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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: Republicans make up their minds about running

This just in on lt. gov. race

Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, has reserved the Diamond Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burlington to make a big campaign announcement Tuesday.

Two other Republicans — Randy Brock and Kevin Mullin — announced Monday they wouldn’t run for lieutenant governor.

Scott has been leaning toward a run for lieutenant governor for weeks and it seems unlikely he would reserve a ballroom to say he wasn’t running.

Brock, a state senator from Franklin County, said he would run for re-election to the Senate rather than for lieutenant governor. It was a tough decision, Brock said.

The office of lieutenant governor “is a potential bully pulpit to advance new ideas.” He concluded, however, that by returning to the Senate, “I would be in a better position to advance bold policy ideas to affect the kinds of changes Vermont must embrace in order to weather the fiscal storm.”

Mullin confirmed by phone that he was no longer considering a run for lieutenant governor. He said he had yet to decide about running for re-election, having recently purchased two movie complexes in New York state.

Republican Mark Snelling of Starksboro has been the lone announced candidate for lieutenant governor, having decided earlier this fall to follow his father, mother and sister into politics. The seat is up for grabs because Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is running for governor.

Former Republican state Sen. John Bloomer of Rutland continues to mull a run, he said Monday. His decision depends on his wife and his law partner. “If and when they are convinced, I will make an announcement. "

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, has also talked about becoming a candidate, but said he wouldn’t make up his mind until after the legislative session.

The Democratic field is less clear. Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland, has said he’s weighing a run.

A Progressive also is testing the Democratic waters. Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, has started meeting with Democratic county committees to determine whether he would find support if he ran in the Democratic primary.

Nancy Remsen

Republican joins U.S. Senate race

Len Britton, a 54-year-old lumber store owner from Windsor County, announced Monday that he is running for U.S. Senate as a Republican against six-term incumbent Democrat Patrick Leahy in next year’s election.

“Washington’s broken,” said Britton, who lives in South Pomfret. “Someone needs to stand up. I think my life’s experience as a Vermonter and as a small business owner gives me the common sense we need.”

Leahy, 69, of Middlesex, also faces an opponent from within his own party. Daniel Freilich, a 45-year-old medical doctor from Wilmington, announced his campaign in October. Both are newcomers to the political stage who argue that Leahy has been too entrenched in a political system that isn’t working.

Leahy, who has raised more than $3 million toward his campaign. Campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer has said Leahy isn’t taking re-election for granted.

Britton, who has owned Britton’s Lumber, Landscape and Feed in Woodstock since 2001 and before that was a screenwriter, said he understands problems Vermonters face such as making payroll and paying for health care while Leahy has lost touch with after 35 years in Congress. Britton is married and the father of five children, ages 5-18.

“I believe I bring to the debate some reasonable Vermont-style, common-sense solutions,” he said. For example, he said, he would propose a federal small-business loan program modeled after college loans. That, he said, would be more effective in generating jobs than the federal stimulus package or federal bailouts of car manufacturers and banks.

On health care, Britton said, he said, “I believe we can make strides to improve health care in this country without a 2,000-page bill. We can’t afford to add another $1 trillion.”

On the war in Afghanistan, he said, “I want a definition of what our end game is there. How long is it going to take and how much is it going to cost before I commit to more troops.” That sounded eerily like the Democrats’ argument against Republican President George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq, but Britton contended that Afghanistan, with a less-centralized government, is different.

Britton discounted the notion that Leahy’s tenure brings benefits to Vermont. “If you are part of that culture and you’ve been around a long time, you now are part of the problem, not the solution."

Though Britton’s name is new on the political radar, he said he has politics in his genes: former Govs. Moses Robinson and John Robinson were ancestor’s on his mother’s side and his grandfather, Allen Britton, served in the Vermont House.

As for his screenwriting career, Britton said, the most notable work that has his name attached was “Precious Find,” a 1996 science fiction thriller. He opted not to continue in the field, he said, because he didn’t want to move to Los Angeles.

Terri Hallenbeck

The trouble with Afghanistan

President Barack Obamawill speak in a nationally televised address tonight about his plans for Afghanistan. He is expected to announce an increase of up to 35,000 more U.S. forces over the next year, which would add up to more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan at an annual cost of about $75 billion. Obama is also expected to outline an exit strategy for the war.

This was the war that some argued the United States should have been fighting instead of Iraq, but now that it has come down to it, the escalation becomes complicated. Here’s what Vermont’s congressional delegation has to say on the matter:

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” on Sunday, Sanders said: “I’ve got a real problem about expanding this war where the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, isn’t it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing? So what I want to see is some real international cooperation, not just from Europe, but from Russia and from China, because what happens in Afghanistan impacts what happens in Pakistan. That is enormously important. The world should be involved. ... If you’re going to have a presence there, you just can’t pass the bill on, as we did in Iraq, to our kids and our grandchildren. I think that’s wrong. I think that’s immoral.”

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: He is among congressional leaders scheduled to meet with Obama Tuesday afternoon to discuss Afghanistan. Leahy did not want to comment prior to the meeting, but spokesman David Carle said: “He wants to hear the president outline his goals and his plan, and he wants to hear his answers to the pointed questions that are likely at a session like this. This is a mess that the president inherited, and it’s a mess that continues to take a heavy toll in so many ways. With the National Guard deployments now under way, Vermonters have even more of a stake in getting this right. He plans to ask tough questions, including about our eventual exit strategy.“

REP. PETER WELCH: “The president’s announcement comes at a particularly significant time for Vermonters, as 1,400 members of the Vermont Guard prepare for deployment to the region. I remain skeptical of the wisdom of committing endless American resources to this conflict in the absence of a credible, reliable and trustworthy partner in Afghanistan. The president’s task in this speech is to clearly define America’s mission, ensure that it is sustainable — especially given our overstretched military — and explain how he will bring this war to its long-overdue conclusion.“

Terri Hallenbeck

Reserve a big room for the hearing

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex Orleans, knows he’s stirring controversy, but he plans to introduce a bill that would raise the prospect of the mandated wearing of orange while hunting.

Many states require hunters to wear blaze orange as a safety precaution.
The issue has long been controversial, with hunters of two minds. Still, Illuzzi said he leans toward the hunter safety argument over the personal responsibility view, having just concluded a case involving a hunter who was catastrophically injured. “It doesn’t hurt to have the hunter orange issue revisited,” he said.

Steve McLeod, lobbyist for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, said his organization wouldn’t jump into the middle of what is sure to be a hot debate because the question isn’t a threat to the overall sport of hunting. He noted that the issue hasn’t come up in recent years, but he doubted the sharp divide among hunters has disappeared.

Nancy Remsen

Health care hits prime time

A couple of groups that support changes to the health-care system will hold meetings this week to keep the heat on the efforts in Washington (as the Senate wades knee-deep into the issue this week) and Montpelier (where the Legislature will be under pressure next year to consider single-payer health care).

TUESDAY: The Vermont Workers’ Center is holding a forum at 7 p.m. at St. Michael’s College’s McCarthy Arts Center. The group says the forum is designed to explore “how Vermont can establish health care as a basic human right and win single-payer health care in 2010.” For more information, visit www.workerscenter.org/node/174.

SUNDAY: From 2-4 p.m. at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, a forum is designed to offer the public a chance to discuss what they want in health-care reform and how to achieve it while looking at best- and worst-case scenarios Vermont might face with federal health-care reform. For more information, call Rabbi Joshua Chasan at 864-0218 or state Rep. Suzi Wizowaty at 864-5651.

Terri Hallenbeck

The money game

Without a doubt, all the Vermont gubernatorial candidate are shaking every tree and wallet they can find these days in the search for the almighty dollar. Here are some signs of the nickel-and-dime collections:

Democrat Deb Markowitz put out a call to supporters to raise $3,000 on the Democratic fundraising Web site Actblue by Thanksgiving. The site showed Monday that 40 donors had chipped in $3,011.

Democrat Susan Bartlett staffer John Bauer sent out an appeal Wednesday for 100 new supporters and 50 donations by Dec. 1, which is Tuesday. Bauer was seeking to use what some described as a surprisingly good performance by Bartlett at the Nov. 19 environmental forum as a jumping-off point.

Bauer reported Monday that Bartlett had amassed 27 contributions and 71 new e-mail addresses. Of course, it is hard to argue that e-mail addresses are the same thing as supporters.

Terri Hallenbeck

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Movement in Vt. LG's race

Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, plans to make an announcement Tuesday about his political plans. Which is to say he's in the race for lieutenant governor, joining fellow Republican Mark Snelling and who knows who else.

Meanwhile, Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, announced today he's not running for LG. He thinks his role would be more limited there than as a state senator.

More on this a bit later today when we post our weekly "Tuesday political thing."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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White House dinners, steak or no steak

When I was a younger person and less informed, I was walking by the White House one evening and saw a steady stream of cars pulling in. I asked the guard at the gate what was going on and he replied, "state dinner."

What my ears heard was "steak dinner," which I thought was an odd detail for him to provide and which prompted to ask, "Are they serving potatoes?" The guard did not answer, but thankfully he also did not have me arrested.

Now I find out that my odd potato question is nothing compared to what some people will do when they find out there is a state dinner going on. To wit:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Secret Service may pursue a criminal investigation of the Virginia couple who crashed a White House dinner, but events at the security checkpoint may determine whether the security breach is a crime or just an embarrassment.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dean interviewing Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders is expected to be on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show tonight, interviewed by guest host Howard Dean.

Two guys from Burlington, Vt., getting together on the national airwaves.

Sanders' office says the senator will be appearing via satellite from outside his Church Street office. He’ll be on the top of the show, a little after 9 p.m.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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VtBuzz: Is Vallee in? More from those who are

Possible Republican gubernatorial primary?

The field of gubernatorial aspirants may expand again.

Rodolphe “Skip” Vallee , whose activism in the Republican Party included top party positions and a unsuccessful run for the state senate in 2000, is considering a run for governor.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has already announced his candidacy for the state’s top job. The 2010 race has attracted a lot of interest because Gov. Jim Douglas announced in the summer that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Five Democrats have announced, too: Sen. Doug Racine of Richmond, Sen. Susan Bartlett of Hyde Park, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz of Montpelier, former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartford, and Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney.

Vallee has been on the political sidelines since returning a year ago from a two-year stint as U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia. Just after returning, he said, “I will not be running for anything.” Still, he admits he’s a political junkie and some friends have fed his habit. He’s been encouraged to run. “I went from no way to I’ll think about it,” he said Monday. “Yes, it is something I’m thinking about.”

“I like Brian, I respect him and he has won statewide four times,” Vallee said. Other Republicans who considered running backed off after Dubie announced, but Valle said, “It’s is the people of Vermont who make these sorts of decisions.”

In other words, political parties shouldn't automatically shy away from primary elections. Ideally, Vallee said primaries focus voters’ attention on ideas, not personalities and help the prevailing candidate hone a campaign that can be victorious in November.

“Skip is a friend and he and I have been talking,” Dubie said Monday. “We will keep talking.” Meanwhile, Dubie said, “The best thing I can do is focus on building a campaign.”

As to the pros and cons of a Republican gubernatorial primary, Dubie said, “This is a democracy.”

So when will Vallee decide? “If you are a serious candidate,” he said, “you have to get your act together by the beginning of the year.”

Nancy Remsen

Here’s what Dubie would have said

It would have been fascinating to watch five Democrats and Republican Brian Dubie interacting at last week’s gubernatorial forum. Dubie, however, couldn’t attend the event for all announced candidates for governor sponsored by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters, but he provided his answers Monday in an email.

He wrote:

“When I travel the state and listen to Vermonters, I hear an overwhelming sense of anxiety and concern for the economy and for job security in our state. We must focus our attention on jobs, the economy, and the sustainability of government. That does not mean we should turn our backs on the environment, but we do need to make sure that our approach to environmental protection is consistent with our economy and supports the needs of our economy. We can grow our economy — and protect our environment at the same time —- if we take a smart, balanced and sustainable approach to both.

On permit reform : Vermont is competing with other states for jobs. The State of Virginia, for one, guarantees a 48-hour-turnaround permitting. The time and cost of permitting, the uncertainty, and frequently, the court costs associated with Act 250 are driving jobs to other states. We can’t to lose them, or the young Vermonters who will go where the jobs are. We must protect Vermont’s water, air and soil. We must protect what makes Vermont special. And we must do it better, quicker, and at a lower cost. I favor reforming Act 250.

On water quality : We should continue to make cleaning up Lake Champlain a top priority, and continue to work with our congressional delegation to secure any federal funding that might be available. Lake Champlain and our other lakes and waterways attract millions of dollars to our state every year from tourists, sport fishermen, boaters and others. Along with our neighbors in Quebec and New York, we must continue to work on cleaning them up.

On housing and conservation : In a year of tough choices, state funding for affordable housing and land conservation will have to be on the table, along with every other appropriation that the state has made in the past. Land conservation has been of great value to Vermont farmers, and has preserved a landscape that brings tourists to our state and makes our quality of life second to none. But with the drastic reduction in revenue we have experienced, it’s imperative that as a state, we first take care of those who need it most: our children, our neighbors and co-workers who live with disabilities, our elders, those who have lost jobs or are living on reduced incomes. It’s imperative that we maintain a safe transportation system. It’s imperative that we keep Vermonters safe from crime. It’s imperative that we are able to respond in times of disaster. For the foreseeable future, we’ll need to keep our priorities clear.

