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2010: Putting the 'Tic' in Politics


Published December 29, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

Ed. Note: During the last week of the year, we asked our writers to reflect on the highs and lows of 2010.

My 2010 political season didn't revolve entirely around the gubernatorial race — not when Burlington City Hall and the three-member Congressional delegation are part of my beat.

Here are some of my most memorable moments from this past year ... in politics.

  • Gov. Jim Douglas called for a "time out" to quell the rising anger toward Vermont Yankee after it did silly things like lie to state lawmakers and regulators about the existence of underground pipes only to have those pipes break and spew thousands of gallons of tritium into the groundwater and Connecticut River. Whoopsie.
  • Not too long after that "time out," President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin called a "time in" and got 25 of his colleagues to vote against relicensing Vermont Yankee beyond its originally scheduled closing date of 2012.
  • Shumlin continued to jump on the anti-nuke bandwagon, literally, by pirating a ride on a float owned by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Greenpeace. That didn't sit well with Shumlin's four rivals in the five-way gubernatorial primary.
  • Who can forget Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian's call in March for Mayor Bob Kiss to ... resign. All because Instant Runoff Voting was nixed by voters after two mayoral elections and any Prog-allied Democrat, or contested Progressive, lost.
  • Kiss didn't take Adrian up on his offer, nor did Adrian or the council push the issue. Given the increasing pressure that Burlington Telecom is placing on the city's budget and city personnel, maybe Kiss should have taken him up on the offer back then. Not sure anyone could pull Burlington back from the brink at this point. Time will tell.
  • During that March election, Progressives lost both bids for seats on the council in the stronghold of Ward 2. That's a first since 1981, the year that Bernie Sanders was elected mayor.
  • But, all's well that ends well. Salmon apologized, I accepted and we're now Facebook friends. Which, given Time's Person of the Year award, is what really matters in life. We even mugged for photos at the Republican "victory" party election night in Montpelier.
  • Once the legislature let out, there was plenty to follow in the five-way Democratic primary. But, it's all a blur now and who cares? Shumlin won by a ... nose. Or, something close. So close that second-place finisher Doug Racine requested a recount.
  • You'd think they were shipping homeless folks out of Burlington on a bus. In the end, the proposal was nixed. Then it returned later as an "education" effort to get people to abide by accessibility codes and give a five-foot right-of-way to ensure people with wheelchairs could navigate downtown. That's been all but shelved, too.
  • Speaking of right-of-ways, Sen. Ed Flanagan was involved in two serious bike crashes in a short period of time. The crashes raised concern that the traumatic brain injury was proving too much for him to handle (especially while driving at high speeds on his electric bike). Flanagan lost a Democratic primary for auditor of accounts to Doug Hoffer who, in turn, lost to Salmon.
  • Just as things started to get hotter on the City Council regarding Burlington Telecom, one of the council's two Progressives — Ward 3 Marissa Caldwell — resigned and moved out of the city. That left the smallest number of Progressives on the council since 1981. And it left the council with only 13 members, and in a bit of a quandry. Was a majority of the council seven or eight? Such a philosophical dilemma.
  • As the general election matchup between Sen. Shumlin and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie heated up, Dubie was the one who punched first and hardest — taking aim at the Putney lawmaker's weakness: His perceived unethical behavior. Our Seven Days survey suddenly became a hot topic (after having been ignored for more than six months prior) and calls for the proverbial head of our publisher on a platter were uttered by Democratic allies. Or, in the very least an apology for publishing a survey that said mean things about their candidate.
  • Others unexpectedly jumped into the game, too. State troopers and the Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Tremblay ended up in a politcally charged debate over whether they should be releasing roadside videos. They did in the case of a Democrat; they refused in the case of a Republican.
  • In the waning days before the election, Sen. John McCain came to Vermont to stump for GOP Senatorial hopeful Len Britton, who was challenging Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy won easily, and he now enters the next Congress as the second longest serving Democrat, and potentially in line to chair the Appropriations Committtee before his next term expires in 2016.
  • Despite his "Get Off My Lawn" reputation, McCain was quite amiable and at ease with the press. Funny, too. VPR reporter John Dillon and I spotted McCain slipping into the side door and walked over to talk to him. We ended up snagging a two-on-one interview with the Senator for a few minutes before his savvy press aides whisked him away.
  • McCain wasn't the only national political figure deployed to Vermont to rally the troops. The day before Nov. 2, Vice President Joe Biden entertained Democrats at the University of Vermont's Patrick Gym — stumping for Shumlin, Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy. During the event he declared Sen. Bernie Sanders the "conscience of the United States Senate."
  • The week before the election, Seven Days printed perhaps one of my favorite stories of the year — a profile of longtime political insider and kingmaker Harlan Sylvester. The elusive Sylvester refused to take part in the article, so I had to find plenty of people — friends, foes and politicians — to talk about him. It's the first major profile of Sylvester, who has had the ear of every governor since Gov. Tom Salmon in 1974.
  • Post-election, things started to pivot more toward Washington, DC and the "lame duck" Congress. (OK, can you really tell the difference?) There, Vermont's three-member delegation fought against a compromise tax cut deal on the basis that it gave tax breaks to wealthy folks who don't need them, underminds Social Security and adds to the national debt. Sen. Sanders led the fight in his chamber while Rep. Peter Welch led the way in the House.

Get ready folks, 2011 is likely to be even more exciting given a new governor to write about and the 2012 election just around the corner.