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Under the Influence 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published November 18, 2009 at 11:07 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

What a week for State Auditor Tom Salmon, the Vermont GOP’s Golden Boy and crusading voice of fiscal restraint and personal responsibility.

First was the news in last week’s “Fair Game” that Salmon has not always balanced his own books — specifically, he racked up more than $30,000 in debt while living in Los Angeles and was taken to court and ordered to repay it.

Also noted last week, Salmon had paid off his debts as of early 2007, when he was sworn into his $95,000-a-year job as auditor. He claims his financial troubles have afforded him a unique perspective on the challenges facing a cash-strapped state.

Then, on Friday night he took three staffers and their spouses out to celebrate two promotions and a pay boost. This from the guy who earlier this year rejected voluntary, 5-percent pay cuts for top executive as a “gimmick” and told a roomful of unemployed workers to think about finding new lines of work. The very same fellow recommended unemployment checks be slashed from a max of $425 to $300.

After work on Friday, Salmon washed back the ironies with some red wine — enough so that when he got pulled over by the cops, he ended up registering blood alcohol content of .086 and was charged with driving under the influence. State BAC limit is .08 for DUI; .10 for DWI.

Salmon was handcuffed, taken into custody for suspicion of driving under the influence and issued a citation to appear in Vermont District Court in Barre on December 3. He will likely lose his license for 90 days and have to undergo alcohol counseling.

Through all of this, the auditor is going for maximum transparency. He genuflected before fellow Republicans on Saturday and in media interviews, including two live radio appearances on Monday.

Salmon’s strategy is simple: Get out in front of the issue. In fact, Salmon almost beat the state police in announcing his DUI to the media.

The Vermont State Police issued its press release on the arrest at 12:53 a.m. Thirteen minutes later, at 1:06 a.m., I received an email from Salmon himself.

I didn’t read it until about 7 a.m. when I woke up and checked my computer. I opened it, expecting to be excoriated for last week’s column.

Nope, the first line read: “Just got home from the State Police in Middlesex. Long night. Rough week.”

He then recapped the evening in 10 short sentences. The last one was: “A mud hut and the Peace Corps looking pretty good right now.”

Shockingly, he suggested I call him. After re-reading the email to be sure I wasn’t missing the punch line, I did just that.

At around 9:30 a.m., I posted the first story about Salmon’s arrest on our staff blog, “Blurt.” Frankly, I felt a little sorry for the guy. But rest assured, he’s not hightailing it to Africa. Salmon is staying put — even incorporating his past financial troubles, and his new DUI, into a fresh stump speech.

“I don’t use it in an over-the-top manner, I just say that I can look at Vermonters square in the face and say I’ve been laid off, I’ve been broke, I’ve been down,” said Salmon, “and I’ve taken on my challenges head on and faced them.”

Hey, Tom, if this auditor thing doesn’t work out, maybe you could write lyrics for country music songs?

Vetting Problems

On Monday night the Burlington City Council approved a resolution officially apologizing for remarks made by a stand-in for Mayor Bob Kiss at last week’s Veterans Day ceremony.

The speech, according to those in attendance, didn’t simply thank veterans, as most speakers do on November 11. Instead Jon Hausrath, 26, honored the actions of military conscientious objectors, which angered vets and set off a firestorm of criticism against Kiss. Councilor Clarence Davis (P-Ward 3), himself a vet, apologized to former servicemen and rebuked Hausrath for choosing the wrong venue to speak his mind. Hausrath is a veteran and conscientious objector.

Kiss, who was out of town at the time, asked Hausrath to address the crowd on his behalf. He never asked to read an advance copy of Hausrath’s speech.

The mayor attempted to apologize Monday night, but it didn’t go over so well with the more than two-dozen vets in the room.

“To the extent that people were shocked by his comments, I am sorry for that,” said Mayor Kiss at the meeting. Then Kiss defended Hausrath’s right to free speech and said the real discussion should be about troop de-escalation in the Middle East. Kiss is also a conscientious objector — or “CO,” as it’s known in military parlance.

What ever happened to a simple “I’m sorry”?

