Monthly Archives: June 2012

Donovan wins backing of state workers’ union

Labor is lining up for TJ Donovan.

Adding to a list of earlier union endorsements, the Vermont State Employees Association is backing Donovan, the campaign announced Thursday afternoon.

The state workers’ union represents over 6,000 employees.

“For too long Vermonters have gone without an Attorney General who understands what working and middle class Vermonters go through day in and day out, and who appreciates the essential role state workers play in our state,” said John Reese, President of VSEA, in a written statement. “The men and women of VSEA are supporting TJ in the Democratic Primary for Attorney General because we’re confident he’ll be an unflinching supporter of worker’s rights; an active watchdog of government contractors; and a vocal advocate for the labor movement in an era of nationwide attacks on public employees and unions.”

Donovan has also picked up endorsements from the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont, the Vermont AFL-CIO, the Vermont Troopers Association, the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Vermont Sheriff’s Association.

According to the Donovan campaign, the groups represent about 15,000 members statewide.

Donovan, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney, is trying to unseat 15-year incumbent Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary in late August.

In a primary that could draw fewer than 40,000 voters, unions could play a decisive role in the outcome if they come out in force for Donovan.

 

 

Donovan’s stat on opiate addiction ‘not accurate’

MONTPELIER — Democratic candidate for state attorney general TJ Donovan dropped a shocking statistic during a radio interview last week.

As Donovan discussed the problem of prescription drug abuse in Vermont — a centerpiece of his primary campaign — he told Vermont Public Radio listeners: “One in seven babies born at Rutland Regional Medical Center are born opiate addicted.”

That is far from correct, say health officials.

“That’s not accurate,” said Dr. Daniel Foley, the chief of the obstetrics and gynecology department at RRMC. “That would be really something.”

The Vermont Department of Health also says it has no data that suggest anything close to a 14 percent opiate addiction rate among newborns in Rutland.

Instead, the most recent Health Department data suggest a less than 1 percent addiction rate for newborns at Rutland Regional Medical Center, which is lower than the statewide average.

This is not the first time the one-in-seven statistic Donovan used has emerged in the last year, and it’s not the first time data used to support what politicians from across the political spectrum call an epidemic of prescription drug abuse have been questioned.

For the full story, click on the Rutland Herald link at http://www.rutlandherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120628/NEWS03/706289895

In angry email, VPIRG director blasts Gekas, Shumlin over lite guv candidacy

We’d been hoping to break it in tomorrow’s print editions, but a tip of the hat to Paul Heintz at Seven Days, who just posted online the same email we received earlier today.

Paul Burns, executive director at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said he would “neither confirm nor deny that the email came from me.”

The fiery missive, sent to VPIRG board members on June 14, castigates Cassandra Gekas for failing to inform him ahead of time that she had decided to run for lieutenant governor.

Gekas initially told reporters that she’d departed her post as a health care advocate voluntarily, but, as Heintz reported in today’s “Fair Game,” she now says she was fired from the job.

“He just said, ‘Collect your things, leave immediately, and don’t come back,’” Gekas told Heintz.

Burns’ email to board members must have been sent immediately after he found out Gekas was running, because it was time-stamped at 3:57 p.m. – one hour before the candidate filing deadline.

“I’m sending you this quick note to tell you that Casasndra Gekas just informed me that she’s quitting VPIRG to run for Lt. Gov. I know it sounds absurd but it’s true,” Burns wrote.

Not giving advance notice, Burns said, “was an utterly unprofessional and dishonest move, doing great damage to VPIRG and to a lesser extent the movement for health care reform in Vermont. I am sickened by it.”

Burns said in the email that he blames Gov. Peter Shumlin for convincing the 30-year-old lobbyist to enter “a race for which she is completely unprepared.”

“He should be ashamed of himself,” Burns told board members. “He deserves to hear from others who don’t appreciate this self-serving political move.”

Contrary to what she told Heintz, Burns said today that Gekas wasn’t fired, but “resigned immediately to run for lieutenant governor.”

“And it wasn’t my impression there was any dispute over that,” Burns said. “I’m 100 percent certain that she quit her position here effective immediately .”

Burns said the nonprofit’s policies effectively preclude their lobbyists from working at VPIRG while running for statewide office.

“We talk about for example not walking door-to-door with politicians, not appearing at press events with politicians running fo r office, so it’s a reasonable extension that that would apply to you if you’re candidate yourself,” Burns said.