On Vermont Yankee and wind : As long as Vermont Yankee is operating safely, consistent with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, and as long as it continues to yield low-cost, low-carbon power that keeps the lights on in the homes, schools, hospitals, milking parlors and workplaces of Vermont, it is reasonable to relicense the facility to run for another 20 years. I strongly support investing in the development and deployment of in-state renewable energy production. I also have a vision for expanding our clean electricity options by means of strategic transmission. Whether it’s in 2012 or in 2032, Vermont Yankee will close. We should be building our replacement energy capacity today.

More on what the Democrats did say

The forum sponsored by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters provided the first opportunity to see the five Democrats running for governor sitting side-by-side. The event tested each candidates political agility. Could they differentiate themselves while not disparaging their Democratic colleagues?

If you missed the event or want to relive it, you can watch here

Housing and conservation : All five agreed on the importance of funding the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, but the competition was fierce to establish credentials for leadership and commitment.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz , first at bat, had the disadvantage of no legislative record to spotlight to prove her support.

Sen. Susan Bartlett declared herself the foremost champion of the housing and conservation board in the Legislature by virtue of her position as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She also invoked the name of former Gov. Howard Dean, saying he passed the mantel — champion of housing and conservation — to her.

Sen. Doug Racine , in a “top this” move, recounted how he helped write the legislation that established the Housing and Conservation Board in 1987. “What a wonderful program it has been.”

Sen. Peter Shumlin said Bartlett could thank him for being in a position to champion housing and conservation because he made her chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Matt Dunne , a former senator from Windsor now at Google, suggested innovations in land conservation grew from conversations that took place at his father’s kitchen table. He came by his passion for conservation genetically, he said.

On Vermont Yankee : The state’s aging nuclear power plant didn’t have friends among these candidates, as they weighed in on whether it should be relicensed.

Dunne, alone among the candidates, said the Legislature should vote soon on whether Vermont Yankee should continue to operate after 2012 when its 40-year-license to operate expires. The Legislature has given itself authority to decide the plant’s future.

“Every day that goes by that we are not clear about what we are going to do about Vermont Yankee is simply irresponsible,“ Dunne said.

Shumlin, by contrast, said the Legislature may not be able to vote this winter because lawmakers don’t have enough information. Running over his time limit, Shumlin outlined five concerns: questions about the reliability of the plant, mounting radioactive waste, insufficient guarantees about what will happen once the plant closes, lack of information about the future price of power from the plant, and uneasiness about owner Entergy’s plans to spin the plant off into a smaller company.

“I would vote no today,“ Shumlin said.

Racine said the pending decision was both financial and moral. He charged Entergy has given Vermonters no confidence it can operate the plant safely and he argued its power rates, whatever they turn out to be, would not include hidden costs for future generations.

“I see no reason to continue the operation of Vermont Yankee after 2012. Period,“ Racine said.

Bartlett said she’s asked for one good reason to vote to allow Vermont Yankee to continue to operate — but she hasn’t heard one yet.

Markowitz simply said, “Vermont Yankee is not part of our energy future. Our energy future rests with renewable energy and efficiency.“

Nancy Remsen and Terri Hallenbeck

Health reform’s prospects

Washingtion D.C. is buzzing about the “second Louisiana Purchase,” the deal Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made with Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to win her support in Saturday night’s procedural vote to allow debate on a health care reform bill to begin.

Is the health care bill careening off the tracks or does it have a political future?

Vermont’s senators offer their perspectives:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT : “When the Senate voted Saturday night to end the filibuster and let the debate begin on health insurance reform, it was by the narrowest of margins. When the debate itself begins after Thanksgiving, the way forward will be difficult, no question about it. Some will again say it’s impossible. Pundits have declared health reform dead several times by now. Yet it has advanced farther now than in any attempt in decades. If health reform was easy it would have been done long ago.

Much of what the public “knows” about the bill is inaccurate, fed by distortions, and worse, by defenders of the status quo. The longer this discussion has gone on, the more these myths have been shown up for what they are. So there is hope that support for reform will solidify in the weeks ahead. During the debate the bill also may change in ways the American people want it to change. For instance momentum continues to build for the amendment I will be offering to end health insurance companies’ antitrust exemption.

At its best, the Senate has been able to rise to the occasion to reflect the conscience of the nation. This, I hope, will be one of those times.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT : “This country faces a major health care crisis. With 46 million Americans uninsured, 45,000 dying each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should, almost 1 million going bankrupt because of medically related bills and health costs scheduled to double within 8 years it is imperative that we pass strong health care legislation that will address these issues.

It is tragic that the disintegration of our health care system was virtually ignored by Bush during his 8 years, while the Congressional Republicans today are playing an obstructionist role by filibustering every piece of major legislation. This leaves the 60 Senators in the Democratic Caucus. It is my intention to do everything I can to see that a strong bill is passed which provides universal coverage in a cost-effective way. This is going to be a very difficult, complicated and contentious process which I hope and believe will, in the final analysis, succeed.”

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Your take on the forum

If you were a slacker and didn't listen live to the Democratic gubernatorial candidates at environmental forum tonight, you can still watch it at www.burlingtonfrreepress.com.

Do tell, what did you see/hear that either impressed or turned you off?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Where will Bernie land on health care?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, just released a statement that says he'll cast the vote the majority needs this weekend to get the ball rolling on the health care reform debate -- but that doesn't mean he will support the bill.

“My vote for final passage of this bill is not at all guaranteed until I see a final bill that is strong and effective for working families and taxpayers in Vermont and America,” said Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee.

He said he hasn't given up on getting some provision that would give states permission to go forward with their own single payer systems.

Here's his list of "demands" for inclusion in the bill.

• Funding for major restructuring of primary health care.
• Assurance more people can participate in new insurance exchanges and other measures to bolster the public option.
• Requirements that health insurance, including out-of-pocket expenses, is affordable.
• Inclusion of cost-containment provisions.
• Assurance that the $800 billion to $1 trillion needed to pay for the program over 10 years is raised in a fair and progressive way.
• Elimination of the so-called doughnut hole gap in coverage under the Medicare prescription drug program.
• Reduced costs for prescription drugs.
• Maintenance of a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Some of these are pretty broad. Others are very specific. Which ones do you think really have to be in a bill that to win Sanders vote?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Zuckerman's LG strategy

Rep. David Zuckerman, the Burlington Progressive who is thinking of running for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, is launching his effort to figure out whether he has the Democratic support he would need.

