S.30 – an act relating to siting of electric generation plants

This wording is as of 2-28-2013.

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NOTICE CALENDAR
Second Reading
Favorable with Recommendation of Amendment
S. 30.
An act relating to siting of electric generation plants.
Reported favorably with recommendation of amendment by Senator
Snelling for the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.
The Committee recommends that the bill be amended by striking out all
after the enacting clause and inserting in lieu thereof the following:
* * * Findings * * *
Sec. 1. FINDINGS
The General Assembly finds that:
(1) Climate change from the emission of greenhouse gases such as
carbon dioxide (CO
2
) is one of the most serious issues facing Vermont today.
In this State, the change in climate already has resulted in significant damage
from increased heavy rain events and flooding and in fundamental alterations
to average annual temperatures and the length and characteristics of the
seasons. As climate change accelerates, the hazards to human health and
safety and the environment in Vermont will rise, including an increased
frequency of violent storm events, heat waves, and one- to two-month
droughts; threats to the productivity of cold-weather crops and dairy cows and
to cold-water fish and wildlife species; reduced seasons for skiing,
snowmobiling, and sugaring; and increasing risks to infrastructure such as
roads and bridges near streams and rivers.
(2) Vermont currently encourages the in-state siting of renewable
electric generation projects in order to contribute to reductions in global
climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Yet significant
controversy exists over whether in-state development of renewable energy
actually reduces Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, since these projects
typically sell renewable energy credits to utilities in other states, and those
credits are netted against the greenhouse gas emissions of those states.
(3) Vermont’s electric energy consumption does not contribute
significantly to the State’s carbon footprint. In 2010, CO
2
and equivalent
emissions from Vermont energy consumption totaled approximately eight
million metric tons (MMTCO
2
). Of this total, transportation fuel use
accounted for approximately 3.5, nonelectric fuel use by homes and businesses
for approximately 2.5 and, in contrast, electric energy use for approximately
0.04 MMTCO
2
.
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(4) The in-state siting of renewable electric generation projects carries
the potential for significant adverse impacts. For example, in Vermont,
developers site industrial wind generation projects and wind meteorological
stations on ridgelines, which often contain sensitive habitat and important
natural areas. Vermont’s ridgelines also define and enhance the State’s natural
and scenic beauty. Vermont has invested substantial time and effort to develop
regulatory policy and programs to protect its ridgelines.
(5) Ridgeline wind generation plants have potential impacts on natural
resources, scenic beauty, and quality of life, including effects on endangered
and threatened species, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics and impacts from
blasting and turbine noise. Residents near installed wind generation plants
have raised concerns about health impacts, including sleep loss. Significant
controversy has arisen over whether the Public Service Board review process
adequately protects the public and the environment from the negative impacts
caused by these and other electric generation projects.
(6) Vermont has a long history of supporting community-based land use
planning. Under 24 V.S.A. chapter 117, Vermont’s 11 regional planning
commissions and its municipal planning commissions are enabled and
encouraged to adopt plans to guide development, including energy and utility
facilities. These plans are adopted through a public hearing and comment
process after substantial effort by the regions and the municipalities, often with
extensive involvement of citizens in the affected communities. Yet under
current law, the Public Service Board when reviewing an electric generation
project may set aside the results of this planning process for any reason the
Board considers to affect the general good of the State, even if the project is
not needed for reliability of the electric system.
(7) No statewide analysis and planning is performed to address the
environmental, land use, and health impacts of siting wind generation projects
in Vermont. Instead, the Public Service Board examines the impacts on a
case-by-case basis only.
(8) The current case-by-case system of regulating electric generation
projects must be revised to ensure the best possible siting of these projects. To
achieve this goal, the siting of electric generation projects must be directed by
community-based land use planning. Each electric generation project must
comply with the same environmental and land use criteria as other
development projects unless the generation project is for the purpose of system
reliability. A statewide assessment must be made and a process must be
developed that integrates and strengthens the role of community-based land
use planning and supports effective review and optimal siting of all electric
generation projects. This assessment also must evaluate whether encouraging
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in-state siting of renewable electric generation is the most appropriate means at
Vermont’s disposal to reduce its carbon footprint.
* * * Assessment; Report * * *
Sec. 2. ELECTRIC GENERATION SITING; ASSESSMENT; REPORT
(a) Charge. On or before November 15, 2013, the Department of Public
Service, in consultation with and assisted by the Agencies of Commerce and
Community Development and of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources
Board, and the state’s regional planning commissions, shall conduct and
complete the assessment and submit the report to the General Assembly
required by this section.
(b) Definitions. In this section:
(1) “ACCD” means the Agency of Commerce and Community
Development.
(2) “ANR” means the Agency of Natural Resources.
(3) “Board” means the Natural Resources Board.
(4) “Department” means the Department of Public Service.
(5) “Electric generation plant” means a plant that produces electricity
and has a plant capacity that exceeds 500 kilowatts.
(6) “Plant” and “plant capacity” shall have the same meaning as in
30 V.S.A. § 8002, except that they shall not be limited to renewable energy.
(7) “Regional planning commission” shall have the meaning as in
24 V.S.A. § 4303.
(8) “Wind generation plant” means an electric generation plant that
captures the energy of the wind and converts it into electricity. The term
includes all associated facilities and infrastructure such as wind turbines,
towers, guy wires, power lines, roads, and substations.
(9) “Wind meteorological station” means any tower, and associated guy
wires and attached instrumentation, constructed to collect and record wind
speed, wind direction, and atmospheric conditions.
(c) Governor’s Siting Policy Commission. In performing its tasks under
this section, the Department shall use the information and data collected by the
Governor’s Energy Siting Policy Commission (the Siting Policy Commission)
created by Executive Order No. 10-12 dated October 2, 2012 (the Executive
Order) and shall consider the recommendations of that Commission.
(d) Assessment. The Department, assisted by ACCD, ANR, the Board, and
the regional planning commissions, shall assess each of the following:
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(1) the appropriateness and economic efficiency of investing or
encouraging investment in renewable electric generation plants to reduce
Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to other measures to
reduce those emissions such as transportation fuel efficiency and thermal
energy efficiency;
(2) the current policy and practice of selling renewable energy credits
from renewable electric generation plants in Vermont to utilities in other
jurisdictions and the effect of this policy and practice on reducing Vermont’s
greenhouse gas emissions;
(3) methods to integrate state energy planning and local and regional
land use planning as they apply to electric generation plants;
(4) methods to strengthen the role of local and regional plans in the
siting review process for electric generation plants and to assure that the siting
review process reflects the outcome of the local and regional planning
processes;
(5) methods to fund intervenors in the siting review process for electric
generation projects; and
(6) with respect to wind generation plants and wind meteorological
stations:
(A) health impacts of plants and stations located in and outside
Vermont;
(B) sound and infrasound emitted from plants and stations located in
and outside Vermont as they affect public health and quality of life;
(C) setback requirements on such plants and stations adopted by
other jurisdictions in and outside the United States;
(D) the impacts on the environment, natural resources, and quality of
life of the plants and stations in Vermont in existence or under construction as
of the effective date of this section; and
(E) the economic and environmental costs and benefits of such plants
and stations, including the value of any ecosystem services affected by them.
(e) Report; proposed legislation. On or before November 15, 2013, the
Department, assisted by ACCD, ANR, the Board, and the regional planning
commissions, shall submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on
Natural Resources and Energy and the Electric Generation Oversight
Committee created under subsection (g) of this section that contains each of
the following:
(1) The results of each assessment to be conducted under subsection (d)
of this section.
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(2) Recommendations and proposed legislation to:
(A) establish a comprehensive planning process for the siting of
electric generation plants that integrates state energy and local and regional
land use planning;
(B) ensure that the outcome of this integrated planning process
directs the siting review process for electric generation plants and that local
and regional land use plans have a determinative role in this siting review
process;
(C) establish a method to fund intervenors participating in the siting
review process for electric generation plants;
(D) maximize the reductions in Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions
supported by revenues raised from Vermont taxpayers and ratepayers;
(E) establish standards applicable to all wind generation plants and
wind meteorological stations to address their impacts on the public health,
environment, land use, and quality of life, including standards to protect
natural areas and wildlife habitat and to establish noise limits and setback
requirements applicable to such plants and stations; and
(F) establish a procedure to measure a property owner’s loss of value,
if any, due to proximity to a wind generation plant and to propose a method to
compensate the property owner for the loss in value, including a determination
of who shall pay for such loss.
(f) Public notice and participation.
(1) The Department shall give widespread public notice of the
assessment and report required by this section and shall maintain on its website
a prominent page concerning this process that provides notice of all public
meetings held and posts relevant information and documents.
(2) In performing the assessment and developing the report required by
this section, the Department shall provide an opportunity for local legislative
bodies, local planning commissions, affected businesses and organizations, and
members of the public to submit relevant factual information, analysis, and
comment. This opportunity shall include meetings conducted by the DPS at
locations that are geographically distributed around the State to receive such
information, analysis, and comment.
(g) Oversight committee. There is created the Electric Generation
Oversight Committee (the Committee). The purpose of the Committee shall be
to perform legislative oversight of the conduct of the assessment and report
required by this section and to discuss potential legislation on planning for and
siting of electric generation plants.
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(1) Membership. The Committee shall be composed of six members
who shall be appointed within 30 days of this section’s effective date. Three of
the members shall be members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources
and Energy appointed by the Committee on Committees of the Senate. Three
of the members shall be members of the House Committee on Natural
Resources and Energy appointed by the Speaker of the House.
(2) Meetings. During adjournment of the General Assembly, the
Committee shall be authorized to conduct up to three meetings. at which
meetings the Committee may:
(A) direct the Department, ACCD, ANR, the Board, and one or more
regional planning commissions to appear and provide progress reports on the
assessment and report required by this section and discuss proposals of draft
legislation on planning for and siting of electric generation plants; and
(B) direct members of the Siting Policy Commission to appear and
provide information and testimony related to the Commission’s report and
recommendations issued pursuant to the Executive Order and to the siting of
electric generation plants in Vermont. This authority shall continue for the
duration of the Committee’s term whether or not the Siting Policy Commission
ceases to exist prior to the end of the Committee’s term.
(3) Reimbursement. For attendance at authorized meetings during
adjournment of the General Assembly, members of the Committee shall be
entitled to compensation and reimbursement for expenses as provided in 2
V.S.A. § 406.
(4) For the purpose of its tasks under this subsection, the Committee
shall have the administrative and legal assistance of the Office of Legislative
Council.
(5) Term of committee. The Committee shall cease to exist on February
1, 2014.
Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION
For fiscal year 2014, the sum of $75,000.00 is appropriated to the
Department of Public Service from the General Fund for the purpose of Sec. 2
of this act (electric generation siting; assessment; report).
* * * Regional Planning for Electric Generation Plants * * *
Sec. 4. 24 V.S.A. § 4348a is amended to read:
§ 4348a. ELEMENTS OF A REGIONAL PLAN
(a) A regional plan shall be consistent with the goals established in section
4302 of this title and shall include but need not be limited to the following:
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* * *
(3) An energy element, which:
(A) may include an analysis of energy resources, needs, scarcities,
costs, and problems within the region, a statement of policy on the
conservation of energy and the development of renewable energy resources,
and a statement of policy on patterns and densities of land use and control
devices likely to result in conservation of energy; and
(B) shall include the electric energy siting plan under section 4348c
of this title;
* * *
Sec. 5. 24 V.S.A. § 4348c is added to read:
§ 4348c. ELECTRIC ENERGY SITING PLAN
(a) In this section:
(1) “Electric generation plant” means a plant that produces electricity
and has a plant capacity that exceeds 500 kilowatts.
(2) “Plant” and “plant capacity” shall have the same meaning as in
30 V.S.A. § 8002, except that they shall not be limited to renewable energy.
(b) Each regional planning commission shall adopt a plan concerning the
siting of electric generation plants within the region. This plan shall be
adopted as part of or an amendment to the regional plan.
(c) The plan shall state the region’s specific policies on the siting of electric
generation plants and identify the appropriate locations within the region, if
any, for the siting of electric generation plants.
(d) In developing the siting plan, the regional planning commission shall
apply the resource maps developed by the Secretary of Natural Resources
under 10 V.S.A. § 127, protect the resources under 10 V.S.A. § 6086(a), and
consider the energy policy set forth in 30 V.S.A. §§ 202a and 8001 and the
state energy plans adopted under 30 V.S.A. §§ 202 and 202b.
(e) Notwithstanding section 4350 of this title, the plan for a municipality
shall not be considered incompatible with the regional plan for the reason that
the municipal plan prohibits the siting of an electric generation plant that the
regional plan would allow within the municipality.
Sec. 6. IMPLEMENTATION
On or before December 15, 2014, each regional planning commission shall
adopt a renewable electric energy siting plan under Sec. 5 of this act, 24 V.S.A.
§ 4348c.
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* * * Municipal Officers; Ethics Disclosure * * *
Sec. 7. 24 V.S.A. § 873 is added to read:
§ 873. DISCLOSURE; FINANCIAL INTEREST; WIND GENERATION
PLANTS
A member of a municipality’s legislative body or other municipal officer
shall not participate in any meeting or proceeding or take any official action
concerning a wind generation plant proposed to be located within the
municipality the member or officer may have in the construction or operation
of the plant, including the retention of the member or officer by the plant
developer an agreement under which the plant developer will compensate the
member or officer for potential impacts to land of the member or officer.
(1) In this section, a financial interest of a member or officer shall
include a financial interest in the construction or operation of the plant of any
natural person to which the member or officer is related within the fourth
degree of consanguinity or affinity or of any corporation of which an officer,
director, trustee, or agent is related to the member or officer within such
degree.
(2) This section shall not require disclosure of a financial interest shared
generally by the residents of the municipality such as the municipality’s receipt
of property taxes or other payments from the plant.
Sec. 8. 24 V.S.A. § 4461 is amended to read:
§ 4461. DEVELOPMENT REVIEW PROCEDURES
(a) Meetings; rules of procedure and ethics. An appropriate municipal
panel shall elect its own officers and adopt rules of procedure, subject to this
section and other applicable state statutes, and shall adopt rules of ethics with
respect to conflicts of interest.
(1) Meetings of any appropriate municipal panel shall be held at the call
of the chairperson and at such times as the panel may determine. The officers
of the panel may administer oaths and compel the attendance of witnesses and
the production of material germane to any issue under review. All meetings of
the panel, except for deliberative and executive sessions, shall be open to the
public. The panel shall keep minutes of its proceedings, showing the vote of
each member upon each question, or, if absent or failing to vote, indicating
this, and shall keep records of its examinations and other official actions, all of
which shall be filed immediately in the office of the clerk of the municipality
as a public record. For the conduct of any hearing and the taking of any action,
a quorum shall be not less than a majority of the members of the panel, and any
action of the panel shall be taken by the concurrence of a majority of the panel.
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(2) The provisions of section 873 of this title (disclosure; financial
interest; wind generation plant) shall apply to each member of an appropriate
municipal panel.
* * *
* * * Electric Generation Siting Jurisdiction; Public Service Board * * *
Sec. 9. 30 V.S.A. § 248 is amended to read:
§ 248. NEW GAS AND ELECTRIC PURCHASES, INVESTMENTS, AND
FACILITIES; CERTIFICATE OF PUBLIC GOOD
(a)(1) No company, as defined in section 201 of this title, may:
(A) In any way purchase electric capacity or energy from outside
the state State:
(i) for a period exceeding five years, that represents more than
three percent of its historic peak demand, unless the purchase is from a plant as
defined in subdivision 8002(14) of this title that produces electricity from
renewable energy as defined under subdivision 8002(17); or
(ii) for a period exceeding ten years, that represents more than ten
percent of its historic peak demand, if the purchase is from a plant as defined
in subdivision 8002(14) of this title that produces electricity from renewable
energy as defined under subdivision 8002(17); or
(B) invest in an electric generation or transmission facility located
outside this state State unless the public service board Public Service Board
first finds that the same will promote the general good of the state State and
issues a certificate to that effect.
(2) Except for the replacement of existing facilities with equivalent
facilities in the usual course of business, and except for electric generation
facilities that are operated solely for on-site electricity consumption by the
owner of those facilities:
(A) no company, as defined in section 201 of this title, and no person,
as defined in 10 V.S.A. § 6001(14), may begin site preparation for or
construction of an electric generation facility or electric transmission facility
within the state State which is designed for immediate or eventual operation at
any voltage; and
(B) no such company may exercise the right of eminent domain in
connection with site preparation for or construction of any such transmission or
generation facility, unless the public service board Public Service Board first
finds that the same will promote the general good of the state State and issues a
certificate to that effect.
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* * *
(b) Before the public service board Public Service Board issues a certificate
of public good as required under subsection (a) of this section, it shall find that
the purchase, investment, or construction:
(1)(A) with respect to an in-state electric generation facility exceeding
500 kilowatts, will be in conformance with the duly adopted plans under 24
V.S.A. chapter 117 for the municipality and region in which the facility is
located, and due consideration has been given to the land conservation
measures contained in the plan of any other affected municipality.
Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, the Board shall not issue a
certificate under this section for such an in-state facility without finding that
this subdivision (1)(A) is met. However, this subdivision (1)(A) shall not
apply to an electric generation facility the principal effect of which, if
approved, would be to remediate a constraint in the electric transmission or
distribution system;
(B) with respect to an any other in-state facility subject to this
section, will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region
with due consideration having been given to the recommendations of the
municipal and regional planning commissions, the recommendations of the
municipal legislative bodies, and the land conservation measures contained in
the plan of any affected municipality. However, with respect to a natural gas
transmission line subject to board review, the line shall be in conformance with
any applicable provisions concerning such lines contained in the duly adopted
regional plan; and, in addition, upon application of any party, the board Board
shall condition any certificate of public good for a natural gas transmission line
issued under this section so as to prohibit service connections that would not be
in conformance with the adopted municipal plan in any municipality in which
the line is located;
* * *
(5) with respect to an in-state facility, will not have an undue adverse
effect on esthetics, historic sites, air and water purity, the natural environment,
the use of natural resources, and the public health and safety, with and:
(A) with respect to an in-state electric generation facility exceeding
500 kilowatts, will comply with the criteria of 10 V.S.A. § 6086(a)(1)–(9)(L).
Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, the Board shall not issue a
certificate under this section for such an in-state facility without finding that
this subdivision (5)(A) is met. However, this subdivision (5)(A) shall not
apply to an electric generation facility the principal effect of which, if
approved, would be to remediate a constraint in the electric transmission or
distribution system;
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(B) with respect to any other in-state facility subject to this section,
due consideration having has been given to the criteria specified in 10 V.S.A.
§§ 1424a(d) and 6086(a)(1) through (8) and (9)(K) and greenhouse gas
impacts.
* * *
(q) When reviewing a facility under this section pursuant to the criteria of
10 V.S.A. § 6086(a), the Public Service Board shall consider the relevant
precedents of the former Environmental Board and of the Environmental
Division of the Superior Court and shall apply the relevant precedents of the
Vermont Supreme Court.
Sec. 10. RETROACTIVE APPLICATION
Notwithstanding 1 V.S.A. §§ 213 and 214, Sec. 9 (new gas and electric
purchases, investments, and facilities; certificate of public good) of this act
shall apply to applications that are filed on and after March 1, 2013 and are
pending as of this section’s effective date.
* * * State Lands * * *
Sec. 11. 10 V.S.A. chapter 88 is added to read:
CHAPTER 88. PROHIBITION; COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION;
CERTAIN PUBLIC LANDS
§ 2801. POLICY
Vermont’s state parks, state forests, natural areas, wilderness areas, wildlife
management areas, and wildlife refuges are intended to remain in a natural or
wild state forever and shall be protected and managed accordingly.
§ 2802. PROHIBITION
(a) Construction for any commercial purpose, including the generation of
electric power, shall not be permitted within any state park or forest,
wilderness area designated by law, or natural area designated under section
2607 of this title.
(b) This section shall not prohibit:
(1) the construction of a concession or other structure for the use of
visitors to state parks or forests;
(2) a modification or improvement to a dam in existence as of the
effective date of this section, if the modification or improvement is:
(A) to ensure public safety; or
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(B) to allow the dam’s use for the generation of electricity, and the
construction of any power lines and facilities necessary for such use;
(3) the construction of telecommunications facilities, as defined in
30 V.S.A. § 248a(b) (certificate of public good; communications facilities), in
accordance with all other applicable state law;
(4) a temporary structure or road for forestry purposes as may be
permitted on a state land;
(5) tapping of maple trees and associated activities on state forestland
authorized under a license pursuant to section 2606b of this title; or
(6) construction on state land that is permitted under a lease or license
that was in existence on this act’s effective date and, in the case of a ski area,
the renewal of such a lease or license or its modification to allow expansion of
the ski area.
Sec. 12. REPEAL
10 V.S.A. § 2606(c) (state forests; parks; leases for mining or quarrying) is
repealed.

