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July 2012

July 19, 2012

Liberal Lobbyists Open Super PAC Pandora's Box in Vermont

StannardWhat on earth are Bob Stannard and Todd Bailey up to?

In a letter filed Wednesday with the Vermont Secretary of State's office, the two liberal lobbyists announced their intention to start what they're calling Vermont's first "super PAC." Unlike traditional political action committees and advocacy organizations, the new Priorities PAC intends to "raise individual, corporate and labor funds in unlimited amounts" and engage in direct electioneering efforts in Vermont, according to the filing.

Who's behind this shadowy outfit? A bunch of lefties who earlier this year founded Vermont Priorities, a nonprofit focused on fighting for universal health care, the environment, a progressive tax system and other hippie-dippie causes. Stannard (pictured above at the Statehouse), an anti-nuke lobbyist for the Vermont Citizens Action Network, chairs Vermont Priorities' six-member board. Bailey, a lobbyist for KSE Partners, serves as the group's consultant.

"Why is somebody vehemently opposed to super PACs starting one? Well, that's a good question. I don't like super PACs. I don't like the obscene amount of money that's being dumped into politics around the country," Stannard says. "But I'm simply not going to sit back and watch 40 years of sound legislative practice in Vermont get rolled."

Early press coverage of the group has focused on this ironic, yet seemingly heroic mission: As Stannard puts it, "When you think about it, people who hate super PACs are starting a Super PAC, one of whose main goals is to get rid of super PACS."

But that's not Vermont Priorities' only goal, Stannard says. The group plans to campaign on behalf of Vermont politicians who support a whole host of liberal priorities.

Continue reading "Liberal Lobbyists Open Super PAC Pandora's Box in Vermont" »

July 17, 2012

Burlington City Council Approves Planned Parenthood No-Protest Zone

Anti-abortionThe Burlington City Council overwhelmingly approved an ordinance Monday night that establishes a 35-foot "buffer zone" around health centers. The vote was 13 to 1 in support, with Councilor Paul Decelles (R–Ward 7) casting the lone dissenting vote.

Councilors said the ordinance seeks to balance the First Amendment right of protesters to speak out against abortion with the public safety concerns of patients to access medical care without being subjected to threats, fear or intimidation, 

Although the new ordinance applies to all healthcare facilities in Burlington, its primary aim was the Planned Parenthood clinic on St. Paul Street. Since moving to its downtown location last fall, Planned Parenthood has reported an uptick in anti-abortion activists approaching its patients on the sidewalk, asking why they're visiting the clinic and, in some cases, trying to dissuade them from getting an abortion.

Jill Krowinski, Vermont public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told the council that in the past month alone, 30 patients have reported being "approached, intimidated or harassed" by anti-abortion protesters as they attempted to enter the clinic, creating "a serious public safety issue."

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Alice Eats: Essex Bakery & Café

IMG_440021 Essex Way, Essex, 878-1100

When I moved here from Connecticut in 1998, baked goods from the Essex were a definitive part of my Vermont experience. The chocolate-banana-mousse birthday cakes, the raspberry Charlottes — they were key parts of the taste of my adopted state.

After the resort broke away from the New England Culinary Institute, desserts seemed to flounder. But this spring,  executive chef Arnd Sievers hired pastry chef Perrin Williams and announced that the Essex Resort & Spa would be opening a bakery — the Essex Bakery & Café — in the former Rustico's space in the Essex Shoppes & Cinema. It gave me hope for a brave, new dessert world.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Essex Bakery & Café" »

July 16, 2012

Brock Loans His Campaign $300k, and Other Surprises From Today's Campaign Filings


Updated at 8:45 a.m. with corrected figures for state auditor candidate Vince Illuzzi

There were two big surprises for those waiting at the Vermont Secretary of State's office Monday afternoon for candidates to drop off their first campaign finance reports of the election season.

