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The Fear Factor 

Fair Game

Published September 29, 2010 at 10:58 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Vermonters expect the temperature to drop in September, but they may not have been prepared for the campaign season to turn so cold, so fast.

It’s one thing to have a competitive, aggressive race for an open governor’s seat, but the candidates have moved way beyond the usual tax-and-spend, hope-and-change rhetoric.

Crime has become the hot-button issue in one of the safest states in the country.

Fear mongering, anyone?

In his television ads, Republican Brian Dubie falsely claims that drug dealers and child pornographers will be released from jail before they’ve done their time, and 300 prison guards will be fired. He’d have you believe Democrat Peter Shumlin is going to show up on your doorstep with an ex-con in tow.

Can we step back and take a deep breath?

Most folks know Shumlin has a habit of saying what people want to hear — even if he has to play fast and loose with the facts. He’s also charismatic, engaging and makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room. Former Pres. Bill Clinton is an apt comparison. Remember his nickname? Slick Willie.

Coincidentally, during a Vermont Public Radio debate, Shumlin said the biggest misconception about him is that he’s “slick.” His explanation? Growing up with a disability — dyslexia — forced him to develop his public-speaking skills.

On the flip side, Dubie enjoyed a preelection reputation of being a nice and honest guy. I mean, really nice. Shumlin said as much in their first debate.

Which is why it’s curious that Dubie took off the gloves before Shumlin did.

Dubie is taking his cue from Gov. Jim Douglas, a ruthless campaigner whose team always hit first, hit hard and hit precisely, raising questions about honesty, concern for public safety and fiscal constraint.

Fair enough. Will Shumlin’s plan to move more nonviolent offenders out of jail and into the community, after they’ve served their minimum sentence, cut corrections spending by $40 million?

Maybe, maybe not.

Do we need an ominous female voice telling us Shumlin is “trading away our safety” and that he “always goes too far” — like lines from a cheesy cop drama? I don’t think so.

This scare-’em-to-death approach could backfire, tarnishing Dubie’s good-guy image.

Dubie was uncharacteristically peevish at last Sunday’s AARP debate. The moderator asked the two to talk about Dubie’s recent claim that IBM will leave the state if the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant closes. IBM denied issuing such an ultimatum. Shumlin said he’s disappointed in Dubie’s rhetoric. Dubie said he’s disappointed Shumlin called a top IBM official a liar two years ago.

The moderator asked the pair if they’d be willing to bury the hatchet. Shumlin said he would. But Dubie was reluctant.

When he finally relented and turned to shake Shumlin’s hand, you could hear Shumlin say to Dubie, “Let it go, buddy.”

Easier said than done. Neither is likely to yield an inch of political ground — out of pride or fear.

My fear is that we’ve turned a corner in Vermont politics, where dirty tricks are de rigueur.

Now, that’s a scary thought.

Running Scared

Is Brian Dubie fairly attacking Peter Shumlin’s prison savings plan? It doesn’t really matter, because the emotional response is all that counts when politicians talk about crime.

Dubie is winning this one hands down. Expect to hear more about how dangerous criminals will be rewarded under a Shumlin administration.

It’s not like we can compare plans. Dubie has only offered vague promises about how he intends to keep Vermonters safe and secure.

Dubie has proposed a 2 percent spending-growth cap across all of state government. Applied to corrections, which has been growing by 8 to 10 percent a year, that would curb prison spending by more than $8 million a year, or close to $35 million within four years.

Shumlin claims his plan would save $40 million over the same time period.

Kate Duffy, Dubie’s campaign spokeswoman, couldn’t say if Dubie would apply that growth cap to corrections or the state police budgets.

“The number-one job of government is public safety, and Brian wouldn’t put that at risk,” said Duffy.

Of course not.

Dubie’s campaign also maintains that child pornographers are nonviolent offenders. Fact is, possession and distribution of child pornography are both considered violent offenses under Vermont law. Child-porn statutes were adopted in 1983 and updated in 1999; in 2002, the Department of Corrections added them to a group of so-called “listed” offenses that require treatment in prison. A person convicted of such crimes is also less likely to get out of jail early.

