by Peter Freyne
The end of February is closing in.
March Town Meeting Day approaches.
And right on schedule, the public bickering between the Republican in our governor's office and the Democrats running our Statehouse is picking up!
Gov. Jim Douglas told reporters at his weekly press conference at the state capitol Thursday that Vermonters support his “aggressive agenda to take the state forward in the 21st Century.” The Governor insisted he encounters “trememdous support” in his travels around the state for the Douglas "Affordability Agenda" and it continues to grow!
Vermont’s Republican Guv said he’s been "waiting patiently" for Vermont’s Democratic legislature "to focus more of its time and energy on the public policy that’s most important to Vermonters." He mentioned "reducing property tax growth, making housing and higher education more affordable, and passing legislation that will move Vermont to becoming the first E-State in the nation."
"As we head into the Town Meeting break," said Jim from Middlebury, "Vermonters have every right toask what the Legislature’s been doing that’s going to make Vermont moreaffordable, to make our economy stronger and our families moreprosperous?
"The answer, unfortunately, is very little action."
Putney Democrat Peter Shumlin is the Senate President Pro Tem this session replacing Peter Welch, who went to Washington to replace Bernie Sanders, who went from House to Senate to replace Jeezum Jim Jeffords, who retired.
Putney Pete is the senate leader and viewed as a prime future Democratic candidate for governor...maybe even in 2008?
Not suprisingly, Sen. Shumlin had a dramatically different analysis of the legislature’s progress so far this year. Like night and day. That's Shummy doing an impromptu in the Cedar Creek Room after the Guv's shot.
"I don't quite understand what the Governor's frustration is today," said Shumlin, the Nose that Knows. "All I can tell you is that I've never seen a legislature work harder, provide more leadership and deal with more difficult issues than we are this session. I think it would be tremendously helpful if the Governor would spend more time doing policy with us and less time doing politics."
A pair of marvelous political word smiths are these, eh?
ON A DIFFERENT TOPIC - as expected, questions were raised by the press corps about the apparent sanctioning by Vermont's governor of his in-laws use of illegal Mexican aliens on their Middlebury dairy farm. Here's a transcript of the interesting back and forth. According to the Guv, the Foster Brothers dispute the accuracy of The Burlington Free Press story, at least as far as their admitting to having illegal aliens working on their farm.
The Guv: It’s not their job to be immigration agents. There are federal agencies that have that responsibility and I expect those agencies to do their jobs.
I think everyone agrees our immigration system is flawed. This may be a rare occasion where Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee, the president of the United States and I have the same view. We need to reform our immigration laws and provide for a guest worker program so that here no question about the validity of the documents of the workers on our family farms.
I’m pleased Sen. Leahy is going to have some hearing on Tuesday on this topic in Washington and I hope it’s an item he can move forward quickly.
Press: But it is illegal to hire undocumented workers?
The Guv: That’s correct.
Press: And so farmers, the Fosters among them, are doing that, right?
The Guv: Well, I don’t know that and you can talk to them. They frankly take great issue with the characterization that was in another metropolitan daily. They don’t believe that was a fair representation.
Press: You think those workers are legal?
The Guv: Well, I’m not saying what I think, I’m saying what they’ve told me, so I’m inviting you to talk to them.
Press: Is it their contention that they have the proper paperwork, these workers?
The Guv: Well, again, they’re not immigration experts but employees on that farm, and I assume other farms, do the same thing that you and I do - present a Social Security Card that's issued by the Government of the United States with an appropriate number on it so that social security taxes and other income taxes may be withheld. You may want to talk with them.
Press: But how can they be legal if they don’t have a "Green Card?"
The Guv: Well, we’re not asked for them when we’re employed. You’re not suggesting racial-profiling in employment, I hope?
We’re you misquoted in that story saying you were aware there were illegal Mexican aliens there?
The Guv: No. I didn’t say that. What I’m telling you is that the Fosters believe they were not accurately represented.
Press: Do you think there are illegal immigrants working at the Foster Farm?
The Guv: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not naive. I think it’s not an unreasonable assumption in the agricultural industry of Vermont there are people who don’t have documentation that they can support, but the real answer to this dilemma, I believe, is to change the federal law.
Press: Is there sort of a "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Thing" going on in the farm community where they desperately need the labor. Vermonters aren’t doing it. There is a workforce available. But there is this problem with the federal law. So they don’t have to prove, under the labor law, the document's accuracy, but a lot of them know?
The Guv: Well, your assessment of the labor situation is exactly right. I talked about the demographic challenge that the state is facing overall and it's’s certainly true in farm labor as well. A lot of the farm families today aren’t as big as they used to be in terms of the number of kids. Historically in Vermont there were families with a large number of children who did the work on the farm and that was the source of labor for literally centuries.
Now families are smaller. More people, including spouses work off the farm. There are fewer working age people in Vermont to do that work and it's hard work. I’ve worked on my in-laws'' farm. It’s very tiring, exhausting work. It’shard labor and a lot of people are not interested in doing that work.
He has a way with words, our governor, doesn't he?
Wouldn't be surprised if the Freeps followed up to see if the Fosters actually do dispute their story's accuracy - as reported by no less a source than Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas!