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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Markowitz, Dubie events March 9

Let me revise a previous posting. Things went down like this:

An e-mail arrived today from "Host Committee, DebforVermont" announcing a "Campaign Kick Off Party" for Deb Markowitz, Democratic candidate for governor. It would be held at 6 p.m. March 9 at Coffee Enterprises in Burlington. Recipients of the e-mail were being asked to save the date. A long list of names was given as hosts of the party. Prices were listed in coffee terms from $100 for "tall cup" up to $1,000 for host.

I posted a blog item about this and noted it was at the exact same time as an event Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie was holding for his 51st birthday for a donation of $51 per person. (An e-mail about that had arrived earlier in the week and I hadn't gotten around to noting it, so this seemed like an opportune time.)

This prompted an e-mail from the Vermont Republican Party criticizing Markowitz for charging for her campaign kickoff event, contending that this put her out of touch with ordinary Vermonters and saying that Dubie's eventual kickoff would be free.

Which prompted an e-mail from Markowitz campaign manager Paul Tencher to me saying I had misunderstood - the Coffee Enterprises event was actually just the end of a two-day campaign kickoff jobs tour for which details would be released next week (it will be in Barre and it's free), though no mention of that was made in the original e-mail (and my chances of guessing that were pretty small).

He followed that with a release criticizing the Vermont Republican Party for an "early political attack."

Phew, it's exhausting.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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VY vote from the nation

The New York Times takes a national view of the Vermont Senate's vote yesterday. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/us/25nuke.html

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Catch VY vote online

Because we're always looking out for you, The Burlington Free Press will carry live coverage of the Senate’s vote on Vermont Yankee’s future Wednesday at www.burlingtonfreepress.com.

The debate is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

That's legislative time, so be flexible.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Gov. Douglas and the D.C. scene

Gov. Jim Douglas spent a busy weekend on the national political stage in Washington, D.C., running the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

As NGA chairman, he had the job of delivering the bad news about the states’ fiscal health.

“The worst probably is yet to come,“ Douglas warned at the opening session Saturday.

Sunday morning found Douglas, a Republican, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, on a talk show — CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley for a chat about political gridlock and health care.

Unlike Congress, governors know how to get things done, the pair of governors suggested.

“Ultimately something has to happen. The work has to be done. The streets have to be plowed or the budget has to be balanced,” Douglas said. He noted that regardless of political affiliation, “in the National Governors Association, we have a much more collegial relationship. We talk with each other, we learn from each other, Deval and I hosted a health care forum last spring at the request of the president.”

Back in Vermont, Douglas has been part of a few political power struggles over the years that didn’t end up all that friendly. Think back to last spring, for example, and the budget battle that ended in a gubernatorial veto and a legislative override.

Crowley also quizzed Douglas and Patrick about the kind of health care reform governors wanted.

“We would like to have a better partner in Washington because we have a shared responsibility, but meanwhile governors are going to keep moving forward to try to insure the people of our states,” Douglas replied.

“Other than to fund Medicaid, though, would you rather they stay out of the way?” Crowley pressed.

DOUGLAS: Well, I think we have to work together. But remember what the real problem is, and that’s the cost of health care that keeps rising at rates that are multiples of inflation year after year after year. And I think there has been too much...

PATRICK: Whether you have a universal program or not.

DOUGLAS: Exactly.

PATRICK: That’s happening everywhere.

DOUGLAS: That’s the point, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s a publicly funded program or private health insurance companies, if we don’t get cost under control, we are going to be broke either way. So we need to reform the way we deliver care. We need to reform the payment system to incent quality care and good outcomes and get those costs under control.

Pretty good tag team.

At the end of the show, Crowley noted Douglas would retire at the end of this term.

“Governor Douglas of Vermont, have a happy retirement, but I imagine we’ll see you.”

DOUGLAS: Oh, no, no, no. I’ll find something else to do. .... It won’t be in Washington.”

Douglas’ relationship with President Barack Obama was on display Sunday night when governors and spouses donned tuxedoes and gowns for dinner at the White House.

Before the four-course dinner — which included French onion soup, rib-eye roast of beef and shrimp scampi, and baked Alaska — Obama thanked the governors for helping to “right the ship” of state during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“This White House wants to continue to partner with you,” Obama said.

He raised his glass — water, rather than the Virginia, California or Michigan wines being served at the dinner. “So, cheers, everybody. Dinner is served. Oh, wait, wait, wait.”

Obama noticed Douglas heading to the front of the room. “This is not the waiter, although he can read the menu. Jim Douglas has been an extraordinary partner with this White House — always constructive, always thoughtful, and we are so pleased to have him here tonight.”

