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Friday, February 16, 2018

Walters: Scott Shifts Gun Stance Following Fair Haven Threat

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 7:20 PM

  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott, who has long opposed any new restrictions on gun ownership, shifted his position Friday following the arrest of a young man who allegedly intended to commit mass murder at a Rutland County school.

Eighteen-year-old Jack Sawyer of Poultney was arrested Thursday and, in an interview with police, outlined a detailed plan for shooting students — "as many as I can get," according to the arrest affidavit submitted in court — at Fair Haven Union High School. It seems clear from reading the affidavit that Sawyer would likely have carried out his plan, if not for private individuals alerting authorities on two separate occasions.

Scott appeared deeply shaken by this very close call as he addressed reporters Friday afternoon in his Montpelier office. "If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?" he asked.

"Just yesterday, I did an interview noting that we are the safest state in the nation," he continued, referring to remarks he made to Seven Days' Taylor Dobbs. "But the reality of how close we came to a devastating tragedy underscores the threat of violence that faces the entire country.

"As a result, I've been asking myself, 'Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?'" Scott said. His change in heart, he added, means opening the discussion to such issues as mental health, school safety, gun safety and, potentially, at least, some form of gun control legislation.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Media Note: WDEV Hires Veteran Journalist Dave Gram

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 4:06 PM

  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Dave Gram
One of Vermont's most respected journalists is about to take on a new medium. Dave Gram, an editor for VTDigger.org who spent 31 years covering the Green Mountain State for the Associated Press, has been hired by WDEV Radio as the host of its daily two-hour talk show.

Gram's first day behind the microphone will be February 26. He replaces Mike Smith, who is leaving on February 19 after two and a half years as host of "Open Mike." The program will get a new name, which has yet to be determined, according to station owner Steve Cormier.

The search for a new host, he said, involved calling people and soliciting suggestions. That's when Gram's name surfaced. "He came in, we talked to him and we offered him the job," said Cormier. "Sometimes it's that simple."

Gram's a serious newsman, but he's known in Statehouse circles for a sharp sense of humor that seems likely to translate well to radio. In both respects he's not unlike Mark Johnson, who hosted the show at WDEV for 16 years before, ironically, becoming an editor at VTDigger in 2015.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Media Note: Mike Smith Leaving WDEV Radio

Posted By on Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 7:27 PM

Mike Smith at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew THorsen
  • Mike Smith at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies
Mike Smith, host of the daily "Open Mike" program on WDEV Radio, began his show Thursday with a surprise announcement: He is leaving the station in less than two weeks, on February 19. He is also suspending his political column, which is posted weekly on VTDigger.org and runs in the Vermont Business Magazine. His statement was posted Thursday evening on the magazine's vermontbiz.com website.

He said the decision "is mine, and mine alone," and had nothing to do with last year's ownership change. Longtime owner Ken Squier sold the station to sales director Steve Cormier, who is now cohost of the weekday "Morning News Service."

Smith gave no specific reason for the sudden move. He alluded to the pressure of hosting two hours of live radio every day and his personal need to find "on a regular basis, new challenges to try." WDEV hired Smith in mid-2016 after longtime host Mark Johnson left for a post at VTDigger.

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Montpeculiar: Selleck and Souce and Rally Monkey, Oh My

Posted By on Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 5:40 PM

Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham)
What happens when you stick five Vermont senators in a small room every day for weeks and months on end? Well, they form bonds, find ways to work together, and, once in a while, they get a little slaphappy.

Take, for example, the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, members of which have given each other nicknames. And although she doesn't come right out and say so, it's pretty clear that the instigator is Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham), a.k.a. Rally Monkey.

"This is one of my goals in my work here, is to keep it joyful," she said. "There's a lot of doom and gloom. But I have to keep it fun."

So here's the rundown:

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) is Grammar Man. "He's an English professor and published author," said Balint. "And oftentimes in committee, when we're at loggerheads over a particular passage, he'll swoop in with a flourish and say 'This is how we make it work,' and we'll say, 'Grammar Man to the rescue!'"

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Media Note: Ashworth Returns to VPR as News Director

Posted By on Wed, Feb 7, 2018 at 12:31 PM

  • Courtesy Vermont Public Radio
  • Sarah Ashworth
Sarah Ashworth, a former producer of Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition," is returning to the station as news director. She will replace John Dillon, who is moving to the regional New England News Collaborative, which produces news for eight stations in the region.

Ashworth worked at VPR from 2007 to 2010. Since then, according to a VPR press release, she has been a producer at the nationally distributed Diane Rehm Show, news director at New Hampshire Public Radio and a news editor at Minnesota Public Radio, where she currently works. She will start at VPR on March 12.

“Vermont is a great place to practice journalism, with its engaged population of listeners and readers and people who care deeply about their communities,” Ashworth said in the VPR release. “I’m looking forward to producing memorable stories and essential news to Vermonters.”

John Van Hoesen, VPR's senior vice president and chief content officer, praised Ashworth's "leadership and experience," and added, "We are excited to welcome her back to Vermont."

