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Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published November 5, 2008 at 6:06 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The polls were barely closed when the first candidate officially threw her hat into the ring for what’s shaping up to be another big election — for the job of Vermont’s Speaker of the House.

With Gaye Symington setting aside her gavel, at least five Democratic colleagues will vie for the coveted post. Two of the candidates are from Burlington, and two of them are women. House Democrats will gather December 6 to choose the new speaker.

The first candidate out of the box was House Majority Leader Carolyn Partridge, who publicly announced her intentions Tuesday night. Partridge, who lives in the southern Vermont town of Windham, has been majority leader for the past four years, after serving as assistant minority leader.

The 59-year-old Partridge, who was elected to the House in 1999, will face challenges from Mark Larsen, 38, of Burlington; Shap Smith, 42, of Morristown; John Rodgers, 46, of Glover; and Johanna Leddy Donovan, 64, of Burlington.

Floyd Nease, 46, of Johnson, the assistant majority leader, has opted not to run for Speaker, citing the “strong group” already vying for the position. Instead, he’ll run for majority leader.

Each of the candidates say they would build on Symington’s management style in terms of organizing and running the chamber, but would more forcefully challenge the Senate and Gov. Jim Douglas.

“This is not a criticism of Gaye, but I would be more political,” Partridge said. “What frustrated the hell out of me was that last bit during the end of the session, where Douglas talks about how he is protecting Vermonters from the legislature and how he is going to save them from the nasty legislature. We are the representatives of the people, and we are Vermonters, and I would push back on that.”

Symington set a high standard for how the Democratic caucus sets its priorities, making sure all viewpoints were included. Partridge would like to extend that to the entire House by inviting Progressives and Republicans into the discussion.

Rodgers said he would reach out to the GOP minority and perhaps appoint more than one Republican (as Symington did) to a chairmanship.

“We need to take more of the partisanship out of politics,” Rodgers said. “When we get to Montpelier, we’re supposed to be working for Vermonters. We’re not supposed to be working for a party.”

I wonder if the governor got that memo.

Donovan, too, says her good relations with Progressives and Republicans would help bridge the political divide.

“But, it will depend on how well Gov. Douglas does in this election, especially if he is a minority governor,” Donovan said. “He may have to work with us rather than just focus on his political future, if he has one.”

Smith believes that coming from a district in the middle of the state — and one that, given its mix of rural and urban areas, is “middle of the road” — “helps me bring a perspective that is useful.”

Smith said he’s been able to articulate the will of the House while serving on conference committees, a skill many Ds are looking for in a Speaker. In 2007, Smith held firm on the insistence by House Democrats that Vermont Yankee should be taxed to fund an all-fuels efficiency utility. The Dems lost that battle when Douglas vetoed the bill and they couldn’t muster an override majority.

As vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Larsen has been a potent voice for the caucus, as well as for the House. Symington picked him at the end of the last session to lead a review of the governor’s “economic stimulus” package and make changes palatable to Democrats in the chamber. Larsen said he would also encourage others to take on leadership roles.

“I think people know that I’m not going to get up and yell and scream and jump up and down,” he said. “I’m the kind of person who thinks we need to be more effective, not just louder.”

True. But after six years of Symington’s quiet leadership, the Democrats may want a little volume, too.

Who’s Left? — One question that will linger from this year’s election in Vermont is whether Democrats and Progressives will enter a period of détente or continue the practice of mutually assured destruction.

Despite constant talk of “working together,” the two left-leaning political parties spend as much time trashing each other as they do Republicans.

If the Ds and Ps do decide to collude and cooperate in the statehouse, one conservative onlooker doesn’t think it will force moderate-to-conservative Ds out of the party, as happened in the mid-1990s. In the more recent past, those so-called Blue Dog Dems joined with the GOP to sustain several of Douglas’ vetoes.

In an email to “Fair Game,” John McClaughry, president of the right-leaning Ethan Allen Institute, said the goal for the Prog-Dem majority in the House will be to pass legislation that will keep their constituencies “grudgingly agreeable” and prevent Blue Dogs from siding with Douglas on vetoes.

“The Republicans in the legislature are too enfeebled to be an attractive home for today’s Blue Dogs,” McClaughry said. “They have not championed issues that would attract Blue Dog support, other than backing Douglas vetoes of goofy Dem-Prog measures.”

The real battle is on the Left, and it’s likely that some Democrats fear the party could suffer the same fate it has in Burlington and become the second choice for liberals.

However, the Dems won’t have much choice but to strike a deal if they want to replace Douglas in 2010. There’s simply not much ideological difference between the two parties, said UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson.

