In an 11th-hour conversion, gubernatorial hopeful Anthony Pollina decided that after years of running as a standard-bearing Progressive, what he really wants to be when he grows up is . . . an Independent.
On Monday, the deadline for major-party candidates to file their petitions, Pollina gathered a dozen supporters to announce that his coalition was gaining so much steam, he had to become an Independent. Only then could he build the support needed to oust incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and brush aside Democrat Gaye Symington.
Color me underwhelmed.
The average Joe or Jane may find it difficult to square Pollina's claim that he's now independent because his campaign success outgrew the Progressive label. Here's what Pollina told Vermont Public Radio's Bob Kinzel in January: "I'm a Progressive, and I don't think it would fool anybody if I said I wasn't a Progressive anymore. And I don't want to do that because I want to stick with my principles, and I'm proud of what I am and what I've done."
What's a principle or two between friends, right?
Pollina's peeps claim they hear from folks "all the time" that they would be more likely to vote for him if he was an Independent.
In eschewing the Democrats and Progressives, Pollina now joins the "party" of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Perhaps they can name it the "Me, Myself and I" party.
Pollina claims he's not turning his back on the Progressive Party, per se, or the people he's worked with for decades to build the "most successful third party in the country." To prove his point, Pollina said he will reject the party's nomination if primary voters bestow it upon him. Hey, it's for their own good. Tough love for tough times.
Given he was the Progs' only state-wide candidate, Pollina's move could endanger them from keeping major-party status. That's because a candidate for a state office must get 5 percent of the vote to maintain that status.
Morgan Daybell, the party's executive director, and Martha Abbott, party chairwoman, who attended Monday's event, are OK with Pollina's decision. They want to focus on electing legislators, not statewide candidates. Funny, the past eight years included Progressives running for governor, lieutenant governor and auditor. Pollina ran in two of those races - governor in 2000 and lite-gov in 2002. Progressives use Pollina's 25 percent showing in 2002 as proof they can perform on the statewide stage.
Abbott said Progressives can put someone on the November ballot after the September primary for any of the statewide offices - they have no candidates now. According to state law, major parties can pick a person to run in a statewide or local race if the party has failed to nominate a candidate via the primary process. Think anyone will launch a write-in campaign?
If said handpicked Progressive runs but fails to nab 5 percent or more of the vote, the Progs will be the ones protesting not being invited to debates, right? Liberty Union candidate Peter Diamondstone did just that Sunday night in Waitsfield. His is a major party and was not invited to take part by debate organizers.
On July 31 we'll find out if Pollina's broad coalition is translating into campaign cash. That's the first campaign finance filing deadline for candidates who have raised or spent more than $500 in cash.
Speaking of cash, Douglas hit the airwaves this week with his first radio ad. I almost missed it, not expecting to hear the incumbent advertising so early. Douglas campaign manager Dennise Casey confirmed the ads were running, but wouldn't say how much they've spent or where the ads will run. She said we'd have to wait until July 31 for those details. Could the gov be worried?
Who's In, Who's Out - It turns out there are folks willing to publicly declare themselves as Progressives.
The Progressives will run Thomas Hermann, an Iraq war vet, against U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D), as well as 12 candidates - six incumbents and six newcomers - for Vermont House seats. Two Progressives are running for state senate - Burlington City Councilor Tim Ashe in Chittenden County (though he's running in the Democratic primary) and John Bloch in Washington County.
Democrats expect to have 125 candidates filing in 117 House districts, along with 32 running for state senate. They have eight House members retiring: Reps. Harry Chen (Mendon); Robert Dostis (Waterbury); Gaye Symington (Jericho); Harry Monti (Barre); Al Perry (Richford); Avis Gervais (Enosburg Falls); Jim Fitzgerald (St. Albans); Hilde Ojibway (White River Jct.); and Mary Peterson (Williston).
In the Senate, only one Democrat is stepping aside, Jim Condos (Chittenden). With 23 out of 30 seats in the Senate and 93 out of 150 House seats, the Dems still hold an advantage in the Statehouse. They will run two candidates in a primary for lite-gov, and one candidate each for governor, auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Welch will face fellow Democrat Craig Hill in a primary.
Republicans have only three House retirees: Kathy LaVoie (Swanton); Don Bostic (St. Johnsbury); and Steve Larrabee (Danville). They expect to run close to 100 candidates, and hope strong showings in Rutland and Franklin counties will add to their 49 seats in the House and seven in the Senate. In Franklin County, former state auditor Randy Brock is running for Senate, as is well-known farmer Bill Rowell. The Republicans have one Senate retirement, George Coppenrath (Caledonia). In his stead, they are running former House member and State Housing Commissioner, John Hall.