Zuckerman said he plans to attend the Washington County Democratic Committee's meeting Monday night to test the waters. He's working on following that up with visits to other county Democratic committees.

Without the support of some of those people, he figures it's a no-go.

Zuckerman is also considering a run for the state Senate, also via the Democratic primary in the way Burlington Prog Tim Ashe did last year. Zuckerman is not expecting to run for his House seat again next year.

What kind of reception might he expect to get from the Dems?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Salmon goes on the offensive

Auditor Tom Salmon has made himself extraordinarily available to talk about his arrest for drunken driving last weekend. Along with returning reporters' phone calls and going on radio talk shows, he announced this morning he'll hold a news conference Friday afternoon.

There are indications that the scrutiny is getting to Salmon. In the announcement about the news conference, he says he "respectfully invites all perfect and imperfect people."

On Facebook, meanwhile, he says, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words (and cartoons) will never hurt me. People are starving for the truth and leadership. Stay tuned. Fri Press Conference. All perfect and non perfect people are invited."

I haven't seen whatever cartoon he'd be referencing. Undoubtedly, there are a lot of comments out there about his situation that are hard to take. It should not go without mentioning that the comments are frequently flavored by politics in a way that seems, frankly, shallow. Republicans defend him and pat him on the back. What would they be doing if he were still a Democrat? Democrats make snide comments. Would they if he had not just switched to become a Republican?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Vtbuzz: Evaluating the big gubernatorial field

Starting to sort the differences

OK, so now that there are five Democratic candidates running for governor, how is each going to distinguish him or herself from the others? Not easily. Here is a look at what direction the candidates have indicated they’re taking and comments from University of Vermont professor Garrison Nelson sizing up strengths and weaknesses, with a caveat from Nelson who said, “Unfortunately, none of them has the whole package”:

Sen. Susan Bartlett of Hyde Park: Bartlett has served nine terms in the Senate and has been chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for eight years, which she highlights as an indication that she offers fiscal expertise in a time when finances are huge. She has written a column titled, “The budget in simple terms,” outlining the state’s budget challenges.

Nelson on Bartlett: Lacks statewide name recognition. She can pitch herself as a fresh face and tout her budget experience, but “the budget puts people to sleep.”

Former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartland: In announcing his campaign, Dunne emphasized his experience the last two years working in community relations with Google as an indication that he has worked in cutting-edge technology. He touts his work with community service projects.

Nelson on Dunne: “He’s bright, he’s energetic, he’s good-looking, but he seems to have more of an interest in national politics.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz: Markowitz will emphasize her six terms as secretary of state, working with municipal officials throughout Vermont, and has spoken in support of environmental protection. She touts efforts to champion open government and preservation of public records, to establish a Safe at Home program to protect victims of domestic violence.

Nelson on Markowitz: By getting into the race early, she lined up key supporters. Because she has won six elections as secretary of state with no losses, she can advertise herself as the only candidate with an unblemished record.

Sen. Doug Racine of Richmond: Racine touts his background in the Legislature (Senate 1983-92 and 2007-present, including president pro tempore 1989-1992; lieutenant governor 1997-2002) and in business (vice president Willie Racine Jeep/Isuzi Inc.) Racine will also tap into his interest in health care and remind voters that he once beat Republican Brian Dubie (in 2000).

Nelson on Racine: His early entry into the race means that like Markowitz, he got to donors early. He can also tout that he is the only candidate who has defeated Dubie. On the flipside, he’s the only one to lose a bid for governor, against Douglas (in 2002).

Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney: Like Racine, Shumlin is emphasizing his background in business and government. With his endorsements Monday from renewable energy and same-sex marriage supporters, he showed that he will tout himself as the candidate who can get things done.

Nelson on Shumlin: He’s the best debater of the five and “a forceful figure.” He is joining the race after key contributors have committed to other candidates, however, and his southern Vermont residence won’t benefit him.

Terri Hallenbeck

Meet the Democrats

For the first time, all five announced Democratic candidates for governor will participate in a public forum. It’s Thursday evening in Burlington, sponsored by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie , the announced Republican candidate, was invited, too, but had a schedule conflict. The Democrats are Susan Bartlett , Matt Dunne , Deb Markowitz , Doug Racine and Peter Shumlin .

If you don’t already have a ticket, you may be out of luck. There are only 220 seats and most of them have already been sold. Don’t despair, Todd Bailey , executive director, said Channel 17 will record and replay it.

The candidates will answer four questions. Here’s an abbreviated version of the questions:

• Do you consider significant funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board an essential public investment or an optional priority?

• How should the state finance necessary improvements to wastewater treatment facilities and tackle stormwater runoff so they aren’t sources of increased pollution of Lake Champlain?

• Are there shortcomings in environmental regulation that should be remedied? What are they and what fixes do you propose?

• Do you support closing Vermont Yankee in 2012 when its original license expires? If wind energy is a future alternative source, what would you do to help some projects get built?

— Nancy Remsen

Talk about a lot of candidates

You think there are a lot of gubernatorial candidates here? It’s not even close to the number running for governor in Maine. How many? 21!

There could be more, according to the Associated Press. Maine voters sort it out in a June primary, giving those left standing a lot more time than Vermont candidates will have to do battle before the November election.

Nancy Remsen

Here’s why Dubie could win

Chris Graff , a former Associated Press bureau chief who maintains a keen interest in politics, wrote a commentary in the latest Vermont Business Magazine that suggests some advantages Brian Dubie has going into next fall gubernatorial election. Check it out here.

Nancy Remsen

Who’s in charge?

Steve Larrabee of Danville, newly elected chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, sees electoral opportunity in the public’s malaise about the economy and government spending.

“I want us to take advantage of the situation,” Larrabee said. “We are out there recruiting candidates now.” Between pressing economic issues and the Vermont GOP’s lack of political muscle in Montpelier, Larrabee quipped, “I think we have scared some people into running for office. They are concerned.”

There is a lot at stake in 2010 for Republicans. Gov. Jim Douglas’ retirement creates an opening for Democrats that Republicans hope they can deny. “We are thrilled to have Brian Dubie at the top of the ticket,” Larrabee said.

The party will focus much energy on legislative races, said Larrabee, who served seven terms in the House. Republicans must retake a lot of ground if they want to do more than just say no to Democratic initiatives. Democrats hold three times the seats in the state Senate as Republicans and nearly twice as many in the House.

Larrabee defeated Dan Riley of Bennington on Saturday to become the new GOP chairman.

Martha Abbott of Underhill, who won re-election Saturday as chairwoman of the Vermont Progressive Party, said her party also will make legislative elections a priority in 2010.

“We are recruiting candidates. We will have some announcements about House races pretty soon,” she said. Progressives hold five House seats and one senator was elected as a Democrat/Progressive.

