Monday, June 1, 2015

Clinton Campaign Draws Small Crowd in Burlington

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 11:14 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin, former governor Madeleine Kunin and Clinton staffer Brandon Bantham Monday in Burlington. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin, former governor Madeleine Kunin and Clinton staffer Brandon Bantham Monday in Burlington.
Not all Vermonters are feelin' the Bern.

Nearly a week after 5,000 people crowded the Burlington waterfront to watch Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) kick off his presidential campaign, roughly 35 gathered across the street Monday night at Main Street Landing to show their support for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Lopsided though those numbers may sound, Holly Jones of Shelburne reassured her fellow Clintonites that they were hardly a reflection of Clinton's true support in Vermont.

"There was a lot of talk because he had 5,000 people down there," Jones said. "But I can tell you what: She would get 10,000 people, if not 20 or 30 — and that's the truth!"

Beach Conger of Burlington agreed.

"Cheer for Bernie! Vote for Hillary!" he said. 

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Uber Courts Burlington City Councilors Ahead of Vote

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 10:38 PM

John Grimaldi, left, and fellow Uber drivers listen as city councilors ask questions about the transportation service. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • John Grimaldi, left, and fellow Uber drivers listen as city councilors ask questions about the transportation service.
Uber laid it all out Monday night in an effort to convince Burlington city councilors to approve a temporary agreement that would allow its drivers to ferry passengers here legally. 

Burlington's city attorney had started hashing out the proposed agreement with Uber soon after the ride-hailing service launched in the Queen City last fall. On Monday, the council voted unanimously to send the document to two committees for review, and it's expected to either approve or reject the proposal later this month. (Uber maintains that it's currently legal; the city attorney disagrees.)

Local Uber drivers — who included a single mother, a truck driver and a former New York City cabbie — showed up en masse to sing Uber's praises and reassure councilors that the service they provide is safe and reliable. 

After giving a PowerPoint presentation explaining how the app works, an Uber representative named Laura Shen emphasized that the company is "providing economic opportunities" to Burlington residents. Shen estimated that hundreds of drivers have provided "tens of thousands of rides" in Burlington since the service launched. Their top drivers here have raked in as much as $1,400 in a week, she claimed.  

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Alleged McAllister Victim Dead

Posted By and on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 5:37 PM

  • Vermont State Police
  • Sen. Norm McAllister
One of the three women allegedly victimized by Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin) is dead, authorities said Monday. 

While officials have not determined a cause of death, they do not suspect foul play or suicide in the 57-year-old Enosburg Falls woman's death, Vermont State Police spokesman Scott Waterman said.

"Preliminary investigation showed no signs of foul play," Waterman said. "Detectives are waiting on a toxicology report and autopsy to determine a cause of death ... There does not appear to be any evidence she committed suicide."

Police were called about the woman at 12:52 p.m. Saturday, but the time of her death is in question, Waterman said.

In an online fundraising page, the woman's family says she died Saturday. The family could not be reached for comment.

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Governor: Crucial Deadline Met on Vermont Health Connect

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 1:31 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Human Services Hal Cohen Monday in Winooski - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Human Services Hal Cohen Monday in Winooski
Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday morning that the most vexing problem with Vermont Health Connect — the
missing change-of-circumstance function — has been solved.

"I am pleased to announce this team behind me has delivered that tool," Shumlin said at a briefing about the upgrade, which adds the ability to make changes to insurance documents that become effective across six systems. The fix was made by the deadline the governor had set in March when he suggested that if this important function couldn't be implemented, it would be time for the state to consider options. One would be to move the state's online health insurance operation to the federal platform.

The new automated change-of-circumstance function will be available only to staff. Lawrence Miller, Shumlin's point man on Vermont Health Connect, said it would likely be October 1 before members of the public can type changes into their own documents. For now, customers must continue to call Vermont Health Connect or fill out an online form to process changes.

While the governor praised the achievement, he noted, "We have plenty of work yet to do." The next big challenge is to introduce automated renewal, which the state wants its contractor, Optum, to have operating by fall, when the bulk of policyholders need to renew for the next calendar year.

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On 'Meet the Press,' Sanders Calls for Earlier Presidential Debates

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 8:47 AM

Chuck Todd and Sen. Bernie Sanders on "Meet the Press" - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Chuck Todd and Sen. Bernie Sanders on "Meet the Press"
In an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for an earlier start to the presidential debate season than proposed by the Democratic National Committee. He also suggested that Democratic and Republican contenders should debate one another before the parties select their respective nominees.

"By the way, on broader issues, what I think when we talk about issues, Chuck, we need a lot more debates in this campaign," Sanders told moderator Chuck Todd. "I hope very much that we can begin with the Democratic candidates at least as early as July, and also Republicans in those debates, as well."

Sanders did not explain on the show how such bipartisan, primary-season debates would work — nor why they would be a good idea. But in a press release issued by his campaign later that day, spokesman Michael Briggs elaborated.

"Early debates involving both Democrats and Republicans also could revive interest among ordinary voters in the democratic process," Briggs wrote. "One way to get disillusioned voters to participate in elections would be to make it clear that there are major differences between a progressive agenda and the reactionary platform of the Republican Party. That is why Sanders suggested debates including Republican candidates as well as his Democratic rivals for the nomination."

