Thursday, February 28, 2013

Not-Quite-Breaking: Shumlin Says He's Not Running for President

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 10:32 AM

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OK, I mean, not that I think Gov. Peter Shumlin would run for president. Nor do I think he'd stand a chance. 

But during Shummy's jaunt to Washington last weekend, Politico's otherwise generally astute Jonathan Martin seemed to put Putney Pete on a short list of 2016 presidential contenders.

To be more precise, Martin pegged Shumlin as one of several Democratic governors who are "ambitious politicians boasting records that would probably play well with primary voters in 2016." Folks whose presidential ambitions would be stymied by another run by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Martin writes:

"[Martin] O’Malley is the second-term Maryland governor who has been perhaps the most open about his 2016 ambitions, but whose prospects are largely out of his hands as long as Clinton looms on the horizon. Count New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and [Colorado Gov. John] Hickenlooper himself on that same roster of accomplished Democratic governors who are younger than the 65-year-old Clinton but could find themselves stuck in their state capitals for another decade-plus should she be elected president.

Later in the piece, Martin writes this:

Shumlin, without fully denying his own ambitions, was blunt about what Clinton meant for the Democratic race.

“Let’s be candid about this: So much depends on Hillary,” he said. “If Hillary runs, you’re going to see fewer candidates. If Hillary does not run, you’re going to see more candidates.”

Without fully denying his own ambitions?! OMG! Sounds like he's running for prez!

Um, not quite.

But at Shumlin's first press conference since his D.C. trip wound down, we couldn't resist giving Shummy a chance Wednesday to definitively put to rest such fanciful rumors.

And he did.

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Morning Read: Sanders Sole Lefty to Oppose Lew as Treasury Secretary

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 10:23 AM

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By comparison with some of President Obama's other second-term cabinet picks (ahem, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel), Jacob Lew's confirmation Wednesday as treasury secretary was relatively painless.

As the New York Times put it, the Senate "easily and, for the most part, affably" confirmed the former White House chief of staff and budget director to the post.

Not joining in that affability?

You guessed it: Vermont's terribly unaffable Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was the sole kind-of-sort-of-Democrat (he caucuses with and mostly votes with the party) to oppose Lew. The independent joined 25 Republicans in casting a "nay" vote. Another 20 Republicans backed Lew, making the final vote 71 to 26.

So what's Bernie's beef?

Sanders' office said in a statement that the senator has "major policy differences with Lew" on Wall Street deregulation, entitlement programs, offshore tax havens and trade policy. Translation: Lew ain't no man of the people.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, the Times reported, Sanders said, "We need a secretary of the Treasury who does not come from Wall Street but is prepared to stand up to the enormous power of Wall Street. Do I believe that Jack Lew is that person? No, I do not."

If you're so inclined, you can read Sanders' full floor statement here

As we noted in January, this isn't the first time Sanders opposed Lew. He voted against Lew's confirmation to lead the Office of Management and Budget in November 2010. Sanders also opposed outgoing treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's nomination to the post back in 2009.

Vermont's other senator, Patrick Leahy, joined with his fellow Dems to back Lew on Wednesday. Leahy's office did not release a statement on the vote, but spokesman David Carle said in January that Lew "has deep and unequaled experience and knowledge about budgetary matters."

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Pot Decriminalization Bill Will Miss Crossover Deadline, But Live to Toke Another Day

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 1:34 AM

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Leaders are cloistered under the ornate, marble dome. Everyone outside is anxiously awaiting the puff of white smoke that will signal consensus.

No, not the election of a new pope in Vatican City — the pot bill in the Vermont Statehouse!

A bill to decriminalize possession of “small” amounts of marijuana — two ounces or less — is one of the most hotly anticipated of the year. That’s because after a messy showdown in Senate last year, the bill’s main obstacle — House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) — agreed that he would allow the legislation to proceed in his chamber this year.

But with two weeks to go until the mid-session “crossover” deadline — the lawmaker equivalent of an all-star break — the bill hasn’t made an appearance. There's been no sign of it in committee and no word about a hearing. You’d have better luck finding a bag of Cheetos in a UVM dorm room at 4:20.

Well, stoners, take heart. Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) let slip to Seven Days that House and Senate leaders have made a deal to grant the decrim bill an extension, allowing it to survive the mid-March crossover deadline. “If they were to pass a bill and it came over two weeks after crossover deadline, we’d still consider it,” Sears said this week.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vermonters First Super PAC Airs TV Ads Attacking Dems on Gas, Property Taxes

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 6:45 PM

UPDATED at 6:35 p.m.

With the release of two new television ads Wednesday, the conservative super PAC Vermonters First demonstrated that it's in Vermont politics for the long haul.

As the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld first reported this morning, the group today began airing two new, 15-second ads attacking Democrats for proposing $70 million in new taxes.

“An eight-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase?” says a man featured in one ad as he fills up the tank of his pickup truck. “That’ll make it harder to do my job.”

A narrator then intones, “Vermont Democrats are proposing at least $70 million in new taxes on working Vermonters. Call your legislators and say no to these higher taxes.”

 

The ads are the first public move by Vermonters First since the final two months of the 2012 campaign season, when it spent more than a million dollars without much success. The ads signal that the group, which was almost entirely funded by Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, has designs on influencing not just elections, but legislative deliberations as well.

How much Vermonters First plans to invest in its new media campaign is unclear, though WCAX-TV confirmed that the group has thus far spent $7800 to air the ads 31 times. They began running Wednesday and are slated to air at least through March 1.

The group’s treasurer, consultant and de facto spokesman, Tayt Brooks, declined to comment Wednesday on its plans or strategy.

The group’s critics on the left, however, were quick to pounce.

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First Sound Study at Lowell Shows Wind Project Noise (Mostly) Within Required Standards

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 2:22 PM

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The first round of noise studies is in from Kingdom Community Wind, the contentious wind-energy development straddling a ridgeline between Lowell and Albany.

The verdict?

For the most part, the 21 Vestas turbines strung along the spine of the Lowell Mountains did not generate enough noise to violate the conditions under which the Public Service Board approved the Green Mountain Power project. But in a few instances, noise at the remote Northeast Kingdom wind project did spike high enough to violate GMP's permit. 

That’s according to a report GMP filed yesterday (PDF) with the PSB. Wind opponents and neighbors, however, aren’t satisfied with the study, and say the noise generated by the 400-foot-tall turbines is still loud enough to disrupt the quality of life for nearby residents.

“I don’t call it that we have a quality of life anymore,” says Shirley Nelson, who along with her husband, Don, lives on more than 580 acres on the eastern slope of the Lowell Mountains. Their property borders the Lowell project, and the Nelsons have been vocal opponents of it. The Nelsons and GMP are entangled in a lawsuit over disputed ownership along a section of the ridgeline.

“I sometimes wake up with headaches, and can’t sleep the night through anymore. My ears ring almost constantly when the turbines are going,” says Shirley Nelson.

Don Nelson likened the noise inside the couple’s farmhouse to the sound of rushing water. Outside, he says, the turbines sound like “a jet plane on the horizon.” The noise isn’t steady, the Nelsons say, but pulses in and out. Nearby neighbors, they say, have to run a fan at night in order to block out the turbine noise and get to sleep.

One condition of GMP's permit to operate the wind farm is that sound levels not exceed 45 decibels outside of any existing homes near the project and 30 decibels in interior bedrooms. (GMP equates 45 decibels to the ambient noise level inside a library.) The utility must collect noise measurements from the project for at least two weeks, four times a year, for the first two years of operation. GMP hired White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group, Inc., to collect and analyze the first round of noise data, and submitted the data to a third party for confirmation that it was sufficient for a thorough analysis.

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Media Note: Green Mountain Power to Pay Barton Chronicle Reporter's Legal Bills

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 7:35 AM

Fourteen months after Green Mountain Power had a Vermont reporter arrested for trespassing, the electric utility company has agreed to foot the reporter's legal bills.

Barton Chronicle editor Chris Braithwaite said Tuesday afternoon he planned to drop a lawsuit against the company after it promised to compensate him $22,500 for legal fees he racked up defending himself against a previously dismissed trespassing charge.

The dispute stems from Braithwaite's December 2011 arrest for failing to leave GMP-owned property on Lowell Mountain as he covered a protest against the company's Kingdom Community Wind project.

