Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell sits down with Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal P. Goswami to discuss the legislative session, the state budget and guns.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell sits down with Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal P. Goswami to discuss the legislative session, the state budget and guns.
Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss a recent revenue downgrade, the president’s support for paid sick leave, gun legislation introduced in the Senate and legislators’ efforts to scuttle Vermont Health Connect.
Photos of Inauguration Day at the Vermont State House by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
MONTPELIER — About 100 single payer advocates, gathered in the State House Thursday afternoon to demand forward movement on a universal, publicly financed health care system, disrupted some ceremonial proceedings before a smaller group staging a State House sit-in were removed by police at 8 p.m.
The Vermont Workers Center organized demonstrations Thursday afternoon that took place in the House chamber, outside the entrance to the chamber and in hallways throughout the State House while Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin was being sworn in and delivering his inaugural address.
“Ain’t no way we’re backing down, we’re rising up, the time is now,” they chanted at one point.
The protesters who staged the sit-in in the well of the House into the evening said their intention was to extract a commitment from Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith for a public hearing on a public financing plan and report prepared by the Shumlin administration.
No such commitment was made.
Smith said Thursday afternoon that hearings will take place in the House Health Care and House Ways and Means Committees, but did not promise a public hearing.
“I think this was an incredible example of the openness of our democracy. In the people’s house people are allowed to petition and I would expect that over the coming weeks we’ll talk with people about setting up hearings,” he said.
The Vermont State Police, along with Capitol Police began arresting protesters one-by-one shortly after 8 p.m. A Vermont State Trooper asked them several times to leave before the arrests began. Most walked out escorted by officers. At least one was dragged.
Montpelier Police were staged outside the State House to assist if needed.
Vermont State Police Col. Thomas L’Esperance, who stayed at the State House all day as the sit-in continued, said troopers began communicating with a spokesperson for the group to explain “the rules of engagement.”
“It’s been a peaceful protest, so no headaches there,” L’Esperance said. “Some chose to leave and others chose to be arrested.”
One woman refused to standup and was dragged out of the House chamber by police. The woman screamed that she was being hurt as police applied “control and restraint techniques.” L’Esperance said officers were using as little force as necessary to remove people.
There were no disruptions while the governor was delivering his address, but immediately following his address a group of protesters blocked the entryway to the House chamber while others attempted to enter the gallery. Protesters unfurled banners at least twice that were quickly pulled down by State House staff.
As the Rev. Robert Potter was delivering the benediction protesters began to sing. Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon, a Republican, attempted to remove one man who was singing from the gallery, but eventually relented. The man continued to sing while Potter spoke. Lauzon and Rutland Mayor Chris Louras, who once served in the Legislature as a Republican, blocked the doorway preventing others from entering the chamber.
Single payer advocates have been demanding the state move forward with public financing of a state-run health insurance program since Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin decided to abandon his own long quest for such a system last month. Shumlin, in a surprise announcement, declared the cost too high for the state at this time.
The protests, especially the disruption of the benediction by a popular reverend, did not sit well with many lawmakers.
“I think they should get a job,” Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, after leaving the House chamber.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, said he was disappointed with the actions of the Workers Center and told Executive James Haslam that in a brief exchange Thursday evening. He said Vermonters have a long tradition of disagreeing respectfully.
The speaker declined on Thursday to say if the protesters went too far.
“I love the fact that we live in a society where we have the opportunity to freely express ourselves. There’s always a balance between free expression and decorum in ceremony. We air on the side of openness,” Smith said. “What I would do and what they would do are probably different things, but you know what, I’m just a guy from Wolcott, Vermont.”
Haslam, meanwhile, said his organization made a strong show of support for a single payer health care system.
“We, I think, have seen people in Vermont rejecting business as usual, that we’re not going to let a system … put this Green Mountain Care financing report on a shelf and just continuing with the current system, which is very good for the health care industry but is not good for people who need health care.
The disruption of Potter’s benediction was not planned and not condoned by the Workers Center, according to Haslam.
“I think that there was some confusion and definitely some people that were acting spontaneously. There were other people saying that’s not a good idea. I think people thought after the governor ended his speech that it was over and didn’t realize who was speaking,” Haslam said.
Watch the Vermont Press Bureau’s Capitol Beat on ORCA, a periodic show on politics, policy and government in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne has launched his first television commercial as the primary approaches next week.
The ad, which will be running on WPTZ, Fox 44/ABC 22 and WCAX through the primary, features footage from Milne’s campaign kickoff event last month in Barre. Former Republican Gov. James Douglas is prominently featured, calling Milne the next governor of Vermont.
