Category Archives: Politics

Trailing Bernie: Talking Sanders, socialism

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It’s no secret by now that Bernie Sanders considers himself a democratic socialist.

It’s also no real secret that he’s hoping to spark a national, political movement to change the direction of the country. There are (so far) 16 Republicans and four other Democrats hoping to spearhead a similar movement — all candidates for president of the United States of America.

Those two separate things are related because of our electoral system. Candidates, more often than not, are ascribed a political party, and certainly a political persuasion. And to become president, you need a national vision that citizens buy into.

But for the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, Bernie’s political identity — which includes the buzz word “socialism” — coupled with his desire to organize a national movement means one thing and one thing only — Bernie Sanders is unequivocally a national socialist. Yes, a national socialist like members of the Nazi Party in Germany once were.

Williamson writes:

“In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.”

But wait, Williamson admits that Sanders is “not a national socialist in the mode of Alfred Rosenberg or Julius Streicher.” Rather, he’s more “in the mode of Hugo Chávez.”

How reasonable of Williamson to concede that Sanders is not quite on the same level as a murderous regime bent on eradicating an entire people.

But lest Americans breath a sigh of relief, Williamson soon makes a clumsy case that Sanders is a racist and bigot. It’s obvious, he infers, because of Sanders’ “incessant reliance on xenophobic (and largely untrue) tropes holding that the current economic woes of the United States are the result of scheming foreigners, especially the wicked Chinese …”

To Williamson, Sanders’ opposition to trade deals and outsourcing of jobs to China or Mexico is just more evidence of his blazing bigotry. Bernie never rails against sending jobs to Germany or Scandinavia or any place where mostly white people live!

“Bernie worries a great deal about trade with brown people — Asians, Latin Americans — but has never, so far as public records show, made so much as a peep about our very large trade deficit with Sweden …,” Williamson writes.

Williamson’s lengthy, churlish rant, now available on the conservative outlet’s website, is almost a caricature, and conglomeration, of conservative media coverage of Sanders’ campaign thus far. It combines all of the hysterics and over-the-top rhetoric that cable news outlets on both sides of the political spectrum are now known for.

Bernie Sanders is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and his policy proposals deserve thorough examination and debate by pundits and the public to determine how they would impact the country. But the length that Williamson goes to depict Sanders as a dangerous monster is comical.

There’s a certain disdain and vitriol expressed by Williamson for anyone who may identify with Sanders’ views. He even seems to hold the location of Sanders’ campaign events in contempt, too.

He describes the neighborhood surrounding Drake University in Iowa where Sanders held a large rally as “a dreary, rundown, hideous little corner of Des Moines dotted with dodgy-looking bars and dilapidated groceries advertising their willingness to accept EBT payments.”

Not surprisingly, the Sanders campaign has nothing to say about Williamson’s piece. “I don’t have anything on that,” was spokesman Michael Briggs’ brief reply when asked about the piece.

Here’s one suggested response: Lighten up, Kevin!

*****

Sanders has not fared well when it comes to endorsements from the Democratic establishment. In fact, he has exactly zero support from sitting members of Congress. But for those not paying close attention, here is a sampling of Sanders celebrity endorsements: Neil Young; Lucinda Williams; Sarah Silverman; Susan Sarandon; Mark Ruffalo; Patton Oswalt; Justin Long; Mia Farrow; David Crosby, and Lewis Black.

— Vermont Press Bureau

Trailing Bernie: Sanders unbowed after hitting rough patch out west

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The early weeks and months on the campaign trail for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were relatively easy — thousands of adoring fans chanting his name and cramming into tight spaces to hear him speak. They opened their wallets, too, to fund his White House bid.

But the trail is long and winding, and Sanders has seen how even a division among progressives, who have flocked to him in droves, can cause headaches for a campaign on the rise.

Rough reception

Sanders appeared at the Netroots Nation in Phoenix this past weekend. What was supposed to be a pep rally of sorts for Sanders in front of a hyper-progressive crowd turned sour.