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Sims asks for recount in Orleans-Lamoille House district

Moderator Tod Pronto chats with Orleans-Lamoille House Katherine Sims and Mark Higley. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle, 11-21-2012

NEWPORT — House candidate Katherine Sims of Lowell has asked for a recount of the ballots in the Orleans-Lamoille House district.

Mark Higley was re-elected in that district by a vote of 920 to 887, according to unofficial results collected by the Chronicle on election night.  The same numbers are listed on the website of the Vermont secretary of state.

Sue Pion at the Orleans County Superior Court said the recount has been scheduled for December 5.  On that day, ballots from Eden, Jay, Lowell, Westfield, and part of Troy will be delivered to the county court.  Each bag will be opened one by one, Ms. Pion said, and recounted.  There will be representatives of the Democratic, Republican, and Progressive parties on hand.

In an e-mail, Ms. Sims said she decided to ask for a recount because the difference was less than 2 percent.

“The race was very close with a difference of only 33 votes (less than 2 percent).  I feel that I owe it to my supporters to follow through with the recount process and to ensure that every vote was counted.

“This has been a positive campaign so far, and I feel confident that the recount process will move forward swiftly and smoothly.  I have really enjoyed the opportunity to campaign and to meet so many of my neighbors.  This is a truly special place.  No matter what the outcome of the recount, this election has demonstrated the power of a grassroots campaign to bring people together to talk about the important issues facing our community,” the e-mail said.

Mark Higley is a Republican and served in the House for two years on the Government Operations Committee.  Katherine Sims is a Democrat and Progressive.  This is her first campaign.

The 33-vote margin between them is 1.8 percent of the total votes cast.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Rodgers wins Senate seat, House incumbents re-elected

Featured

John Rodgers and Tim de la Bruere do some last-minute campaigning in Newport on Election Day. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-7-12

In one of the closest local races of the night, incumbent Democrat Bobby Starr of North Troy and Democrat John Rodgers of Glover won the two seats in the sprawling Essex-Orleans Senate district.

The unofficial tally at the Chronicle was 8,210 for Mr. Starr, 7,360 for Mr. Rodgers, 7,234 for Representative Robert Lewis of Derby, and 4,077 for Jay Dudley of Barton.

That tally was based on results reported from 34 of the 35 towns in the district.  The only town that did not report results Tuesday night in the Senate district was Victory, which had 66 voters on the checklist in 2008.

“A huge thank-you,” said Mr. Rodgers.  He said he had a tremendous amount of help.  The challenge was reaching the far corners of the district.

“I’d like to just thank the other candidates.  It was a good clean race,” said Senator Starr.  He said he also would like to thank the voters in the district.

 Illuzzi loses bid for auditor

 Senator Vince Illuzzi of Derby lost his first bid for a statewide office to Doug Hoffer of Burlington.  Mr. Hoffer, who ran as a Democrat and Progressive, was elected state auditor by winning roughly 51 percent of the vote.

“That’s the way it goes,” said Mr. Illuzzi whose defeat Tuesday was the first time he has lost an election since he was elected to the Vermont Senate in 1980.

“I did the best I could, and that’s all I could do,” he said in a brief interview late Tuesday night.

Mr. Illuzzi also noted that it was a tough year for Republicans as statewide office seekers like Randy Brock for governor and Wendy Wilton for treasurer also lost.

Voters in Essex and Orleans counties bucked a statewide trend and heavily backed Republican candidates for state offices.

On the other hand, voters in the two counties overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama, who carried every town except Maidstone.

Voter turnout was down compared to the last presidential election four years ago.  This year 63 percent of the registered voters in the two counties came out to the polls as opposed to about 70 percent in 2008.

 Incumbents re-elected in Orleans 2

A pair of Independents challenged the two Republican incumbents in the Orleans 2 House district, but the voters decided they liked things as they were.  Representatives Mike Marcotte of Coventry and Duncan Kilmartin of Newport won handily over Newport Mayor Paul Monette and Newport Alderman Tim de la Bruere.

Orleans 2 covers Newport City, Newport Center, Irasburg, Coventry and Troy.

Mr. Marcotte led the field with 1,962 votes, followed by Mr. Kilmartin with 1,440.  Mr. de la Bruere had 1,213 votes and Mr. Monette followed closely with 1,199.

When reached with the results Mr. Marcotte said, “I’m happy the voters have given me another two years.”

He said he hopes to be back on the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on which he has served as vice-chairman.

Mr. Marcotte said he’s interested in seeing the makeup of the House after the election.  However it turns out he said he feels comfortable working with both sides of the aisle.

 Higley keeps seat in Orleans-Lamoille

 In the Orleans-Lamoille House district, incumbent Republican Mark Higley fended off a challenge from Katherine Sims, a political newcomer who was running as a Progressive and Democrat.

The final vote was 920-887 with Ms. Sims winning in Jay, Troy and Eden.  In Lowell, however, hometown to both candidates, Mr. Higley won 265-112.

The two candidates could hardly be more different on many of the issues, with Mr. Higley generally taking a more conservative stance.

Ms. Sims is founder and director of the Green Mountain Farm-to-School program.  Mr. Higley is a contractor.

“I feel fortunate to have won and to get back to Montpelier and work for my constituents,” he said Tuesday night.”

He said he knew the race would be close.  “Katherine worked hard.  She was out there door-to-door, very active.  Sometimes we’d run into each other on the campaign trail.”

Mr. Higley said he’s not sure what accounted for his squeaker of a victory — perhaps just the fact that he’s got a little more experience in Montpelier.

For complete election results, see the Chronicle’s digital edition.  For more free stories like this one, please take a look at our Editor’s Picks section.

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Editorial the Chronicle endorses…

copyright the Chronicle 10-31-2012

What follows is the least important part of the Chronicle’s election coverage.  We have tried, in the course of this election season, to give the candidates a fair opportunity to speak for themselves, and our readers an opportunity to speak for the candidates of their choice.

But political endorsements are an old journalistic tradition, and one that in a few races we feel compelled to follow.

 For state senator:  Starr and Rodgers

 With the departure of Vince Illuzzi from the state Senate, Orleans County is left with one legislator with an honest claim to deep experience and long seniority, and the influence that comes with them.  Bobby Starr has served in both houses in Montpelier.

He served a highly effective stint as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and has a reasonable chance of taking over the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee if he is returned to Montpelier.  To fail to give him that opportunity would be to squander what little influence the Northeast Kingdom has over the conduct of the state’s business.

For the second choice for the two Senate seats in the Orleans-Essex district we endorse John Rodgers.  He and Representative Bob Lewis both have experience in the House.  Our review of their records indicates that Mr. Rodgers’ is stronger — that he has dealt effectively with issues that are closer to the heartbeat of our corner of the state.

Mr. Rodgers lost his House seat two years ago because he felt he was too busy with his small construction business to campaign.  He has clearly learned his lesson.  And as we watch his continuing struggle to juggle the demands of his own and the public’s business, we are reminded of an old adage:  If you want to get something done, hire a busy man.

 For lieutenant governor, Phil Scott

 For lieutenant governor we like the incumbent, Phil Scott.  As a Republican who presides over a Senate dominated by Democrats, Mr. Scott has proven to be an agile leader as well as an extremely bipartisan one.

In a State House where party bickering often gets in the way of conducting the state’s business, Mr. Scott has kept his mind on the job.  From his place behind the podium, he neither scolded his colleagues nor blamed members of the opposition when a piece of legislation went begging for action.

As a lieutenant governor Mr. Scott has also been an active one outside the State House.  He has traveled throughout the state talking to workers about the jobs they do, and often showing a willingness to roll up his sleeves and pitch in.

Perhaps his love for racing at Thunder Road has instilled in him a respect for people who work with their hands.  Whatever the reason, it’s a commendable trait to see in any politician — especially one from a party that often seems aligned with power and wealth.

 For state treasurer, Beth Pearce

 In the treasurer’s race we recommend the election of Beth Pearce.  She has ably performed the duties of the position over the past two years in a nonpartisan fashion.  We believe that as the state moves toward taking a greater role in Vermont’s health care system, it will be important to have a treasurer who can work in a cooperative fashion to oversee major changes in a responsible fashion.  Ms. Pearce, in our judgment, fits that bill.

Editors’ note:  The Chronicle’s endorsements are based on a consensus of the editorial staff.  Opinions are the writer’s own.  This is the last edition before the election, which means we have edited out negative comments that might lead a candidate to wish to reply. This website, www.bartonchronicle.com, will be open for endorsements or other comments through November 2.  You may leave a reply here or send a letter to: bethany@bartonchronicle.com

 

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Illuzzi and Hoffer seek state auditor’s job

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Don’t forget to vote today: Your vote counts.

copyright the Chronicle 10-31-2012

by Joseph Gresser

Of all the offices voters will fill in statewide voting on November 6, it likely that the one most citizens know least about is the position of auditor of accounts.

The race for this obscure job has taken on a higher profile this year, at least in the Northeast Kingdom, because Vince Illuzzi, who has long served as a state senator representing Orleans and Essex counties, is giving up his seat to run against Doug Hoffer for the job.

Despite any increased interest in the contest, it is likely that most voters have only a vague idea of what duties the winner will have to perform.  One might assume that the auditor checks the books of state government to make sure everything adds up.

But, according to both Mr. Illuzzi and Mr. Hoffer, that assumption is not quite correct.  In fact, that task has for some years now been performed by an accounting firm with which the state contracts.  At present the multinational firm, KPMG, has the state’s accounting business.

Doug Hoffer. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In telephone interviews both candidates said that it makes sense to have KPMG or a similar company check over the state financial statement and the “single audit” required by the federal government to keep track of funds sent to the state from Washington.

