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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



The year's stories

Here's Vermont This Week's top 10 stories for the year, as voted by those who appear on the show and then another list as voted by 40 viewers. You can catch the Free Press top 10 HERE.

The VTW viewers, oddly enough, ranked Capt. Phillips the top story. I don't think he made my list at all, which I don't mean as any snub to him. I tend to think of the long-term impact on Vermont when ranking the stories, but I confess to having a hard time ranking things. Anyway, here you are for mulling purposes:

VTW Panelists
1. Gay Marriage Becomes Law in Vermont
2. Douglas Announces He Won’t Seek Re-election
3. National Guard Sees Largest Deployment Since WWII
4. ‘Great Recession’ sends unemployment to 15-year High
5. Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto
6. Champlain Bridge Shuts Down, Stranding Thousands
7. Sex Offender Bill Becomes Law
8. Captain Richard Phillips Held Hostage on High Seas
9. FairPoint Troubles Leads to Bankruptcy Filing
10. H1N1 Virus Prompts Historic Response

And as a comparison, 40 VTW viewers got online and voted.

VTW Viewers
1. Captain Richard Phillips Hostage on High Seas
2. National Guard Sees Largest Deployment Since WWII
3. Gay Marriage Becomes Law in Vermont
4. Champlain Bridge Shuts Down, Stranding Thousands
5. Douglas Announces He Won’t Seek Re-election
6. Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto
7. Vermont Yankee Re-licensing Comes to a Heade
8. ‘Great Recession’ Sends Unemployment to 15-year High
9. Dairy Farms Fight For Survival
10. FairPoint Troubles Leads to Bankruptcy Filing

- Terri Hallenbeck




Tuesday political buzz: Bridging politics

Push the button or not?

If you are the governor of a state, there are constant decisions to be made about whether to accept this invitation or that invitation. You, or your staff, ponder what you can fit into your schedule, of course. but you also consider who you want to please and ultimately, how it’s going to make you look.

When Elton John comes to the fairgrounds, you go.

When the Rotary Club asks if you can make it, you go.

What do you do, though, when somebody asks you if you’ll push the buttons to blow up a bridge? Keep in mind that government has allowed this bridge to deteriorate so badly that it had to be closed without warning, creating arduously long drives for commuters, hospital patients and others, some of them in your own hometown. States will have to shuffle budgets, put other projects on hold and shell out extra money to pay for temporary ferry service. Does a politician want a photo opp like that?

Gov. Jim Douglas chose to go for it. Standing hatless in an open field with snow steadily falling, he pushed the two buttons that were said to ignite the implosion of the Lake Champlain Bridge on Monday morning.

More than one person expressed surprise over that Monday, but Douglas declined to characterize the implosion as an indication of how things went awry with a historic bridge once heralded for its cutting-edge design. He called it a step forward, a step toward construction of a new bridge.

“It’s the first step toward a new beginning,” he said.

Even those lives have been disrupted by the bridge’s closure and are angry at government officials who let it agreed Monday that they’re ready to move on.

And just in case not everybody’s ready to see it that way, Douglas is not running for re-election. This photo opp won’t show up in an opponent’s campaign ad. There has to be something freeing about that. Plus, plenty of people probably think it’d be cool to push the buttons that blow of a bridge.

- Terri Hallenbeck

Republican grip

In an article this week, FoxNews.com looks at whether Republicans will lose their hold on all New England governor seats in 2010.

According to the article, “Jennifer Duffy, an editor with The Cook Political Report, said Republicans could face a total wipe-out in New England, though they do have some chances to keep a foothold. ‘If these races had taken place in 2008, they'd all be gone, but it's still possible,’ Duffy said.”

You can read it here: www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/12/17/republicans-struggle-hold-new-england-governors-races/.

- Terri Hallenbeck

Memorial services

A memorial service for Rep. Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle, who died Dec. 20, will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 2 at the South Hero Congregational Church, South Street in South Hero.

A memorial service for Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry, who died a day later, is expected to be held Jan. 31. Details are to be posted at www.rickhube.com.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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On being Hube

A quick glimpse into the humor of Rep. Rick Hube.

As Gov. Jim Douglas noted this morning in a statement on Hube's death, Hube traveled to China with the governor and a group of Vermont business owners this year.

House Minority Leader Patti Komline relayed the story yesterday of how Hube joked on that trip that he was having Peking duck with a lame-duck governor.

Another Hube story relayed to me today: Last session, when Sen. Vince Illuzzi managed to snare funding for Sterling College, mysterious invitations went out around the Statehouse to an event honoring Illuzzi at Sterling College. There was, however, no time or date, only a phone number on the invitation. It was, of course, Illuzzi's cell phone. The mysterious hand behind that invitation: Hube.

He loved the quick joke but he also loved sinking his teeth into the policy and he was always had his finger on the politics of the Statehouse. If there was a close controversial vote coming up, he'd always be game to speculate on the vote count. He was usually at least close.

Share your Hube stories. And your Ira Trombley stories.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Rep. Rick Hube dies

Another shock from the Legislature, and not the good kind. Rick Hube, a Republican from Londonderry, died Monday in Florida, according to House Minority Leader Patti Komline, R-Dorset.

Hube was 62.

He died a day after Rep. Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle. Both deaths were sudden.

Hube was a bear of a guy, with a gruff outer image that really wasn't so gruff at all. "He was everyone's big brother," Komline said.

He was well-versed in tax issues and a defender of the property tax, serving most recently on the Ways & Means Committee.

Komline said Hube was in Florida visiting his sister for the holidays, when he felt pain in his leg while out for a walk. He called his sister, who called an ambulance but Hube died of an aortic aneurysm, Komline said.

A service is expected to be held on Hube's birthday, Jan. 31, she said.

Hube's friend Oliver Olsen reports that Hube's Web site will be updated with details about a memorial service. You can see it at www.rickhube.com.

An interesting thing about the electronic world - a web site lives on after a person. Similarly, Ira Trombley's wife, Lucy, posted on his Facebook page the news of his death early the morning after he passed. His Facebook page now features a long string of tributes to him.

*******Another update******
Jim Barnett, former Vermont Republican Party chairman who worked for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, sends McCain's thoughts on Hube, who had served as
vice chairman of the McCain campaign in Vermont.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Rick Hube," said Sen. John McCain. "Rick was an important part of my team in Vermont, and he will be remembered as someone who always put the people of Vermont first. His family are in my thoughts a prayers during this difficult time."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Sanders' new intern

Sen. Bernie Sanders' newest intern is not your typical college student running errands and answering constituent mail. It's Bill Press, a liberal radio talk show host.

Press unabashedly admitted to the Huffington Post that he's doing it to gain access to Congress after being denied press credentials.

If that sounds a little squishy to you, it doesn't to Sanders.

"It doesn't hurt us at all and we like Bill Press," Sanders' spokesman Will Wiquist said.

As for the intern part of the gig, Wiquist said he doesn't really expect to see Press around the office doing intern-like activities, though like other interns Press will not he paid by Sanders' office.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Mr. Smith goes back to business

The news yesterday that former Administration Secretary Mike Smith will head up FairPoint Communication's Vermont operations may be good for both Mike and FairPoint.

The company desperately needs to gain some cred in Vermont and allay concerns at the Public Service Department and Public Service Board that it has what it takes to run Vermont phone lines. Smith is well-acquainted with the people whose concerns need allaying.

Meanwhile, Smith, after flirting with a quasi-career as a blogger and media critic, can, well, get back to business.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Galbraith's story heats up

Peter Galbraith, of Townshend, is back in the heat of things, still battling with his former boss after Galbraith was fired from his U.N. job in Afghanistan. The tale even invokes Galbraith's flirtation with running for office in Vermont.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Galbraith proposed to Kai Eide, his U.N. boss in Afghanistan, enlisting the White House in a plan to replace the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

“He told me he would first meet with Vice President Biden,” Mr. Eide wrote. “If the vice president agreed with Galbraith’s proposal they would approach President Obama with the following plan: President Karzai should be forced to resign as president.” Then a new government would be installed led by a former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, or a former interior minister, Ali A. Jalali, both favorites of American officials.


Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that he was aware of Mr. Galbraith’s proposal to go to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and develop support for the plan, and later learned of Mr. Karzai’s anger over the episode. Mr. Nambiar said it played a role in Mr. Galbraith’s firing.

According to the Times, Galbraith contended he discussed but never actively promoted the idea of persuading Mr. Karzai to leave office.

Galbraith this week wrote a column seeking to defend himself.

He says, in part:

The U.N. has been scrambling to come up with an alternative explanation for my firing. At a news conference Oct. 12, Edmond Mulet, an assistant secretary general, said I was fired for proposing an unconstitutional solution to Afghanistan' s election crisis -- the very charge recycled by the Times in Thursday's story -- and darkly hinted that I had staged my firing so that I could run for political office in my home state of Vermont. When this didn't get traction, Ban Ki-moon told the British daily Independent on Nov. 4 that I was fired for wanting to disenfranchise Afghans by closing polling centers. Actually, I wanted to close the fake polling centers that produced the hundreds of thousands of phony votes that effectively disenfranchised all Afghans.


Mr. Eide is quoted in the Times as saying President Karzai was "deeply upset" about my supposed plan but fails to disclose how Mr. Karzai would have learned of this very private conversation between Mr. Eide and myself. I can only presume that Eide told him. Oddly, Kai Eide himself proposed that Karzai be replaced with an interim government in a meeting with Kabul-based diplomats in Kabul in October. The Times reporters knew this but also chose not to include it in the story.

Galbraith, meanwhile, has initiated wrongful dismissal action against the U.N.

- Terri Hallenbeck




OT in D.C., Ira Trombley, VY complexities

Good-enough reform on the move

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., intends to head to Capitol Hill at 5 a.m. today to give himself plenty of time to navigate the still snow-slick streets of Washington, D.C., and arrive before 7 a.m. for another critical vote on the Senate’s health care reform bill.

Two votes — one to approve a package of amendments to the bill and a second to cut off debate on the amended measure — are scheduled for shortly after 7 a.m.

Senate leaders already demonstrated they had the political muscle to win passage of the bill by Christmas Eve when at 1:30 a.m. Monday they mustered all the Democratic senators plus two independents — including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — for the first of three procedural votes requiring a three-fifths majority or 60votes.

Leahy and Sanders both said Monday in interviews that they will vote to pass the bill when it comes time to vote — likely at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“I can vote for it,” Leahy said. “It’s not the bill I would have written. I’m extraordinarily disappointed the public option isn’t in there.” Still he argued, “the pluses outweigh the minuses. If we don’t move forward, I don’t think we will see a revamping in myh lifetime.”

Sanders offered similar qualified support. “I am more than aware this bill is nowhere near as strong as it should be. For me, the bottom line is, if we fail now, how many more years will it take Congress to get back to it.” He added, “Is this better than nothing? My answer is that it is.”

Both senators spoke on the Senate floor Monday about the provisions in the package of amendments offered Saturday that they considered critical improvements.

For Sanders, the addition he argues could revolutionalize health care across the country is a $10 billion investment in community health centers and primary care personnel. The funding would expand these health centers, which offer an array of primary and preventive care services, to an additional 10,000 communities, Sanders said. The funding will also pay off school loans for primary care doctors, dentists, nurses and other front-line medical staff who agree to work in medically underserved regions of the country.

“In my view, these two programs are some of the best and most effective public health care programs in the United States of America. And they enjoy widespread — widespread tripartisan support,” he said, noting that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., supported expansion of the community health centers during his presidential campaign.

“My strong hope is that when this bill is finally passed, we will adopt the House language which calls for $14 billion,” Sanders said.

Some critics of the heatlh reform bill have suggested Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s amendment gave waivering senators reasons to vote yes.

Sanders countered that the funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps wasn’t pork. Providing Americans greater access to primary care will keep people out of hospital emergency rooms and save money, Sanders argued. “This is a win-win situation.” He added, that while it may pay for two or three more community health center in Vermont, “in many ways it will be better for other states.”

Leahy also won inclusion of some provisions in Reid’s amendment package, most importantly a change in the formula for the distribution of Medicaid funding to Vermont for a six-year period beginning in 2014. This change is expectd to mean an extra $250 million in federal support for Vermont’s subsidized health care program.

“That wouldn’t have affected my vote, whether it was in or not,” Leahy said Monday. The original bill, he argued, penalized Vermont for expanding who was covered by government subsidized health care. Other states would get extra money to expand beginning in 2014, but Vermont wasn’t going to be eligible.

“We were being punished for the doing the right thing,” Leahy said. The change, he said, was a remedy, not an add-on.

Heidi Tringe, deputy chief of staff for Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, cheered the provision Leahy got inserted in the bill. “This is great news. We were very concerned.”

Tringe noted Vermont and Massachusetts were the only two states that weren’t going to receive extra Medicaid money. Now that “inequity” is remedied, Tringe said.

Len Britton, a Republican who plans to challenge Leahy in the 2010 election, criticized the Medicaid formula fix Leahy won, citing it as one of the “cynical sweetheart deals” Senate leadership used to “buy” votes of support for the bill.

“This is political sausage-making at its worst: lots of pork and by-products,” Britton said. “It may taste good going down, but it’s hard to digest later. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from Senator Leahy and the professional career politicians in Washington.”

Leahy countered that Republicans sing a different tune when they have the votes. “When they are on the winning side, whatever they put in is good policy.”

— Nancy Remsen

Kill the bill ... or not

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor, presidential candidate and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, got attention last week for suggesting the Senate version of the health reform bill had been watered down so much it should be killed rather than passed.

Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Dean was singing a different tune. Here’s what he said during a segment with moderator David Gregory.

Dean: “I would certainly not vote for this bill if this were the final product. But there are — the House bill is a — quite a good bill. This bill has improved over the last couple of weeks. I would let this thing go to conference committee and let’s see if we can fix it some more ... .”

Gregory pressed again later in the interview.

“All right. But, Governor, my, my question was without the public option, is your position say no to the bill?” Gregory asked.

Dean said, “My position is let’s see what they add to this bill and make it work. If they can make it work without a public option, I’m all ears. I don’t think that’s possible.”

So how do you think Dean would have voted on the procedural vote that took place in the wee hours of Monday morning had he been a senator? Would he have buckled to pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to get something passed, even something with imperfections, or been hard-nosed about needing a government-sponsored insurance option?

— Nancy Remsen

Rep. Trombley dies at 57

Rep. Ira Trombley, the mustachioed Democrat from Grand Isle who always seemed to be in good cheer, died suddenly Sunday. He was 57.

Trombley had been out of the Statehouse much of last session with an infected foot, but Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said he appeared healthy of late, had lost weight and was looking forward to the upcoming legislative session.

As the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force pointed out, Trombley went to the Statehouse in a wheelchair to cast his vote for same-sex marriage this year. He also followed meetings of the Health Care Committee, on which he most recently served, via telephone.