“Mr. President, I thought you might explain that I’m not the entertainment, either.”

Douglas offered his own toast — also with water.

— Nancy Remsen

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Bartlett v. Shumlin

When Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin announced last week that the Senate would vote this week on the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, it caught some senators by surprise. One could argue it shouldn’t have — he’s been telling the media for weeks that he foresees a vote this session and the session is motoring to its mid-point.

Nonetheless, Shumlin’s fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Susan Bartlett said he hadn’t clued her and others in on the vote, just as he hadn’t told them before announcing earlier this session that legislators would be taking a pay cut.

Bartlett’s irritation doesn’t seem to have abated over the weekend. She put out a statement Sunday night, calling this week’s vote “more political theater than making good public policy.”

She said she agrees that Vermont Yankee should not be relicensed, but thinks the time is not right for a vote, with several reports on Vermont Yankee pending.

“If we had followed the process we had in place, I believe that by the end of the session we would have voted as an entire legislature to close Yankee. That would have ended the discussion,” Bartlett said in her statement.

“I am on record as wanting to close Vermont Yankee in 2012. Their behavior in the past few months has only confirmed my opinion. This isn’t about my vote, it’s about doing the job right.”

She was careful not to mention Shumlin’s name anywhere in the statement. The candidates have, after all, agreed not to attack each other.

Bartlett will likely have a chance to vote on delaying the VY decision. Sen. Phil Scott, himself a candidate for lieutenant governor, said Monday he will introduce an amendment to send the bill to the Appropriations or Economic Development committee to study the economic ramifications of closing Vermont Yankee.

Will his amendment pass?

“I don’t know if I have enough support,” Scott said. “We’ll see.”

Senate Majority Leader John Campbell said he doesn’t think Scott has the votes.

Scott also said he doesn’t think he could vote to keep Vermont Yankee running for another 20 years based on current circumstances.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Paid sick leave?

When the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates met last Thursday for a forum before the Vermont Grocers and Retail associations, moderator Chris Graff laid out the landscape this way: The typical person in the audience is Republican or independent, has voted for retiring Republican Gov. Douglas at least once, and feels worse off economically than the year before.

With that said, one of the questions Graff posed to the candidates was whether they support a bill that would mandate paid sick leave, an issue that would surely be of concern for this crowd of store owners.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz answered first and said she would “be inclined to support additional protections for families.”

Sen. Doug Racine said, “Vermonters who are working ought to have sick leave,” but added, “The question is is this practical.”

Former Sen. Matt Dunne said he would have to look more closely at the problem and base the solution on that.

When it came to be Sen. Susan Bartlett’s turn to speak, she said, “I don’t believe this is the appropriate time to ask you to pay for more.” That drew hearty applause from the crowd.

The last candidate to speak, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, said simply, “I agree” and sat down.

— Terri Hallenbeck



Is health reform made for TV?

The White House will offer live-streaming of Thursday’s health care forum — an event that will either produce frustrating political drama or a miraculous bi-partisan compromise. C-Span also is scheduled to broadcast the event. Go here around 10 a.m. for the "show."

Members of Vermont Interfaith Action have already planned a group lunch so they can watch this “day of reckoning for health care reform” over pizza.

The group, which represents a broad spectrum of religious congregations, has worked on health care reform locally and nationally for several years. I picture this lunch a bit like Monday night football with a group of friends cheering their favorite team – but probably without the brew.

— Nancy Remsen

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Chicken-dinner circuit

Here’s a sign of the hardships of the campaign trail. At Thursday’s luncheon with the grocers and retailers, candidates Peter Shumlin and Matt Dunne ended up at the same table at the back of the room. It happened to be the last table served when it came time to passing out plates of what might have been turkey or chicken.

Shumlin and Dunne had each just taken a bite when they were called to the front of the room for the candidates’ forum. They both looked longingly back at their plates as they left the table.

— Terri Hallenbeck

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Kunin's 25th

The University of Vermont will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the inauguration of Madeleine Kunin, the state’s first female governor, with an all-day symposium March 2titled “What is the Role of Government? Then and Now.”

A variety of panel discussions and speeches mark the day. Kunin is scheduled to speak at 3:30 p.m. on “What Difference Do Women in Leadership Make?”

Kunin served as governor from 1985 to 1991. For a full list of events and panelists visit http://www.uvm.edu/~crvt/KuninSymposium.html or call 656-4389.

— Terri Hallenbeck

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If there were a veto vote

So the House is poised to pass the bill changing the date for the primary election.

The Senate can be expected to go along with the changes the House made to the bill.

Then it goes to Gov. Jim Douglas, who has made no secret of his opposition to moving the primary to late August. A veto seems likely. What would be gained by letting the bill become law without his signature?

