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Bernie Sanders

Gone Fishin'

Fair Game


Published February 23, 2011 at 1:21 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Not since he switched from Democrat to Republican has State Auditor Tom Salmon … No wait, try this: Not since he was arrested for drunk driving and held a 40-minute rambling press conference to explain his actions has State Auditor Tom Salmon … No, that doesn’t work, either. How about: Not since he told a political columnist to “fuck off” … Oh, I give up.

How to anticipate the next point in Auditor Tom Salmon’s political graph when each previously mapped node seems so random? It’s like he’s careening through Vermont’s political space, not ascending any kind of trending arc.

Before you compare him to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, remember this: She quit during her first term. Salmon waited until a month and a half into his third to inform his 3500-plus Facebook friends: “I have enjoyed my service to the state but will not seek reelection as state auditor. It has been an honor to serve with such a talented team at the SAO [State Auditor’s Office]. Thank you all.”

Salmon’s abrupt announcement generated speculation about his future, of course, but also about who would fill his shoes at 132 State Street.

“I’d be happy to take Tom’s place and fill out the rest of his term if he’s so unhappy,” quipped Doug Hoffer, the Democrat/Progressive who challenged Salmon last fall. “It’s a little early to be thinking about an election in late 2012 when it’s only early 2011. But, yes, I’m still interested in the job. I’m not someone shopping around for something to run for. That’s the job that I think I’m qualified to do.”

Salmon said he remains “100 percent committed to fulfilling the obligations of the office to which I have been elected.” He said he announced early in order to give successors plenty of time to plan.

Former state auditor and current Vermont Sen. Randy Brock, (R-Franklin)may also be interested in his old job. Salmon defeated Brock in a recount that overturned the election-night results.

“There are lots of things I’m thinking about for 2012, and the auditor’s office is one of them,” said Brock. “The auditor’s office is a great job, and it is certainly nothing I would dismiss.”

Nor would he dismiss a run for governor. Brock’s name has surfaced in conversation as a potential challenger to Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2012.

Brock said it’s too early to say what he’ll do, noting that what might be good for political pundits might not be good for the voting public. True dat.

Brock has introduced a bill to amend the state constitution creating a four-year term for governor and other statewide elected officials. It’s been rejected before but, as the two-year election cycles seem to get longer every time around, perhaps the bill’s time has arrived.

Does the early pol get the worm? Not necessarily.

Just look at the 2010 governor’s race: The last of the officially announced gubernatorial candidates is the guy we now call Gov. Shumlin.

“Bernie and Me”

What’s next for Salmon? He’s not sure: The state auditor is torn between challenging U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2012 or dropping out of politics to seek a degree in mediation and conflict resolution.

Given Bernie’s seeming invincibility, several Facebook fans are urging Salmon to run for governor in 2012 against Democrat Peter Shumlin. His father, Thomas P. Salmon, was elected governor as a Democrat in 1972.

For almost a year, Tom Salmon has intimated that either he or “another qualified Republican” would run against Sanders. He even has a page on salmonforauditor.com dedicated to his thoughts and encounters with Sanders, aptly dubbed “Bernie and Me.” He’ll announce on March 5 whether he’s forming an exploratory committee, and said he’s consulted with former Gov. Howard Dean during this “time of reflection.”

If he’s not stepping up, Salmon said, he’ll be stepping out of politics.

“We have to evaluate very hard as a family at this stage. Members of the Progressive Party and other anonymous parties inflicted a fair amount of pain on the entire clan last year,” said Salmon.

Salmon is referring to the efforts of John Franco, a longtime Progressive and close ally of Sanders and Hoffer, who successfully sued to have a videotape of Salmon’s 2009 DUI stop made public. It was released just days before the November election and showed Salmon trying to trade on his statewide political status to gain favor with the young trooper in an effort to avoid being cuffed.

“You know I’m the state auditor, right? I’m like the state treasurer, governor and lieutenant governor,” said Salmon.