The first came when Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock's fundraiser, Darcie Johnston, stopped by at 4:30 p.m. to file her boss's report. Brock (pictured) had raised roughly $529,000, she said — an impressive figure for a Vermont Republican challenging a popular incumbent Democrat. In fact, it was more than the $492,132 Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin raised over the past year — and not too far from the gov's total two-year haul of $679,512.

The second surprise came when the assembled reporters got their mitts on Brock's actual filing. Turns out the Franklin County state senator raised just $229,596 from actual donors — and loaned himself a whopping $300,000.

That's gotta be almost enough to pay for Shummy's Titanic-Care plan!

With less than four months until election day, the gov has $602,544 cash-on-hand. So far, he's spent $76,967 on his non-campaign for reelection. Brock, on the other hand, has been spending up a storm: $282,269 on his only-months-old campaign. That's only $53,000 more than he's raised from people whose names are not Randy Brock.

Continue reading "Brock Loans His Campaign $300k, and Other Surprises From Today's Campaign Filings" »

Wind Protest At Lowell Sparks Two Arrests

Dscf3198Ira Powsner spent part of his 26th birthday in the back of a police cruiser today after a protest at the construction site of a 21-turbine wind installation in Lowell sparked an exercise in civil disobedience. 

Powsner, 26, of Ira, Vt., (pictured in red hat) was among dozens of protestors at Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project who stepped onto Route 100 this morning to physically block a tractor trailer carrying a section of a massive wind turbine onto the construction site. The protest held up traffic along the highway for two hours, backing up cars between two and five miles in either direction. Photos from the day's action are up on the Lowell Mountain Talk blog. 

Protestor Steve Wright of Craftsbury Commons says demonstrators had planned a roadside rally — similar to one that took place last October — to draw attention to what Wright calls "the bad energy policy that ends up blowing up Vermont mountains."

By 9 a.m., more than 100 protestors had flocked to the roadside. And when the truck showed up, Powsner says, a murmur went through the crowd. Wright was among the first to step out into the road, carrying a Vermont state flag, and he was quickly followed by Powsner and his younger brother, 21-year-old Jacob Powsner.

"I was feeling frustration and anger, and that I was left with nothing else to do but a symbolic act," Wright says.

Continue reading "Wind Protest At Lowell Sparks Two Arrests" »

Vermont DMV To Use Facial Recognition Software On All New Driver's License Photos and IDs

Operatorg-1The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) confirmed this week that it plans to upgrade its database to enable the use of facial recognition technology on all newly issued driver's licenses and state identification cards. The DMV says the upgrades to its photo-capture workstations are designed to crack down on identity fraud. However, civil libertarians warn that the capture and storage of such biometric data, which are unique to each individual, move Vermont another step closer to a full-time surveillance state.

"Facial recognition software offers the most promise to ensuring that a person is not using another person's information to obtain a license/ID card nor has multiple identities within our database," explains Michael Smith, the DMV's director of operations, in an email query response to Seven Days. "The software focuses on facial features that aren't easy to alter. Using sophisticated mathematics, it measures characteristics such as the distance between pupils, mouth size and shape of facial features."

The new technology, which is tentatively scheduled for implementation by late fall, costs $900,000 and is being paid for entirely by federal funds. Once implemented, Smith says, the system will compare each driver's license or ID card photo issued that day with photos already in the DMV's database. If potential matches are detected, the system will flag them for human review by the department's Criminal Investigators Unit.

Continue reading "Vermont DMV To Use Facial Recognition Software On All New Driver's License Photos and IDs" »

Welch Raises $134k in Second Quarter — 59 Percent of it From PACs

Local-welchCongressman Peter Welch ramped up his fundraising last quarter, bringing in $133,827 as he seeks a fourth term in the U.S. House.

To date, Vermont's lone House member has raised $679,165 during the two-year election cycle, according to a campaign finance report filed Sunday with the Federal Election Commission. In that time, he has spent $279,147 on campaign and fundraising expenses, while giving $123,350 to other candidates and political committees. Welch has $1.25 million in the bank for his campaign against little-known Hartford police officer Mark Donka.

