden state’s attorney, is weighing a run for lieutenant governor. He’s serious enough that he decided it would be conflict of interest for his office to investigate allegations involving Sen. Ed Flanagan — another Democrat thinking about running for lieutenant governor. Flanagan said he won’t rule out a run, but isn’t focused on the campaign now.
• Mark Snelling of Starksboro, a Republican businessman, is definitely running for lieutenant governor, he announced Friday. Snelling is the son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling.
Markowitz hires manager for her gubernatorial campaign
Deb Markowitz has hired Paul Tencher, 29, a Rhode Island native, to run her gubernatorial campaign. Tencher begins Oct. 12.
He currently works as communications director for Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-OH, but he said he's ready to leave the polarized world of DC. He's only worked for Kilroy since January.
He has experience on several campaigns, successful and unsuccessful. He worked for a Missouri Democratic congressional candidate who lost in 2008. Earlier he worked for the Rhode Island lieutenant governor, helping her win a primary and then an election. He served as her chief of staff for a year.
Tencher must like a challenge, because Markowitz is far from alone in her desire to run for governor. Other Democrats in the race or giving it serious consideration include Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden; Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille; perhaps Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and maybe former Sen. Matt Dunne of Windsor, now with Google.
That's just the Democratic competition. We all await word whether Brian Dubie will choose to be the Republican candidate or if there will end up being a free-for-all primary fight there, too.
How hard is it going to be for the Douglas administration and the Vermont State Employees Association to reach a deal on $7.4 million in labor saving and avoid several hundred layoffs?
They have all the makings of the compromise. Both sides have found ways to save the money through a combination of furlough days and a reduction in the number of paid holidays, tapping some medical plan savings, eliminating a wellness program and tuition reimbursement. They each put offers on the table with this stuff. Seemingly they agree.
What the hangup? Some strings the administration wants to attach to this deal that relate to the two-year contract also under negotiation.
What else could make it difficult? Rhetoric.
See what you think about the most recent letters the two sides exchanged.
Others may still be pondering. Republican Mark Snelling of Starksboro has made up his mind. He's running for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Snelling is a businessman and son of two prominent Republican politicians -- the late Gov. Richard Snelling and former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling who is at a point in life when he'd like to be a public official who tries to make a difference.
"I have worked in the public and private sector for the last 35 years and I believe I have the skills and the knowledge of Vermont and public policy to be a strong voice and an active participant in the work that must be done."
He's never run for any public office before, but says he's had plenty of behind the scenes experience in the campaigns of his mother and father.
Snelling had considered a run for governor -- but only if Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie decided against running. Dubie has yet to announce his intentions, but Snelling said he'd made up his mind and wanted to let people know.
There are other Republicans who have been considering runs for lieutenant governor including Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin; Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington and former House Speaker Walter Freed. On the other side of the political ledger there's Democratic States Attorney T.J. Donovan who said today he was exploring a run. So is Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, who has said he might run in the Democratic primary. Sen. Ed Flanagan, D-Chittenden has also voiced interest.
Snelling doesn't expect to hit the campaign trail immediately, but expects to crisscross the state soon enough. He hasn't set a figure for how much he might have to raise, but noted that Dubie raised $185,000 in his last run for lieutenant governor.
"Campaigning in Vermont is fun," he said. "I'm looking forward to it.
T.J. Donovan's political ambitions require recusal
T. J. Donovan, Chittenden State's attorney, has decided to asked the Addison County State's Attorney to handle the investigation in alleged inappropriate conduct in a locker room by Sen. Ed Flanagan, D-Chittenden.
Donovan is moving the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest. He is pondering a run for lieutenant governor. Months ago Flanagan made public that he was considering a run for lieutenant governor rather than re-election to the state senate.
Flanagan said today he isn't actively running, "but I'm not foreclosing it." His focus from now until spring, he said, is on the business of the next legislative session.
Donovan didn't say he was definitely running, but he intends to explore his potential to become the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
If he's running and Flanagan is running, he said "This circumstance creates a possibility of a conflict between Senator Flanagan and myself. In order to insure the integrity of the process, it is therefore appropriate that an independent review of the allegations occur."
