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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



When should we have primary?

As you read in today's Free Press, Vermont is faced with the prospect of having to change the date of the 2010 primary election.

Sept. 14 just isn't going to cut it. Congress just passed a law that says states have to send overseas absentee ballots out at least 45 days before the Nov. 2 general election, and there's not enough time to certify the primary, print the ballots and send them out under Vermont's current schedule.

So when would you like the election to be?

How's Aug. 24, as the Senate chose in a bill this year that hasn't passed the House?

Or Aug. 17, as the Secretary of State's Office proposed?

Or how about June? That one makes legislators nervous because they'd have to decide whether they're running and campaign during the legislative session. Could also make the session even messier politically than it's already going to be.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Democrats lend a helping hand across the lake

Judy Bevans, chairwoman of the Vermont Democratic Party, suggests party members who miss the political activity of an election year go across Lake Champlain to Plattsburg Sunday and help Democrat Bill Owens who faces two competitors in a special congressional election.

Bevans explained in her e-mail the significance of the race: "Since this is the only congressional race on the November ballot in 2009, the outcome will have far reaching effects for our nation, as a whole. The far right is trying to paint this race as a referendum on the Tea Party movement. Extremists like Sarah Palin, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, and former Senator Rick Santorum have all endorsed Conservative Doug Hoffman, and are rallying right-wingers from all corners of the country."

Bevans argues that helping to elect the Democrat would show that "Americans are still behind President Obama."

The Vermont Democratic Party earlier urged activists to help out in Maine where there is a referendum to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law.

Robert Dempsey, the party's executive director, said it is important to give activists things to do since Vermont doesn't have a fall election.

"The point is, we have a couple of initiatives and candidates we fully support," Dempsey said. "We are the Democratic Party. We have a Democratic member across the lake. We are just trying to help some of our brothers and sisters."

-- Nancy Remsen

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Passing the hat

The notion of raising money to bring Guard members home for the holidays just before their deployment to Afghanistan has caught on with at least a few people.

Over at Smugglers Notch ski area, employee Don Gandini said he put out a jar yesterday afternoon and sent an e-mail around asking co-workers to drop a dollar or so in. Within 24 hours, the take was $60, he said. He expects customers will probably contribute too. He'll send what's collected by Thanksgiving to Operation Holiday Homecoming. Gandini thought other companies might want to do the same.

At the Senate pro tem's office, meanwhile, some 60 people have phoned or e-mailed their interest in the project, which was launched Monday by Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and the Guard. One high school football team is looking to raise money to bring their soon-to-be-deployed coach home for the holidays, said Shumlin's aide, Alex Maclean.

Several readers have contacted us at the Free Press in the last day or so to see how to donate (send a check to Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation Inc. (write "Operation Holiday Homecoming" in the memo line) to P.O. Box 683, Essex Junction VT, 05453, or go online to www.supportvermontguard.org and click on "donate.").

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Another one helps the Guard

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz had to be crying in her tea Monday when Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin announced creation of a fund to help Vermont National Guard members come home for the holidays.

The very next day, Markowitz would be kicking off her office’s "Service-for-Service" project, which encourages Vermont schoolchildren to help Guard families.

Both Markowitz and Shumlin are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Both are launching these programs as part of their day jobs, with both citing all the calls their offices have received from families seeking help.

Both, it’s not hard to imagine, would love it if people thought what they were doing was so swell that they support them for governor.

Markowitz kicked off her program in Cavendish, where students raised $1,400 for the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation, the very same organization that is collecting money for Shumlin’s program.

Markowitz’s program will help the Guard members pay for calls home from Afghanistan. Shumlin’s seeks to fly Guard members home from Indiana for their holiday leave just before the go to Afghanistan.

Are any more of the five Democratic and one Republican candidates for governor raising money for the Guard? Speak now - or wait until tomorrow.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Vt.Buzz: Politicians taking the stage and a canteen fight

Politics and war

Mark your calendar for Nov. 16 as the day Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, will announce he’s running for governor.

Shumlin’s political plans, though, were the elephant-on-the-grounds of Camp Johnson on Monday. There, he announced plans to raise $315,000 to bring Vermont National Guard soldiers home from training in Indiana for the holidays.

A masterful move for a man who is looking for ways to step ahead of four Democratic rivals. Who can argue with helping soldiers reunite with their families for the holidays just before they are sent off to Afghanistan?

Did the Guard members feel like they were in the middle of a political move? Brig. Gen. Jonathan Farnham wanted nothing to do with questions like that at Monday’s announcement, but it was clear that just about everyone had thought of it.

Some in the crowd jumped to Shumlin’s defense.

“We’ve been talking about a way to help the Guard when we first learned there was going to be a deployment. “This was not a last-minute decision,” said Sen. Vince Illuzzi, a Republican who attended the announcement. “To suggest that this is anything but an effort to bring those folks home is just not fair.”

Jan Eastman of Peacham, friend of a Guard family, said the idea was hatched in a Peacham living room and has been in the works for months.

“There is no downside to this,” Illuzzi added.

“It’s the right thing to do at the right time,” said Sen. Bill Carris, D-Rutland.

The head of the Vermont National Guard, Maj. Gen. Mike Dubie, was out of state and not at the announcement. He happens to be the brother of Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.

“If Maj. Gen. Dubie ... thought that this was to help a gubernatorial campaign he probably wouldn’t be involved,” Shumlin said.