Johnson said Trombley likely died of natural causes — a family member returned home from Christmas shopping and found him unresponsive. “It’s an awful shock because he had been doing so well,” said Johnson, who was elected to the Legislature along with Trombley in 2002.

Trombley was known for his involvement in all kinds of Grand Isle community groups, Johnson said. “He had sort of mastered the art of being in two places at once,” she said. “He really loved this job.”

His connections with people went beyond physically attending events, though. “He was Dr. Postcard,” Johnson said, sending notes to people in and out of his district to thank them for writing letters to the editor of newspapers or congratulate them on a new job.

Trombley is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and grandchildren. A service will likely be held after the new year, Johnson said.

Gov. Jim Douglas will appoint someone to fill Trombley’s House seat.

— Terri Hallenbeck

VY’s many subplots

Last Thursday, a day before Entergy Corp. was due to reveal how much it is offering to charge Vermont utilities for Vermont Yankee power, Vermont Public Interest Research Group announced it would be joined by a handful of business leaders for a news conference Monday to react to the offer.

How did they know what their reaction would be before the deal was out? They didn’t need to know what the price was to know how they felt about it.

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, conceded Monday there was no price VY would offer that he’d be happy with. “Even if the price was competitive, the reality is that there are alternatives that can produce the power more safely at just as reasonable a rate with more Vermont jobs,” he said.

Let’s just be clear, then. This group was using the price offer as the reason for holding a news conference, but the price offer was irrelevant to how they feel about the plant.

Likewise, the price offer has not changed how John O’Kane feels about Vermont Yankee’s future. O’Kane, government affairs director for IBM Corp. in Essex Junction, disagrees with Cohen that alternatives to VY are just as good. He wants the Legislature to vote, giving the state Public Service Board permission to decide whether to grant the plant another 20 years of life.

Even though Entergy’s 6.1-cents/kilowatt hour price offer is one that Vermont’s largest utilities have rejected, O’Kane argues that it sets enough of a baseline that the Legislature should turn the decision over to the board. “The Legislature is not a good instrument for handling highly technical negotiations with a company,” he said.

OK, so are we any farther along in the tale of Vermont Yankee’s future than we were before Friday’s price offer? Hard to say. This story has more complex subplots than a Tom Clancy novel and figuring out which one holds the final clue is not easy.

Entergy, in outlining the offer Friday, argued that the 2012 starting price of 6.1 cents, though it is above market rates today, is below projected market rates. With thanks to Dave Lamont at the state Public Service Department, here’s how Entergy’s offer compares to a market price forecast done for the state last year.

2012: Entergy 6.1 cents/forecast 7.4 cents
2013: Entergy 6.3/forecast 7.6
2014: Entergy 6.4/forecast 7.8
2015: Entergy 6.6/forecast 8.1
2016: Entergy 6.8/forecast 8.4
2017: Entergy 7.0/ forecast 8.8

Central Vermont Public Service Board Chief Executive Office Robert Young said Friday that that forecast of market rates is one among several and that others show lower prices. Because, of course, nothing is simple when it comes to this topic.

— Terri Hallenbeck

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Rep, Trombley dead at 57

Rep. Ira Trombley, Democrat from Grand Isle, died suddenly Sunday at home. He was 57.

Trombley had been out of the Statehouse much of last session with a foot infection, but he appeared to be over that and ready to return in January, friends said.

A memorial service is likely to be held after the New Year, said Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

I remember Ira as a man always in a good mood, always ready to chat.

- Terri Hallenbeck



VY's offer: 6.1 cents to start

Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. announced Friday that it plans to offer the states largest utilities power at a starting price of 6.1 cents per kilowatt if the nuclear power plant is allowed to continue operating after 2012.

The new offer, referred to a in filing Friday afternoon with the state Public Service Board, would replace part of a revenue sharing agreement the power plant has with the utilities that would give the utilities a share in the sale of power above a certain price.

Entergy argues that the 6.1 percent price, which would increase annually by a specified index, is below projected market prices, though it is above current market prices. Under the utilities current contract with Entergy, they pay 4.2 cents/kwh, a price all the players expected would increase under a new contract.

Entergy contends the new agreement would have a $500 million benefit to Vermont ratepayers, far more than the value of the revenue sharing agreement.

The offer would be for 115 megawatts of power, half of what the utilities buy from Entergy now. The utilities have said they plan to buy less nuclear power in the coming years.

More on this for the low, low price of 75 cents in your morning paper.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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VY to file latest offer

Vermont Yankee will be filing with the Public Service Board its latest offer to the utilities this afternoon, according to Brad Wright, a media consultant working with Entergy.

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VY makes a PR run

Vermont Yankee owner Entergy appeared to be hedging this week about whether it would release details of its price offer to utilities Friday as company officials have said they would. If they miss their own deadline, that gives leery lawmakers one more reason to roll their eyes.

House Speaker Shap Smith said Thursday: "I think it's a problem for VY if they once again fail to come through."

Meanwhile, though, VY is going on a public relations run. The company released this today about a series of newspaper and TV ads it is running:

A series of print and television ads featuring Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant employees will begin running in state-wide media outlets this week. In the ads, VY employees discuss the safety of the nuclear plant, and the need in Vermont for the jobs and the economic benefits that the electricity generated at VY provides the state of Vermont.

The ads, which feature employees from almost every department at the Vernon plant, initiate a Vermonter to Vermonter conversation about the plant, as seen through the eyes of some of the 650 men and women who work there every day.

According to Mike Colomb, Vermont Yankee Site Vice President, the campaign “brings new insight on plant operation, as the featured employees -- all Vermont residents -- express in their own words the pride and dedication they bring to their jobs, and why it is in the best interest of all Vermonters to keep the plant in service.

“The participation by VY employees in the public discussions of Vermont Yankee has always been key to the general understanding and appreciation of the plant’s role in meeting electricity demands. In fact, many more employees volunteered for this project than we were able to use. Our employees are our greatest asset for continued safe, reliable generation in the state and they admirably serve their communities. In these ads, I think Vermonters will recognize true professionalism when they see it,” he said.

“We’re proud to sponsor this campaign that serves to give a much-needed, state-wide voice to the many Vermonters that are proud to work at VY,” he said. The advertisements which will run for the next two to three months, were produced by HMC2, an advertising company based in Richmond, Vermont.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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John Morley to run for assistant House Republican leader

Rep. John Morley, R-Barton, will seek the number two job in the Republican House caucus in January, he has told colleagues this week.

Morley would like to replace Rep. Patricia McDonald, R-Berlin, who plans to step down as assistant House Republican leader this session because she wants to devote some of her spare time to her campaign for a state Senate seat.

"I am going to run," Morley said Wednesday at the Statehouse. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which was meeting to take testimony on a $16.4 million budget adjustment plan presented by the Douglas administration. Morley said he would ask for a new committee assignment if he won the Republican caucus leadership position.

"I want to begin to try to make a difference," Morley said to explain his decision to seek the assistant leader slot. After the session, he said he sees the job as helping to recruit Republican legislative candidates. The recruitment and election of Republicans to the House, he said would be "a huge challenge, but something I'm ready to try to do."

As for his work during the session, Morley said he has a good record working with Democrats and Progressives, compromising when possible, and disagreeing without rancor. "I hope to continue that trend."

Morley, 39, is village manager in Orleans when he isn't in Montpelier. He is serving his third term in the House.

Are there other candidates for assistant House Republican leader?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Gov's office transactions

Here's how Gov. Jim Douglas is filling the vacancy that will be left by Deputy Chief of Staff Dennise Casey's departure at the end of the year:

Elizabeth "Wibs" McLain, his former secretary of Natural Resources, returns as special assistant to the governor. She'll be the legislative liaison.