Let's review who else has shown some interest in this office.
There's Rep. David Zuckerman, a Progressive from Burlington who might run as a Democrat to avoid the Progressive/Democratic squabble about who's a spoiler.
Some people mention Matt Dunne, a former Democratic state senator, who ran for lieutenant governor and lost in 2006. Would give it another try or is he only weighing his chances for the state's top job?
There's lots of reported interest on the Republican side of the ledger, assuming the Republican incumbent, Brian Dubie, moves up or on.
Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, might go for it, assuming Dubie runs for governor.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said he is considering it.
Mark Snelling, businessman and son of former Gov. Richard Snelling and former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling, has considered runs for governor or lieutenant governor --depending on Dubie.
Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, has given thought to presiding over the Senate as lieutenant governor, too.
Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders were among seven lawmakers who voted against an amendment that would prevent ACORN from receiving federal funding. ACORN is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and has been around since 1970.
With 83 other senators, Democrats and Republicans, supporting the restriction, Vermont's two senators kind of stand out.
What were they thinking? Vermont Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper called the pair out of touch with common sense for objecting to the restriction on funds for an organization he described as riddled with fraud and abuse.
Leahy and Sanders argued that Congress shouldn't get involved in decisions about which organizations receive federal grants. There's a process for deciding that.
"Just as I would be against banning other specific organizations on the right or on the left from applying for competitive grants, I believe it is harmful, even though popular, to approve an amendment like this," Leahy said in defense of his vote.
Sanders noted ACORN's mixed history -- the recently released videos showing employees giving advice about illegal activities to people who had posed as prostitutes as well as the years of advocating for affordable housing, banking services in low-income neighborhoods and decent-paying jobs.
Like Leahy, Sanders argued it was a mistake for senators to spend time arguing about which organizations should receive funding -- when there was an established process.
ACORN and its problems have a long political history that won't be going away soon.
Expect to see and hear about the votes Sanders and Leahy made for months -- maybe years to come.
Daniel T. Riley, a 43-year-old business consultant from Bennington, is crisscrossing the state in hopes of winning support to become the next chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.
Rob Roper, the current chairman, has announced his intention to step down in November when his term is up.
Riley is no stranger to Republican politics. In the announcement of his candidacy, he says he has been Bennington County Republican chairman. He also coordinated John McCain's presidential campaign in the first congressional district of New York in 2000 and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention that year.
Riley said Republicans offer common sense solutions to the challenges the state faces. He says Republican candidates need to "make sure the people hear our solutions loud and clear."
If he became chairman, Riley said his strategy would be to build a strong grassroots campaigning effort -- something he says Democrats have done well in recent years.
"I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and spending time campaigning."
Republicans will choose a new chairman on Nov. 14.
VtBuzz: on ending the spoiler squabble, tea parties and health reform
Nobody’s a spoiler under this scenario
Amidst all the talk about who is running for what as a result of Gov. Jim Douglas’ decision not to run for re-election, there were some missing voices — Progressives. Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, took time from the harvest at his farm to give voice to his political aspirations. He’s considering a run for lieutenant governor or state senator from Chittenden County.
Here’s the twist. If he runs for lieutenant governor, he would run in the Democratic primary. Before Douglas dropped his political bombshell, Zuckerman said he was only thinking about a senate run. Now he, like about everyone else with political ambitions, is thinking bigger. Zuckerman said running in the Democratic primary would be a way to eliminate what he considers a chronically unfair accusation that Progressives who run in statewide races are spoilers. He would use the election system — with its primaries — to solve the dilemma. “I feel in order to remove the angst of the three-way race, let the voters decide,” Zuckerman said. “I would hope I could earn, have earned the support of Democrats.”
Zuckerman is currently testing the political interest in this idea. “I haven’t heard anyone say if you do that you are selling out the Progressive Party,” he said.
Under the scenario he’s floating, if he won the Democratic primary next September, he would ask Progressive Party members to nominate him at their candidate — assuming someone else wasn’t already running as the Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor. He said he would want to be listed on the ballot as a P/D.