Republican Eugene Bifano of Warren will challenge Deb Markowitz for secretary of state, and Karen Kerin is running against Bill Sorrell for attorney general. The Rs will skip races for U.S. House, treasurer and auditor.
Tough year to be a Republican, eh?
Bias Is in the Eye of the Beholder - It was a tough week for Vermont's nuclear power plant and whichever owner it claims is responsible - Entergy? Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee (ENVY)? Entergy Nuclear Operations (ENO)?
Think how tough it must be for Entergy staffers trying to remember which business cards to hand out.
A faulty bracket on a cooling tower support beam sent water spewing to the ground, forcing VY to drop power by 75 percent. Then the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told ENO they couldn't use money from the decommissioning fund to pay for onsite storage of nuclear waste.
Enter Gov. Douglas and the Department of Public Service (DPS) to avert a strikeout. They are refusing to let members of a special legislative oversight panel take part in an upcoming NRC review of Vermont Yankee.
That access was supposed to happen as part of a bill Douglas signed into law calling for a top-to-bottom review of Vermont Yankee. This so-called "vertical audit" looks at the plant as a whole to determine if things are "safe" and "reliable," rather than just isolating certain key components, as is the case with this week's NRC review. Lawmakers asked for the more rigorous review because next year they will vote on whether Vermont Yankee should be allowed to operate for another 20 years.
Two top Democratic lawmakers claim the three-member panel was told by DPS officials that the NRC objected to the oversight panel's participation in the inspection. That doesn't square with what the NRC told the governor earlier this year.
In March, Gov. Douglas implored the NRC to conduct an "independent safety assessment" at Vermont Yankee after last year's spectacular collapse of a cooling tower and a reactor scram - both of which were traced to shoddy maintenance programs. "I also request that the assessment include the participation of the Vermont State Nuclear Engineer and consultants, and [that] those NRC inspectors and contractors have independence from the Vermont Yankee operation," Douglas added.
In April, the NRC responded in a letter: "The [reactor oversight process] is also flexible with respect to the timing and scope of some inspections," wrote NRC Chairman Dale Klein. "The Vermont State Nuclear Engineer and a mutually acceptable consultant are welcome to observe any NRC inspection at Vermont Yankee in accordance with the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the NRC and the State of Vermont."
When "Fair Game" asked about the contradiction over the weekend, we got this response from NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci (and a copy of the letter): "Typically, members of the public (or the media) are not able to accompany NRC inspectors on inspection. In this case, as the letter explains, the DPS could have designated an additional observer," she said.
So much for the Douglas administration's "blame it on the NRC" excuse.
On Monday, President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and Speaker Symington, who also received the NRC's April letter, implored Douglas to let the panel have access to this week's NRC inspection.
Don't hold your breath.
It's no secret that Douglas loathes two of the appointees to the panel - Arnie Gundersen of Burlington and Peter Brad-ford of Peru - claiming they are biased against nuclear power.
Shumlin picked Gunderson for the panel, while Symington tapped Bradford, who formerly served as a commissioner to the NRC and is now vice chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. For decades, Gundersen worked inside the nuclear power industry, and has been called on by NRC and state officials to testify in regulatory cases. He also served as an expert witness for a group opposed to Vermont Yankee's bid to increase its power output by 20 percent.
Douglas' sole appointment to the panel is Dr. Lawrence Hochreiter, a professor of nuclear and mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University who spent 26 years working for Westinghouse in its nuclear energy division.
While DPS officials, including its spokesman Stephen Wark, criticize Gundersen and Bradford for opposing nuclear power, Hochreiter's 26 years of working for the industry make him an unbiased observer? Go figure.
Is Gundersen biased - or clairvoyant? He predicted that after VY boosted its power output that the cooling towers would weaken, and that additional cracks would be found in the reactor's steam dryer. Both came true. He even predicted there might be a shortfall in the decommissioning fund.
Damn, three for three.
Behind the scenes, DPS folks apparently hold Gundersen's talents in high regard.
Case in point: Wark inadvertently sent "Fair Game" an email Monday in response to a weekend query we made to DPS staffers about keeping the panel out of the NRC inspection. In this misfired email, Wark asked DPS Deputy Commissioner Richard Smith to provide him with a copy of a letter Gundersen had sent to Smith so Wark could use it for his "talking points."
Whoa. So, the guy who trashed an appointee in public for being biased and an inappropriate choice for the job wants to use the words of said appointee as talking points for the media? And, beyond that, using information from a letter that was sent with the expectation it would be private?
That would be funny if our tax dollars weren't paying for these shenanigans.