The Governor's Free Ride
As the state’s top elected official, Gov. Jim Douglas gets around-the-clock security. Wherever he goes, his trooper goes.
The same went for Gov. Howard Dean, who was roundly criticized for dragging along his security detail while politically gallivanting. After all, why should taxpayers foot the bill for his national ambitions?
But, even before his national star began to rise, Dean repaid the state out of his campaign coffers for his political travel, mileage and other expenses. In fact, from 1992 to 2000, Dean reimbursed the Department of Public Safety more than $3000 for mileage; the state of Vermont $2750 for travel-related costs; and another $1750 for photocopies, stationery and telephone charges.
So, surely Gov. Douglas is following that example and repaying the state for all his campaign-related costs? If nothing else, he at least reimburses the state for the trooper’s time, right?
After a week of dodging repeated questions about whether the Douglas campaign follows Dean’s lead, the governor’s campaign manager Dennise Casey told “Fair Game” on Monday: “No, we don’t.”
Casey certainly took a cue from her boss when it came to using taxpayer-funded resources while politicking.
According to records provided to “Fair Game” by Department of Buildings and General Services Commissioner Gerry Myers, after leaving her job as secretary of civil and military affairs, Casey continued to use her official state employee ID to access the offices in the Pavilion Complex. The ID acts as a swipe card that allows the user access to the building, as well as inner suites, including the governor’s office.
The governor’s office asked Casey to turn in her badge on September 17, according to Gary Bullard, the director of state security. The badge was deactivated September 30. By then, Casey had made 14 visits to the Pavilion as a campaign aid, five of them after state offices closed at 4:30 p.m.
Bullard said a “glitch in our system” didn’t catch that Casey was no longer an employee of the state.
Coincidentally, “Fair Game” first questioned Casey’s use of the badge and a special parking pass on September 22, after an alert reader saw her and other campaign aides leaving the parking lot adjacent to the Pavilion Complex. The reader wondered if they were availing themselves of state perks.
Casey defended her use of the ID, saying, “I go over to the governor’s office a few times a week to pick stuff up and attend scheduling meetings, and since I’m still working for Gov. Douglas, I never gave the badge a second thought.”
Bullard said Casey occasionally used her parking pass while carpooling with state employees. Carpooling is a “valid and promoted activity” Bullard said — and one that Casey claimed fits in with the governor’s environmental ethics.
“We have a carpool policy at the Douglas campaign,” Casey said. “Whenever possible, we carpool with each other and others that work in Montpelier, and that includes state employees.”
Speaking of policies, Vermont has one regarding the use of state property for uses other than the carrying out of taxpayer-funded duties.
Douglas and Casey might want to re-read it. It says: “Employees shall not use, or attempt to use, State personnel, property, or equipment for their private use or for any use not required for the proper discharge of their official duties.”
How do other candidates separate campaign costs from official expenses?
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington has a legislative assistant to coordinate her official duties as House Speaker. All Symington’s travel expenses are now paid for by her campaign, said Jill Krowinski, Symington’s campaign manager. Prior to announcing her candidacy, Symington’s Speaker-related travel was reimbursed by the state. But, since she has campaign staff with her all the time now, Krowinski said, Symington feels it’s best for the campaign to pay her way.
Carolyn Dwyer, campaign manager for Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, said the Federal Election Commission guides incumbents on how to account for campaign-related expenses and travel.
“If we have a day where there are both congressional and campaign events, the campaign will pick up the cost for the whole day,” said Dwyer.
Erring on the side of caution — what a concept.
No Room at the Inn — Am I the only one who views the cautious response by some elected officials to the pending homeless, food and fuel crisis as, um, cold?
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick anticipated a bad winter by adding 300 new shelter beds and injecting an additional $10 million for permanent housing for the homeless.
That kind of urgency is not yet on display in Vermont. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin’s request for $500,000 to add beds in homeless shelters around the state was tabled at the October Joint Fiscal Committee meeting. The committee will take up Shumlin’s request again in November, but any appropriation will also require the approval of the governor’s cabinet-level Food & Fuel Task Force. That panel has eked out $4.7 million in “crisis” funding, although most of it is directed toward energy-efficiency measures.
Shelter directors said they would appeal this week to the governor’s Interagency Task Force on Homelessness, as well as the Food & Fuel Task Force, for more support.
Patrick Flood, the deputy secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said the state has about $4 million to help Vermonters stay out of shelters — and is already using it to help with rents and deposits.
The funds should last until the legislature convenes in January, said Flood.
“No one knows just how big the problem will be, or what the best solutions will be,” he added. “If we are able to help people stay in their homes, then we can avoid the need to expand shelters.”
