Author Archives: Rob Mitchell

Senate Committee assignments announced

The Senate committee lineups were announced today, and there were some shakeups. Pete Hirschfeld is reporting on this right now and we’ll have an update with the fallout for the blog and tomorrow’s newspaper. Obviously, one of these assignments will change when Gov. Shumlin announces a replacement for Bill Carris of Rutland, who is stepping down.

From the release by Nancy Driscoll, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott:

Montpelier, VT  – Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, and Senator Dick Mazza, members of the Senate Committee on Committees, announced the Senate committee assignments for the 2013-2014 legislative session.
Those committee assignments are:
MORNING COMMITTEES
Agriculture
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans), Chair
Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)
Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

Economic Development
Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin)
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

Health & Welfare
Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)
Sen. Anthony Pollina (D-Washington)

Judiciary
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), Vice Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham)
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)

Natural Resources
Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Transportation
Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle), Chair
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille), Vice Chair
Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor)
Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland)
Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia)

AFTERNOON COMMITTEES
Appropriations
Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), Vice Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden)
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans)
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille)

Education
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin), Vice Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)
Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden)

Finance
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), Chair
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)
Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington)
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)
Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland)

Government Operations
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), Chair
Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington), Vice Chair
Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison)
Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

Institutions
Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington), Vice Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)
Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Montpelier, VT  – Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, and Senator Dick Mazza, members of the Senate Committee on Committees, announced the Senate committee assignments for the 2013-2014 legislative session.

 

Those committee assignments are:

 

MORNING COMMITTEES

 

Agriculture

 

Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans), Chair

Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)

Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)

Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

 

Economic Development

 

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin)

Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington)
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

 

Health & Welfare

 

Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), Chair
Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden), Vice Chair
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)

Sen. Anthony Pollina (D-Washington)

 

Judiciary

 

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), Vice Chair

Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham)
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)

 

Natural Resources

 

Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington), Chair
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden), Vice Chair

Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

 

Transportation

 

Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle), Chair
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille), Vice Chair

Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor)

Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland)

Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia)

 

 

AFTERNOON COMMITTEES

 

Appropriations

 

Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Chair
Sen. Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), Vice Chair

Sen. Sally Fox (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)

Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden)
Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans)
Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille)

 

Education

 

Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), Chair
Sen. Don Collins (D-Franklin), Vice Chair

Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington)

Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden)

 

Finance

 

Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), Chair
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), Vice Chair
Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)

Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)

Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington)

Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland)

Government Operations

 

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), Chair
Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington), Vice Chair

Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison)

Sen. Bill Carris (D-Rutland)

Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)

 

Institutions

 

Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Chair
Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington), Vice Chair

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)

Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle)
Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans)

Leahy declines Appropriations chairmanship

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Politico.com is reporting that Patrick Leahy has declined the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In a statement issued by email, Leahy said:

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”

The Politico story:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is turning down the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a surprise move in a chamber where senior senators are quick to snag the most influential positions on Capitol Hill, aides said Wednesday.

Leahy began telling colleagues Wednesday he would remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel that oversees the Justice Department, federal courts and hot-button constitutional issues — rather than take over the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings of federal discretionary spending. The Appropriations Committee spot opened up following the death of long-time Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had served in the body since 1963.

Candidates line up to replace Carris in Senate

From Gordon Dritschilo at the Rutland Herald:

One name kept coming to the lips of Rutland County Democrats on Thursday: Eldred French of Shrewsbury.

French, who lost his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives after redistricting pitted him against fellow incumbent Dennis Devereaux of Mount Holly, was repeatedly described as being at the top of the list of candidates to replace Sen. William Carris, D-Rutland.

Carris announced Wednesday he was stepping down for health reasons. The Rutland County Democrats will hold a caucus and come up with as many as three names to forward to the governor, who will then appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Carris’s term.

County Chairwoman Kathy Hall said she expected to hold the caucus after New Year’s. She said she had heard four or five names, and one name more frequently than the others, but she would not disclose any of the names under discussion.

“I was told I have to remain unbiased and I am worried if I mention names I’ve heard, it would affect things,” Hall said.

However, a number of current and former county Democratic officeholders put French’s name forward Thursday.

For the rest of the story at the Rutland Herald, click here.

Carris to step down from State Senate seat

Sen. Bill Carris, Democrat of Rutland and the former Senate Majority leader, has announced he will leave his senate seat effective Monday.

