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December 2012

December 17, 2012

After Inouye's Death, Leahy Named Senate President Pro Tem, In Line to Chair Appropriations

Leahy.Aug1By voice vote Monday night, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was elected President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, becoming third-in-line for the nation's presidency.

The solemn occasion followed the death of 88-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), whose 49 years in the Senate made him its second-longest-serving member in history. The Pro Tem's mostly ceremonial baton is now passed to Leahy, who's served a mere 37 years in office.

As one anonymous Twitter user with the handle "@SrWHOfficial" tweeted shortly after Inouye's death, "A Grateful Dead fan will become President Pro Tempore."

So long as President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner stay out of trouble, the real import of Inouye's passing — at least for Vermont — is this: Leahy now becomes the most senior member of the all-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and, quite likely, its next chairman.

Leahy served for eight years as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Since 2001, he's served as either chairman or ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — depending on the party in power. But the real golden ring for Leahy has always been the chairmanship of Appropriations, which has tremendous influence over the nation's spending priorities.

For the Green Mountain State, that means even more pork from St. Patrick.

Leahy's spokesman declined to comment Monday night on whether he'd trade Judiciary for Appropriations (senators can chair just one full committee), but Politico reported that Vermont's senior senator "is widely expected" to make the switch. The Wall Street Journal was a little more cautious, noting that Leahy "thoroughly enjoy[s]" heading Judiciary and could decline the promotion.

As we noted last week, the other two members of Vermont's congressional delegation recently got their own promotions.

File photo of Leahy by Andy Bromage.

The Week Ahead: December 17 - 23, 2012

The Week AheadHere's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Note: The Week Ahead will be on hiatus next week and will return in the new year — if the world doesn't end.

Monday, December 17

  • Today's the day when Vermont's three electors convene and formally cast the state's votes for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Electoral College. The group — Kevin B. Christie of Hartford, Sherry Merrick of Post Mills and William Sander of Jeffersonville — were set to convene at the Statehouse at 10 a.m. Christie will appear on today's "Vermont Edition" on Vermont Public Radio.
  • At 2 p.m., Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger presides over a naturalization ceremony for new citizens — in federal bankruptcy court, of all places. Welcome to America!
  • At 6 p.m., the Winooski City Council will hear a debriefing from Mayor Michael O'Brien about his recent trip to Florida's Eglin Air Force Base to hear the F-35 fighter jets in person.
  • At 7 p.m., the Burlington City Council will take up the citywide ward redistricting plan passed in committee last week that would reduce the number of wards from seven to four, and reduce the number of councilors from 14 to 12. The council also takes up a tar sands resolution sponsored by three Democrats and two Progressives to, among other things, investigate divesting city pension funds from fossil fuel companies that utilize oil extracted from tar sands.

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: December 17 - 23, 2012" »

December 14, 2012

R.I.P. Thomas Naylor, Founder of Vermont Secessionist Group, 1936-2012

Tom NaylorThomas Naylor, founder of the secessionist Second Vermont Republic, died this week after suffering a stroke on Sunday. He was 76. Naylor's friend and ally Rob Williams delivered the news via email on Friday afternoon.

Naylor, a Charlotte resident, founded SVR in 2003. In his Vermont Manifesto, which he self-published the same year, he declared that, "Our nation has truly lost its way. America is no longer a sustainable nation-state economically, politically, socially, militarily or environmentally."

His solution? Secede from the union and create a second Vermont Republic; the first existed from 1777-1791, before Vermont joined the Union.

Secession sounded nuts — until George W. Bush won a second term in 2004. Suddenly, Naylor's quixotic quest began making headlines, and disgruntled liberals started slapping SVR bumper stickers on their cars.

Some of those supporters abandoned the group, however, after an anonymous blogger raised questions about SVR's ties to secessionist groups such as the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a racist hate group. Williams, who founded Vermont Commons, a journal devoted to Vermont independence, was one of them. For his part, Naylor disputed the suggestion that SVR was in any way racist.

Continue reading "R.I.P. Thomas Naylor, Founder of Vermont Secessionist Group, 1936-2012" »

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newWhat do Justin Bieber and Gasoline Vallee have in common? Not much. Except making it on this week's Scoreboard.

Here are the winners and losers in Vermont news and politics for the week of Friday, December 14:


Sen. Bernie Sanders — It was a big week for Ol' Bernardo. He nabbed a Senate committee chairmanship, a fawning New York Times profile and a fight over gas prices with best frenemy Skip Vallee. Runner-up Winner: Congressman Peter Welch, who clawed his way back onto the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Whooping cough — Health Commissioner Harry Chen told reporters Thursday that Vermont has seen 10 times as many cases of pertussis this year than last, prompting the Health Department to offer vaccine shots at clinics throughout the state next week.

Reps. Willem Jewett and Tess Taylor — At last weekend's meeting of the House Democratic caucus, Jewett (D-Ripton) won without opposition the majority leader post being vacated by outgoing Rep. Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick. In a contested race for House Dems' number three spot, Taylor (D-Barre) beat Rep. Rebecca Ellis (D-Waterbury) 49 to 37.

Justin Bieber — "J.B." or "victim number three" managed to hold on to his life — and his balls — after an incarcerated Vermonter hired two New Mexican men to kill and castrate the Biebs and his bodyguard, along with two Vermonters. The guy behind the plot apparently had a tattoo of the pop star on his leg, but he sure don't sound like a Belieber to us! Runner-up Winner: The St. Albans Messenger's Jessie Forand, who, it looks like, broke the story of the Bieber connection.

Losers and tie scores after the break...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

December 13, 2012

Vallee Airs Anti-Sanders Ad on WCAX

BernieMaplefields1Updated with further comment from Sanders' spokesman

Mobil mogul Skip Vallee is putting his money where his mouth is.

Two days after releasing an online ad attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders' environmental record, the gasoline distributor and retailer has ponied up roughly $1500 to air the ad three times tonight on WCAX-TV.

Vallee says he's spending his own money on the ad in order to "highlight counter-arguments to Bernie's unilateral support for Costco."

Sanders has been hammering Vallee and fellow gasoline distributors for months, alleging they're gouging customers in northwestern Vermont. The senator has also urged environmental regulators to expedite their review of a proposed Costco gas station in Colchester, arguing that increased competition will help drive down prices.

BernieMaplefields2Vallee, on the other hand, has sought to slow down the Costco review, citing environmental concerns. He happens to own a gas station right down the road from the proposed new pumps.

Vallee, who owns nearly 40 Mobil stations in Vermont — many of them under the Maplefields brand — declined a request for a phone interview Thursday. Reached by email, he wrote, "I challenge Bernie to a VPR debate on the Keystone Pipeline and Lake Champlain cleanup."

Sanders did not respond to that challenge Thursday, but he did push back on Vallee's ad in a written statement:

Continue reading "Vallee Airs Anti-Sanders Ad on WCAX" »

With New Committee Assignments, Vermont's Congressional Delegates Gain Stature

WelchVermont's congressional delegation will have new clout on Capitol Hill next term thanks to a couple of promotions bestowed upon the three-member team.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) office on Wednesday confirmed earlier reports that he's been named chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. That's the first chairmanship Sanders has earned during his more than two decades in Washington.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appointed Sanders to the post after promoting its current chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), to head the Senate Budget Committee. Sanders was the next-highest-ranking Democrat-aligned member of the panel not already chairing another committee.

"It is a great honor to be named chairman of the committee, but it is an even greater responsibility," Sanders said in a written statement. "We owe it to the over 22 million brave veterans living in the United States to provide the benefits that they have earned and deserve."

On Thursday, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced that he's reclaimed his old seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Welch was first tapped for the committee in 2009, but was bumped after the 2010 election, when Republicans took over the House and claimed a majority of seats on each panel.

The committee's portfolio is unusually broad: it handles policy relating to health care, energy, the environment, telecommunications, public health and trade. Spokesman Scott Coriell says Welch will particularly focus on making health care more affordable, increasing energy efficiency and curbing climate change.

Continue reading "With New Committee Assignments, Vermont's Congressional Delegates Gain Stature" »

Leahy Calls for Senate Hearing on Pot Policy

PotplantNow that Colorado and Washington have legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to know how the Obama administration will enforce federal laws prohibiting pot.

On Thursday, Leahy called for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, to discuss the discrepancy.

"Federal policy and now state policies are in conflict and so that raises the question of how that conflict will be resolved," says spokesman David Carle.

Leahy's office also released a letter the senator sent last week to Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gill Kerlikowske seeking clarity on the White House's position.

"What assurances can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?" Leahy asks Kerlikowske in the letter.

Leahy's letter hints that the senator could be open to changing federal law to legalize small amounts of marijuana — at least in Colorado and Washington.

"Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face," he writes. "One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law."

But asked Thursday whether Leahy would support such an amendment, Carle demurred.

"He has not taken a view on decriminalization and does not weigh in on state matters," Carle said.

December 12, 2012

F-35 Foes Can't Get Hearing from Leahy

DSC07972 (1)Vermonters opposed to basing the F-35 stealth fighter at the Burlington airport rallied outside and inside Senator Patrick Leahy's downtown office on Wednesday afternoon.

The 100-plus demonstrators who assembled near the Democracy sculpture on Main Street were asking to talk with the senator about his support for stationing up to 24 of the planes in Vermont. Opponents were also urging Leahy to convene a public hearing on the F-35's environmental impact, especially the effect of its engine noise on thousands of residents within earshot of the airport.

"No" and "no" was the response of John Tracy, Leahy's chief of staff (pictured below, after the jump). "He's in Washington and won't be speaking with you," Tracy told a a delegation of about a dozen F-35 opponents who crowded into a waiting area in the senator's fourth floor suite of offices at 199 Main Street. "We're not making a commitment to a public hearing at this time."

A few of the protestors peppered Tracy with questions and criticisms in an exchange that lasted about 20 minutes.

Continue reading "F-35 Foes Can't Get Hearing from Leahy" »

This Week's Paper: Burlington's Library Becomes a Haven for the Homeless; Use Your Smartphone to Fight Illegal Dumping

LM-FletcherFree-1Here's the newsy stuff in this week's commemorative 12/12/12 edition of Seven Days...

Library photo by Matthew Thorsen

Onion City Represent! A2VT's new video for "Winooski, My Town"

One of the more interesting and unusual stories to emerge from the Vermont music community this year was the arrival of local hip-hop trio, A2VT. The group, which was the subject of a Seven Days cover story in July, is composed of three young refugees from Africa: Said Bulle (Somalia and Kenya), Cadoux Fancy (Republic of the Congo) and Geworge Mnyonge (Tanzania), who all currently live in Winooski.

Earlier this week, the trio released a video for their song "Winooski, My Town," from their self-titled debut album. It's a catchy little tune that fuses elements of American hip-hop with the more melodic, pop-centric hip-hop coming out of eastern Africa. The video finds A2VT preaching some seriously sunny civic pride, rapping, singing — and dancing! — in various notable locations around their adopted Onion City home. It's a fine, funky tribute to a town that usually doesn't get a lot of love.  


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