Either Dubie knows this and chose to ignore it, or he didn’t bother to find out.

The Prince and the Pauper

Here’s an odd contrast: Peter Shumlin, the Democrat, is the capitalist, self-made millionaire who wants to enact single-payer health care and universal pre-K. Brian Dubie, the Republican, wants to cut taxes and shrink government despite the fact that taxpayers have been paying his way for decades.

Shumlin went public with the list of his considerable assets late last Friday afternoon. Turns out his net worth is around $10 million: half in real estate and half in cash, stocks and investments. He owns 18 properties, including a stone cabin on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, and seven cars.

That’s some carbon footprint.

For the record, Dubie has a few properties, too: three separate parcels in Fairfield and his home in Essex Junction. He only has two cars, though.

With $1.2 million in assets and an annual household income topping $165,000, Dubie is no pauper — unless you compare him to Shumlin.

More importantly, Dubie’s wealth is derived from years of working in government, for government or in government-supported industries.

The small-government, antitax candidate is a product of public schools, including the University of Vermont. He attended the government-funded U.S. Air Force Academy tuition free, though he left midway through his junior year.

Even his family’s Fairfield maple-sugaring operation gets a tax break: Dubie saves almost $1000 annually in property taxes because it’s enrolled in the state’s current-use program to preserve agricultural land. Participation in the program knocks about $157,000 off the land’s taxable value.

Taxpayers now cough up $63,000 for his part-time lite-gov gig, and he also works as an airline pilot — an industry that has received massive federal bailouts. And, Dubie is in the Air Force Reserve.

No wonder he’s willing to “serve” the public. It’s paid off rather nicely.

BT Wires Winooski

Burlington Telecom just landed a major six-figure, multiyear deal to wire Champlain College’s buildings and offices in Winooski. That’s right, Winooski.

Champlain College agreed to pay all the capital costs to lay a fiber line across the Winooski River so the college can connect its Emergent Media Center in the Champlain Mill and 270 students in Spinner Place to the campus network to allow for better file sharing and Internet connectivity.

The deal is valued at roughly $500,000, and could grow as the college hooks up more sites in Burlington — including the former Eagles Club, the former Ethan Allen Club and its new building off Pine Street.

“We love the service, and they more commonly help me meet my needs in Burlington, but I had this challenge in Winooski, and I asked them if there was any way to help me,” said Paul Dusini, the college’s assistant vice president for information systems.

Does this mean BT can now service businesses and residents in Winooski?

Not exactly.

BT’s certificate of public good forbids it from providing cable services outside the Queen City, but it’s less restricted when it comes to offering phone and Internet services.

The city is quick to note that BT is not providing any cable or phone services to the Winooski site — just the fiber cable and Internet access. “It’s called a dark fiber; it’s just a wire that allows them to connect; we’re not the cable-service provider,” said Joe Reinert, a city hall spokesman. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to meet Champlain’s needs in this way, but I think it’s premature regarding anything else.”

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the BT fiasco — when taxpayers learned they’d “loaned” the city $17 million to keep BT afloat.

By this Thursday, the city is supposed to have a new plan to repay its $33.5 million debt to CitiCapital or renegotiate its terms. No word if the telecom will make the deadline.

It’s been a month since former general manager Chris Burns left BT for greener pastures: Anchorage-based Alaska Communications, which is about as far away as you can get.

Beats Siberia.

The Price of Loyalty

The Vermont AFL-CIO voted Sunday to back Peter Shumlin in the governor’s race. No surprise, but a contingent representing workers at Vermont Yankee had been pushing the union to back Brian Dubie or stay neutral.

One of those supporters — George Clain of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 300 — is paying a price for his loyalty. The 1200-member union endorsed Dubie, and Clain has emerged as a “Democrat for Dubie.”

The latter affiliation got Clain into trouble, because he has the designated labor seat on the Vermont Democratic Party’s state committee. The party asked Clain to resign and the Vermont AFL-CIO to find a replacement.

“Given his high-profile endorsement and activity for Brian Dubie, we thought it was only fair to seek a new representative to the state committee,” said Robert Dempsey, the party’s executive director.

Clain resigned on Monday. The union expects to name a replacement next week.

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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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