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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Walters: Environmentalists Object to Scott Climate Panel Choice

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 6:15 PM

Annette Smith in her home office - ADAM VANDERMINDEN
  • Adam Vanderminden
  • Annette Smith in her home office
Gov. Phil Scott's Climate Action Commission hasn't even held its first meeting, but it's already taken a step that may alienate a broad swath of Vermont's environmental community

The commission's cochair, Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke, sent an email Wednesday seeking members for the commission's Technical Advisory Group. He wrote that two people would serve as the group's cochairs: Kevin Jones, professor at Vermont Law School, and Annette Smith, founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a vociferous critic of large-scale wind turbines.

While Jones' appointment has drawn little controversy, Smith's has caused at least three prospective TAG members to decline to serve — and prompted a statement of concern from the commission's sole representative of the environmental community.

Vermont Natural Resources Council energy and climate program director Johanna Miller, a member of the commission, said that naming the two as cochairs "calls into question the independence, transparency and, ultimately, the integrity of the commission." She called the move "disappointing and disturbing" and called on the administration to revisit "this preemptive decision at the first commission meeting."

That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 15.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Walters: Leahy Channels PAC Money Through His Very Own PAC

Posted By on Sun, Aug 6, 2017 at 4:07 AM

Sen. Patrick Leahy - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) won another six-year term last November and doesn't face reelection until the year 2022, but his fundraising operation continues to function smoothly.

Not so much for his own reelection fund, but for another organization he controls: the Green Mountain Political Action Committee. It's a so-called "leadership PAC," a vehicle for political spending not directly related to a candidate's own campaign. In Leahy's case, much of the proceeds go to help fellow Democrats across the country.

It also serves another purpose: The Green Mountain PAC is a catchment for the special-interest money that flows freely in Washington, D.C. It allows Leahy to collect and spend big bucks — in part, to maintain his year-round political apparatus — without tainting his traditional reelection fund.

Here's how. On July 15, Leahy's reelection committee filed its quarterly finance report. Leahy for Senate collected $32,000 in donations, only $3,000 of which came from PACs. Pocket change by senatorial standards.

On July 31, the Green Mountain PAC reported contributions totaling $253,000 in the first six months of this year. Nearly half of that came from corporate and special interest PACs. And when you scan through the contributions from individuals, nearly half of that total came from the D.C. area, mostly from lobbyists, attorneys and others who seek to influence lawmaking and regulatory processes.

In short, Leahy's PAC benefits greatly from the senator's position of power, swelling its coffers with top-dollar gifts from special interests and wealthy donors.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Walters: Welch Defends Consensus Building in the Age of Trump

Posted By on Thu, Aug 3, 2017 at 12:40 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Rep. Peter Welch
Remember the joke about the young boy and the pile of horse manure? The one where the boy began digging furiously through the fertilizer, exclaiming "With all this manure, there's got to be a horse in here somewhere!"

Well, that little boy is Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and the manure pile is — need I say — President Donald Trump's Washington.

Welch is doing his best to ignore the noise, the chaos, the tweetstorms and that whole Russia thing so he can focus on actual lawmaking.

"This is a very volatile time with this president," says Welch. "But all of us have to do our best to advocate for policies that are going to be beneficial to the American people."

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Walters: Sanders Challenger Still In the Race

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 1:57 PM

Jon Svitavsky - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Jon Svitavsky
Reports of the demise of Jon Svitavsky's U.S. Senate campaign are greatly exaggerated.

So says the social worker and advocate for the homeless, after his campaign Twitter account posted a message on Tuesday saying "The Svitavsky Campaign is Terminated."

Svitavsky is a political neophyte who announced last month that he would challenge incumbent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the Democratic nomination in 2018.

"I fired my campaign manager," explains Svitavsky. "He ran the Twitter account. I never had a lot to do with it."

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Walters: A Somber Leahy Recounts McCain Health Care Vote

Posted By on Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 5:18 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks to reporters at Burlington International Airport - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks to reporters at Burlington International Airport
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) returned home from Washington, D.C., Friday afternoon on "less than an hour" of sleep. He had been up until the wee hours of the morning for a dramatic vote on the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Like his district-mate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Leahy was among the 51 senators to oppose Republicans' last-ditch repeal measure.

The senior senator was clearly fatigued as he held a press conference at the Burlington International Airport. "I wore a tie only because you guys are here," he told reporters. "Halfway to Middlesex, this tie is gonna be off, let me tell you."