The reason, the two men agreed, is that regulations covering the reporting of federal funds change every year and a large company that works for several states can more easily handle the burden of keeping abreast of those changes than can a small office in Vermont.

Mr. Hoffer said it might be possible to have a couple of employees in the auditor’s office assigned to follow those changes.  But, he asked, what would happen if they decided to look for a different job and took their knowledge with them?

As things stand, the two major audits take up about half of the budget of the auditor’s office, $1.8-million.  The other half of its money, and the majority of the department’s attention, goes to what are called compliance audits.

According to Mr. Hoffer, that shift took place during the terms of Ed Flanagan in the 1990s and was part of a national trend among state auditors who started to take a closer look at the efficiency of government agencies and programs.

Both Mr. Illuzzi and Mr. Hoffer said they would continue to focus the energies of the auditor’s office on compliance audits.  Each agreed that such audits are essential to make sure that money is spent in the way intended by the Legislature, and to find ways to make state government more efficient.

Mr. Illuzzi pointed to recent press accounts concerning a new computer program intended to run the state’s court system.  The program, which he said cost around $3-million, is not working as expected.

An investigation of how that program and the non-functional $17-million information technology system at the Department of Motor Vehicles were purchased might help avoid similar wasteful spending in the future, Mr. Illuzzi said.

While the state can try to recover some of the money paid out for these systems, he said, it may be difficult to recover much for a variety of reasons.

Both Mr. Illuzzi and Mr. Hoffer argue that he would be the better person to carry out such investigations.

Mr. Hoffer points to his experience working as a consultant with the auditor’s office during the time Mr. Flanagan held the position.  He said he is temperamentally suited to the job, and is “hardwired to never go beyond the data.”

He acquired that trait while working for Burlington’s Community Economic Development Office during the administrations of Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle.  In that time he had to make many presentations to community groups about controversial projects.

By never venturing beyond where the figures took him, Mr. Hoffer said, he was able to establish the kind of credibility that allowed for fruitful discussion and eventual compromise.

Unlike Mr. Illuzzi, who was something of a political prodigy when he first won election to the state Senate at age 27, Mr. Hoffer admits to being a late bloomer.

He said he dropped out of high school after his family moved from an affluent area in Connecticut to Florida, and he was unable to deal with a radically different culture.  Mr. Hoffer traveled around and took various jobs, including a three-year stint as maitre’d of Alice’s Restaurant in the Berkshires.  (This was the same restaurant made famous by the Arlo Guthrie song, but some years afterward.)

From there Mr. Hoffer earned admission on full scholarship to nearby Williams College at age 29.  He went on to study law at the Buffalo campus of the State University of New York.

Mr. Hoffer said he never intended to practice law, a decision that allowed him to take courses that interested him, rather than those that would allow him to pass the bar exam.

He said that in his studies he kept coming across references to programs in Vermont that he found interesting, and after graduation he applied for a job working for the city of Burlington.

After Peter Clavelle left office, Mr. Hoffer was offered a position in the auditor’s office by Mr. Flanagan.

He said he rejected the job because he didn’t want to commute to Montpelier, but accepted work as a consultant.  Mr. Hoffer said he has continued to work as a consultant since then.

Mr. Hoffer said he is interested in the position of auditor because he is a number cruncher who is able to ask good questions, not because he is interested in a stepping-stone to a higher office.

If elected, Mr. Hoffer said, he would work to make the auditor’s office more transparent, for instance by posting the cost of each audit along with the money saved as a result.

Mr. Hoffer said that under the incumbent, Tom Salmon, the auditor’s office has spent $2.4-million to conduct 15 audits, an average of $158,000 per audit.

“That is the equivalent of two very well paid staffers working for one year on a report,” Mr. Hoffer said.

Although he acknowledged that the average gives only a rough idea of what the actual cost of each investigation was, Mr. Hoffer said he thought the office could be run more efficiently.

Mr. Hoffer said the cause might be “scope creep,” a condition under which the area examined by an audit expands as the person conducting it looks into new areas that may be interesting to her, but not worth the time being spent on them.

He said that the auditor should be involved in every investigation into spending, but that sometimes an agency’s own auditors can do the job without the auditor’s office duplicating their efforts.

Mr. Hoffer said that it might save money to have follow-up audits conducted in-house rather than by KPMG.  He said that when an audit uncovers a problem in a federally funded program, a follow-up is required to make sure that it has been properly addressed.

KPMG charges about $165 an hour to do this work, Mr. Hoffer said, far more than they get for the initial audit.  But the parameters for how the agency ought to be handling its money have already been set, and the follow-up does not require the same kind of expert knowledge that the initial audit does, he added.

Vince Illuzzi. Photo by Joseph Gresser

Senator Illuzzi, citing his lengthy experience in state government — he has served Orleans and Essex counties in the state Senate since 1979 — said his deep knowledge of state government would help him to make sure spending is being done as intended by the Legislature.

He also said that, because he is so well known in state government, his investigators would not be met with suspicion and hostility in departments undergoing a compliance audit.

Asked about why he decided to seek election as auditor, Mr. Illuzzi said he decided early not to run for re-election to the Senate.  He said he was considering running for attorney general when Mr. Salmon called him and told him he did not plan to run again.

Mr. Salmon said he thought Mr. Illuzzi would be well-suited to the job, and persuaded him to seek election, Mr. Illuzzi said.

Mr. Illuzzi said that though he is able to get along with everyone in state government, he is very willing to take opposing stands when he believes he is correct.

He said former Governor Jim Douglas was not happy when he called for closing down a state office building in Bennington when workers there became ill, but the building was shut.

Mr. Illuzzi also said he fought to have a majority of the board of the Vermont Electric Company, which oversees transmission lines in the state, represent the public after Green Mountain Power bought Central Vermont Public Service.  He said that he didn’t win that battle, in which Governor Peter Shumlin took the opposite side, but the percentage of public members on the board was increased as a result of his work.

He said the auditor’s work is all about trying to help the government adopt best practices.

“My motto has always been:  We can do better.  If we trust each other and pull in the same direction that will happen.”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Governor’s race: Is our hair on fire?

Governor Peter Shumlin announced a contract that would create helmet-building jobs in Newport earlier this month. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 10-31-2012

by Bethany M. Dunbar

“When your hair is on fire, you don’t call for a moratorium while you go put your hair out,” said Governor Peter Shumlin.

Mr. Shumlin’s point is that the planet is facing a global crisis, and with oil going regularly up to $4 a gallon and the effects of climate change being felt everywhere including Vermont, “We can’t get off oil quickly enough.”

In the Northeast Kingdom two major wind turbine projects are — depending on your point of view — either a tribute to his efforts to make renewable energy happen quickly, or a symbol of top-down government that allows little local control.

One can’t say there is no local control involved because host towns have had an opportunity to vote on whether or not they want these projects.

“I happen to think they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Shumlin.  “I am sympathetic and empathetic to those who are not in favor.”

He said any town that votes a project down should not have to host it, and he’s made that opinion clear to the three-member Public Service Board (appointed by the Governor) that makes decisions on wind projects.

“I think the Public Service Board process works,” he said.

All that doesn’t stop neighbors in towns that suffer equal or more effects from wind projects and don’t have a vote, and don’t get property tax benefits, from getting frustrated.

That frustration is part of the platform of two of the Governor’s opponents.  Republican Randy Brock, formerly the state’s auditor and currently a state senator, supports a moratorium and says Vermont’s already got the cleanest energy portfolio of any state.

Randy Brock was in Barton on Tuesday to judge a pumpkin pie contest at the Barton Senior Center. He took the task seriously, creating a grid system on index cards for the four judges, where taste and crust would have twice as much weight in the judging as appearance and consistency. At left is the manager of the center, Brenda Sargent. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“The whole industrial wind thing is an issue for so many people,” he said.  He was one of the co-sponsors of the moratorium.  “I don’t think we’ve really done the homework.”

“When we blow off the mountaintops it has an impact on all the surrounding towns and all of Vermont,” he said.  “I’m concerned about the effect on the aesthetics and the ecosystems,” he said.  “I’m also concerned about the economic issues.”

He said Vermont does not actually use much coal or oil.  Mainly our electric power comes from nuclear power, natural gas, and hydroelectricity.  Coal and oil account for only 3.3 percent of Vermont’s electrical energy, he said.

He said while he supports renewables for the future, “the technology isn’t here.”  For one thing, it’s still too expensive, he said.  That means by building it now, poor and working class Vermonters are footing the bill for corporations to get into renewables.

“What I see here is Robin Hood in reverse.”

He said building renewables in Vermont could cost the state jobs as the cost of electricity goes up too high, and companies like IBM start taking a closer look at their expenses.  IBM pays 25 percent less for electricity in one nearby state and 50 percent less in Canada.

Annette Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.  She got into the race for governor late — reluctantly at first, and mainly because people asked her to.  She was narrowly defeated in the Primary for a Progressive nomination, which means her name is not on the ballot.  But she is continuing as a write-in.  The winner of the Progressive nomination, Martha Abbott, stepped down, saying the party agrees with Governor Shumlin on two of the issues most important to the party — closing the aging, dangerous Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and health care.  Yet the party stopped short of endorsing Mr. Shumlin.

Ms. Smith said voters who want more local control should write in her name.  She has a history of figuring out strategies for fighting back against corporations that seem to want to roll over the regular people at times.

“I do have a process that has worked and made me very effective,” she said.  She said her preference is not to “break the rules but redefine the rules.”

“This campaign is not just about wind.  It’s about local control.”

Asked her position on the jobs and the economy, she said, “I see nothing but opportunities in Vermont.  We have a tremendously intellectual population and skilled people.”

She said a lot of people look at economic development as an effort to bring in large manufacturing companies, but she would like to see more new small ones starting up.

Annette Smith has been in the area often in her efforts with Vermonters for Clean Energy, but we did not manage to get a photograph. This one is courtesy of penwardenphotography.com.

“I see the capital we have right here in Vermont being put to use,” she said.

On that she and Mr. Brock agree.  He said jobs and the economy are the number one issue for him.

“We’ve got to grow our economic pie instead of figuring out how to cut it up,” he said.  He said his first task as Governor will be to go around to all the welcome centers and where the signs say, “Welcome to Vermont” he will add one underneath it:  “Open for business.”

