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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



The line to FairPoint

MONTPELIER (AP) — Another official from the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas is going to work for the Vermont operations of FairPoint Communications.
Sabina Haskell is currently deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
On Feb. 8 she will become FairPoint’s new director of public relations.
Last month FairPoint hired former Administration Secretary Mike Smith to be its new Vermont president.
Smith retired from state government in 2008.
Haskell will fill a position that was vacated by Beth Fastiggi who became FairPoint’s vice president of governmental relations in Vermont.



Welch's site hacked

The Web site of Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was one of several congressional Web site's hacked early this morning, according to the Huffington Post. The message included a swear word, so don't say you weren't warned if you want to go there and read about it.

Welch's site is now down for "site maintenance."

- Terri Hallenbeck



VY: Top place to work+

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business Magazine have released their list of top places in Vermont to work. On the list of large companies: Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, which this week has to be kind of a hard place to work. We won't know until March 29 where it ranks first through fifth among winners, but it's on the list.

- Terri Hallenbeck




What did you think of State of Union?

What did you think of the president's State of the Union speech?

Did a freeze on federal spending scare those of you who voted for Barack Obama?

Did the Republicans among you buy his plea for setting aside the notion that "when I win, you lose"?

Other thoughts?

Do tell. (And yes, when I first posted this it said State of State - you just can't take the state out of me).

- Terri Hallenbeck


Botzow replaces Kitzmiller

There is a new chairman in the House Commerce Committee as of today.

Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, steps down from the chair but stays on the committee.

Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, takes over as chair.

The official reason given is that Kitzmiller found the chairmanship too time-consuming.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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The language of politics

Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne called for the Douglas administration to issue an executive order shutting down Vermont Yankee in 2012. He also indicated the Legislature should vote to do that.

This week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deb Markowitz called for an immediate vote up or down on Vermont Yankee's post-2012 future. She urged hem to take an "up-or-down vote," though the tone of her message seemed to indicate she meant she wanted it voted down.

Dunne didn't actually mention the Legislature in his release. He focused his attention on the governor's office, though he said, "We must clarify through vote or executive order that Vermont Yankee will be decommissioned in 2012." The Legislature is the entity that votes.

I took his sidestepping as an indication that he was avoiding direct criticism of his fellow Democratic gubernatorial opponents, three of whom are in the Legislature. They've agreed not to beat up on each other, after all.

Markowitz, in a newspaper opinion piece, said, "Our legislative leaders should vote now on the relicensing of Vermont Yankee." That would allow the state and the employees of VY to plan for the future, she said.

In an e-mail to supporters, she reworded the message to say that, "Montpelier needs an up-or-down vote now on the aging nuclear plant's future," without mentioning that Montpelier is the Legislature, one chamber of which is headed by one of her opponents who could call for a vote today but hasn't. She then encouraged her supporters to sign an online petition "so that our legislative leaders in Montpelier can see our names and hear our voices."

Which brings me to another thing I find odd about the Vermont Yankee issue and politicians. More than one has indicated that what's really worrisome about this issue is that it's been in the newspapers.

Here, for example, is what Rep. Peter Welch said in a statement two weeks ago:
“I am deeply disturbed by news reports indicating that Vermont Yankee failed to provide accurate information to the state and the public."

I think what he's disturbed about is that Vermont Yankee failed to provide accurate information, but he almost seems to be suggesting that it wouldn't be disturbing if the news reports hadn't gone blabbing it to everybody, but now that everybody knows about it he's got to act disturbed. I am glad to see, though, that news reports still matter.

- Terri Hallenbeck




The Tuesday buzz

Legislators parry with gov on VY

House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate leader Peter Shumlin on Monday called on the Douglas administration to:

a) Withdraw its support for Vermont Yankee to be spun off from Entergy Corp. into a new company, Enexus, in light of the discovery of radioactive isotopes in water at the plant. Those discoveries will jack up the price of decommissioning, the legislators say, and make Enexus’ ability to cover those costs more difficult.

b) Institute a transparent, independent process by which Vermonters receive information about the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee. Smith and Shumlin said they learned of tritium found in a concrete trench at the plan "through an offhand comment by a state official a week after the administration was informed;" learned that there was also cobalt-60 in that trench from the media; and learned of a 2007 underground pipe inspection program through an anonymous source.

Gov. Jim Douglas indicated last week, however, that he has no plans to change direction on Enexus. The Department of Public Service concluded that Enexus offers the state more assurance than Entergy does.

Douglas also indicated that he doesn’t see the need — and perhaps sees harm — in revealing everything that’s discovered at Vermont Yankee because not all findings are relevant. The governor did have the Health Department start posting updates on Vermont Yankee, but the cobalt findings were not among the items mentioned.

Lite gov grace beefing up

The 2010 governor’s race won’t be the only one where the list of candidates is long enough to field a basketball team. One more Democrat says he’s definitely in the race for lieutenant governor; another says he’s seriously considering it.

Tim Palmer of Williston said he’s running, with an official announcement coming in early February. Palmer said he wants to use his grassroots advocacy experience (he ran Vermont CARES and the Community of Vermont Elders, worked for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and is now a consultant) to make the office a non-political resource for making connections for businesses, nonprofits and communities. "I’m not a politician," he said.