Burns said anyone has a right to run for statewide office.

“But it is not anyone’s right to be paid by ther private employer while they run for office, and it’s not a reasonable position to suggest otherwise,” he said.

We’ll get the governor’s take on the skirmish at  a press conference in just a few minutes. Stay tuned…

Federal ruling opens door to unlimited corporate spending in Vermont elections

Attorney General Bill Sorrell is applauding a federal court decision that he says upholds Vermont’s campaign finance laws. But the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions on Thursday effectively overturns the state’s $2,000 limit on political-action committees, opening the door to SuperPACs in Vermont.

“The State has not offered a persuasive basis on which to limit contributions to a political action committee that only makes independent expenditures,” Sessions said.

The case centers on the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which argued that Vermont’s $2,000 limit on contributions to political-action committees violated its rights to free speech.

Sessions rejected that argument, saying that Vermont Right to Life’s PAC is “enmeshed completely” with a separate VRLC group that contributes directly to candidates.

To undo contribution limits on the PAC run by the Vermont Right to Life Committee, Sessions said, would enable the group to circumvent constitutionally justified limits on contributions to candidates.

Sorrell called Session’s ruling a victory forVermont.

“The Court’s ruling provides resounding confirmation of … the State’s ability to address Vermonter’s concerns about the influence of money in politics,” he said in a statement.

But while Sessions upheld the contribution limits in this specific case, he said “the State’s arguments do not provide grounds to doubt the broadly-held view that states may not limit contributions to independent-expenditure-only groups receive from single sources.”

Put simply, if a political action committee operates independent of candidates, and organizations that contribute to them, then the $2,000 limit would likely fail constitutional muster.

In light of Citizens United especially, Sessions said, any limit on independent expenditures will likely be found to violate the First Amendment.   

“The issue of independence from candidates is the touchstone of the contribution limits’ constitutionality,” he said.

The decision could open the door to increased corporate spending onVermontelections, which have yet to see the kind of SuperPAC activity now influencing national politics.

Link to Sessions’ decision: http://www.atg.state.vt.us/assets/files/194%20VRLC%20MSJ%20Decision.pdf

Link to Attorney General press release: http://www.atg.state.vt.us/

Dems running opposition research on Brock

A Texas-based opposition-research firm hired by the Shumlin campaign in 2010 to dig up dirt on Brian Dubie is at work in Vermontagain, this time to scrutinize the record of Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock.

A senior research analyst at Stanford Campaigns, which specializes in negative tactics, filed a public-records request late last week seeking information related to Brock’s single term as state auditor, in 2005 and 2006.

Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson confirmed Wednesday that his organization has hired the company to conduct background research on Shumlin’s GOP rival.

“They’re a political research firm and that’s what we’ve hired them for, and that’s about all I’d be comfortable saying at this point,” Perkinson said. “Obviously there’s not much benefit to us to revealing exactly what we’re doing with that research, especially in the midst of a political season.”

Stanford Campaigns won plaudits from Shumlin campaign officials for tailoring an attack strategy in 2010 that helped turn the tide for the Democrat.

The campaign work conducted on behalf of Shumlin for Governor is among the “case studies” featured on the group’s website, www.oppresearch.com. The site includes a testimonial from Shumlin aide Christopher Klose, who said that “as a media consultant, the thing I like best about Stanford Campaigns is when you make an attack based on their research, you know it will stick.”

Alex MacLean, Shumlin’s campaign manager in 2010, is also quoted on the firm’s website.

“The committed professionals at Stanford Campaigns were a big reason we were able to pick up a Governor’s Mansion despite a significant Republican wave that day,” reads the quote. MacLean now serves as secretary of civil and military affairs for the Shumlin administration.

Check out the full story at http://www.vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/RH/20120621/NEWS03/706219881

Leriche lands (for now) at Green Mountain Power

When Rep. Lucy Leriche, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, announced last month she would not seek re-election, she cited the need to earn more money and get back to an “income producing life.”

Her first stop? Green Mountain Power.

Leriche has landed a contract gig with the politically connected electric utility that she expects will last three or four months.

Leriche, an eight-year veteran of the House who served as House Majority Leader the last two years, will be doing community outreach for the company, which just won approval to buy out Central Vermont Public Service and become the largest utility in the state.