As for the top of the ticket, Abbott said, “I’m not sure there will be decisions about statewide candidates until we see what happens in the Legislature on our priority issues: health care, Vermont Yankee and fixing the state retirement fund.”

Abbott isn’t persuaded voters want the political pendulum to swing dramatically right. “Certainly in Vermont, polls indicate that a majority of Vermonters want a single-payer health care system and to close Vermont Yankee. If anything, voters at both the state and national level are fed up with promises not backed up by action.”

Judy Bevans of Albany will continue to preside over the Vermont Democratic Party. Its focus will ambitious, she said. “We have our eyes on all of it. We want to take back the governor’s seat,” she said, plus run candidates and score victories in other statewide races. In the Legislature, she added, “We want to maintain our majority.”

When asked how she viewed the results from voting earlier this month, Bevans said, “I don’t think we are especially worried. We are very aware.”

Nancy Remsen

Flory wants Senate seat

Rep. Peg Flory, a six-term member of the House from Pittsford, has her eye on the Senate. Flory said she had been planning to run for the Senate anyway next year, but with this month’s resignation of Sen. Hull Maynard, R-Rutland, she is looking for a quicker entry into the chamber. She hopes to be appointed to fill Maynard’s seat by Gov. Jim Douglas.

Terri Hallenbeck

Douglas on NPR Sunday morning

If you slept late Sunday, you missed Gov. Jim Douglas answering Liane Hansen’s questions about health care reform — because he’s chairman of the National Governors Association.
No controversy, but he did offer a quirky analogy as part of his answer to her question about the lessons Vermont learned from legislating health reforms that could apply to the current debate?
“As the gangster in the¥’30s said, go where the money is.” Meaning Vermont learned from gangsters? No, no, of course not.

To hear the interview, go here.

Nancy Remsen


How do you bridge Lake Champlain?

If you've ever been to Budapest or Prague you know the power that a really nice bridge can have. People stroll across the Chain and Charles bridges day and night simply because someone had the foresight to add art to functionality.

In Vermont and New York, officials face the task of building a new bridge between Chimney Point and Crown Point. In case you missed it, you can read more about it here. They are under pressure to do it quickly, so as to ease the stress of those who depend on the bridge to commute, and they are under pressure to do it cheaply, as neither state is flush with cash.

In light of that, what kind of bridge do you want? I'm not saying that with the right style of bridge Chimney Point and Crown Point become Buda and Pest, not saying we'd even want that, but the two spots on Lake Champlain have their own special history and beauty. It's something to think about.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Salmon has a problem with red wine

Tom Salmon has been saying he's sorry for the past 24 hours.

The state auditor was cited for driving under the influence of alcohol late Friday night after police pulled him over for failing to use his turn signal.

Police reportedly asked him if he had been drinking and he readily admitted he had. He had celebrated with staff earlier in the evening. A blood alcohol test found .086 percent, just over the threshold the state has said it is illegal to drive.

Salmon hasn't made any excuses for what happened. "I made a mistake. I screwed up. I'm going to face the consequences, take my medicine." His court date is Dec. 3.

Is this just embarrassing or a significant political liability?

-- Nancy Remsen




Leahy to talk on trial of five 9/11 terror suspects

Patrick Leahy's campaign manager has called attention to the senator's scheduled appearance Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" where he will discuss the news of today -- that five 9/11 terror suspects will be tried in federal court in New York City.

"Sen. Leahy believes that trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspects in federal court will help us bring long overdue justice to the 9/11 terrorists, and he hopes the cases will move forward promptly," wrote Carolyn Dwyer, advising supporters to tune in and watch the senator in action.

"It's a clear demonstration to the world that we trust our judicial system to bring suspected terrorists to justice," Dwyer wrote on behalf of Leahy.

Leahy's view is hardly universal so it could be a lively discussion.

-- Nancy Remsen



Shumlin makes it official Monday

The e-mail about Peter Shumlin's Monday campaign announcement comes from Kate O'Connor, former aide to Democratic Gov. Howard Dean who spent the 2006 election working for Republican Senate candidate Rich Tarrant.

Shumlin will declare his candidacy for governor at 11 a.m. Monday at Earth Turbines in Williston.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Leahy on Lieberman

The Web site Politico seems to think Leahy would be willing to rap the knuckles of Sen. Joe Lieberman over health care. Hard to imagine that Lieberman still caucuses with the Dems.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Shumlin takes to the video

If you want a preview of the sort of arguments Peter Shumlin is going to make as he launches his campaign as one of at least five Democrats running for governor next week, he has a series of videos that appear bound for his campaign Web site. They popped up this morning from my Google alerts.

You can see them here: http://www.vimeo.com/album/144505

All of them feature him sitting in front of a fireplace talking about energy, state budget, same-sex marriage, agriculture, health care and his own business. He is claiming to be the leader Vermont needs. He claims that for the last eight years we've been "plodding along."

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Essex in school merge spotlight

Here's something to watch, folks. Essex is the latest scene of the long-standing, ever-brewing debate over school consolidation.

Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca will decide whether Essex town schools should merge into the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, which oversees three other school districts, two in Essex Junction and one in Westford.

The local school officials in Essex don't want to do it, see no value in it.

Vileseca, who is among those who has been on the bullhorn about consolidating Vermont's school systems with the hope that somehow there might be a cost savings, might just make them. Because this is Vermont and everybody's connected to everything somehow, this takes on a richness because Vilaseca used to be principal at Essex High School and knows the district well.

He plans to make a decision by Friday.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Tom Evslin makes news in West Virginia

Tom Evslin, chief of the state's economic stimulus office until a recent promotion, got himself quoted in the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia warning legislators to beware the financial reality after those federal dollars go away next year.

Evslin said Ry Rivard, the Mail reporter, found via Google and found his observations useful. Check out the story here.

In the story, Evslin is quoted as saying he's heard some Vermont politicians saying they don't want to make structural cuts to state government because then they won't be able to make a case for another round of stimulus.

"It's a bit like killing your parents and throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you're an orphan," Evslin is quoted as saying in the story.

"We are facing a hole," Evslin said Tuesday, offering a message similar to the one he gave West Virginia readers. "This legislative session is going to be a very tough one."

While state revenues will recover some ground lost over the past year, Evslin predicts the recovery won't be enough to avoid the need for tough cuts. "If we don't do structural things, we will be in a very bad situation," he said. "I certainly worry about that."

It's obvious from the orphan quote that Evslin doesn't think any Legislature should bank on another round of stimulus money.

-- Nancy Remsen

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T.J. Donovan won't run for lieutenant governor

Democrats are back shaking the trees in search of a candidate for lieutenant governor now that T.J.Donovan, Chittenden County States Attorney, has decided against running.