Shelter directors say it takes time to set up new beds and January may be too late — the demand for beds is growing, with people further up the economic ladder now requesting help.
Calls to 211, the state’s assistance hotline, are on the rise, and increasing numbers of them are from middle-income folks, said Mary Ellen Mendl, the hotline’s director. The 211 line has received 7549 calls since June 26 — 2400 in September alone, most of them for basic needs like shelter, fuel and food.
But, there is some good news.
Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Welch secured $35 million in fuel assistance for low-income families this year — twice as much as last year.
Richard Moffi, the state’s director of home heating fuel assistance, said Vermont will kick in about $2 million in additional funding. More Vermonters will get help with their heating bills this year, Moffi said, and those folks will receive a bigger check.
Moffi expects 41,000 requests for assistance this year — up 26 percent from last year. There’s enough money to help about 23,850 households cover 60 percent of their fuel bill, he noted. Last year the state helped 21,680 households cover 40 percent of their bills.
The feds are also helping more Vermonters with their food bills. Congress made key changes to the food-stamp program on October 1 that will make about 1000 additional families eligible. In January, Douglas will implement changes that could make an additional 14,500 new Vermonters eligible for food stamps.
But aren’t people hungry and cold now?
Advocates tell “Fair Game” the state was worried that, if benefit programs were boosted too soon, there wouldn’t be enough staff to handle the caseload. (Maybe we need to hire back a few of the 250 people axed from the state workforce this year?)
Compare today’s response to a similar crisis in 1991. Back then, the state budget was $91 million in the red and a recession was sweeping the country. Gov. Richard Snelling, a Republican, struck a deal with Democratic House Speaker Ralph Wright to temporarily increase tax rates to help the state provide assistance to the needy. Those taxes were sunsetted when the deficit was paid.
Both of them took heat, especially Snelling. Business leaders cried that the tax increase would doom the state. But, as Wright wrote in his autobiography, All Politics Is Personal, Snelling said the governor and the Speaker had to work together to get through the crisis: “It’s beyond just our political well-being,” said Snelling. “The future viability of the State of Vermont is at stake.”
Can you see Douglas and Symington reaching a similar accord?
Rasmussen Redux — The long-awaited Rasmussen poll finally arrived last week, only to be largely ignored by many Vermont media outlets.
The reason? How the poll was conducted. Rasmussen uses an interactive voice-response poll, which means it’s not a real person asking the questions and taking down the answers. It’s all done by touch-tone phone and voice prompts.
John Curran, Vermont’s AP bureau chief, said the wire service’s “company-wide policy is to avoid all ‘interactive voice response’ polls, by Rasmussen and others.” Calling such polls “notoriously unreliable,” WCAX-TV’s Marselis Parsons said his station abides by the same policy. Vermont Public Radio also ignored the poll.
The Rutland Herald/Times Argus did report the Rasmussen results, while WPTZ-TV mentioned it during Monday night’s 6 p.m. broadcast. The Burlington Free Press wrote it up on the paper’s political blog, but not in print.
So, what were those results?
According to Rasmussen, Vermonters’ preferences for governor break down like this: Douglas, 45 percent; Independent Anthony Pollina, 25 percent; Symington, 20 percent.
However, when the results include “leaners,” the numbers change considerably: Douglas, 53 percent; Symington, 39 percent; and Pollina, 4 percent.
Here’s how Rasmussen describes the variance: “Pollina initially earns 25 percent of the vote, but only 4 percent remain certain they’d vote for Pollina if it comes down to a choice between Douglas and Symington.”
That explanation has left many people puzzled. In a three-way race, how can it be a choice between two candidates? No word on that from Rasmussen.
By the way, in August 2006, Rasmussen called that year’s governor’s race this way: Douglas, 55 percent, and Democrat Scudder Parker, 37 percent. The actual tally in November was Douglas, 56 percent, and Parker, 41 percent.
In Our Thoughts — Many readers have stopped me recently to ask about the health and whereabouts of Peter Freyne.
Here’s the scoop: For those who don’t know, Peter was admitted to Fletcher Allen Health Care on September 19 for an illness unrelated to the lymphoma he was diagnosed with in 2007 (and subsequently beat). His ailment was treated with antibiotics, and he was moved to Fanny Allen’s rehabilitation unit earlier this week.
He’s OK with occasional visitors, but it may be best to send get-well wishes in a card via snail mail, or an email to Seven Days or, better yet, through FAHC’s website. Click here for the link.
In the meantime, follow Peter’s lead: Keep smiling, and don’t let the bastards get you down.
Got a news tip? Email Shay at firstname.lastname@example.org