The trooper didn’t buy it.

Salmon believes Sanders could have done more to thwart Franco’s efforts, and told him so in a letter the day after he won reelection last fall.

No one in Sanders’ camp has said boo about Salmon’s potential challenge. Word is, they continue to believe former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas will be their eventual opponent.

Be careful what you wish for, eh?

Queen City Coronation

“Fair Game” has learned that Rep. Mark Larson, who represents parts of the New and the Old North End of Burlington, has been talking up a possible run for mayor next year.

Larson chairs the House Committee on Health Care, which has the unenviable task of sifting through the governor’s reform plans. Previously, Larson was vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I have had some conversations about this,” the Democrat said. “My focus right now has to be on health care reform, though.”

Larson is likely to be palatable to Progressives, especially if they decide not to field a candidate — or convince Mayor Bob Kiss not to run again. Larson isn’t a sitting councilor and therefore is not part of the city’s current political morass.

Councilors Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) are said to be possible candidates. Ditto State Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), a former city councilor.

Despite lots of encouragement from all parties, Kiss still hasn’t said he won’t seek a third three-year term for mayor.

Strikes & Solidarity

This week, union members and their allies rallied on the Vermont Statehouse steps in support of state workers in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, wants to abolish collective-bargaining rights in an effort to resolve the state budget crisis there.

State workers in Wisconsin have already agreed to pay more toward health care and retirement benefits. Walker wants them to give up their bargaining rights, too.

In Vermont, a similar battle has been brewing. Many school boards are imposing contracts on teachers, which generally means maintaining the current one. That way, previously negotiated pay raises are off the table.

Contract imposition is the board’s nuclear option, while teachers have their own: a strike.

Last week, the South Burlington school board imposed a contract on its teachers. On March 2, teachers will hold a strike vote. If they choose to do so, it will be the first teachers’ strike in Vermont in nearly four years.

Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) has introduced a bill that would prevent teachers from striking, a prohibition that currently applies to state workers. The bill would also take away a board’s ability to impose a contract.

“It’s not an anti-union bill, it’s not an anti-teacher bill, but rather [is] creating a new system where everybody gives up something,” said Wright, who has introduced this legislation before.

The likelihood of passage? Zero.

Hot and Cold

The union representing state workers — the Vermont State Employees Association — has agreed to let state employees contribute more of their health care and retirement benefits.

The concessions are part of a $12 million labor-savings package that Gov. Shumlin proposed the day after being sworn into office.

Other savings are to come from an alleged “hiring freeze.” Roughly half of the vacant positions that come up over the next year will remain open.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding has reached alternative arrangements in a handful of departments, which means not every new hire has to be vetted by him.

They are: the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Taxes, the Secretary of State’s Office, the Agency of Human Services, the Department of Buildings and General Services and the Department of Education.

Certain job categories, such as correctional officers and state troopers, were always exempt from the freeze.

Not to mention Shumlin’s political appointees. Taxpayers could soon be paying $500,000 more for Shumlin’s team than what the previous administration spent on top execs — $150,000 in pay raises and close to $350,000 for new and long-vacant deputy positions.

That’s one way to create jobs.

Labor Pains

A few key legislative staffers won’t be receiving the hefty bonuses detailed in last week’s “Fair Game.”

House Speaker Shap Smith tells Seven Days the workers have accepted the extra work, and extra pay, but the compensation will be prorated for the three-and-a-half-month legislative session. At most, Smith said, a few workers could see an extra $3500 in their pockets during the session.

On January 1, these legislative lawyers also received pay raises ranging from 1 to 7 percent. Lawmakers agreed to a plan to give four workers — three lawyers and one non-lawyer — extra pay in compensation for taking on extra duties left by their departing boss, Emily Bergquist, director of the legislative council.

The additional personnel costs are not expected to increase the overall legislative budget, Smith noted.

“We told them there is no guarantee in the new fiscal year that the higher rate of pay will continue,” said Smith.