“Internally, I think sort of the campaign family, we’re stoked about it. I think it’s very, very good and I’m appreciative of all the support from Gov. Douglas,” Milne said Tuesday.
The commercial also shows footage of Milne’s mother, former GOP state Rep. Marion Milne, who passed away on Aug. 11.
Milne said his campaign is spending just over $20,000 on the commercial through next Tuesday.
A story in Sunday’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald detailed the components of a $1.8 million contract in which the state of Vermont enlisted the services of a Washington, D.C., consulting firm for public outreach related to the new health insurance exchange.
GMMB, best known for its work on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, is handling everything from media relations to the production of television advertisements. And the products they’ve delivered offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the battle for hearts and minds by the Shumlin administration.
Below, you’ll find source documents used for the story, including some previously unreported material on the “launch event,” in which the state was going to pay GMMB more than $125,000 to organize a single press conference on the day that Vermont Health Connect launched.
The administration, according to Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson, ultimately decided to scrap the event, and will only pay GMMB for launch-event materials produced prior to the decision to forgo the press conference.
To read the contract itself, go to: http://dvha.vermont.gov/administration/5signed-package.pdf
Neal Goswami has joined the Vermont Press Bureau as of Sept. 3. Goswami was a reporter for the Bennington Banner for more than 7 years, and most recently was the newspaper’s social media editor and senior staff reporter.
Goswami will join Bureau Chief Pete Hirschfeld in reporting on state government, the legislature and statewide issues. He will work out of the Barre offices of the Herald’s sister newspaper, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and provide local coverage on Waterbury and other assignments in Central Vermont; he report out of the Statehouse during the legislative session. Goswami is a graduate of UVM, and covered the Democratic National Convention in 2008 on a joint assignment with the Denver Post.
He has just moved to Montpelier. Follow him on Twitter: @nealgoswami
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.
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.
In a lobbyist disclosure form filed with the secretary of state today, Bruce Lisman, founder of Campaign forVermont, revealed he spent more than $200,000 of his own money on the nascent organization between Jan. 1 and March 31.
It’s a significant amount of money byVermont standards, and Lisman sought to get out in front of the news with a press release fired off to news outlets moments ago.
“I am spending my own money because I am concerned about the economic damage current policies are having on lower and middle income Vermonters,” Lisman said in a written statement. “The futures of our state and our young people are at stake. I’ve worked hard and have done well. Spending my money onVermont’s future is more important than standing by passively.”
The Vermont native and UVM graduate made quite a name for himself on Wall Street, where he rose to head the global equities division at Bear Stearns, a position he held when the investment firm collapsed in 2008.
Most Vermonters by now have probably heard Lisman’s voice on their local radio station. He’s bought air time to run dozens of ads, some of which criticize the Shumlin administration’s stance on taxes, health care and energy.
Lisman swears his group is a policy outfit with no political motives. But his sustained focus on hot-button political issues has perked Democrats’ antenna.
The Vermont Democratic Party earlier this year asked Attorney General Bill Sorrell to launch an investigation into Campaign forVermont, alleging the group had run afoul of campaign-finance laws that prohibit 501(c)4 organizations, like his, to advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.
The group’s tax status allows it to raise unlimited funds without disclosing the names of its donors, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into electioneering.
Sorrell summarily dismissed the complaint. But the incident served to expose the adversarial relationship between Democratic party officials and the political newcomer using his considerable resources to air conservative talking points.
Lisman has repeatedly denied any interest in running for political office this year, and he insists his organization is totally apolitical.
“Across the board, the future ofVermont’s prosperity is at risk. From the pursuit of expensive energy, an impenetrable education financing system, an all-in-bet on a new health care coverage system and a state budget growing faster than our economy, Vermonter’s hopes for a more realistic and common sense approach for a prosperous economy are being highjacked,” he said.
With lines like that, he’ll have a tough time convincing people he isn’t out to defeat the Democratic incumbent.
The disclosure forms show that Lisman’s group spent $194,000 on advertising, $15,000 on compensation, and $3,000 on “other.”
The release indicated that Lisman “will continue to conduct outreach” in the future.
A video that surfaced today purporting to show voter fraud inVermont last Tuesday has elicited dueling responses from the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.
The video, reportedly produced by James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who won infamy for his undercover videos of ACORN offices, will undoubtedly reignite the old debate over voter identification laws.
That debate began Tuesday evening as Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont GOP, and Jesse Bragg, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, lauded and lambasted O’Keefe’s alleged evidence of voter fraud.
“It does expose flaws in the whole system, in my judgment,” Lindley said. “And it should give us all concern about the integrity of the voting system.”