Nonetheless, Palmer has run three times for state Senate in Chittenden County without success. So what makes him think he should try for a higher office instead? "It’s a different race," he said. "The lieutenant governor’s race gives more opportunity to engage on a one-on-one or one-on-two conversation about the future of the state," he said.

Rep. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, said he is thinking about a run for the office and will decide by Town Meeting Day. Bray is a two-term legislator who owns Common Ground Communications and helps run a horse farm at home.

"I see it as an opportunity to work year-round on important issues that are difficult to work on as a legislator," he said.

Palmer and Bray would join Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland, among Democrats seeking the seat. More say they are considering it.

Republicans who are in the race are Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, and businessman Mark Snelling of Starksboro. There will be no incumbent running for the seat this fall as four-term Republican Brian Dubie is running for governor.

olitics by poetry

Huck Gutman is taking a break from teaching literature at the University of Vermont to work as Sen. Bernie Sanders chief of staff in Washington, but he has not left the bards behind as he barters over bills. Gutman was featured last week in the Washington Post for his habit of sharing poetry with his Capitol Hill colleagues. He’s accumulated an e-mail list with some 1,500 recipients to whom he parses out poetry. Republicans, Democrats, his list knows no partisan boundaries.

"I need the poems," Gutman says in the article. "I need to be connected to a world other than Washington."

To see the article, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/18/AR2010011803526.html.

The meat man was there

With so many candidates in the governor’s race, it was interesting to see who would show up at Doug Racine’s campaign kickoff Saturday. Each candidate surely lays claim to his or her own set of political players.

Among those Racine has in his corner: former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who shares with Racine the experience of losing to Douglas and said Racine will be stronger for it; Rep. Bill Lippert of Hinesburg, who said Racine supported same-sex marriage long before most others; and former Rep. George Cross of Winooski, who said he’s among those who pushed Racine to run.

A candidate is bound to collect people along the way who are outside the usual political grounds. Christina Melvin of Shelburne was in the Class of 1970 at Burlington High School with Racine. And Robert Root of Milton knows Racine from the Hannaford supermarket on Shelburne Road, where Racine sometimes shops (it’s not far from Racine’s Jeep dealership). Root is the assistant meat manager who happens to be interested enough in politics to have introduced himself to Racine and chat him up.

Youth movement

Last week, the House cast the Legislature’s last vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow Vermonters to vote in a primary election at age 17 if they will be 18 by the general election.

It passed 80-56 on Friday, not entirely along party lines — a few Republicans voted for it and a few Democrats voted against. The amendment passed the Senate last year 24-6. As is required for a constitutional amendment to move forward, both chambers also passed the item last biennium.

Next stop, the voters. It’ll be on your ballot in November.

Will court ruling change election?

Last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that corporations can spend all they want supporting or denouncing candidates for Congress sent tidal waves through the political world.

The decision governs races for U.S. House and U.S. Senate. In Vermont in 2010, Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy, both Democrats, are up for re-election this year. They and Sen. Bernie Sanders, criticized the ruling.

"It has thrown open the doors to a cash-driven, pay-to-play political system, virtually assuring that the voice of the American people will be drowned out," Welch said.

Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, a candidate for governor, said: "Get ready for an avalanche of political advertising that will cause more bitter partisan fights that further manipulate and divide our country. And the very real danger is that elected officials will be more and more beholden to the corporations who put them into office."

What voters might want to watch for is whether this generates any new signs of opposition to Welch and Leahy.

— Terri Hallenbeck



Politics by poetry

A couple of eons ago, Huck Gutman taught me Chaucer and Milton and Shakespeare in a classroom at the University of Vermont. Now, it seems, he's teaching the stuff to senators and their staffers on Capital Hill.

The Washington Post did a story you can read HERE on Gutman, who's down there playing chief of staff for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The professor has not left the bards behind as he barters over bills.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Gubernatorial candidates to meet

The five Democratic gubernatorial candidates have a couple of meetings together coming up.

There's a brunch Sunday at Browns River Middle School in Jericho. It's organized by local Democratic types. You have to RSVP and pay money to benefit House Democrats for the food, but anyone can go to the 12:30 p.m. forum. Professor Bill Wilson of St. Michael's College will moderate.

Then on Monday night, at the University of Vermont, a forum sponsored by Castleton State College, St. Michael's College and UVM features the candidates talking about education.
Chris Graff, vice president for communications at National Life of Vermont and longtime former chief of the Vermont bureau of the Associated Press, will moderate.

The candidates will be asked: "What issues do you identify as most important in order to assure the quality of education for all Vermont students, and how would you address them?"

That's from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Silver Maple Ballroom in the Davis Center and is open to anyone.

- Terri Hallenbeck




What would Ethan say?

That's the question that John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute has posed to five Progressive House members about their choice of a name for the single-payer health care system they have proposed in H. 491.

McClaughry wrote in a letter that he wasn't shocked to see their bill calling for a "single-payer government health care scheme."

"But I am shocked to learn that you have entitled this monstrosity "Ethan Allen Health. Apparently you are so bereft of historical knowledge that you believe that your legislative creation would somehow find favor with Vermont's 18th century hero, Col. Ethan Allen."

Describing Allen as a "brawling, boozing, blaspheming giant" and an "outspoken champion of liberty and property," McClaughry question how anyone could think he would endorse a bill "to impose upon free Vermonters a government-run, taxpayer-financed health care system?"

