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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



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

Candidate updates

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?

Nancy Remsen

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Jim Douglas has no intention on really negotiating in good faith - he has wanted to destroy the union since he was inaugurated in 2003.

Douglas' budgets every year have been a shell game - he hides a lot - and he has tried and tried to raise local property taxes by shifting state costs to the local governments.
"Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said financial disclosure wasn’t a top priority for his organization . . ."

Gee, could that be because financial disclosure would show that his organization actually owns the Democratic majority in the legislature?
Gee, Denise, we're all on pins and needles.
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