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Truth or Dare? 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published April 8, 2009 at 8:49 a.m.

Well, there you have it. Vermont has become the first state in the nation — once again — to advance the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

The state that introduced civil unions to a world not ready for “gay marriage” became the first state in the country to enact same-sex marriage without a court order. Hey, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh: Bring on the boycotts. In the end, love always wins out.

The Democrat-controlled legislature voted Tuesday to override Republican Gov. Jim Douglasveto of the legislation. The Vermont Senate tally was 25-5, while the House voted 100-49. Democratic Reps. Debbie Evans (Essex); Robert South (St. Johnsbury); and Jeff Young (St. Albans City) switched their positions to make the difference.

According to state archivist Gregory Sanford, this was only the seventh veto override — out of 134 gubernatorial vetoes — since the 1830s.

Kudos to Beth Robinson of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, the lawmakers who voted for it, and the hundreds of activists and regular citizens who took the time to lobby lawmakers or simply bear silent witness to the debate. Even mainstream business groups stood up to the guv on this one.

Outside the House chamber after the vote, you couldn’t help being swept up in the emotion of the moment. Tearful supporters sought out any “yes” lawmaker to thank and hug. On the receiving end of much affection was Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), the chief sponsor of the Senate bill.

“This is one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Campbell as people swamped him with signs of appreciation: embraces, smiles, pats on the back.

But supporters aren’t ready to rest — yet. “Our work is not done,” said Robinson to a throng of supporters, “until each member of the House and Senate who voted yes receives 1000 thank-you notes.”

The sizable majorities by which the bill passed in the Senate (26-4) and House (94-52), along with Iowa’s Supreme Court ruling last week, made it clear: Same-sex marriage in the U.S. is an issue that is not going away.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are already there. California may still be there. Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island are next in line.

So why, in the face of this national trend, and the huge margins of victory in the Vermont House and Senate, did Gov. Douglas vow to veto the legislation? It’s a frequent question heard under the Golden Dome.

Former Middlebury College political science prof Eric Davis has a theory: “Jim Douglas is a very conventional guy and, for him, the idea of a marriage between two men and two women is just not something he is comfortable with.”

Simple, eh? But seriously: Did he do it because he is running again, or because he isn’t running? We’ve heard all the rumors. They include:

  • He is considering a run for national office — maybe U.S. Senate? — and a veto of same-sex marriage reaffirms his conservative credentials to ensure party money flows his way. True, he was one of the first Republicans to defend Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin when Sen. John McCain picked her to be his veep. He even went so far as to say that Palin shared a lot of values with Vermonters. Anyone for Palin-Douglas 2012?
  • He secretly wanted to ensure the bill’s passage, but without pissing off his conservative flank. A veto would take the issue off the table for 2010 gubernatorial elections and help the GOP take back the House.
  • I’m with Davis. Douglas is a conservative guy. His “moderate image” may never be the same after this week’s events.

    Now that the marriage debate is over, he can go back to doing what he does best: outdoing the Democrats on issues where they stand as far apart as they do on marriage — taxes and the budget.

    Remember: The legislature’s scheduled adjournment — May 2 — is still a long way off.


    Cutting the Communicators — Amid the “distraction” of the marriage-equality debate, the House passed its final version of the $4.4 billion state-spending plan for FY 2010. It sends several blunt messages to the Douglas team.

    First, a delegation of Addison County Dems led by Rep. Michael Fisher (D-Lincoln) inserted language that would keep the Douglas administration from closing down a state office or program without legislative approval. Addison County had its probation and parole office closed down recently. Lawmakers also put in place rules making it harder for Douglas to privatize state jobs.

    “This administration has shown a chronic behavior to eliminate positions where there are no savings,” said Rep. Floyd Nease (D-Johnson). “What this does is tells those folks up on the fifth floor — even the head guy — there is accountability now.”

    Lawmakers also directed the Douglas administration to find additional payroll savings by possibly eliminating deputy secretary and commissioner positions, as well as other politically appointed slots. Specified in the legislation were four positions known as “communicators,” or agency spokespeople. Some Dems claim they serve more as political mouthpieces than officers of public information.

    Hey, don’t we all need to know where the guv is cutting ribbons?


    Not-So-Groovy UVUniversity of Vermont boosters scrambled last week after Rep. Don Turner (D-Milton) Thursday tried to attach some strings to the federal stimulus cash flowing to UVM.

    In short, Turner wanted to withhold about $900,000 of UVM’s share of federal stimulus money. To get the cash, UVM would have to compel its top administrators to repay their recent bonuses, undergo an audit and freeze salaries for the roughly 40 administrators earning $150,000 or more.

    Turner is upset UVM doled out bonuses while cutting the jobs of lower-paid employees and closing down the baseball and softball teams.

    After his motion was resisted by the House Appropriations Committee and legislative trustees on the UVM board, Turner withdrew the amendment Friday. But he got his point across and is crafting a resolution urging UVM prez Dan Fogel and the trustees to look at administrative pay before cutting more jobs, and to take a public vote before eliminating programs or classes.