There may be room for some of Shumlin’s opponents to get involved. Illuzzi said efforts are still under way to get pilots for the charter. Isn’t Brian Dubie a pilot?

Terri Hallenbeck

Dubie takes stage

Last week, as people were scrambling in reaction to the Champlain Bridge closing, the governor’s office made sure to note that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie had toured the bridge and taken part in a conference call of state officials.

This week, Dubie will make two announcements about community development grants — one in Burlington on Thursday and another in Rutland on Wednesday.

Certainly, the fact that Gov. Jim Douglas is in Asia is one reason the lieutenant governor is stepping in, but this sort of pinch-hitting has been relatively rare in the last seven years that Douglas and Dubie have been in office together.

Just one more place where campaigning blurs with business. We will probably see other occasions in the next year where Douglas wants to share the spotlight with the candidate he hopes succeeds him.

Terri Hallenbeck

Salmon puts politics aside

When it became clear Tom Salmon had gubernatorial ambitions earlier this year, he turned up at many more events where news was being made — such as in the crossfire between Gov. Jim Douglas and legislative leaders during last spring’s budget battle.

Then he created personal political news by switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party. He has since dialed back his ambitions, saying he’ll run for re-election as auditor, but continued to be highly visible.

The news State Auditor Salmon is making this week, however, is a project he’s working on for a long time. He asked school superintendents across the state to answer a survey to help identify what services school districts are sharing. He hopes all 62 superintendents will respond by Friday.

“He has been, for quite some time, working with school officials,” said Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association. Francis said Salmon laid groundwork for the survey through individual meetings with superintendents as well as presentations at group gatherings. “For where I sit, it is a constructive endeavor.”

“One of the missions of the auditor’s office is to be a catalyst of good government,” Salmon said. “I’m not carrying anybody’s water.” He said he hoped the survey would identify best practices that could be shared.

“Education conversations are sensitive,” Salmon acknowledged. Talk of change spurs worries about the loss of local control and a sense of community.

Still, with his next research project, Salmon will push toward the heart of one of the touchiest educational questions — what’s the best school governance structure? Salmon intends to compare expenses and services of two supervisory unions — one that has a single governance structure and one that doesn’t.

Nancy Remsen

Sanders pairs with Hightower

Sen. Bernie Sanders and liberal activist Jim Hightower will make two Vermont appearances together this week.

The events are being billed as a “discussion on how we build a progressive grassroots movement to defeat the big-money interests that dominate the economic and political life of our country.”

The appearances are at 7 p.m. Friday [tha: Oct. 30 : ]at Brattleboro Union High School and 10:30 a.m. Saturday [tha: 10/31: ]at Montpelier High School. With a $10 admission fee, this is a fundraiser for Sanders, who is up for re-election in 2012. That’s a date so far off that Sanders’ campaign Web site still says, “Join the fight for progressive politics in 2008.”

The event is being promoted by the Vermont Democratic Party, almost making one forget that Sanders is not a member of the party.

Terri Hallenbeck

New focus for tri-state summit

Legislative leaders from Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have a new topic for their Nov. 12 meeting on FairPoint Communications — bankruptcy and what that adds to the worries they already had about the fragility of the telecommunications system in northern New England.

Despite the new turn of events — which was expected, noted Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans — the meeting is still on. Illuzzi proposed the three-state summit because he wanted to explore whether there could be a tri-state authority to deal with FairPoint. That’s still a valid inquiry, he said.

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said lawmakers from the three states need information about the consequences of bankruptcy on services and workers. “We will want some questions answered,” he said, “such as whether there needs to be some kind of legislative action taken.”

Nancy Remsen

Please reconsider

As this blog suggests, Illuzzi keeps busy. In recent days, he inserted himself into the controversy over a budget cut that will close a canteen operated near the Vermont State Hospital.

Illuzzi questioned assertions by the Department of Mental Health that the canteen loses money. He said he also is persuaded the canteen provides eligible patients with a place to go where they don’t have to feel like they are in a hospital. “It is therapeutic.”

Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hartman explained he chose to close the canteen to avoid making cuts to direct care for patients.

Illuzzi hasn’t backed off. Sunday he sent Hartman an e-mail that read, “It is not right to take something from the most unfortunate people in our state. ... Please reconsider.”

Nancy Remsen


House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, attended the National Speakers Conference last week in Georgia. He said he hoped he could pick up tips for coping with budget challenges since, like Vermont, so many states are struggling with shrunken revenues.
His counterparts had plenty of horror stories, but as for ideas to rescue policy-makers from tough decisions, Smith said, “I didn’t get any.”

Nancy Remsen



Burlington Dems turn to lawyer

Democrats on the Burlington City Council are planning to engage a lawyer to provide them with advice on the Burlington Telecom financing matter.

The seven Democrats plan to caucus Sunday, a day before their next City Council meeting. They had considered bringing him to Tuesday night's special meeting but decided against it based on the objections of others.

They promised the rest of the council, that though they were not welcome at the caucus because that would constitute a quorum and an open meeting, that they will share the lawyer's advice with other members. They also told other members they'd pass along any questions they had to him.

In a letter to fellow members, Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, said:

"I realize that some Councilors were vehemently opposed to the Dems use of our Council funds in this way and want to proceed differently in the future. However, the issue at hand right now is how we can best serve the interests of the Burlington citizens, businesses, and taxpayers, and it is my hope that Mr Richardson will be of help in this endeavor which I believe is our shared goal."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Politics of a different dimension

I was like an alien dropped in from another planet last night at the Burlington City Council meeting. I've read about Burlington city business for years, know a bit about the three-way Progressive-Democratic-Republican tug-of-war that goes on, but there's nothing like seeing it in person.