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Walters: Scott Officials Unveil Tax Plan Meant to Counter Losses From Trump Cuts

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 4:28 PM

Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom and Administration Secretary Susanne Young
Gov. Phil Scott's top financial officials released the broad outline of a tax-reform plan designed to counter the Vermont tax implications of the federal tax cuts adopted in December.

"If we do nothing, the effect is a $30 million tax increase," Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom said during a Friday press briefing at the governor's office. "This plan is intended to insulate Vermonters from an inadvertent tax increase."

The administration presented charts showing that the biggest state tax hikes would fall on middle and upper-middle income households — those with taxable incomes between $50,000 and $300,000 a year. Those in very low and very high tax brackets would, on average, see slight reductions in state income tax.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Walters: Bernie Sanders Amasses $6 Million Campaign Account

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 6:25 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE
  • File
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Vermont's three members of Congress continued to amass multimillion-dollar campaign war chests in 2017, according to new reports submitted this week to the Federal Election Commission.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accumulated a whopping $6.17 million, his year-end report shows. That's for Sanders' as-yet-undeclared 2018 senatorial campaign, which is where he's been funneling all his political donations. He can, of course, transfer that money to a presidential campaign organization, should he choose to seek the Democratic nomination in 2020.

During the fourth quarter of 2017, Sanders raised almost $693,000 (virtually all from small individual donors) and spent $379,000. Those are fairly astounding figures, but they pale in comparison to the inflow and outflow earlier in the year. During the second quarter, for instance, his campaign raised $1.3 million. The bottom line: Sanders has an unmatched ability to raise seemingly limitless funds without reliance on political action committees or generous oligarchs.

And between his bank account and his home-state popularity, it's hard to imagine a serious Republican challenge to his bid for reelection. Assuming, of course, that there is such a bid. Sanders himself resolutely turns away any question about his 2018 plans, though his former campaign manager and chief of staff hints there will be.

"He has not made an announcement, but I think there's an anticipation that he will run for reelection," Jeff Weaver said in a recent interview.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Walters: Hallquist Readies Democratic Run for Governor of Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Christine Hallquist - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Christine Hallquist
Updated at 7:27 p.m.

Christine Hallquist is about to make history — or at least give it her best shot.

The CEO of the Johnson-based Vermont Electric Cooperative is poised to announce a run for governor as a Democrat. If she were to win the August primary, she would become the nation’s first openly transgender, major-party candidate for governor.

It was only last November that Danica Roem of Virginia became the first openly transgender person to win a race for a state legislative seat. A potential governorship? Now, that's history.

Hallquist is nationally known in utility circles and is a respected expert on energy matters in the Vermont Statehouse. But she’s never been tempted to enter politics herself — that is, until Donald J. Trump won the presidency. “There are strong headwinds from Washington that threaten [Vermont’s] way of life and finances,” she said, explaining her move toward candidacy.

The 61-year-old Hyde Park resident would face long odds against Gov. Phil Scott, Vermont's popular first-term Republican, but she is undaunted by the challenge. “I’m a strong leader,” she said. “I can handle headwinds. I wouldn’t be running otherwise.”

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Walters: Tripartisan Group Unveils Sexual Harassment Bill

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 5:35 PM

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Cary Brown and Sen. Carolyn Branagan - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Cary Brown and Sen. Carolyn Branagan
An impressively broad array of Vermont lawmakers stood united Thursday in support of a new bill designed to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

House Bill 707 has 56 cosponsors, including Republicans, Democrats, Progressives and independents. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) and Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) both attended an announcement about the bill in the Statehouse's Cedar Creek Room.

The bill is designed to remove barriers to reporting sexual harassment and protect those who report offenses. It would prohibit employment agreements that bar victims from filing complaints or gaining redress, protect employees from being fired after making a complaint, and extend protections to people working as independent contractors.

"The #MeToo movement brought forward a critical and long-overdue conversation," said Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford), the bill's lead sponsor. "Women and men have come forward in unprecedented numbers to confront lawless workplace sexual harassment."

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Walters: A Grand Coalition on Water Quality?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 12:56 PM

Ernie Pomerleau, Tom Torti, Jon Groveman and Dominic Cloud - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Ernie Pomerleau, Tom Torti, Jon Groveman and Dominic Cloud
A Friday morning Statehouse press conference brought together a disparate group of people to call for legislative action on Vermont water quality.

The event included environmental advocates, municipal leaders and two of the most well-connected members of the Vermont business community. They were there to declare unified support for creation of a state Clean Water Authority and establishment of a per-parcel fee to fund water cleanup efforts that have been mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

They stressed the need for a nonpolitical, independent, expert panel to manage a long-term cleanup program.

In the past, "We've allowed the polarization and the demagoguery to get in the way," said Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. "We are very proud and pleased to stand here with a cast of characters that, 10, 15, 20 years ago you would never see standing together, to put something forward that we think is monumental in the history of Vermont."

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