The Hardwick resident said much of her work will likely be up in the Northeast Kingdom working with communities involved in the Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell, a highly controversial wind development that will be the biggest in the state when it’s done.

As the windmills are shipped in, said Leriche, she will be “working with towns to coordinate transportation routes and make sure transportation of the equipment goes smoothly and if anything should arise be there to help get problems solved and make sure things get ironed out.”

Leriche made it clear the job is temporary and that she is still looking for something permanent.

Green Mountain Power has made itself into something of a landing pad for former politicians and executive branch officials.

Leriche said she is replacing David Coriell, who was former Gov. James Douglas’ spokesman at the end of his tenure. Neale Lunderville, who was Douglas’ administration secretary also ended up at GMP.

Robert Dostis, who chaired the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee that deals directly with utility issues, was hired in 2008 and has been a frequent spokesman for the corporation.

Shumlin, Donovan earn nod from firefighters

The Professional Firefighters of Vermont unveiled endorsements today in statewide races, and true to Vermont form, the 300-member organization wasn’t afraid to split the ticket.

Democrats Peter Shumlin, TJ Donovan, Beth Pearce and Jim Condos won endorsements for their bids for governor, attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state, respectively.

Republicans Phil Scott and Vince Illuzzi, meanwhile, will get the union’s support in their candidacies for lieutenant governor and state auditor. 

The group is known to hit the phones hard for their chosen candidates, and could provide a key lift in close races.

From the release:

The Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont gathered for their 2012 Biennial Convention at the Sheraton in South Burlington. The highlight of the convention was the PFFV endorsement of the candidacy of Peter Shumlin for Governor.
 
Speaking about the endorsement, PFFV President Mathew Vinci stated: “The nearly 300 members Professional Fire Fighters from across Vermont are proud to stand with Governor Shumlin and to support his candidacy for a second term.  Throughout his first time, and during long political career in Vermont Governor Shumlin demonstrated time and again his strong leadership on the issues important to our members.  We look forward to his reelection and to partnering with him in his second term.”
 
At the convention the PFFV also endorsed candidates for Auditor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State and Lt. Governor.  Speaking about this slate of candidates Vinci stated:  “Our slate of endorsed statewide candidates distinguish themselves as leaders in Vermont and supporters of our members and their families.  Vince Illuzzi, TJ Donovan, Beth Pearce, Jim Condos, and Phil Scott all recognize the essential roll our members play in keeping Vermonters safe and we know will all continue to be champions for our cause when elected.”
 
The Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont are a statewide union that represents Paid Professional Fire Fighters, Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians across Vermont.

Dems bite Brock, GOP bites back

Vermont Democrats fired off a blistering missive this morning, calling out Randy Brock for his “allegiance to a radically conservative Republican agenda.”

The press release centers on Brock’s ties to Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who was invited by the Brock campaign to be the special guest at a fundraiser later this month.

LePage has been lionized by conservatives and vilified by liberals for shepherding through free-market health care reforms inMaine. One of the architects of that legislation, Tarren Bragdon, is helping Brock put together what could be a similar proposal forVermont.

Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson says the LePage invite proves that Brock is a Tea Party-loving, poor-people hating, organized-labor killing politician who wants to feather the nests of corporate interests.

“That Randy Brock would consider it an honor to have someone like Gov. LePage campaign with him inVermontreveals just how extreme Brock’s agenda really is,” said VDP Chair Jake Perkinson. “If Vermonters want a taste of what Randy Brock would do as governor, they should look toMaine, where Governor LePage is overseeing a massive effort to cut essential public services, eviscerate collective bargaining, and make affordable health care even farther out of reach for Mainers.”

In a telephone interview this afternoon, Brock said he was taken aback by the severity of the Democratic rhetoric. Vermonters made it clear in 2010, Brock said, that they have no interest in viciously negative gubernatorial campaigns.

“This is one of a series of rather nasty personal attacks that I’ve seen coming out of the Vermont Democratic Party, and I don’t think Vermonters need or want this kind of negativity and name-calling,” Brock said.

Just because he and Peter Shumlin differ ideologically over the best approach for health care reform, Brock said, doesn’t mean he cares any less about people who lack insurance.  

“Let’s talk honestly and openly about the issues, and let’s debate them vigorously,” Brock said. “But to use that kind of invective to cast aspersions on other people and other parties is I think an inappropriate thing to do.”

Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont GOP, rushed to LePage’s offense. In a press release, he offered this:

“Rather than look at what LePage has accomplished and how he did it, the flamethrowers at the Vermont Democratic Party resort to hurling insults at a successful businessman who was orphaned at age 12, shined shoes to help feed himself, washed dishes, drove a truck, worked as a meatpacker to help put himself through school and went on to earn an advanced degree. The name callers who dwell in the bowels at the Vermont Democratic Party might actually learn something from listening to the words of Gov. LePage. And even if they don’t like his ideas, the least they could do is treat this man with the same civility that our side demonstrated during President Obama’s recent visit toVermont.”

Expect Round Two to begin shortly, when Dems find out that Brock also has a campaign event scheduled with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, another Republican lightning rod.

Donovan picks up yet another union endorsement

TJ Donovan has picked up another endorsement from organized labor, this time from the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Chittenden County State’s Attorney – looking to unseat seven-term incumbent Bill Sorrell in a Democratic primary – is also the top choice of the AFL-CIO and the Vermont Troopers Association.

According to a press release from the Donovan campaign, the VBCTC cited “TJ’s strong commitment to being a leader in Vermont against the continued misclassification of workers as independent contractors and better enforcement of workplace safety laws.”
“The Vermont building trades are excited by the prospect of an attorney general that is committed to working families throughout our state and we are confident that TJ Donovan will be that Attorney General,” Jeffrey Potvin, president of the Council, said in a written statement.

In a late-August primary that could draw fewer than 40,000 voters, unions are in a position to play a significant role in the outcome. The AFL-CIO represents almost 10,000 members in 80 unions around the state. If they come out in force for Donovan, they might help the 38-year-old underdog pull off an election-night surprise.

Potvin says his organization is ready to work on Donovan’s behalf.

“Our members will work hard to get TJ elected because, after years of inaction, workers across this state need leadership from the Attorney General’s office on important issues such as rooting out rampant misclassification and ensuring safety in the workplace,” Potvin said.

Shumlin campaign freshens up website

Peter Shumlin last week had to take a short break from the nonstop work of governing to let Vermonters know he’s going to run for reelection. He told us not to confuse the announcement with the beginning of an actual campaign. No time for campaigns, he said. Too many jobs to create. 

But just today, we noticed the first new activity on Shumlin’s campaign website in more than a year. On the front page of the site, you’ll find three new links, and couple shots of Shumlin, including one of him surveying Irene wreckage from the cabin of a military helicopter. The pic links to a VTDigger story headlined “Shumlin’s Record: The new governor managed the Tropical Storm Irene crisis with aplomb.”

Nice.

Another link takes you to Shumlin’s anti-bullying op-ed in the Huffington Post last week. The last story links to the Burlington Free Press’ account of his reelection announcement.

To reiterate though, there is no campaign. Too many economies to develop.

Maybe around Labor Day.

In fight over $21 million, PSB hands utilities a victory

The Public Service Board on Friday approved the merger of the state’s two largest electric utilities, Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power.

In approving the deal the three-member board approved a plan put forth by the utilities – and backed by the Shumlin administration – for repaying $21 million to ratepayers as a result of CVPS being bailed out by ratepayers in 2001.

The plan includes making investments that are expected to achieve savings for ratepayers rather than repaying ratepayers in cash directly.

The proposal for the $21 million the board approved Friday was the focus of an explosive debate in the Statehouse this year as many lawmakers wanted the utilities to pay the $21 million directly to ratepayers.

In reaching its decision about the $21 million, the board said requiring direct cash payment risked sinking the deal and scuttling the potential benefits of the merger.

They wrote in the decision that “any such a condition would put at risk the entire transaction, including the far greater benefits for ratepayers of both companies expected from the merger (both the $144 million of benefits that will be guaranteed by the Combined Company and the prospect of $500 million in ratepayer savings over 20 years).”

They also explained: “After reviewing all the evidence and Board precedent, we conclude that the CEED Fund as proposed in the DPS MOU represents an acceptable mechanism for providing the windfall-recovery amounts… notwithstanding that the CEED Fund investments are recoverable in rates — a fact that some may argue is not ideal.