The veto would call into question the strength of the support for moving the primary date underneath the House vote of 139-6. The 50 votes in the House on an amendment proposing the state go for a waiver and introduce electronic voting, even though the Secretary of State's election office would have to scramble to put that in place, suggests Democratic leaders might struggle to win an override.

So do we mark our calendars in pen for an August primary, or use ink to for September? Oh, right, many of you use electronic calendars, so the inking a date is about as modern as mailing ballots to people so they can mark them with Xs.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Poll: Dubie leads all but Markowitz

Vermont political geeks can delight over poll results from WCAX to mull over for the governor's race.

The poll was good news for Democrat Deb Markowitz and Republican Brian Dubie.

It indicated Markowitz is the only one of the five Democratic candidates leading against Dubie. She had a 43-41 percent edge, with 16 percent undecided.

Dubie led Sen. Doug Racine of Richmond, 43-38 percent, with 19 percent undecided.

Dubie led Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin of Putney, 45-35 percent, with 20 percent undecided.

Dubie led former Sen. Matt Dunne of Hartland, 44-36 percent, with 20 percent undecided.

Dubie led Sen. Susan Bartlett of Hyde Park, 48-30 percent, with 22 percent undecided.
To view the poll, conducted by Research 2000 from a sampling of 400 likely Vermont voters, visit www.wcax.com.

To read former AP bureau chief Chris Graff's analysis, visit http://www.vermontbiz.com/news/february/dubie-markowitz-favored-early-poll-vermont-governor.



VY:The bill and the investigation

The Senate Finance Committee today revealed the bill they'll be working with on Vermont Yankee's future.

The gist:

The general assembly determines that continued operation of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station for 20 years following its currently scheduled closing date of March 21, 2012 will promote the general welfare of the state.

The general assembly finds that storage of spent nuclear fuel derived from the operation of the VYNPS for 20 years following its currently scheduled closing date of March 21, 2012 will promote the general welfare of the state.

The general assembly approves until March 21, 2032 the continued operation of the VYNPS and the storage of spent nuclear fuel derived from the operation of the VYNPS, provided the VYBPS obtains from the public service board and any other agencies such certificates, permits and approvals related to the continued operation of the VYNPS and storage of spent fuel at the VYNPS as are required by law.

Also Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Sorrell delivered a letter to the legislative leaders and governor saying he's embarked on an investigation of information Vermont Yankee provided to the state.

He said VY owner Entergy Corp. has promised to "cooperate fully," sharing its own investigation with him and indicating it will waive its attorney/client privelege on correspondences regarding the Public Service Board.

He said Entergy has promised it hasn't and won't destroy documents.

He told them it could take months to draw any real conclusions.

If you haven't seen Free Press photographer Glenn Russell's video of the VY plant, do so immediately HERE.

- Terri Hallenbeck




Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko spoke today at a conferene and included these remarks about the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee at the end of a more general speech:

Before I close my remarks, I would like to make one last point. For all the attention thatnew reactor issues receive, the NRC must always stay focused on ensuring that the existing fleet continues to operate in a safe, secure, and environmentally sensitive manner. That is our core mission, and I assure you that the agency has not lost sight of that. I’ll share one example of our
steady focus. It concerns an issue that has drawn a good bit of attention lately—leaking pipes and tritium. There is some concern as to whether tritium from the Vermont Yankee plant has leaked into the Connecticut River. Elected officials in that region have expressed considerable and very understandable concern, and not just about Vermont Yankee.

The headlines have not been pretty. As a scientist, I know the relative risk of tritium. In the grand scheme of radiation, it is well down the scale, but in the area of public perception, it takes on greater significance. People are asking legitimate questions— what’s leaking, where’s it leaking, how much is leaking, and—most importantly—what’s being done to deal with the problem? The NRC always inspects licensees who have such leaks and in each case makes certain that licensees are taking the appropriate steps to find the source, and to protect the public
and the environment. Inspections are ongoing at Vermont Yankee—once the source is identified, it will be fixed promptly and correctly. The situation was in many respects the same at the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey last year. That episode told us a great deal about how buried pipe behaves over the years and the importance of ensuring that the right piping is installed in the first place. That situation is being dealt with as well.

We always have to ask ourselves at every turn whether we can we do more. That’s why
the agency is participating in a buried piping task force to evaluate the need for specific corrosion protection standards that could be implemented at nuclear power plant facilities. That’s why, last fall, I asked the agency staff to take a look at our general approach for inspecting and dealing with aging pipes. While we feel that the program we now have in place is sound, I personally think that more can be done.

Following reports of leaks at a few plants, the NRC created a special task force in 2006 to conduct a lessons-learned review of these incidents. The task force made more than two dozen recommendations—a great many of those have been incorporated in the guidance we provide to plants. While there are NRC requirements for documenting releases into the groundwater and relied on licensees to adhere to certain measures as best practice. Guidance is one thing. A regulatory requirement is another. Therefore, I intend to ask the staff to relook at the 2006 lessons learned recommendations and determine whether any changes in this area might be
advisable. I look at it this way: From time to time building codes are amended as civil engineers see areas that can be improved. This may be the time to take that step in the nuclear field.

And, because we want the public to fully understand all aspects of the tritium issue, the staff is exploring, at my request, conducting forums to discuss the tritium issue and to hear from the public on their thoughts. More specific information will be made available as soon as possible.

Be assured that on this issue and all others, the NRC will continue striving to be a strong, effective regulator. As Chairman, I will do my best to ensure that the NRC acts firmly and decisively and conducts itself openly and transparently in fulfilling our core mission and preparing for new issues and challenges. Again, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.
- Terri Hallenbeck




Douglas busy with his other gig this weekend

Gov. Jim Douglas presides this weekend over the winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association. He’s chairman.

The meeting opens Saturday with a discussion of health care reform. Later in the day premiers from Canadian provinces join the governors for a session entitled “Common Border, Common Ground.”

Sunday night, governors and spouses dress up for dinner at the White House. The governors return for talks with President Obama and his cabinet Monday morning. The event wraps up Monday afternoon.

— Nancy Remsen

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Dubie's Web site

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie now has an updated Web site

One of the current features is a poll in which he asks, “Should the next governor grow state government?”

The options respondents can choose between aren’t exactly neutral. Traditionally choices are listed with the affirmative first, but in this poll, the first choice is “No, time for government to make tough decisions.” The second choice is “Yes, let’s grow government and increase spending.”

— Nancy Remsen



A VY vote?

Nothing has happened regarding Vermont Yankee in recent weeks to improve the nuclear power plant’s chances of winning legislators’ support for its continued operation after March 2012.

If anything, more lawmakers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of voting against letting the Public Service Board decide on continued operation.

“If the vote was today, I’d vote against it,” Rep. Joe Krawczyk, R-Bennington, vice chairman of the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee, said Thursday.

Don’t be surprised if there is a vote by the end of the month, before the Legislature breaks for Town Meeting.

— Terri Hallenbeck

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IRV on the line

Instant runoff voting faces a test of Burlington voters at town meeting March 2. Voters can rev up for the vote by tuning into a debate on the issue at 7 p.m. Thursday at Burlington City Hall’s Contois Auditorium.

City voters will decide whether this method of voting that requires the winner to receive more than 50 percent of the vote and creates an instant runoff by having voters rank their choices and counting second, third, etc. choices until one candidate blips over the 50 percent mark.

Burlington has employed the method for the last two mayoral elections. Given the sizzle over Burlington Telecom’s financing and given that Mayor Bob Kiss won election to two terms with IRV in place, will the town meeting vote be a referendum and on Mayor Bob Kiss’ tenure?

— Terri Hallenbeck



More gubernatorial forums

Vermont grocers get a chance to hear the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates Thursday at the Capital Plaza in Montpelier – assuming all five are free for lunch.

On Feb. 24, the Democratic quintet — Sen. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Doug Racine, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, former Sen. Matt Dunne and Sen. Susan Bartlett — have confirmed participation in a Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ “lightening round” forum.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the only announced Republican gubernatorial candidate, was also invited, but he is declining to appear in these early candidate forums.

The Orleans Progressive Party has invited the Democratic candidates for a forum in Newport on Feb. 27, but this event doesn’t offer as much visibility as the Burlington Mardi Gras parade. Some candidates show the parade, not the forum on their schedules.

— Nancy Remsen

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The politics of abortion

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, announced last week that his Senate Judiciary Committee would not consider legislation addressing crimes against fetuses this year.

The topic came up after an August car crash in which a Bennington woman lost twin six-month fetuses and the discovery that the other driver could not be charged in connection with the loss of the fetuses. Two bills were proposed in response.

As a sign of just how sensitive this issue is, Sears took the unusual step of explaining his decision in a three-page written statement.

He said there was “a great deal of pressure” from several constituents, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood not to take up any of the proposed legislation. At the same time, he said rhetoric from anti-abortion advocates “has, in my view, made any reasonable attempt at compromise more difficult, if not impossible.”

Sears concluded that a thoughtful conversation on the issue is not possible at this time. “I have little choice but to stop further consideration of both bills by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he wrote.

Credit Sears with explaining himself. Around the Statehouse, this issue is more radioactive than Vermont Yankee.