"If you must label this legislative travesty in the name of an Allen, consider choosing Levi, the Tory. Levi died in a Burlington debtor's prison in 1801, which is what will likely happen to the whole state of Vermont if the General Assembly should, God forfend, enact your $2 billion health care legislation."

OK, anyone have names to suggest to the Progressives?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Sign of the times

Underage drinking, to be more precise.



Condos about to jump into Sec of State race

Former state Sen. Jim Condos is close to announcing he plans to run for secretary of state this year, he said Wednesday.

Condos, a Democrat who represented Chittenden County in the Senate and served as chairman of the South Burlington City Council, said he expects to make an announcement "one way or the other _ most likely the other _ soon."

Condos would face a primary with Montpelier lawyer Charles Merriman for the job being vacated by Democrat Deb Markowitz, who is running for governor. On the Republican side, Williston lawyer Chris Roy is running for the office.

Condos said he would take a leave of absence from his job as manager of government and community relations at Vermont Gas Systems Inc.

- Terri Hallenbeck 



The aftermath of Mass.

Did Vermonters feel the effects of the political earthquake in Massachusetts yesterday?

Here are a couple of reactions _ with people in both parties trying to use the results to raise money:

From Vermont Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Bevans:

Yesterday, the Democratic Party was dealt a difficult blow. For the
first time in over thirty years, Massachusetts elected a Republican Senator,
weakening the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. ...

We can’t allow this to become a trend in 2010!

This defeat serves as a wakeup call to all Democrats. If we want real
change, we need to work twice as hard to achieve it.

That’s why the Vermont Democratic Party has started early, building a
statewide “14 County Campaign” to elect a Democratic governor and elect
Democrats up and down the ballot. From re-electing Senator Leahy and
Congressman Welch to protecting our majorities in the State Legislature, we
can’t take a single seat for granted.

Please donate to the Vermont Democratic Party’s “14 County
Campaign” today to elect a Democratic governor and elect Democrats

From Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who is running for governor:

Yesterday night's victory in neighboring Massachusetts showed once again
that Americans are tired of politics as usual. Vermonters are looking for a
campaign run on ideas promoting job-creation, and economic

I will be a jobs-Governor, one who prioritizes the
need for business growth in Vermont by lowering taxes and controlling runaway
government spending. Priority number one is to make sure that Vermont is the
best state in New England to do business.

- Terri Hallenbeck




VtBuzz: On money, rain, primaries and the electoral college

There could be gasps

Gov. Jim Douglas unveils his budget Tuesday in a 2 p.m. address to the House and Senate. (Want to see and hear it? Go here and look for a link)

He has already warned lawmakers and the public that “nips and tucks” may have worked before, but won’t be enough to address the $150 million gap between projected revenues and projected spending.

“We are going to have to make some fundamental choices about what the priorities of government are,” Douglas said. “We simply can’t afford to do as much as we have.”

About $70 million of the reductions Douglas will employ to close the funding gap are already known.

He has accepted the recommendation of his staff and a small contingent of legislators, assisted by Public Strategies Group, that $38 million in savings can be found by restructuring the way government provides some services. Precisely how those savings will be achieved in still a work in progress.

The Douglas administration and state workers have agreed in a new two-year contract that reduces employees’ pay by three percent beginning in July. That saves $5.5 million next year.

Douglas has endorsed the recommendations of a retirement commission. It proposes changes to state worker and teacher pensions that could save as much as $29 million.

Even if those changes seem harsh, note they only add up to half the savings needed to address the revenue shortfall. Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville made clear Monday, “There is no way to close a $150 million gap without making reductions that will have an impact on Vermonters.”

Two big targets in Tuesday’s speech will be education and human services. Lunderville noted that human services have been largely spared from harsh cuts and actually benefited from $149 million increase in the current budget year. The dollars came from state and federal sources.

Douglas warned in his State of the State Address against a reflexive response to necessary cuts.

“The solutions to close the gap will invariably draw objection and complaint,” he said. “Although we will consider constructive alternatives, this is not the time nor the place for the reflexive defense of the status quo.”

--Nancy Remsen

Tap the Rainy Funds

Jack Hoffman of Public Assets Institute says one constructive alternative would be to tap some of the state’s reserve funds. Here’s an excerpt of his latest position paper which you can read in full here .

“Today, the Legislature could spare Vermonters additional painful budget cuts and give the state economy a boost if it stopped hoarding this money and used these reserve funds as intended.

“Vermont has four separate reserve funds. The largest of these, the General Fund Stabilization Reserve, contains $60 million, the statutory maximum.

“Legislative leaders and the Douglas administration have resisted using the reserves. They argue that they don’t know how long the recession will last, and once the funds have been spent, they’re gone.

“It is true the rainy day funds can be spent only once. But their purpose is to prevent harmful cuts to important services—or to provide those services without the need for additional taxes. If the reserves are used first and the following year sees another budget gap, people can decide then how much revenue to raise or what services to cut. What the Legislature and the governor have done is to make cuts first and hold onto the reserves—evidently hoping they will never have to be used. While that may provide comfort to Montpelier, it’s no help to Vermonters.”

