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Boots on the Ground

Fair Game


Published May 5, 2010 at 10:02 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

With primaries heating up almost as quickly as the temperature outside, candidates will be scrambling in the coming weeks to score endorsements from labor unions, lawmakers and anyone else who can lure a few more voters to the booths — in August.

Aside from the five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, there are Democratic and Republican primaries for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

In each race, just a few thousand votes could decide the winner. That, and the earlier date, means it’s critical for pols to line up endorsements by the end of June.

On May 18, candidates of all parties will genuflect before the Vermont State Employees Association.

The VSEA, which represents about 7500 current and retired state government workers, amended its bylaws last September to allow the organization to make a primary endorsement.

The VSEA has seen its ranks thin in the past few years due to staff cuts, and its members have seen wage cuts, too. Makes you wonder what they’ll want to hear from candidates.

VSEA’s executive committee will decide who, if anyone, to endorse, and will forward the name, or names, to a 150-member VSEA council for approval. The council’s vote could come in mid-June.

Also by mid-June, two of the largest unions in Vermont may weigh in: the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association and the Vermont AFL-CIO. Candidates will meet with these groups during simultaneous two-day conventions in early June.

Among environmental groups, the Vermont League of Conservation Voters is in the process of vetting candidates now and could issue endorsements by late June, said Todd Bailey, the group’s executive director.

Bill McKibben, arguably one of Vermont’s best-known and influential environmentalists, has already thrown his support to Democrat Matt Dunne.

McKibben has inspired many young activists. And they, like union members, often work tirelessly for candidates — doing the get-out-the-vote legwork that is key to any victory.

The same goes for local lawmakers, many of whom also will be on the campaign trail this summer. They serve as conduits for statewide candidates looking to access Vermont’s smaller communities.

On that front, Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) trotted out nearly two dozen lawmakers Monday who are bona fide supporters of his gubernatorial bid. All were Democrats save one — former Democratic lawmaker Paul Poirier (I-Barre).

Recognition is a two-way street. While pols want the support, unions and other groups want to have an influence on the process.

Case in point: “We had originally scheduled our convention for September, but when the primary was moved, we decided to move our convention to June,” said Dennis Labounty, the Vermont AFL-CIO’s political director. “We did that so, if we did endorse, we could do it early, so we could get out there and support that candidate by putting some boots on the ground. That’s what will make the difference.”

Senate Shuffle

The Vermont Senate’s February vote to let Vermont Yankee’s license lapse may cause some electoral headaches for Senate Majority Leader John Campbell (D-Windsor). He’s hoping to maintain his party’s 23-7 advantage in the chamber.

“I fully expect Entergy to target the senate to try and get a different outcome next year,” said Campbell, who is likely to be reelected and hopes to succeed Sen. Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) as president pro tem.

Campbell said other than the three senators running for governor, no Democrat has announced a retirement. Yet.

On the GOP side, Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington) is running for lite guv, and until last week the GOP appeared to have a lock on that seat with Rep. Pat McDonald (R-Berlin). But McDonald, who was expected to announce a Senate run, surprised colleagues by deciding to “retire” from politics for personal reasons. She put quotes around the word “retire” because she fully expects to stay politically active, just not in elective office.

The GOP currently holds two of Washington County’s three senate seats. Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), assistant minority leader, promises the party will have a strong candidate to run in her stead.

In his neck of the woods, Mullin will face a tough reelection as a result of his support for last year’s same-sex marriage bill. The GOP holds two of Rutland’s three senate seats: Mullin and Sen. Peg Flory. Republican Carolyn Schwalbe is also running.

On the Democratic side, Campbell expects primaries in Chittenden and Windham counties.

In Chittenden, which has six seats, Democrats Hinda Miller, Virginia Lyons and Tim Ashe are expected to run for reelection.

The question mark is Sen. Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden), who is rumored to be considering a bid for auditor. He held that post in the late 1990s.

The list of Democrat hopefuls is long — and ever changing. UVM prof and blogger Philip Baruth leads the pack, which also includes former Burlington City Councilor Andy Montroll, former county party chair Mike Yantachka and former House reps Denise Barnard and Bill Keogh.