“We need to change the perception that Vermont isn’t open for business,” he said.  He said Vermont is open, and the permits that developers need to obtain are not unnecessary.  “Our environment is really important.  We don’t want Vermont to look like New Jersey.”  He said sometimes it’s a matter of changing the emphasis of people who handle the permit process.  He said when a developer comes in the door, the state permit workers should adopt an attitude that the permits are important but “my job is to help you be successful.”

He would like to set up a micro loan program for people who are unemployed and want to start a business instead of just getting a job.

“We have a lot of talented people that are unemployed,” he said.

Mr. Shumlin gives high priority to job creation as well, and he points out that he’s had considerable success in that area.  He said Vermont has the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the country, and is the only state that saw income growth in the past two years.

“I promised that I would focus on job creation like a laser,” he said.  In Newport to celebrate a contract for helmets at the Revision Military helmet plant earlier this month, Governor Shumlin said, in an interview after the press conference, the recent announcement by Bill Stenger and others about 5,000 to 10,000 jobs for the area is wonderful news.

To those who are nervous about possible consequences from the development, Mr. Shumlin said fear of change is always going to be a factor for people, but this is good news.  Put in perspective, 5,000 people is not a huge number, he said — Jay Peak might have that many on the slopes on a busy day in the winter.

“Let’s rejoice in the simple fact,” he said.  Issues of infrastructure for those jobs can certainly be solved, he said.

Mr. Shumlin worked on a bill that changed the wording of state law to make Vermont government documents more open and accessible to the press and the public, and he said if re-elected he will continue those efforts.

There are currently over 200 exceptions to a state law that says government records should be open to the public.  Instead of trying to comb through them all at once and get rid of unnecessary exceptions, the Governor said he wants to take one area at a time, starting with the courts and police.

Governor Shumlin might be best known for his support of a single-payer government health care plan that would make sure all Vermonters have access to affordable health care.  It is a lofty goal, and the Legislature has passed a law to move in that direction.  But that next step is dependent on federal funds that are most likely dependent on the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shumlin’s challengers both say they are not convinced it’s the way to go, or maybe not exactly as proposed.

Ms. Smith said she is in favor of single-payer, but believes the state must get a handle on costs and offer choices to patients.

“I would like us to move much more toward consumer-driven health care,” said Mr. Brock.  He said there are steps that can be taken right away to address many of the concerns Vermonters have about health care, including making the costs of every procedure transparent.  At a gut level, he believes competition would drive the costs down and increase the quality better than a government plan would do.

Health care is one-sixth of Vermont’s economy at $5-billion, he said, and a board of five unelected people should not be the ones making all the decisions.  He’d like to look at what some other states are doing, including Maine, he said.

“Is there a reason that 49 other states are not doing what we are doing?” he asked.

Emily Peyton, who is running for Governor as an independent, made a campaign swing through Barton, but efforts to arrange a time for an interview were not successful.  Ms. Peyton is from Putney.  She has a background in videography and supports organics, industrial hemp, and holistic health.  Cris Ericson is a candidate under the United States Marijuana Party in Vermont.  Dave Eagle is the Liberty Union Party candidate and calls himself an information technology refugee.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Orleans-Lamoille candidates differ on almost all subjects

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Moderator Tod Pronto chats with Orleans-Lamoille House Katherine Sims and Mark Higley. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 10-24-20

by Tena Starr

DERBY — Voters in the Orleans-Lamoille House district will have a clear choice on Election Day.  At a forum here Monday night, Republican incumbent Mark Higley and Progressive challenger Katherine Sims talked about industrial wind power, the economy, the future of agriculture, health care, and regulation — and they differed, at least in approach, on almost everything.

Ms. Sims is founder and director of the Green Mountain Farm-to-School program, which educates children about healthy food choices and links local farms to local schools.  In her opening statement, she said that her father grew up in Vermont, but like so many others, left for better job opportunities.  She said lack of economic opportunity is just one of the problems she’d like to remedy as a legislator

“I’d like to bring a new, independent voice to Montpelier,” she said.  “I’ll represent our district with hard work and vision.”  She said that, knocking on doors recently, she’s realized that most people in the Northeast Kingdom have a similar vision, but she’s not sure that Montpelier shares it.

Mr. Higley is a general contractor who listed his years of experience in public service, both in Lowell and in southern Vermont, as a solid waste management committee member, a lister, and a selectman.  He’s worked on a dairy farm and was in the Navy Seabees.  For the past four years, he’s served on the House Government Operations Committee, which handles more bills than any other House committee, he said.

On wind power, an issue that certainly has divided both candidates’ hometown of Lowell, Ms. Sims said she strongly supports a moratorium on industrial wind projects, although she also supports renewable energy.  “We need to invest in solar, hydro, methane,” she said.

From all she’s heard, Vermont has plenty of power for the next 20 years, so there’s no need to rush, Ms. Sims said.  There’s time to study the Lowell wind project and see what the cost of the energy it produces is and what other effects, negative or positive, it will have.

Mr. Higley said he supported the Lowell project.  He called it a local issue and a project that 75 percent of Lowell voters supported.  Also, he said he’s seen local economic benefits with busy local stores and people who have received jobs as a result.

He added that he would support a two-year moratorium, a period of time long enough to study the important issues in his view.  His concern is what baselines would be used in such studies.  For instance, he said outside the forum, there’s no question that Lowell property values have gone down because of the economy.  Would a study of the wind farm’s effect on property values start with a pre-recession baseline, which would probably be more accurate?

Mr. Higley said he has issues with the state’s energy bill.  “I have not supported it because of the aggressive percentage of renewables they want to have in the portfolio.”  He’s worried that will lead to much higher energy costs, which will be detrimental to business.

Asked about whether there is too much regulation in Vermont, Ms. Sims said, “I think businesses are the heart of our community.”  If businesses are healthy, the community is, too, she said.  Regulation should be predictable and reliable, she said, but not gutted.  “It should be streamlined and more effective.”

Mr. Higley said he’d like to approach that question from a slightly different angle — his four years as a legislator.  Many laws are “well intended with a lot of unintended consequences,” he said.

For instance, a smoking ban in the workplace is ludicrous when it turns out that, if its strictly followed, a farmworker could not have a cigarette while in the cab of a tractor out in the field.  Some regulations simply don’t make sense when carried out to their logical consequences, and they throw unnecessary roadblocks in the way of struggling small enterprises, Mr. Higley said.

Ms. Sims said the most important issue facing Vermont in the coming year is probably health care.  “I hear from a lot of people about health care,” she said.  “They worry about what happens if they get sick.  It broke my heart to hear from a nurse who cannot afford health care for herself and her family.”

The details, including the cost, of Vermont’s proposed health care plan are yet to unfold, Ms. Sims said.  But, she added, it’s a debate she’d much like to be a part of.  “I think a no vote on the health care bill is a vote for the status quo.”

Outside the forum, she said she supports universal health care, which she thinks will save money and ensure better and more comprehensive care.

Mr. Higley said he did not support the health care bill.  There are too many unknowns, for one thing.  Also, other states have come up with options that could have been looked at.  For a third, he’s concerned that the current system is being dismantled before another is in place, which could lead to a worsening of the health care situation for some people.

“I don’t feel that we have the answers,” he said.

The economy is the biggest problem facing Vermont, Mr. Higley said.  “From what I’ve heard from folks, the economy is the number one issue.”  There are many thoughts about how best to tackle that, he noted, but he’d like to think he’s done his part, sometimes by voting for a bill, sometimes by voting against one.

The state often quietly taxes people and small businesses through fees and rules that don’t get much attention but do add up, Mr. Higley said.  “You can’t keep increasing taxes at all levels — it just makes it harder and harder for folks in Vermont.”

The candidates were also asked their thoughts on what changes will come to the Northeast Kingdom as a result of huge development plans for Jay Peak, Burke Mountain, and Newport.

“I’ve thought about that,” Mr. Higley said.  “My biggest answer is to make sure we are involved.”

“We know we need more jobs for kids who want to stay here,” Ms. Sims said.  “Ten thousand jobs sound great, but what kind of jobs?”  They need to be full-time, permanent jobs that earn a living wage, she said.

Also, she said, the promise of development is an opportunity, but it’s important not to destroy the parts of the Northeast Kingdom people love in the process.  “It needs to be smart growth, not just any growth.”

The candidates were also asked about the future of agriculture, a subject Ms. Sims said is near and dear to her heart.

“I think Vermont’s agricultural economy has a bright future,” she said.  While dairy farming has been in steady decline, there’s been a Renaissance in diversified agriculture — vegetables, cheese making, value-added products, she said.

The buy local movement is extremely important, Ms. Sims said.  For instance, she said, the prison in Newport spends $500,000 a year on food each year.  If just 10 percent of that were spent locally, that would be $50,000 injected into the local farm economy.

Mr. Higley agreed that diversification is likely the key to a healthy farm economy in Vermont.  He also mentioned the Working Lands Enterprise Board, which is comprised of 15 members from agricultural and forestry sectors.  He said he hopes the board will collaborate and come up with some big ideas, even though it does not have much money to work with.

On a question about death with dignity, basically physician-assisted suicide, Mr. Higley said he does not support it.  Ms. Sims said she does.

Mr. Higley does not support decriminalizing marijuana possession.  Ms. Sims does.

Neither supports a tax on business services, such as hiring a plumber or electrician.

In response to a question from Mr. Higley, Ms. Sims said she would like to serve on either the education or agriculture committees.

In response to a question from Ms. Sims, Mr. Higley said the legislation he’s presented that he’s most proud of is a bill he spoke to on the floor about public records.  “I think it’s important that the press, as well as citizens, have access to information that’s public,” he said.

“I’m here before you, in part, because my grandmother took me to meet the first female governor of Vermont,” Ms. Sims said in her closing statement.  That was an inspiring experience, she said, that contributed to her desire to work in public service.

“I have a proven record of making a difference,” Ms. Sims said.  “My commitment is that I will continue to work hard, I will listen, and ask questions.”

She said she would post a monthly update on her website and send it to newspapers as well so her constituents would know what issues are coming up that would affect them.

Mr. Higley said that one of the most rewarding parts of his job is dealing with constituent problems.  Big issues are the ones that make the news, he said, but they aren’t always the ones that most directly affect people.  Often a legislator can make a difference simply by navigating the bureaucratic process on behalf of a citizen, he said.

