Tag Archives: Democrats

Speaker Smith rallies his troops

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers, one month into the legislative session, will soon be casting tough votes on bills in committee, and then on the House and Senate floors. That fact is not lost on House Speaker Shap Smith, who looked to rally his troops Tuesday at the weekly Democratic caucus.

A state budget with a $112 million gap that must be closed means cuts will be made to programs that constituents likely depend on. And the public is demanding property tax relief, but voters don’t want to see changes to their local school districts.

Smith, now in his fourth term as speaker, knows just how a legislative session plays out. He warned his faction of the pressures that will soon wash over them as they try to address the state’s challenges.

House Speaker Shap Smith address the Democratic House Caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

House Speaker Shap Smith address the Democratic House Caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

“One of the most difficult parts for all of us … is to keep an open mind and not to close ourselves off to possible solutions to the challenges we face as we move forward. We’re going to get over the next couple of months people asking us to promise them that we won’t do X, Y or Z,” he said. “What’s really important, from my perspective, is to the extent possible, acknowledge that you understand where they’re coming from, but you can’t make them promises because you really need to see what the lay of the land is.”

The constituents, Smith declared, placed their trust and faith in those they elected. Now it’s time for those elected to begin crafting solutions. But solutions will leave some displeased.

“We’re here to grapple with those issues and those constituents send you here because they believe that you’re the person that can grapple with those issues. They trust you to make those decisions. And so have those conversations, understand what they’re thinking and feeling, and bring their voice here and tell them, ‘I want you to be part of this conversation and we can’t close this conversation off before it even starts. We can’t give you the answer before we even know what the problem is,’” Smith said.

The address Tuesday wasn’t the result of any particular concern about morale within the caucus, according to Smith aide Dylan Giambatista. Rather, it was an effort to encourage members to remain focused and ready themselves for the work ahead, he said.

Just a few minutes before the Democratic caucus, House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, delivered his own pep talk to the Republican caucus. He, too, reminded his members that the constituents sent them to Montpelier with a purpose. He urged them to consider all implications — particularly economic impacts — before casting any yes votes, even for bills in committee.

Like any good leader, Smith offered hope to his members.

“We spend some time here wrestling with really difficult issues and it is easy to look at the glass half empty rather than the glass half full,” Smith said to a room full of mostly House Democrats, but also a few lobbyists and reporters.

He recounted recent, positive meetings with tech entrepeneurs, who he said are hiring. “There was a lot of optimism about what can happen, and it wasn’t just big businesses. It was businesses ranging from three to four people to 500 to 600 people,” Smith said.

Tuesday’s pep rally ended, of course, on a high note.

“There is a really good energy going through this building right now. I feel that people are up to the challenge. That’s it’s not partisan driven. That people are looking at these as Vermont’s challenges and Vermont’s problems, not Democrats’ problems, not Republicans’ problems, not Progressives’ problems, not independents’ problems,” the speaker said. “Remember we are still sitting in a Democratic institution that still allows access to its citizens and still values solutions to problems not barriers to solutions. We’re in Montpelier, we’re not in Washington. And thank God for that, right?”

Capitol Beat podcast for Jan. 5, 2015


Capitol Beat Podcast – Episode 1

Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman preview the upcoming legislative session from the gubernatorial election to sleeper issues. A new episode will be posted every Monday afternoon, as well as a separate podcast featuring Gov. Peter Shumlin every Friday afternoon.


Shumlin, Milne and Sorrell secure nominations

MONTPELIER — Tuesday’s primary was marked by low voter turnout and slow, tedious counting by election officials as they sorted through many ballots with write in votes.

Few Vermonters exercised their right to vote in the state’s primary Tuesday in which candidates looked to secure their party’s nominations for the general election in November. Clerks around the state reported a paltry showing from voters.

Most town and city clerks were expected to be counting and tallying results late into the night, well past deadline, thanks to aggressive write in campaigns waged by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano and Dean Corren, a Progressive running for lieutenant governor.

On the GOP ballot, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne was declared the winner by the Associated Press just after 8 p.m. He defeated Republicans Emily Peyton and Steve Berry, and fended off the write in challenge by Feliciano.

With just 79, or 29 percent of the state’s 275 precincts reporting results at 8:45 p.m., Milne had tallied 70 percent of the vote, far ahead of both Peyton and Berry who both had about 6 percent. Write in votes, presumably most with Feliciano’s name, accounted for 17.5 percent of the reported votes.

Town and city clerks were mandated to report results to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night with the number of write in votes cast, but were not required to declare for whom those write in votes were cast.