Patricia Blair, the mother of the twin fetuses, was in the building lobbying for a bill a couple weeks ago. She said she had a meeting scheduled with Sears, but hadn’t met House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg. Somehow, even though the bill she supports has 55 legislative sponsors, none of them had managed to help her stop Lippert in the halls of the Statehouse.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Shap Smith told the Bennington Banner that the House committee’s agenda had been set in November, so it could not fit in this new, complicated issue. What he really means is the majority in the House doesn’t want to take up the bill because agendas have been known to change. Otherwise, no committees would be taking testimony on the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee, which wasn’t revealed until January.

— Terri Hallenbeck


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Under the radar race

Four House members are vying for two seats on the Vermont State College board of trustees.

The House and Senate meet Thursday to choose. The “campaign” is short – candidates had to file with the Secretary of State last week. And most of the campaigning takes place out of the spotlight, until the speeches of support get made Thursday morning.

The candidates include Rep. Bill Aswad, D-Burlington, seeking re-election to a second, four-year term on the board. Also running are Democrats Rep. Michel Consejo of Sheldon, Rep. Tim Jerman of Essex Junction and Rep. Jim Masland of Thetford.

— Nancy Remsen


Drawing tax lines

When the Senate Economic Development Committee voted out a bill last week that outlines spending of $8.6 million in federal stimulus money on various economic development measures, it included a repeal of last year’s changes to the estate tax.

Changing the estate tax is and will continue to be controversial in the Legislature. That piece eked its way into the bill by a 3-2 vote. Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, was among those who voted for it, putting him in line with his nemesis, outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, and at odds with at least one of his fellow Democratic candidates for governor.

This is the same Doug Racine who in his campaign for governor is arguing that the state should raise income taxes temporarily to help fill the budget gap that the recession brought on. He said he believes the estate tax was hastily changed last legislative session (lowering the size of the estate from $3.5 million to $2 million for taxes to kick in). He said he objected then and favors repealing the change this year.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, is not keen on erasing the changes, saying that with a $150 million budget gap, the state can’t afford to lose the revenue. Changing the estate tax would cost an estimated $3 million.

What’s not in that same bill is a repeal of the capital gains tax that Douglas wanted. Committee Chairman Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, said he couldn’t find a way to replace the $25 million it brings in. He’s counting on an improved economy to make up the $3 million from the estate tax.

— Terri Hallenbeck

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Vermont's answer to the U.S. Supreme Court

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, wants the Vermont Legislature to respond to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that declares there are no limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions as long as they aren’t coordinating their efforts with candidates.

“This latest Supreme Court decision is one of the worst decisions for election and democracy in the history of the court,” Shumlin said. “The question is, what can Vermont do to mitigate as much as possible the buying of elections by corporations.”

Shumlin, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, have a bill in the works that would give the public real-time information about organizations, corporations and unions that spend money on campaign ads. The Senate Judiciary Committee began working on the bill last week and takes it up again Thursday.

The early draft proposes to increase penalties for campaign finance violations and set requirements to help the public identify who is paying for independent campaign communications.

The sponsors also want the state to set up a Web site where the public could review the disclosure information the bill would require.

Sears, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he’s trying to make sure the bill is as lawsuit-proof as possible. Campaign finance legislation has a tendency to end up in court.

The Judiciary Committee worked on a draft last week with advice from Cheryl Hanna, Vermont law school professor with expertise in constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hanna noted that the draft proposed raising the fine for campaign violations from $1,000 to $100,000 and the jail time from six months to five years. “Do any other states have penalties that are so high?”

Penalties or other provisions that are extreme could draw unwanted court attention, Hanna suggested. She noted other potential pitfalls in the first draft — giving corporations or union just 12 hours to notify candidates when expenditures of more than $200 are made.

“An argument could be made that $200 is too low,” Hanna said. “And 24 hours seems to be the standard of the day,” she said of notification requirements.

The bill proposed that independently financed radio ads would need to identify who paid for them every five seconds.

“I suspect the court would look skeptically on the requirement of every five seconds,” Hanna said.

“So would the listeners,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee vets the bill, Senate Government Operations gets it. Shumlin said he wants a full Senate vote by March 12.

— Nancy Remsen

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From the Britton campaign

Len Britton, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Patrick Leahy, is making the rounds. He just wrapped up a tour of town hall-style meetings around the state and now has some county committee meetings and skiing on the agenda.

He’s scheduled to speak at the Chittenden County Republican meeting at the Williston Fire House at 7 Tuesday night. Friday night, he’ll do the same with the Franklin County Republican Committee at the Franklin Homestead.