“I’m in the minority down there,” he said.  But he believes that the minority voice he represents needs to be heard, and he’s happy to help his constituents if possible.

Lowell, Jay, Westfield, Eden, and part of Troy are in the district.

This series of forums was sponsored by the Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, the Orleans County Record, the Newport Daily Express, WMOO, NEK TV, IROC and the East Side Restaurant and moderated by Tod Pronto. The full forum will air on NEK TV, which is channel 15 on Comcast cable.

Both the House district forums will air on Wednesday, October 24, at 9 a.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m.  They will be rebroadcast at other times as well.  For more information, see www.nektvonline.com.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

 


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Newport House district race draws three public servants

The four candidates for the two seats representing Orleans-2 in the state House of Represenatives answer questions.  From left to right sit Newport Alderman Tim de la Bruere, Representative Duncan Kilmartin, Representative Michael Marcotte and Newport Mayor Paul Monette.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 10-24-12

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — It is unusual for challengers in an election to be as well known to voters as the incumbents.  But, in the case of the race to represent Newport, Newport Center and Coventry in the state House of Representatives, each of the four candidates has a high public profile.

Representatives Duncan Kilmartin and Michael Marcotte seek re-election from the two-member Orleans-2 district.  They are opposed by Newport Mayor Paul Monette and Newport Alderman Timothy de la Bruere.

The candidates met Monday night at IROC for a forum sponsored by local newspapers and broadcasters.  Differences between the candidates could be found more in tone than in substance and the discussion was courteous despite the competitive nature of the event.

“I voted for Mayor Monette every time I went to the polls, I will not vote for him this time,” Mr. Kilmartin said with a smile, in what could have been the most contentious moment of the evening.

This was in the context of his introduction, in which he described himself as a retiring criminal lawyer.  Mr. Kilmartin said he hopes to have his final cases done by May.

Mr. Kilmartin said that during his 12 years in the Legislature he has gained a reputation for solid research on issues.  “I like to get down in the weeds,” he said.

“I don’t trade in sound bites, I trade in conclusions based on facts,” Mr. Kilmartin later declared.

Like Mr. Marcotte, Mr. Kilmartin is a Republican.  Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere are running as independents, but each said they would likely caucus with House Democrats in order to get committee assignments.

Mr. Kilmartin described himself as being “one generation off the farm.”  His grandfather, he said, was a dairy farmer.  His father was a pipefitter and Mr. Kilmartin said that he pursued that trade as he worked his way through college and law school.

He has two daughters and three grandchildren, “who can’t afford to live in Vermont,” Mr. Kilmartin said.  Mr. Kilmartin told the forum audience he was at the event at the urging of his wife, even though she was ill and in the intensive care unit of North Country Hospital in Newport.

Mike Marcotte, like Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere, is a Newport native.  A graduate of Sacred Heart High School, Mr. Marcotte now lives in Coventry where he is chairman of the town selectmen.

He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 and serves as vice chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.

Mr. Marcotte is married and has two sons and one daughter.  He has owned the Jimmy Kwik store in Newport for the past 29 years.

Mayor Monette, a product of Newport’s public schools and a graduate of North Country Union High School, attended Lyndon State College where he studied meteorology.

After graduation he moved to Boston where he worked for Weather Services International, travelling the country setting up weather stations around the country.

Mr. Monette said he became homesick for Newport and moved back.  He took a job with a software company in Richford and, after the company laid him and other employees off, started his own computer business.

Today he works as technology coordinator for Newport City Elementary School and is a partner in Baan Thai Cuisine, a restaurant on Newport’s Main Street.

Mr. Monette is in his second term as mayor, and served on the city council for 12 years before that.

Mr. de la Bruere said that he has been involved in public service for a third of his 30 years.  He dated his interest in working for the community even earlier, to his days as a Boy Scout.

He graduated from Sacred Heart High School and attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he majored in history and Native American affairs.

Mr. de la Bruere has worked as an electrician, as have many of his family.  He currently is employed as a 911 dispatcher.

At the forum he recalled being hoisted atop the shoulders of Governor Howard Dean when he went to Montpelier to be honored for becoming an Eagle Scout at age 14.

He was appointed by Governor Jim Douglas to serve on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs in 2006 and credited both Mr. Kilmartin and Mr. Marcotte with working with him during that time.

He was elected to the North Country Union High School board in 2007 and to the Newport City Council the next year.  He is currently serving his second term as alderman.

The forum, which was moderated by Tod Pronto of NEKTV and WMOO radio, produced little in the way of major differences between the candidates.

All four candidates said they would be able to work with people of all political persuasions should they be sent to Montpelier.

Mr. Marcotte cited his experience on the economic development committee.  After the crash of 2008, he said, the state unemployment fund appeared to be in danger of bankruptcy.  Attempts in the Legislature to craft a remedy went nowhere and a summer study committee was appointed.

When it appeared that nothing was being accomplished Mr. Marcotte said he called then-Representative Michael Obuchowski, a democrat.  Together they worked to develop the outlines of a plan that was made law, Mr. Marcotte said.

Mr. Kilmartin said his reputation in the Legislature is that he works to make bills he favors, better.

Those bills he feels neutral about, Mr. Kilmartin said, he tries to make better crafted.  And with bills he dislikes mildly, he works to make sure they achieve their stated objectives.

Mr. Monette said he has worked with a city council that embraces varying shades of political opinion and helps work as effective force for the public good.

An unsuccessful attempt to see a ban on disturbing unmarked graves enacted into law, was recounted by Mr. de la Bruere.  He said that he expected that a bill granting respect to all cultural and religious traditions would be embraced by all sides, but was disappointed.

“I may not have won the battle,” Mr. de la Bruere said of his efforts to bring Legislators together, “but, at least I tried.”

The most startling information that came out was the in that while all oppose industrial wind projects, three of the four would favor siting a nuclear power plant in the Northeast Kingdom.

Mr. Kilmartin, and Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Monette each expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but acknowledged that practical considerations make the construction of such a plant impossible.

Only Mr. de la Bruere said he would not support a nuclear reactor.

Mr. Kilmartin said that an engineer working for General Electric told him there is not enough water available in the Kingdom to cool such a plant.

Mr. Marcotte said that if such a plant were to be built he would like to see it use a European design to minimize the amount of radioactive waste produced.

Mr. Monette said he initially supported large-scale wind power, but after seeing projects built on local ridgelines has changed his mind.  He said that he has solar panels mounted on the roof of his house and supports all sorts of small-scale renewable energy.

Addressing an issue that has been in the news lately the four men applauded Bill Stenger of Jay Peak for his proposal to spend more than $500-million in projects intended to bring 10,000 jobs to the area.

Mr. Kilmartin, though, expressed concern about possible negative effects on Newport residents.  About 30 percent of the city’s Grand List is non-taxable properties, he said.

He noted that more than 500 drivers could be commuting each day to and from a biotechnology plant planned for the former Bogner building.

How, he asked, will these workers navigate the three-way stop at the intersection of Main Street and the Lake Road?  Mr. Kilmartin suggested that the resolution of the problem may be up to the federal government because Main Street is also Route 5, a federal highway.

Mr. Monette responded, saying that Newport has plenty of capacity for growth.  He pointed out that the city has, in the past, boasted a population 2,000 souls greater than today’s number.

He said that transportation issues will be important in Newport’s ability to deal with the new jobs as will affordable housing and good child care for workers.

The addition of between $100-million and $300-million in new investment, is likely to bring new tax income to Newport, Mr. Monette said, which may lower the tax burden on property owners.

Mr. Marcotte said that while development in Newport is important “we can’t forget outlying communities.”

Newport Center, Coventry, Barton and Charleston will all feel the effects of the new investment, he said.

“We have to make sure everybody is at the table,” he said.

On the issue of plans to reform the state’s health care system the four men’s opinions ranged from highly skeptical to strongly opposed.

Mr. de la Bruere said he had spent time while a fellow of the Snelling Center studying the plan with one of its architect and said “I came away more confused than ever.”

He said he would have preferred it if state officials had tried to mend the current system rather than tear it down to build a new one.

Mr. Monette said he has spoken with Claudio Fort, chief executive officer of North Country Hospital, who says he fears the new system will force his organization to cut services.

The state ought to open the health insurance market to all comers, as is done with car coverage, Mr. Monette said.  He suggested the result would be lower rates.

Mr. Marcotte asked if large corporations and state workers will be included in the pool for an eventual single-payer system.  If not, he said costs will be much higher for everyone else.

Saying that he has been further in the weeds than ever before on the issue due to his wife’s health problems, Mr. Kilmartin said Vermont’s claim that it can improve health outcomes for its citizens while reducing costs, makes no sense on its face.

He said everyone ought to be charged something for the medical care they get “because people don’t value what they don’t have to pay for.”

The forum was one of a series sponsored by the Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, the Orleans County Record, the Newport Daily Express, WMOO, NEK TV, IROC and the East Side Restaurant.  The full forum will air on NEK TV, which is channel 15 on Comcast cable.

Both the House district forums will air on Wednesday, October 24, at 9 a.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m.  They will be rebroadcast at other times as well.  For more information, see www.nektvonline.com.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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A day in Vince Illuzzi’s quest for statewide office

During a September interview on the Mark Johnson Show, Vince Illuzzi of Derby says 32 years of serving the Northeast Kingdom as a senator has prepared him for statewide office. Photos by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 10-17-12

by Paul Lefebvre

On a rainy early September morning, Senator Vince Illuzzi is heading to the State House.  No legislation is seeking his attention, but as the place where he has forged a formidable political career, the State House may be the place where he feels most comfortable as he prepares for a debate in his first run for statewide office.

The senator spreads his notes out on a table in the cafeteria, which feels hollow as a cavern now the Legislature is not in session, but his attention strays to a State House worker heading in his direction.

“How you doing?” he says, exchanging pleasantries with the man, who knows who the senator is without any introduction.  “Hope I can count on your vote.”

The exchange is vintage Illuzzi — a politician who might be said to have brought campaigning to a height that even surprises some veteran observers of Vermont politics.