Heidi Tringe, who has been secretary of Civil and Military Affairs (a title that shouldn't be taken too literally but really pretty much means special assistant to the governor), will become deputy chief of staff.

David Coriell, who was special assistant to the governor, will become secretary of Civil and Military Affairs and communications director.

That all happens Jan. 1, when Casey leaves for a job with the Republican Governors' Association.

It also answers the question (no) of whether Douglas would be bringing in someone new to his inner circle for his last year in office.

Casey says there will be no change in pay for Tringe or Coriell. McLain's salary is not set yet, she said, but should be no more than Casey's, making for an overall break-even or decline in staff salaries.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Emily's list, Tom's troubles, Peg's Senate seat, more

Endorsements mean to lot to Markowitz

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deb Markowitz won the endorsement Monday of Emily’s List, a national political action committee founded in 1985 that supports pro-choice, progressive female candidates.

Markowitz has been lobbying the group for its endorsement for some time, but said Monday she hadn’t expected a decision until spring. She welcomed this “early endorsement” because it means money and practical advice will be headed her way, she said.

“It is going to be a tremendous help to the campaign,” Markowitz said.

In the 2007-2008 cycle, Emily’s List reports it raised more than $43 million to support women candidates and mobilize women voters to turn out and vote.

Markowitz, who is secretary of state, is one of five Democrats vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination. The other candidates are Sen. Susan Bartlett, Sen. Doug Racine, Sen. Peter Shumlin and former Sen. Matt Dunne.

Bartlett said she didn’t seek an endorsement from Emily’s List. “I believe this race is going to be decided by Vermonters, not by big out-of-state special interest groups,” she said. “I’m going to stick to trying to raise all my money in state.” She added, “I am confident that when we have a race between good ideas and grassroots support against out-of-state special interests in Vermont, good ideas and grassroots will win every time."

Markowitz said she has plenty of in-state support — more than 1,000 Vermont donors. She said Emily’s List was persuaded to support her because of the strength of her local support. For more information on Emily’s List, visit HERE.

Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin also made her endorsement of Markowitz official Monday.
“Having Gov. Kunin’s endorsement means an awful lot to me,” Markowitz said. “She has been my inspiration.”

Markowitz said she became acquainted with Kunin in 1982 when Kunin and her family frequented Pauline’s Restaurant where Markowitz, in college at the University of Vermont, waitressed.

Kunin gave Markowitz a ride from the airport once, having recognized her from the restaurant. During the ride, Kunin talked about the need for women to take risks if they were going to achieve power. It wasn’t good enough to be at the tables of power, Markowitz recalled Kunin saying. “We have to be at the head of the table.”

Markowitz said Kunin made her promise that if she every had an opportunity to lead, “that I would be brave enough to take the risk and do it.”

— Nancy Remsen

The Salmon saga

As wide-ranging as it was, state Auditor Tom Salmon’s Nov. 20 part-confessional, part-confrontational news conference left some nagging questions.

Just as he was claiming he was all about transparency, the water around him was growing murkier. It raised questions about what was going on with this public official who, just back from a Naval Reserve tour in Iraq, switched political parties, made some unpopular budget suggestions (casinos at Killington, cutting unemployment benefits) while portraying himself as the mediator, then got stopped for drunk driving.

We take a look at some of those nagging questions.

Ö First, the video camera. Salmon’s staff was videotaping the Nov. 20 news conference, which was unusual. Salmon defended it, saying the video might come in handy to post on the Auditor’s Office’s Web site as an example of accountability, though it was hard to imagine why one would want to post a video of a news conference that was mostly about his Nov. 13 drunk driving arrest and his foray into and out of personal financial debt.

As Shay Totten of Seven Days reported last week, Salmon’s office bought the video camera June 5 (for $559.92) to tape other speeches, one of which was a June 11 campaign fundraiser in Burlington at which he reported raising $5,150 from political supporters.

At that event, Salmon thanked the crowd for getting him elected last year while he was away in Iraq, and suggested he had his eye on the governor’s office. “If I ever get to the big office, I’ll tell you right now, I’m going to be about reform and honesty and commitment, and I appreciate your help with me getting there,” Salmon said in the 13-minute recording. “I may raise $200,000 as auditor, and if I have anything left it will be for the next pursuit and I hope you will help me get there.”

Should he be using a state video camera at what was clearly a campaign event? Other politicians say it’s a line they are conscious not to cross. “It’s something I wouldn’t do,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell, adding that his office has a video camera but he bought his own in case he wanted to use one for campaign purposes.

Sorrell said he didn’t think it amounted to theft of services or anything criminal, however.
Martha Abbott, who was the Progressive Party candidate for auditor when Salmon first won election to the office in 2006, said, “Absolutely it shouldn’t be used for a campaign event, are you kidding? That’s public service 101. I think it’s bad, particularly when you’re the person who’s supposed to be the watchdog.”

She noted that it had echoes of former Auditor Liz Ready’s use of a state cell phone for personal calls, for which she eventually reimbursed the state.

Salmon said he doesn’t think there was anything wrong with using the camera, even at a campaign event with cheering crowds, because he might want to use portions of the speech in his official duties. “Any speech anywhere could be used as part of this message about what government is doing,” he said. “It will help tell the story.”

Because people were questioning it, however, he said Friday he would pay the state $28 for his use of the camera at the campaign event, the value his staff figured that 13 minutes of taping constituted.

By the way, Salmon said some of those donors asked for their money back after he switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in September and he complied.

Ö The debt. As the Nov. 20 news conference ended, Salmon’s staff handed out paperwork explaining the origin of his personal financial problems — he spent $48,000 on Enron stock as Enron was collapsing, a subject Totten had raised the week before Salmon was stopped for drunk driving. Salmon worked his way out of debt, but not before he ran for auditor in 2006.
At the time, Vermont voters knew fairly little about Tom Salmon — he was the son of the former governor by the same name, a new Rockingham Selectboard member and a certified public accountant. If the only other thing they had known about him was that he had made a really bad financial move to try to get out of debt, would he have been elected auditor?

“That could have knocked me off,” Salmon conceded. He won that election by just 102 votes, ousting incumbent Republican Randy Brock after a statewide recount reversed the Election Day totals, a first in state history.

Abbott, who came in a distant third in the race, said she didn’t know about Salmon’s debt at the time. Salmon said last week that the Rutland Herald editorial board knew about it but opted not to write about it. He is convinced that the renewed interest in it this fall had everything to do with his change in political parties.

Ö The DUI. Salmon pleaded guilty Dec. 3 to driving under the influence and agreed to pay a $500 fine plus court charges and attend an alcohol education class. He made the unusual step of pleading guilty at arraignment, he said, because he wanted to own up to the charge.

What his court appearance also revealed, however, was that he had told the trooper he had two glasses of wine to drink. A week later at the Nov. 20 news conference, he said he’d had two glasses of wine, two scotches and a coffee/kahlua. Is that full disclosure?

“You think people stop at that time and get out a menu?” he said. He said he signed a form that night acknowledging that he was slightly under the influence, a move that he believes more than makes up for the details of what he told the trooper. “The spirit of the night – rigorous honesty.”

Ö The pay cut. When other statewide elected officers took a voluntary 5 percent pay cut last year to match the 5 percent cut that exempt state employees making more than $60,000 were taking, Salmon called it a gimmick. Instead, he contributed 5 percent of his $95,000 salary to charity.