“I’m very pleased to win. I was not surprised, I guess, but I think the low turnout could have been bad for me. My sense is that if there was a larger turnout my margin would have been higher,” Milne said. “Overall, I thought it was good for Vermont and I think it gives me a little more name recognition going into November, so I’m thankful for my opponents for that.”

Milne will now pivot from the primary to focus on defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Milne said he will make the case that Shumlin has had “a really bad performance over the last four years.”

“We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to Gov. Shumlin and I think we will do very well in the fall,” he said.

Corren was asking voters to write him in on the Democratic primary ballot to help him secure the nomination for both the Progressive and Democratic Parties. He will need at least 250 write in votes on the Democratic ballot for the party to endorse him. However, some party stalwarts, including Democratic Sens. Dick Mazza, Dick Sears and John Campbell, have endorsed the popular Republican incumbent Phil Scott.

As of 8:45 p.m., 1,245 write in votes had been cast, but it was unclear for whom. Some Democrats had pledged to write in Scott on the Democratic ballot in a bid to thwart Corren.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Shumlin was declared the winner early on by the Associated Press. He was way out ahead of challenger H. Brooke Paige. Shumlin had 76 percent of the vote to Paige’s 17 percent.

Paige was also badly trailing incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, also declared a winner by the AP, in that position’s primary. Sorrell had 79 percent to Paige’s 20 percent.

The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. representative was too close to call. With 92 precincts reporting, Mark Donka and Donald Russell were separated by one vote and had 34 percent of the vote each. Donald Nolte had tallied 27 percent of the vote.

Turnout, as expected, was extremely low. The percentage of registered voters that cast ballots Tuesday was unknown Tuesday night, but looked like it could be one of the worst showings in recent history.

In Barre Town, by 2:30 p.m. only 227 voters had cast ballots out of a possible 5,464 voters on the checklist, according to Town Clerk Donna Kelty.

“It’s been realy, really, slow here,” Kelty said. “We rarely have great turnout for primary elections In our municipality it was the first day of school so people had other things on their minds.”

In Bennington, both of the town’s House districts featured a contest on the Democratic ballot. In the Bennington 2-2 district, four Democrats were running for two spots on the November ballot. Results were not available as of 8:45 p.m.

Still, not even that contested race with well-known candidates could drive voters to the polls in large numbers.

“It doesn’t look like it’s huge,” Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said about turnout. “Even with those it’s not real huge.”

Corcoran said a lack of contested statewide races on the Democratic side was a major reason for the lack of interest among voters.

“There’s no real statewide races. Nobody votes in the Republican primary,” he said.

Kelty said the state’s late August primary is a main reason for the low turnout. Moving the primary to earlier in the year would like boost turnout, she said.

“I would agree 100 percent with that. If I could pick and choose I think a good time for a primary would be mid-June,” Kelty said. “That would allow ample time for the secretary of state’s office to prepare ballots for the general election.”


Brock bows out

MONTPELIER — Republican Randy Brock, the Vermont GOP’s nominee for governor in 2012, announced in an email Sunday that he will not challenge Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin again this year.

Brock, a former state auditor and state senator, had been publicly mulling a run. His decision comes after Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann and former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman already bowed out this year.

Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel, is the only other known Republican considering a run. Milne has said he wants a primary, however.

“I will not be a candidate for Governor of Vermont in 2014,” Brock wrote in his email. “This decision has not been easy to reach. I have arrived at it over several months after careful thought, much input and serious deliberation.”

Brock lost the 2012 race to Shumlin after winning only 38 percent of the vote after putting about $300,000 of his own money into the campaign. Brock said he was not prepared to pump his own cash into a race this year.

He said he is opting out of challenging Shumlin again this year despite persistent urging to do so from supporters.

Randy Brock

Randy Brock

“I am thankful to the many Vermonters who have called upon me to run. I have heard from people from all over our state offering words of encouragement,” he wrote. “This outpouring of support from so many has been extremely heartening and I will always be grateful for their unwavering loyalty.”

Brock, noting that his name will not appear on a ballot for the first time in 10 years, said he will miss being out on the campaign trail. But, sitting the election out “is the right decision for me and my family,” he said.

He pledged to remain “involved in helping to shape public policy.” The former auditor also said he plans “to continue to contribute to the debate through critical analysis and commentary.”

Lisman declines gov bid

MONTPELIER — Campaign for Vermont founder and former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman announced Wednesday he will not launch a bid to unseat Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Lisman, the former chairman of the JP Morgan Chase Global Equity Division, said he was considering a campaign for governor at the urging of Vermonters. But in a statement issued Wednesday Lisman said he will instead focus on advocacy efforts.