--Nancy Remsen

Let’s get together, yeah, yeah yeah

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 11-0 Friday on a bill that would produce $1.6 million in savings through long and short-term changes in the state’s current use program.

It represented the Legislature’s first vote on a budget cut and it won support from the full political spectrum -- Democrats, Republicans, a Progressive and an independent.

Under current use, the state taxes farm and forestland based on how they are used rather than their development value. The result is much lower property taxes. The changes the committee endorsed include a moratorium on adding new properties to the program for a year – which generates the biggest savings -- $1.1 million. Some tax changes will generate future savings.

The Legislature committed last spring to cutting the current use program by $1.6 million and Ways and Means Chairman Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, credited his committee with swallowing hard and finding ways to achieve the target. “I don’t think there is one member who is happy with it.”

The bill goes next to House Appropriations.

--Nancy Remsen

Primary on the move?

The House Government Operations Committee will decide Wednesday morning whether to recommend moving the primary election to the last Tuesday in August. Under current law, it’s held the second Tuesday in September.

It’s not clear if the committee members can find a compromise that could win broad support or whether the bill will divide the panel along party lines – Democrats for the change and Republican opposed.

Gov. Jim Douglas has steadfastly opposed changing the primary date, suggesting it’s a political maneuver to give the Democratic gubernatorial candidate more time to recover from what is expected to be a grueling primary. Right now there are five Democrats seeking to be their party’s gubernatorial nominee and a single Republican candidate who wouldn’t have any primary election distraction.

The Senate already passed the bill to make the change. Stay tuned to see whether this bill becomes the first political power play of the session.

--Nancy Remsen

Jawing about jobs

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have invited about a dozen business leaders to come to the Statehouse Thursday morning for a forum on jobs. It runs 9:30 a.m. to noon in the House Chamber.

The business leaders will be asked to comment on what works well in Vermont when they want to grow and add jobs and what could be improved. The latter answers could become the basis for a bill on job creation.

Meanwhile Lt. Gov.Brian Dubie (Republican candidate for governor) is also talking jobs in a tour he’s making. So far, he gathered string in Rutland.

Businesses are, no doubt, happy that politicians of all stripes want to talk to them. Their obvious question will be what will come from all these conversations?

--Nancy Remsen

Big picture issue

There’s an effort underway to try to change the way this country elects presidents.

On one side is National Popular Vote, an organization that promotes a change that would “guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia).” Former Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, is involved with this initiative. Check it out here.

On the other side is Save Our States, which wants the country to stick with the Electoral College system.

Trent England, director of Save Our States, will come to Montpelier Wednesday to urge lawmakers here to reject a bill that has already passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House Government Operations Committee. Check it out here.

The Legislature and Gov. Jim Douglas have already fought a round on this issue.

In 2008, the legislature passed the bill “relating to the agreement among the states to elect the president by national popular vote.” The Senate supported it 22-6 and the House voted 77-35.

Douglas vetoed the bill. He wrote at the time that the will “would fundamentally alter the presidential election method prescribed in the U.S. Constitution by having Vermont join an interstate compact requiring our Electoral College votes be awarded to the candidate who wins the most support nationally, rather than the candidate who wins the most votes in Vermont. I am not willing to cede Vermont’s voice in the election.”

House. Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, said she would schedule consideration of proposal in her committee later this winter – so the contest is on again.

--Nancy Remsen

Getting ready for March

Burlington Democrats will gather at ward caucuses this week beginning tonight. The meetings are where local party members “help shape our party and support our candidates,” wrote David Cain, chairman of the city committee, in a notice at the local committee’s Web site.

Here’s the schedule:
• Tuesday: Wards 5 & 6 at 7 p.m. at Champlain Elementary School Learning Center.
• Thursday: Wards 1, 2, and 3 at 6 p.m. at the Integrated Arts Academy at Wheeler School Cafeteria; also Ward 4 at 6:30 p.m. at 54 Muirfield Road.
• Friday: Ward 7 at 7 p.m. at Miller Center Children's Room.

Any other parties in the city caucusing? It wasn’t apparent from the calendars for either the Republican or Progressive parties.

--Nancy Remsen

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Filling House seats

Gov. Jim Douglas has raised political hackles in his choices to fill two House seats left vacant in December by the sudden deaths of Rep. Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle, and Rep. Rick Hube, R-South Londonderry.

His picks: Robert C. Krebs of South Hero will fill Trombley’s seat. Oliver K. Olsen will replace Hube in the House.

So what is the rub? Krebs wasn’t one of the three candidates recommended by the local Democratic Party. Douglas has filled five vacancies in recent weeks -- all formerly Republican openings but one. He picked appointees from among the candidates recommended by local Republicans.

“The one Democrat he was replacing, he didn’t respect the wishes of the local party,” complained House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson.

Nease recalled 2007 when Douglas also bypassed the candidates recommended by Montpelier Democrats and chose Jon Anderson to fill the vacancy created when Francis Brooks became sergeant at arms. In one of Anderson’s first votes, he broke with Democrats and joined Republicans to prevent a successful override of a Douglas veto.

Douglas isn't the only governor to exercise his authority to choose whoever he wants to fill vacancies.

