• Looking to the future
    October 18,2009

    ONTPELIER – If the 2010 Vermont gubernatorial race was a hot bath, former state Sen. Matt Dunne dipped his toe in last week to see if the temperature was right.

    Dunne last week launched vermontfuture.org, a Web site that asks residents to suggest ways to "preserve our beautiful state and build a better Vermont for the next generation …"

    "In 2010 we will elect a new governor and bring Vermont into a new era," Dunne wrote on the Web site. "Many of you have encouraged me to enter this race and this process has sparked an exciting conversation about our state's future."

    This is hardly a campaign announcement, but it does appear to be Dunne's first step toward launching his 2010 campaign for governor. And it makes a lot more sense than Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie's announcement (via an e-mailed press release) and state Sen. Peter Shumlin's half-announcement (via a Vermont Public Radio interview).

    Dunne is in a good position to snake his way through the nest of Democratic candidates vying for the state's top job. He's young (39 years old), well liked by grassroots and insider political activists and has experience running against Dubie (he came within six points of beating the Republican in 2006).

    It's still not clear exactly what the Vermont Future Web site is actually intended to do or be, but since Dunne's employer right now is Internet giant Google and the site prominently asks supporters to connect with him on Facebook, expect it to be well drenched in new media and social networking trends.

    Meanwhile, the rumors are buzzing that both Dunne and Shumlin will have official, formal announcements of their gubernatorial runs in November. They would join a crowded field that already includes Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Chittenden County Sen. Doug Racine and Lamoille County Sen. Susan Bartlett.

    Through the Hoop

    It remains to be seen if Montpelier Mayor Mary Hooper will survive the political fallout from the capital city's revelation this month that it hid from taxpayers a major payment error, resulting in a loss of more than $400,000.

    As with many political scandals, the cover-up seems worse than the actual act. After realizing the mistake, city officials – including Hooper – kept it a secret for three years until Times Argus reporter Sue Allen uncovered the situation last Friday afternoon.

    The question is whether this scandal will roll over into her legislative work. When she's not Mayor Hooper, she's Rep. Hooper, a Democrat representing Montpelier at the Statehouse. A newbie lawmaker, she's up for her first re-election in 2010.

    Hooper seems really apologetic about the whole thing. But she – and other city officials – continued to fumble in the aftermath, including scheduling less than 30 minutes on the City Council agenda last week to address the issue. Clearly, that talk spilled over – and they should have known it would and acted accordingly.

    If Hooper retains her job as mayor, it is highly unlikely that she would lose her Statehouse seat (Democrats in Montpelier are a forgiving, tight-knit group). But we wouldn't be surprised to see a strong primary challenger or independent general election opponent appear next year.

    And this whole scandal raises serious questions about the possibility of her chairing a legislative committee, a track she seemed to be on when first entering the Statehouse last year.

    You are still doing it wrong

    Last week, VPB's Vermont View blog pointed out the strange differences between how the Web pages for the Democratic and Republican parties reported the announcement that Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is running for governor.

    The Republican candidate's announcement was the top new ticker item at www.democratsvt.org, proclaiming that Dubie "has made his candidacy for governor official." As for vtgop.org, there was no mention at all.

    Well, at least the Republicans got the message. Within a day or two, the site was updated – with posts dated days earlier to make it appear that they were timely – announcing Dubie's decision. The Democrats' Web site, meanwhile, still promotes the announcement with a fervor that should only be used for, you know, their own candidates.

    Living separately

    Peter Shumlin, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in next year's election, is separated from his wife of two decades.

    Shumlin said the split is amicable and that they remain very close friends but have decided it is best if they live apart — at least for now.

    "Deb and I are great friends and care a lot about each other," he said. "We are living separately."

    Shumlin added that he is living about two miles away from where he and his wife lived, but is still living in Putney, the town where they both grew up.

    The two have separated once in the past, Shumlin added.

    "Of the 20 years for one year we did live separately," he said. The two are not divorced, Shumlin said.

    "We all know that half of Vermonters who enter into marriage go through this," he said.

    Shumlin and his wife have two daughters, one in college and one who will start college next year.

    "Deb and the girls are encouraging me to run for governor," added Shumlin, who said he will make his final decision known fairly soon.

    Capitol Beat is a weekly column by the Vermont Press Bureau, the Statehouse office of the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

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