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And Then There Were Three 

Fair Game

Published November 21, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The race to run the Vermont Senate next term is getting a little crowded.

Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden) tells Fair Game she’ll be joining Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) in challenging incumbent Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) for the upper chamber’s top leadership spot.

“I think that there was a lot of dissatisfaction and frustration with the way the Senate operated in the last session, and I would say mostly because of process — not because of disagreements about certain issues,” Snelling says.

First appointed to the Senate in 2002 by then-governor Howard Dean to replace her mother, Barbara Snelling, the Hinesburg Republican has won re-election five times since in Vermont’s most populous county.

Could a GOPer — even one as moderate as Snelling — run a 30-member Senate dominated by 23 Democrats and Progressives?

“I really think that if you have a strong majority caucus, there isn’t really any reason you have to say [partisan affiliation] is part of the pro tem’s job,” Snelling says.

In recent days she’s been circulating a proposal to colleagues that would re-imagine the pro tem’s office to focus on creating “a predictable and positive work environment in the Senate.” The leaders of each party would “bring forward their top priorities for Senate action” and then each senator would vote on which issues should be included in the body’s agenda.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in having a conversation about good process,” she says. “How that happens and who makes it happen are different issues.”

Cummings, who announced last month that she, too, would challenge Campbell, says she and Snelling see eye to eye on the need for change.

“I think we share a lot of concerns about how the Senate ran last year,” Cummings says. “I think she’s trying to bring attention to those concerns, and she has viable solutions that I think the Senate should consider.”

Though both are challenging Campbell, Snelling and Cummings wouldn’t necessarily run head to head. That’s because the Democratic caucus will vote first — possibly as soon as next week — on whom the party will support for the pro tem position. As a Republican, Snelling would likely not be a contender in that contest. The winner would then face Snelling and all other comers in a vote before the full Senate in January.

Both Cummings and Campbell say they believe they have the votes within the Democratic caucus to secure its nomination.

“One of the things I can do is count pretty well,” Campbell says. “So I feel confident that I have the numbers. Of course, unless someone’s not being on the up and up.”

Says Cummings: “It’s close. It’s very close. I think I may actually have the votes — but I don’t count anything until the votes are counted.”

Snelling is a touch more circumspect about her chances.

“I don’t know that I have support. That’s why I think it’s maybe more about the principles I’m trying to get discussed,” she says. “I know it’s a big leap, and I know many people have already promised their votes to John.”

One X-factor is exactly who will be permitted to cast a vote in the Democratic caucus. Though Campbell shut out Progressive/Democratic Senate candidates during the campaign season, he now says he’s inclined to let Sen.-elect David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) and Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) take part in party deliberations.

“As long as they want to caucus with us, the two Progressives, that’s fine with me,” Campbell says. “Let’s move on.”

But he’s not sure whether three Republicans who also secured the Democratic nomination — Sens. Peg Flory (R/D-Rutland), Kevin Mullin (R/D-Rutland) and Bill Doyle (R/D-Washington) — will get a vote in the caucus. If they do, it could tilt the race his way, as many Republican senators support Campbell.

“We got elected as Republicans and Democrats, so I believe we are entitled to vote in either caucus,” Flory says.

Though Snelling, a fellow Republican, has now entered the race, Flory says she’s still in Campbell’s camp — at least for the time being.

“So far I haven’t found any reasons not to support John,” she says.

Private Parts

Ever since the biographer-boinking Gen. David Petraeus got caught with his pants down, the four-star fornicator has become a cause célèbre for internet privacy proponents.

They say law-enforcement officials’ raiding of email accounts belonging to Petraeus and his, um, associates points to the pressing need to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Passed in the internet stone age of 1986, ECPA allows law-enforcement officials to access emails that are more than 180 days old without a judge’s approval. They simply have to swear in an administrative subpoena that those racy emails you sent to a Tampa socialite are, like, totally relevant to an investigation.

Vermont’s own Sen. Patrick Leahy has been pushing for years to update the law by requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant before snooping around email accounts — and to notify targets of such snooping within three days. Even before the Petraeus affair broke, he’d scheduled a markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, to move such legislation forward.

