Monthly Archives: September 2012

Governor says funding for Bennington veterans’ home will continue

The governor announced Wednesday that CMS has concluded that the state made the corrections that were necessary, and the funding will continue.

The state could have lost $10 million a year from the federal government, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday at a press conference.

As part of the reform efforts, several employees including an administrator were fired, Shumlin said.

Wilton hits Pearce over OT in treasurer’s office, Pearce hits back

State Treasurer Beth Pearce today defended her office against allegations of “mismanagement” after a records request showed that one deputy had clocked at least 1,000 hours of overtime in each of the past three years.

Deputy Director of Retirement Operations Laurie Lanphear logged 1,132 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2012 alone, boosting her base salary of $58,219 by an additional $31,684, according to records acquired by Republican challenger Wendy Wilton.

Lanphear’s overtime pay was nearly double the next highest recipient of overtime in the treasurer’s office, and Wilton seized on the number as evidence of poor oversight by the first-term Democratic incumbent.

“Regardless of the reason, having an employee work 1,000 hours beyond the 2,080 work hours in any given calendar year reflects poor management,” Wilton said in a written statement.

She noted that Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding earlier this year issued a government-wide memo urging department heads to keep overtime to a minimum, and that a state labor contract advises supervisors to distribute overtime as equitably as possible.

“Pearce’s style presents undue risk and an internal control problem,” Wilton said. “This should be a grave concern to Vermont taxpayers and state officials.”

Wilton obviously is looking to seize on the overtime controversy that continues to brew in the wake of the arrest of a former state police officer charged with juicing hours on his time card.

But in a competing release issued later in the afternoon, the Pearce camp shot back, saying Lanphear was “performing a full time job while also covering for previously cut positions, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.”

The Democratic incumbent’s campaign manager said Pearce’s “prudent management” has led the office to operate under-budget over the past two years, returning more than $500,000 to the general fund.

“We call on Wendy Wilton to apologize for the false assertion against Treasurer Pearce,” Emerson said. “We also ask that she publicly apologize to the hardworking Vermont state employees that have gone above and beyond to perform their necessary services to our state no matter the circumstance.”

New TV ad for Republican AG candidate

Attorney general candidate Jack McMullen launched an ad campaign Saturday, which showed his ties to the U.S. Navy and Ivy League institutions as part of a “Do you know Jack?” question.

A press release says future ads will deal with how he could deal with drug-related crime and how he plans to introduce modern business practices to the state office.

The 30-second video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R66__GPE_vA or through the YouTube video player in this post.

With Republican friends like Lauzon, who needs enemies?

Tom Lauzon has carved out a reputation as a bit of a political showman, and at a press conference this morning in which seven of the state’s eight sitting mayors endorsed Peter Shumlin, Lauzon did not disappoint.

The Republican mayor of Barre City didn’t merely endorse the Democratic incumbent, he chided his party for even running a candidate against him.

“I think (Republican challenger) Randy (Brock) is absolutely a fine man,” Lauzon said. “But I think quite frankly this was an ill-advised campaign and people are going to spend a lot of money to try to replace a leader who doesn’t need to be replaced.”

Though he was the lone dyed-in-the-wool Republican on hand to endorse Shumlin, he was by far the most enthusiastic. Lauzon has come a long way since taping the anti-Shumlin robo-calls that rained on Vermont homes on the eve of the 2010 election.

“Brian (Dubie) was, is, and always will be a good friend,” Lauzon said.

But ever since Shumlin in early 2011 went to his house, had a sandwich, and talked things over, Lauzon said he’s been a happy member of Team Shumlin.

“When the governor said he’d like to come have lunch with me and sit in a private setting, I said, you know, here we go – it’s going to be robo-call revenge,” Lauzon said. “But I was struck at how anxious the governor was and how sincere he was to work with me. He said, ‘look, campaigns aside, difference aside, I want to make things better.’”

So why did Lauzon and his wife contribute a total of $4,000 to the Brock campaign?

It’s not that he supports the candidacy, Lauzon explained, but that he had to smooth things over with the GOP for so publicly getting behind Shumlin.

“I received a call from Mark Snelling. Mark said, ‘Republicans are very disappointed that you endorsed the governor.’ And I said, ‘yeah, I understand that Mark,’” Lauzon said. “And he said, ‘I’m very disappointed.’ I said, ‘Mark, I absolutely understand that …’ And he said, ‘if you send $4,000 then you’re off the hook.’ So I did.”