With City Hall reporter John Briggs on vacation, I covered the special City Council meeting focused on Burlington Telecom finances. Fascinating labyrinth of a story, the Telecom issue. In a nutshell: they borrowed $17 million from the city over a longer period than their state license allows, and they didn't tell a whole lot of people about it very quickly.

All that is intrigue enough, but Tuesday night, city councilors had their chance to say their piece. Karen Paul was teleported in from Italy, following the meeting by video connection (via Burlington Telecom on this end) in the middle of the Italian night. Marrisa Caldwell was following by phone from home where she was under the weather. The rest of the 14-member council pitched in in person.

Here's an indication of how cohesive this bunch is - or not: When the clock crept toward 10:30 p.m. (that's 3.5 hours of meeting time), Councilor Ed Adrian pointed out that they were about to hit the time when their own rules require them to stop unless they vote to continue. (A fine, fine rule, I might point out). But they couldn't agree on whether to adjourn without a flurry of close votes, which were a tad hard to follow for the alien from the other planet. But then everybody got up to leave, so clearly the adjourners won.

Every entity has its own dynamics.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Bartlett puts some people power into her campaign

Susan Bartlett, a Democratic state senator who wants to be governor, has hired a couple of Washington-based experts and a Vermont election veteran to help her make her case to voters.

"This is the beginning of the team we will build," Bartlett said. "I view the campaign as a job interview. David, Alan and John will help me share my vision, credentials and strengths with the people of Vermont."

She will use David Heller of Main Street Communications to develop and place all her advertising. Check out Heller's Web Site.

She has hired Alan Secrest of Cooper and Secrest to do polling. The firm doesn't seem to have a Web site, but there are plenty of stories about their work.

John Bauer, local boy, will help her with "message development, fundraising and data management." Sounds like a campaign manager, but she didn't identify him as such. Bauer's local credentials include managing Jeb Spaulding's first bid to become treasurer in 2002 when he had to fend off Democratic rival Ed Flanagan in a primary.

Bartlett, of course, faces a primary. She one of three officially declared Democratic candidates for governor. The others are Sen. Doug Racine and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz. Sen. Peter Shumlin and former Sen. Matt Dunne have all but jumped into the Democratic race, too. Look for their decisions in the next few weeks.

Based on how many staff the announced candidates have already hired, this is going to be one costly gubernatorial election.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Politicans with some persuasive power

Two Vermont politicians have flexed their muscles in recent days and won the Vermont State Hospital yet another chance to regain federal certification and funding.

Earlier today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, hosted a meeting between two top staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Vermont's Mental Health commissioner, Michael Hartman.

Vermont officials have felt they couldn't get a fair break from federal regulators when it came to evaluating the state hospital. It seemed the hospital reputation from year's past tainted each recent inspection.

Today, however, Hartman reported "a very positive meeting." He expects the state will reapply for certification a few weeks.

About 10 days ago, Gov. Jim Douglas had called one of the officials at the Sanders' meeting to also press the state's case for another chance. His phone call prompted CMS to say the state could reapply and wouldn't have to start at step one.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, participated in the Sanders' meeting by telephone. "It is fascinating to me to see how effective a senator can be," she said. A governor too, one could add.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Getting involved in Maine marriage referendum

Remember when Vermont was debating first civil unions in 2000 and then same-sex marriage last spring? The one point of agreement by the two sides seemed to be that Vermont ought to decide this question for itself without outside interference.

Now, however, as Maine voters prepare to vote on a referendum on the same-sex marriage statute their Legislature enacted last spring, the Vermont Democratic Party is encouraging Vermonters to get involved.

Here's the message from Democratic Chairwoman Judy Bevans, who argues marriage equality is under attack in Maine.

"In conjunction with Vermont Freedom to Marry, we are helping organize phone banks across Vermont to call Maine voters and encourage them to get out and vote early, or simply remind them of the urgency of this upcoming vote. This week and next, phone banks will be set up in Burlington, Middlebury and Montpelier, so please sign up today and learn more about what you can do to help. If you can't make it to a phone bank, you can also call from home, so don't hesitate. Just sign up today and tell us you plan to phone from home."

Bevans justifies Vermonters' involvement this way. "Our friends in Maine need the added strength of our voices. Their fight is our fight. As is the fight of any state or individual working for equal rights under the law. ... Together we are shaping the future of civil rights in America."

I lived in Maine for two decades and I know Mainers feel as fiercely independent as Vermonters. I wonder how these calls will go over.

-- Nancy Remsen




VtBuzz: On people power, troubles for Galbraith, health care, political organizing and Chris Roy

Who’s got the power?

Election 2010 may seem a long way off to most of us, but apparently not for the delegates at Saturday’s 53rd Vermont AFL-CIO annual convention.

The 50-60 people in the meeting room stayed in the room for speech after speech by a parade of politicians, including four Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas who isn’t running for re-election, Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith, who isn’t running for governor, Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and a few legislators.

Progressive Anthony Pollina, who ran for governor in 2008 and said he has yet to decide about running for office in 2010, told the group they had power and they should exert it with candidates seeking their support. I think they know they have power. Representing about 9,500 union members, Vermont AFL-CIO executive vice president Jill Charbonneau said, “We want to have our voices shape their campaigns.”