African-American activists took the stage. They wanted Sanders and fellow Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley to discuss the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and how they could advance it. Hillary Clinton skipped the event.

Both candidates stumbled. Those in the movement don’t want to hear about how Sanders marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., decades ago. Rather, they want to know why African-Americans are dying in American streets at the hands of police. But Sanders missed that point in Phoenix, and his natural, gruff demeanor didn’t help.

“Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity,” he told the gathering. “But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

To be fair, Sanders has been speaking more about civil rights and equality on the stump. He began to include such issues in his remarks during a swing through Iowa in June, as the chorus grew in the media that he was avoiding it.

And, Sanders has done his best to recover since Netroots Nation.

‘It must stop’

On Tuesday, he expressed outrage when the dashboard video of Sandra Bland’s arrest was released.

Bland died in a Houston jail after being arrested July 10 after a traffic stop for a minor infraction.

The cop in the arrest video gets angry when Bland refuses to put out a cigarette and eventually tells Bland “I will light you up,” after withdrawing a Taser.

Sanders didn’t wait long to react after the video’s release, decrying “outrageous police behavior.”

“This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop,” Sanders said.

Polls, schmolls

Sanders’ presidential campaign has raised $15 million, so far. OK, really about $13.5 million when you take out the funds he transferred from his Senate campaign account. But still, a respectable amount for a candidate many pundits believed would struggle mightily to connect with voters.

The self-described democratic socialist has spent about $3 million to advance his cause. But as The Huffington Post pointed out this week, he has spent a grand total of zero dollars and zero cents on a favorite of most campaigns — polling.

“If left to his own devices, he would not like to spend a dime on polling. I don’t think, as of this moment, we have convinced him of the merits of doing that,” campaign advisor Tad Devine told The Huffington Post. “I personally would like to, but I haven’t convinced him yet that we should. I’m hopeful I will.”

For a guy who’s been touting the same economic message for decades with little deviation, polling may not be a great investment. On the other hand, perhaps it could have helped Sanders get a better handle on how to work with the Black Lives Movement and expand his message to a wider, national audience.

Next up?

Sanders will continue his recent practice of visiting conservative states this weekend with a rally Sunday in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He attracted thousands of supporters in Arizona and Texas at recent rallies.

—  Vermont Press Bureau

Barnes to lead Sanders’ New Hampshire efforts

MONTPELIER — Departing Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Julia Barnes has landed on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign team next door in New Hampshire.

Sanders campaign announced Barnes’ new position Thursday morning in a news release. She will serve as the campaign’s New Hampshire state director.

Julia Barnes (Courtesy photo)

Julia Barnes (Courtesy photo)

Barnes has lead the Vermont Democratic Party since 2012.

Barnes previously worked as a regional field coordinator for Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign during the 2008 Democratic primary. She then served as deputy field director on New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch’s re-election campaign in 2008.

Barnes also worked at Organizing for America New Hampshire as state field director and New Hampshire coordinated campaign field director from 2009 to 2011.

The Sanders campaign said Barnes will work out of its Concord office.

 

Scott says state contracts with his company are no conflict

MONTPELIER — Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says his construction business, and the millions of dollars in state contracts it has received since he has been involved in state government, is a major factor in whether or not he will run for the state’s top job.

Scott, 56, is co-owner of DuBois Construction, a Middlesex-based excavating and construction company, along with Don DuBois. Scott served five terms in the Vermont Senate, beginning in 2001, before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010. He served as vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and chairman of the Senate Institutions Committee during his tenure as a legislator. Both committees oversaw budgets that included contracts that Scott’s company received.

hardhat

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (Courtesy photo)

Since 2001, DuBois Construction has received $3.785 million through more than 250 payments from the state, according to records provided by the Agency of Administration in response to a public records request filed Monday. Since Scott took office as lieutenant governor in 2011, DuBois Construction has been paid $2.657 million.

The majority of state funds paid to DuBois Construction — $2.58 million — has come from the Agency of Transportation. The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is second at $391,000, followed by the Departments of Buildings and General Services and Fish and Wildlife at $331,500 and $330,000, respectively.