With state budget troubles mounting, this year is different, he said. “I called the last exec pay cut a gimmick because it didn’t go far enough toward a comprehensive solution. As a result, we witnessed great labor struggles,” he said. “Today is different. The VSEA members’ consideration of a 3 percent cut is a testament to them now recognizing the fiscal risks of status quo to the state.”

Last week, he asked the state to decrease his salary to bring in back in sync with that of the secretary of state and treasurer, who took the 5 percent cut last year. Starting Jan. 1, his annual salary will drop from $95,139.20 to $90,382.24, Human Resources Commissioner Caroline Earle said.

Ö The video camera was in action Monday at the Statehouse, where Salmon’s office was taping the Joint Legislative Government Accountability Committee meeting. The panel is working, at Salmon’s suggestion, with a consultant on restructuring state government. The video will be needed, Salmon said, to sell legislators and the public on the ideas.

“It’ll show people how this bipartisan process led to the state dealing with its fiscal crisis,” he said.

Salmon said it irks him that such efforts don’t gain the attention that the DUI, the debt, the video camera. “We have a tsunami headed toward the beach and people are wondering about 13 minutes of tape,” he said.

The jury is still out on which tape will loom larger: the one he took at a campaign event with a state-owned camera or the one about government restructuring. Sorrell noted that while an underling might be disciplined for using state-owned equipment, the voters are the ones who decide whether to discipline a statewide elected officer.

— Terri Hallenbeck

It will be Sen. Flory come Jan. 5

Gov.Jim Douglas appointed Peg Flory, a Republican state representative, to a Rutland County Senate seat. She replace Sen. Hull Maynard, R-Rutland, who retired with a year to go in his term.

Flory has been in the House for nearly a decade.

Rutland Republicans had proposed three potential replacements for Maynard, with Flory as their first choice. The other nominees were William Meub and Tom DePoy.

“I want to thank Governor Douglas for the tremendous privilege to serve the people of Rutland Country in the state Senate,” Flory said. “I will continue to work hard during the upcoming session to fight for the county as we work to deal with the State’s difficult economic situation.

The people of this region have been hit hard and I want them to know that I am going to do all I can to support efforts to encourage economic growth and fight against higher taxes.”

Flory is an attorney in private practice. She has served on the House Judiciary Committee for most of her years in the House and chaired the committee from 2002-2004.
She is the widow of Joseph J. Flory and has three sons.

Flory’s move to the Senate, which takes place when the Legislature returns to Montpelier on Jan. 5, opens up her House seat. The town’s Republican caucus will meet soon to suggest candidates for the governor to interview. He is expected to make an appointment early in the session.

— Nancy Remsen

The ‘Google governor?’

ABC News did a story on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Tuesday. It was odd in the sense that it was long and detailed, while one might not expect that kind of intense interest in one candidate for Vermont governor by a national news organization. Online commenters also puzzled over why ABC News was doing the story.

Reporter Teddy Davis, deputy director of ABC News’ political unit, said he thought Dunne’s work for Google gave the story national interest. He said he first met Dunne in 2004 and has watched him with interest since. Davis was also versed in details about Dunne’s rivals and watched Deb Markowitz be introduced on stage at a Democratic Governors’ Association fundraisers meeting.

You can read the story HERE.

— Terri Hallenbeck

The VY vote

There is great mystery over when or whether the Legislature will vote on the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Well, last week in the Statehouse there was a vote, of sorts.

The Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce was holding a leadership program, giving business people a sense of how the legislative process works by holding a mock session with help from a few legislators and lobbyists.

As chamber Government Affairs Director Cathy Davis recounted, the group was divided into committees to work on a tourism bill. One of those committees was headed by Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, the master of finding ways to bring up almost any issue, any time, anywhere. Illuzzi’s committee voted unanimously to add an amendment approving Vermont Yankee’s continued operation to the tourism bill.

When the package reached the floor of the mock session, veteran lobbyist and former legislator Jeanne Kennedy questioned whether the amendment was germane to the bill. Legislative rules require an amendment to be related to the main bill. House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, who was presiding, ruled it was not germane. Does that portend anything?

— Terri Hallenbeck

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Markowitz snares Emily, Madeleine

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deb Markowitz plans to announce Monday that she has the endorsement of Emily's List, a national organization that supports female political candidates, according to her campaign.

She'll also announce she has the endorsement of former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, though that backing is not new. Markowitz has been courting Emily's List for some time.

Kunin will make the announcement from Union Station in Burlington, site of her first campaign headquarters and the future headquarters of Deb for Vermont, the campaign said.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Two Republican women jump into state senate races

Assistant House Republican Leader Pat McDonald of Berlin has announced she will seek a seat in the state Senate representing Washington County.

McDonald is in only her second term in the House, but has a long history in state government, having been secretary of the Agency of Transportation, and commissioner of motor vehicle, labor and human resources.

McDonald may be hoping to capture the seat that Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, will vacate because he's chosen instead to run for lieutenant governor. Washington County has three seats in the Senate. Two have been held by Republicans and one by a Democrat.

In Franklin County, Judith McLaughlin will run for the state Senate, also as a Republican. Franklin County currently has one Republican senator -- Randy Brock, who has said he will run for re-election -- and one Democratic senator, Sara Kittell.

McLaughlin is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Vermont Army National Guard.

"She has strong leadership skills and she is eager to provide some public service," said Linda Kirker, Franklin County Republican chairwoman. "I say, go girl!"

-- Nancy Remsen




Obama picks out Sanders for praise

Shortly after noon at the White House today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, joined a small group on a stage with President Barack Obama. The occasion was Obama's announcement of $500 million in federal stimulus dollars for construction and renovation projects at federally qualified health centers.

Sanders has been a long-time champion of funding for this network of community health centers -- and it turns out that a few years ago Obama signed onto a Sanders' bill to quadruple funding for them.

So Wednesday, when Obama announced funding to expand 85 health centers -- including one in Burlington, he put the spotlight on Sanders for a millisecond. "I also want to thank the many members of Congress who are with us today both in the audience and up on the stage, particularly Bernie Sanders and Representative Jim Clyburn. We are grateful for all that you've done."

The Community Health Center of Burlington is one of the 85 and will receive $10.9 million dollars to construct a new building that will eventually replace the structure on Riverside Avenue.

In the madcap world that is Washington -- especially these days -- it must be nice to get noticed.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Ben & Jerry for Fed chairman?

Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Colbert Report last night: The interview starts with Colbert going to commercial. Sanders says nothing to bemoan the "corporate media."

Colbert asks him to address the "vicious rumors" that he is a Socialist. "I am a Democratic Socialist, that's correct," Sanders responds. Thing is, they'd been over this territory the last time Sanders was on. It does allow Sanders national airtime to do his thing. ("Wall Street is not America.")

They then get more current, with Colbert asking Sanders who he'd want to be Fed chairman if not Ben Bernanke.

Colbert: "I assume since you're Vermont you'd rather have Ben & Jerry."

Sanders: "They would probably be a lot better choice."

Colbert: "They could certainly make some flavors, perhaps 'credit crunch.'"

You can watch it here.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Campbell, Franken and the big boys

The face of Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, D-Windsor, popped up on Politico in a story about Capitol Hill holiday parties. Odd? Well yes. You can see it here: scroll down to the story titled "Hill parties remain modest."

Though Campbell did take some ribbing after he was quoted last year in a Seven Days story about Montpelier political partying, we don't think he's tapped into the D.C. scene.

The story quotes Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican, who sounds like he's not much for parties at all, at least not the D.C.-style parties where you have to check your jacket and gloves.