The council apologized to the vets, and thanked them for their service. The resolution also called on Kiss to “vet” the speeches of his stand-ins at future Vet Day ceremonies. The motion passed 11-3, with all three Progs voting against it.

As former soldiers filed out of the room, Kiss stood by the entrance to City Hall Auditorium, shaking hands with as many vets as would accept his. Not many did.

Interestingly, Hausrath apparently wasn’t the only one who sought to make a political statement at the Veterans Day event. Multiple eyewitnesses told “Fair Game” a woman at the celebration held up a sign that read: “Kiss — the Draft Dodger.”

A vet grabbed her sign and crumpled it up, saying it was not an appropriate place to protest.

Telecom Troubles

After two hours of feisty, and at times acrimonious, debate, the Burlington City Council early Tuesday morning scuttled a $61.65 million refinancing proposal for Burlington Telecom.

The Kiss administration came to the council with a resolution offering to repay within 60 days any money BT borrowed from the cash pool since October 1, while at the same time seeking council approval to keep working with financier Piper Jaffray on a refinancing deal. They offered to bring back a complete proposal to the council for final approval after the first of the year.

The refi deal, announced Friday by Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, would repay BT’s outstanding $33.5 million lease deal with CitiCapital as well as the roughly $17 million owed to the city’s cash pool. Additionally, the city would be required to set aside another $8 million in reserve funds, and it left open the option to finance another $10 million down the road.

Council Democrats, using parliamentary procedures, split the resolution into two parts and then, blocking debate, approved the repayment clause while then rejecting the refinancing proposal. They will revisit the refi on December 7.

Councilors Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) argued that the council needed more information, such as BT’s projected financials and its business plan, before signing off.

Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) said the council action could force BT into insolvency. That it can’t borrow money from the cash pool until a refinancing deal is approved leaves BT pretty much hamstrung.

“I hear people saying they are here to protect taxpayers, but you could easily end up leaving people with a huge debt and no Burlington Telecom,” said Bushor.

She also complained bitterly about how Democrats blocked debate during the meeting. “I don’t like being boxed in by this council,” said Bushor.

Leopold, too, said he was “appalled” by the action, calling it a partisan ploy designed to embarrass the administration. “Do you really want to destroy a $50 million investment and the credit rating of the city?” asked Leopold. “Because that’s what this could do.”

In response, Councilor Nancy Kaplan (D-Ward 4) said she was tired of being “scolded time and time again. I don’t think we deserve it. We’re racking our brains for a solution to a problem that we did not create.”

There is something to be said, however, for not making a bad situation worse.

More is Less

It’s officially official: Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin is running for governor.

The Windham Democrat and Senate leader on Monday joined a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls. Already in the race are: State Sen. Susan Bartlett (Lamoille), former State Sen. Matt Dunne, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and State Sen. Doug Racine (Chittenden).

Shumlin, 53, says the combination of his small business background and legislative leadership would serve him well in the role of governor.

“Over the past eight years, our state has overpromised and underperformed,” said Shumlin. “Promises of job growth have not materialized. Our expenses far exceed our revenues, and our long-term financial obligations outpace Vermont’s ability to pay.”

Damn those overpromising legislators! Wait, isn’t Shumlin one of the Statehouse leaders? So, what, pray tell, have he and his colleagues overpromised?

“The promises made by government, while often genuine and thoughtful, have not been adequately paid for,” said Shumlin. “We must stop doing that. We need to figure out how to do more with less.”

Speaking of more with less: Shumlin has hired Kate O’Connor to be his campaign manager. She’s his sole staffer at this point.

A longtime Dem, O’Connor switched teams to work as a campaign strategist for Republican Rich Tarrant in his losing 2006 senate bid against then Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

O’Connor also managed each of Gov. Howard Dean’s successful candidacies for governor, and later worked on Dean’s presidential campaign.

Shumlin’s hoping she can eke out at least one more win in the gubernatorial column.

Tweet Cast

All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates will be at Thursday’s environmental forum in Burlington hosted by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters.

Can’t make it? Don’t fret; Seven Days and WPTZ Channel 5 are teaming up to cover it — on your computer. They’ll be streaming the forum live online and we’ll be live blogging and Tweeting.

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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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