In between, he’ll hold an event that might become the envy of other politicians — A Day at the Slopes with Len Britton" at Killington. It’s apparently a fundraiser – the $250 price tag includes lift ticket.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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From the Scott campaign

Sen. Phil Scott, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, announced last week that his campaign’s finance chairman would be former KPMG executive Glen Wright.

Wright made a name for himself last year as the guy who came through on his threat to move his official residency to Florida because of Vermont taxes (you can read about it at http://www.vermonttiger.com/content/2009/05/farewell-.html.)

He still calls Vermont "our state," however. "As a longtime central Vermont businessman, Phil understand the needs of our state and has proven throughout his years in the Senate that he is willing to fight for those needs," Wright said in a news release.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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From the Shumlin campaign

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin has added to his campaign staff.

He announced Monday that Bryan Hageny will be his field director. Hageny has been deputy training director at Democracy for America for the last two years.

Arthur Berndt will serve as Shumlin’s finance chairman. Berndt and his wife, Anne, produce maple syrup at Maverick Farm in Sharon, maple syrup. Berndt served as finance co-chairman for Peter Welch in 2006 and was a member of the Dean’s List fundraising committee for Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Speaking of budget cuts

More than 50 nonprofit organizations will be at the Statehouse on Thursday to meet with legislators and discuss the impact of budget cuts.

They’re scheduled to meet with the candidates for governor at 8:30 a.m. in the Cedar Creek Room and to meet with Gov. Jim Douglas at 2 p.m.

From noon-1 p.m. in Room 11, there will be a discussion of the future of Vermont’s nonprofits, moderated by businessman Bill Schubart and featuring panelists Stuart Comstock-Gaye of the Vermont Community Foundation, Tim Shea of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Susan Bartlett and House Human Service Committee Chairwoman Ann Pugh.

For a list of the day’s activities, visit: http://www.cctv.org/news/vermont-nonprofits-go-montpelier-211.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Challenges indeed

All the talk about Vermont Yankee this legislative session has taken the $150 million budget gap out of the limelight. The issue will start to peek out from behind the curtains this week.

"Challenges for Change," the method by which the Legislature and the Douglas administration propose to save $38 million through changes in the way government does business, makes its way to the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

The method essentially tells those who are providing the services to figure out how to achieve better outcomes with less money while providing them more leeway to make that happen.

Behind the scenes, plenty of people are scratching their heads over how this will work _ or whether it will work. The best selling point the plan has going for it is that quite of few prominent people have bought into it: legislative leaders, the governor and his under-study, the lieutenant governor, to name a few.

One of them is Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille. She’s one of five Democratic candidates for governor. She sent an e-mail to supporters Sunday talking up the Challenges for Change idea as a key to solving the state’s budget problems and an example of how she does business.

"I find this entire idea really exciting and am looking forward to working with folks over the session to further develop the ideas of developing more challenges for each agency,” Bartlett, the candidate, said.

At least she’s not in it alone.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Post-Yankee questions

Vermont Yankee’s troubles with tritium and other issues have certainly raised the specter that the plant might not be give permission by the state to operate for another 20 years after March 2012.

Even if it’s not the Legislature or the Public Service Board that pulls the plug on the plant, Entergy Corp. Chief Executive Officer Wayne Leonard suggested last week the company might not be interested in keeping the plant. Leonard said last week during a corporate earnings conference call that Vermont Yankee "is simply not covering its cost of capital."

So then what would happen to that parcel of land alongside the Connecticut River in Vernon if Vermont Yankee opponents got their wish and the plant shut down in 2012? Last we knew, the company had 60 years to mothball the plant in a process called Safstor (CQ: No e’s) while letting the decommissioning fund accumulate interest. Plenty of people don’t feel good about leaving things hanging that long.

Twice, the governor has vetoed legislation that would make Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. sock more money away for decommissioning the plant. This Legislature has had noted success in overriding other vetoes by the governor, but not this one.

A new bill has been introduced this year that would require a nuclear power plant to create two trust funds _ one to restore the site to greenfield status, the other to pay for long-term management of spent nuclear fuel.

One of its sponsors, Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said he doesn’t think the Legislature will pass the bill this year, declining to specify why, but he said he plans to bring it back next year.

"Safstor would be off the table, absolutely," Klein said. "It would set a date certain that greenfielding would have to occur by."

The state Public Service Department has opposed the Legislature’s decommissioning bills, but Commissioner David O’Brien has also said he’s not comfortable with Safstor.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Wark said the department hasn’t taken a stance on Klein’s new bill, but he said it "could be appropriate" for the state to zero in on setting requirements for greenfield status and managing spent fuel in the absence of a federal solution to that issue.

