It's difficult to capture the loopiness of the 48 hours preceding adjournment of the Vermont legislature.
Confusion reigns. Recesses abound. Tensions rise and fall. Pizza is eaten. Budgets are passed. Reporters get confused and quickly lose interest.
Such is the state of affairs at 8 p.m. Tuesday as the House and Senate labor to finish the people's business and get the hell out of Dodge.
We'll have (slightly) more serious coverage of the 2013 legislature's thrilling conclusion in Wednesday's print edition of Seven Days, but to give you, dear reader, a flavor of the moment in Montpelier, we give you this gem of a video of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (D-Windsor) demonstrating his totally sweet nunchuck chops:
[Full disclosure: This video was filmed late Monday afternoon, though we are quite sure the Windsor County senator would be more than willing to stage a repeat performance tonight.]
Update, 6:08 p.m.: Hardy Macia passed away late this afternoon, according to a source close to his family. Friends and fellow activists alike have already begun posting remembrances on his Facebook wall. "Rest in peace, Hardy," wrote one friend. "We will never forget how you went out fighting. You have been such a positive influence on so many people — will miss you, man."
Now Macia is back in Vermont, fighting for his life. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2012. It's typically a treatable form of cancer, but Macia's has not responded the way he and his doctors had hoped. He was recently hospitalized in New Hampshire, then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to be closer to family. He's since been moved to a family member's home in Westford.
In a private Facebook message to me this morning, he summed up his prognosis: "My time is short," he wrote, "the doctors are saying I have days left."
His condition might be a private family matter but for the fact that he's seized this opportunity to continue his campaign to change New Hampshire's marijuana laws. A week ago, he made a 4-minute video in his New Hampshire hospital room and posted it to YouTube. Speaking in a whisper because of a collapsed lung, he implores Gov. Maggie Hassan to help patients like him access medical marijuana. The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering a medical marijuana bill, and it needs the governor's support to pass. "This is about the patients, and doctors," he rasps, "and having the medicine that the patients need."
Macia explains that he occasionally uses marijuana to ease his pain. "To get to sleep at night, sometimes it's the only thing that helps put me out, versus some of the harder drugs they give me, such as the oxycodone or vicodin or whatever."
I asked Macia if Hassan had responded to his plea. Their response, he wrote, was that she will "listen to all sides."
Take a few minutes, if you can, and listen to Macia's argument. Politics aside, it's hard not to be moved by his drive and dedication to the issue, not to mention his will to live. You can't help but hope he keeps fighting.
He's a regular on daytime cable news shows, but Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) finally hit the big time this weekend: He was featured on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
Or, at least, his name was.
The show's opening segment parodied last week's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings on the Benghazi attacks. The sketch featured an overzealous chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), calling as witnesses convicted boyfriend-killer Jodi Arias and accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.
Which was kind of weird — and not all that funny.
Odder still, the two members of Congress sitting on either side of Issa — identified in the script and captions as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) — sat behind name-plates reading "Rep. Doc Hastings" and "Rep. Peter Welch."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Sunday morning he believes the U.S. is moving closer to providing lethal weapons to Syrian rebels.
Leahy made the remarks during a rare appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in a segment focused on Syria's escalating civil war, U.S. homeland security and immigration reform.
Leahy's appearance on the Sunday talk show came just hours after air strikes were carried out — presumably by Israel — on military installations outside Damascus. Asked by moderator David Gregory whether the U.S. was edging toward providing "lethal aid" to Syria, Leahy said he believed so.
"Our problem in who to supply is that some of these groups are strong Islamists — al-Qaeda and others — and we've seen, like in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there," Leahy said. "But we have given hundreds of millions of dollars in refugee aid. We have given anti-aircraft equipment to Turkey. And the idea of getting weapons in — if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we'll give them to them."
Vermont's senior senator was joined during the segment by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Woodrow Wilson Center president Jane Harman and Congressman Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
You can watch the full 23-minute panel discussion here.
Here's an excerpt of the Syria debate. Below that is an excerpt of Leahy discussing the chances of comprehensive immigration reform.
Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg might be hogging the limelight when it comes to the national debate over women in the workplace, but in little ol' Vermont, it's a veteran stateswoman who has taken up the banner for better access to childcare, paid parental leave and flexible work schedules — all factors that former governor Madeleine Kunin believes would encourage women's leadership and participation in the workforce.
That advocacy is on display in the new documentary Madeleine Kunin: Political Pioneer, which debuts tonight on Vermont Public Television at 9 p.m. and is also available to stream online. The hourlong documentary is charts the private and political life of Vermont's first woman governor. If you've been following the national debate about women in the workplace — or if you're just eager to see some particularly rad, 1970s- and '80s-era Statehouse archival footage — it's worth a watch. (Keep your eyes peeled for former governor Jim Douglas' particularly rad, plaid suit coat: fantastic.)
Writer, producer and director Catherine Hughes worked as a journalist for WCAX in the 1980s during Kunin's three terms as governor. "Even I, who had paid some attention to her career, was still amazed when I really sat down and looked at everything she's done," says Hughes.
Shortly before the U.S. Senate voted to debate a polarizing gun-control bill Thursday morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) delivered an impassioned plea to his colleagues to "stand up and be counted."