It had been a long, long night, to be sure. But Leahy had borne a heavier burden than most, due to his long friendship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had cast the deciding vote against his own party's bill.

Leahy and McCain have known each other for more than 30 years and have bonded over — of all things — skin cancer. Both McCain and Leahy's wife, Marcelle, are skin cancer survivors who have had to maintain constant vigilance against the disease's return. And now McCain is in the fight of his life against brain cancer.

The Arizona Republican's vote early Friday morning was a bit anticlimactic for Vermont's senior senator. "Many of us had talked with him," Leahy said. "Those of us who knew him well knew how he was going to vote."

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Walters: Environmentalist James Ehlers to Run for Governor of Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Jul 27, 2017 at 12:40 PM

James Ehlers testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • James Ehlers testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.
Updated at 4:37 p.m.

Environmental activist James Ehlers is running for governor of Vermont.

The Winooski resident on Thursday registered as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate with the Secretary of State’s Office and confirmed his candidacy to Seven Days via text message. If he wins the party’s primary, he would presumably challenge first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who is expected to seek reelection in 2018.

At his weekly press conference later Thursday, the governor delivered an ambiguous answer when asked about his political plans.

“I’m trying to get through this next term, so I’m not ready to acknowledge my candidacy today, but I’m intending to run in the future,” Scott said. “But I’m not announcing today.”

Got that?

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Walters: Scott Unveils Yet Another Climate Panel

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 10:45 AM

Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission
For the third time in twelve years, a Vermont governor has created a committee to address climate change.

In 2005 it was Jim Douglas. In 2011, Peter Shumlin gave it a shot. And now in 2017, Gov. Phil Scott has unveiled his very own Climate Action Commission. Every six years, like clockwork.

Scott even joked about the repeat performance. “I wanted to carry on the tradition,” he said at a Thursday press conference. The assembled dignitaries chuckled. He then proceeded to explain, with full seriousness, why Yet Another Panel was a good idea.

“I think it’s important to reestablish those commissions and look at what the objectives were of those commissions,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is, they went a long ways, and we’re looking to move on from there forward.”

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Walters: Bernie Sanders Reports $4.9 Million Campaign War Chest

Posted By on Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 10:48 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a financial juggernaut, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is scoring big with political action committees and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is in cruise control.

That's your quick summary of the Vermont congressional delegation's latest quarterly fundraising reports, which were due Saturday to the Federal Election Commission. (See fundraising totals from state candidates here.)

From April through June, Sanders' Senate reelection campaign raised nearly $1.3 million — almost entirely in donations of less than $100. It spent a little over $200,000, so the Sanders war chest continued to grow.

In fact, Sanders' cash-on-hand totaled nearly $4.9 million as of June 30.

That's got to be a chilling number for any Republican considering a run for U.S. Senate. Sanders, who faces reelection to a third six-year term in 2018, already has an insurmountable lead in fundraising — and he can seemingly produce millions more with a snap of his fingers.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Walters: Scott Launches Award Program for Responsible Farming

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott visited the North Williston Cattle Company Thursday to unveil a voluntary program aimed at encouraging environmental responsibility among Vermont farmers.

It was, to some, an ironic choice: The farm uses sludge and biosolids from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to fertilize some of its crops — a controversial practice in the environmental community. In fact, a bill under consideration in the Vermont legislature would ban the practice.

The new program is called the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program. Farms enrolling in the program will be subject to soil testing and other measurements. If they pass the tests, they will be certified as using best-management practices to minimize their environmental impact.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Walters: Former Health Commissioner Prepares for Year in Uganda

Posted By on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 5:41 PM

Dr. Harry Chen and Anne Lezak - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Dr. Harry Chen and Anne Lezak
Dr. Harry Chen and his wife Anne Lezak are preparing for the adventure of a lifetime: living in Uganda for a year, helping to develop health care institutions in the southwestern city of Mbarara.

Chen is a former state representative, state health commissioner, and acting human services secretary who left state government in March; Lezak is a consultant in nonprofit management and grant writing who most recently worked at Mercy Connections, a Burlington nonprofit.

"This is a transition point for me," Chen explains. "It was a time to take stock and decide what you want your next adventure to be. Anne and I have always talked about spending time overseas. It's a perfect time to do it."

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