Matt Dunne , a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor and is pondering a run for governor, asked the group for their ideas about Vermont’s future. “No individual, not even a governor, is going to lead us into a new era.”

He urged union members to share their thoughts at his new Web site, Vermontfuture.org.

Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, knows unions wield some important power. He’s benefited in past elections, he reminded the delegates. He asked for their support again as he makes his second run for the state’s top office. The AFL-CIO backed Pollina in 2008. You can read his remarks here.

Racine sees support from the union organization as one key to an alliance with Progressives – something Democrats would like to see to prevent a three-way race for governor. Racine huddled with Progressive Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott, who was attending the convention.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin is clearly running, although he hasn’t formally “announced.” Not only did he work the union delegates as they ate lunch, he was shaking hands with other resort guests throughout the dining room.

While the other Democratic gubernatorial aspirants talked about “the last eight years” in reference to the Republican Douglas administration, Shumlin was explicit, tying next year’s all-but confirmed Republican nominee Brian Dubie to Douglas. For example, Shumlin said, “The Douglas-Dubie promise of Jim and Brian equals jobs just hasn’t happened.”

Shumlin appealed to the AFL-CIO’s power, too. “I ask you, what do you want? This isn’t about the candidate. This is about moving Vermont forward together.”

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz recounted how she stood in the cold outside Copley Hospital with nurses forming a union. “We need to stand together,” she said to the union representatives.

Just when it seemed she was going to say what she really wanted from the AFL-CIO, she said instead, “I would love to have your thoughts.”

Sen. Susan Bartlett had been scheduled to speak, too, but canceled because she lost her voice. She joked in her Facebook entry about her condition that some has said it should happen to all politicians.

Nancy Remsen

Galbraith under fire — again?

Peter Galbraith, part-time Vermont, part-time Norway resident, is catching some flack in Norway.

News reports there have revealed that Galbraith had a 5 percent interest from 2004-2008 in an oil company seeking to do business in Iraq at a time when Galbraith was helping the Kurdish government negotiate the future of Kurdistan within Iraq.

Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia who was recently ousted from his job with the United Nations in Afghanistan in a dispute with his boss about election fraud there, is once again the defensive.

He didn’t deny the business interest, though he said confidentiality agreements precluded him from discussing them. He did deny that those business interests were a problem.

“There is no conflict of interest,” Galbraith said by phone after he returned to Vermont late last week. “I wasn’t employed by anybody. I didn’t actually have a duty to anybody.”

Reider Visser, a research fellow in Norway who edits a Web site on world politics, made this point about the relationship on his site: “Galbraith, however, was almost universally seen as “Ambassador Galbraith,” the statesmanlike former diplomat whose outspoken ideas about post 2003-Iraq were always believed to be rooted in idealism and never in anything else. Instead, it now emerges, he apparently wore several hats at the same time, and mixed his roles in ways that seem entirely incompatible with the capacity of independent adviser on constitutional affairs.”

Galbraith argues that that interpretation is unfair, that he readily disclosed he was a businessman. “There’s an implication that there’s something wrong with doing business,” Galbraith said.

Galbraith, meanwhile, is gaining some vindication in his Afghan dispute with his U.N. boss Kai Eide (not necessarily coincidentally a Norwegian). Galbraith wanted the U.N. mission to be more public about fraud in the August presidential election. U.N.-backed fraud investigators Monday threw out nearly one-third President Hamid Karzai’s votes from the election.

Terri Hallenbeck

Health care day of action?

Today is the day that Democrats hope to turn up the heat on the health care debate by barraging members of Congress with telephone calls. The goal is 100,000 calls.

Organizing for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, plans “Time to Deliver” events across the country including one in Vermont at 4 p.m. at the Vermont Democratic headquarters in Montpelier.

Why just one here? One could ask why hold any event here. What’s the point when Vermont’s congressional delegation signed on to health care reform long before Barack Obama became president.

UPDATE It turns out there were a couple more events in Vermont -- they just weren't included in the press release. Here's a gathering at UVM -- 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Room 311, Lafayette Building.

Nancy Remsen

Getting organized?

It’s that time of year – political parties have to get organized – legally. Getting organized strategically and financially is a good idea, too, with an election around the corner.

County committees get organized this month, with state committees holding annual meetings in November.

Today Chittenden County Democrats meet at 7 p.m. at South Burlington High school to pick a new chairman. Jake Perkinson has said he wants the job, which is open because Mike Yantachka is retiring to run for state Senate.

Chittenden Republicans meet at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Christ the King School in Burlington to pick a new chairman, too. Dawn Hill-Fleury has announced her interest.

Chittenden Progressives also meet Wednesday, at the Davis Center at UVM. Meg Brook , current county chairwoman is expected to seek re-election.

Nancy Remsen

Keeping an eye on bumpers?

I’ve known who was running for secretary of state for months – a “perk” of my profession, you might say — but most folks don’t have to follow campaigns until about this time next year. Still Republican Chris Roy of Williston must have decided to start building public awareness of his candidacy. I saw a car with one of his bumper stickers Monday morning.

Roy was joined by fellow Republicans Mark Snelling (candidate for lieutenant governor) and Tom Salmon (candidate for re-election as auditor but newly minted as a Republican) at last weekend’s meeting of the Orleans County Republicans. The Newport Daily Express newspaper ran a story, written by Staff Writer Christopher Roy. Huh?