Remember Gov. Howard Dean made two appointments from different parties. He tapped William Sorrell, a Democrat, to replace Jeffrey Amestoy, a Republican, as attorney general. He also replaced a Republican House member from Vergennes/Ferrisburgh with a Democrat.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Civics at work

This week when a bunch of people walked to the Statehouse to urge legislators to vote against Vermont Yankee's continued operation some hailed it as democracy in action.

Indeed, there were signs that a civics lesson was at hand. Kids watched as their parents made an appeal to legislators.

And there were signs that civics lessons were needed. I overheard one adult ask another, "Are you a congressman?"

That's an odd question to hear in the Vermont Statehouse (since we only have one congressman and he's not usually there), so it prompted me to look up. The person she was addressing wasn't a congressman or a legislator. Seemed to be surprised to be mistaken for one. I didn't hear but hopefully someone clarified for the questioner that she was in the Statehouse not Congress. Walking to Washington would have taken a lot longer.

- Terri Hallenbeck




How big is Vermont and its politics

How many square miles are in Vermont is the latest gubernatorial hot topic.

The Republican Governors Association pulled out its first piece of weaponry in the campaign today with an email to media taking Democrat Deb Markowitz to task for a fundraising letter that asks supporters to give $1 for every one of Vermont's 9,351 square feet.

But wait, RGA spokesman Tim Murtaugh says:
In reality, Vermont’s geographic footprint is 9,609 square miles, according to the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing’s website and St. Michael’s College. Interestingly, Markowitz’s e-mail pitch differs in its description of Vermont’s size as compared to her own Secretary of State website’s Kids Pages, which claims the state to be 9,614 square miles.

But wait, Markowitz campaign manager Paul Tencher says:

The U.S. Census has another number: 9,250 square miles. It is pretty sad that while 6.4 percent of Vermonters are out of work, Republicans in Washington are attacking Deb for an email sent to supporters about how she will create jobs, while Brian Dubie and Jim Douglas continue to fail at this task. We are glad the RGA pays close attention to Deb's strong fundraising record though.

Which doesn't quite explain where the 9,351 figure came from.

Indeed, if you search the Interweb you will find many answers for Vermont square mileage, including 9,249, 9,615, 9.609. All of them seem to agree Vermont is bigger than New Hampshire.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Dubie's jobs tour

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is hitting the road for a jobs tour. It starts Wednesday in Rutland and he promises five more, yet-to-be-named stops around Vermont.

"He said his aim is to listen, and identify new ways for state government to help Vermont businesses keep existing jobs and create new jobs," according to a release from his office.

Legislators are also planning a employer-listening stint at the Statehouse later this month. Have we mentioned that Dubie and several legislators are running for governor?

Dubie's Wednesday schedule in Rutland:

10:00 – 10:55 GE Rutland

11:15 – 12:00 OMYA

12:20 – 1:20 Round Table with Local Employers

1:15 – 2:00 Downtown Walkaround

2:30 – 3:15 H. Hirschmann LTD

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Howard's announcement

Rep. Steve Howard's announcement that he will run for lieutenant governor this year cannot be described as flashy or overboard. Here's what he said on Facebook about an hour age:

After much thought and conversations with Vermonters throughout our state, and nearly 12 years of fighting for progressive change, I have decided that in the next couple of months I will formally announce my candidacy for Lt. Governor of Vermont in 2010. Follow me on Twitter www.twitter.com/rephoward to keep updated on our progress and get updates from the campaign.

Meanwhile, Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, who serves with Howard on the House Ways & Means Committee, tells my colleague Nancy Remsen that he's not running for LG. He's still thinking about running for state Senate in the Democratic primary.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Tuesday buzz: Campaigns on the move

New candidate for lt. gov.

Tuesday morning, state Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland, will announce on Facebook that he is running for lieutenant governor. Howard will be the first Democrat to join that race. Republicans who have announced are Sen. Phil Scott, , R-Washington, and businessman Mark Snelling , of Starksboro. A few other Democrats (Sen. Virginia Lyons, 2008 candidate Tom Costello,) say they are considering a run, and Progressive Rep. David Zuckerman, is considering a run as a Democrat. They will now have this to ponder: In his day job, Howard is a professional political fundraiser.
- Terri Hallenbeck

Speaking of Howards

Former Gov. Howard Dean, spoke Monday evening in Montpelier at a Democratic fundraiser for state House candidates. A few of the things he touched on:

Ö He urged legislators to keep perspective on the future, what he called the 100-year vision, and reiterated that the thing that mattered most to him after from his 11 years as governor was keeping Vermont Vermont. “The longest-term thing you can do is maintain the character of Vermont,” he said. “This is a very special place."

As such, he criticized Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, for his eight-year battle with the Housing and Conservation Trust Fund. Dean urged legislators to keep fighting Douglas to maintain the program.

Ö After being introduced by House Speaker Shap Smith, , D-Morristown, Dean said he was glad Smith wasn’t running in the already crowded field for governor this year, but he added, “Someday – this is a really great leader.”

Ö Dean told the crowd of Democrats that he thinks a Democrat will win the governor’s seat this year, but added, “Which one? I ain’t gonna choose because I ain’t getting into that one.” By the way, none of the candidates were there because they had a forum in Windsor County.

- Terri Hallenbeck

Dubie hires

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Republican gubernatorial candidate, has hired Corry Bliss, 28, most recently of Virginia, as his campaign manager.