When Gov. Peter Shumlin announced last month that he will not seek a fourth term in 2016, Scott immediately became a front-runner for the post. He is giving a bid for governor serious consideration, but does not plan to announce his intentions until at least Labor Day.

Scott said he has been very clear that his business interests will play a role in his decision to seek the governorship.

“A lot of it has been highlighted by me. I’ve been talking about it as one of the hurdles and obstacles since I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “I keep reminding (people) that I have a business that we’ve been involved with for 30 years or more and I just want to make sure that — from a number of different standpoints — that the business continues, but also the fact that I’ve got to disassociate myself from the business because of the possible appearance of improprieties.”

Should he become governor, Scott said it would be imperative to distance himself from the company to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest. A “firewall of some sort to take me out of the day-to-day operations” of the company would be put in place, he said.

“I view being the governor as being the CEO of a company. You’re running the government and you have people you put in charge of different sectors,” he said. “You have much more power in running the day-to-day operations of state government. Some of those day-to-day operations are in the area of my business.” Continue reading

Dunne sets frenetic fundraising pace for gov hopefuls

MONTPELIER — Democrat Matt Dunne posted an impressive fundraising haul Wednesday of more than $100,000 as he considers a bid for governor.

Dunne, a 45-year-old former state senator from Windsor County, now works as the head of community affairs for Google. He has launched previous, unsuccessful campaigns for both lieutenant governor and governor.

Dunne was part of the five-way Democratic primary for governor in 2010, from which Gov. Peter Shumlin emerged victorious. Another primary is likely in 2016, as House Speaker Shap Smith and Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter ponder their own bids. But neither filed a July 15 campaign finance disclosure statement required for candidates with who raise or spend more than $500.

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

Dunne’s campaign finance disclosure form filed this week shows that his contacts with tech executives helped him take in about $114,500 in contributions for the 2016 election cycle in just the past several weeks. That doesn’t include about $20,000 more than came within the two-day period before Wednesday’s filing deadline, he said.

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, along with his wife Michelle Yee, contributed a total of $8,000. Dunne said Hoffman, who attended the Putney School, has connections to the Green Mountain State. Christopher Brousseau, of San Mateo, Calif., who donated $2,000, grew up in Vermont with Dunner and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinburger, according to Dunne.

Married tech tycoons Mark Pincus and Allison Pincus, founders of the Zynga online gaming company and the One King’s Lane retail outlet, respectively, also kicked in $8,000 in contributions.

Support from people “who just aren’t able to live in Vermont is not insignificant,” Dunne said of his many out-of-state contributions.

Closer to home, Dunne’s report showed that he is locking in early support from big-wig Democrats, including Jane and Bill Stetson, who collectively contributed $4,000. Dunne said the Stetsons, who are big Democratic donors, did not support him in 2010. Dealer.com co-founder Mike Lane contributed $3,000.

Perhaps the most impressive distinction about Dunne’s fundraising is that it has only been about two weeks since he began dialing for dollars.

“I’ve made it really clear that we are serious about a potential race for governor. Over the last 10 days we’ve started reaching out to Vermonters to gauge their interest,” he said. “As you can see that response is very positive. People are ready for new ideas and new leadership. The financial support is a great indication of the enthusiasm that’s out there.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in early June that he would not seek a fourth term. But then U.S. Rep. Peter Welch entered the fray, saying he would consider a return to Vermont and a gubernatorial bid. It was only recently that Welch bagged his trial balloon and Dunne returned from a vacation to begin seeking support in earnest.

“This was all part of a process that started after my friend Peter Welch decided that he wanted to stay fighting for Vermont in Washington, D.C.,” Dunne said. “When I got back I started reaching out to Vermonters all over the state to gauge their interest in a different kind of approach to Montpelier and to leadership. The response, as you can see, was really, really positive.”

Despite his early fundraising prowess, Dunne continues to maintain that his mind is not made up on a run. He said most Vermonters are not engaged in politics this far ahead of the election.

“We’ll make that announcement when we feel like we have all the pieces in place and the timing is right,” Dunne said.