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Burlington Mayor Proposes Plan to Make Uber Legal

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 12:33 PM

  • File
Members of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s administration think they've found a way to get along with Uber. The city attorney’s office has drawn up a temporary operating agreement with the mammoth ride-share company that will be presented to the city council Monday.

Since Uber launched in Burlington last fall, its drivers, who connect with passengers through an app, have been chauffeuring passengers without following the city’s vehicle-for-hire ordinance. Disgruntled traditional taxi drivers have been harping on city officials to “level the playing field” by cracking down on the company.

Despite their discontent, Weinberger said he was excited about the new service and wanted to find a way to allow it to operate here legally.

The agreement is supposed to be a stopgap solution until the city can rewrite its vehicle-for-hire ordinance to specifically address smartphone-based ride-share services. After an Uber driver who was also licensed by the city to drive taxis was arrested on a sexual assault charge last week, Weinberger pledged to address other shortcomings in Burlington's oversight of the vehicle-for-hire industry.

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Facing Blowback, Sanders Calls 1972 Sexual Fantasy Piece 'Stupid'

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 12:06 PM

Bernie Sanders' 1972 essay in the Vermont Freeman - VERMONT FREEMAN VIA MOTHER JONES
  • Vermont Freeman via Mother Jones
  • Bernie Sanders' 1972 essay in the Vermont Freeman
A month after he lost a January 1972 special election for U.S. Senate, once and future candidate Bernie Sanders penned an unusual piece in the Vermont Freeman. Titled "man-and woman," it features dark descriptions of rape fantasy, digressions on gender in society and dialogue between an uncoupling couple.

"A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused," Sanders begins. "A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously. The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their 'revolutionary' political meeting."

The long-forgotten piece found a new audience this week after Mother Jones unearthed it as part of a Sanders profile it published Tuesday, just before the two-term senator formally kicked off his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mainstream news organizations such as CNN, Slate and The Hill quoted liberally from it, mostly without characterizing its contents. Vox called it "bizarre." Several conservative organs touted its coverage — or lack thereof — as proof-positive of a media double-standard: Had a Republican candidate written such words, argued Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, he or she would have been sidelined from the election.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott 'Considering' a Run for Governor

Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 4:27 PM

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (right) takes a break in the Senate chamber during the legislative session earlier this month with Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle). - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (right) takes a break in the Senate chamber during the legislative session earlier this month with Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle).
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday on Vermont Public Radio’s “Vermont Edition” what everybody in Vermont figures must be the case: He's thinking about running for governor in 2016.

“I’m certainly considering it,” Scott said, adding, “I know I have to make a decision by the end of the year.”

The state’s highest-ranking Republican has been lieutenant governor for four and a half years. He was a state senator for 10 years before that. He’s widely seen as the Vermont Republican Party’s strongest hope for challenging whoever runs for governor next year as a Democrat.

Scott, 56, of Berlin, said his decision will not depend on whether three-term incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin runs for reelection. “This is a decision I’ll have to make regardless of Gov. Shumlin’s decision,” he said.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

McAllister Received Full Pay for Final Weeks of Senate Session

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 5:59 PM

Sen. Norm McAllister - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Norm McAllister
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin) continued to collect pay for the final weeks of the legislative session, even though the Franklin County Republican was absent from the Statehouse after his May 7 arrest on sexual assault charges, according to state records.

McAllister was paid the standard legislative weekly salary of $676.56 for the weeks of May 3-16, according to the state Human Resources Department. The legislative session ended May 16.

McAllister, reached by phone at his Highgate home Wednesday, said he hadn't thought about the pay because it's automatically deposited. "I certainly don't want it," he said. "I wasn't there."

Legislators are automatically paid $1,353.12 biweekly during the five-month legislative session, unless they alert the state to stop the pay. Legislators are under no obligation to do so if they are absent from the Statehouse, but some do.

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TV Station Features Vermont Republican in ALEC Exposé

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 4:43 PM

A frame from WXIA-TV's report on the American Legislative Exchange Council. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • A frame from WXIA-TV's report on the American Legislative Exchange Council.
A recent investigative report by Atlanta's NBC affiliate captured a "state representative from New England" schmoozing with lobbyists at a Savannah conference hosted by the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council.

  • Vermont Legislature
  • Rep. Bob Helm
In the footage, obtained by a hidden camera in a hotel bar, the lawmaker's face is blurred. The story does not identify him by name. But his voice is unmistakable: that of Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven).

"It was me, unknowingly being recorded and photographed," says Helm, who serves as ALEC's Vermont state chair. "I had no idea. But whatever I said, I can go to bed with it. I can sleep fine. It was the truth."

Helm's 50-second cameo comes near the end of a six-and-a-half-minute piece documenting ALEC's role in drafting and promoting state legislation friendly to its corporate sponsors. In the story, WXIA-TV chief investigative reporter Brendan Keefe attempts to cover a recent ALEC retreat in Savannah, but he's rebuffed and eventually kicked out of the hotel.

In footage obtained the night before his unceremonious departure, Keefe captures Helm explaining how such conferences are financed.

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