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Getting Marriage Out of the Closet 

Fair Game

Published November 19, 2008 at 6:15 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The passage of the same-sex marriage ban in California is reigniting efforts in Vermont to go beyond the state’s landmark civil-union law.

More than 200 people gathered in the rain Saturday in front of Burlington’s City Hall for a rally organized by the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force. Their goal? To bring same-sex marriage into the modern era of equality and civil rights.

“Civil unions is still like being told to sit at the back of the bus,” said Champlain Valley Union High School student James Neiley, who added he doesn’t want to leave Vermont to marry should he find the right guy.

Vermont’s civil-union law, which went into effect in 2000, provides same-sex couples some of the legal benefits and protections of marriage. However, they are still denied many of the privileges guaranteed by federal marriage law, including the power to make life-or-death decisions for a spouse who is incapacitated.

Vermont’s law was considered groundbreaking at the time, although, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriages. Connecticut started marrying same-sex couples last week.

In California, the passage of Proposition 8 on November 4 means the state constitution will be amended to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That’s triggered grassroots protests and demonstrations across the country, including Saturday’s rally in Burlington.

Beth Robinson, the attorney who argued the 1998 Vermont Supreme Court case that resulted in civil unions, said Vermonters are ready for same-sex marriage. She noted one poll that shows Vermonters supporting same-sex marriage by a 58 percent to 39 percent margin. Public testimony to a special legislative committee studying the issue in 2007 bore this out.

“We’ve enjoyed a lot of support from people since 2000,” Robinson said. “So, really the question is, why hasn’t Vermont finished the job sooner?”

State Sen. John Campbell said Tuesday he would introduce a gay marriage bill in the upcoming legislative session, but it’s not clear it has much chance to become law. During the recent campaign, Gov. Jim Douglas said he thought civil unions were working fine, but wouldn’t say if he’d veto legislation aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage.

Robinson said “there is no question that Douglas has not fully embraced” same-sex marriage rights as a priority. But, she added, “I’m convinced as he hears from Vermonters and comes to realize that civil unions are not equal that he’s going to see the light.”

Others may need enlightening, too. I didn’t see a single pol at Saturday’s rally.

Stuck in the closet, perhaps?

Douglas Two-Step — The shuffling of top officials within the Douglas administration continues, and more of the governor’s closest aides are nabbing plum posts.

We’ve already reported the departures of Mike Quinn as economic development commissioner and George Crombie as the head honcho at the Agency of Natural Resources. And we’ve noted the coming of Jonathan Wood as Crombie’s replacement, and the naming of top Douglas aide and official mouthpiece Jason Gibbs to replace Wood.

Betsy Bishop, deputy chief of staff, former lobbyist and another longtime member of the Douglas inner circle, will replace Quinn. She may take on the role of housing commissioner if lawmakers OK the Douglas plan to merge these departments in order to save an estimated $100,000.

Advocates are nervous. Bishop, who has no housing experience, would be responsible for doling out $20 million in special federal housing funds next year, in addition to the $7.3 million the state receives in Community Development Block Grants.

“Given the challenges facing us in housing right now,” said Brenda Torpy, executive director of the nonprofit Champlain Housing Trust, “it’s not the time to eliminate the department or subsume it into another department.”

Also getting the axe last week was Cindy Laware, who was replaced as the secretary of human services by corrections boss Rob Hofmann. A former banker, Hofmann has been on the Douglas team since day one, when he was finance commissioner.

Like Crombie, Laware apparently left “to pursue other opportunities.” She has been a longtime Douglas ally, but wasn’t fully on board with the job cuts being pushed by administration secretary Mike Smith. In fact, Laware was taken to task after she complained about having to target 98 of the first 150 jobs cut by the administration. Not a good career move.

As “Fair Game” has pointed out, many of those 150 jobs were funded by the feds or never filled. By putting close aides into key positions, Douglas is ensuring he won’t get such resistance in the next round of 250 job cuts, which will likely come from the state’s payroll and affect direct services.

What are the odds that the really hard choices would come after the election?

And Then There Was One — Just one week after announcing he planned to run for mayor of the Queen City, Democratic City Councilor Ed Adrian is backing out.

In a November 16 email to supporters, Adrian wrote, “The thrust of my platform was to make Burlington a 21st-century city that would encourage families of all types to stay and move into Burlington. However, it has become evident to me that if I put 100 percent of my efforts into helping the families of Burlington, I will not be giving my young family the attention it deserves.”

The old spending-more-time-with-the-family bit. Always loved that one.

Adrian also suggested he has “a number of bridges I need to build, as well as some that I need to work on repairing.”

