Daily Archives: July 1, 2015

A watershed moment for legalization in Vermont

This year, the state legislature did its best to tippy-toe around the issue of marijuana legalization. We heard the usual excuses — the time is not right, it needs more study, we’ve got too much else on our plate — and ended with an expensive consultant’s report sitting on a shelf.

Since then, two rather dramatic things have happened. Two weeks ago, Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito called for the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of personal use of other drugs.

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

And now, we have a pro-legalization essay by the top Republican in the State Senate, Joe Benning. His piece, posted today on VTDigger, said legalization is inevitable, that marijuana is a useful and “widely popular consumer product,” that legalization would result in “a safer product,” and — here comes the Republican part — it would create “a legitimate, properly regulated industry [that] can only lead to more real, good-paying jobs.”

Well.

Sen. Benning can’t swing the vote on his own since his caucus numbers a mere nine*. The next step in marijuana law is up to the many Weebles in the Democratic majority, who’ve been painfully hesitant on the issue.

*Originally I wrote “seven,” but the good Senator corrected me. Must have stumbled upon outdated numbers in my expert Googling.

But I’d think that Benning’s advocacy would give them an opening to advance legalization. Democrats tend to be thoroughly spooked by the threat of Republican counterattacks on crime issues. And although Benning is only one Republican, he’s a very influential one. His stand ought to inoculate Democrats from GOP attacks.

It’s hard not to see this as a big step toward the death of the costly and ineffective War On Drugs, or at least the death of its most ineffective component, the war on Weed.

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Julia Barnes steps aside

Political job seekers take note: the Vermont Democratic Party is in the market for a new executive director. Julia Barnes is leaving after 3 1/2 years in a very demanding post.

How demanding? “At 3 1/2 years, I’m the second longest-serving executive director in Vermont Democratic Party history,” she says. (Number 1 is Jon Copans, BTW.)

This is an entirely voluntary decision on her part. “It’s exhausting work,” she says. “We’ve made a ton of progress with the Party, and I’m ready for something new. I’ve loved my time at the Vermont Democratic Party, working with the staff, activists, and elected officials. If I had to go back in time, I’d do it again.”

“Something new” might be pursuit of an advanced degree or something else in politics.

I must observe that this is a good time for an accomplished, successful operative to be on the market. Presidential campaigns are ramping up, and state-level campaigns will be doing so in coming months. With Barnes’ track record, I suspect she’ll have more than one offer. If, that is, she decides to stay in the sausage factory.

And while a superficial reading of the 2014 election might raise questions about her leadership, I think it’s abundantly clear that the Democrats’ fundamental problems were (1) a very unpopular Governor, and (2) a non-Presidential and non-Senatorial year that depressed turnout. A closer reading of the returns would show that the VDP was rowing against some very powerful tides. During Barnes’ time as ED, the party has built and maintained a strong organization.

So yeah, if she wants a job in politics she’ll get one. And her successor will have big shoes to fill.

Logrolling In Our Time, Bespoke Contracts Edition

Here’s me doing something I never thought I’d do: recommending a story on the right-wing website Vermont Watchdog that I believe is an actual scoop of some importance.

Vermont Watchdog, for those just joining us, is the Montpelier outpost of a conservative journalistic enterprise that gets its money from the Usual Suspects, i.e. the Kochs et al. The site’s usual content is vastly overblown at best, completely off the mark at worst. But this time, VTW’s Bruce Parker got hold of something.

Business development groups in Vermont are demanding to know how a $100,000 appropriation for fostering business with Quebec was awarded exclusively to Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, according to emails obtained by Vermont Watchdog.

The appropriation in question was included in S.138, an economic development bill that passed the Legislature this year. The bill’s language does not mention LCRCC; it simply says the $100,000 will go to the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development “to implement a targeted marketing and business expansion initiative for Quebec-based businesses…”

One could reasonably infer that once the bill was signed into law, ACCD would fashion a means of using the money for the intended purpose. But apparently there was a backdoor deal to simply hand the 100 G’s over to the LCRCC, whose Executive Director, Tom Torti, held high positions in the Dean and Douglas administrations, and was recently referred to by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz as one of “the state’s traditional power brokers,” whose counsel, sez Heintz, would be invaluable to potential candidates for governor.

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