Roy the candidate said that’s a completely different Chris Roy. “I had been wanting to meet him for several years. There is a surprisingly large number of Chris Roys out there,” he said. Among them, he said, are a Democratic state legislator in Louisiana, a professor of African Studies and a stock car racer from Hardwick.

Nancy Remsen and Terri Hallenbeck



Finding friends in health reform

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, is trumpeting the fact he picked up an important ally in his effort to peel away the insurance industry’s anti-trust immunity – which dates back to a 1945 law.

Leahy’s ally: President Barack Obama. In his Saturday radio address, Obama said he supported a review of the exemption.

The focus of Obama’s radio address was an attack on the insurance industry for standing in the way of health care reform. “ The insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo.”

Leahy introduced a bill last month -- the Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act -- which would repeal what Leahy’s says is an “unjustifiable immunity enjoyed by health insurers and medical malpractice insurers.

He took testimony on the bill last week. The House Judiciary Committee apparently is on the same page and could vote on a measure Wednesday.

Leahy said he hoped senators would have an opportunity “to vote up or down on whether to continue this unreasonable exemption. ... Ending this cozy exemption is another way to strengthen consumer choice through a competitive marketplace.”

I’m sure that could be uncomfortable for some senators, which would be why Leahy would like an isolated vote on the question, wouldn't it?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Shumlin: next month

Word is that Vermonters can expect Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin to announce his plans to run for governor in November.

Shumlin, of Putney, has been saying he's 99.99 percent in the race.

His announcement will be sometime before the Nov. 19 forum that the Vermont League of Conservation Voters has planned, so he can be expected to be on the dais with a field of three other, possibly four if former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartland enters the race by then, of Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Tuesday buzz: What's a Dem to do?

Which friend do you feed?

Do not be surprised if there are at least five Democrats in the race for governor by the time you’re stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and Sens. Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett are in the 2010 race. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and former Sen. Matt Dunne are on the campaign doorstep.

For hard-core Democratic voters, that’s like having more guests at the holiday dinner table than you planned for. How do you share the spread when you like all your guests equally? And how do you make sure one of them is fed well enough to last through next November?

Democratic campaign contributor Crea Lintilhac of Shelburne is among those who worries about that.

“I am worried about the amount of money that’s going to be spent and what’s left for the general election race,” Lintilhac said. “I wish there were fewer candidates because I think it drains the coffers.”

Vermonters intent on voting for a Democrat face a field of candidates with hard-to-differentiate political views and not-very- dissimilar backgrounds. That brings the decision down to less tangible details.

Lintilhac committed early to Markowitz, even though she also likes Racine and Shumlin. Friends have given her grief about not backing Racine, she said.

“I just sort of picked who I thought was the most capable,” she said, citing Markowitz’s public-speaking skills and connections across Vermont. “Deb is very straight-forward.”

Lintilhac said she will stick with Markowitz through the primary and support whichever Democrat wins for the general election.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Howard, a Rutland Democrat, hung his star on Racine. whom he thinks has the strongest base of support. Howard said Vermont Democrats will be making their choices based on which candidate they think is the most electable.

Howard is a professional campaign fundraiser in his non-legislative life. He is working as a consultant in the mayoral race in Newton, Mass., which coincidentally featured five candidates in a preliminary election last month.

Just to complicate things, Howard said, it’s been “torture” raising money in this economy. “People who used to max out are giving a quarter of that,” he said.

In other words, more guests are coming to dinner at a time when there is less food in the pantry. It means candidates have to hit up more people, including first-time contributors, Howard said.

Garrison Nelson, University of Vermont political science professor, noted that Racine and Markowitz have already raised about one-third of a million dollars, already snared some of the most eager donors.

He thinks Shumlin — who said last week he is “99.99 percent in” — is dragging out his announcement so that he has some serious fund-raising lined up when he makes it. “He has to basically drive Matt and Susan out of the race,” Nelson said. “He’s not going to drive Doug and Deb out.”

Shumlin can be expected to draw money from same-sex marriage supporters as thanks for passing legislation this year, but he hasn’t locked up all of those supporters. Howard is among them. “Racine was for us back in the civil-union fight,” he said.

Another indication that when it comes down to it, as Nelson said, “There’s not a lot of daylight between the candidates.”

— Terri Hallenbeck

First forum?

We might get a chance to see the passel of candidates for governor together at one forum for the first time next month. The League of Conservation Voters has scheduled an “Evening with the Candidates!“ on Nov. 19 at Main Street Landing in Burlington.

The advocacy group reports that Bartlett, Racine and Markowitz have confirmed they’ll be there. Shumlin and Dunne have been invited if they’re running.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the Republican candidate for governor, has told VLCV he can’t make it because of a scheduling conflict. Executive Director Todd Bailey said the group hopes to pose questions to Dubie. “Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie does have some good politics around these issues,” he said.

The forum is a first step toward considering who to endorse in the election, Bailey said. He’s not sure if the group will endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary.

— Terri Hallenbeck

GMP poll finds favor for VY

Last September, a WCAX-TV poll indicated that a majority of Vermonters want to see the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant shut down. This year, Green Mountain Power Corp. has a poll that says otherwise.

The state’s second-largest utility routinely hires a firm to survey customer satisfaction, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said. In July, the company chose to ask a different sort of question, she said.