Campbell, who plans to celebrate by taking his staff to lunch, says flashy events aren’t worth the effort. “The whole thing of putting on your jacket and gloves — and then checking your jacket and gloves along with a thousand other people who go in and spend 10 minutes — and then you wait 45 minutes to get your stuff back and go out and get in your freezing car,” Campbell says. “It’s a lot of work to go to one of those parties.”

Vermont's John Campbell doesn't have a legislative staff to take to lunch, so it clearly wasn't him they were talking about, though indeed it is his photo with the story.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Vermont advice to New Jersey

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin weighed in on the New Jersey same-sex marriage debate with a letter to lawmakers in which he implored them to just do it. You can check it out here.

Shumlin says that as he campaigns for governor he doesn't hear anybody complaining about Vermont's passage this year of same-sex marriage legislation.

Shumlin's comments should come as little surprise to those who have followed the issue in Vermont. But New Jersey lawmakers also heard from Sen. Diane Snelling, who talked about growing up in a political family and learning to deal with losing. You can read her speech here.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Welch and the prez

Rep. Peter Welch apparently didn't win a mention from the president, but his program for investing in home energy-efficiency did today.

Welch did win a mention in the Wall Street Journal's blog:

Green jobs are still a big part of the Obama administration’s plan to jumpstart job creation.

In this morning’s big jobs speech, President Obama outlined three main ways Washington can get people back to work: helping small business get more credit so as to hire more people; beefing up investment in infrastructure such as rail, roads, and bridges, and ramping up government support for energy efficiency and clean energy.

Specifically, the President asked Congress to “provide rebates for consumers who make energy efficiency retrofits,” which in theory would provide a double-whammy of providing jobs and saving consumers money by sealing up leaky houses. Mr. Obama said “we know that creates jobs.”

UPDATE: One lawmaker who feels vindicated after today’s speech: Vermont congressman Peter Welch. He wrote energy-efficiency legislation this spring that became part of the Waxman-Markey energy bill. Now, the plan is to carve it out and make it part of the jobs package.

The “cash for caulkers” bill as written would offer $20 billion over two years to help homeowners make their houses more energy efficient. Rep. Welch says that would save about $3.3 billion per year in energy bills—as well as creating 600,000 to 850,000 jobs over two years.

“Just because something makes sense and is quick and easy to do is no reason not to do it,” Rep. Welch told us.

_ Terri Hallenbeck

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Sanders and the funny guy

FYI: Sen. Bernie Sanders is scheduled to be on the Colbert Report tonight. It airs at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. If you don't stay up that late, you can usually find these things on the Internet afterward.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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VtBuzz: on contracts, Casey, the House Democratic caucus and the Congressional delegation

VSEA: Will they or won’t they?

The Vermont State Employees Association is busy this week and next trying to sell its members on the 3 percent pay cut the union negotiated last week with the Douglas administration. Members are expected to vote on the deal by the end of the year. The new contract would take effect July 1.

The big question is will they or won’t they accept the deal. Commenters on vt.Buzz have gone both ways: “The membership should vote against the deal,” one said. “All in all, this is a reasonable proposal and the union should accept - the next alternative is worse!” another said.In a memo to union members last week, VSEA Director Jes Kraus called the deal “the least painful choice” and asked members to thank those on the bargaining team for their hard work. He sounded very much like he was telling them that if they don’t approve this deal, they could fare worse. The administration had sought a 7 percent cut.

Kraus warned them of the perils that election-year politics and a state budget crisis pose. If the members don’t approve the contract, he noted, the state Labor Board would impose a contract. “The Labor Board sends its choice to the Legislature for funding. The Legislature can then make any adjustments it wants to your contract,” he emphasized with underlining and two exclamation points.

Kraus declared two victories despite the pay cut: the percentage employees pay for health insurance doesn’t change and they can expect to return to their current level of pay after the two years. That second victory is not quite written in gold, Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville noted. The two sides are to start negotiations at the old pay level, but this contract has no binding power over the next. There will be a new governor by then and the economy will be (pick one: better/worse/the same?).

By the way, the 3 percent pay cut would also cover exempt employees who make less than $60,000 and were not subject to the 5 percent pay cut that other exempt employees took last year.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Change in governor’s office

News came Monday that Gov. Jim Douglas’ deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman will be leaving. Dennise Casey starts a new job with the Republican Governors Association in Washington with the new year.

The 28-year-old Starksboro native has worked with the governor since she was 20 years old and still a student at the University of Vermont serving as state field director on his first gubernatorial campaign. She is very much part of his inner circle — people who are devoted to the governor and know instinctively what he would do or say at almost every turn. As Casey herself said, “I believe in him completely.”

What does her departure mean?

“It depends on who replaces her,” said House Majority Leader Floyd Nease, D-Johnson. “We will miss Dennise. She was approachable and willing to engage in substantive discussions. She was a good soldier but was agreeable when we disagreed.“

Veteran lobbyist Steve Kimbell, who worked on Gov. Madeleine Kunin’s transition team, said it should be no surprise to see some of Douglas’ staffers moving on, given that he’s not running for re-election next year. He also said he has no doubt Douglas’ Chief of Staff Tim Hayward has a plan in mind to replace Casey.

“This is a loss for the governor’s office, but it’s inevitable,” Kimbell said.
Casey’s new job with the RGA, a group whose annual meeting she attended with Douglas in Austin last month, will be help Republicans win as many of the 37 gubernatorial offices up for election next year as possible. She plans to live part-time in D.C., part-time in Vermont.

Casey said it isn’t easy to leave the only employer she’s had since reaching adulthood, but she couldn’t pass up a chance to take part in the 2010 election, which some — including Casey — believe could be a GOP comeback election. “I have to take it,” she said.

Her new job will include helping Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie win in 2010. Casey illustrated some of her trademark political drive in discussing that. “Obviously, the governor and his administration have fought hard on behalf of the people of Vermont the last seven years and they want to ensure that the governor is succeeded by a Republican governor — someone who understands the needs of Vermonters,” Casey said.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Caucus considers cuts

Democrats gathered Saturday for a quiet caucus — none of the hand-clapping, foot-stomping of past years because there’s not a lot to clap about. After sobering briefings, House leaders asked the caucus to brainstorm ways to create a leaner but more effective state government.

“If anything can be seen as an overriding theme it is to reinvigorate legislative oversight,” House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson said Monday. He added, “The group was open to look even at sacred cows such as the Agency of Human Services.”

Among the most dramatic suggestions: create a single statewide school district, eliminate the state Board of Education and put the Department of Education under the executive’s wing, name an efficiency czar, create a culture that welcomes innovation, put teachers, state workers and municipal officials in a single health insurance pool.

— Nancy Remsen

How’s my message?

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, slipped into the room where Democrats caucused Saturday shortly before noon. He wasn’t the only non-Democrat in the room — plenty of lobbyists and reporters sit in on these caucuses. Zuckerman came, however, to test the political waters with his House colleagues over lunch.

Zuckerman is weighing a run for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ballot. If not that race, he plans to run for the Chittenden Senate, also on the Democratic ballot. Saturday he carried his pizza slice to a table of Democrats to test “whether my message will resonate with their constituents.”

Nearby, another possible candidate for lieutenant governor, Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland, sat with Rep. Kathy Keenan, D-St. Albans, and Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington, “testing some arguments about why I would make a good lieutenant governor.” Howard recently sent out an e-mail seeking feedback, too.

Howard said he wouldn’t make up his mind based on what Zuckerman decides. Both say it will be February before they decide.