"The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United has had a dramatic impact on campaign spending," says Welch spokesman Scott Coriell. "Congressman Welch has sponsored constitutional amendments to overturn the decision as well as legislation to overhaul the broken campaign finance system. Until those reforms take effect, he will continue to raise the resources necessary to wage a competitive campaign."

Donka did not return calls for comment, but campaign manager Keith Stern, who ran for the seat himself in 2010, says Donka has raised "just under $5,000" — the threshold for filing with the FEC. Stern says Donka plans to begin seriously raising money in the third quarter and expects to raise $100,000 by the November election. In the meantime, Stern says, Donka is focused more on the issue of reducing government debt than on the political horse race.

"The news media doesn't help, because they're more focused on how much money a candidate has than the issues," Stern says. "Unfortunately, people don't pay attention to what candidates have to offer before the election. They are focused on what the commercials tell them. If people actually paid attention to what the candidates have to offer, then Mark would win easily."

Continue reading "Welch Raises $134k in Second Quarter — 59 Percent of it From PACs" »

Non-Campaigning Shumlin Finds Time for Politics in Virginia

DSC03826As recently as last Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin was assuring Vermont reporters at his weekly press conference that he was just too busy "creating jobs and doing the job [he] was hired to do" to wade into election year politics.

"I think we'll have plenty of time for silly season after Labor Day," he said.

But the Green Mountain gov managed to carve out some time over the weekend for a little partisan politicking at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in Williamsburg, Va., where he continued auditioning for the role of Democratic Party message maestro. Though just a year and a half into his first term, Shumlin appears to be chairman-in-waiting of the Democratic Governors Association, a position whose principal responsibilities include bringing in the bucks and talking smack about the GOP.

So how'd Shumlin do in Virginia? We'd provide you with some firsthand reporting, but, alas, we couldn't find a way to expense a quick trip to colonial Williamsburg. So a quick Google News roundup will have to do:

Continue reading "Non-Campaigning Shumlin Finds Time for Politics in Virginia" »

July 14, 2012

Weinberger Appoints New Interim Airport Chief, Seeks Change in Governance

DSC03839Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger on Friday tapped real estate developer and airport commission chairman Gene Richards to serve as the city's new interim aviation director.

If approved by the council, Richards would replace Bob McKewing, who has served in the role on an interim basis for the past year and a half. Weinberger said that, pending confirmation by the city council, Richards would serve for six to nine months before a permanent director is named.

As chairman of the five-member airport commission, Richards "played a leadership role in helping to turn around the airport in terms of constraining costs, in terms of putting procedures in place that ensure the financial strength of the airport," Weinberger said at a press conference held at the airport.

The mayor also called for the creation of a "strategic planning committee" charged with formulating a new financial plan for the airport and proposing changes to its governance. Weinberger made the announcement alongside city councilors Karen Paul and Paul Decelles Vince Dober, who he said he would appoint to the committee, which he said would create "a road map for success in the years ahead."

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July 13, 2012

Grazing: Cooling Ceviche at El Cortijo

CevicheIt's hot. Way too hot to use a stove, and maybe even a grill. So what's for dinner, besides another salad? Ceviche! Even though I just had it for lunch yesterday and will probably have it again tomorrow, and next week.

Think of it as Mexican chirashi. This colorful tangle of fresh fish, citrus juice, peppers and cilantro is a culinary miracle in that it usually requires no heat: By marinating the fish in lemon or lime juice for a few hours, you let the acids firm up and "cook" the fish. The end product is silky, cooling and spiked with the right kind of heat (peppers).

I first had ceviche when I was 14, when an uncle whipped it together with some abalone he had caught that day off the coast of southern California. It was such an unfamiliar jumble of flavors and textures that it took me a while to warm to it. But all grown up, I'm frustrated there isn't more of it here.

Continue reading "Grazing: Cooling Ceviche at El Cortijo" »

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