The live debate this morning is being broadcast on the Mark Johnson Show, a daily feature on WDEV, a radio station that takes pride in its coverage of all things pertaining to Vermont — especially politics.  Mr. Johnson is a familiar, regular face at the State House, conducting live, face-to-face interviews with legislators as the business of governing Vermont swirls around him.  Today’s debate is being held in a small bakery and café in Middlesex, and marks the first public encounter between Senator Illuzzi and his opponent, Doug Hoffer, in the race for state auditor.

It’s a show that is driven in part by listeners calling in with questions.  Driving from the State House to Middlesex with his notes in his lap, Mr. Illuzzi isn’t sure what to expect.  He raised the possibility there might be a plant, someone who has been put up to call in with a question designed to embarrass him.  But once the debate begins, his anxiety recedes into the background.  Although he may fidget in his chair, running a hand in and out of his pant’s back pocket, he answers questions assertively, mixing anecdotes with facts and numbers.  When the other’s fellow’s turn comes, Mr. Illuzzi shifts his attention to café patrons, a smile here and a wave there.  And then he’s on his feet, going from table to table, shaking hands when the show breaks for advertisers.

Acting somewhat perplexed that his guest is breaking away from the show’s routine and may be straying from its timetable, Mr. Johnson is prompted to remark on the senator’s relentless campaigning style.

“Does he stop and shake hands with every guy he sees standing beside the road?” he wonders.

Except for a caller’s complaint that he is monopolizing the conversation, there are no trick questions that morning for the senator.  The debate over, Mr. Illuzzi bristles at the suggestion he is driven in his quest to win a statewide race.  He is fashioning his campaign around his 32 years of experience as a state senator, and a political philosophy based on pragmatism and common sense.  Ideologically, he has no center.  Or what he calls in an interview “no red line in the sand.”

As someone who came from a working class family — his father worked in the Barre granite sheds as a sculptor — and as someone who identifies his base as the 47 percent that Governor Romney recently singled out as those Americans left behind, Mr. Illuzzi may be the state’s most unlikely Republican.

He recalls that when he first ran for the Senate in 1979, the people who quickly lined up behind him were workers.  He says the legislator he admires the most is the former Speaker of the House Ralph Wright, a Democrat.  And in interviews and in public, Mr. Illuzzi repeatedly touts his ability to work with legislators regardless of their political affiliations.  To hear him tell it, he is the non-partisan candidate.

“Vince works in mysterious ways,” says Robert Appel, the executive director of Vermont’s Human Rights Commission and someone who has worked in the Legislature for 20 years or so with Senator Illuzzi.  “He was willing to be an ally on issues that held nothing for him.

One of the strongest showings of the Senator’s bi-partisanship came when he announced his candidacy for state auditor inside the granite shed where his father had once worked.  The make-up of supporters surprised at least one veteran State House lobbyist.

“I don’t know how he did it, but they were there,” says Ed Lawson, executive director of Vermont Forest Products, who added he never saw such a mix of support from labor unions and business types.

At the Vermont History Expo that was held in June on the fairgrounds at Tunbridge, Mr. Illuzzi already had his campaign in hand, right down to the straw hat.

Orleans Republican Jim Greenwood, who served in the Senate for five terms beginning in 1996, recalls that Mr. Illuzzi was seen as a legislator who listens.  If someone had a problem and was trying to figure out what he would do, Mr. Greenwood would often hear him say:  “I’m going to call Vince and see what he can do for me.”

And often he came through.  “The next thing you knew, he was writing a bill,” says Mr. Greenwood.

From the debate in Middlesex at the Red Hen Bakery and Café, Mr. Illuzzi veers off the campaign trail to attend a funeral in Barre for Oreste Valsangiacomo, who once headed the financially powerful House Ways and Means Committee.  He grabs a quick lunch at the Wayside Diner on the Montpelier-Barre Road, where he resumes campaigning and shaking hands before heading south to Manchester and a scheduled interview with the local paper.

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he says, straying for a moment to recall the long hours that his father put in at the sheds.  “I’m married to my work.”

If campaigning alone could ensure a victory in a statewide race, Mr. Illuzzi would be a shoe-in.

Mr. Greenwood says his former colleague has an irrepressible work ethic; someone who “works night and day.”

These days there hardly appears a trace of Mr. Illuzzi’s characterization of himself as a shy young man who had to change his ways.  He says it wasn’t hard, but he may have overdone it by becoming “overtly aggressive in engaging other people.”

Mr. Greenwood, who is an economic development specialist for the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, says that because he was the youngest politician to be elected to the Vermont Senate, the media was quick to pick up on Mr. Illuzzi.

He was depicted as young, knowledgeable, and quite aggressive from a region whose politicians were traditionally seen as laid back, recalls Mr. Greenwood.  Back home there was a feeling that the Kingdom had “a new life blood in Montpelier.”

Mr. Appel calls Mr. Illuzzi a politician who “doesn’t lack backbone”; as one who “put in a lot of time and political capital” pushing legislation for state recognition of the Abenaki as a native people and helping to improve conditions for inmates in Vermont prisons.

North Troy’s Bobby Starr, the most recent senator from Orleans County to serve with Mr. Illuzzi, says his colleague “would go to the mat” with an issue in which he believed.

On the drive to Manchester, Mr. Illuzzi is constantly on the phone.  He says he buys 4,000 minutes of airtime a month, and uses every one of them.  He uses a cell phone like a magician uses a wand — to make something happen.

“Harry, where are you?” he says, in a call made while he’s driving.  “Well, I’m in Rutland, and I was going to stop and see if you could introduce me to some of the people in your office.”

At the Manchester Journal the Senator tells editor Andrew McKeever that “the problem with ideology is that it gets in the way of common sense in solving problems.”  He goes on to say that relationships “are so important” in politics, and that he is “a known quantity.”

But among some people who work in the State House, Mr. Illuzzi is regarded as unpredictable.  And sometimes dangerous.  A legislator, says one lobbyist who spoke on condition his name not appear in print, who can side with you one day and be against you the next, depending on what’s up for trade.

“You never know when he’s going to call in his chips.”

Mr. Appel, who also served as defender general before becoming head of the state’s Human Rights Commission, says that Mr. Illuzzi was often a legislator who waited until late in the session before coming out on an issue.

“He was very conscious about showing his hand,” said Mr. Greenwood, who characterizes Senator Illuzzi as “a front bench personality” who was most effective when he was at the center of the action.

One lobbyist, who spoke on condition of remaining anonymous, characterized Mr. Illuzzi as being “emotionally intelligent” for his ability to see where people on his committee need to land on any given issue.  As a front bench player, he would not take a lead but rather wait until he could identify that point where all the other players could find agreement and move the legislation on.

At least one lobbyist believes that as a legislator, Mr. Illuzzi wanted a seat at the table so badly that it didn’t matter what the issue was, just as long as he was a player.

That Mr. Illuzzi went into negotiations without taking a stand or showing his hand didn’t trouble a former colleague.

“That’s the mark of a good politician,” says Mr. Greenwood.

Ever the pragmatist, Mr. Illuzzi has his own explanation.  “I’ve always seen myself as a problem solver,” he says.  “People look up to me to get the job done.”

The legislator most admired by Mr. Illuzzi, Democrat Ralph Wright, was repeatedly elected speaker in an era when House Republicans were the majority party.  In his book, All Politics is Personal, published in 1996, Mr. Wright says he won the support of House members by being a good listener.

Mr. Illuzzi believes there is “a lot of truth” in the book’s title, and he says — and others confirm it — that in pushing for state recognition for the Abenaki bands, he was keeping a promise to the St. Johnsbury senator, Julius Canns, a sponsor of the legislation who died before it could be brought to a vote.

But as Speaker Wright knew very well, being personal in politics cuts both ways.  To this day, Mr. Illuzzi blames Judge David Suntag for getting him in hot water with the Supreme Court that led to his suspension from the practice of law for five years.

While Mr. Illuzzi admitted at the time that the allegations he had submitted against the judge were not based on fact, he says today the judge was arrogant, refusing to hold court in Guildhall, causing Essex Country residents to drive to courthouses elsewhere in the state.

That the suspension had no bearing on his political career comes as no surprise to him.

“Why would the locals hold that against me?” he asks.

To many of the senator’s constituents, it may have appeared that powers outside the Kingdom wanted to cut Mr. Illuzzi down to size.

Mr. Greenwood says that many people didn’t understand the nature of the complaints, while others suspected that politics were behind the suspension — “holding suspicions that the big wheels in Montpelier were pushing the envelope more than they should have.”

Those suspicions may have been sowed much earlier and before Mr. Illuzzi became a household name in nearly every Kingdom town.

A graduate of Vermont Law School, he came to the Northeast Kingdom in the late seventies as a deputy prosecutor for Orleans County State’s Attorney Leroy Null, a controversial figure who died in office.  Snubbed by the Snelling administration, who chose someone else to fill Mr. Null’s office, Mr. Illuzzi might have fallen into political obscurity were it not for the leaders of the county’s Republican Party.

By 1980 longtime Senator John Boylan of Island Pond, a Republican, had decided to retire from politics and the party leaders in the district were looking for someone to replace him on the ticket.  Recruited by Republicans, Mr. Illuzzi became one, and won his first election to the Senate, gaining a reputation along the way as a tireless campaigner.

“Never heard anyone say he was not a hard worker,” says Mr. Greenwood.

In the Senate he earned a reputation as someone who could write bills and craft legislation.  Mr. Starr remembers Mr. Illuzzi as a committee chairman who would stay up all night writing a bill and have it ready to present to the rest of his committee members the next day.

Recently, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, he was seen by one lobbyist as the person in the room who could see five or six moves ahead.  And someone willing to make an ally out of opposing colleague by telling him:  “I’ve got something you want.”

As he gained power and won appointment as chairman of the Senate Committee on Institutions, his reputation grew as he brought projects and funding into a district that traditionally lagged behind the rest of the state.

“Don’t know anyone who has brought more money into the Kingdom than Vince,” says Mr. Greenwood, adding that Mr. Illuzzi had the ability “to position himself in the Legislature to do this.”

Around the State House, Mr. Illuzzi says, he became known as Washington County’s fourth senator because of the projects he sponsored and championed, like the new granite museum in Barre.  As the author of the state’s capital construction bill, which funds projects statewide, Mr. Illuzzi had the power to make friends and win influence.

“Since 1991, I’ve had a major say on how every state dollar was spent,” he says.

“He had enough stuff in those bills for everyone, so no one would vote against it,” says Senator Starr.

“Vince is a guy who gets around,” says Mr. Appel.

Mr. Illuzzi is leaving the Senate at a time when the old guard is giving way to younger faces who are not as likely to defer to him — a new wave of legislators and lobbyists who don’t know they should be careful around Vince, says one who works the hallways of the State House.

Senator Illuzzi sees it, too.  During the closing weeks of the 2012 session, his customary role of problem solver did not rise to meet the occasion.

“It didn’t make any difference if the agreements I made had merit,” he says.  “They were flat out rejected.”

After his interview at the Manchester Journal, the Senator makes a quick trip to the mall, where he buys a new pair of shoes before heading to a Republican fund-raiser that is being held in a private home.  He delivers a short speech to the guests, who include former Governor Jim Douglas.  The last Republican speaker of the House, Walter Freed, introduces Mr. Illuzzi as the politician who provided the coattails that Ronald Reagan rode to victory in Vermont during the 1980 presidential election.

From Manchester Mr. Illuzzi drives south to drop off campaign lawn signs on the doorstep of the Bennington Town Clerk’s office.  Then it’s back to Manchester, where he stops at a snazzy restaurant to schmooze with the owner before driving home through intermittent rain and fog.

By the time he drops off a reporter in Barton, candidate Illuzzi — a Northeast Kingdom senator for 32 years and the first politician to seek a statewide office since Em Hebard was elected treasurer in 1976 — has been on the campaign trail for roughly 18 consecutive hours.  Derby and home are still a 30-minute ride away.

Vince Illuzzi marching in a parade in Island Pond.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Four vy for two seats in Essex-Orleans Senate race

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Left to right are Jay Dudley, John Rodgers, Bobby Starr and Bob Lewis. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 10-17-2012

In a campaign season that on the national level compels voters to choose between radical extremes, people who will elect the next two state senators from the Essex-Orleans district face the opposite problem.  It’s not easy to find important differences in what the four candidates stand for.

That was emphasized at the opening of Monday night’s media-sponsored debate at The East Side Restaurant in Newport.

Asked about industrial-strength wind power on the Kingdom’s ridgelines, the candidates were unanimous in their condemnation.

That included the only political novice in the race, Jay Dudley of Orleans.  In his day job, Mr. Dudley is the chief financial analyst for the state Public Service Board, the body that granted permits to the big wind projects in Sheffield and Lowell.  But Mr. Dudley is no friend to wind.

Vermont wind developers, Mr. Dudley said, “are going into wild, natural areas and blowing them to smithereens.”

The existing projects will offer a handful of highly technical jobs that probably won’t go to local people, Mr. Dudley added.

“I support a moratorium on industrial wind,” he said, “but ultimately we need to just stop it in its tracks.”

In response to the moderator’s specific question, how wind projects should be sited, John Rodgers of Glover said, “somewhere out in Nebraska would be good.  They have no place on our ridgelines.”

“Vermont does not need the power,” he added, noting that a wood-fired power plant in Ryegate shut down this summer because there was no market for its electricity.

Bobby Starr of North Troy, the only incumbent in the race, said the only people who make money on wind projects are the developers and the landowners who host the towers.

Consumers, he said, will have to pay for power that, even after government subsidies, will cost ten to 12 cents per kilowatt hour to produce, while the wholesale cost of power is about six cents.

All the towns within view of a proposed project should have a say in the permitting process, Mr. Starr added, and share equally in any payment the developer offers to the town that would host it.

“How come we don’t put them on Lake Champlain?” said Bob Lewis of Derby, a state representative who hopes to move up to the Senate.  “We have a lot to do on this issue.  We need to know the truth.”

Policy differences did emerge on the subject of drugs — specifically the prescription painkillers that, the candidates agreed, have become a bigger problem than illicit drugs.

Painkillers are the number one problem, said Mr. Lewis, who has retired from a career in law enforcement.  In Montpelier, he said, “we worked to give law enforcement the tools they needed.”

He supported a bill that would have given a police task force the right to monitor online the prescriptions filled at the state’s drugstores.  Presently, he said, police have to visit pharmacies in person to view such records.

The Democratic majority rejected the bill, he said, because “people were upset about access to their personal information.  We could get a lot more done if we just gave them the tools.”

“I disagree that we should let police look at every person’s prescription records,” said Mr. Rodgers, a Democrat.  “What’s next?  They can listen to your confessions in church, or when you talk to your lawyer?”

After 30 years of struggling with the problem, Mr. Rodgers added, “I think we would learn that enforcement is not the answer.”  He called instead for an emphasis on education and keeping young people in school.

Mr. Dudley, a Republican whose campaign puts a heavy emphasis on economic development, seemed to agree with Mr. Rodgers.  The root problem with drugs is people’s economic circumstances and high unemployment, he said.  “Economic development would be an important cure for a lot of these social ills.”

He blamed the plight of poor Vermonters on “this notion in Montpelier that we can have a zero-growth economy without any real effect on people.”

Mr. Starr agreed that “we need to keep children busy — keep them in school, hopefully, until they’re 18.”  Raising the age at which children can leave school from 16 to 18 is something he’s tried to accomplish in the Senate, Mr. Starr said in an earlier interview.

But Mr. Starr seemed to side with Mr. Lewis on the issue of prescription monitoring.

“It may not be good, John, to track these,” Mr. Starr said.  “But you can’t allow druggists to pump out prescriptions to these people.”

Mr. Starr and Mr. Dudley differed on a couple of points.  In his opening remarks, Mr. Dudley suggested that a major reason to vote for him is that he is not a Democrat, and so wouldn’t add to that party’s “super-majority” in the State House.

Among the consequences of that dominance, he said, would be a new sales tax on services — for work done by people like plumbers, electricians and mechanics.

In his regular visits to Montpelier, Mr. Starr said, “I haven’t heard one word about that.”

For the first and only time in Monday’s debate, Mr. Dudley invoked the rule that let him speak out of turn to respond to a direct challenge.  He said he’d heard House Speaker Shap Smith say that a sales tax on services would be on the agenda for the next session.

Mr. Starr said that was news to him.  Such a tax was discussed, but not adopted, during the last session.

And in his closing remarks, Mr. Dudley said his own campaign is self-financed.  “My only interest group is you,” he told his audience.  “My only debt is to you.”

While Mr. Starr and Mr. Rodgers might claim to be independent, Mr. Dudley continued, they depend on the Democratic Party for financial support.

“Nobody does anything for Bobby other than Bobby and his immediate family,” Mr. Starr responded.  “I don’t take directions from Montpelier, and I certainly don’t take any of their money.

“I usually get the job done without a lot of fanfare,” Mr. Starr concluded.  “I always left that up to Vince.”

That was the evening’s only reference to the man who is chiefly responsible for this year’s spirited Senate campaign.

Senator Vince Illuzzi created a vacancy in the district when he decided to run for state auditor, his first try at a statewide office.

That ended a long run of elections in which Mr. Illuzzi and Mr. Starr pretty much walked into office without serious opposition.

Mr. Starr is running to retain the seat he has held for eight years.  He moved to the Senate after a career in the House that began in 1978.  During most of his political career he ran — and drove for — his own trucking firm.

Mr. Lewis was appointed to the House to fill a vacancy five years ago.  The biggest reason he wants to move to the Senate, he said in an interview, is that “you have a lot more clout in the Senate than in the House.  You can get more done.”

Mr. Lewis worked as a state trooper and, later, a game warden.

Mr. Rodgers was part of the fifth generation on a family farm in Glover.  He runs his own small contracting firm.  That kept him so busy in the summer and fall of 2010 that he did little personal campaigning in his bid to retain his seat in the House.  He lost in his two-member Orleans-Caledonia district by a single vote, to fellow-Democrat Sam Young.

Mr. Dudley worked in commercial lending and small business development with area banks for 17 years before he joined the Public Service Board.  His lack of political experience put him at a disadvantage Monday night, when the candidates were asked to name their most important public accomplishment over the past five years.

Mr. Dudley spoke of his 18 years on the Barton Planning Commission and Zoning Board, ten years as chairman.  In that role, he said, “we structured our bylaws in a way that was fair, and had the interest of the property owner first and foremost.”

Mr. Rodgers said he was on the House Institutions Committee when local voters turned down a proposal for a free-standing technical education center in Newport that would be entirely state funded.

“Many legislators thought this area would never get it together,” Mr. Rodgers said.  “The majority on my committee wanted to drop the tech center.”

But Mr. Rodgers said he fought to keep the idea alive, and the center was ultimately established at North Country Union High School.

Mr. Starr cited his successful efforts to find state funds for all new school buildings on the western side of Orleans County.  “Our children were going to school in buildings they shouldn’t have been in,” he said.

Reaching back well over five years, Mr. Starr also mentioned the Northeast Dairy Compact, which he created with the help of economist Dan Smith.

He had to sell the idea in five other New England states and in Washington, Mr. Starr said.  Before it was killed by Congress, he said in an interview, it brought $150-million to distressed dairy farmers in New England and New York State, of which $50-million came to Vermont.

Mr. Starr said he hopes to become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee if he’s returned to Montpelier.  He served for years as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

As for Mr. Lewis’ major accomplishment, he said, “There is no question that number one is my family.”

Beyond that he spoke of his work on the Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources.  “I’m very proud of the bills I sponsored for sportsmen that became law,” Mr. Lewis said.

Asked about a single-payer health care system, three of the candidates agreed that they had not been given enough information to make up their minds.  Only Mr. Dudley took a firm stand against a single-payer system.  He cited the Canadian system, which, he said, tries to control costs by rationing and delaying services to its patients.  That was the only comment of the evening that drew angry grumbles from some members of the audience.

“I support a market-based approach,” Mr. Dudley said.

In general, however, the two Republican candidates took moderate positions, which placed them miles to the left of the Tea Party, while the two Democrats emphasized their independence.  It may be that Mr. Starr spoke for all of them when he made this comment on national politics, in an interview:

“The middle of the road is gone.  You’ve either got to get into the ditch on one side or across the yellow line on the other.  Usually the best part of the road is in the middle.  I see myself as a middle-of-the-road guy.”

The full debate can be viewed on NEK-TV, Comcast channel 15, on Wednesday, October 17, at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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