Labor activist Ralph Montefusco has bowed out of the race, throwing his support to Baruth.

Keogh said he is deciding between a run for Senate and his old House seat — or neither, in which case he’ll continue on as Burlington City Council president.

On the GOP side, Sen. Diane Snelling is staying the senatorial course.

Only two others have officially announced: retired businessman Mike Branon and county GOP official Shelley Palmer.

Charlie Smith is seriously considering a Senate bid. He’s the former head of the Snelling Center and a well-known Chittenden County GOP pol.

Petitions are due on June 17.

Caddy Shackle

Just when Entergy Vermont Yankee seemed to be improving its public image, along came a ban on cameras and video equipment in the plant.

It happened last week, when a documentary filmmaker asked to join the Vermont Public Service Board during its VY site walk-through as the plant is shut down for refueling.

Entergy at first said no, then said yes with this caveat: The filmmaker had to let someone “caddy” his cameras and let Entergy hand them back when the nuke workers deemed it OK to film. The same restrictions were put in place for other media attending the PSB visit.

The Rutland Herald, in protest, refused to send a photographer.

Entergy spokesman Larry Smith told “Fair Game” the rule was enacted due to the additional workers on site and the installation of new security measures. Contrary to some media reports, the rule is not likely permanent.

“As a former reporter, I hope not. We have not had a problem in the past,” said Smith, a former radio reporter at WTSA in Brattleboro. “The Vermont media have been great to work with, and I want that relationship to continue.”

With Friends Like These…

Not only is Entergy VY keeping a close watch on journalists; it is also making sure one of its lawyers is a “caddy” to legislative consultant Arnie Gundersen. The former nuclear plant worker has been downright prescient in predicting VY’s mishaps, from a cooling tower collapse to the tritium-leaking pipes.

The problem pipes will be rerouted during VY’s refueling outage. Other pipes that run underneath the building near the tritium leak will also be rerouted, including two lines that “run directly through the soil,” according to a report from the Vermont Department of Health.

These are the same pipes VY explicitly denied existed last year. Gundersen proved otherwise by citing VY’s own admissions to federal officials about contaminated soil and storm drains.

An “outside law firm” of Morgan Lewis & Bockius hired by Entergy determined that it never intended to mislead Gundersen or state officials. Or at least never intended to get caught.

Reading the firm’s report, one thing is clear: VY’s chief regulatory engineer was more focused on keeping Gundersen at bay than answering truthfully.

David McElwee, who has since been put on administrative leave, told the firm’s investigators he didn’t try to “identify the previous statements to which Gundersen referred,” but rather his “primary focus was on making sure that Gundersen did not reopen the entire CRA process through the back door.”

Glad to see Entergy had its priorities straight.

Gundersen, who runs the firm Fairewinds Associates with his wife Margaret Gundersen, will present a new VY report to the legislature on Thursday.

Media Notes

WCAX reporter Kate Duffy will bid adieu to viewers this week to become communications director for Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s gubernatorial campaign.

Duffy, who’s been with WCAX since 2002, will join the Dubie team later this month.

“Simply put, I was looking for a new challenge, so when this opportunity was offered to me, I gave it a lot of thought. My only concern was that I am not a Republican — I am a lifelong Independent and have spent my career presenting balanced coverage of the news,” Duffy told “Fair Game.”

Without missing a beat, Duffy added why she thinks Dubie’s the best man for the job: “He is focused on the issues most Vermonters have been telling me are of biggest concern to them: jobs and the economy.”

Duffy isn’t the first WCAX reporter to find her way into a GOP administration: Brad Wright, Anson Tebbetts and Mark Bosma all landed communications posts at one time or another in the Douglas administration.

Of the three, only Bosma remains in state government. Tebbetts is back at WCAX, in the role of news director.

Guess the door swings both ways.

Council Retweet

At a special “retreat” Monday night, the Burlington City Council agreed to let councilors tweet during meetings, using laptops and smart phones.

The only caveat?

Show some respect when other councilors, or members of the public, are speaking. And don’t give up on eye contact.

To date, only three councilors actively use Twitter: Democrats Ed Adrian and Nancy Kaplan and Independent Karen Paul.

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