Bliss said, “I met him through mutual contacts. We hit it off. I’m excited to be here.“

Bliss grew up in New York state, graduated from Boston University and got his law degree from City University of New York School of Law in 2006. For the past three years, he has worked on political campaigns in Virginia.

— Nancy Remsen

Racine announcement

Sen. Doug Racine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is interviewing campaign manager candidates and planning an official campaign kickoff.

The Jan. 23 event will be from 3-5 p.m. at the Champlain Mill in Winooski with events held simultaneously around the state and connected to Racine’s speech via video, said campaign staffer Amy Shollenberger.

- Terri Hallenbeck

News in secretary of state race

One of the two Democrats who contemplated a run next November has changed his mind. Christopher Winters won’t run after all.

Winters notified supporters on his Web site and on Facebook. “I have made the difficult decision not to run this year. My wife Sarah and I are expecting a child in July and are thrilled to become parents again. My family will always come first and it is clear that this is not the time for me to be engaged in an election.

Democrat Charles Merriman , meanwhile, said he has hired a campaign coordinator, Nina Thompson, and has visited 106 town clerks.

Republican candidate Chris Roy has also added to his campaign team. He has hired a New Hampshire political consultant and a Montpelier-based financial director, and assembled a financial committee headed by Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon.

Michael Dennehy of the Dennehy Group, who worked John McCain’s presidential campaigns, will help guide Roy’s campaign. Darcie Johnston of Johnston Consulting will be Roy’s finance director.

Roy of Williston, a lawyer, jumped into the race last winter.

Another Republican, Jason Gibbs, currently commissioner of forest, parks and recreation, said he is still “thinking very seriously about becoming a candidate“ but won’t decide until after the legislative session.

— Nancy Remsen

Health care here and there

A long-promised hearing will be held tonight on identical House and Senate bills (S.88 and H.100) that would “establish the goal of universal access to essential health care services in Vermont through a publicly financed, integrated, regional health care delivery system.“

The bills don’t call for an immediate switch, but some of those planning to testify will push for swift change.

Dr. Deb Richter of Montpelier, a primary care physician and strong advocate of a public health care system, said she and other medical professionals will testify that “current conditions in the medical profession are intolerable and that sticking with the status quo to wait for something good to happen is a big mistake.“

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, will speak first at the hearing, reporting on federal health care reform and how it might impact Vermont.

— Nancy Remsen

Primary politics

A bill to move the date of the primary election won’t move as fast as House Government Operations Chairwoman Donna Sweaney had expected. To make the change would require more than just setting a new date for voting. The dates for other activities, such as the deadline for candidates to declare their intentions, would have to be adjusted.

Erik Mason, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, told the committee the most important consideration should be that “our military members are able to vote.“ Moving the primary to mid-August, however, might cut other Vermonters out, he said.

“We are just concerned we might not have the participation we are looking for,“ Mason said. “Before taking the state of moving the primary, there are other avenues to look at.“

Those other avenues include voting via Internet. In the 2008 election, ballots were sent to the military via Internet, but had to be printed out and returned by mail.

Robert Dempsey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, supported moving the primary into August so election officials have more time to get General Election ballots overseas after the primary.Dempsey said that the change wouldn’t give anyone a political advantage. Critics of the move have said Democrats want to change the date to give the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary – which now has five candidates – more time to recover.

If the goal was political, Democratic House Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson said, “I’d be advocating for a lot earlier date.“

— Nancy Remsen

Political ride

Three of the six gubernatorial candidates met Saturday in Barre with the Vermont All-Terrain Vehicle Sportsmen’s Association.

ATVs are a hot topic in Vermont politics right now, with the Douglas administration enacting a rule that sets out a means for ATVs to gain permission to use parcels of state-owned land and the Democratic-controlled Legislature plotting legislation to counteract the rule.

The audience did not, according to Vermont All-Terrain Vehicle Sportsmen’s Association Executive Director Danny Hale, lynch Sen. Peter Shumlin. They weren’t, however, all that happy with him.

“We were extremely disappointed,” Hale said. “He very clearly stated he feels we should go back to 2002 and start over again.”

Shumlin suggested that ATV users and environmental groups reconvene a group that worked on the issue to figure out a solution, Hale said. That would spell gridlock, said Steve McLeod , who handles public policy for VASA. McLeod was less critical of Shumlin, saying, "I don't consider his position to be set in stone. This is the start of a dialogue."

The ATVers were happier with Democratic Sens. Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett. Racine told them he believes state land should be available to all Vermonters, McLeod said. He described Bartlett as “sorting it through.”

If you think Shumlin minds the ire directed at him, consider this: He has proudly posted a Montpelier-Barre Times Argus news story on the meeting on his campaign Web site.

Two other Democratic candidates _ Deb Markowitz and Matt Dunne _ told the coalition they had conflicts and couldn’t make Saturday’s meeting while Republican candidate Brian Dubie told them that as a policy he won’t attend candidate forums until after the primary, McLeod said. That means you won’t likely see Dubie at such an event until late August or September.

— Terri Hallenbeck

This just in

Rep. Peter Welch, who has spent two terms as Vermont’s lone congressman, snared his party’s nomination for re-election this year. Not surprising, considering he coasted to re-election two years ago.