All of which makes a story published Tuesday by CNET political reporter Declan McCullagh that much more surprising. Citing unnamed sources, McCullagh wrote that Leahy’s amendment “has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law.”

McCullagh reported that Leahy “dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns,” allowing more than 22 federal agencies to continue electronic snooping without a warrant and letting law-enforcement agencies do so in “emergency” situations.

Not so, says Leahy’s office.

In a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon, Leahy (or, more likely, his staff) wrote, “Ideas from many sources always circulate b4 a markup 4 disc., but Sen.Leahy does NOT support such an exception for #ECPA search warrants.”

“No, it’s not accurate,” Leahy spokesman David Carle says of the CNET story. “The whole point of his bill is to require a search warrant for the government to access email stored with a third-party service provider under ECPA.”

Leahy does not support a waiver for federal agencies, Carle says, “and the bill has never been changed to include that or any of the discussion ideas, either.”

“Others may want such changes, and ideas from a wide range of interests always circulate before a markup for discussion, but he does not support that kind of a change,” Carle says.

Moran Morass

A brewing battle over a nonbinding resolution has some Burlington city councilors worried Mayor Miro Weinberger is planning to sell off the waterfront property housing the Moran Plant.

But, Weinberger says, “We are at the beginning of the process. The fix is not in.”

Since the coal-fired power plant was shuttered in 1986, city officials have sought to find a new use for the publicly owned asset. This summer, Weinberger scrapped predecessor Bob Kiss’ plans for Moran and issued a request for new proposals to revitalize the property.

That prompted a coalition of Progressive, Republican and independent city councilors to bring forward a resolution last week outlining four guiding principles for development.

Among them? Retaining “full or majority ownership by the City of the Moran Plant building” and seeking to lease, not sell the property.

That drew protests from council Democrats and from Weinberger. The mayor says the resolution could tie the city’s hands by sending “a message that limits the number of people that we get coming to the table. A possible party that would only be interested in some kind of proposal involving a change of ownership may be discouraged.”

After a heated debate over the measure last Monday, councilors adjourned before determining the resolution’s fate. It’s set for a rehearing at next Monday’s meeting.

“I’m not really sure I understand the tying-of-the-hands argument, because it’s advisory. It’s a guiding principle,” says Councilor Karen Paul (I-Ward 6), who supports the resolution. “I don’t believe it ties people’s hands.”

“If this one document that’s advisory only turns off a particular tenant or owner, perhaps that tenant or owner wouldn’t be a good fit anyway,” says Councilor Paul Decelles (R-Ward 7). “So I’m dumbfounded about why there is so much opposition against this — unless Miro already does have someone lined up to purchase it.”

Weinberger says that’s not the case — though he says he’s “open to everything at this point.”

“I think it’s probably unlikely we would end up selling this property,” he says. “On the other hand, there are structures one could envision — all sorts of scenarios involving some sort of change in ownership on some piece of it.”

Councilor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), a leading agitator in favor of the resolution, argues that if Weinberger doesn’t agree with the principles included in it, “Then he’s not the visionary mayor that a lot of people thought he was.”

Media Notes

Since the dawn of the internet, the Valley News has lagged behind most Vermont daily newspapers on the digital front, posting just a handful of stories each day on its, well, terribly designed website.

Last week, with a radical web redesign and a new digital strategy, the paper finally entered the 21st century.

“For a long time, the Valley News has taken the position of ignoring the internet to protect what remains a very healthy newspaper. That strategy worked for a very long time,” says publisher Mark Travis. “But, obviously, the internet is here to stay.”

While online content is free for the moment, the paper intends to start restricting it to subscribers in the next few weeks, Travis says. They’ll face a slight price increase in December, unless they choose to opt out of online access. Casual readers will continue to have free access to up to five stories a month.

Editor Jeff Good says his paper’s slow adoption of a digital strategy allowed it to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.

“For a long time, we were behind the curve, and now we’re ahead of the curve because we never created in our readers the expectation that the journalism it costs us so much to produce would be free of charge,” he says.

Most importantly, jokes Travis, “The idea of having a website we don’t have to apologize for anymore is really exciting.”

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.


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