“If I go this route, it would an attempt to build a bridge,” Zuckerman. He would be trying to bridge some of the bad feelings that have developed as Progressives and Democrats have vied for many of the same voters.
Zuckerman said it will be well into October, if not November, before he would make a decision about running for lieutenant governor in 2010. He’s not worried that putting off his decision for the next month would be a disadvantage, he said.
“I think any number of people could jump in during the next eight to ten weeks and I don’t think anyone would have an advantage raising money or building support,” he said. — Nancy Remsen
Perhaps you heard reports about the Tea Party March in Washington D.C. Tea was served in Vermont, too. Here are some excerpts from an account of Vermont events by Jon Wallace of Rutland, state Tea Party coordinator.
“The rain held off, and even the sun broke through at times on Saturday, Sept. 12, as hundreds of passionate patriots assembled in Manchester, Burlington, St Albans and Rutland for sign-waves and marches. Following the local events, many Tea Partiers hopped in their Tea Party decorated cars, and formed caravans, which then proceeded to Montpelier for the Tea Party 9/12 March.” Wallace noted the marchers got a surprise when they began assembling on the steps of the Statehouse. A security guard said they couldn’t hold a protest without a permit.
“We are not here protesting, we are here celebrating the United States of America,” Wallace said he replied. Wallace’s account notes that the group stayed put, sang God Bless America, recited the Pledge of Allegiance twice, thanked veterans for their service and got down to talking about the issues that brought many to the rally — health care reform and big government. Organizers identified two bills pending in the Vermont Legislature that would establish government-run health care which drew crowd disapproval, Wallace reported.
The Tea Party organization is trying to awaken citizens to their responsibility to act.
“The day was a success as there were many new faces,” Wallace said. In contrast to some reports about the palpable anger at the Washington march, Wallace wrote, “The attitude of the crowd was ultimately positive and hopeful. ... Many expressed gratitude to the organizers, for they felt that they now had a way to become politically active. Previously, they felt ideologically isolated, therefore politically frustrated, and disenfranchised and unempowered.” — Nancy Remsen
Reading tea leaves
James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, says Tea Parties are misreading the tea leaves on health care reform — at least in Vermont.
“In 2008, the Vermont Workers’ Center conducted personal interview health care surveys with over 1,500 Vermonters,” he said. The results: “Over 95 percent of those asked believed that health care is a basic human right.” — Nancy Remsen
Checking the pulse of health care reform
So the weekend talk shows in Washington have aired, President Barack Obama has delivered another health care pep talk and Tea Party protesters took to the streets to complain about health care reform.
How does Vermont’s trio in Congress see the chances for health reform now?
Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT: “In his address to Congress last week, President Obama made a strong case for the urgency and necessity of reforming the nation’s health care system. He echoed what I heard from Vermonters throughout August: that Congress must focus on providing security and stability to those who have health insurance and extending access to those who don’t. In the coming weeks, I am optimistic we will pass a bill that will protect families and businesses from insurance company rip-offs, extend coverage to 37 million Americans, and provide more choice to Americans by creating a strong public option.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT: “As the president mentioned, it is an international embarrassment that the United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its people, while spending almost twice as much per capita as most other nations. If we do nothing, as many Republicans suggest, the cost of health care in this country will double in the next eight years. I intend to do all that I can to see that a strong and meaningful health care bill is passed.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT: “Uneasiness about reform understandably has grown over the last few months while congressional committees have struggled to draft their various proposals. With no complete bill to debate, the discussion has drifted, and some partisans have also stepped into the void to stir people's worst fears. You wouldn't know from the headlines that many of these reforms have had significant support on both sides of the aisle. It's worth keeping in mind that as popular as Social Security and Medicare are today, there was strenuous opposition to them at the time.
“Soon there will be real legislation on the table. That will not completely reset the framework of this debate, but it will help anchor the debate in real facts. That goes as well for the idea of a public option, which I strongly support.