GMP itself favors relicensing, but Schnure said she sought to phrase the question in an unbiased way. “If 90 percent of our customers said they wanted Yankee closed we’d have to think about that,” she said.

The question posed to 400 customers: Vermont Yankee is asking federal and state regulators for permission to operate for 20 years after its original 40-year license expires in 2012. If 0 means you “strongly oppose” re-licensing and 10 means you “strongly favor” re-licensing, what number along this 0-10 scale describes your personal opinion about re-licensing Vermont Yankee for continued service when it comes up for renewal in 2012?

The results: favor (those who gave a 7-10) 42 percent; oppose (0-3) 24 percent; neutral (4-6) 29 percent; not sure 5 percent.

WCAX poll results last September: When asked if Vermont Yankee should be relicensed in 2012, 52 percent said no, 29 percent said yes and 19 percent were unsure. Of the 400 Vermonters polled, 64 percent say they are willing to pay more for electricity if it means Yankee would close; 28 percent would not be willing to pay more; 8 percent are not sure.

— Terri Hallenbeck

D.C. doings

In Washington, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on its health-care bill — the one without a public option. Vermont’s senators won’t have to vote on that bill, though. Before it reaches the Senate floor, the legislation will be merged with a bill from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy were among 30 senators who last week signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying they want a public option in the final bill.

“We are concerned that – absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option – health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment,” the letter said in part.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Have passports, will travel

If you are an elected official in Vermont, you’d better have an up-to-date passport and like rice. Asia has become the popular destination for Vermont politicians this fall.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, and House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson spent the past week in Taiwan, a trip that was coordinated and funded by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston.

Smith headed a group of legislators from throughout New England. The goal was to strengthen economic ties with Taiwan, so the politicians visited with folks at the Taiwanese Bureau of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Justice and the Bureau of National Health Insurance. Smith and Nease also expected to tour the Taipei World Trade Center and the Taipei 101 Financial Center, as well as get a firsthand look at Taiwan’s high-speed rail.

In just a few weeks, Gov. Jim Douglas will head to Asia, leading a delegation of Vermont business leaders seeking investors for their companies, according to a news release from August announcing the trip. His trip includes stops in South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

—Nancy Remsen

Flu precautions

Before taking off for distant lands, Douglas got his flu shot, he said. He got the vaccine for the seasonal, not H1N1, type.

However, he said he hasn’t changed his hand-shaking practices. Instead he carries and uses frequently those anti-bacterial hand liquids. He also said he doesn’t take offense if someone prefers to nod, rather than shake.

By the way, Douglas said he got his flu shot courtesy of the state employee wellness program. That’s the program that was proposed for elimination during the administration’s unsuccessful negotiations with the Vermont State Employees Association.

— Nancy Remsen

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Dean on a health care compromise

Check out what Howard Dean told the Huffington Post about a compromise proposal for one of the most controversial aspects of health care reform -- to include or not to include a public option. The compromise would allow states to opt out of offering a public option.

If he had a Senate vote, this would be something he could support, he says, given that a full-blown public option seems to lack support.

Read the story here.

--Nancy Remsen

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Reaction to the Obama Peace Prize

Did anyone see the Nobel Peace Prize coming Barack Obama's way?

Here are comments from Vermont's U.S. senators. There's a big buzz out there in partisanland that I won't try to capture unless it becomes local. I'll add more comments if and as I get them.

Sen. Patrick Leahy: "It's a stunning announcement and it reflects well on America's ideals and the world's yearning for American leadership. Little is possible without leadership. No one can force other nations to follow, but President Obama is reintroducing America to the rest of the world, and people of goodwill everywhere do have hope about working together for progress on some of the world's most daunting and dangerous problems."

Sen. Bernie Sanders: President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the non-Western world and stress diplomacy. Americans should be extremely proud that we now have a president who is restoring respect and admiration for our country around the globe. At a time when our planet faces so many serious problems,, the United States must play a leadership role in bringing the international community together against our common enemies of war, terrorism, poverty, AIDS and global warming. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama is a show of support for his effort in that direction.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Organizing for America has listening tour stops in Vermont

If it's fall, it must be time to muster support for change -- again -- even though it's not an election year.

Organizing for America (OFA), a Democratic National Committee project, is bringing its ears to Vermont to brainstorm with locals about how to gin up support for President Obama's agenda. The OFA's "listening tour" will visit Montpelier Sunday and make future stops in Rutland, Brattleboro, Lyndonville and Burlington.

All the gatherings are open to the public. You don't have to be a Democrat or an Obama supporter in the last election to drop in. Michael Czin, regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, expects the meetings to attract some people who are keen to see health care reform occur.

The Vermont tour by Organizing for America is part of a nationwide campaign.

Czin said participants will be asked to offer ideas about how to build local support for action on Obama's priorities, particularly health care reform, and also suggestions for getting heard in Washington D.C.

"We're here with one goal in mind - to listen,” said Jesse Bragg, OFA State Director for Vermont. “The historic dedication and commitment of our supporters is what brought us victory last November and is what will help us advance President Obama's bold vision for the country over the coming years. They, more than anyone else, know what approaches will work best in their community and we’re eager to hear from them.”

To learn more about Organizing for American, click here.