“I love Vermont and believe that she faces serious challenges as seldom before in her history,” Lisman said in his statement. “At this time, however, I believe I can best contribute to improving Vermont’s future by publicly and vigorously advocating for a focused, core set of moderate, nonpartisan and common sense government reforms. Indeed, this coalition building effort is the best approach to policy change and consistent with my focus since 2011.”

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman

Wednesday’s announcement follows on the heals of one made by Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, who just last week said she would not seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination and challenge Shumlin, a two-term Democrat.

Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel, and Randy Brock, a former state senator auditor and the GOP’s failed 2012 nominee, are the only other known Republicans considering a run.

Lisman was being viewed by Democrats as a serious challenger. The Vermont Democratic Party in recent months attacked Campaign for Vermont, a group that Lisman has pumped more than $1 million into, for being a conservative organization cloaked as a nonpartisan advocacy group.

Despite declining to run, Lisman’s announcement included an indictment of Shumlin’s tenure as governor, saying Vermonters are concerned about the state’s future. He said he plans to focus on the need for job growth and economic development, comprehensive ethics standards in government, transparency in health care reform and reducing property taxes.

“The vast majority of Vermonters, from all different parts of the state and all different backgrounds, want to see expanded job opportunities and economic growth which stem from a stronger business environment, a return to responsible budget management, ethics standards in government, enhanced transparency, particularly on health care, and a better and more effective education system,” Lisman said.

The plans Lisman laid out in his announcement could set him up for a future run.

“I will focus on showcasing the public’s growing frustration about these issues and the need to implement tangible solutions for true change, change that Vermonters are demanding” he said. “Vermonters have made it clear they are not satisfied with the direction of the state and I will make it my mission to influence citizen-led forward progress.”

Technicality stalls minimum wage debate

MONTPELIER — A misprint in the House calendar discovered late Thursday night doomed consideration of a minimum wage bill until Saturday, just as Democratic leaders ramped up efforts to corral an unruly caucus.

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, made a point of order around 10:30 p.m., hours after debate had begun. But House Speaker Shap Smith said minority Republicans were correct, and ruled that action must be postponed and placed back on the calendar, making Saturday the next day the bill will see action.

Democratic leaders were looking to pass a scaled back minimum wage bill from the more ambitious plan they previously passed. The new plan, hashed out following a day-long back-and-forth between the House, Senate and governor’s office, is much closer to one favored by Gov. Peter Shumlin. Continue reading

Walz tapped for House seat

MONTPELIER – Tommy Walz, a former educator from Barre City, has been tapped by Gov. Peter Shumlin to replace former Rep. Tess Taylor.

Walz was picked from a list of three candidates submitted to Gov. Shumlin by the Barre City Democratic Committee.

“I am pleased to appoint Tommy Walz to fill this opening,” Shumlin said in a statement. “His long-term commitment and service to the Barre community will make him an excellent voice for his constituents in the Vermont House of Representatives.”

Walz first moved to Barre in 1967 to teach English and German at Spaulding High School. He and his wife Leslie moved several times, including a stint living and working in Germany. Walz came returned to Vermont in 1979 where he again taught English at Spaulding High School before working in computer sales and data consulting.

“I am proud to be joining the Barre contingent in the Vermont House of Representatives,” Walz said in a statement. “Barre has given us much and Leslie and I have had the chance to return some small measure through volunteering and serving on local school boards. Representing the people of Barre City in the Vermont House provides yet one more way for me to serve my community.”

Walz currently serves on the Barre Supervisory Union Board and the Spaulding High School Board.

Taylor resigned from her seat in the House last month to serve as the executive director of Vermont’s Coalition for Universal Reform. The newly formed group is planning a push for Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care plan.

Shumlin’s office said Walz will be sworn in “promptly.”

Democratic PAC settles with state

MONTPELIER — A Democratic PAC must may a $30,000 penalty for violating the state’s campaign finance law during the 2010 election.

Green Mountain Future, a political action committee created by the Democratic Governors Association has settled with the state for the $30,000 penalty, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Wednesday.

The settlement, which has been approved by the Vermont Superior Court, requires GMF to pay the state a civil penalty of $20,000 for failing to include its address on its website or in television ads that ran during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. GMF must also pay a $10,000 penalty the court had previously imposed for not registering as a PAC and filing campaign finance reports.