In a written statement, Braithwaite called the settlement "a fair resolution of this matter."

GMP spokeswoman Dotty Schnure, meanwhile, said the company's decision to settle the suit in no way indicates it did anything wrong.

"We're confident we would have prevailed based upon all the facts and the law, but we didn't see how it benefits our customers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate the case," Schnure said.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Democrat and Republican Vie For "Most Moderate" in Ward 7 Council Race

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Voters and politicians alike sometimes claim that party labels don't matter much. But party affiliation is one of the only things distinguishing the two candidates, Tom Ayres (D) and Jim Robert (R), in Burlington's Ward 7 city council race.

Both men say they're emphasizing fiscal responsibility — as opposed, presumably, to boasting of their fiscal irresponsibility. The two also describe themselves as socially moderate rather than, say, socially extreme.

Robert: "I want to make sure we're spending our money wisely. I see tax increases as a last resort."

Ayers: "I'm talking a lot about responsible management of taxpayers' money."

The pair also share an unenthusiastic response to the 25-unit condo complex being developed in the ward by a partnership that includes Mayor Miro Weinberger.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Week Ahead: February 25-March 3, 2013

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 6:35 AM

 

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Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Got a newsworthy event for next weeks' calendar? Email us by Friday to submit.

Monday, February 25

  • At 10:20 a.m., Gov. Peter Shumlin and other governors will be meeting with President Obama at the White House, part of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting 2013.
  • At 11 a.m., Rep. George Cross (D-Winooski) and Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) are the guests on Channel 17's "Conversations With Your Legislators." Watch it live.
  • A coalition of groups backing GMO labeling bills are holding a series of public forums this week, starting at 6:30 p.m. today in White River Junction. Click here for a full schedule.

Rest of the week after the break...

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Castleton Poll: Majority of Vermonters Support Gun-Control Measures

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 1:06 PM

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Maybe Phil Baruth should have stuck to his guns.

Poll results released Friday by the Castleton Polling Institute show that a majority of Vermonters support a host of gun-control measures proposed at the state and federal level — including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

According to the poll results, half of all Vermonters have a gun in their households, and most people surveyed said they favor stricter controls on the sale and use of firearms.

Among the findings:

  • 84 percent favor requiring strict reporting from mental-health professionals to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).
  • 75 percent favor closing the so-called "gun show loophole."
  • 66 percent favor banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
  • 61 percent favor banning further sale of assault weapons.
  • 54 percent favor making it illegal to own an assault rifle.

Even among gun owners, there's majority support for gun-control measures: 88 percent of Vermont gun owners surveyed favor requiring mental health professionals to report NICS; 71 percent back closing the gun show loophole; and 55 percent favor banning the sale of high-capacity ammo clips. Also, 50 percent of gun owners favor banning further sales of assault weapons. On the question of making it illegal to own assault weapons, though, only 40 percent of gun owners favored that.

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Bill to Strengthen VT's Child Porn Law Heads to Full Senate for Floor Vote

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 11:40 AM

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Yesterday the Senate Judiciary committee voted unanimously to approve a bill making it crime to possess "or access with intent to view" lewd depictions of children and/or those under the age of 16 engaged in sexual acts. We wrote about the bill this week in a story about efforts to strengthen Vermont's child pornography statute

S.19, sponsored by the Judiciary chair Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), now heads the Senate floor, where it's scheduled for a second reading today. "I don't anticipate much problem with it," Sears says.

The committee amended S.19 from its original version to remove one so-called "affirmative defense" that would enable those charged with the crime to escape prosecution. In Sears' original bill, a defendant could claim that he or she possessed "fewer than three depictions" of child pornography but made a prompt and good-faith effort to destroy those images and didn't share them with anyone but law enforcement.

But as Sears explained, setting a minimum number of allowable images was "problematic given new digital technology." As he explained, a single, downloadable web page or digital file may contain 50 or more illegal images but still be interpreted by a judge or jury as a "single depiction."

That said, the new child-porn bill will require prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant actually intended to view or download the illicit images. The revised bill also leaves in place a potential loophole for offenders: Consumers of child pornography could still store illegal files in their computer's trash folder, then claim as a defense that they made a good-faith effort to delete those files but neglected to empty the trash.

Continue reading »

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