Smith, meanwhile, said he has not begun to ask supporters to contribute financially. Although he has been traveling the state gauging support, and even lining up campaign staff, the speaker said Wednesday he has not reached a final decision about his political future.

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

“I have been deciding whether I’m going to run for governor and I think once I make that decision I’ll raise money from people. I’m not going to do that before then,” Smith said.

The six-term House member from Morrisville said he is not worried about Dunne’s impressive tally.

“It’s July of 2015 and a primary wouldn’t be until August of 2016. That’s more than 12 months. So, the answer to that is no,” Smith said. “We’re talking about more than a year before the primary and 15 months before the general election. There’s more than enough time to raise the money for a primary.”

“My focus really has been on what Vermonters are looking for in 2016, talking to them about whether they would support me if I ran for governor, and most importantly, talking to my family about what it would mean to run for governor,” he added. “I always expected that the people who would be in the race would be able to raise funds.”

Minter, a former House member and Tropical Storm Irene recovery officer, has said she is considering a run for office but appears to be making fewer behind-the-scenes moves than Dunne and Smith.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who says he is considering a bid for the top job, filed a disclosure report as lieutenant governor. That report shows no new contributions to Scott for the 2016 cycle. Dan Feliciano, who ran in 2014 as a Libertarian and registered 4 percent of the vote last November, reported no financial activity and about $90 to carry over into the 2016 campaign cycle. He has since joined the Republican Party and is said to be considering a second run for governor.

Read Matt Dunne’s report below:

Welch, Minter seek long-term transportation funds

EAST MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter are urging Congress to pass a long-term transportation spending plan before federal spending authorization expires on July 31, which would put dozens of Vermont projects at risk.

Welch and Minter held a news conference Tuesday at a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier that intersects with Route 2. The bridge has been deemed structurally deficient and has visible signs of degradation, including at least one hole in the deck offering a view of the water below.

“We in Vermont have bridges that are crumbling,” Welch said. “This bridge next to us is falling apart, and I hate to say that because I don’t want to scare the driving public, but the driving public knows how bad our roads and bridges are.”

Rep. Peter Welch, right, examines a hole on the deck of a bridge on Route 14 in East Montpelier.

Rep. Peter Welch, right, examines a hole on the deck of a bridge on Route 14 in East Montpelier.

In the recent past Congress has passed short-term spending resolutions to keep transportation and infrastructure projects around the country funded. But that approach has made it difficult for states to undertake long-term planning for needed projects. Minter said more than 40 projects totaling about $136 million set to be advertised in the coming weeks are at risk if Congress does not pass funding.

“If we don’t have the authority to spend federal money, they are off the table,” Minter said, also noting that Vermont could foot the bill in the near-term if Congress does not meet the July 31 deadline.

Welch said he and Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., have sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging him to use the so-called “Queen of the Hill” strategy to pass a long-term transportation funding plan. It would allow the House to vote on multiple funding options and the proposal with the most votes would be adopted by the House.

Welch said he hopes Boehner will help break prolonged gridlock in the House and pass a long-term funding plan, rather than another “dim-witted, temporary fix.” He said the previous short-term extension allowed corporations to lower their pension obligations, which in turn boosted corporate taxes — a “temporary and irresponsible” solution.

“A confident country, a competent country, will do what needs to be done to keep the roads and the bridges repaired and take the steps that are required to have a modern infrastructure. The thing that mystifies me in Washington is that this, traditionally, has never been a partisan issue. We all have potholes in our roads. We all have bridges that need repair, whether you’re in the most conservative district … or in Vermont,” Welch said.

Some ideas floated in Congress include repatriation of corporate profits, corporate tax reform and boosting the federal gas tax. Welch said he has no favorite funding source. However, collecting taxes on repatriation of corporate profits would provide a five to six year cushion for developing a sustainable funding source, he said.

