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Truth Be Told 

Fair Game

Published June 17, 2009 at 8:43 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

In press interviews since the end of the legislative session, Gov. Jim Douglas continues to harp on how the Democratic leadership “walked away” from budget negotiations with his administration.

The Republican tells anyone who will listen that House Speaker Shap Smith and President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin abandoned the negotiating table “two or three times.”

Last week, during an interview with Jane Lindholm on Vermont Public Radio’s “Vermont Edition,” Douglas twice recounted the alleged walkout to listeners.

“In fact, at least three times they literally got up and walked out of the room — walked away from the negotiating table,” Douglas noted early in the interview. Later, when Lindholm asked if he was open to working with legislative leaders, he said, “You bet. Remember, I’m not the one who walked away from the negotiating table two or three times; it was the Democratic leaders. I hope they’ll come back.”

OK, so is it “at least three times” or “two or three times?”

Shumlin and Smith are befuddled by the guv’s characterization of their talks. In fact, both say they had extensive talks with members of the Douglas team right up until the day of the override vote. Those talks were mostly with Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville and Finance Commish Jim Reardon.

“I am mystified as to why the governor would choose not to tell the truth,” says Shumlin.

Well, maybe he is telling the truth: Smith and Shumlin had to “walk away” from the table at some point, because the meetings were held on the governor’s turf. They had to leave the room to go home, right?

Seriously, if the governor were serious about brokering a deal, why wasn’t he personally involved in more of the talks? Both Govs. Richard Snelling, a Republican, and Howard Dean, a Democrat, took time to sit down with lawmakers — often on their own terms and turf. It’s called leadership.

According to a copy of his daily schedule obtained by Seven Days, it doesn’t look like Gov. Douglas set aside any time to meet with legislative leaders between May 25 and the day of the override vote, June 2.

He lists about three hours of “office time” in Montpelier. Five and a half hours of blacked-out private meetings include 90 minutes on the morning of the override vote. The rest of his time was spent crisscrossing the state, attending various events (including one involving the Ambassador of Tanzania), dragging the media to various public venues (to assail the Democratic budget) and to preside over a sole ribbon-cutting. Shocking.

Nothing on his schedule suggests he met with lawmakers to avoid a budget showdown. Which, of course, makes it easy for the governor to say he didn’t walk away. Hell, he barely showed up!

“I can’t remember a time in my service in Vermont where anyone has totally misrepresented the facts this way,” notes Shumlin. “To suggest to Vermonters that the speaker and I walked away from negotiations is simply untrue.”

It sure works as a one-liner from the bully pulpit and a fundraising pitch to campaign donors.

But is the public buying it?

If they are, Speaker Smith isn’t getting any pushback.

“I was giving the graduation speech at Milton High School on Saturday, and people came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for standing up to the governor,’” notes Smith. “I was down at a Flag Day ceremony in Bennington on Sunday, and the same thing happened — so I’m not so sure how it’s playing, to be honest.”

Dueling for Dollars — And they’re off! Well, OK, they’ve been off for months. A new crop of Democratic candidates for governor, newly released from their duties in Montpelier, are trolling the state for money and support.

Former lieutenant governor and current State Senator Doug Racine appears to be doing his best to make up for lost time in the leg session. He’s hosting two high-profile fundraisers this week — one private, one public.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy, will be in Burlington on Saturday for an event at Drink. Townsend was the lite guv of Maryland from 1995 through 2003, and she and Racine got to know each other then.

A private fundraising event earlier that day will feature some big-name Dems. They’ll gather at the Shelburne home of State Rep. Joan Lenes — located on, appropriately enough, Governor’s Lane. Joining her will be first-term Rep. Kate Webb, John and Jane Ewing, Lola Van Wagenen and Phil and Joan Hoff. Hoff recently penned an op-ed in the Burlington Free Press announcing his support for Racine. No surprise there, as the former governor is the titular chairman of Racine’s campaign committee.

Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz is hosting her own big-donor fundraiser in Shelburne, hosted by Crea Lintilhac, a major donor to environmental causes and Democratic candidates. The event’s high-profile hostesses include former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, DNC Committeewoman Billi Gosh and Burlington developer Melinda Moulton.

The candidates are trying to raise as much cash as they can in the next few weeks before the mid-July campaign filing deadline.

Is it conceivable that two Democratic candidates could each have six figures in the bank roughly 16 months before the election? That’s almost as much as some Dems raise in an entire election cycle.

And there’s a third Dem in the primary, too. Lamoille Sen. Susan Bartlett is beginning to assemble a team and expects to officially launch her bid in July.

It’s a long way until the next year’s primary, she notes. “This race is going to be a couple of laps,” says Bartlett. “So, I’m happy to let them get warmed up.”

Tiger on the ProwlGeoffrey Norman started Vermont Tiger two and a half years ago to provide a counterbalance to the state’s liberal blogosphere. Now he hopes the conservative-leaning blog can provide more than pithy policy critique and analysis.

As many of the state’s larger, established media outlets such as the Burlington Free Press cut back, Norman wants to make Tiger a full-fledged media enterprise — offering everything from political and business profiles to book and dining reviews.

“Anybody who’s doing anything on the web these days is thinking about what’s next,” Norman says. “As big-time print operations scale back, there are those of us who are in the digital realm thinking there is an opening for us.”

Vermont Tiger already does things most blogs don’t — organize events and issue special reports, for example. Tiger has already held two symposia and published several special reports on education spending.

Talking speculatively, Norman says if he were to find investors — rumor has it he’s looking for $300,000 — the first person he’d hire would be a webmaster.

“I’m not trained to do this. I’ve got 35 years of magazine experience, and I’d rather be out writing profiles than clicking a mouse,” he says.

Norman says he’s not optimistic about raising money for a new news venture in the current economy, and insists the talk right now about expansion is just that: talk.

The bigger problem is how to sustain the operation Norman envisions.

He sums up, “Nobody has unlocked the Gordian Knot about how to make money on the Internet.”

All Smoke? — Burlington City Council Democrats appear to be more smoke than fire when it comes to standing up to Mayor Bob Kiss.

Two weeks ago, they forced Kiss to withdraw his appointments to run the city’s departments because several had concerns about Larry Kupferman returning as director of the Community and Economic Development Office.

The mayor put those appointments back up for a vote again this week.

Two Democrats singled out Kupferman Monday night and argued against his appointment. But in the end, only three councilors voted against him, all of them Dems: Councilors Joan Shannon, David Berezniak and Bill Keogh.

Shannon led the charge against Kupferman, but had nothing concrete to say about his job performance — just that Kiss “had not made the case for his appointment.”

The “mere election of the mayor” by voters to a second term does not give Kiss the right to appoint whomever he wants without the council’s OK, she noted. Especially since voters also put seven Democrats onto the 14-member panel.

Kiss disagreed.

“My reelection was based on my achievements in the prior three years, and they had a lot to do with that success,” said Kiss.

Six city councilors spoke in favor of Kupferman, as did Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold. Debate on Kupferman’s appointment lasted about 15 minutes. Kupferman is also currently acting as interim human resources director. The previous director resigned her post to move back to the Midwest.

Kiss also announced the appointment of Brian Searles, the airport director, as interim director of city parks and recreation. Kiss decided not to reappoint Wayne Gross to the position. Gross will stay on as a consultant to the city to help manage the many festivals that occur in city parks throughout the summer.

Money Can’t Buy You Love — Former City Council President Kurt Wright attended Monday night’s council meeting to admonish councilors for trying to add $21,000 to the city budget to pay for extra staff help.

As “Fair Game” readers know, Wright and fellow councilor Jane Knodell, a Progressive, made an issue of this money grab after they left the council.

Last year, the council worked out a deal to boost their $1800 stipend to $3300, but that extra $1500 per councilor was to be pooled to hire a budget analyst for the entire council.

After waiting months for a job description that never materialized, the seven Dems peeled away their $10,500 and put a lawyer on retainer — for themselves.

“That this staff-funding issue continues only serves to reflect badly on this council,” Wright told his former colleagues.

In May, Council President Keogh told Seven Days the money would “not likely” be in the FY 2010 budget. Somehow the money found its way back in.

I wonder if Kiss thinks giving the council the money will “buy” him some good will?

Pass the PlateThe Vermont Workers’ Center has raised almost enough cash to replace a two-year, $30,000 grant from a national Catholic foundation.

The VWC lost the money because the group refused to take a stance against abortion.

Since the May 1 rally, the VWC has held its annual celebration and hosted a “Fill the Gap” tour with performers Si Kahn and Scott Ainslie. It has raised more than $28,000.

“There’s been a huge outpouring of support,” says James Haslam, VWC’s director. “Vermonters believe that that when we say health care is a human right, it includes women’s rights.”

Haslam says the group has also recruited dozens of new monthly sustaining members.

“That’s been part of our hope all along, to find more people willing to do that,” Haslam says.

God works in mysterious ways, eh?

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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