“Health insurance reform would have been done long ago if it were easy. The President says he expects that Congress will pass health insurance reform by the end of this year. That seems like too ambitious a goal to some, but I believe it's a realistic one.”
Dubie as peacemaker?
Some might have expected an announcement last week, but Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the Republican to whom other Republicans are deferring before making their own decision on whether to run for governor in 2010, says it will not come until perhaps next week. He’s visiting Alaska this week to see how turbines made by Northern Power Systems of Barre are working. Dubie indicated last week, however, that his prospective campaign strategy will be to cast himself as the peacemaker at a time when peace needs to be made. (Think budget stalemate, vetoes, veto overrides).
“One thing is clear – the status quo of the relationship between the Legislature and the governor is not acceptable,” he said.
— Terri Hallenbeck
Roar of the crowd
From the Free Press online story chat on Auditor Tom Salmon’s switch last week from Democrat to Republican party:
bfpcommenter: “After the past 2-3 sessions I would want to be running as a republican , even in VT. Between Shumlin, Smith, and Symington it will be a wonder if the libs even have a majority in the Statehouse. If they do, we will know for sure that VTer’s vote solely based on party.”
proudvter: “This is all about positioning. Dubie will make a run for Gov. and Tommy will try to jump in Dubie’s LT Gov. seat. Just a guess, but the Dem. side of the house knows there are a number of far left groups that always interfere with the dems trying to get into the Gov’s office. Tommy, being a “conservative dem“ sees his opportunity and I am sure he has talked with Dubie about the future. Just my guess. Any other guesses?”
Gov. Jim Douglas, barely back from France, will head to Maryland next week to announce another initiative as chairman of the National Governor's Association.
The event is set for Wednesday afternoon at the Gaylord National Resort in a place called National Harbor.
Here's the announcement.
"Millions of American children face formidable challenges to their long-term health and academic success because they live in poverty and lack access to high-quality health care and constructive early learning opportunities. With this in mind, the NGA Center for Best Practices will host a first-of-its-kind summit that brings together state teams to develop a coordinated policy agenda among state health, early education and human service systems to ensure better outcomes for our children. As part of the summit, Gov. Douglas will speak at a session titled Creating a Children’s Agenda in the New Economic Reality about the importance of comprehensive initiatives that address high-quality early childhood programs and children’s health and welfare in the context of the current economic climate."
This seems like a big challenge -- at a time when governors have a lot of their plates. Next week in Vermont, for example, is the deadline for the Douglas administration and the Vermont State Employees Association to reach an agreement on $7.4 million in cuts or a bunch of state workers will be laid off.
Here is, in part, Vermont Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper's statement on President Obama's address last night:
"Before we put $900 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars on the table for this, we wanted to see exactly how this trick will work. We all agree the goal is nice, but without those details, I have little confidence that this is anything more than a lie convincingly delivered."
Here is, in part, Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns' statement on Roper's statement:
"Rob Roper, the official head of Vermont’s Republican Party, actually followed Wilson’s repugnant lead by calling President Obama a liar based on his speech last night.
"There’s plenty of room for honest debate and divergent opinions about the president’s plan. But by claiming that President Obama lied in his remarks last night, Roper joined the ranks of the petulant peanut gallery of ill-tempered extremists. Sober Republicans in Vermont ought to demand that he apologize, just as his discredited compatriot from South Carolina had the good sense to do."
This should have a few communities reconsidering things:
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A sex offender who fought a city of Barre ordinance restricting where he could live has won a legal challenge. Washington Superior Court Judge Helen Toor struck down the ordinance, finding that the city had failed to prove it had legal authority to dictate where people reside. Christopher Hagan had sued the city after being told he couldn’t live with his wife and children in a Barre apartment. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Barrett, his lawyer, says Friday’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law. He says that Vermonters convicted of crimes should have their punishment determined by the courts, not by city councils or town selectboards.
Nearly everyone is thinking of running for something
The ripple effect from Gov. Jim Douglas’ announced retirement next year has been fascinating. The stampede of interest for top spots on the 2010 ballot has a lot of people rethinking their careers, and not just on the top political rungs.