“We reach this decision for two primary reasons. First, as articulated earlier in this Order, the merger of CVPS and GMP has tremendous benefits for ratepayers of both companies. These benefits cannot be achieved if any other entity were to purchase CVPS. The Petitioners have filed a comprehensive acquisition and merger proposal with us; a change to this aspect of the proposal such that the cost to Gaz Métro of acquiring CVPS were to materially increase could induce Gaz Métro to withdraw its offer and then Vermonters would lose all the benefits from the Proposed Transaction. Second, as explained more fully below, the CEED Fund is substantially similar to the GMP Efficiency Fund, which we previously determined was an acceptable mechanism for providing the windfall-recovery amounts set forth in Docket 6107. Thus, the proposal before us in the DPS MOU is consistent with Board precedent.”

AARP fought hard to have the $21 million sent directly to ratepayers, and the group was disappointed with the outcome.

“Today was a great day for Gaz Metro and CVPS shareholders and a lousy day for the ratepayers that bailed this CVPS out when it was in financial crisis,” said Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont State Director, in a written statement.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who took some political heat for backing the merger and reaching a memorandum of understanding with the utilities that the board approved Friday, said the ruling “affirms that the merger between Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power will bring tremendous benefits to ratepayers and is in the best interest of Vermont.”

“I continue to believe, and this ruling reflects, that the terms as approved by the Board will produce extraordinary benefits for consumers and the state,” Shumlin said in a prepared statement. “This merger will result in dramatic cost savings of $144 million over the next decade and $500 million over 20 years, improve efficiency and lower energy costs for more homes, and ensure that the public interest will be represented in the oversight of our state transmission system. This ruling is great news for Vermont ratepayers.”

More to come on this….

 

 

Illuzzi for auditor

He’ll make an official announcement Thursday morning, but Vince Illuzzi, the longtime Republican senator from Essex County, just confirmed he’s a candidte for auditor.

Shumlin buys land, plans to build in East Montpelier

Peter Shumlin has added a parcel of land in East Montpelier to his real estate portfolio.

The governor closed on the 27-acre tract on Monday. He bought it from good friend, who recently purchased some land and an old farmhouse there.

It isn’t another investment property. Shumlin plans to build himself a modest abode sometime in the future.

“I’m going to put in a really energy efficient governor’s cabin,” he said.

When canEast Montpelier residents expect their new neighbor to begin building?

“Whenever we get around to it,” he said.

Though he lives fulltime in a rented house inMontpelier, Shumlin’s legal residence is in Putney, where his wife, Deborah Holway, lives. The two have been separated for years but remain close friends, Shumlin says.

BREAKING: Shumlin plans to seek re-election

Gov. Peter Shumlin today announced what everyone knew but the governor declined numerous times to plainly state: that he’s seeking re-election to a second term. Here’s the Democratic governor’s statement on his re-election bid.

“I am pleased to announce today that I plan to seek reelection for the office of Governor. It has been a privilege to serve the people of Vermont over the past 16 months. I am proud of what we have accomplished together. Yet there is more work to do and I look forward to continuing our jobs agenda: creating jobs and more economic opportunities for Vermonters, containing the skyrocketing cost of health care, continuing Irene recovery, expanding broadband and cell service across our state, and investing in our renewable energy future and children’s education. I will continue to focus on these initiatives and will make a more formal announcement of my candidacy around Labor Day.”

 

Shumlin performs ceremonial electrical work

You’ve heard of ceremonial ribbon cuttings with giant scissors, smashing champagne bottles on boats prior to maiden voyages, but Gov. Peter Shumlin tried out a new one Wednesday: screwing a cover onto a plastic box of electrical wiring and then taking a photo of a communications tower with a smartphone.

Dramatic, no?

The ceremonial electrical work by the Democratic governor took place in picturesque Plainfield below a new 100-foot tower where administration officials and lawmakers announced the launch of a broadband project that can serve about 4,000 businesses and households in rural central Vermont towns.

It’s all part of Shumlin’s goal of making broadband available to all Vermonters by the end of 2013.

At first, Shumlin – with screwdriver in hand – said he would use the tool to “connect” the towers that were part of the project together.

As he started screwing a cover over a box of electrical wiring attached to the side of a small building, however, it became clear it was more of a ceremonial “connection,” and Shumlin later acknowledged his role-playing as handyman was “a little drama.”

But Michael Birnbaum, the general manager of a Cloud Alliance — a company involved in the project — played along.

“Once we put this box together our connection will be complete, is that fair to say Michael?” Shumlin said.

“Sure,” said Birnbaum. “You’re the governor.”