Lindley had asked Secretary of State Jim Condos to investigate voter-checklist “irregularities” inBurlingtoneven before O’Keefe’s video hit the internet Tuesday. He said he had no inkling what O’Keefe was up to, but that the video footage only cements his concerns.
“If we have to show identification to get on an airplane, we surely ought to have to show ID at the ballot,” Lindley said. “I don’t think regular old Vermonters like me need to have the concern that there are people voting in elections that aren’t (registered voters).”
Bragg said the only evidence of voter fraud he’s ever seen is in the video that surfaced Tuesday. A gimmicky ruse designed to play on irrational fears about voter fraud, eh said, shouldn’t be used as basis to impose new restrictions on voting.
“He’s a radical right-wing activist and he is presenting a problem that doesn’t exist,” Bragg said.
Bragg saidVermontalready has law prohibiting the kind of behavior portrayed in the video. Adopting new laws that require residents to show proof of identification with a driver’s license or other state-sanctioned document, Bragg said, will disenfranchise marginalized sectors of society.
“Anything that requires a voter to travel somewhere, to pay a registration fee, or to take any extra step besides going to the polls, is a form of disenfranchisement,” Bragg said. “Any time you have to get an ID renewed and pay a fee, it becomes a poll tax. The point of our democracy is everyone has an equal vote, and the second we start putting restrictions on our right to vote is the second we start valuing one person’s vote over another’s.”
Former Rutland City Mayor Jeffrey Wennberg will take the reins at the state’s highest-profile anti-single-payer organization.
Through radio spots, social media and on-the-ground outreach, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has helped galvanize opposition to the health care reform legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Darcie Johnston, founder of the group, announced Thursday that she’ll be stepping aside to focus on her consulting business. Wennberg, who also served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation under theDouglasadministration, will take over as executive director.
“The quality, availability and cost of health care affect us all. With so much at stake inMontpelier, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is playing a vital role in informing Vermonters about this critical issue.,” Wennberg said in a statement. “The Administration cannot or will not answer questions about the cost of their proposal, who will be covered and how we will pay for it. Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is seeking the answers through expert counsel and by investigating and sharing the governor’s plans as they become known.”
Specifically, the group has been pushing for legislation that would force Shumlin to unveil a single-payer financing plan before the November elections. Shumlin has sought to delay talk about which tax will used to fund the public health care system until next January.
“What we do know of the governor’s reforms thus far is that they will harm our economy and our ability to retain and attract physicians,” Wennberg said. “Neither of those outcomes is good forVermont.”
Johnston, who founded the group last April, has been splitting time between running the organization and her own consulting firm.Johnstonclients include Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock, for whom Johnston is helping to fundraise.
“I am proud to have founded it, but the next step in its service to our state will take more time than I am able to commit due to my other obligations,” Johnston said in a written statement. “Jeff’s top-notch experience in management, issue advocacy and policy development will support this growing movement as Vermonters’ frustration mounts from a lack of answers to questions about the state’s health care plans.”
Vermonters oppose Citizens United, love Obama and would prefer to see their governors serve four-year terms, according to the results of a poll released today by the Castleton Polling Institute.
It’s the first survey to come out of the newly formed institute, and it taps the pulse of registered voters on issues ranging from presidential politics to Town Meeting Day ballot issues.
The results, based on interviews with 800 registered voters conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb. 22, indicate that 76 percent of Vermonters favor a constitutional amendment to limit spending on political campaigns. Even a majority of Vermonters who identify as Republicans, 57 percent, would support such an amendment, according to the poll.
Likely voters in the March 6 Republican presidential primary say they prefer Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum, Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich.
But Barack Obama still ownsVermont. In the state that handed him one of the highest margins of victory in the state in 2008, Obama, according to the poll, still leads Romney by 26 points in a head-to-head match up.
Look for complete poll results, and an interview with Rich Clark, the political scientist heading up the CPI, in tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.
MONTPELIER — Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Rutland County Republican who went along with Democrats last year and voted in favor of the single-payer health care law, wants to make sure Vermonters are getting their money’s worth out of all five members of the Green Mountain Care Board.
During a Statehouse hearing Thursday, Mullin asked the chairwoman of the board, Anya Rader Wallack, about a public perception that the other members of the board are not doing much work.
“Right now the public perception is you are Peter Shumlin’s point person on health care and nobody else knows what they’re doing,” said Mullin.
Wallack assured him the board members are working hard.
“Each of them have been up to their eyeballs in various issues,” Wallack said.
Mullin suggested notifying the press and the public when the board is out and about and hard at work in order to combat the perception.
Sounds like a good job for a PR firm, no?
– Thatcher Moats