Both Ds and Ps are vying for an increasingly left-leaning electorate, Nelson said, and the Progs have proven their mettle in that regard, thanks in large part to Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Basically the Democrats are going to have to crawl into bed with the Progs, as much as they had to do with Bernie in 2006,” Nelson said. “Here was a guy who has beaten the Democrats for so long that they didn’t challenge him.”

Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College prof, agrees. He said the true test for this alliance will be to craft a fusion ticket for governor and lieutenant governor in 2010.

Funny, isn’t that what the Ps and Ds tried to do, albeit half-heartedly, before this election? Anthony Pollina wanted Dems to give him a clear shot. Then, when Symington entered the race, some Dems said Pollina would make an ideal candidate for lite gov.

You’d think after years of practice, one of the parties would get the hang of catching its tail, eh?


King of the Queen City — Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss of Burlington plans to run for another three-year term in March, but it’s not clear yet who will challenge him.

Burlington uses instant-runoff voting to determine its winner, which means voters can rank their candidates in preferential order.

Democrats will nominate their candidate in open caucus on December 3 — a month earlier than the last election, said Jake Perkinson, chair of the Burlington Democrats.

To date, Democratic city councilors Ed Adrian and Andy Montroll have said they’ll run. Others are considering a bid, too, said Perkinson. In 2006, Montroll lost the Democratic caucus vote to State Sen. Hinda Miller, who then came in second to Kiss. Republican councilor Kevin Curley finished third.

Independent Dan Smith, vice president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., has been mulling a mayoral bid since summer. He’s never run for office, but has some GOP support.

However, Republican Kurt Wright, president of the city council and a state legislator, is also considering a run. Wright says many residents, including Democrats, have encouraged him to enter the race.

“I will take a look at the mayor’s race in the next couple of months,” Wright said. “Because it’s one thing for Democrats to say they’d vote for me, but will they actually endorse me?”

While outside of Burlington Ds and Ps vie for the Left, inside Burlington it may be that Democrats and Republicans will join to oust a Prog.

Now, that would be “change.”


Radio Pioneer Forges On — Longtime listeners to WDEV-FM have heard some new voices recently.

Dana Jewell, who had been part of Radio Vermont’s morning show for 10 years, retired in early October. His replacement is Jon Noyes, a familiar voice to WDEV listeners. He has provided play-by-play, alongside George Commo, for high school and Norwich Cadet hockey games.

Noyes begins his day with “Once Around the Clock” from 5 to 6 a.m., and “Wake-Up, Vermont” from 6 to 7 a.m. Then he joins the Morning News Service with station veteran Eric Michaels. Michaels has anchored the morning news program since April 1994.

With those hours, is it any wonder Jewell called it quits?

Also joining WDEV in recent weeks is Vermont news veteran Brad Wright, a former evening sports anchor for WCAX-TV. He takes over the news director post from Rich Haskell, who left WDEV to join Champ 101.3 FM, where he hosts “Rich & Mary’s Morning Mess.”

Wright worked for WCAX-TV for nine years and then moved to Washington, D.C., to work for CNN.

“He’s got a nose for news, and that’s great for us,” said Ken Squier, the station president. “It’s a small operation and it needs somebody who can roll with the punches. Everyone around here does something else.”

That multitasking model has served Squier’s station well for more than 75 years.


Gannett to Trim More Staff — More gloomy news from the Gannett mothership in Alexandria, Virginia. Another round of staffing and budget cuts are coming, according to a memo issued by Robert J. Dickey, president of Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing division.

Gannett, which owns 85 daily newspapers, is making the cuts after third-quarter revenue fell by 9 percent, fueled by an 18 percent drop in publishing ad sales.

A copy of Dickey’s memo was posted on Editor & Publisher. “As all of you are painfully aware,” he wrote, “the fiscal crisis is deepening and the economy is getting worse. Gannett’s revenues continue to be severely impacted by this downturn, and our local operations are suffering.”

The next round of cuts could equal as much as 10 percent of total staffing at Gannett. Local publishers, including Burlington Free Press head honcho Brad Robertson, have until November 14 to create a “recision” plan.

The latest announcement from Dickey comes on the heels of two other downsizing efforts this year. On September 9, Gannett axed 100 managers from its community newspaper division, two of them at Vermont’s largest daily. In August, six employees at the Freeps were laid off — and a seventh retired — as part of a Gannett-wide purge of 600 staffers. Another 400 unfilled positions were trimmed, too.

The new round of cuts, which will not affect the company’s flagship, USA Today, should be completed by early December, spokeswoman Tara Connell told Bloomberg News.

Should be a real joyful holiday season, eh?


Freyne Update — Here’s the latest on the health and whereabouts of my predecessor Peter Freyne.

Peter left Fletcher Allen Health Care a few weeks ago and is spending some time in rehab at Fanny Allen in Colchester.

Thanks to all for your well wishes, thoughts and prayers.

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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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