To get a sense of the jockeying going on, consider one example. Joseph Sinagra of St. Albans, a Republican Party insider who has always worked behind the scenes, said he is thinking of stepping into the spotlight.
Here’s the scenario. Sinagra, executive officer of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Vermont, expects Randy Brock, a Republican state senator from Franklin County, will run either for governor or lieutenant governor, depending on what Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie decides in the coming days. With Brock pursuing a statewide office, a Franklin County Senate seat would open up — and that’s got Sinagra weighing his personal, professional and political options. So would Sinagra run? “I would entertain that.” Here’s a look at some of the players with sights set on the top spots. Surely, there are others.
REPUBLICANS • Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie: He is expected to make a decision on whether to run for as early as the end of this week. “I wish you were with me at the fair. You could witness Vermonters who have an opinion about how I should next serve our state. It’s quite amazing, actually.” • Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans: “If Brian’s in, I’m 100 percent behind him. If he doesn’t run, it takes on a different perspective. I think it’s incumbent upon me and others to give it serious consideration.” • Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin: He’s still eyeing either governor or lieutenant governor, depending on what Dubie does. “Brian is still in the deliberative stage. I expect that’ll be at least a week.” • Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington: Eyeing higher office, particularly lieutenant governor. • Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland: “I’m definitely looking at the lieutenant governor spot.” • Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, House minority leader: “I don’t say no to anything, but I’m not actively out there.” • Rep. Patricia McDonald, R-Berlin, House assistant minority leader: “I want to see what the lieutenant governor does. I’ve been keeping my options open.” • Businessman Mark Snelling, son of former governor: He’s weighing a run for governor or lieutenant governor, but clarified earlier remarks to say he would defer to Brian Dubie if he chose to run for governor. “I’m still looking and still thinking until the lieutenant governor makes a decision. I didn’t mean to imply I had the intention to run against the lieutenant governor in a primary. If he were not to run, I certainly would consider both offices.” • Former Sen. John Bloomer Jr. of Rutland: Eyeing governor or lieutenant governor, awaiting Dubie. • Former House Speaker Walter Freed of Dorset: Mulling the governor’s slot or perhaps lieutenant governor. “It’s nothing I would rule out. I’m waiting to see the lay of the land. Everybody is jockeying and looking around.” • State Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn of Essex: His name surfaced as a potential Republican candidate for governor or lieutenant governor, but he quickly quashed such speculation. “Nope, I’m not. It will be interesting to watch and I’ll be watching.”
DEMOCRATS • State Auditor Tom Salmon: Has caused a stir by changing political parties today, joining the GOP. He said it was unlikely he would run for governor in 2010. • State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding: “I’ve gotten a lot of heartening support. I don’t think that’s going to change my decision I made last winter not to run for governor. I feel like I can make a difference in this position and still have a life.” • Secretary of State Deb Markowitz: In race for governor. • Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille: In race for governor. • Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden: In race for governor. • Sen. Peter Shumlin, Senate president pro tempore: “I’m going to make a decision in the next few weeks,” he said of running for governor. • Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morristown, speaker of the House: He’s all but ruling himself out of the field of gubernatorial candidates. “I would be inclined to say it is unlikely I’ll be running for office other than state representative in 2010.” • Former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartland: “I’ve been encouraged by a lot of friends and supporters to run for statewide office this year. My timelime is November to make a decision. Running for governor is certainly still on the table.” — Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen
Who’s on the run locally?: With at least one incumbent Chittenden senator seeking higher office rather than re-election, candidates have begun queuing up. Mike Yantachka of Charlotte, current Chittenden County Democratic chairman, confirmed he would run for one of the six Chittenden Senate seats. Democrat Philip Baruth of Burlington already jumped into the race. — Nancy Remsen