Vermont Yankee opponent Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for Citizens Action Network, has not lined up behind decommissioning legislation so far for fear that lawmakers would see it as assurance that the plant can continue to operate. Now he’s ready for such legislation. "Some sort of decommissioning bill has to pass the Legislature that says Entergy Corp. is responsible," Stannard said.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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More picocuries

One of the new monitoring wells at Vermont Yankee has a whole lot more picocuries of tritium than we've heard about in the other wells. This is how the company reported the news:

The continuing sampling of monitoring wells is helping the investigation team locate the source. The good news is that one newly installed well, located just to the east of the plant’s condensate water storage tank and some underground piping, appears to be closer to the source because its concentration is 774,825 picocuries per liter.

The well that was first identified with tritium is now at 36,261 picocuries per liter. However, a well about 75 feet to the south of that one that has been as high as 80,458 picocuries per liter, is now down to 69,392. Another recently installed well further south is at 1,940 picocuries per liter, up from a recent level of 1,800 Such variation is as expected with variations of groundwater flow.

The state Health Department's version was somewhat different:

"Vermont Yankee reported today that a new groundwater monitoring well, GZ-7, resulted in a sample with a tritium concentration of about 774,825 picocuries per liter (pCi/l).

GZ-7 is located near the station's condensate water storage tank, between the Advanced Off-Gas Building and the Reactor and Turbine Buildings. (MAP)

This is the highest concentration of tritium yet reported to date. These new findings may indicate the well is near a source of leakage. It may also narrow down the search area and systems to be searched. Groundwater contamination to this degree would be more likely to be from a system of high tritium radioactivity. This raises certain potential sources of the leak up in priority interest.

Vermont Yankee reports that, according to their tests, the other wells on site are still at, or near, previously reported levels of contamination. Specifically GZ-3, the original well found to be contaminated, is at about 36,000 pCi/l, GZ-4 is less than 2,000 pCi/l, and GZ-14 is about 70,000 pCi/l.

Vermont Yankee reports that as of the last verified analysis, all wells are not showing evidence of other radioactivity by gamma spectroscopy.

To date, all drinking water well tests are negative for elevated tritium. Vermont Yankee is now testing the drinking water well nearest the contaminated groundwater monitoring wells, the Construction Office Building well, every day."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Entergy's warm greeting at Statehouse

There was physical evidence Wednesday that the Statehouse has become a hostile environment for Entergy Corp., owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The Senate Finance Committee was holding a meeting about Entergy's power price offer to the state's largest utilities. Marc Potkin, an Entergy Nuclear vice president for price marketing, was testifying.

The committee room was packed, as if often if for Vermont Yankee matters. This time, the crowd included an independent film producer who is working on a documentary, with a video camera on a tripod and a large boom mic hanging overhead.

Not long into Potkin's testimony, the film guy went to move a mic on the table in front of Potkin. In the process, he knocked Sen. Dick McCormack's coffee over and onto Potkin. It was not a highlight of hospitality in the Vermont Legislature, but Entergy these days isn't quite in a position to raise a stink. Potkin said the coffee wasn't hot.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Douglas, Obama talk energy

Gov. Jim Douglas will meet Wednesday with the president and other governors about energy, from 2-3 p.m. at the White House.

Douglas often brings up the fact that President Barack Obama supports construction of new nuclear power plants. Will nuclear power, Vermont Yankee and the lack of a federal solution to nuclear waste come up?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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Bernie's friends

The political Web site politico reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders was among 12 senators schmoozing in Miami Beach with a whole bunch of national lobbyists. You can read about it HERE.

- Terri Hallenbeck



They remembered Rick Hube

Estimates are that 600 people came to Stratton Mount School on Sunday to remember the late Rep. Rick Hube, R-South Londonderry, on what would have been his 63rd birthday. He died unexpectedly just before Christmas.

Friends assembled a book of memories and photos full of stories about Hube inviting friends into his house to wait out a snow squall, mentoring a young man curious about politics, skiing, sailing — and carrying out endless pranks.

Frank Cioffi, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. and fellow University of Vermont trustee, recounted phone pranks — Hube dialing Cioffi’s phone so it went off while he was in a meeting or leaving call-back numbers that turned out to be Hooters in Indiana or court diversion in Rutland.

“Throughout the years he made me laugh so hard at times that my side hurt,” Cioffi wrote, but added, “Please don’t think that because he was funny, that he wasn’t serious about important issues. He was.”

Numerous contributors noted how Hube put his mark on legislative discussions about school finance, taxes and redistricting during his decade in the House.

“The great thing about Rick,” wrote childhood friend Rod Morgan, “the memories and the stories are always good ones.”

- Nancy Remsen

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Fish or cut bait?

Rep. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, announces today his decision about joining two other Democrats and two Republicans already running for lieutenant governor.

Bray said he began exploring a run for lieutenant governor in November. He will make public his decision at 11 a.m. in the Cedar Creek Room at the Statehouse.

Who is already in? Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, Republican Mark Snelling, Democrat Tim Palmer and Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland.

- Nancy Remsen

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Advantage incumbents

The three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation all raised money for re-election during the last quarter of 2009, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who faces a primary challenge from Daniel Freilich of Wilmington and a general election challenge from Republican Len Britton of Taftsville, raised $350,419 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. That’s oodles more than his challengers. Candidates have to report to the Federal Election Commission when they have raised or spent $5,000.

Freilich’s report shows $28,898 in contributions, with all the large contributions (greater than $200) from out-of-state supporters. He had five Vermont contributions, all $200 or less. Freilich spent $25,597 and reported $4,701 on hand.

Britton, who has said his campaign wouldn’t accept any special interest money, reported raising a net of $8,152 during the three-month period, listed $7,518 in expenditures and had $1,412 on hand.

Leahy reported receiving $289,308 from 1,984 individuals, many from outside Vermont and often in amounts ranging from $10 to $50. He had 30 contributions from political action committees for a total of $63,511.

Leahy spent a bundle — $180,464, but still has $2.74 million on hand for the primary and general election.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., also comes up for re-election in the fall and has been fundraising in the event he faces a challenger. No one has stepped into the spotlight yet. He reported $209,077 in new contributions in the last quarter, with $77,000 from 52 political action committees and $132,198 from 510 individuals.

Welch spent $50,405 and has $794,904 on hand.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., doesn’t face re-election in the fall, but still raised $100,584 in the last quarter of 2009. He spent $26,317 and has $122,619 on hand.

— Nancy Remsen

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Nuclear politics

VY vote this year? Maybe

Once upon a time, the Legislature was balking at voting on Vermont Yankee’s future and the governor who was pushing for a vote. Now that tritium is leaking into groundwater at the plant from pipes that company officials said didn’t exist, things appear different.

Gov. Jim Douglas, a longtime supporter of the plant, for the first time last week said the Legislature should hold off on a vote.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Legislature to vote sooner rather than later, against the Vernon plant’s continued operation after 2012.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Jan. 21 called for a vote. Fellow candidate Deb Markowitz chimed in last week. So did the Washington Electric Cooperative board.

House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said Monday he wants the state Public Service Board to turn Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. down on its corporate restructuring plan and indicate it plans to turn the plant down on continued operation.

"If they don’t I believe the Legislature will take action before adjourning for the summer," Klein said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said in December that the Senate might be ready to vote on Vermont Yankee this year, and it’s beginning to look like that could happen.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said legislators are awaiting a revised report from the public oversight panel on the plant’s reliability. The panel has re-formed to look at corrected information following Entergy’s admission last month that the plant does have underground pipes with radioactive material that it had previously denied.

That report is due back Feb. 16, though panel member Arnie Gundersen told Klein’s committee last week it might take longer.

Smith said he did think the Public Service Board has enough information to reject the corporate restructuring plan.

VY and the election

No matter what happens with a vote this year on Vermont Yankee, last week’s surprise announcement by Douglas that he wanted a timeout on decisions about Vermont Yankee drew a clearer-than-ever picture that the issue of the nuclear power plant’s future is going to be hanging still when a new governor takes office next January.

If you thought Vermont Yankee was a big election issue before, it just became even more so. It will be a new governor’s Public Service Department that will be advising the Public Service Board on such matters.

That has not escaped the notice of the candidates who hope to replace Douglas. As mentioned above, two of the Democratic candidates called for a decision against continued operation after 2012.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the Republican candidate, joined Douglas at his Yankee announcement last week. Dubie agreed with Douglas that a "timeout" was needed on Vermont Yankee decisions and focused most of his comments on concern for the 650 jobs at the plant.

"I am deeply concerned about the 650 people who work for Vermont Yankee; I am concerned about their jobs and their families; I am concerned about all the small businesses in the area that depend on VY and its employees. My cousin is an IBEW member who works at VY. I am concerned about his uncertain future.," Dubie said. "And I am extremely disappointed that VY management has compromised those jobs through repeated breaches of faith with the State of Vermont and its people."

There was strong speculation in the Statehouse that Douglas’ change in stance last week was at least partly about bringing Dubie over to the skeptical side of the issue as a growing number of Vermonters don’t like what’s going on at the plant.

Afterward in the next room, Shumlin, one of the Democratic candidates who hopes to replace Douglas, said that Douglas’ call for a change in management at Vermont Yankee won’t solve anything.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Note: For regular readers, we're now breaking up the Tuesday buzz into separate items rather than one long one.

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