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July 25, 2012

Is the Gas Prices Debate About Economics or Politics?

250-skipIn this week's issue of Seven Days I wrote about Skip Vallee, the CEO of RL Vallee Inc. — one of Vermont's largest gas station chains. In the latest twist in the unfolding story about high gas prices in Vermont, Vallee purchased a former filing station in Plainfield, only to put it back on the market with restrictions on the deed that would forbid the property from being used as a gas station, convenience store or grocery store.

Some residents in Plainfield are crying foul, saying Vallee is just squashing potential competition for his other gas station up the road — and making it harder to attract a new owner in the process. Ask Vallee, and he'll tell you it's just business — a creative move to protect his company. 

The back story — to cut to the chase — is that ever since U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took up the drumbeat on higher-than-average gas prices in northwestern Vermont in early July, Vallee and some of his colleagues have faced tough scrutiny for their pricing policies. Sanders says the Burlington area has a "non-competitive market" in which a few companies, RL Vallee included, set the prices. Vallee contends his business is competitive in every market in which it operates. 

In the political undercurrents that pit Sanders against noted GOP player "Gasoline" Vallee, there's been some inevitable sniping back and forth. Sanders' office last week pushed out a press release that included information from superstore Costco saying that its Colchester warehouse, if allowed to build a gas station, would have offered gas at prices 19 cents lower than nearby competitors. (Vallee and another gas station owner are attempting to block the Costco gas station on largely environmental grounds.) From Sanders' press release:

“We applaud your efforts to promote competition in the gasoline business in northern Vermont, which will lead to more rational and competitive pricing for your constituents and our members,” [Costco  Executive Vice President Joe Portera] told Sanders.

Vallee's detractors are quick to point out the irony in the noted Republican's tactics of choice: Not only is he supposedly stifling competition, but he's using environmental regulations to do so.

“What Skip Vallee and his friends are supposed to believe in is the value of competition,” Sanders told me on Monday morning. He said he's not for or against Costco, but also noted that RL Vallee "isn't exactly a mom and pop" operation. 

Vallee can give as good as he gets: “With Costco, I am glad Bernie has finally found a multinational he likes," he quipped in an email to Seven Days.

You can read the whole story (including more details about Vallee's power play in Plainfield) here.

Illustration by Michael Tonn.

July 20, 2012

F-35 Protestors Loudly Confront Democrats' Intervale Fundraising Soiree

Protest 204Burlington's Intervale was the setting Thursday evening for an exceptionally dramatic piece of political theater. Close to 100 protestors denouncing the F-35 stealth fighter jet loudly confronted a smaller set of Democratic Party politicians, staffers and donors who had gathered nearby for an outdoor fundraising soiree.

The fired-up demonstrators had chosen this venue because every member of Vermont's elected Democratic hierarchy supports bringing the supersonic war plane to the Air Guard station at Burlington International Airport. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who consistently votes in concert with Democratic liberals. None of the big-dog backers of the F-35 attended the fundraiser in person, although Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger all dispatched aides to the event, as did Sanders.

At one point, the two groups — one casually dressed and shouting slogans; the other outfitted in summertime finery and nibbling hors d'ouvres — were separated by only about 20 yards in an open field. Chants of "money for jobs and education, not for community decimation!" drowned out the amplified voices of Democratic speakers warning of the horrors to come if Mitt Romney is elected president.

It was an awkward as well as tense juxtaposition.

Continue reading "F-35 Protestors Loudly Confront Democrats' Intervale Fundraising Soiree" »

July 19, 2012

At Burlington City Hall, Dean Re-Endorses Sorrell for Attorney General

Sorrell and DeanIn case you missed it, former governor Howard Dean totes backs Attorney General Bill Sorrell's bid for reelection.

Back in March, Dean told Seven Days' Andy Bromage he's, "all in for Bill."

"I'm going to campaign for him. I'm going to raise money for him," Dean said of his former Secretary of Administration, who he appointed to the AG post in 1997. "I don't see any reason to change horses."

But earlier this month, for a story about former governor Phil Hoff endorsing Sorrell's opponent — Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan — the AG apparently told Burlington Free Press reporter Terri Hallenbeck that Dean hadn't yet endorsed him. Two days later, a postcard featuring Dean endorsing him (see below) landed in mailboxes around the state.

Continue reading "At Burlington City Hall, Dean Re-Endorses Sorrell for Attorney General" »

Holy Slamming-Leahy's-Ties-To-Hollywood-and-Batman, Batman!

Leahy Comic

Updated below with statement from Leahy

Quick, Robin! To the Patmobile!

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's cameo in the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises is shining a bat-signal-sized spotlight on the senator's coziness with Hollywood. Seven Days' Paul Heintz broke down the senator's Tinseltown ties in his Fair Game column two weeks ago.

Now a bunch of jokers from the internet group Demand Progress have launched a website called HolyConflictOfInterest.com devoted to highlighting Leahy's fondness for Hollywood-friendly legislation (and Warner Bros. fondness for casting Leahy in its Batman films), and featuring a Batman-style comic strip mocking Vermont's senior senator.

Continue reading "Holy Slamming-Leahy's-Ties-To-Hollywood-and-Batman, Batman!" »

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."

Continue reading "Burlington City Council Approves Planned Parenthood No-Protest Zone" »

July 16, 2012

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

Brock

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" »

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 13, 2012

Sanders Raises $847,000 in Second Quarter, Dwarfing Republican Opponents

BernieSen. Bernie Sanders raised a whopping $847,260 from 21,144 individual contributions during the past three months in his bid for a second term in the U.S. Senate.

To date, Sanders has brought in a total of $6.1 million during the six-year election cycle from 124,529 contributions, according to a Federal Election Commission filing provided by his campaign. Of the six-year total, according to finance director Ben Eisenberg, only $510,000 has come from Vermonters — in the form of roughly 6400 contributions from the Green Mountain State.

Sanders' campaign has a little more than $4 million in the bank.

John MacGovern, one of two candidates seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Sanders in the November election, said Friday he has yet to file his own second-quarter report, which is due this Sunday. But the Windsor man, who runs the nonprofit Hanover Institute, said he raised in the "ballpark" of $12,000 or $13,000 last quarter.

The other Republican in the race, businessman H. Brooke Paige of Washington, said he's saving his fundraising for after the August primary.

Continue reading "Sanders Raises $847,000 in Second Quarter, Dwarfing Republican Opponents" »

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