Bon voyage: Even before Gov. Jim Douglas announced he wasn’t seeking re-election it was clear Vermonters would see less of him in the next year than they are accustomed to. He is, after all, chairman of the National Governors Association. That job will take him to Washington a fair amount, including Sept. 17, when he will speak to the National Press Club. Douglas is doing some other traveling too. This week, he is in France, having left Sunday and returning Saturday, with Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee. They are visiting as guests of the French government and at the request of the French Embassy. to discuss potential markets for Vermont agricultural producers. Next month, he plans a longer trip to Asia with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. — Terri Hallenbeck
Health-care redux: Congress reconvenes after its summer holiday today and the future of health-care reform will be all the buzz. On that subject, Rep. Peter Welch was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article last week. It said: “Rep. Peter Welch, a liberal Democrat from Vermont, had his epiphany during a meeting in a Mini Mart parking lot in Derbyline, (that’s Derby Line to you all) a small town on the Canadian border. Over 50 people crowded around a couple of Dumpsters to berate him. ‘It was stunning,’ Rep. Welch said. ‘They came with talking points“ gleaned from talk radio.’ “What Democrats want now, they say, is a big assist from Mr. Obama. ‘There is no way we are going to get this passed without the energetic, concentrated attention of the president,’ said Rep. Welch. ‘He is going to have to weigh in on the details, and do so loudly.’ — Terri Hallenbeck
Tea time: Some Vermonters will travel to Washington, D.C., on Saturday for a national march organized by the Tea Party movement, but there will be opportunities closer to home to express frustration with “out-of-control spending, the bailouts, the growth of big government and the soaring deficits.” Jon Wallace, state coordinator for the Vermont Tea Party movement, said accountability of the state Legislature and the proposed federal health care reform legislation with its hefty price tag and controversial public option, also are top concerns. Local events include: • RUTLAND: Car decoration and sign waving start at 10 a.m. at a former supermarket parking lot on Route 7 near the Ramada Inn. A carpool caravan leaves for Montpelier at 1:15 p.m. • WILLISTON: Sign-waving begins 11a.m. at Taft Corners, car decoration at 1 p.m. Caravan heads to Montpelier at 2 p.m. • ST. ALBANS: Rally with speakers, noon to 3 p.m. • MANCHESTER AND NEWPORT: Carpool caravans to Montpelier planned. • MONTPELIER: Sign waving starts at 3 p.m. at intersection of Vermont 2 and Main Street, followed by a march at 3:30 p.m. — Nancy Remsen
As Rep. Peter Welch returned to Washington this afternoon, among the items he carried with him was a photo of him wearing a cowboy hat at a meeting in a parking lot in Derby Line. He looked a little like Ross Perot without the big ears.
He faced a hostile crowd there at one of his Congress in the Community gatherings. They were dubious, to say the least, of the health-care reform measures on the table in Washington.
Welch relayed that he asked the crowd for permission to ask them just one question before they started firing away at him. They weren't amenable. He pleaded. They finally relented. He told them he's bald and it was sunny and did anyone have a hat he could borrow? Stewart Skrill from Randolph (himself an independent candidate for Congress in 2000) offered up his cowboy hat. Welch discovered that cowboys really are onto something - the hat protected his head yet had a nice air flow.
He also said that borrowing the hat changed the dynamics slightly. He and the crowd were better able to get on with the discussion about health care. He said he can't be sure that he talked them out of believing that the legislation calls for death panels, but he tried.
The release went out Monday afternoon from the Vermont Republican Party. (You can read our preview from Saturday's paper here.)
"State Auditor of Accounts Tom Salmon will make an announcement tomorrow morning regarding the upcoming 2010 election. Tom Salmon is widely regarded by Vermonters of all political stripes as mainstream and fair leader who always puts the best interests of the people first. During this difficult econmic time, it is critical that our elected officials act to put state government spending on a sustainable course and Auditor Salmon has been a partner in that effort.
"The Vermont Republican Party will continue to support mainstream, commonsense leaders who put the people of Vermont ahead of special interests. We look forward to Auditor Salmon's announcement tomorrow, Tuesday, September 8th, at 11:00 am at the State House."
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is hooking up with a quick-strike Internet video company to take his message to the ever expanding social networking world.
He's had a Facebook page for a while, and now he's got a Twitter account and the semblance of a weekly YouTube show, thanks to his association with Brave New Films, which is best known for its rapid response videos attacking Senator John McCain's "double talk" and the fair-and-balanced mantra of Fox News.
The show, titled Bernie Sanders Unfiltered, essentially amounts to Brave New Films selecting someone to pose a question to Sanders, who offers 100 seconds of his thoughts on the matter. This week's question, about Afghanistan, was posed by British indie rocker Billy Bragg. Check it out by clicking HERE.
"He's talked about how to take advantage of any opportunity out there to communicate with people," said Sanders' spokesman Mike Briggs, talking about his boss' entry into the the YouTube world. "This is one more way to reach the people who don't catch him on the evening newscast."
You know those negotiations going on between the Douglas administration and Vermont state employees over $7.4 million in payroll savings? Well, Vermont's hardly alone.
From the Associated Press: PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Governor says Rhode Island will lay off 1,000 workers after judge blocks government shutdown. The closure of state government Friday was supposed to be the first of a dozen shutdown days that Gov. Don Carcieri ordered to help close a $68 million budget shortfall.
The Montpelier High School students who chose fundraising as their form of protest against the Westboro Baptist Church on Tuesday (you can read about it HERE) have updated their take:
The group, started by Montpelier High student Joe Carlomagno and which spread wild-fire like on Facebook, has raised $6,250 and counting, for GLAD, a New England gay rights organization. Donations are accepted through Sept. 10. (Other groups were also raising money for other organizations Tuesday.)
Joe listed some other numbers Here are some numbers:
Number of WBC members who protested outside MHS: 4 (5, if you count 7-year-old Luke)
Number of legal same-sex marriages that took place today in Vermont: 5
Number of states that have won marriage equality through the legislature: 1 (Vermont!)
Number of minutes the WBC protested outside MHS: 27 minutes
He also wrote:
"At Montpelier High School, you helped change what might have been a tense, frustrating, and disheartening school day into one filled with positive thoughts, unity, and hope. Thank you, thank you, everyone!"
Mark Snelling, son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling and brother of Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, has felt the lure of political possibility as a result of Gov. Jim Douglas' announcement that he won't seek a fifth term.
Snelling said he's considering a run for either governor or lieutenant governor. Unlike other prospective Republican gubernatorial candidates -- namely Randy Brock and John Bloomer -- Snelling isn't going to defer to the choice that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie makes about seeking the top job.
Does that mean Snelling is willing to chance a primary?
This Snelling hasn't ever held public office -- no school board or selectboard seat, not even a class presidency in grade school. Still Snelling said he been involved behind the scenes in 10 of his parents' statewide campaigns.
Snelling offered no timetable for his decision. Like everyone else whose imagining themselves in the state's top job, he's talking with people about his potential candidacy.
"I don't think one should dally too much, particularly if the choice was to run for governor."
It was the kind of gathering of friends and colleagues you mights see on a Friday night. Some bottles of wine and desserts set out on a table, clutches of conversation taking place in the kitchen.
But Monday night, as it morphed into Tuesday and the first day of September, 2009, was special for Claire Williams and Cori Giroux. The two women, who had a commitment ceremony three years ago in Baltimore where they met and a civil union when they moved to Vermont in 2007, became "lawfully wedded" under Vermont law in the first moments that was possible.
And as a bonus, the woman officiating over their ceremony was Beth Robinson, a founder of Vermont Freedom to Marry, lawyer in the lawsuit that paved the way for Vermont's two-step legislative process to legalize same-sex marriage.
Robinson described the midnight marriage as historic and miraculous because "Cori and Claire have a chance to participate in an institution they never thought would be available to them."
Yet Robinson also called it mundane -- meaninig an ordinary story of two people falling in love and getting married. She has long talked of marriage for same-sex couple in these terms -- a contrast to all those who say same-sex love is deviant.
After a night when dreams came true, Claire and Cori were back to reality with the rising of the sun. Both went to work as usual -- but today they are Claire Giroux-Williams and Cori Giroux-Williams, a married couple.