While I was paying attention to health care reform, taxes, Burlington Telecom and Commissioner David "Sunshine" O'Brien for this week's column, I missed a huge story — Vermont's quality seals are being clubbed to death to close the state's $150 million budget gap.
Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden), one of five Democrats hoping to become the next governor, said the seals had been "rendered meaningless," and their eradication was "a black eye for the state of Vermont."
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture announced Monday its plans to kill off the quality seals as part of budget cuts, a process that quietly began on January 1. The agency did not give the number of dead seals in Vermont to date.
As someone who's lived in Vermont almost my entire life (so far), this was news to me. Do we have seals? Otters, sure. But, seals?
And, apparently they are not just any seals but quality seals. All that clean country living, no doubt. Which is why they are costing us money.
Where is PETA? Greenpeace? Where is Paul Watson and his merry band of righteous Sea Shepherds?
Today, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie broke ranks with Gov. Jim Douglas and decried the clubbing of Vermont seals. Dubie is the putative Republican candidate for governor this fall.
"I will do everything in my power as Lt. Governor to protect our state’s brand," said Dubie. As a part-owner of a family maple sugaring operation, Dubie said he's well aware that quality seals are of "tremendous value" throughout the world.
Dubie's cry for clemency was echoed today by Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who is one of the five Democrats running for governor. She said Douglas' "seal of disapproval" will eventually hurt Vermont businesses, not to mention the seals themselves.
"Eliminating Vermont's Seal of Quality is a short-sighted move by the current administration," said Markowitz, who also called the move unfriendly to business.
Even more unfriendly to the seals.
Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and another Democrat running for governor, said that, at a time when Vermont's image helps sell products around the world, killing off seals is the last thing it should do.
"When we're looking at expanding all the things we're trying to sell in Vermont, all the value-added products, this administration is eliminating the Vermont Seal of Quality," said Bartlett. "That is what the government shouldn't do."
* * Update * *
A quick correction: According to a press advisory issued yesterday (that I obviously didn't read), Markowitz called on Dubie to renounce the quality seal-killing ways of Gov. Jim Douglas. Therefore, Dubie was the one doing the echoing. My apologies to any seal offended by my error.
And, still no word if a Save Our Seals (SOS) petition, like the one viewed here, is in the works for Vermont.
* * Update x 2 * *
In response to my queries, a spokesman for Gov. Jim Douglas said the news of quality seal deaths are greatly exaggerated. They are not seal killers.
For starters, there have been seals in Vermont for nearly 30 years, said Dave Coriell, Douglas' spokesman on seals and all other gubernatorial concerns. Who knew?
In short, Coriell added, the seals are not up for slaughter. Apparently, there are only 74 registered seals on file with the Agency of Agriculture, yet there may be hundreds — even thousands — of unregistered seals alive and crawling about Vermont.
The administration hopes to work with individual seal breeders to better identify, track, and ensure the quality of Vermont seals so we're not overrun. Word of caution: Cute as they may be, don't feed them if they flop into your backyard.
A trip to France last year to learn about "terroir" — or the terror of living in a socialist place like France, or Vermont — is informing their effort to revamp Vermont's 30-year-old seal programs.
Glad they cleared that one up ... You never know how people could misread the administration's actions. Sheesh.