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.
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
Labels: Democratic primary, IT contract