“Voters are legally entitled to know who is seeking to influence them,” Sorrell said a statement. “PACs need to obey the laws. They cannot hide. They must disclose their identity, including their address, their donors, and their expenditures, to the extent required by law.”

GMF spent more than $500,000 during the 2010 campaign on political ads. Television ads attacking Republican candidate Brian Dubie, the state’s former lieutenant governor, aired thousands of times but did not include complete identifying information. The public had no way of knowing who was behind the ads because GMF did not file required reports, Sorrell said.

The Vermont Superior Court determined that GMF violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws in Dec. 2011 but did not impose a financial penalty for its failure to fully identify itself in ads.

The Vermont Supreme Court then ruled in September that the lower court erred in not imposing a penalty. In its decision the Vermont Supreme Court said “the difficulty of calculating a penalty [does not] mean that no penalty can be awarded.”

The case returned to the trial court for consideration of an appropriate penalty. The settlement announced Wednesday closes out the only remaining issue in the enforcement action, Sorrell said.

Health care debate rages on as Rs, Ds argue merits of exchange

As predicted, the debate over H.559 – legislation that will, beginning in 2014, establish Vermont’s health benefits exchange – turned on party lines Thursday as House Republicans used a floor debate to hammer home their misgivings about the bill.

The GOP is concerned chiefly about the involuntary mandates contained of the legislation. Federal law requires each state to have a health benefits exchange, but doesn’t require anyone to actually purchase their insurance from it. The Shumlin administration and House Democrats, by contrast, are forcing all individuals and all businesses with 50 or fewer employees – about 96,000 Vermonters total – to buy from the exchange. Continue reading

Dems say Lisman ads violate elections laws

He swore late last year that his newly launched “Campaign for Vermont Prosperity” wouldn’t be political. But has Bruce Lisman already run afoul of Vermont’s campaign finance laws?

According to the Vermont Democratic Party, which filed a complaint today with Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Lisman’s organization has violated state law by engaging in overt electioneering without registering as a political action committee. Continue reading

Vt. Dems in attack mode after McDonald comments

MONTPELIER – The Vermont Democratic Party has both barrels blazing as it responds to recent comments from state Republican Party Chairwoman Pat McDonald, and its doing all it can to link the state GOP to the Republicans in Washington, D.C

McDonald issued a news release last week that criticized Gov. Peter Shumlin's handling of the economy before Tropical Storm Irene caused major flooding in the state on Aug. 28. She also outlined a five-point plan to “get Vermont back on track quickly” after the flood, a plan that called for education finance reforms and a rejection of new taxes to pay for the recovery, among other things.

She also called for a freeze on non-essential, non-Irene spending.

Later, she told Vermont Public Radio there were “legitimate discussions to be had” about how the country funds disaster aid – a reference to the fight over budget offsets U.S. House Republicans were seeking to pay for disaster spending.

The Vermont Dems have pounced, issuing a news release Tuesday and another one Wednesday taking McDonald to task.

They're using McDonald's apparent endorsement of budget offsets for disaster aid to try to make as close a link as they can between the state GOP and the U.S. House Republicans, who have been less-than-forthcoming with disaster cash.

The Vermont Republican Party has embraced the extremist partisan agenda of the Tea Party movement in response to Tropical Storm Irene,” Tuesday's attack began.  

From the latest attack issued Wednesday:

“Just like their Tea Party colleagues in Washington, the Vermont GOP leadership is intent on pitting people against each other for their own political gain,” Jake Perkinson, Vermont Democratic Party Chairman, said in a written statement.

Are the Vermont Dems taking free on-air advice from Eric Davis, the retired Middlebury College political science professor and frequent political commentator? The day before the Vermont Dem's attacks started, Davis told VPR that a link between the Vermont GOP and the U.S. House Republicans could hurt the party in the state.

If the Vermont Republican Party's leadership is seen in any way as supportive of what the House Republicans are doing in Washington, that could be very damaging for the Republican Party brand in Vermont in the next cycle,” Davis said. 


Pollina jumps into Dem-Prog redistricting spat

MONTPELIER – Sen. Anthony Pollina couldn’t sit idly by as members of the Vermont Democratic Party in a recent fundraising letter said Progressives were threatening health care reform through their work on the Legislative Apportionment Board.

Pollina is a long-time Progressive who is also a newly minted Democrat.

So Pollina fired off a letter of his own to Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg, pointing out that Progressives have long championed the kind of health care reform underway in Vermont and to suggest they were now threatening it was ludicrous.