In a 10-minute speech on the Senate floor, Leahy repeated that refrain over and over again, appearing as if he was seeking to shame his fellow senators into voting on the legislation, regardless of where they stood.
"Stand up and be counted! Stand up and be counted!" he said, nearly shouting. "Don't give speeches saying you're in favor of law enforcement, but we're going to take away the tools law enforcement needs. Stand up and be counted. Stand up and be counted."
Calling Republican efforts to stall debate an "ill-conceived filibuster," Leahy said, "Americans across this great country are looking to us for solutions and action, not filibustering or sloganeering. Americans are saying, 'Stand up and be counted.'"
Watch the full video here:
Not long after Leahy's speech, the Senate voted 68 to 31 in favor of taking up the legislation. The bill includes several provisions passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, including a measure the Vermont senator wrote that cracks down on gun traffickers and "straw" purchasers.
The legislation received a major boost earlier this week when Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) signed off on a bipartisan plan to extend background checks to unlicensed firearms dealers. The bill does not include more controversial proposals, such as a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, though such measures will likely reappear in the form of amendments on the floor next week.
The others who voted in favor of debating the bill were Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 49 other Democrats, 16 Republicans and another independent. Two Democrats and 29 Republicans opposed ending the filibuster.
A slip of the tongue by First Lady Michelle Obama in an interview with a Vermont television reporter has gone viral among the gaffe-giddy Washington, D.C., politerati.
In an on-camera discussion at the White House with WCAX-TV's Bridget Barry Caswell, Obama described herself as "a busy, single mother," before quickly correcting herself to note that she's, um, married to this guy who's kind of a big deal.
Caswell was one of several Vermont reporters who traveled to Washington Thursday to cover a delegation of Milton Elementary School students selected to help Obama plant the White House Garden. Caswell scored a sit-down interview with the first lady and quizzed her on her initiatives to encourage healthy eating and exercise.
Obama's verbal stumble came when Caswell asked her how busy families can make the time to adopt healthier eating practices.
"Believe me, as a busy single mother— or, I shouldn't say single," Obama corrected herself. "As a busy mother— sometimes when you've got a husband who's president, it can feel a little single, but he's there."
With the release of two new television ads Wednesday, the conservative super PAC Vermonters First demonstrated that it's in Vermont politics for the long haul.
As the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld first reported this morning, the group today began airing two new, 15-second ads attacking Democrats for proposing $70 million in new taxes.
“An eight-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase?” says a man featured in one ad as he fills up the tank of his pickup truck. “That’ll make it harder to do my job.”
A narrator then intones, “Vermont Democrats are proposing at least $70 million in new taxes on working Vermonters. Call your legislators and say no to these higher taxes.”
The ads are the first public move by Vermonters First since the final two months of the 2012 campaign season, when it spent more than a million dollars without much success. The ads signal that the group, which was almost entirely funded by Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, has designs on influencing not just elections, but legislative deliberations as well.
How much Vermonters First plans to invest in its new media campaign is unclear, though WCAX-TV confirmed that the group has thus far spent $7800 to air the ads 31 times. They began running Wednesday and are slated to air at least through March 1.
The group’s treasurer, consultant and de facto spokesman, Tayt Brooks, declined to comment Wednesday on its plans or strategy.
The group’s critics on the left, however, were quick to pounce.
Fred Armisen has portrayed his share of goofy characters on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and IFC's "Portlandia" — even a few political figures. (El Bloombito, anyone?) But here's a new one that cuts close to home: Armisen portraying Vermont's own Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Armisen donned his finest Bernie hair in a sketch parodying the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings that didn't make it to the airwaves for the February 9 episode of "Saturday Night Live." But NBC posted a "dress rehearsal" clip of the sketch to its website. It's easy to see why it didn't make the final cut — it's one of those one-note "SNL" sketches that goes on about two minutes too long. And it later also raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, who accused NBC of fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
Armisen/Sanders doesn't play a critical role in the sketch, but he pops up for a few seconds at about 3:35 and returns near the end during an extended discussion on donkey fellatio.
If, like me, you snoozed through an hour of overly-caffeinated pledge drive banter this morning, you know that Lindholm promised (threatened?) to summon her inner Carly Rae Jepsen if the station raised $25,000 before 9 a.m. Doing so would earn them another $10,000 in challenge matches from big-money donors.
"It's one of those weird moments when you want the station to get the money, but you don't want to make that embarrassing video," Lindholm says.
Sure enough, a few minutes before 9, VPR reached its one-day goal. So the staff put Tom Ashbrook on mute and spent the rest of the morning dancing around their Colchester studio like Carl Kasell on acid.
Then again, those versions don't feature Friday Night Jazz host Reuben Jackson (1:38) strutting his stuff in the music library or dreamboat reporter Kirk Carapezza (1:10) flashing Lindholm a thumbs-up from his standing desk. And then there's VPR Classical's Walter Parker (2:28) and his sweet 'stache flashing the hotline digits from behind the mic.
Even Wertlieb was able to move beyond his jam band predilections.
"Mitch says he would rather have been able to twirl along to the Grateful Dead," Lindholm says, "But I think you can see from the video he got pretty into it."
Will the video inspire me to call them and donate?
Maybe. So long as they never play that song again when I'm trying to wake up.