The three-term Democratic senator from West Rutland said problems with his back and ankle prompted the decision.

“The pace is pretty frenetic up there,” he said. “People don’t know how much running around you do.”

“I’m pretty sad about it. It was a real tough decision,” he added.

Carris, who just won re-election to a fourth term last month, said he underwent corrective surgery this fall that he hoped would make it easier to walk.

But with less than a month before the start of the next legislative session, Carris said he doesn’t believe he is physically capable of doing the job.

Carris said he sent his letter of resignation to Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday and alerted the president pro tem of the senate as well as fellow Rutland County Senators Kevin Mullin and Margaret Flory.

Shumlin will be called upon to appoint someone to take Carris’ place following a caucus of Rutland County Democrats who will select three candidates to recommend to the governor.

Single-payer group offers ideas on how to pay for it

From the Times Argus and Rutland Herald today, a story from Pete Hirschfeld:

MONTPELIER — A group that helped build the political will for single-payer health care in Vermont has issued a report telling elected officials how to pay for it.

The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign unveiled a 17-page proposal Monday in which it identifies a combination of income and payroll taxes as the most “equitable” means of financing the new system. More a conceptual framework than a solid proposal — the report doesn’t estimate overall system costs or calculate the dollar value of the new revenue streams — the report says its blend of financing options would place the lion’s share of the financial burden on those best able to afford it.

“And that’s been one of the key principles from the beginning,” said James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which oversees the campaign. “The Shumlin administration is doing all the work to figure out how much it’s going to cost, and we’re essentially saying this is the most equitable way to come up with the money.”

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said he was impressed with what he called a very well-written report. “It will be a helpful document as the dialogue on how to pay for single-payer takes place in the coming months and years,” Spaulding said.

As to the specific proposal, which would use a mix of corporate and personal income taxes, combined with a “progressive” payroll tax, Spaulding said, “In general they make a strong case.”

For the rest of the story, click here.

Does more competition in health insurance actually bring down costs?

David Sanger

David Sanger speaks at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland Tuesday.

While speaking at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre last night, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Sanger raised an interesting question about our assumptions on health insurance and competition.

He referred to a study that was written up in the Times’ Economix blog, which compared the concentration of competition, measured by how much of a state’s insurance market is concentrated in the largest two insurers, to the rise in the cost of health insurance premiums in the same state over the ten years between 2000 and 2010.

The study finds that there is not a meaningful correlation between more competition and lower costs. In fact, Sanger pointed out, the reverse actually seems to be true – and this raises concerns about the direction we’re taking with Obamacare.

The concern comes from the increased competition required from health insurance exchanges – which states are required to have set up by 2014, or the federal government will set up for them.

Apparently, the more concentrated the insurance market, the more leverage the biggest insurers have to bring down costs. The more fragmented the market, the less leverage each individual insurer has. As Economix puts it:

In imperfect health care markets, competition can be counterproductive. The larger an insurer’s share of the market, the more aggressively it can negotiate prices with providers, hospitals and drug manufacturers. Smaller hospitals and provider groups, known as “price takers” by economists, either accept the big insurer’s reimbursement rates or forgo the opportunity to offer competing services. The monopsony power of a single or a few large insurers can thus lead to lower prices. For example, Glenn Melnick and Vivian Wu have shown that hospital prices in markets with the most powerful insurers are 12 percent lower than in more competitive insurance markets.

Food for thought as we steadily advance on the way to a single-payer system. For the full Economix blog post on this, please click here.

 

Legislators mourn loss of Greg Clark

By Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief

MONTPELIER – Elected officials of all political stripes are mourning the death of Rep. Gregory Clark, the five-term Republican from Vergennes killed in a traffic accident Friday morning.
Police say Clark was killed on Route 7 in Waltham early Friday morning after stepping out his car to clear his windshield and being struck by another vehicle.
As law enforcement officials pieced together the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident, Clark’s House colleagues recalled his compassion for his constituents, and the humor with which he often advocated on their behalf.
“He was a great guy who really cared about Vermonters, and in particular young Vermonters, and making sure they had the tools they needed to be successful,” said Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith.
Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, chairwoman of the House Education Committee on which Clark served, called him one of the “most popular” members of the entire body. Continue reading

