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January 16, 2014

A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate

At least five Democrats are campaigning to fill a Chittenden County Senate seat opened up last week by the death of Sen. Sally Fox. 

The candidates include two incumbent House members, a former state party chairman, a major philanthropist and the runner-up in the 2012 race to represent Vermont's most populous county. More contenders could yet emerge.

While the decision ultimately rests with Gov. Peter Shumlin, he is likely to choose from a list of candidates — typically three — sent to him by the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. That group plans to meet next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Fletcher Free Library to make its selection.

All five declared candidates have been calling and emailing the 80 county committee members eligible to vote. Only members who live within the district — which includes most of the county, but excludes Colchester, Huntington and Buel's Gore — can cast a ballot.

So who's running? Here's the list, thus far, in alphabetical order: 

Continue reading "A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate" »

Campaign Finance Bill Passes Senate; Shumlin Expected to Sign It

Galbraith.1.16.14Nearly eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Vermont's campaign fundraising and spending limits, the state is poised to adopt a new set of rules.

By a vote of 20-8, the Vermont Senate on Thursday passed compromise campaign finance legislation approved last week by the House. It now heads to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who "will want to review the language but expects to sign the bill," according to spokeswoman Sue Allen.

The legislation would double to $4,000 the amount individuals and corporations can donate to statewide candidates in a two-year election cycle and would quintuple to $10,000 the amount they can donate to political parties. 

At the same time, it decreases to $1,500 the amount those entities can contribute to Senate candidates;  to $1,000 for House candidates. Those limits currently stand at $2,000.

Continue reading "Campaign Finance Bill Passes Senate; Shumlin Expected to Sign It" »

January 15, 2014

In Budget Address, Shumlin Seeks to Avoid Offense

Shumlin budget addressWhat a difference a year makes.

When liberal lawmakers and low-income advocates exited the House chamber last January after Gov. Peter Shumlin's 2013 budget address, they were downright apoplectic.

Summoning the spirit — or at least the rhetoric — of Ronald Reagan, Shumlin vowed to take on the so-called welfare state. He proposed capping Reach Up benefits for needy families and diverting a portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to fund other priorities. The Democrat-dominated legislature quickly rebelled, and many of Shumlin's proposals died a slow death.

This year, Shumlin sang a different tune. 

Not far into the governor's 2014 budget address, which he delivered Wednesday afternoon to the Vermont House and Senate, Shumlin called on legislators to spend $4.3 million more next year to "move Vermonters out of poverty."

"In these challenging times, as the federal government continues to make shortsighted cuts that hurt our most vulnerable, our state must do what we can to blunt the damage by allocating our limited resources wisely," he said.

To that end, Shumlin proposed doubling the state's investment in rental subsidies and increasing funding for homeless shelters and child-care centers. Notably, he pitched spending $650,000 more on substance abuse and mental health treatment for Reach Up recipients. 

It was as if he was pushing the reset button.

Continue reading "In Budget Address, Shumlin Seeks to Avoid Offense" »

January 10, 2014

Sally Fox, Chittenden County State Senator, Dies at 62

SallyFoxSen. Sally Fox died early Friday morning after a two-year battle with lung cancer. She was 62.

An attorney, advocate and veteran legislator, Fox earned a reputation as a tenacious advocate for children, the disabled and low-income Vermonters.

"Her heart was as big as the state," said Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. 

Since she was diagnosed with sarcoma during the 2012 legislative session, Fox fought to continue serving her Chittenden County constituents in the Senate. According to Campbell, he offered several times to move her off the time-intensive Senate Appropriations and Senate Health and Welfare committees, but she declined.

"She said, 'No, I have work to do and I will do it until I can't,'" Campbell recalled.

Continue reading "Sally Fox, Chittenden County State Senator, Dies at 62" »

January 09, 2014

House Overwhelmingly Approves Campaign Finance Compromise

House floor 1.9.14In the seven and a half years since the United States Supreme Court struck down Vermont's restrictive political fundraising rules, lawmakers have struggled in vain to replace them. 