Donovan, 35, announced his decision in an e-mail earlier today. He and his wife are expecting a baby, so this didn't seem like the the year to crisscross the state in search of votes, he said.

"We are looking," said Robert Dempsey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party.

There's been plenty of interest among Republicans, although only one has jumped into the race -- Mark Snelling. Still weighing their options are three state senators, Phil Scott, Kevin Mullin and Randy Brock.

Rep. David Zuckerman, a Progressive from Burlington, also continues to consider running for lieutenant governor or a run for the state senate, he said today. Zuckerman said that Donovan's decision "certainly changes the equation. Zuckerman has said he might run in the Democratic primary.

Concerning Zuckerman's possible run in the primary, Dempsey would only say that "If that is something Rep. Zuckerman would like to attempt, that is something we could let voters decide."

Democrats will have a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Dempsey said. "We are going to have a full slate."

-- Nancy Remsen

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Vt. Buzz: Who is not running for governor, plus contract dispute

Six isn’t enough?

The mind-bogglingly large field of six candidates for governor could grow bigger. Two more are tinkering with the idea of jumping in — Republican-turned-independent Michael Bernhardt and Progressive-turned-independent-turned-Democrat (?) Anthony Pollina.

Bernhardt, a former Republican state representative and House minority leader from Londonderry, says he is “very serious,” about running as an independent for governor in 2010. He was the Republican candidate for governor in 1988, losing to incumbent Democrat Madeleine Kunin.

Bernhardt, 72, who describes himself as a social moderate/fiscal conservative, said none of the current candidates’ are addressing the state’s fiscal concerns as pointedly as he’d like — not Republican Brian Dubie and not any of the Democrats running.

“I think we have to be very candid with the people of the state of Vermont,” Bernhardt said, advocating that the state start with a zero budget and rethink all spending.

Bernhardt’s thoughts are not going over well with some Republicans, including one he considers a friend and whose fiscal policies he does support — Gov. Jim Douglas. Last week, Douglas said he hopes Bernhardt changes his mind. The two haven’t spoken about it, Bernhardt said, but he has heard from others who aren’t happy with him.

“I have had calls from people who say please don’t do it. Not in as nice terms as that,” he said.
He also claims he has his share of supporters. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I were standing alone like George Armstrong Custer,” he said.

Bernhardt said he’ll decide whether to run early next year, giving the current candidates time to show their stuff and if it’s still not to his liking, he’ll be in. One decision he said the state needs to make for fiscal soundness: reauthorizing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant if the feds deem it safe.

Pollina, the Progressive who ran for governor in 2008 as an independent, continues to ponder his political future, but he said he’s in no hurry to decide. He’s weighing lots of options from running for state Senate to joining the four, soon-to-be five Democrats in a free-for-all primary to pick a gubernatorial nominee.

The more people who get into the primary, the fewer votes it takes for one of them to win. Is that a good thing?

Bernhardt, by the way, said he thinks Pollina will join the race.

Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen

IT contract is it for Dems, unions

The state’s recently inked contract with an information technology firm has set off a chorus of carefully choreographed criticism. But are the critics singing the right tune?

The state signed a contract to pay Technology Partners International of Stamford, Conn., $325,000 this year and more next year if there’s money available to assess the state’s computers. TPI is supposed to look at the computer networks throughout state government and come up with recommendations reducing costs, improving delivery of services and enhancing data security.

Just about anybody in any political party agrees that the state’s Frankensteinian computer network needs assessing. The Vermont Democratic Party, the Vermont NEA teachers union and the Vermont State Employees Association are crying foul over the contract, however.

They are mad that the work isn’t being done in-house, and that the contract is going to an out-of-state firm that touts the fact that it specializes in outsourcing and offshoring.

“This one in particular is an example of what we want Vermonters to be doing,” said House Majority Leader Floyd Nease, D-Johnson. “There’s got to be a way to favor Vermont companies.”

The state does consider a bidder’s in-state status as one of several factors when awarding contracts, said Gerry Myers, commissioner of the Buildings and General Services. It doesn’t carry the weight that costs does, but it is considered, he said.

Trouble is, when this contract went out to bid, 15 companies responded and none were Vermont companies, said David Tucker, commissioner of the Department of Information and Innovation.

Darren Allen, spokesman for the Vermont NEA, argued that this work should be done in-house by Tucker’s department, which Gov. Jim Douglas created for this purpose. Tucker said his department could not have done the work as quickly as TPI, nor does the state have the broad perspective that TPI has. “They’ve done it in a number of other states,” he said.

The IT contract criticism comes not long after the Demcoratic-controlled Legislature signed a $100,000 contract with a company to assess how state government as a whole could operate more efficiently. The winning bidder: a Minnesota company. In that case, at least one Vermont company also bid for the job.

That, Nease argued, was a situation that called for a company that has done that kind of work in other states.

What really seems to have set the critics off, though, is the fact that TPI on its Web site makes outsourcing and offshoring sound like a good thing. Tucker contends that critics shouldn’t assume that that’s the direction this will head. “It’s way too soon to presuppose an outcome,” he said.

When the recommendations emerge, as early as next month, one thing is certain. There will be people watching for anything that sounds like outsourcing and offshoring.

Terri Hallenbeck

What’s in the numbers?

The Douglas administration and the Legislature find out Thursday whether they face another round of budget cuts. Are projected revenue still shrinking?

Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, chairs the Legislature’s financial oversight committee and will join Gov. Jim Douglas and three other legislators in deciding whether to accept revised revenue targets from their economic advisers.

Obuchowski said he had no details Monday, but that a preliminary review suggested revenues might have stabilized. “To have the ‘patient’ stabilized, that would be excellent news,” Obuchowski said.

Douglas also said last week that he didn’t expect any drastic revenue downgrade this time.

Even if the revenue free-fall stops, lawmakers and the administration face plenty of difficult budgetary — and therefore political — challenges this winter.

Nancy Remsen

Black robe wrestling

Probate and assistant judges aren’t feeling very friendly toward their Supreme Court “brethren” as a result of recommendations by a special commission on judicial operation.

That commission, headed by Chief Justice Paul Reiber, called for reducing the number of probate judges from 17 to five, and for stripping assistant judges of their judicial responsibilities. Ouch.

The recommendations and the political battle now go to the Legislature. This isn’t the branch of state government one usually pictures scrapping, but Marlene Burke, an assistant judge in Rutland County promised Friday, “We are going to fight.”

“In this corner, wearing a black robe .....

Nancy Remsen

Picking party leaders

Republicans, Democrats and Progressives pick new party leaders Saturday. Democrats and Progressives are likely to return their female incumbents, but Republicans have a contest for an empty chairmanship. Rob Roper, current chairman, chose not to run for re-election.