The Vermont Democratic Committee voted unanimously Saturday to endorse Welch. If he wants bragging rights over six-term Sen. Patrick Leahy, Welch might remind Leahy that when Leahy won the committee’s endorsement last summer there was one vote of dissent.

— Terri Hallenbeck




Douglas' last State of State

Thursday, Gov. Jim Douglas gives his last State of the State address. Douglas himself pointed out that exactly one year from today (Jan. 6) he will leave office.

You can watch Thursday's 2 p.m. speech live and take part in a live chat at The Burlington Free Press Web site.

Douglas said he will focus on job creation. Some of the proposals he will mention, he said, will be things he has proposed before that the Legislature has passed over. He will argue that the recession makes them all the more imperative.

It will be interesting to see whether he alters the proposals to address legislative concerns at all, whether he has recruited any new allies to his cause to sell the ideas to the dubious or whether he simply plans to blame legislators if they reject the ideas again.

- Terri Hallenbeck


First day at the Leggie

Free Press photog Glenn Russell has a video that takes you from the start of the day to the end at the Legislature's first day of the session Tuesday. Check it out HERE.

- TH



Larson turns attention to Leggie

Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, will no longer be a consultant to Sen. Doug Racine's gubernatorial campaign, now that the legislative session has started, Racine's campaign announced today.

“It was always our plan that my commitment would end as the Legislative session began," Larson said in a statement. "Doug continues to have my support, but I will now return my focus to the Legislature and building a budget that meets the needs of Vermont families in these challenging times.”

Larson is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Speaker Smith announces committee shifts

House Speaker Shap Smith announced new committee assignments for six veteran legislators and two newly sworn-in lawmakers.

Here's the rundown:
Greshin of Warren and Johnson of Canaan to Ways and Means;
Koch of Barre to Judiciary;
Morley of Barton and Spengler of Colchester to Health Care;
Winters of Williamstown to Appropriations;
Howard of Cambridge, newly appointed, to Transportation;
Shaw of Pittsford, newly appointed, corrections and Institutions

Two more vacancies exist on committees, one on Fish and Wildlife and another on House General, Housing and Military Affairs, for lawmakers yet to be appointed by the governor.

--Nancy Remsen



John Morley enters leadership

It's official. Republicans in the Vermont House of Representatives elected Rep. John Morley, R-Barton, as their assistant leader in a unanimous vote this morning.

Morley replaces Rep. Patricia McDonald, R-Berlin, who stepped down from leadership to devote more time to a run for the state senate.

Morley's colleagues praised his ability to work with people of all political persuasions.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Morley said after the vote. "We have a ton of work to do," he said. While much of his new job takes place within the Statehouse, Morley said, "You are going to see John Morley start recruiting."

"We need to be thinking about this coming election right now," Morley explained. "We really need to win back some seats. It is all about the numbers."

-- Nancy Remsen



Tuesday buzz: Return of the Leggie

First thing: a few changes

All is now ready for the Legislature’s return. Two staffers made sure the glass panels at the Statehouse entrances sparkled and the Statehouse curator straightened portraits and adjusted the velvet draperies in the governor’s ceremonial office.

House Republicans caucus at 9:30 a.m. _ before the House is called into session at 10 a.m. _ to select a new assistant leader. The sole candidate is Rep. John Morley of Barton. Morley replaces Rep. Patricia McDonald, R-Berlin, who stepped down because she wants more time to focus on running for the Senate.

When House members take their seats, House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, will announce a few changes in the makeup of committees as a result of resignations, Morley’s role shift and two recent deaths.

Morley has served on the House Appropriations Committee, which requires more time and attention than he can give as assistant House Republican leader. He will have a new assignment, but Smith wasn’t ready to announce it Monday.

Replacing Morley on Appropriations is Rep. Phil Winters, R-Williamstown.

Winters leaves House Ways and Means, so Rep. William Johnson, R-Canaan, move to that seat from House General, Housing and Military Affairs.

Peg Flory of Pittsford has been appointed to fill a Senate seat vacated by Hull Maynard. She was serving on the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre, who has been a member of the House Institutions Committee, replaces Flory on Judiciary.

Flory takes her oath and seat in the Senate shortly after 10 a.m. Two new House members also will be sworn in Tuesday morning. Adam Howard replaces Rep. Rich Westman, R-Cambridge, who became tax commissioner. Butch Shaw replaces Flory.

Smith will announce their committee assignments plus Morley’s this morning. The options include House General, Institutions, Health Care, Ways and Means or Transportation.

There are five openings because two legislators died suddenly just before Christmas – Rep. Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle, and Rep. Rick Hube, R-South Londonderry. Gov. Jim Douglas has yet to interview possible replacements. David Coriell, the governor’s spokesman, said the earliest the governor could make those appointments would be next week.

Flory’s move to the Senate means some shuffling of committee members there as well. Senate leadership wasn’t prepared to detail the changes Monday afternoon, but the new assignments – affecting several senators -- will be announced shortly after the Senate convenes.

Is your head spinning yet?

-- Nancy Remsen

Opening day

After lawmakers kiss and hug following six months of separation, and the House and Senate complete their organizational business, lawmakers launch into some heavy stuff.

Senators have been invited to the House chamber to hear a briefing on the National Guard deployment to Afghanistan from Adjutant General Michael Dubie.