Pollina to push state bank idea

Anthony Pollina, a Washington County Progressive, Democrat and Working Families senator, wants the state to try again at looking at the possibility of a state bank.
Currently, the vast majority of incoming tax money or federal money the state receives goes to TD Bank, which earns a profit and charges fees, Pollina says. Through a state bank, which would use existing local banks or a state agency like the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the state could earn interest and use the money to re-invest in businesses or student loans, advocates say.
In 2010, a preliminary analysis by the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office wrote the system has a number of potential long-term benefits, but it would likely have a complicated and controversial transition.
Committee hearings have gathered testimony about the possibility, but banking representatives have opposed the measure.
A bill to study the issue was introduced last year by Pollina and Chittenden County Sen. Ginny Lyons, a Democrat, but the proposal ultimately was tabled.
Pollina said during an interview last week a state bank would work in partnership, rather than competition, with banks. He also said he believes that public support is more receptive now than it was two years ago.
He also said the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics has supported the idea.
A fellow with the institute, Gary Flomenhoft, was part of the legislative testimony on the issue.
He’s suggested the North Dakota state bank was a key part in the state having a budget surplus after the 2008 stock market crash when other states came out with deficits. He’s pointed to how in 2009 the North Dakota state bank returned $30 million to the state based on investments.
A conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier has plans to discuss the issue of state banks. The conference, called Vermont’s New Economy, costs $25. Attendees can register at global-community.org/cgi/gc/neweconomy/.
Pollina is also working to draft a bill for another study group to try to undo declining state funding to state colleges for the cost of college education.
The state currently funds about 12 percent of the cost, Pollina said. In 1980, state funding paid for about half, and tuition covered the rest, he said.

Taylor, Ellis to run for assistant majority leader

Waterbury Rep. Rebecca Ellis, and Barre Rep. Therese “Tess” Taylor are seeking a Democratic caucus vacancy in the Statehouse as the assistant majority leader, a position that helps facilitate communication between legislators and party leadership.
“I think in that process it’s really important for the individual legislators to know that they’re being heard and have an opportunity to speak and have an opportunity to discuss ideas and priorities,” Ellis said.
Ellis was appointed as a state representative by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2011, and was recently elected to a full term.
She has also served on the Waterbury Select Board for seven years, including four years as chairwoman. She also served on the Waterbury Planning Commission from 2001 to 2006.
Ellis said in addition to helping build consensus through the funding and construction of two firehouses in Waterbury, she was moved by the ability of a group of people to work together in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and that her experience was something she could bring to assistant majority leader.
During the immediate aftermath of the storm, a key group of about 20 leaders often met daily for about a month, and Ellis also helped facilitate 22 long-term recovery projects.
Taylor was first elected as a state representative in 2008. She served two three-years terms as a school board member with Spaulding High School and Barre Technical Center, which included time as chairwoman. She’s also been on the board of the Barre Supervisory Union, which she’s also chaired.
One of her major accomplishments in working with others includes helping resolve an 11-day teachers’ strike in 2005.
She also has board experience with the Central Vermont Workforce Development Board and Barre Partnership, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the city’s downtown that she has headed as president.
Taylor said she’s been able to reach out to others because of her experience with the Vermont Historical Society, where she previously served as the director of education and public programming.
As reported in Seven Days, the opening comes as the current Democratic whip, Addison County Rep. Willem Jewett, is seeking the position of majority leader. Caledonia County Rep. Lucy Leriche held that position, but she didn’t run for re-election.
The caucus will vote on the decision Dec. 8.

Gov. Shumlin announces second-term staffing changes

Peter Shumlin

Peter Shumlin

Gov. Shumlin announced the following second-term staffing changes in a press release today:

Chief of Staff Bill Lofy will leave the administration to take a position with the Democratic Governors Association, which Gov. Shumlin is expected to chair in 2013. Lofy will step down as chief of staff at the end of the year; he will work for the DGA primarily from Vermont. Lofy formerly worked for U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and held senior positions at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Alex MacLean, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs, will leave the administration in early 2013 to take a position in the private sector. MacLean staffed Gov. Shumlin during his tenure as President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and has run his two successful gubernatorial campaigns. Continue reading

Welch, Sanders to discuss budget and deficit

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is going to be talking about his priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress.
Rep. Peter Welch is planning to discuss the issues in his Burlington office on Monday before he returns to Washington.
The Norwich Democrat will outline his efforts to pass a farm bill and the need to avoid what is being called the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and dramatic budget cuts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off reelection, will also be holding a press conference at his Church Street office at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the budget deficits. Sanders as well will return to Washington in time for the start of ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations between both houses of Congress and the White House, which are expected to start  Tuesday.

