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New Member Orientation

At the end of November, I joined almost three dozen newly-elected and veteran legislators for a three-day Snelling Center for Government New Member Orientation at the statehouse in Montpelier.

The event began with a General Assembly Legislative Briefing session that included updates on Vermont’s new health care initiative, Green Mountain Care, and a Mental Health Systems update; FEMA and Irene Recovery; national economic trends; and the status of Vermont’s current revenue/budget. The orientation also included an entertaining tour and history of the statehouse; legislative information technology; presentations from first term and former legislators as well as committee and political caucus chairs; introduction of the Office of Legislative Council Staff and an overview of the bill drafting process; parliamentary procedure and bill amending, recording and notice process; ethical decision making; briefing from the National Conference of State legislators; Joint Fiscal Office staff introductions and presentations; a meeting with media representatives; and seminars with the Executive and Judicial Branches of government.

I was impressed by the knowledgeable, supportive and professional statehouse staff and look forward to working with them and my new colleagues when the session starts on January 9th.  The training was certainly an integral step in preparing legislators to make informed decisions about our capital budget and in crafting legislation that improves Vermonters’ lives.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments at CWeed@leg.state.vt.us.

Sincerely,

Representative-elect Cindy Weed
Franklin-7

2012 Election Results

2012 was a great year for the Vermont Progressive Party.

In November, while Republicans lost seats, every Progressive incumbent was reelected: the four members of the Vermont House who ran for reelection and the two members of the Vermont Senate.

We added one new Vermont House member (Cindy Weed of Enosburg, who beat a Republican incumbent) and one new Vermont Senate member (David Zuckerman, who came in 4th in the six-seat Chittenden County district).  Now there are three Progressives in the Vermont Senate and seven Republicans.
 
We also elected the first Progressive to a statewide office ever (not counting Senator Bernie Sanders, who runs as an Independent): Doug Hoffer was elected Vermont Auditor of Accounts as a D/P.  Doug is clearly a Progressive in all the ways that matter.  So now in Vermont we have one Republican in statewide office and one Progressive.

In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Cassandra Gekas got 41 percent of the vote against incumbent Phil Scott.  She received more votes than Republican Randy Brock got in the Governor’s race, despite spending a fraction of what he spent in that race.  Cass ran a great campaign and impressed everyone who heard her at a forum or rally.  She articulated a clear Progressive vision for Vermont’s future.

And then there is Ed Stanak.  “Don't panic; Vote Stanak” was his radio ad tagline.  Ed didn't start running until after the Primary Election because so many of his friends in Labor had backed TJ Donovan.  With Bill Sorrell winning the primary, Ed went to work articulating a simple, but powerful, platform to hold Wall Street accountable, close Vermont Yankee, and more.  In the end, Ed finished with 6 percent of the vote, enough to qualify us for Major Party status (as did Cass Gekas' results).

Don Schramm held the Progressive banner high in the State Treasurer’s race, after we attempted to persuade Beth Pearce, the Democratic candidate, to talk about the reasons Vermont would like to end our association with Wall Street banks.  Don promoted the concept of a Vermont State Bank, and explained the many reasons why Vermont’s economy would benefit from such a move.

It’s clear that the Vermont Progressive Party, the most successful ‘third party’ in the country, continued to grow in 2012, even as the Vermont Republican Party continued its decline.   Together, we are standing up against the corporate interests so prevalent in the other political parties – and we are winning.

Remembering Bob Castle

Bob’s been telling me he’s eighty years old since I met him ten years ago.

He harnessed me, just as if he’d been a trail boss, telling me to drive on, don’t quit, got a ways to go. There was no time for lally-gagging. Bob was a high-speed progressive, in the streets, on the sidewalks, at the meetings, in his car rounding up & recruiting, preaching to new choirs & old.

He named himself “curmudgeon” with pride, before he could be accused, his hoarse voice over-talking any who’d waste time saying stuff he didn’t need to hear. He could’ve claimed his lousy hearing for those interruptions, but the truth is he had no time to waste.

I got it out of him that he’d written a book of poetry, and I found a copy, out of print but not out of time. He was a truth-teller, a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker and a revolutionary. It’s all there in black & white for any who doubt that Bob didn’t arrive here from New Jersey on this quiet dirt road to lead a measured life of ease.

There was beauty in this man. How else to incredibly & wisely corral his sweet Kate to join him in life & adventure. He gave her every wall in their home for her weavings, her paintings, her fibers. He lived in every inch of his Kingdom home & land, cranking up his lousy knees to get himself to Newport’s Main Street by “the fish”. His baseball cap never dared blow away.

I remember once he’d come for strong, long talk at our table, kept saying it was time for him to go because it was getting on to evening. The next day he called to say he’d fallen asleep at the wheel. No harm done. Wheels in the ditch but they’re out now. No harm done.

No harm done that day nor any other. Bob Castle wasn’t a 50% guy, he was 100%, for the Truth of things.

I can’t say I ever heard him preach as a Minister, but I know he traveled to wherever his body would allow, to spread his words to & for real People. Remember he’d been eighty for a long, long time.

Today’s a lonely day. It’s too quiet.

We may not be able to match his volume, but we’ve known his footsteps & it’s up to each of us to keep them clearly in view, as we keep on going. Don’t quit now, he’d say.

