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



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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There's a tsunami headed for my beech tree?
Shameful. Beat it EMILYs list. We don't need nor do we want you to come in and support the 5th best candidate in the Dem primary simply because she is the correct gender.

If you really wanted a female candidate that actually has ANY chance of winning you would support Senator Bartlett.
Terri -

Unanswered questions for Tom Salmon -

1) Who paid for the "promotion and pay increase" dinner? i.e. state credit card or state check?

2) If paid for by the state, were the alcoholic drinks included?

3) If the pay increases were due to remaining employees expected to do more because of reductions in force or just, why are not all state employees given an increase since they all havethe same situation?

4) What is the impact on state budget for these promotions and pay increases?
Nice hachet job on Salmon. This is one of the 3 most important news stories today? You give Spankin' Ed Flanagan a free pass and focus on Salmon's 'scandals'? No agenda there I suppose . . . .
I think this sort of writing should be left to Totten and Freyne.

Poor rip-off and crappy job setting the table BFP.
Bill Sorrell is desparate for press lately since he heard that the Chittenden County States Attorney TJ Donovan may run against
him. He was voted one of the top ten worst Attorney Generals in the country.
This is a sad day for journalism. Shay Totten, a former employee of the Auditors office is writing articles for Terri Hallenbeck.
Congratulations to Deb Markowitz!!
Yikes - in my view an organization that will only endorse candidates of a certain gender is, ummmmmm, pretty darn "politically incorrect."

Gender-specific PACs are considered "progressive"? Is this Bizzarro World?
can someone answer this question:

Does EMILYs list talk to people in state before deciding to endorse (do they even do anything else besides endorse and provide out-of-state money)?
I think what I find most offensive about this are two things:

1. It seems they have a blatant disregard for what the people of VT want and/or think. If this was a congressional race I would feel differently. The person elected to congress will have direct national impact.

2. Gender-specific PACs are considered "progressive"? Is this Bizzarro World? Exactly!

Please tell me how many women in VT would vote for a woman that is worse on women's issues than a man in the race simply because they are women. If there are a lot out there then I fear we are going backwards not forward.

Its not like there are two equal candidates and one is a women and one a man. In that situation I get it. But please, Deb isn't even the best women in this race let alone the best of the 5.
Sen. Bartlett or Sen Racine are much better choices then Sec Markowitz.
Go Doug Racine!
Markowitz should come in 5th in primary!
"I think this sort of writing should be left to Totten and Freyne."

Newsflash, dude: Freyne died a while ago. And he's still dead. But that's okay, his journalism quality is the same now as when he was alive.
"He was voted one of the top ten worst Attorney Generals in the country."

Not in his own mind!
Doug Racine has by far the best credentials of the five Democrats in the race. He has been a legislator, the Lt. Gov and a partner in a successful business. He is a listener, not just a talker. He believes in working through problems and not just proposing a new solution every other day. Go Doug!
Deb Markowitz should be proud of her fundraising - good for her.
"He has been a legislator, the Lt. Gov and a partner in a successful business."

He hasn't had anything to do with the dealership in years, and his partners like it that way. He might not even recognize it when he drives by it. All he does is collect his check at the end of the year. He is no friend of business in the state of Vermont.
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