Citing autocratic style, Poirier plans to challenge Smith for Speaker post

BARRE — Rep. Paul Poirier, a Barre independent, said Friday he’s planning to challenge House Speaker Shap Smith, a Morrisville Democrat, for the leadership post in January.
“I’m quite sure that is what I’m going to do,” said Poirier, who plans to make a formal announcement Wednesday. But leaving the door open to a change of heart, he said he’s about “90 percent” certain he’ll run.
A longtime Democrat who first ran as an independent in 2010, Poirier said he has been troubled by what he sees as Smith’s autocratic leadership style — a style he said has marginalized minority parties and chilled debate in Vermont’s House of Representatives. Continue reading

The Candidates Speak: Attorney General’s Race

We asked the candidates for attorney general five questions about their candidacy for the office. Their responses, delivered by email, are below.

Sorrell, William

Democrat Bill Sorrell

Republican Jack McMullen

Republican Jack McMullen

Progressive Ed Stanak

Progressive Ed Stanak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: Beyond prosecuting offenders, what role should the attorney general play in curbing the state’s narcotics problem?

Ed Stanak: The term “narcotics” has a specific definition under Vermont law and means “opium, coca leaves, pethidine and opiates…”.
While the attorney general has powers and duties comparable to state’s attorneys in the prosecution of criminal narcotics violations, such prosecutions should be left to the state’s attorneys unless conflicts of interest or other unusual circumstances arise. The role of the attorney general therefore should be one of assessing the effectiveness of existing policies and statutes in order to determine how to best attain a just outcome on behalf of the public interest.
This requires a substantial realignment of the so-called 40-year-old “war on drugs” — a system involving enormous expenditures of public funds and a huge increase in the number of Vermonters subject to the corrections system. The result has not been productive. The attorney general should prepare a comprehensive assessment for the consideration of the legislature. An immediate priority must be stopping the illicit flow of drugs into our communities from pharmaceutical corporations licensed by the government. These drugs are prescribed by physicians and encouraged by health insurance providers to be marketed in large quantities.
A priority would be reallocating law enforcement resources on narcotics rather than on cannabis products, which should be legalized and regulated as are alcohol products. Drug use by many young people is essentially an economic justice issue. Given access to skill training programs and employment opportunities, the use of narcotics and related crimes against persons and property will diminish. The attorney general should seek just outcomes for all members of the Vermont community. Although convictions for violations of existing criminal provisions is a responsibility, a larger obligation is to lead as an advocate for change benefiting all and resulting in more prudent uses of public revenues.

Bill Sorrell: Beyond the prosecution of offenders, the attorney general should use the “bully pulpit” of the office to advise the general public and opinion makers of the extent of the problem, the need for more resources for treatment and to warn of the addictive qualities of the street drugs, prescription medicines subject to abuse and today’s synthetic “designer drugs.”
I have alerted health care providers to the problems of drug diversion by employees in health care facilities. As part of this effort, my office created and has widely distributed the training video “Drug Diversion in Vermont: When Healing Hands Harm.”
I, personally, and members of my staff have presented at trainings and workshops for various groups on drug abuse issues, including two recent programs for prescribers focusing on the efforts of some individuals to “doctor shop” in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for addictive pain medications.
Collaboration is key to more effectively combating drug abuse. Given the many hats worn by the attorney general, the office should continue to be involved in various collaboration efforts.

Jack McMullen: If elected, I would convene a statewide task force comprised of the attorney general, the state’s attorneys, law enforcement, mayors and selectmen, mental health professionals, and members of the judiciary, to hammer out a uniform statewide policy for dealing with drug-related crime. As part of the work of the task force, I envision defining the boundaries between the three types of criminals involved in drug-related crime.
The three categories are: hard core criminals (violent criminals, repeat offenders, drug dealers, and out of state offenders), offenders involved in their first crime with no associated violence (burglaries, house breaks), youthful offenders who are caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use. The first group would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and gotten off our streets. The second group would be sent to a court diversion program to interact with their victims, make restitution, and have their criminal record expunged if they successfully complete the program. The third group would bypass the courts and criminal system and be sent straight to treatment.
Another job of the task force would be to recommend court diversion and treatment programs across the state not just in the selected places that offer them now. In addition, I envision a recommendation for a gradual shift of resources from prisons toward diversion and treatment as the statewide policy begins to gain traction.
The purpose of the approach to the second and third categories would be to set nonviolent offenders on a path to productive citizenship which follow-up studies show would benefit society far more than the offender who, of course, would also benefit.