Republicans meet at 11 a.m. at the Montpelier Elks Club to choose between Steve Larrabee, former state representative from Danville and Caledonia County GOP chairman, and Dan Riley, a Bennington business consultant and Bennington County GOP chairman.

Larrabee said wants to help Republicans return more balance to the Legislature. Only seven of 30 Senate seats are held by Republicans and only 48 of 150 House seats. He said he would decline a salary as chairman because he wants all the party’s resources to help Republican candidates in the 2010 election.

Riley said he wants 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 also have a big dinner set for Thursday evening at the Hilton in Burlington. Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for former President George W. Bush is the keynote speaker.

Progressives do lunch with a Saturday convention at the Old Labor Hall in Barre. Their program features Con Hogan talking about health care reform and Ray Shadis, a long-time opponent of nuclear power from Maine on Vermont Yankee. The vote on party leadership takes place at 2 p.m. Martha Abbott, current chairwoman, is the only announced candidate, but nominations could come from the floor, said Executive Director Morgan Daybell.

Democrats move into the Old Labor Hall at 4 p.m., after Progressive wrap up. The Democratic Fall Harvest 2009 is a rally with food and drink that features Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch will miss the event because he will be in Pakistan. Some of the gubernatorial candidates may get to say a few words, said Executive Director Robert Dempsey.

The Democratic State Committee meets earlier — 3 p.m. at the Barre Civic Center. Judy Bevans, current party chairwoman, is the only announced candidate for that post.

Nancy Remsen

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On bridges and marriage

Couple of hot items from New York:

- The Crown Point bridge will be demolished and replaced, transportation officials from N.Y. and Vermont just announced.

- The New York Senate could take up same-sex marriage in a special session Tuesday.

_ Terri Hallenbeck

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Maynard to leave Senate

Sen. Hull Maynard, a Rutland County Republican who has served in the Senate for 13 years, is resigning his seat, with just over one year left in his term.

Maynard, 75, said the time is right for him to step down. He announced his decision at a Rutland County Republican Party event Thursday night and said he would likely submit his formal letter of resignation next week.

Maynard is one of seven Republicans in the 30-member Senate. Gov. Jim Douglas will appoint an interim senator. Word has it that Rep. Peg Flory is among those interested.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Flanagan won't be charged

As you read in today's Free Press, Sen. Ed Flanagan will not be criminally charged for his behavior at the YMCA earlier this year.

The prosecutor said he would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Flanagan was aware of what he was doing. He said he believes Flanagan's head injuries from a car accident might have been responsible for Flanagan’s conduct.

Flanagan, meanwhile, said he will decide after next year's legislative session which office he will seek in 2010. There seemed to be no question to the Democrat from Burlington that he would seek one - either running for re-election to the Senate or for lieutenant governor, as he had planned to do before the Y incident came to light.

What's your take on this? Should Flanagan complete the second year of his two-year term in the Senate? Should he run for re-election? For lt. gov., a slot that seems to have a dearth of Democratic candidates?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Douglas: Dems using law as cover to move primary

Gov. Jim Douglas said today that he thinks Democrats are using a new federal law as an excuse to move Vermont's 2010 primary to an earlier date.

Speaking at his news conference this afternoon, Douglas, a Republican, said the Secretary of State's Office should seek a waiver from a new federal law. That law requires general election ballots to be sent out at least 45 days before the election, which would be virtually impossible to do with a Sept. 14 primary and Nov. 2 general election.

The law is meant to ensure that overseas voters, particularly those in the military, have enough time to vote.

Douglas said the state should put into place other means of getting allowing overseas votes to count, including allowing more time after the election for them to come in and be tallied. "We ought to look for other ways to accelerate the process," said Douglas, himself a former secretary of state.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz has said she plans to ask the Legislature to move the primary up when it reconvenes in January. Markowitz has been urging an earlier primary for years and the Senate agreed to move it to late-August last year in a bill that is pending in the House. If the Legislature doesn't act (or I suppose if the governor vetoes a bill), Markowitz said she'd seek a waiver.

Markowitz happens to be running in a crowded Democratic primary field for governor.

Douglas said he believes Democrats want to move the primary simply to give their eventual candidate more time to recoup before the general election, and are using the new law as cover. None of the other primary dates are good options, he said, arguing that anytime earlier would create a longer election season and an August primary would dampen voter involvement.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Election thoughts

It was a rare Election Day without an election here in Vermont, unless you live in a place like Colchester that decided to build a new police station.

All of you politically astute people out there must have been tuning into votes elsewhere, however, and drawing conclusions of some sort or another. I say unto you, share your thoughts:

- Across the lake, New Yorkers decided on the Democrat over the Conservative for Congress. It is the first time since the Civil War era that the district hasn't sent a Republican to Washington.

What happened there?

Were voters turned off by the out-of-district push for the Conservative that drove the Republican out of the race? (One ad making fun of how the D.C./Albany power brokers chose the Democrat and the Republican candidates in the special election mistakenly referred to the Capitol in Albany as the Statehouse, thus making the backers of that ad who supported the Conservative sound very much like out-of-staters themselves.)

- Over in Maine, voters defeated a same-sex marriage law that the Legislature had passed and the governor signed. Does that put a damper on same-sex marriage efforts in N.J. and N.Y. and elsewhere?

- Meanwhile, Maine voters decided to legalize medical marijuana.

- In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg seems to have lost some of his bloom. A gazillion dollars spent on the campaign and he nearly didn't survive.

- In New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans swept into the governor's seats, a move being regarded across the country as a sign of a backlash against Democrats.

Do you agree?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Across the lake and here at home

“Matt Dunne is in the race for governor — pass it on,” reads the headline over an under-construction Web site for the newest Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Dunne, 39, a former state senator who now works for Google, becomes the fourth Democrat and third candidate to have served in the state Senate to declare he will vie for his party’s gubernatorial nomination in a primary.

Sens. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, and Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz announced their intentions months ago — before Republican Gov. Jim Douglas rocked the state’s political boat Aug. 27 by declaring he wouldn’t seek a fifth term.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has become his party’s only gubernatorial candidate, but the field of Democrats continues to grow. A fifth candidate, Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, will announce his intentions Nov. 16, but he has already said he was 99.99 percent in the race.

Senate Democratic Leader John Campbell joined Dunne on the Windsor County Democratic ticket for two elections. “He is a relentless campaigner and he has tremendous organizational skills,” Campbell said Monday. “He joins folks I respect a great deal.” Campbell hasn’t taken a public position on any of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Dunne e-mailed about 1,000 supporters about his decision Monday. His public declaration comes this morning at the Tip Top Cafe in White River Junction. He described the event as “small scale, not a rally or kick-off.”

