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Time Out! 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published February 3, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

You have to give Gov. Jim Douglas credit for impeccable political maneuvering. Just take his “time out” recommendation to the legislature concerning the future of Vermont Yankee.

Thanks to Douglas, legislative bullies won’t get to impugn the “truthiness” of his pals at Entergy. It’s not like they lost — and then found — an underground pipe carrying radioactive material. Oh, wait, they did? Damn.

Could it be a sign that Douglas didn’t like being ignored by top Entergy execs who failed to return his phone call for a week? Nah.

Politically, VY’s relicensure was becoming hotter than the plant’s outflow into the Connecticut River. With all five Democrats opposed to VY’s relicensure, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie was way out there on this issue.

Why stop with Entergy? Douglas could usher in a new “nanny” state era in Vermont by issuing additional “time outs” via executive fiat. He could order:

• A “time out” in the nearly 30-year reign of Progressive mayors in Burlington City Hall. He could appoint Republican Kurt Wright as interim mayor until the Burlington Telecom fiasco, the Moran Plant and Champlain Parkway issues are all settled.

• A “time out” on a bill introduced by Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) banning the commissioner of public service from taking a job with any entity he regulates for five years after leaving government. With two former top aides — Mike Smith and Sabina Haskell — headed to FairPoint and former aide Betsy Bishop at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Douglas needs a bit more time to find a private sector post for commish David O’Brien.

• A “time out” on legislative “fixes” or lawsuits by “out-of-state environmental groups” to thwart harmless weekend ATV recreation on just three itty bitty trails on state lands. What could possibly go wrong?

• A “time out” on the legislative session altogether to avoid any messy disagreements with a “super-duper Democratic majority.”

Finally, the governor could call a “time out” on the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Who wants to listen to five wannabe guvs bash Douglas’ eight-year legacy for the next seven months?

Certainly not Brian Dubie.

Labor of Love

Candidates from across the political spectrum made their respective cases on Sunday before approximately 50 Vermont labor leaders at an all-day AFL-CIO legislative forum.

Republican lite-guv hopeful Mark Snelling was there, talking up his background as a union factory worker.

Both of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s challengers — Democrat Dan Freilich and Republican Len Britton — impressed the few attendees “Fair Game” interviewed after the event. One participant offered this synopsis: All they need is a little media attention and cash in the bank, and either could make it a good race.

Simple as that, eh?

Most candidates got 15 minutes each to deliver their best worker-friendly stump speeches.

The five would-be Democratic governors debated for an hour. Not surprisingly, Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille), former Windsor County Sen. Matt Dunne, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) agree a lot. All five support closing down VY by 2012, moving toward universal health care, and no reductions in unemployment benefits.

In the end, though, Racine definitely “won” the debate. The quiet candidate let his inner liberal lion roar a little, saying repeatedly he was in the race to “fight” for the folks in the room. That, along with his calls to use some rainy-day funds and temporarily raise taxes on the wealthy, makes Racine the candidate most likely to appeal to the party’s liberal, primary-voting base.

Republican Gov. Dick Snelling used some of the same budget strategies to get the state out of a fiscal crisis in 1991, Racine points out.

As for the rest: Dunne and Shumlin tied for second, each with his unique pro-labor legislative cred. Neither Markowitz nor Bartlett managed to win over a skeptical audience.

Shumlin urged them to back a candidate — and soon. “The longer we go until September 14, the more time our opponent is out talking to the folks you have to talk to in order to win in Vermont,” said Shumlin.

Dubie was invited to the all-day forum as well, but he declined because he had “a pre-existing scheduling conflict,” said Corry Bliss, Dubie’s campaign manager.

I wonder if his health insurance plan covers that condition.

A Weekend with Bernie

A familiar face was absent from Sunday’s labor love fest: Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. Where was the Left’s working-class hero?

According to a Politico report, Sanders was hanging out with colleagues, lobbyists and special interest groups at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s winter retreat — in Miami.