Who had the biggest impact on your political career? What did you learn from them? And how do those lessons show in your work today?

Jack McMullen: Admiral Rickover. He was a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States at about age 10 in 1910. He left the Tsar’s Russia with his family to escape the manifest discrimination and persecution Jews suffered as a matter of state policy in those days. Despite that background, the Admiral was nominated to attend the Naval Academy and rose, by dint of merit and his accomplishments, to become a four-star officer in his adopted country. He was both a Renaissance man and a grateful patriot in spite of sometimes experiencing discrimination here in the U.S. (albeit a much milder form than in Russia). I learned from the Admiral how to identify what is important in a challenging situation and develop a clear action plan to resolve things in the presence of great uncertainty. I also admired the Admiral’s belief in merit as the sole criterion for selecting his staff. He didn’t care if you were from “Mars” (as a metaphor for someone not naturally aware of societal norms). If you could do the job to his standards, he would hire you and judge you on your performance.

William Sorrell: I aspire to follow the lead of my mother, the late Senator Esther Sorrell. Her fundamental concern for the well-being of Vermonters and her respect for the weighty responsibility of holding public office guide me in my role of being Vermont’s attorney general. Her intelligence, wisdom, energy and integrity are qualities to which I aspire. Every day I try to bring these qualities to the office of attorney general.  My record of achievement of over fifteen years of fighting on behalf of Vermont and Vermonters is a testament to her example.

Ed Stanak: My father was involved in the reform wing of the Democratic party in Jersey City, N.J., a city controlled by “machine politics.” He took me to meetings at the neighborhood reform “clubhouse,” where I listened to the ethnic mix of Italians, Greeks, Irish and others who came together for the common good. One evening before an election all four tires on his car were flattened. The next morning we gathered our signs and went to the polls for the reform candidates. From my dad, I acquired the essentials of political involvement.
While a freshman in college I worked on the campaign of Robert Kennedy for president. I had just left his New York City headquarters when the news of his assassination was broadcast. From Kennedy I learned how passion can be transformed into political action.
I arrived in Marshfield in the summer of 1973 and my neighbor was Wallace Whitcomb, retired sergeant of arms for the Statehouse. Over the years, Wallace taught me the fundamentals of politics in the Green Mountains.
I first met Bernie Sanders in 1979. Over the years I helped with his campaigns. I opposed his first run for congress. My late buddy Stewart Meacham (one of the founders of Vermont’s food coops) and I thought that by opposing Bernie we’d get him to run again for governor. Bernie taught me political perseverance and reconciliation.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is a civil rights activist and former legislator from Northern Ireland. She and her husband were the victims of an attempted assassination in 1981 and were shot in front of their children. Bernadette spoke at the Barre Opera House in the late 1980s and stayed at our home. Bernadette instilled in me a sense of political courage despite personal risk.

If you could unilaterally impose one single change to Vermont criminal statutes, what would it be?

Sorrell: I would extend the current six years statute of limitations for manslaughter cases arising from infant abuse deaths.

McMullen: To establish a statewide drug crime policy along the lines outlined in Question 1, so that no matter where a drug crime was committed in our state, it would be treated the same way given the nature of the offense, the risk posed by the offender, and which of the three categories noted he or she fell into.

Stanak: There are actions and behaviors by individuals which are unacceptable and even harmful to members of the community but may not meet the basic legal test of “mens rea” – the guilty mind, knowledge that the act is wrong. One in three of all inmates in the Vermont correctional system have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. Three out of five female inmates have such illnesses. Four out of five inmates have some level of substance addiction. These characteristics are the realities of the Vermont prison system, which now devours more public funds than we spend on college education.
This downward spiral, both in terms of costs to taxpayers and society at large due to outcomes such as recidivism, will worsen unless steps are taken to distinguish criminal acts from acts resulting from illness and addiction. Currently, some state’s attorneys in Vermont recognize the issues at hand and have successfully implemented diagnostic and treatment alternatives to criminal prosecution. Similarly, there are specialized “drug courts” and “mental health courts” in a few counties.
As encouraging as these steps are, they are a fragmented approach to statewide problems. A unilateral change to the criminal justice system would be to implement such programs on a uniform statewide basis. A standardized pre-trial process in all counties identifying individuals with mental illness and/or addiction problems would divert a significant number of people from the criminal justice system into treatment programs with a resulting decrease in costs and, hopefully, a decline in repeat offenses..

Should Vermont Yankee continue to operate? If yes, why? In not, what specific actions will you undertake to ensure it doesn’t?

Stanak: The operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is a danger to the health and economic well being of Vermonters. The plant must be closed. This has been the position of candidate Stanak since 1979 when he wrote a brief to the Vermont Supreme Court on behalf of six Vermonters who sought to shut down the plant.
The current lawsuit regarding enactments by the Vermont legislature to curtail plant operation, and pending before the federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, has minimal likelihood of success in ending the operation of the plant because of the factual record in that case and the legal principle of federal preemption. Drawing upon experience as an administrator of Vermont’s environmental laws, candidate Stanak believes that the pending application by Entergy Inc., to the Agency of Natural Resources seeking renewal of its permit to discharge hundreds of millions of gallons of heated water into the Connecticut River is the best means to cease operation of the plant. The state has clear jurisdiction over discharges. The attorney general must work closely with the  Agency secretary to ensure a thorough review of the application for the continued discharge. Evidence will demonstrate that the characteristics of this discharge do not comply with Vermont’s water quality standards and other applicable regulatory standards. Appellate litigation resulting from a denial of the discharge permit renewal would then be the means to successfully close the plant.
An additional comment is necessary. Hundreds of workers are employed at the plant and their future economic wellbeing must be considered in the closure of the plant. To this end, steps must be taken to increase the plant’s decommissioning funds in order to include adequate resources for the retraining of the displaced workers.

McMullen: The attorney general’s shop should not be a policy shop but rather a law enforcement operation. The job of shutting down Vermont Yankee is a policy question properly left to elected legislators and the governor. Our present governing party has strongly indicated its desire to shut the plant down. If they can find a constitutional way to do that, I would defend the law created to put the policy into effect at the trial level and on appeal should that be necessary independent of my personal views on the suitability of closing or leaving open the plant. In my judgment, the current appeal from Judge Murtha’s ruling in the Entergy lawsuit has a very low probability of success. Rather than gambling the $4 million to $8 million it will take to pursue the appeal, I would speak with Governor Shumlin to ask what measures he would like to see Entergy take if it remains open — possibly measures to improve transparency or safety. I would then negotiate the best deal I would with that company in exchange for withdrawing the appeal. We could better use the millions saved to repair damage from Irene or to fight drug-related crime.

Sorrell: Vermont’s law giving our legislature a real say on the future operations of Vermont Yankee should be upheld and thereby give effect to the state senate’s bipartisan 26-to-4 vote against continued operation of the plant.
Consequently, I will continue fighting the Entergy case at the federal appeals court in New York City. My office will also work with the Agency of Natural Resources on the thermal discharge permit process and, as requested, render assistance in the pending certificate of public good proceeding before the Public Service Board.

What distinguishes you from your opponents in this race, and in what specific ways will those distinctions make you a better attorney general?

Sorrell: First, I am the only candidate admitted to practice law in the courts of Vermont. Second, I have over fifteen years of experience as attorney general. The attorney general is the state’s chief law enforcement officer and I am the only candidate with criminal law experience. Prior to becoming attorney general, I served twice as the Chittenden County state’s attorney, spent ten years in private law practice, and was Gov. Howard Dean’s secretary of Administration for nearly five years. I have a very strong record in the areas of environmental protection, consumer protection and criminal justice.
Finally, I have concrete priorities for this next term, including enhancing our consumer protection efforts, stepping up our efforts to improve Lake Champlain’s water quality and putting greater effort into investigating and prosecuting the downloading and sharing of child pornography.