“The worst thing we can do is come up with yet another short-term solution where we go into the general fund, take money that needs to be spent for education, for National Institute of Health or scientific research, and then use it as a patch to try and get us through a few more months of maintenance of our highways and bridges,” Welch said.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter speaks at a news conference as Rep. Peter Welch listens.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter speaks at a news conference as Rep. Peter Welch listens.

Minter, meanwhile, praised President Barack Obama’s Grow America Act, which would appropriate $475 billion for transportation projects across the country over five years through repatriation and corporate tax reform. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, has also advocated for funding, she said.

“There are proposals out there. The president put forth a very important proposal,” Minter said. “Sen. Sanders, another plan. A trillion dollar investment. It’s called rebuild America. What we need isn’t just to cobble together and put the duct tape on these old bridges, we actually need to be thinking about the future and especially our economy.”

The country’s infrastructure “used to be the envy of the world,” Minter said. But the U.S. now spends just 2 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. By comparison, most of Europe spends between 5 and 6 percent, while China spends 9 percent of its GDP, she said.

In Vermont, significant progress has been made on replacing aging bridges, according to Minter. In 2009, she said, 19 percent of Vermont’s bridges were structurally deficient. That has since dropped to 7 percent.

“We have been doing things differently. We have been focusing more on bridges and we’ve been innovating and doing them more quickly and at lower cost,” she said. “We want to keep going, and that’s why we need Congress to act, because we don’t want to slow down.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, also called on Boehner to allow long-term funding solutions to be voted on. He said local residents fear crossing the Route 14 bridge.

A guardrail is severely degraded on a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier.

A guardrail is severely degraded on a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier.

“Shame on Congress. I dare Speaker Boehner to come here and drive across this bridge. This bridge is a nightmare. People in East Montpelier are afraid to drive across this bridge,” Klein said. “This has got to stop. This is ridiculous, and Americans should not have to potentially pay with their lives to get people to change their minds.”

Wayne Symonds, the state’s bridge engineer, said the span is now inspected every year and remains suitable for traffic.

“Right now the bridge is safe but it is nearing the end of its useful life,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Sanders raises $15 million

MONTPELIER — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign announced Thursday that he has raised $15 million for his White House bid since April 30 — an impressive number but far behind presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

According to Sanders’ campaign, the $15 million in donations came from more than 400,000 contributions from about 250,000 individuals. The average donation has been $33.51, and 99 percent of the donations have been $250 or less.

The fundraising haul is significantly more than most pundits expected, and ahead of the pace President Barack Obama set when he defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist has been drawing enormous crowds on the campaign trail, including about 10,000 people in Madison, Wisc., Wednesday night. His poll numbers are on the rise, too, showing him surging in both New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first primary, and Iowa, home to the first caucus and first overall presidential contest.

In Iowa, a Sanders now trails Clinton by just 19 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday. Clinton leads Sanders 52-33, but that is down significantly from May when she led 60-15.

In New Hampshire, a recent CNN poll showed Sanders with 8 percentage points of Clinton, 43-35 percent.

The campaign said it raised nearly all of its cash in online donations through Sanders’ campaign website. The numbers released Thursday will be used to filed required financial reports with the Federal Election Commission later this month.

Clinton’s campaign revealed Wednesday that she has received $45 million in contributions.

Listen: Capitol Beat 6-30-15, the Sanders Surge edition

Play

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman discuss O’Gorman’s weekend swing through New Hampshire on the Bernie Sanders campaign trail.

Sanders says he will win the presidency

Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview Sunday on “This Week” that he will win the Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire primary, Democratic nomination for president and, ultimately, the presidency. Watch below:


ABC US News | World News

Sanders’ rapid rise brings challenges, opportunities

MONTPELIER — With his poll numbers surging and crowd sizes growing, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is on the rise. The sudden spike in interest from both voters and media presents opportunities and challenges, however, that the nascent campaign must now be nimble enough to respond to.

A CNN poll released last week pegged Sanders’ support at 35 percent in New Hampshire, just 8 points behind the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a remarkable rise for Sanders, the 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist. Most political observers did not expect Sanders to pose a serious threat to Clinton, and certainly not this early in the primary process.