Dunne began his political career in 1992 when at age 22 he won a seat in the Vermont House. He left the House after four terms. He returned to politics and the Legislature in 2002, serving two terms in the Senate. In 2006 he defeated a fellow Democrat, Rep. John Tracy of Burlington, in a primary that decided who would become the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Dunne failed to unseat Dubie, the two-term incumbent.

Like all the politicians mulling risky runs for higher office, Dunne reports that people have “reached out” to encourage him to run for governor.

Still, in an interview at a labor convention several weeks ago, Dunne said before deciding, he had to “make sure there was the grassroots support on the ground as well as the resources. I’ve done politics and business long enough to know until you see the resources, you can’t take anything to the bank.”

- Nancy Remsen

Across the lake

Until Saturday, northern New York’s three-way congressional race was kind of interesting. Then it got a lot more interesting.

First, the Republican candidate in a very Republican district dropped out of the race Saturday. Then Sunday, she endorsed the Democrat instead of the Conservative.

There’s a lot of politics going on with this race, which some suggest will be a barometer of the nation’s political mood.

So feverish is the interest in the outcome of Tuesday’s vote that Vice President Joe Biden was stumping for Demcorat Bill Owens on Monday while former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani was plugging for Conservative Doug Hoffman.

The White House created this race by appointing sitting Rep. John McHugh, a Republican, as secretary of the Army.

Because this is a special election, there was no primary. The Republican county committees chose Republican Dede Scozzafava as their candidate in the sprawling, rural district that goes from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario. She, however, was not the choice of some more conservative Republicans watching the race from afar who endorsed Hoffman.

Political types in Vermont are watching with interest.

Vermont Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper said he sees Hoffman’s success over the more moderate (some argue liberal) Scozzafava as a signal of voters’ rejection of the Democratic shift in Washington. “I think it’s all good,” Roper said.

Vermont Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Bevans disagreed. “I don’t see this as good news for anybody,” she said. “I was sad about the fact that the Republicans have essentially dismissed a moderate member of their party.”

Bevans was considering crossing the lake today with the rest of the party staff to help get out the vote.

— Terri Hallenbeck

One year ago

Vermont Democrats are planning to celebrate the one year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s election victory, though Bevans and others also said they might decide instead to cross the lake and help get out of the vote in the aforementioned congressional race.

The party is scheduled for 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Red Square on Church Street in Burlington.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Update on lieutenant governor’s race

Still only one candidate in – Republican businessman Mark Snelling, whose name might sound familiar (father, mother and sister entered politics long ago).

In this race, the competition appears to be among Republicans. Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, says, “I’m leaning toward running.” How much of a lean? 75 percent , he said.

“I’ve done my research. I just have to do some soul-searching,” Scott said.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said put his chances of entering the race at 50-50.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, wouldn’t give odds. “I’m still thinking about 2010.” He said it was almost certain he would run for something – the question is whether he runs for re-election or aims for lieutenant governor.

Chittenden State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, a Democrat, said he expects to make up his mind in the next couple of weeks. He wouldn’t let on how he is leaning.

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, had expected to have made up his mind by now, but challenges on the farm have kept him in the fields, which is where he spoke from Monday. He’s weighing a run for lieutenant governor or state Senate. “I’ll know by the end of the month.”

— Nancy Remsen

Two primaries for secretary of state?

Jason Gibbs, former Douglas spokesman, now commissioner of forests, parks and recreation, said he is 95 percent sure he will run for secretary of state. He would be the second Republican in the race. Chris Roy of Williston has been a candidate for months.

Gibbs said if he runs, he will step down as commissioner after the Legislature adjourns. “If I’m going to make a go of it, I’m going to be all in.”

On the Democratic side, Charles Merriman, declared his intentions in March, but could face a primary challenge from Chris Winters, who has filed the bank designation form required when “candidates” begin spending money.

“It’s still way too early,” Winters said Monday. “I’m seriously considering it.” It could be spring, however, before he makes up his mind.”

— Nancy Remsen

Primarily speaking

Vermont is faced with the prospect of changing its primary election in 2010 after Congress passed a law last month requiring states to send ballots overseas at least 45 days before the general election. Tough to do with a Sept. 14 primary and a Nov. 2 election if you throw in time to certify the primary and print and proof the ballots.

In Montpelier this year the Senate voted to change the primary to the fourth Tuesday in August (that’d be Aug. 24 next year). That bill is awaiting action in the House, now with renewed importance.

Vt.Buzz readers last week weighed in on what date they thought was best, offering evidence that there is no perfect solution. A sampling:

Anonymous: “How about March, town meeting day. It is early but it’s one less election day to have to run.”

Anonymous: “I think that democracy is more important than summer mode. Primary day should be August 1st.”

A Sunday election? Hmmm.

Nine other states share our second-Tuesday-in-November primary, but a fair number hold earlier ones. Thirteen states go in June, 10 in May and another 10 in August. Two states hold theirs in July.

Here’s the trick, though. Picking a date is political. With a five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary in the offing, Republicans are wary of their counterparts’ motives.

Vermont Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper said he wonders whether any change would be done for selfish reasons. i.e. Dems wanting more time to recover from the primary before the general election. Roper didn’t want to get into what should be done with the primary. He steps down from his post later this month. “I’ll leave that to the next person.”

Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, D-Windsor, said, “July, early August, that would be great,” adding that he wouldn’t be opposed to June. He added, “We should be deciding this on what is best for the voters, not the candidates."

— Terri Hallenbeck

Obama favors Vermont Yankee?

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, bristled when she received an e-mail from an Entergy employee — part of an e-mail blitz to all legislators — urging them to vote to allow the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to continue operating after its license expires in 2012. Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee, wants the Legislature to take its vote this winter.

Haas bristled as what she called the “gamesmanship” of citing President Barack Obama as a nuclear power ally and portraying nuclear power as “green.”

The e-mail, from Vedrana Wren of Brattleboro — address vwren@entergy.com — made a reference to a recent Reuters News report that presented Obama as supporting a greater reliance on nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases.

“Listen up Vermont Legislators,” Wren wrote. “If President Obama wants more reliance on nuclear energy, help him out and vote for the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee. It is important move toward reducing global warming and helping the economy in Vermont.”

This issue won’t go away — even though Entergy and the power companies missed the Nov. 1 deadline to reach an agreement about the future price for electricity should the plant be relicensed. Legislative leaders say such an agreement is critical to their decision on the plant’s future and the deal can’t be last minute.

Lawmakers should expect to see a lot more e-mails arguing the pros and cons of Yankee.

— Nancy Remsen 



Dunne announces Tuesday

Democrat Matt Dunne will announce his candidacy for governor Tuesday morning in White River Junction.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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