Not that it’ll make any difference, Lauzon said later.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy but quite frankly I think we could send him $40,000 and I don’t think it changes the result at the end of the day,” Lauzon said.

Lauzon tried to put it in perspective later, saying a $4,000 penance to get back in the good graces of the Republican Party isn’t so steep.

“I suppose over the years if I had to add up all the bouquets of flowers that I bought for (my wife) Karen and dinners that I bought when I was like, oh dammit, I was supposed to do that? I forgot,” Lauzon said to a few reporters after the press conference. “You know, it probably comes to a lot more than four grand.”

As for sharing the genesis of the $4,000 Brock contribution publicly, Lauzon said there’s no shame and nothing to hide.

“That’s the honest story. Mark called and said, ‘we’re really upset with you.’ I said, ‘Mark, I get it,’” Lauzon said. “So basically four grand got me of the hook and I wrote the check.”

And if Snelling is upset about the public airing of Republican’s dirty laundry?

“There’s nothing about this that’s private,” Lauzon said. “It was a conversation. I’ve been asked and I offered the truth. So, you know, if they don’t like it, I’m sorry. Don’t make the call again.”

 

Early payments available again to towns affected by Irene

The State Treasurer’s Office issued a news release Monday, indicating how municipalities affected by Tropical Storm Irene can receive accelerated payments of state funds to assist with issues related to cash flow . Here’s a shortened version of the details:

Payments that are eligible to be released early are state aid to town highways and payment-in-lieu-of taxes, normally dispersed to towns in October; current use payments, typically disbursed in November; and state aid to education payments, which normally are released in December.

The state has estimated that the amount of accelerated payments could total approximately $21.4 million.

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In 30-second spot, Brock asks of Shumlin, “Who’s He Fooling?”

The ad opens with a grainy clip of Peter Shumlin standing at a podium, singing “Here Comes the Sun” to a crowd of cheering supporters.

He’s no George Harrison, but Shumlin is game.

“Here comes the sun, little darlin’… Here comes the sun, I say, it’s alright.”

But the ominous music in the background, combined with bold-faced lettering reading “45th in business friendliness,” and “4th worst state in which to retire” suggest it’s anything but.

So begins the latest television ad campaign from Randy Brock, who is staking a late-race surge in part on his first ad buy since May. His campaign, which had less than $250,000 on hand as of Monday, will drop about $70,000 on the 10-day run.

The first half of the ad constitutes the most aggressive move yet in what has to date been a relatively staid campaign.

“It’s alright?” asks a caption below what some will find to be an unflattering shot of Shumlin. “Who’s he fooling?”

The second half of the ad brightens as Republican candidate Randy Brock enters the picture.

“Kids graduate and they leave Vermont, and they leave Vermont because they perceive that the opportunities they want are not necessarily here,” Brock says.

The ads will begin running on network television tomorrow. Shumlin campaign manager Alex MacLean declined to say earlier this week when the Democratic incumbent might hit the airwaves.

Shumlin has spent the first few weeks of his campaign touting the 7,500 jobs that have been created since he was sworn into office, and the fact that Vermont has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

 

 

Brock campaign set to hit TV airwaves tomorrow

In his first set of television ads since May, Republican challenger Randy Brock will go live with a new set of spots beginning tomorrow. Check back for more details in a bit.

Former VPB staffer at center of right wing media/DOJ fracas

While flipping through channels the other night, one of our editors saw a familiar face plastered on the screen of Fox News’ O’Reilly Show – former Press Bureau and Rutland Herald reporter Tracy Schmaler, who is now a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs.

It seems Schmaler has run afoul of some elements of the media who have written that she “conspired” with the left-wing blog Media Matters to discredit critics of the DOJ over the “Fast and Furious” debacle that has dogged Attorney General Eric Holder. She’s also been compared to elements of Hitler’s Nazi regime, and  the Tucker Carlson-associated web site The Daily Caller has  FOIA’d a series of emails between her and Media Matters bloggers.

The emails certainly show communication between Media Matters and Schmaler, but mostly revolve around clarifying the similarities and differences between the “Fast and Furious” operation, which was basically an attempted sting carried out by the DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the prior “Wide Receiver”, also a joint sting.

The two operations were similar in that undercover agents were basically feeding guns – including semiautomatic weapons – and more into the Mexican drug cartel system in order to track them to the bigger, higher-up fish up the chain. This misguided attempt at flushing out the kingpins resulted in about 2,000 guns disappearing into criminal hands, and possibly the use of those guns in murders, shootings, and the death of a US agent.

The two operations differ in the respect that “Wide Receiver” took place primarily in 2005 and 2006, under the Bush Administration, while “Fast and Furious” primarily occured in 2010 and 2011, under the Obama Administration.

The DOJ Inspector General’s investigation into the operation has resulted in two officals leaving the department, and reprimand of a dozen more. 

 

Anti-single-payer group to take to Vermont airwaves

Four weeks after cutting its first television ad, the state’s leading anti-single-payer group has finally raised enough money to put it on the air.

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom will spend about $12,000 to run the 30-second spot on WCAX and WPTZ between now and the end of the October.

Jeff Wennberg, executive director of the organization, says that with Election Day on the horizon, it made sense for the group to bring the message to a statewide audience. The ad will run during “news and information” shows, he said.

“The good thing is that prior to an election, people are thinking about policy matters and thinking about the direction state and our nation are headed,” Wennberg said this afternoon.

Production was a low-budget affair. The spot, titled “Bureaucrats,” was made using donated space and unpaid volunteer “actors,” according to Wennberg.

“Even so we believe it effectively communicates the message that once the government has full control of our health care system, our access to needed services will be limited, not by medical professionals but by unaccountable bureaucrats in the name of cost containment,” Wennberg said when the ad was released on the internet last month.

The spot features a woman, facing a potentially dire prognosis, and a doctor saying, “I think we need to run a test, if that’s okay.”

“That’s okay with me,” the female patient says.

“Sorry – I wasn’t talking to you,” the doctor says. “Is that okay with you?”

The conceit here is that the doctor is in fact talking to the “bureaucrats” that Wennberg says would, under a single-payer system, be empowered to make health care decisions on behalf of Vermonters.

“Gov. Shumlin’s single-payer health care plan gives unaccountable bureaucrats the power to limit the care Vermonters receive,” the ad says.

As a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is permitted to engage only in “issue advocacy,” and cannot advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

Despite the use of Shumlin’s name in the ad, and the fact that it’ll be running on the eve of an election, Wennberg says the group is on sound legal footing.

“We are certainly not advocating that anyone vote for or against any candidate,” Wennberg said. “I believe we mention that the single-payer program is Gov. Shumlin’s single-payer program, and the ad speaks directly to concerns for what that program will do to the doctor-patient relationship if it’s implemented. I think that’s fair game and I don’t think we have any (legal) issues there.”

Republican challenger Randy Brock, who yesterday outlined in greater detail his free-market alternative to single-payer, has made opposition to Shumlin’s health care plan one of the touchstones of his fall campaign.

Wennberg said the ad campaign is also intended to provide a countervailing view to the pro-single-payer ads run by the organization “Vermont Leads” earlier this summer. That group, funded entirely by a chapter of the Service Employees International Union, spent about $100,000 on the ad campaign.

Wennberg has not disclosed the sources of funding for Vermonters for Health Care Freedom.

Former Statehouse reporter Alan Panebaker dies at 29 in kayaking accident

I only worked alongside him for a few months, but Alan Panebaker was a hell of a good guy to have known.

He died yesterday in a kayaking accident in New Hampshire, and Anne Galloway, his former boss over at VTDigger.com, has an obituary and details of the incident here: http://vtdigger.org/2012/09/20/former-vtdigger-staffer-alan-panebaker-dies-in-kayak-accident/

Alan had a brightness to him. He was fun to be around. He had a huge, contagious smile. And he was whip smart – the kind of smart you don’t necessarily expect from someone with the laidback, surfer-bro vibe that Alan couldn’t stop emanating if he tried.

He was a good reporter, too. He got the facts, reported them straight, and told people important things they didn’t already know.

Heartfelt condolences to Alan’s family, to his partner, Magdalena, and to the crew over at VTDigger. You can leave your own in the comments section of the VTDigger obit.

Untruth and consequences: Super PAC head denies, then admits, dinner with Brock

The head of Vermont’s new Republican super PAC stepped in it big time today when he lied to Seven Days reporter Paul Heintz about the last time he’d met with GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock.

Brock this morning held court with reporters outside the Central Vermont Medical Center to expand on the health care proposal he first unveiled earlier this month. When the topic of the GOP super PAC “Vermonters First” came up, Heintz asked Brock about whether he’d met recently with the group’s treasurer, Tayt Brooks.

Why would Heintz care?

The same federal laws that permit super PACs to spend unlimited sums of money to influence the outcomes of elections also forbid them from coordinating their activities in anyway with the candidates whose political prospects they’re trying to propel.

Brock was candid, saying he’d had Brooks over to dinner the night before. Brooks formerly served as executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, and Brock said the two are friends who get together on occasion.

But he was adamant the two did not discuss politics.

“The point is, we didn’t talk about campaign stuff,” Brock said. “He’s not involved in my campaign.”

Immediately after the press conference, Heintz (brilliantly) put in a call to Brooks to get his answer to the same question: when was the last time you met with Randy Brock?

According to Heintz, who details the exchange on his blog, Off Message, at www.sevendaysvt.com, Brooks “at first claimed he hadn’t seen the gubernatorial candidate in months.”

“Asked when he last saw Brock, Brooks said, ‘I really honestly don’t know.’ Asked again, he said, ‘I have to think about it.’ Asked a third time, he said, ‘The last time I saw Randy Brock was probably a few months ago,’” Heintz reports.

Told that Brock had minutes ago shared with the media news of their dinner the night before, Brooks began singing a different tune.

“I did meet with Randy last night,” he told Heintz. “I happened to catch up with Randy last night.”

Neither Brooks nor Brock would talk about what they discussed at Brock’s Franklin County home.

“It was a private conversation,” Brooks told Heintz. “It was not related as far as anything with Vermonters First.”

The dinner conversation between Brock and Brooks may have been within the law. But Brooks’ misstep today certainly won’t inspire public confidence in the super PAC’s independence from the candidates on whose behalf it’s working.

While Vermonters First hasn’t yet run ads specifically championing Randy Brock, a newly released ad critical of single payer asks voters to “Elect balance” in November.

The Vermont Democratic Party was quick to seize on the controversy.

“Clearly Vermonters can’t believe what Tayt Brooks says and it’s no surprise that his organization’s ads are misleading, counterfactual, and negative,” VDP Chairman Jake Perkinson said in a release. “We take any potential collaboration between Randy Brock’s campaign and the Super PAC Vermonters First very seriously. Tayt Brooks repeated refusal to discuss the meeting between himself and Randy Brock only casts further question on the potential collusion. Voters expect and deserve candidates that will not only comply with Vermont law, but also provide an honest and factual conversation.”

Weedmaps aims to help Shumlin find path to victory

Remember the flap in early August over Peter Shumlin’s plea for campaign donations from a national organization that wants to legalize marijuana?

Well Republican challenger Randy Brock ought to have even more fun with the latest cannabis-related contributor on Shumlin’s campaign-finance disclosures.

“Weedmaps Media Inc.” sent the Democratic incumbent a $2,000 check last month. And as the company’s tagline indicates, the online outfit is dedicated to helping medical marijuana enthusiasts “Find Your Bud.”

According to estimates from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which itself has given $2,000 to the Shumlin reelection campaign, Weedmaps is the country’s premier medical marijuana dispensary directory, connecting more than 1 million medical marijuana patients to thousands of cannabis dispensaries nationwide.

Medical marijuana is a serious issue for the chronically ill Vermonters whose pain it helps alleviate. Weedmaps, however, seems to be courting a more recreational user base.

The main page, for example, features a live chat called “What R U Smoking On?” wherein users submit Tweet-length reviews of their current bud of choice.

“Blazing that blue skunk fire dank,” reports “Carnalito22.”

For “Caligoodbud,” the “Starfire bubba kush” has been going very nicely.

Users can also find reviews of dispensaries and their products, to find out in advance whether items like Dr. J’s Buzz Buttons are worth the scratch.

To see how it all works, head over to weedmaps.com, type in your zip code, and the site will reveal medical marijuana dispensaries in your region.

No prescription? No problem.

The good folks at Weedmaps have compiled a roster of physicians eager to provide patients with the doctor’s approval they need to buy their buds legally in states likeCalifornia,Colorado,WashingtonandMichigan.

Type in the zip code for Montpelier, and the site will direct you to a pair of dispensaries inMontreal– Le Holistique Collectif and the Montreal Compassion Centre.

Vermont doesn’t have any medical marijuana dispensaries. Yet. On the heels of controversial legislation passed with Shumlin’s support in 2011, public safety officials last week gave the go ahead for two dispensaries to be located in Waterbury and Burlington. The dispensaries could open their doors as early as next year.

We put in a call to the Weedmaps headquarters in Newport Beach, California, to find out what it is about Shumlin that so impressed them. No response so far.

Shumlin campaign manager Alex MacLean said the donation arrived unsolicited in the mailbag.