There are already two Republican candidates — Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, and Mark Snelling, businessman.

— Nancy Remsen

It’s health reform round-the-clock in D.C.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has some features on his Web site that can help Vermonters feel closer to the health reform debate.

• Want summaries of floor action? Here’s the link.

• Want to understand the lingo? Check out this vocabulary link.

• Leahy also explains common misconceptions about the pending legislation and answers constituent questions. Go here:

Just up Monday afternoon — Health Care: the Good and the Bad — by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and staff. Go here:

Both Leahy and Sanders have changes to offer to the Senate bill. Leahy, for example, wants to end an antitrust exemption for health insurance companies. Sanders is pushing at least 10 changes, such as moving up effective dates for key initiatives. Sanders also wants a vote on an alternative — national health care.

Democracy for America plans a vigil outside Sanders’ Burlington office at 5:30 tonight [nre: Tuesday: ]to thank Sanders for his support of the so-called public health insurance option and to warn other Democrats against scuttling the public option in the name of compromise.

— Nancy Remsen

Sanders trips up Bernanke confirmation

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got noticed recently for his procedural move to slow the inevitable confirmation of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman. He has interesting allies in his opposition to Bernanke — conservatives. Here’s Jonathan Witt writing Monday in The American Spectator. The link is here.

“If Sanders sticks to his guns, Bernanke’s supporters will need 60 Senate votes to confirm the nomination. Good for Sanders. We need a robust Senate debate about Bernanke’s policies, since they helped to create the housing bubble and crash we’re now experiencing.”

— Nancy Remsen

Welch revamps Web site

Nothing is static in the cyber world. Monday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., unveiled an updated Web site . The news release about the Web site says it has a new constituent service section called ‘Helping Vermonters,’ expanded issue summary pages and new regional pages highlighting Welch’s work throughout the state. Want to track bills and Welch’s voting record and see what money he’s seeking — it’s all there. Like pictures? The site links to Welch’s You Tube page and other photographic displays.

— Nancy Remsen

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Changes in Gov. Douglas' staff

This just in from Gov. Jim Douglas' office: Deputy Chief of Staff/spokeswoman Dennise Casey is leaving to take a job with the Republican Governors Association.

Casey says the new gig involves helping Republican governors get elected in 2010. Which means it's no more secure than working for a retiring governor.

No surprise that Douglas would be losing staffers, what with his pending retirement from the office. A surprise, though, that Casey is leaving already.

Douglas' inner circle has been growing smaller and smaller, partly because the size of his staff has shrunk. The question now is does he reach outside the circle to replace her? Who does he get to do that job for a year?

Here's the news release:

Montpelier, Vt. – Long-time Douglas staffer, Dennise Casey will leave the Governor’s office at the end of the year to take a senior position at the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the Governor announced today.

“This is a bittersweet announcement,” said Governor Douglas. “Dennise has been an important part of my team since 2002 and she will be missed. However, I am thrilled that Dennise will continue her good work at the RGA as we gear up for an exciting 2010 election. Her intelligence and energy will be a real asset to the organization.”

Casey, 28, has worked for Governor Jim Douglas since her senior year at UVM when she served as State Field Director on the Governor’s first election campaign. Since graduating from UVM in 2003, Casey has worked in the Agency of Administration where she served as Principal Assistant to Secretary Charlie Smith, and in the Governor’s Office serving as Special Assistant to the Governor, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs and most recently as Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director.

Dennise has worked on all of the Governor’s election campaigns, managing his 2006 and 2008 races.

“I want to thank Governor Douglas for the distinct honor of serving the people of Vermont over the last seven years,” said Casey. “His agenda of hope and opportunity and his voice of reason in Montpelier have made a real difference for the people of this great state. I am going to miss being a part of such a great team.”

Details of Casey’s new position at the Republican Governors Association will be released later this month. For questions regarding the RGA, please contact Communications Director, Mike Schrimpf at 202.662.4147.

_ Terri Hallenbeck

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VSEA headed for pay cut

A 3 percent pay decrease is coming for state workers in the upcoming two-year contract, if members approve it.

The Douglas administration is suggesting this should be the model for other public employees (i.e. schools) and nonprofits (i.e. all those with big salaries that get state money).

What do you make of it?

Here are the releases from the gov's office and the union:

Governor Jim Douglas and Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville today announced that agreement on a new two-year contract has been reached with the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA). The contract, which was signed by both parties earlier today, includes a 3% wage reduction as well as no automatic yearly wage adjustments or step increases for the duration of the contract. This settlement is very good news for the taxpayers of Vermont. It recognizes the Governor’s call to share the sacrifice broadly during these very challenging economic times.

“In this economy, as thousands of Vermonters are unemployed and tens of thousands more have seen their pay, hours and benefits cut, and as our state faces massive budget shortfalls in the coming years, it is appropriate that public employees share in the sacrifice,” said Governor Douglas. “This contract is a critical step towards bringing state spending in line with declining revenues.”

This new contract will produce $2 million in General Fund savings for FY2011, which will help offset a budget shortfall of at least $150 million. Importantly, wage costs will not increase over the two year period aggravating the overall deficit – although health care costs are expected to rise. The contract does not contain either changes to employee contributions for health care benefits or any modifications to the employee wellness and tuition reimbursement programs.

While net savings are small as compared to our total budget challenge, the significance of this agreement cannot be understated. “This deal sets the new standard for all public employee salaries in Vermont, as well as for non-profits who get a significant portion of their revenue from the State,” said Secretary Lunderville. “As families struggle to make ends meet, this agreement shows a common sense approach that should be applied to salaries for public sector employees and can serve as a blueprint for teachers, municipal workers and others who receive a paycheck from taxpayers.”

Economists have reported that Vermonters have lost over $1 billion dollars in income in the past year. In the last two years, state employees have received an average 7% increase. During the same two year period, the Governor, his appointees and some other elected officials took a 5% pay cut and have had wages frozen since July 1, 2008.


Representatives of the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) and representatives of the Douglas Administration met this morning to sign a new contract proposal covering VSEA members in three separate bargaining units for 2010-2012. The proposal will now be subject to a vote by all state employees working in the VSEA bargaining units covered by the new agreements

“As many longtime VSEA bargaining team members will attest, this round of bargaining was unlike any other they have ever participated in,” said VSEA Director Jes Kraus. “Our bargaining team members understand the reality of the current economic crisis, and they have been trying to help for nearly a year. Ultimately, it took a decision by an experienced fact finder to get the Administration to accept any help from state employees.”

Kraus explained that the fact finder’s report was accepted by both parties, leading to the formal proposal signed today. The fact finder’s recommendations include a 3 percent pay cut, followed by a two-year pay freeze. The 3 percent cut will be restored at the end of the two-year contract, when the State is likely to be on more solid economic ground.

“Nobody likes a pay cut and pay freeze, but VSEA bargaining team members determined the fact finder’s proposal to be the fairest way to help with the economic crisis, which is why they voted overwhelmingly to take the proposal to the membership,” explained Kraus.

VSEA will be holding a series of statewide “contract explanation” meetings to allow union members to ask questions and get more information about the new proposal before voting.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Three names recommended for Sen. Hull Maynard's seat

Rutland County Republicans met last night and picked Rep. Peg Flory, R-Pittsford, as their top choice to fill the seat that Sen. Hull Maynard has vacated. Maynard has resigned with a year to go in his term. Flory has been in the House since 1999.

Flory was the first choice of the gathering of about 100 Rutland area Republicans, with William Meub their second choice and former Rep. Tom Depoy their third choice.