Day One also includes a presentation of restructuring options that could save state government $35 million-$50 million. A steering committee unveils the "challenges" to the Joint Legislative Government Accountability Committee following Dubie’s Guard briefing.

The restructuring presentation should put a buzz in the building, as the purpose is to see government from a new rather than traditional perspective.

-- Nancy Remsen

Getting down to it

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said he expects House committees to get off to a fast start – this being the second year of the two-year session.

One panel could vote out a bill by Friday. That would be House Transportation, which begins work Wednesday on a bill that would allow heavier trucks on Vermont’s interstate highways.

A change in law is necessary now that Congress passed a law allowing a one-year pilot test in Vermont to allow large trucks to travel the interstates. Many states already allow heavier trucks on interstates because of waivers or grandfather provisions from federal restrictions.

"We are going to try to hear from everyone, have some discussion and hopefully kick it over to the Senate," said newly appointed Transportation Chairman Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester. "It is important," he said, noting that the federal trial period has already begun.

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, has also submitted a bill on the Senate side. "I expect quick action," he said, noting the Senate has previously voted unanimously on various measures calling for allowing heavier trucks.

"We want to get these trucks off town and village streets," Illuzzi said.

Other bills on fast tracks include a measure to move the primary election and legislation making mid-year changes to the budget. Smith said he’d like to see the budget bill on the House floor by the end of next week so the House Appropriations Committee’s calendar is clear when Gov. Jim Douglas delivers his budget Jan. 21.

-- Nancy Remsen

Senate briefings

To avoid repetitive committee presentations, Senate leadership has scheduled two, two-hour briefings on some of the big issues facing lawmakers.

Wednesday afternoon, beginning at 1 p.m., senators hear from their chief fiscal adviser, Steve Klein, and Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille. Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, may also answer questions about the government restructuring options as she served on the steering committee that developed the proposals.

Thursday beginning at 10 a.m., senators gather again to hear recommendations from a retirement commission and a panel studying how to remedy the looming deficit in the unemployment insurance fund. Legislative staff also will offer observations about the potential impact of federal health reform legislation.

-- Nancy Remsen


Fifteen labor unions offered their backing to Vermont Yankee at a Statehouse news conference Monday. The move is sure to make some of those who oppose relicensing of the nuclear power plant uncomfortable because many of them are people who strongly support labor unions.

George Clain, president of the IBEW Local 300, said the union represents 160 Vermont Yankee electrical workers and mechanics and they want to keep their jobs. Vermont Yankee employs 640 workers for an an average of $81,000 a year, he said, a salary not easily replaced if the plant closes when its license expires in 2012.

"We already have enough people unemployed," Clain said.

The move was meant to put legislators, who have a say in whether VY continues, on the spot.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who supports unions but not Vermont Yankee relicensing, shrugged it off. He likened the power plant to other industries that inevitably yield to progress. "There’s an evolutionary process," he said. "This is the horse and buggy vs. the automobile."

The union representatives defending Vermont Yankee were not buying the notion that it needs replacing or that the green-energy jobs that might replace it would pay as well.

The union’s stance made some of their counterparts uncomfortable too. Traven Leyshon, president of the Green Mountain Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, was quick to point out that not all the local unions within the Vermont AFL-CIO coalition agree on Vermont Yankee. "We’ve got a tactical difference," he said.

Leyshon said he doesn’t consider Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. a socially responsible company and wants the state to help the plant’s workers retrain for new jobs, and he suggested Entergy should pay for that retraining. "We’ve got to plan for the future," he said.

Obviously, Vermont Yankee is making a big push to focus on the jobs that would be lost if the plant closes. That has prompted some opponents to argue that not all those jobs are filled by Vermonters, what with the plant’s proximity to Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Some 290 of the plant’s workers are Vermonters, Entergy Nuclear Vice President Jay Thayer said.

Some opponents suggest that reduces the size of Vermont Yankee’s imprint on the Vermont economy and deflates the argument that Vermont can’t afford not to relicense the plant. Thayer argued that payroll taxes for all of them go to Vermont.

--Terri Hallenbeck

Dubie’s principles

In a speech Monday to the Burlington Rotary Club, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie – Republican candidate for governor -- laid out three principles he said should guide lawmakers’ decisions about legislation.

First, he said all proposed legislation must have a positive impact on jobs and job creation. Would a texting ban be off the table under Dubie’s principles?

Second, he said the Legislature must reduce demands on taxpayers by reducing the size of government. Legislation that adds programs and increases the size and cost of government must be rejected. Restructuring and reduction is a given, but what about a new, better program? Certainly Gov. Jim Douglas offered a few over the years – scholarships and broadband expansion come to mind. Is Dubie really saying all new ideas are off the table?

Finally, Dubie said all state government programs, existing and new, must be evaluated and judged as sustainable. They must carry a high-enough priority to merit an identifiable revenue source that will sustain them over the long term. So what does Dubie mean by sustainable? He talks about "identifiable revenue sources" – but being able to name a tax doesn’t insure the money will always be there, right? When the economy sinks, once dependable taxes such as sales and income shrivel. When people stop smoking, cigarette taxes shrink. When people change their driving habits, gasoline taxes evaporate. What makes a revenue source sustainable?

-- Nancy Remsen

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Happy new year

2010 should be a pretty interesting year politically in Vermont, eh?

- TH

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