Yesterday was a rough day to be a Vermont Democrat.
First, labor activists got pissed off when party chairman Jake Perkinson quashed an effort to have a pro-state-worker resolution taken up at the party's annual organizational meeting. The resolution was prompted by some Democrats concerned that Gov. Peter Shumlin was interfering with state workers' collective-bargaining rights by filing a grievance over being denied emergency pay in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
Then, a few hours later, a group of about 50 people confronted the governor, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other Democratic bigwigs as they entered the Socialist Labor Party Hall in Barre for the fall fundraising dinner.
The group of protesters had a mixed bag of concerns, but all revolved around the state's energy policies: the industrialization of Vermont's ridge lines, specifically the Shumlin administration's precedent of turning the Lowell Mountain ridge lines into an industrial wind farm, and what that may bode for other mountain vistas in Vermont; and the corporatization of the state's utilities. They voiced objections to the state's increasingly cozy relationship with Green Mountain Power.
"When Gov. Shumlin opposed Vermont Yankee, he was doing the right thing and we supported him. But then Green Mountain Power turns around and buys power from Seabrook [Nuclear Power] and he says nothing. Why not?" said Eric Wallace-Senft of Woodbury. "He's allowing Green Mountain Power to get everything it wants. We need to stop this kind of corporate dominance."
Wallace-Senft (pictured right), carried a sign that read: "You are the Gov. of Vermont Not the Bedfellow of GMP."
Wallace-Senft said he supported Shumlin in 2010, but has reservations about supporting the governor in 2012 after witnessing his administration increasingly turn over its energy policy to a single power company. And it's a company, Wallace-Senft added, that is destroying a pristine ridge line for a short-term power source.
"You're taking what it took glaciers 10,000 years to create and destroying it for a project that will last less than 50 years and is unlikely to offset the carbon you claim," said Wallace-Senft. "We have a responsibility to this state and our childeren to protect our natural resources for the future."
After the governor ran the gauntlet of protesters (see video below), he and other Democrats were greeted inside by a about eight or nine people affiliated with Occupy Vermont (see video below). The group chanted, "We are the 99 percent!" and "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!" and crisscrossed the labor hall as Democrats looked on with seeming bemusement. Some clapped and chanted along, too, noted Kevin Hurley, a member of Occupy Vermont who shot the video.
"By the end, it was hard to even tell who started it and who was part of the group," Hurley told Seven Days early Sunday in a phone interview. Hurley has been to Occupy Wall Street twice since the occupation began in mid-September.
"I'm not a Republican or a Democrat, and for me I am increasingly irritated by the polarization of the two parties and that's why I'm a supporter of the occupation," he said. "Because the message, for me, is that it's the plutocracy that's dividing us."
The Occupy Vermont group waited until just before Sen. Sanders spoke to the Democratic crowd. Sanders had visited the Democratic State Committee meeting earlier in the day and unanimously received the party's endorsement for his reelection in 2012.
Ironically, it was just moments before Sanders arrived at the Barre Auditorium to request the nomination that chairman Perkinson ruled out of order a resolution calling on state officials to stop "castigating" state workers for filing a grievance against the Shumlin administration. Gov. Shumlin has called this group of about 80 employees "greedy" and has used the bully pulpit to get them to drop their legal action.
The resolution was first passed by the Lamoille County Democratic Committee three weeks ago. The Washington County Democratic Committee approved an identical resolution one week later.
Perkinson ruled that the resolution could not be brought up for discussion under "new business" because not all members of the state committee had received a copy of the resolution at least five days before the meeting, which he claimed is a a condition of the party's bylaws.
Others disagreed, saying Perkinson had the discretion as chair to allow the resolution for a floor vote. After about 15 minutes of heated debate, about a dozen state committee members — which includes state workers and staff of the Vermont State Employees Association — walked out of the meeting.
"I think it's clear by taking this action that it demonstrates the Democratic Party is more concerned about raising money and getting candidates elected than holding candidates accountable to the party platform once they are elected," said Conor Casey, a member of the Democratic State Committee and interim co-executive director of the VSEA.
I'll have a full report on this, and more observations from this weekend's events, in the next Fair Game column in Seven Days. Until then, enjoy some of the snapshots and video.
Here is the video of Gov. Shumlin as he tries to shake hands and talk with environmentalists outside the Labor Hall:
Here is the video provided to Seven Days by Kevin Hurley, one of about nine people affiliated with Occupy Vermont who infiltrated the Democratic fundraiser: