This Week in Vermont Politics: Partisanship rises again

Partisan politics have been on something of a hiatus since Aug. 28, when elected officials, along with the rest of the state, turned their attention to the human toll exacted by Tropical Storm Irene. Democrats, Republicans and Progressives went as far as to issue joint press releases pledging unity and cooperation in the face of adversity.
With November 2012 just over a year away, however, it was only a matter of time before major parties resumed their public posturing. Less than a month after the catastrophic flooding, that time appears to have come.
Friday brought us the cycle’s first major electoral announcement in the form of a press release from State Auditor Tom Salmon who, after having discounted a reelection bid in July, decided he’ll run for a fourth term after all. Irene herself, the Republican tells us, is responsible for the turnabout.
In a release titled “Irene is a game changer,” Salmon says “serving as auditor is his best contribution to the state’s well-being.”



“I have examined a number of options,” he writes. “But the impact of Irene on Vermont helped me to understand that the best way for me to serve Vermont is to continue as state auditor.”
For such a relatively un-sexy down-ticket office, Salmon has brought some notoriety to the seat. It’s the office from which he jumped parties mid-term, casting aside his Democratic loyalties for a prominent spot in the Vermont GOP.
During the last week of the 2010 elections, when public-safety officials released a decidedly unflattering video of his 2009 arrest for drunk driving, he garnered as many front-page headlines as gubernatorial candidates Peter Shumlin and Brian Dubie combined.
Salmon’s decision to seek reelection to the auditor’s office shrinks the already small pool of speculative GOP gubernatorial candidates. Salmon had said as recently at last Monday (four days before he announced for auditor) that he would love the chance to run against Shumlin next year.
Salmon had been waiting for word on high from Dubie, the former four-term lieutenant governor rumored to be itching for a rematch against his Democratic rival. The Vermont Republican Party too, has been waiting for Dubie to pull the trigger. The American Airlines pilot said he’d let folks his plans know by Labor Day – a timetable presumably extended by the flooding.
Unbeknownst to many in his own party, Dubie in late June registered a limited-liability consulting firm – called “Dubie Solutions” – with the Secretary of State. He even had a website, where he promised to “tap into … trusted relationships to serve your needs.”
It’s unclear what this says or does not say about his gubernatorial ambitions – he hasn’t responded to our numerous requests for an interview. He did for some reason take down the site (formerly online at www.dubiesolutions.com) after we called him about the new venture.
If all that wasn’t enough, Vermont GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald showed us all how quickly natural disasters can turn into political footballs.
In a missive sent to news outlets across Vermont, McDonald lamented “the fiscally imprudent trajectory that Vermont was already on before the storm,” – a sideways reference to the health care reform law passed earlier this year.
She suggested Shumlin reject out-of-hand calls for tax increases to raise money for the recovery effort, and said he should call the Legislature back for a special session so that lawmakers can help out with important recovery-related spending decisions.
McDonald called on Shumlin to de-fund the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, a perennial target of the GOP, so legislators can redirect the money toward more pressing needs. She also said Shumlin should seize Irene as occasion to fast-track some of the education-financing reforms Republicans have been pushing for decades.
Democrats are back at it as well. In a press release Thursday, Party officials harangued the Vermont GOP for inviting freshman Congressman Frank Guinta to their fall fundraiser.  The New Hampshire Republican was named as one of “the most corrupt members of Congress,” Vermont Dems said, by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
Shumlin, meanwhile, spent his Friday in New York at a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, hardly a nonpartisan organization.

-Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief

This column will run in the Times Argus and Rutland Herald Monday