“Clearly this is a business that agrees with the governor’s belief that marijuana should be decriminalized in order for our limited resources to be targeted more effectively,” MacLean said.

She said the campaign had vetted Weedmaps, and found it to be a suitable outfit from which to accept a campaign donation.

Strict regulations on the number, size and operating protocols of dispensaries in Vermont were designed to avoid the proliferation of dispensaries in places like California and Colorado, where more permissive guidelines have basically provided an end-run around criminal marijuana statutes.

If future legislation opens the dispensary doors a little wider here, good to know Vermonters will have a Weedmap to help us find our bud.

VSEA announces unique mix of endorsements

The Vermont Employees’ Association announced Tuesday the following endorsements, which included Democratic candidate Cassandra Gekas for lieutenant governor, Republican candidate Vince Illuzzi for auditor, and Progressive Party candidate Ed Stanak for attorney general.

Other nominations included Democratic candidates Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos and state Treasurer Beth Pearce.

Pearce was appointed to the position but has significantly outraised her opponent, Wendy Wilton, the Rutland City treasurer.

VSEA President John Reese said in a news release members of the nonprofit labor union, which according to its website represents more than 8,000 state workers, will focus efforts on the governor’s race as well as the treasurer and attorney general races.

“Treasurer Beth Pearce has been a great friend to VSEA members, especially in her articulate and educated defense of state employees’ defined benefit pension plans,” said Reese. “Unlike her opponent, Treasurer Pearce understands the many pitfalls inherent in switching state employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.”

Longtime GOP patron Lenore Broughton funding Republican super PAC

The checkbook behind the Republican super PAC “Vermonters First” belongs to a woman named Lenore Broughton, according to a disclosure filed this afternoon by the group’s treasurer, Tayt Brooks.

A quick background check reveals that Broughton – whose $100,000 contribution constitutes the lone funding source thus far for Vermonters First – is no stranger to money in politics.

According to federal elections data, she’s donated nearly $70,000 to federal candidates and PACs in 2011 and 2012 alone. Beneficiaries include Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan, Minnesota Sen. Michele Bachmann, and Virginia Senate candidate Allen West.

She dropped another $115,000 in the 2008 cycle, including a $55,500 contribution to the McCain-Palin Victory fund.

Brooks says Broughton has lived inVermontfor 40 years and is “very private.” Efforts to contact her have so far been unsuccessful.

According to an archived piece by former Seven Days columnist Shay Totten, Broughton served on the board of Defenders Council of Vermont, which went hard after Burlington Telecom for carrying Al Jazeera English.

Totten referred to Broughton, aBurlingtonresident, as a “right-wing funder extraordinaire.”

Her projects include True North Radio, the conservative talk show now hosted by Rob Roper, former executive director of the Vermont Republican Party.

GOP Chairman Jack Lindley this afternoon called Broughton “a wonderful individual.”

“She’s one of those folks who has decided she’s going to put up her funds in order to ensureVermontdoesn’t go down a rabbit trail it shouldn’t go down,” Lindley said.

In documents filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Broughton is described as a self-employed business owner. Lindley said her family was in the retail business.

For the past week, Vermonters First has run 15-second ads touting the candidacies of Vince Illuzzi and Wendy Wilton. Today saw the beginning of a weeklong run of 30-second spots criticizing single-payer.

“Health care is a $5 billion issue and the governor and Legislature have decided they don’t want to talk about how to finance it until after the election,” Brooks said. “That’s unfortunate, and Vermonters deserve more than that.”

As for whether the group will drop money on the guy who’s actually trying to unseat Peter Shumlin, Brooks was more cryptic.

“I’m not going to get into why various candidates haven’t necessarily been up on the airwaves to date,” Brooks said. “We’ve focused on a couple of races, but I think it’s fair to say those aren’t the only two races we’ll be focusing on, and I guess I’ll just leave it at that.”

After losing Prog recount, Annette Smith announces write-in candidacy for governor

The preliminary results are in for the Progressive gubernatorial primary recount, and it looks all but certain that party stalwart Martha Abbott will stave off a challenge from write-in candidate Annette Smith.

Abbott clung to a one-vote victory after the first tally, but the recount revealed an apparent transcription glitch in Westfield that resulted in an erroneous 53-vote jump for Smith, who serves as executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

The new unofficial count is 381-340, though the results won’t become official until a judge signs off on them tomorrow.

Paradoxically, however, while the winner of the recount has bowed out of the race for governor, the loser used the occasion to formally announce her candidacy. Continue reading