In Denver last weekend more than 5,000 supporters filled the gymnasium at the University of Colorado while an overflow group watched on screens outside. Large crowds have also gathered in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minneapolis to hear Sanders’ populist stump speech and are embracing his economic message.

But with such sudden and intense interest comes potential pitfalls.

Bob Rogan, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and the former deputy campaign manager on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004, said there are significant challenges and pressures on a campaign when it suddenly catches fire. Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, vaulted to the front of the Democratic primary pack in 2004, largely as a result of his opposition to the Iraq war, before fizzling in the Iowa caucus and dropping out of the race.

“It’s a bit like catching a tiger by the tail. The campaign is constantly trying to catch up to the candidate. You are excited about the crowds but the crowds create organizational and staffing demands on the campaign. The struggle is when there is a gap between the campaign’s capacity and the candidate’s trajectory,” Rogan said.

Perhaps nobody knows the challenges better than Dean himself.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

“The problems for me arose coming from a base of 600,000 people. My rating in the polls surpassed all of the things that you have to do to keep up,” Dean said. “The biggest problem we had was getting the campaign organization ramped up to the degree that someone like John Kerry and Dick Gephardt would have with all that service in Washington.”

Sanders’ team is attempting to beef up its organization to match the blossoming interest. It recently several more staffers in Iowa and opened its first campaign office in Des Moines. Efforts to boost the organization are now focused on the Granite State, where Sanders’ poll numbers are even stronger, spokesman Michael Briggs said.

“As Bernie has said many times, other campaigns are going to have more resources to do more things, but we’re a scrappy operation that’s making the best of an increasingly interesting and good situation,” he said. “Are we going to need more people as this thing grows? Yeah. Are we going to need to figure out better ways to help people who want to help him? Yes, and we’re working on that.”

Continue reading

Welch declines bid for governor

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Congressman Peter Welch said Friday he will seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2016, ending speculation that he might instead return to Vermont and run for governor.

Welch, a Democrat, openly flirted with the notion of running for governor after Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month he would not run for a fourth, two-year. But after two weeks of consideration, Welch said Friday that he can best serve Vermonters in Congress and would not run for the “distinct honor” of being governor.

“Congress these days is not highly regarded by the American people, but strange as it may seem, I really continue to love my job,” Welch told reporters on a conference call from Washington, D.C., Friday morning. “I’ve been here in the Tea Party Congress where it’s much tougher going, for sure, but where I’ve been able … to do things that have been a major benefit to Vermont.”

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch, 68, has a long track record as a legislator. He served two stints in the Senate, from 1981 to 1989, and from 2001 to 2006. His time in the Vermont Senate included several terms as Senate President Pro Tem. He also sought the governorship in 1990, losing to former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling.

The fifth-term congressman touted his ability to work across the political aisle as his main reason for seeking re-election to the House. He has been effective in pushing energy efficiency initiatives alongside some Republican colleagues. He also noted major legislation signed into law during his tenure, including the federal stimulus package stemming from the Great Recession and the Affordable Care Act.

“I am beginning to see signs of change here in Congress among more of my Democratic colleagues and more of my Republican colleagues that we’ve got to get things done. We need problem solvers here. We need people that have credibility,” Welch said. “I’m in a position to do that. I’m in a position to do that because Vermonters have elected me four times to represent them in Congress. That’s a big commitment.”

Welch said he received support from Vermonters, both for seeking re-election to Congress and running for governor. Among those that reached out to him, Welch said half urged him to stay in Congress and half encouraged him to return to Vermont. Those that wanted him to run for governor cited “my bipartisan, problem-solving and practical, civil approach would be something that would be helpful,” Welch said.

The decision, he said, was devoid of politics and based on personal factors. He said he conducted no polling as he considered his future.

“I’m confident that I’m in a good place with voters,” he said. “I basically just had to make my own gut check.”

The draw of returning to Vermont is strong, Welch said, but advocating for Vermonters in Washington ultimately won.