Stanak: I did not attend law school. I learned law through the Supreme Court’s “reading law” clerkship program. I immersed myself in legal work involving criminal prosecution, property law, indigenous peoples rights, contracts and environmental protection. I also taught legal research for more than 10 years to a broad cross section of Vermonters some of whom are now members of the judiciary and others who are practitioners in state agencies and private firms. I have been involved in many grass-roots efforts and organizations ranging from the anti nuclear movement to service as the president of the state employees union when I fought  not only for our members but in the early efforts for health care coverage for all Vermonters.
I worked as a state employee for more than 30 years in administering Act 250 in a strict but fair manner. All of these experiences have provided me with the skills and insights necessary to be an activist attorney general. While I am motivated by a deep sense of commitment for taking action for the majority of Vermonters – sometimes described as the 99 percent – I am also anchored in a firm understanding of process and the ethical obligation for fair application of the law.
Having said that, we are at a “tipping point” in the history of Vermont and I am convinced that if specific actions are not taken for economic justice and in opposition to the corruption of democracy by large corporations, it will soon become most difficult, if not impossible, to restore the socioeconomic equity that was established in the 1930s after a period when many endured enormous suffering and a few prospered tremendously. We have a responsibility to those who will come after us.

McMullen: I have a management as well as a law background that would give me a different perspective in the office. A modern manager would focus the preponderance of resources on the most important problem facing the state. That problem is drug-related crime that has exploded in the last two years and is now at a tipping point. We must act decisively on this problem or risk losing our traditional status as a low crime state. Vermonters have a right to feel safe in their homes and communities. That is why many of them have come here to raise a family or stayed here despite the lesser economic opportunity.
Modern management suggests anticipating problems rather than waiting for them to happen then trying to pick up the pieces with litigation — a costly, time-consuming, and unpredictable tool. I would try to get ahead of problems by advising the legislature when I think laws they are drafting have undue constitutional risk. I would try to advise them of the small corrective actions they could take to avoid constitutional problems while still preserving the core of the policy the law is aimed at implementing.
I would favor negotiation over litigation, as a first approach, in instances of alleged civil wrongdoing. I would be as vigilant as the current attorney general has been on consumer protection against corporations engaged in questionable activities but would add questionable government activities to the list, something he has essentially ignored except for embezzlement cases.
I would investigate situations like Burlington Telecom and the massive apparent conflicts of interest among elected officials, wind developers, and VPIRG — with hundreds of thousands of contributions flowing one way and millions in state subsidies flowing the other.

The Candidates Speak: Lt. Governor’s Race

Cassandra Gekas

Cassandra Gekas

Phill Scott

Phil Scott

 

 

 

 

 

We posed 5 questions to the candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Democrat Cassandra Gekas and Republican Phil Scott. Their answers, provided by email, are below.

Q: It’s April of 2014, and the sitting governor passes away before he was to sign into law a controversial bill with which you disagree vehemently. After being sworn in to serve out the remainder of the term, would you sign the bill? Or use your executive power to prevent it from becoming law?

Phil Scott: If I were ever to find myself in this unfortunate position, I would take a page from the Howard Dean playbook and respect the process. I think it would be important during that time of crisis to establish a sense of consistency. So, to answer the question, I might not sign the bill, but I would not use my executive power to veto it, either. (If the governor does nothing with a bill that crosses his or her desk, the bill becomes law.)

Cassandra Gekas: As an elected official, there are times when you must weigh your personal values against the recommendations of your colleagues or what is politically popular. In Vermont, where the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, this can be particularly difficult when the two leaders do not have a shared vision for the future of our state. Continue reading

Treasurer’s Race Profile: Wilton & Pearce

From the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus:

Wendy Wilton

Beth Pearce

 

 

 

 

 

By David Taube | Staff Writer

MONTPELIER — The two most prominent candidates for state treasurer are an incumbent who points to a track record of savings to taxpayers and a challenger who sees alarming shortfalls in funds.

One of the most closely watched statewide races for this year’s General Election is between Democrat Beth Pearce, the state treasurer, and Republican Wendy Wilton, the Rutland city treasurer.

“We’ve got serious deficits we got to deal with,” said Wilton, who says her city’s $5 million deficit has become a $3.8 million positive fund balance during her time as treasurer.

The pair’s viewpoints clash in several key areas, including pension reform, how debt affects bond ratings, and when one should issue financial forecasts of the state’s proposed single-payer health system.

The campaigns also have made personal and professional issues part of the race, concerning whether it’s questionable if a top state official rents or owns a home and how much overtime is acceptable in the treasurer’s office.

Read the full article here at the Times Argus >>>

And, don’t miss: Rutland officials say Wilton was a key part of the team by Gordon Dritschilo