“The meeting was an opportunity for informal discussions about the direction of the Democratic Party and how to move it in a more progressive direction,” said Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman. “Leaders of trade unions, senior citizens organizations, environmental groups, health care reform advocates and human rights organizations were in attendance, as well as lobbyists for other interests.”

Those “other interests” include Lockheed, the American Bankers Association and Altria. Quite the progressive bunch.

Despite appearances, Sanders remains a strong supporter of publicly funded political campaigns, Briggs claims.

“He is one of the few members of Congress who does not now and never has accepted contributions from corporate political action committees,” said Briggs, “relying overwhelmingly on small campaign contributions from Vermont and across the country.”

Life’s a beach.

Four for Number Two

The list of wannabe lieutenant governors just got longer: Rep. Christopher Bray, of New Haven, has thrown his hat in the Democratic ring. In his second term, Bray serves on the House Agriculture Committee and has been involved in many farm-to-plate initiatives in the legislature. He joins declared candidates Rep. Steve Howard (D-Rutland) and Tim Palmer. Chittenden Democratic Sens. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons and Ed Flanagan are still considering runs.

On the GOP side, Sen. Phil Scott (Washington) and Mark Snelling are contenders.

Bray believes the state needs to invest more in agriculture as a way to rebuild the rural economy. For example, beefing up the Agency of Agriculture. It’s operating at 1983 staffing levels, said Bray.

“I have come to appreciate that we are going to lose centuries of traditions of working farms and forests if we don’t act soon,” said Bray. Producing 10 percent of Vermont’s instate food needs would add $500 million to the economy — as much as the state’s dairy industry draws in a good year.

Food for thought.

Fifty Is Nifty

A grassroots group calling itself 50 Percent Matters! launched Monday to preserve the way Burlington elects its mayor.

Being careful to say not all of its members are supportive of instant runoff voting, Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington), the group’s co-chair, said members believe the city’s mayor should still be elected by at least 50 percent of the voters.

“Democracy thrives best when more than 50 percent of the vote counts,” said Lorber. “Having an election with only 40 percent of the vote undermines democracy.”

About 17 state and local elected officials announced their support for the group, including Rep. Mark Larson (D-Burlington), who co-chairs the group. Democratic Reps. Bill Aswad, Rachel Weston, Kesha Ram and Suzi Wizowaty have all signed up. Progressive Rep. Dave Zuckerman and Sen. Tim Ashe are also on board.

Democratic city councilors Russ Ellis (Ward 4) and Joan Shannon (Ward 5) were also on the list. Former Republican councilor Kurt Wright, an IRV opponent, is challenging Ellis for reelection.

A group of Queen City residents — dubbed “One Person, One Vote” — successfully got a question on the March Town Meeting Day ballot asking residents to repeal instant runoff voting.

In 2005, Burlington voters overwhelmingly supported the move to elect the mayor via instant runoff voting — by a nearly two-to-one margin. Queen City voters have approved nonbinding IRV measures to elect mayor and governor as well, also by sizeable margins.

What’s that old saying? Oh, yeah: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on … Mayor Bob Kiss?

BT’s Big Week

Should be an exciting week for citizens keeping tabs on the fate of Burlington Telecom, the city’s fledgling utility.

A special Blue Ribbon Committee composed of three city councilors and four citizens was created in December to review BT’s operations and finances. It will brief the council on its findings at a special meeting on Thursday.

The committee has evaluated documents from BT, discussions with city and BT staff, consultant reports, and a review of debt-financing proposals. In December, the city council asked the administration to solicit financing proposals from about a dozen firms after rejecting one solicited from financier Piper Jaffray. Six firms responded to the proposal.

By BT’s own admission — confirmed by two outside consultants — its strengths include BT’s fiber optic network. Meanwhile, BT’s weaknesses include: a lackluster marketing plan, shaky finances and uncertain organizational and governance structure.


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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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