“In all candor, I was torn by it,” he said. “I come home every week, but, wouldn’t it be better to be home every night? That was the real challenge to me. It’s just so much nicer to be in Vermont than it is in Washington. I just had to work through that, but there wasn’t, like, a tipping point or a moment.”

Welch’s decision is likely to unfreeze the decision-making process of several top-tier Democratic candidates for governor. House Speaker Shap Smith and former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne had both said they would defer to Welch if he ran for governor. A spirited Democratic Party primary is now likely.

Smith said Friday he has not yet determined his own future.

“I am seriously considering running for governor and I expect to make a decision and an announcement soon,” he said. “I had been very clear that I wasn’t going to run against Congressman Welch in a primary, so it does make things clearer and I do expected to make a decision soon whether I will run in 2016.”

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

Smith said he has received “a lot of encouragement from the people I’ve talked to” to jump into the race. He said the conversation with his family is ongoing.

“I’m still talking with my family about what it will be like for me and for the family to be in the middle of a campaign. Those conversations have been good, but I think it’s important for them and for me to really understand what it means to run for governor over the next 14 months.”

In perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, he said an announcement will probably come in the form of an event, not a press release.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is also considering a run, had said Welch’s decision would have no impact on his decision.

Welch said he has no plans to back a candidate any time soon.

“I don’t even know who’s going to run,” he said. “This is going to unfold and there’s a lot of good people who are contemplating the race. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Exchange work to continue, despite SCOTUS ruling

MONTPELIER — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Thursday ensures that some Vermonters will continue to be eligible for federal subsidies through Obamacare if the state opts to abandon Vermont Health Connect later this year.

The court upheld a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act in a 6-3 ruling Thursday, ensuring that nearly 9 million people receiving federal subsidies under the law can continue to receive them regardless of where they live. The challenge to the law contended that the subsidies were only available to states that created their own exchanges, like Vermont.

VHCThe challenge could have had major consequences in Vermont had the court ruled the other way. The state’s exchange, Vermont Health Connect, continues to face technology challenges. Some major functions that were supposed to be part of the state’s online health insurance marketplace continue to struggle.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said the state would look to transition to the federal exchange if those functions were not working properly this fall. Vermonters will continue to receive federal subsidies in that event because of the court’s ruling Thursday.

Shumlin issued a statement Thursday after the ruling was announced saying the administration is continuing to work on Vermont Health Connect to ensure it works properly for Vermonters.

“We are making progress to deliver the services Vermonters expect through Vermont Health Connect. We have insured nearly 20,000 Vermonters who previously did not have insurance, and now Vermont has the second lowest rate of uninsured in the nation,” he said.

The state completed an upgrade to the website earlier this month to incorporate the so-called change-of-circumstance function. When fully implemented, it will allow customers to make life change to their accounts online, including marriage, death, birth of a child or a change in jobs. Another function, automated policy renewals, should be up and running this fall.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he is considering a run for governor, used the ruling Thursday to call for Vermont to abandon its own exchange. Scott has been a critic of Vermont Health Connect’s challenges.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“For 18 months, officials have dismissed repeated calls to explore alternatives to our dysfunctional exchange, saying to do so would put Vermonters at risk of losing their subsidies. Now, with today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal subsidies can be offered in both state and federal health care exchanges, that fear is eliminated, and it’s clear we must immediately explore alternatives to Vermont Health Connect,” Scott said.

Scott called for immediately looking into a regional partnership with nearby states, creating a state-federal hybrid system or simply shifting to the federal exchange.

“For far too long, Vermonters have been underserved and frustrated by this $200 million system. Now that the fear of losing subsidies is no longer a valid argument, we must find the best path to affordable, accessible health insurance for every Vermonter,” he said.

But Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said Thursday’s ruling does not change the administration’s thinking and officials will continue to work on VHC.

“I think we’ve been clear that going to the federal exchange would still have substantial costs and complications for Vermonters. We would still need to figure out a way to deliver Vermont premium assistance because that’s not a part of the federal exchange,” Miller said.

Vermont is just one of two states that offer state-level financial assistance for customers on the exchange.

Miller said the state would still need to improve VHC even if the state moved to the federal exchange because it administers the state’s Medicaid program, including eligibility and enrollment. And, Miler said, insurance carriers in Vermont would have to devise a new integration model with the federal system.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

“It would add substantial cost and complication. That is why we will still remain focused on the work at Vermont Health Connect and getting the level of service to what Vermonters expect,” he said.

Miller said he is glad the uncertainty brought about by the challenge has been settled.

“I’m very pleased with the decision. I think it’s the right decision,” Miller said. “The surprise really was when they took it, in my mind, and that raised a significant amount of uncertainty. If two more justices had seen it the way [Justice Antonin] Scalia (who wrote the dissenting opinion) did a lot of Americans would be having a very bad day.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Vermont NEA endorses Sanders

MONTPELIER — The Vermont NEA, the state’s largest union, announced its endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders Wednesday in the 2016 presidential race.

“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” Vermont NEA president Martha Allen said in a statement. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

Allen said the union, which represents about 12,000 teachers throughout Vermont, has been a longtime supporter of Sanders because of his support for the working class, as well as for his views on public education and economic inequality.

logoAllen said union members will begin helping to spread Sanders’ message, particularly across the state border in New Hampshire.

“In Vermont, we’re very fortunate to have a senator who represents the middle class over the titans of Wall Street,” she said. “We believe that with Bernie in the White House, America’s working families will be able to flourish and grow. His ideas around banking reform, student debt, and public education are refreshing and exciting.”

The endorsement is the first union backing Sanders has received. The South Carolina AFL-CIO’s executive board recently passed a resolution supporting Sanders’ candidacy. The executive board will recommend that the state and national labor organization endorse him.

T.J. Donovan to run for AG

MONTPELIER — Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan says he will run for attorney general regardless of whether longtime incumbent Bill Sorrell decides to seek re-election.

Donovan, 41, came close to knocking off Sorrell in a 2012 Democratic primary for the state’s top law enforcement position. Donovan lost to Sorrell, who was appointed to the position in 1997 by former Gov. Howard Dean and has won re-election each cycle since, by just 714 votes.

Donovan opted to sit out the 2014 race and instead concentrated on his work in Chittenden County. That work has garnered plenty of attention statewide and has served, in some cases, as pilot projects for the state.

Donovan was honored Friday evening at the Vermont Democratic Party’s annual awards dinner. He did not reveal his plans at the time, however. Instead, Donovan said Monday that he “finalized in my mind over the course of the weekend” that he would run for attorney general again.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

“It just makes sense for me to put it out there and end the speculation,” he said. “I received a lot of support on Friday night. I see no reason to be coy. I figured I would put it out there that I’m running.”

Seven Days was first to report Donovan’s decision to run.

Speculation had been running wild for Donovan, and other potential candidates for various statewide offices, since Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month that he would not seek a fourth term in 2016. Many political observers wondered if Donovan would opt to run for governor. Continue reading

Sanders surging, shaping the debate

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage at a Drake University auditorium on a recent Friday to wild applause and several standing ovations before he was even introduced. It was the first of several events he held on a weekend swing through Iowa in his quixotic quest for the presidency.

“Whoa, we’ve got a lot of people here tonight!” the 73-year-old told the adoring crowd. “Sometimes our campaign has been referred to as a fringe campaign. Well, if this is fringe I would hate to see mainstream.”

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator and a self-described democratic socialist, launched his bid for president on the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt., in late May in front of thousands of supporters. Since then he has drawn impressive crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. More large crowds were expected this weekend in Nevada and Colorado.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s an auspicious start for a long-shot candidate that many expected to serve as a stalking horse for liberal candidates, perhaps for fellow liberal Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, the polished-looking former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor who is 20 years his junior.

But Sanders’ star has risen quickly, along with his most recent poll numbers. As he motored around Iowa in his rented white sedan, reporters from CNN, the Washington Post, Politico and other national organizations followed, along with a reporter from Vermont interested in how Iowans would react to the sometimes prickly man with unruly white hair and a Brooklyn accent. Continue reading