Bridges are definitely sagging when it comes to Adrian and Rep. Dave Zuckerman. Adrian has even suggested he was booted from Zuckerman’s CSA because he supported Kesha Ram, a fellow Democrat, in the House race against the Progressive incumbents, Zuckerman and Chris Pearson. Ram finished second to Zuckerman, ousting Pearson.

Haik Bedrosian over at BurlingtonPol has a good rundown of the Zuckerman-Adrian spat, including links to a dialogue going on at Seven Days’ own What’s Good blog.

To date, Adrian and fellow Democratic city councilor Andy Montroll were the only Dems to announce their intention to challenge Mayor Bob Kiss, who has not officially announced his bid for a second three-year term.

Republican lawmaker and city council president Kurt Wright is also considering a run for mayor. He’s up for reelection to the council, too.

For his part, Montroll is looking forward to the coronation, er, caucus on December 3, when Dems will pick mayoral and council candidates.

Montroll said his campaign won’t start in earnest until early next year, but added, “There is some groundwork to be laid.”

Political newcomer Dan Smith plans to run as an Independent and has been wooing Dems, Republicans and Progs since summer.

Hmm, an Independent building a multiparty coalition to oust an incumbent. Wasn’t that November’s storyline?

Recount Redux — Election ’08 is the election that keeps on giving. As expected, Democrat Denise Begins Barnard asked Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee for a recount of the vote in the state Senate race.

Barnard finished seventh in a six-seat district, 417 votes behind Burlington City Councilor Tim Ashe, who ran as a Democrat/Progressive.

“This is about ensuring the validity of the process,” said Barnard, noting inconsistencies in Burlington’s vote tally. “I owe it to myself and to the voters, the people who supported me and the people who worked on my campaign.”

In addition to the snafu in which an election worker mistyped Ashe’s vote count into a spreadsheet for media (entering 157 instead of 1577), one district reported 2211 spoiled ballots.

Election officials tell “Fair Game” the 2211 spoiled ballots were recorded incorrectly. They were really “blank” ballots. The error was supposed to be corrected before the results were sent to the state.


Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold said the Queen City has since sent a formal notice to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz about the error. “I am very confident that a recount will affirm the vote in Burlington,” said Leopold.

Recounting the 75,000 Senate ballots probably won’t start until the second week of December, said Lavallee, who hopes to complete the chore by Christmas.

Perhaps she should gift-wrap the results.

Caucus Carousel — The race for top leadership posts in the legislative Democratic caucus continues, and as soon as one person gets out, another gets in.

As I pointed out in my post-election column, the race for Speaker of the House is crowded. Now, there’s a battle for majority leader, too.

Floyd Nease of Johnson, the assistant majority leader, was first to announce. Now Janet Ancel of Calais says she wants the job.

Ancel, who chaired the House Education Committee during the 2008 session, has plenty of legislative and executive experience. She was Gov. Howard Dean’s legal counsel and tax commissioner, and before that, she worked for lawmakers in the legislative council.

Ancel said her decision to run is not a reflection on Nease. “People are worried about it being divisive for the caucus, but I disagree,” she said. “I think this is an indication of how strong we are.”

That depth is certainly on display in the race to replace outgoing Speaker of the House Gaye Symington.

House Majority Leader Rep. Carolyn Partridge of Windham was first out of the gate. She was quickly joined by Rep. Mark Larson of Burlington, Rep. Shap Smith of Morristown, Rep. John Rodgers of Glover and Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan of Burlington.

Word from insiders is that the Speaker battle is between Smith and Larson. Smith has already picked up the backing of one rival: Rodgers, who dropped out, saying it’s too big a job to tackle right now. Sources tell “Fair Game” that Donovan has also dropped out. No word yet on which of the candidates she’ll support.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Lorber of Burlington said he’ll seek the assistant majority leader position.

House Republicans are also looking for new leaders. Minority Leader Rep. Steve Adams of Hartland is stepping down. Rep. Patti Komline of Dorset, assistant minority leader, will step up.

Rep. Pat McDonald of Berlin, who has served three governors as an executive, is expected to become assistant minority leader.

We’ll see who’s still hanging on for the ride this time next week.

Meal Ticket — As “Fair Game” reported a month ago, Douglas didn’t think it was necessary to refund taxpayers for using state vehicles to drive him to campaign functions.

Hey, what’s he supposed to do? Take the bus?

We followed up to find out what other taxpayer perks the gov enjoys. In particular, we were curious about travel and meal reimbursements.

Not much to report. The gov, like lawmakers, receives a $54-a-day meal allowance. While lawmakers only ride the gravy train when in session, Douglas gets his lunch money five days a week, 52 weeks a year.

That adds up to $14,040 — just shy of what a Vermont minimum-wage worker earns in a year ($15,662).

I don’t know about you, but I could eat pretty well on $54 a day.

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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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