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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



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

Illuzzi has more political sense the entire Democrat side combined.
Illuzi is in bed with Shumlin. These two make for a slippery pair. Beware, Vermont!
"Mark your calendar for Nov. 16 as the day Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, will announce he’s running for governor."

Yawn. Shumlin's runnin' for something again? (Didn't have the guts to declare before Douglas took himself out though, did he.)
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