    “UVM is an important asset, and I do not want to do harm to them, but I think all I was trying to do was bring some transparency and accountability,” said Turner. “It is a treasured institution, but as such it should not be exempted from public scrutiny.”


    State of the City — Burlington’s newly elected Mayor Bob Kiss delivered his annual State of the City speech Monday night to a packed house in Burlington City Hall Auditorium, invoking all the buzzwords a good Prog should: peace, same-sex marriage and Sweden.

    Kiss declared, “The state of the city is good. We have cash reserves. We’ve been prudent as a city over the past three years. Our local economy is steady and sound.”

    Kiss used his message to promote the accomplishments during his first term — acknowledging, of course, that all Burlingtonians share in claiming them.

    In his next term, Kiss said he hopes to create a more user-friendly city website and complete several key development projects, such as the Moran Plant redevelopment and several “shovel-ready” federal stimulus projects — waterfront bike path repairs and the aviation tech center at the airport, among others.

    Kiss also addressed national and state issues.

    “I support the legislature’s effort to find new revenues to maintain the state’s workforce and critical services,” said the Prog. “We know that if Montpelier fails to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of Vermont, those same responsibilities are already ours to own as they become local problems.”

    The speech generated the most applause, however, when Kiss announced his support for same-sex marriage. He said he hoped lawmakers would overturn Douglas’ veto to send a message that “he should not use his veto power to impose his personal view on the majority of Vermonters who support same-sex marriage.”

    He called that one. Damn — he may be in the wrong profession.

    Regarding national issues, Kiss expressed concern for the 6-year-old war in the Middle East and its expansion to Afghanistan.

    He also hinted that the U.S. should take some lessons from Sweden (and no, not just by supporting same-sex marriage).

    “Last week I met with a visitor from Sweden. He noted that there were no poor people in Sweden but, on the other hand, there were few very wealthy people, either. Everyone has health care, housing and educational opportunity,” said Kiss.

    “Many basic protections still uncertain in Vermont are in place there,” he continued. “We need to establish and maintain these basic protections in Vermont and across the country.”

    Who does this guy think he is, Bernie Sanders?


    Unlucky Seven — After a dozen rounds of voting, the Burlington City Council failed to choose a president Monday night. The council’s seven Democrats deadlocked with the alliance of seven Progressives, Republicans and Independents. The Dems backed Councilor Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5). The others were rooting for Councilor Clarence Davis (P-Ward 3). In the end, they finalty agreed on something: to call it an early night and try again next Monday. The vote to adjourn was unanimous.

    Next time: Might I suggest rock-paper-scissors as a tiebreaker?


    Leak of the Week — As lawmakers focus on things like the $4.4 billion state budget and marriage equality, there is never a shortage of “distractions” to suck up their time and energy.

    Among them is Vermont’s version of Old Faithful: Vermont Yankee. The aging pipes in the 36-year-old nuclear power reactor have a nasty — and regular — habit of springing leaks.

    While the “water” usually spouts from a new location each time, we are likely to hear the same old response from state and federal officials. They swoop in with their clipboards, wrinkle their noses and assure us everything is A-OK. Until, well, the next leak.

    As a result of a public-records request initiated by “Fair Game,” hundreds of emails reveal that for roughly three years VY failed to properly maintain a computer program that tracks pipe corrosion.

    I may not be a nuclear engineer, but something tells me you might want to be sure the walls of your pipes are thick enough to handle the flow of high-pressure, radioactive water. Just sayin’.

    Who caught Entergy’s lapse? Two citizen whistle-blowers.

    Last year engineer Rudolf Hauser — who had raised similar concerns as expert witnesses for the antinuke group New England Coalition in 2006 — brought his findings to Sen. Bernie Sanders and Arnie Gundersen, then chairperson of a special legislative VY oversight panel. The citizens then took their allegations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    The pair alleged that from 2002 to 2004, VY did not correctly load information into a special program, called Checworks, used at nuke plants to guesstimate where pipe corrosion is occurring. Engineers then use sonar equipment to determine the pipe’s thickness.

    On March 31, the NRC substantiated some of Gundersen and Hauser’s claims. However, VY took action and fixed the problem. It’ll never happen again. Honest.

    The special legislative oversight panel on which Gundersen serves found that VY’s owners have a culture of understaffing the plant and pumping out more power than it was originally designed to generate.

    All the while, the regulators looked aside and got cosy with the power plant’s owners, said Bob Stannard, a former state lawmaker and now lobbyist for citizen groups opposed to the relicensure of Vermont Yankee.

    “The NRC once told us that the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio was the best, safest plant in the country,” said Stannard.

    And, guess what? That plant was forced to shut down because there was a football-sized hole in the reactor cover.

    Watch Shay Totten discuss the same-sex marriage vote on “Inside Seven Days,” Thursday at 8 p.m. on Channel 16, RETN. Or tune in online at

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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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