“I find it absurd that the Democratic Party would accuse Progressives of undermining single payer health reforms as a fundraising tactic,” Pollina wrote in his letter, which was sent Monday night.

“You should know, for many, many years Progressives have had a clear, principled, unwavering commitment to single payer health care. Progressives have stood fast for single payer when leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties have not,” he added.

Pollina’s letter to his newly adopted party was the latest missive fired in a spat between Democrats and Progressives over the work of the Legislative Apportionment Board, which is working to redraw voting districts based on the recent census.

The Republicans and Progressives on the board voted for a plan that makes a push for single-member districts, a move that could pit incumbent Democratic lawmakers against one another and was opposed by Democrats on the board.

In response, the Dems issued a fundraising letter that said the GOP and Progressive Party were threatening Democrats and thus their signature issue: health care reform.

“It’s likely you’ve heard about the Republican and Progressive Party’s joint effort to significantly alter Vermont’s existing State House and Senate districts,” the Democratic Party letter said.  

The letter went on: “In order to ensure the success of single-payer healthcare, we must maintain our strong majorities and hold onto the Governor’s office in 2012.These redistricting tactics threaten the success of Governor Shumlin's healthcare plan and many other democratic efforts that we've all worked hard to advance."

The Progressive Party sent out its own fundraising letter in response, and shortly after came Pollina’s letter.

Pollina said he just had a gut response to the VDP letter – which he said was full of “misinformation” – and needed to respond.

“I felt on a personal was well as political level a need to respond,” said Pollina.

Alicia D’Alessandro, communications director for the VDP, said the party received Pollina’s letter and has reached out to the Washington County Senator to try to have a chat with him but hadn’t heard back as of Tuesday evening.

D’Alessandro said she didn’t want to prolong dispute.

“This is not a big party fight,” she said.

But as for who should get credit for the success so far of health care reform, it’s Dems all the way, she said.

“Let’s be frank here,” said D’Alessandro. “The Democrats passed single-payer and we are happy to have Progressives as our allies. But a Democratic majority in the House and Senate and Democratic governor got it done.”

Here’s Pollina’s letter in its entirety:

Jesse Bragg                                                                                       

Vermont Democratic Party

Dear Jesse, 

I find it absurd that the Democratic Party would accuse Progressives of undermining single payer health reforms as a fundraising tactic. (Letter: Redistricting Tactics Threaten Healthcare Reform)

You should know, for many, many years Progressives have had a clear, principled, unwavering commitment to single payer health care. Progressives have stood fast for single payer when leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties have not.

All of the Progressive members of the Legislature voted for the recently enacted health care reforms and played critical roles in shaping and advocating for the bill. The same cannot be said for all Democrats.

This suggests electing more Progressives and Progressive/ Democratic legislators would strengthen our health care reform, tax reform and job creation efforts.

In regards to the reapportionment board decision you referenced; a majority of the board did vote to emphasize single member districts. You may disagree with the vote, but single member districts are more democratic, allow a closer relationship between Legislators and citizens and mean candidates spend less money campaigning and have more time to talk to all their constituents.

You also know the reapportionment board only makes a recommendation. The real decision about the makeup of House districts will be made by members of the Legislature, a strong majority of Democrats and Progressives. Painting the board vote as political will only make the Legislature’s vote even more so, especially when it overturns the board’s recommendation and maintains the status quo.

I think it is important that we work together on important issues like health reform. Your fundraising letter creates divisions that are needless and counterproductive. Please rethink your strategy. 


Anthony Pollina P/D/WF

Vermont State Senate  

cc: Martha Abbott

       Judy Bevans

Vermont Dems pick new vice chair

The Vermont Democratic State Committee has a new vice chairman, the Vermont Democratic Party announced Monday.

Jacob Perkinson was named vice chairman at a meeting on Saturday in Randolph, according to a post on the Vermont Democratic Party website.

From the news release:

"…Party Vice Chair Michael Inners stepped down, effective immediately. The Democratic State Committee moved to (elect) Jacob Perkinson, current Chair of the Chittenden County Democratic Party, to succeed Inners as the new Vice Chair. Vermont Democratic Party Chair Judy Bevans praised the selection: 'Jake has been an asset to the party in Chittenden County. I’m so pleased to have him step up in this leadership role and I look forward to working with him.'"

Prior to his election to the Chair of the Chittenden County Democratic Committee, Perkinson served as chair of the Burlington City Democratic Committee, and was vice-chair for several years, the news release said.

A graduate of Vermont Law School, according to the news release, Perkinson is a Burlington resident known to his friends as "Pappy."