Here are some of the scheduled events in Vermont:
--Sunday, Oct. 11, 1 p.m. at Montpelier Senior Center at 59 Barre St.
--Saturday, Oct. 17, 11 a.m. at Rutland Free Library.
--Thursday, Oct. 22, 6 p.m. at Brattleboro Senior Center.
--Tuesday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m. at Cobleigh Public Library in Lyndonville.
--Friday, Nov. 6, 6 p.m. in Room 108, Lafayette Hall, University of Vermont in Burlington.

-- Nancy Remsen




Westman's replacement announced

Gov. Jim Douglas today appointed Rich Westman's replacement in the Legislature. Westman, a Republican, took a job this summer as Douglas' tax commissioner after 27 years in the House.

His successor is Adam Howard, whom Westman had wanted to get the job. Like Westman, Howard lives in Cambridge. His district also covers Belvidere and Waterville.

In the announcement from the governor's office, Howard said,

“I look forward to bringing by experience in both traditional and creative economies to Montpelier at a time when private sector job creation is so key to our recovery.”

Here is his background, according to the announcement:

Educated at Western State College of Colorado, Howard received a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Community Journalism. Howard's love of the outdoors led him to an extensive career in journalism with a focus on winter sports, especially skiing. He began his career as an intern at Powder Magazine in California in 1997. When he returned to Vermont, Howard was a building contractor and professional ski patroller before becoming a reporter at the News and Citizen in Morrisville, Vermont. In 2002 Howard co-founded Vermont-based Height of Land Publications (HOL)which owns and operates Backcountry, Alpinist and Telemark Skier Magazines. He currently serves as editorial director at HOL.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Energy and its overseers' futures

I'm here at the Capital Plaza, where a bunch of manufacturers, legislators, lobbyists and others are talking about Vermont's energy future at the annual meeting of Associated Industries of Vermont.

As he started to speak at a panel discussion, Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien offered insight into his outlook for his own future, now that his boss, Gov. Jim Douglas, isn't running for re-election.

O'Brien said that if Vermont is going to consolidate its electric utilities as he hopes it will likely have to be on someone else's watch. It seems that O'Brien doesn't think he will heading the Public Service Department no matter who wins the governor's seat in 2010.

It might be a fair conclusion. O'Brien has had a thorny relationship with Democrats in the Legislature. If Republican Brian Dubie were to prevail, wind energy is one area where he has most obviously differed with Douglas.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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VtBuzz: On a Leahy challenger, the many candidates for lieutenant governor and secretary of state and Web site omission

Shot from the bow

A 45-year-old Navy medical doctor says he will challenge Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in next year’s Democratic primary.

Daniel Freilich of Wilmington plans to kick off his campaign at 11 a.m. Thursday at the White House Inn in Wilmington.

Freilich argues that Leahy is too willing to accept the status quo or incremental change. “He completely supports everything being stated by me but I don’t see our representatives fighting for single-payer health care,” Freilich said as one example of the issues he’d like to see pursued more vigorously.

Freilich, who is in the process of leaving the Navy and joining the Navy Reserves, has not been active in Vermont Democratic politics. He was chagrined to learn that the party’s State Committee has already endorsed Leahy, but said he realizes he is a long shot at best. “I think my odds are daunting,” Freilich said.

He has a platform of issues that include: equity in economic policy, equity in environmental and energy policy, equity in world poverty and enlightened security. He’s for more progressive taxation and creating tax policy that boosts green energy.

Leahy campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer said the six-term senator is preparing for any opposition. She took issue with the allegation that Leahy is too willing to compromise.

“Senator Leahy has a long track record of being an independent voice,” Dwyer said, citing his vote against the Iraq war as an example. He is ranked the fourth most effective member of the Senate by Roll Call newspaper, she noted. (Sanders, by the way, ranks 84th in the 100-member Senate).

Freilich has a Web site Leahy has one, too.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Field will shrink

At least a half-dozen Republicans are thinking seriously of running for lieutenant governor in 2010. Don’t expect them all to be there on the primary election ballot in September.

That field will likely winnow to two or three in the coming months. All the Republicans on the list of possibles can’t possibly run for lieutenant governor or they would seriously hurt their ranks in the Legislature, which they can ill-afford to do.

On the list are four state senators. There are only seven Republicans in the Senate.
Last week, when Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie announced he was running for governor, Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said he would talk over with Dubie what political position would help him best support Dubie.

Brock didn’t say it, but if he runs for lieutenant governor alongside Dubie that just might look like a pretty conservative package. That could, in other words, hurt Dubie in the general election. You might see Brock suddenly saying that he’s perfectly happy with businessman Mark Snelling’s candidacy for lieutenant governor.

That would leave Sens. Phil Scott and Kevin Mullin and Rep. Patricia McDonald, along with former Sen. John and more vaguely in the wings, Sen. Vince Illuzzi. Out of that crowd, expect only one to end up on the ballot for lieutenant governor.

—Terri Hallenbeck

Why so few Dems?

For all the Republicans eyeing the lieutenant governor’s seat, there is a surprising dearth of Democrats doing the same. Why?

For starters, most of the crew at the head of the line is already running for governor.

Those who might be right behind them on the totem pole of politics have to think about money.

Once people are done contributing to the open governor’s race there won’t be much left, and lieutenant governor won’t be very many people’s priority.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, who is Senate majority leader, has long expressed interest in stepping up the ladder, but he’s not considering running for lieutenant governor this time even though it’s an open seat, he said. He’s focusing instead on the Senate, which stands to lose a bundle of veterans after the next election (three are running or likely to run for governor).