But on Thursday afternoon, after just 25 minutes of debate, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a campaign finance compromise hammered out over the legislative off-season by House and Senate negotiators.

The vote was 124-15.

If passed by the Senate next week and signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, the legislation would double to $4,000 the amount statewide candidates could raise from a single person or corporation. And it would quintuple to $10,000 the amount political parties could raise from the same sources.

Candidates for the House and Senate, both of whom can currently raise $2,000 from such entities, would be restricted to donations of $1,000 and $1,500 respectively. (See this week's Fair Game for more on the bill.)

Continue reading "House Overwhelmingly Approves Campaign Finance Compromise" »

Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime

Immediate reaction to Gov. Peter Shumlin's state of the state address yesterday focused on his declaration that drug addiction is a public health crisis that should be tackled with prevention and treatment rather than "simply doling out punishment."

Advocates for criminal justice reform were overjoyed that the governor used his bully pulpit to declare that drug crime is primarily a "health crisis," not simply a law enforcement problem.

"I think this is profound,' said State Rep. Bill Lippert, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in an interview. "This is a really big deal. There is a fundamental shift that's been articulated."

But Shumlin's speech also included little-noticed proposals that came from the more traditional tough-on-crime playbook.

Continue reading "Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime" »

January 08, 2014

Shumlin Launches Campaign Against "Opiate Crisis"

State of state 1Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State address Wednesday to highlighting what he called a "rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime" that he said threatens the quality of life in Vermont.

During a 34-minute speech, Shumlin said Vermont is imperiled by opiate addicts who cannot access  treatment and commit crimes to raise money for drugs. The governor proposed steps to bolster treatment for addicts, shift the focus of the court system from punishment to a treatment and slap tougher sentences on out-of-state dealers who bring drugs to Vermont.

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state," Shumlin said. "It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised."

Continue reading "Shumlin Launches Campaign Against "Opiate Crisis" " »

January 07, 2014

Shumlin Doubles Down on Exchange, and Shifts Focus to Single-Payer Health Care

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Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling in reinforcements on Vermont Health Connect, the troubled website that has been the crucible of his most recent months in office.  

That was the news out of the Statehouse Tuesday morning, where Shumlin made the unusual move of testifying before a joint meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare and House Health Care committees.

He pledged more hands on deck for the day-to-day management of the troubled health care exchange, in response to a request from Commissioner Mark Larson. The governor announced that Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller — who Shumlin singled out for his private-sector business savvy — will assist with improvements to the exchange over the next three months.  

Continue reading "Shumlin Doubles Down on Exchange, and Shifts Focus to Single-Payer Health Care" »

January 06, 2014

Legislature Poised to Raise Campaign Contribution Limits for Candidates, Parties and PACs

One of the Vermont legislature's first acts upon reconvening this week may be to vastly increase the amount of money in state politics. 

After failing to reach compromise last spring over competing campaign finance bills, House and Senate negotiators narrowed their differences during the legislative off-season and are scheduled to sign off on a final bill Tuesday morning. Both houses could pass the new version by the end of the week and send it to Gov. Peter Shumlin.

But despite being referred to as "campaign finance reform," the working compromise would actually increase the amount of money that statewide candidates, political parties and political action committees could raise from individuals and corporations. That has Vermont Public Interest Research Group executive director Paul Burns questioning whether the bill is any better than current law.

"It's a hard case to make to say this is going to offer any significant improvements in the area of money and politics in Vermont," he says. "And coming up on the anniversary of Citizens United, it's certainly a big disappointment to see a state like Vermont not taking more aggressive action in this area."

Continue reading "Legislature Poised to Raise Campaign Contribution Limits for Candidates, Parties and PACs" »

December 11, 2013

This Week's Issue: F-35 Aftermath, Myers-Briggs for Farmers and Marijuana Testing

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We're in the home stretch of 2013, people. As we at Seven Days plot our year-end coverage, enjoy this week's news and politics stories:

Pick this week's Seven Days up in print, online or on the iOS app.

Cover photo by Sarah Priestap

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