All three names will be sent to Gov. Jim Douglas, ranked, said Bradford Broyles, chairman of the Rutland County Republican committee. "All three are very solid, well qualified, with a wealth of no only life experience, but political experience," Broyles said.

Douglas has said he would like to appoint a replacement for Maynard before the legislative session begins on Jan. 5. He will conduct interviews prior to making his selection. He isn't bound by the recommendations from the local committee, but often respects local preferences.

If the choice is Flory, another legislative seat opens up. Pittsford Republicans would have to hustle to forward candidates to Douglas to have someone seated by the time the Legislative opened.

Any thoughts about a Sen. Flory? Would she change the dynamics in the Senate?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Phil Scott's speech announcing his candidacy for lt. gov.

Here's what Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, reportedly just said in announcing his candidacy for lieutenant governor. I say "reportedly" because I wasn't there. This is from his press release.

Scott is the second Republican in this race. Already in the race -- Mark Snelling, businessman and son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling and of former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling and sister of Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden.

As mentioned yesterday, the Democratic field is less clear.

Here's Scott's statement:

“I’m Phil Scott - native Vermonter, graduate of Spaulding High School and the University of Vermont, fisherman and snowmobiler, mechanic and laborer, truck driver and stock car driver, both a cyclist and a biker, father and business owner, State Senator, proud Republican, and as of today, candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the State of Vermont.

I am honored to stand before you today – surrounded by so many people who have supported and guided me through the years: colleagues in the construction industry, who appreciate the challenges of running and working a business in Vermont; competitors and fans from Thunder Road who share in the excitement and sense of community that fills the speedway in Barre every Thursday night from May to October; and the friends and family members, whose Yankee independence and compassion for others helped shape who I am today.

My Dad died when I was 11, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, how special he was, and what a profound impact he had on my life. He was a World War II D-Day Veteran, who lost both legs when the tank he was operating hit a landmine. He spent 2 years in Walter Reed hospital and was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But that experience never stopped “Scotty,” as he was known to everyone. He met and married my Mom, who was a student at Johnson state college and a clerk at the Elmore General store, he worked full time for the state highway department, was an active Mason, Shriner, proud patriot and member of the VFW. And in the years before he died from those injuries, he took me and my brothers camping every chance he could. His fierce determination, his pride in community and country, and his dogged work ethic, drove him then as they drive me today.

I’m inspired by that independence and driven by a quiet but focused passion, seeking to inspire those who are willing and able to help others but don’t know how. I believe that government can and should help those in need take care of themselves and get back on their feet, and as a Senator I’ve supported our investment in critical human service programs that help Vermont’s neediest families. I initiated the Wheels for Warmth program 5 years ago with the help of many of you, and it’s a great example of how we can help others without waiting for the government to intervene, or without raising taxes to expand another government program. To date – volunteers and community members have raised almost $100,000 for emergency fuel assistance, at the same time recycling almost 10,000 tires and extending the life and use of another 6000 more. Recycling, conservation, and keeping a few more families warm during tough times – all this without a single grant or piece of legislation. As Lieutenant Governor, I will work to inspire more of these community-led efforts to improve our environment and assist our friends and neighbors.

We all know that small businesses in Vermont are facing unprecedented challenges. We don’t need to add to their burden by increasing taxes and regulations. As someone who has built a business in Vermont and had to make a payroll every week for the last 25 years, I know what small businesses need to thrive. They need access to capital, they need to be encouraged rather than discouraged when they want to innovate, and they need relief from one of the highest tax burden in the country. As Lieutenant Governor, I’ll be a champion for pro-job policies that focus on getting Vermonters back to work.

We can figure out a way to protect our agrarian way of life and preserve our strong environmental ethic with common sense solutions, rather than by adding to our ever complicated bureaucracy. I know this because I’ve helped forge tough compromises and find answers to complex issues all of my life and most recently in the Vermont Senate.

Government must live within its means, just as families and businesses across Vermont do every day. In business, if expenses are outpacing revenues, you have to cut costs – it’s that simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, but sometimes you can’t have everything you want – you have to figure out what’s most important and prioritize. As Lieutenant Governor, I will be a voice of fiscal common sense – always keeping in mind that the workers of Vermont pay the bills of state government.

We’ve gotten altogether too dependent – dependent on state services, dependent on foreign oil and dependent on federal assistance. We need to learn to take care of ourselves again by fixing what’s broken and rebuilding our economy and manufacturing capacity, with a focus on local energy generation, sustainable agriculture and forestry.

And, learning to take care of ourselves again starts in the home and in the classroom. I know first hand what a difference a quality education can make for a young Vermonter. As a graduate of Vermont schools, I was proud to also send my daughters to Vermont’s outstanding public schools. But the ever-increasing property tax burden is squeezing families and choking small businesses. As Lieutenant Governor, I will work hard to maintain the high quality education our kids deserve, while pushing for long-overdue reform to the way we pay for education. For many, education-funding is a third-rail in politics, but I won’t shy away from the tough issues – that’s just not the way I operate.

In addition to investing in human capital to create good jobs and ensure a quality education, we must invest in our infrastructure. As a contractor, and member of both the Transportation and Institutions Committees in the Senate, I’ve seen firsthand the tremendous importance of good roads, safe bridges, and buildings with solid foundations. But I also know that the infrastructure of the future will depend as much on wireless and broadband technology as it will on physical structures. If we want to have a strong and growing economy, we need to invest in both digital and tangible improvements. As Lieutenant Governor, I will be a strong voice to make sure we don’t overlook the maintenance and investment in our critical infrastructure.

I got into politics initially because I was ready to be part of the solution to the challenges we face as a state. And over the years, I’ve learned that politics and racing are a lot alike and I’d just as soon play both of them straight up and head on. This race for Lieutenant Governor is going to be a long one, but I’m the right Vermonter for the job. I’m ready to put in the hard work at the shop and in the pits. I’ve got the skills to negotiate the turns in the track, deal with obstacles as they arise, and utilize the patience I’ve been given to set the right pace. And I’m a true team player – ready to help drive both myself and Brian Dubie across the finish line.

As with any venture, one can’t do it alone. I’ll need your continued support in the coming months and I thank you for your support over the past 10 years. I’m ready and able to work hard every day to earn your vote for Lieutenant Governor! Thank you again for being here today.”

What's your reaction? Do people know Scott?

-- Nancy Remsen

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'Disillusioned' with Obama on landmines

Vermonter Jody Williams has more to say this week about President Obama's apparent decision not to support the international landmine ban. Check it out in the LA Times HERE.

Sen. Patrick Leahy had more to say on the subject today too. On the Senate floor, he called the administration’s approach to the issue "cursory, half-hearted, and deeply disappointing to those of us who expected a serious, thorough reexamination of this issue." Read more HERE.

Also today, the U.S. State Department, though it has not clarified its backtracking on last week's announcement that it wouldn't sign the ban, instead played up the U.S.' support of other countries' de-mining, making no mention of the treaty.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Shoulder to shoulder politics in Vt.

Here's a little slice of Vermont politics for you: When Sen. Phil Scott announces his candidacy for lieutenant governor this evening, it will be just before the Associated General Contractors of Vermont annual dinner.

One of the guests at that dinner will be Mark Snelling, with whom Scott will be competing for the Republican nomination. Scott owns a contracting business. Snelling will be there, congratulating the winner of the Richard Snelling Economic Development Award, named after his father, the former governor.

Mark Snelling said he considered staying away from the event, given that Scott will be making his announcement there, but decided against it.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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