Campbell, who lost the chance to become Senate leader to Peter Shumlin by one vote three years ago, is now in a prime spot to win the job.

Someone’s got to make sure Democrats are working to maintain their majority in the Senate, Campbell said.

Among Democrats, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan is considering the race for lieutenant governor.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Primaries for secretary of state?

Two people have been running for secretary of state for months, but now it seems Democrat Charles Merriman and Republican Christopher Roy could have some competition from within their own parties.

Jason Gibbs , commissioner of forests, parks and recreation and former spokesman for Gov. Jim Douglas , is weighing a run for secretary of state, he said Monday.

“I’ve been encouraged to run and I’m considering it,” Gibbs said. “It is no secret that I have contemplated a run for office at some point in my career.“ He said the office of secretary of state interests him because it is “fundamental to our democracy” and is a “nuts and bolts job.”

Gibbs said the fact that Roy has been running since February is a factor he will consider. He doesn’t expect to decide until after the Legislature adjourns in the spring.

Roy, meanwhile, said he has been meeting with town clerks, spoken before some Rotary clubs and is assembling a finance committee. “We are pressing ahead full steam,” he said. He didn’t know of Gibbs’ interest.

Merriman, who announced his candidacy in March, has met with 60 town clerks and some of the legislative leaders with whom the secretary of state’s office interacts.

He, too, could face a primary challenger. Christopher Winters , director of professional regulation at the secretary of state’s office, has filed the paperwork necessary when a candidate begins raising or spending money. He lists himself as a Democrat.

Sen. Jim Condos ’ name has also circulated as a potential Democratic candidate. “I’ve been encouraged a lot because of my local government experience,” said Condos, a longtime South Burlington official. He hasn’t made any decision, he said. “It’s very early.”

--Nancy Remsen

On the Web

You can find out that Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is running for governor from his own Web site .

The Vermont Democratic Party’s Web site also mentions it. You can even learn the news from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Doug Racine’s Web site .

But you won’t find any mention of this long-awaited announcement on the Vermont Republican Party’s Web site . There, the latest news posted as of Monday was from Sept. 18.

—Terri Hallenbeck

Official travels

Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, will spend half a day on a bus Wednesday touring the northern Connecticut River valley with New Hampshire’s Democratic Gov. John Lynch. It’s the kind of trip the governors of the two states take every few years, Douglas’ staff said, to update each other about how much the states have in common. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like Vermont and New Hampshire have much in common at all. Highlights of this trip will include a potato farm owned by Rep. Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall.

— Nancy Remsen

Internationally speaking

Diplomat Peter Galbraith of Townshend has not gone quietly into the countryside since he was fired last week from his job with the United Nations in Afghanistan.
He spoke immediately with local media. He was on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday.

Over the weekend, he had a column in the Washington Post in which he said he agreed not to talk about his departure, but that after the U.N. mischaracterized his departure he changed his tune and recounted the times in which he was told not to pursue investigation of fraud in the Afghan elections.

—Terri Hallenbeck



Sanders' unfiltered thoughts on capitalism

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had only a cameo appearance on Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story." For those who want more of Sanders' thoughts on the topic, go to "Senator Sanders Unfiltered," his weekly online show.

Just a warning: when he says unfiltered, he means unfiltered. He does not pause. It's all pretty much one sentence for 4 minutes, 54 seconds. Nonetheless, the Internet is Sanders' perfect soap box.

A piece of it: "Capitalism does a lot of things that are well. ... On the other hand what we have had especially since the Reagan administration is an unfettered 'cowboy type capitalism,' which has ended up with the shrinking and decline of the middle class, a very significant increase in poverty and the reality that the people on top - the top 1 percent or 2 percent - are making out like bandits."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Dubie is in

Speculation ends. Republican Lt. Brian Dubie is in the governor's race.

He duped those who thought he must not be if he's not having an event to announce it. He duped those who thought that my postponing his planned appearance this morning on the Charlie & Ernie radio show until tomorrow that he must not be in.

The e-mail from adviser Susie Hudson this morning:

Montpelier, VT – Vermont Lt. Governor Brian Dubie announced today that he will be a candidate for Governor of the State of Vermont in 2010. Dubie was elected to his fourth term as Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor in November 2008.

Lt. Governor Dubie’s statement comes roughly five weeks following Governor Jim Douglas’ announcement that he would not seek a fifth term.

Dubie said, “I have devoted the past few weeks to cross-checking my thoughts with the thoughts of other Vermonters – thoughts about where we are as a state and about the challenges we face. I have measured my experience and my capabilities against those benchmarks and have taken a long look at how we could lead our state forward through difficult times.”

Restoring jobs, restoring opportunity and restoring financial security are at the core of Lt. Governor Dubie’s agenda. “Every household in Vermont knows that you can’t spend more money than you take in. Our state revenues have fallen precipitously. We need to rebuild our base and work to grow opportunity. We must reject deficits. We need to manage and reduce debt. And finally, we need to rebuild our reserves and work to reduce taxes.”

A recurring theme for the Lieutenant Governor is about finding common ground.

“I tell Vermonters that I’m the middle child in a family of six. My mother raised me to be a moderator, a peacemaker. Today, we need moderation in our state. The skill of bringing people with divergent views together has served me well as Lieutenant Governor. Whoever becomes our next Governor, that person will need the ability to bring people together.”

The Lieutenant Governor said he will make a formal announcement at a later date.

Let the shuffling begin.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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