I can say that now without him interrupting me.

ACA Upheld

Today the US Supreme Court uphold most of federal health law. Some play by play here:

http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/us-supreme-court-and-the-federal-health-law.aspx

Vermont can do better for Vermont Workers.

Vermont has the most progressive Democratic Governor in the Country.  Both houses of the Vermont Legislature contain overwhelming majorities of elected Democrats.  And yet, this year, after Labor has been loyal to Democratic candidates and worked hard to get them elected, workers’ concerns were often ignored and, in the Vermont Senate, the Democratic leadership fought hard to keep them off the agenda.

Last year, the Legislature was happy to pass and the Governor was happy to sign a non binding resolution in support of Labor in Wisconsin!  But this year when it came to passing legislation to help Vermont workers, the Legislature had no interest in doing so. Governor Shumlin failed to step forward and provide any leadership or support for some important bills.

The omnibus labor bill, improvements to the state prevailing wage requirements, restoring cuts to unemployment benefits were all victims of the Governor and the Legislative Leadership taking Labor’s support for granted without feeling a need to do anything to earn it.

Many Vermonters may not know that if there is a labor union in a Vermont workplace, joining it is still optional for each employee.  But, if any employee encounters a problem with the employer, the Union is required to represent them and fight for their interests (even providing lawyers and paying for arbitration), even for those employees who chose not to join the union and have never paid any union dues.  So, there was a bill to allow unions to charge a fee for those services.  It was allowed to die.

Migrant farm workers and the Vermont farmers who employ them asked the Legislature to make some changes that would allow these workers to get a State ID and Drivers license, a legitimate status to enable them to work and to get access to medical care.  Vermont farmers testified that they rely heavily on these migrant farm workers to make their businesses viable and lobbied in support of their workers. Hearings were held.  Silence from the Governor’s office. Nothing was done.
Child care workers do the most important work in our state for the least amount of pay.   Much child care in Vermont is subsidized by a program which reimburses child care providers for services to children whose parents are in the workforce but are paid less than a livable wage.    This is really another way in which the taxpayers subsidize businesses that choose not to pay their workers enough to provide the childcare that they need in order to work.  

Most childcare providers are one person operations.  As individuals, they are not able to effectively bargain with the state for livable wage rates for their businesses.  So they were seeking to create an opportunity to bargain collectively with the State instead of having to negotiate one on one.  

The Democratic leadership in the Senate fought tooth and nail to avoid taking a vote on this bill, even disbanding the Senate for half of an entire day to avoid a vote.  Finally, it was maneuvered onto the budget bill as an amendment by its supporters, largely the work of Sen. Mark McDonald of Orange, whose leadership on this issue stands out in contrast to much of the rest of his party.

It is a common maneuver that if you can’t kill something in one chamber, you pass it back to the other Chamber.  If they can’t kill it there, you kill it in conference committee.  And that is what happened.  The Democratic Leadership would not let it be a stand alone bill to be voted on because it likely would have passed.  When forced to add it to the budget, they used the age old argument that it was not germane to the budget (which arguably it was).   So the bill died in the Conference Committee, another victim of a lack of leadership on supporting Vermont workers and Vermont’s smallest businesses.

Vermont can do better for our workers, for their advocates, for our farmers, for our children and for those who care for them.  Fair labor practices and democratic work places benefit all of us and the sustainable society that we all want to live in.

Dramatic Events

If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union and the support for our institutions languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont." – Calvin Coolidge

It was a dark night in Wisconsin for the 99% of citizens in this country and for democracy.  The onslaught of Citizen United unlimited Corporate money in Wisconsin created an enormous funding gap: $30 million for the Republican Governor (mostly from out of state) vs $4 million for the Democrat (raised mostly in-state).  That kind of David and Goliath contest threatens the very foundations of our country.

We are fortunate, here in Vermont, that we have not yet seen that level of attack on our democratic process.  We are lucky that one of our political leaders has spent 40 years educating Vermonters about the disparity of wealth and power in politics.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has done as much as any one person could to inoculate Vermonters against the big money and negative advertising that can buy an election. Because he has talked about the concentration of wealth in the hands of 1% of the US population for 40 years, the Occupy Wall Street message was not news to Vermonters.

We understand that wealthy and powerful interests are not paying their fair share and that they are gambling with taxpayer money on Wall Street. We understand that if banks are too big to fail, they are free to pocket millions and then ask for a bail out when their financial risk-taking jeopardizes our whole economy.

We must not take democracy for granted.  In Michigan, the Governor is disbanding the elected mayors and city councils and appointing financial tsars to run whole towns and cities.  In the name of national security, Congress has given the president the authority to shoot US citizens on sight by designating them as terrorists without any court order or review process.

This idea of Corporate personhood has swept across our land and we, the real people, must meet this challenge to our future by getting involved in our democracy, by supporting candidates and parties that represent our interests, with shoe leather and with generous donations.  We must make consumer decisions that support our communities and our neighbors, the small businesses we value and withdraw our support as much as we can from the multinational conglomerates and their wealthy shareholders.  

Vermont is a small state, but we can keep the flame of liberty alive until the rest of the country is ready to rekindle theirs.

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