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New Hampshire gets spotlight as campaign enters new phase

MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire is not accustomed to playing the role of the undercard.

But so far in the 2020 campaign, the first-in-the-nation primary state has been more of a destination for lower-tier Democratic presidential candidates than for three of its top contenders.

Democratic voters have seen former Maryland congressman John Delaney or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who recently ended her presidential run, on any given day more than former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

That changes Saturday when the 2020 field descends on Manchester for the state Democratic Party’s convention as the campaign enters a more intense phase, with several also-ran candidates needing moments that would elevate them.

“From my perspective, both Biden and Bernie are more counting on their name recognition than the retail politics that we’re known for here in New Hampshire,” said Sabina Chen, the chairwoman of the Pelham Democrats. She voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary but has not endorsed a candidate so far.

While Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts each has a core of support in the state, Biden has stirred unease among some Democratic activists mindful of the challenge that defeating President Donald Trump poses.

As Patricia Pustell, chairwoman of the Greater Ossipee Democrats, says, it’s time for “new blood and new leadership.”

“I think (Biden’s) coming back to save us and he doesn’t need to save us,” Pustell said. “We have enough people that can do this job.”

The New Hampshire primary has a history of humbling front-runners. Walter Mondale, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were each denied victory in the New Hampshire primary in the years they became the eventual Democratic nominee.

Since 1976, the year Democrat Jimmy Carter won the state’s primary, no New Hampshire Democratic primary winners have gone on to capture both the party nomination and the presidency. And since Carter, no non-incumbent Democrat who has won the New Hampshire primary once has been able to capture a repeat victory.

Longtime New Hampshire Democrats say endorsements for 2020 contenders have come slowly this cycle, in part because of the large field and lingering tensions from the fractious primary between Sanders and Clinton.

“The last time around there was so much of an argument between the Sanders campaign with the Clinton campaign, that I think a lot of people are being careful to not seem like they’ve committed too early,” said Deb Bacon Nelson, chairwoman of the Hanover/Lyme town Democrats, who endorsed Clinton in 2016.

Biden has secured the backing of establishment figures like former Gov. John Lynch. But since announcing his campaign in April, Biden has made four campaign trips to the state with sometimes-uneven results.

Harris regularly draws large crowds when she campaigns here, though as of Labor Day she has spent only six days campaigning in the state. Last month in Iowa, the California Democrat dedicated five days in August alone to a bus tour.

That has left some voters in the state forming their impression of Harris largely from her first debate performance when she criticized Biden. For voters like Anne Fenn, a retired federal government worker, that left a sour taste.

For Fenn to consider Harris, the 66-year-old said “she’s got to come here. She’s got to talk to us, she’s got to meet with people, she’s got to let people see her face to face.”

Warren has focused on New Hampshire more than any of her closest rivals in terms of days spent campaigning in the state — 15 trips and 19 days since January, her campaign says.

Sanders has found himself out-campaigned in New Hampshire by Warren, even after a Labor Day weekend campaign trip increased his total to six trips and 12 days spent in the state.

“I think there’s only one candidate in the top tier with kind of consistent momentum, and that’s Elizabeth Warren,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Another key variable is whether a candidate from the second tier can “make some noise” in the state, Scala said.

“The amount of time (New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s) spent here, the endorsements he has already, there seems like a real disparity between the resources he’s putting in and his poll numbers,” Scala said.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also shown a focus on campaigning in the state more similar to Warren than that of Biden, Harris and Sanders. Buttigieg’s campaign recently announced it is opening 12 offices across New Hampshire’s 10 counties.

Biden has praised New Hampshire lavishly in his visits since announcing his presidential run, though his events have been marked by a series of miscues, most recently when he went off script during an event in Hanover in August by raising the question of what might have happened in America if Obama had been assassinated during his presidential campaign in 2008.

Still, he has a solid base of support.

“He is the best candidate to beat Trump,” Tom Goins, a 67-year-old voter from Walpole, said of Biden. “He’s moderate enough to appeal to the broad masses. I think some of the other candidates have great ideas, but I think they’re a little bit too polarizing.”

jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Hay, Now

A farmer uses a hay tedder on fresh-cut grass Friday in Chelsea. The upcoming weekend will offer a mixed bag for drying conditions.

Governance under review in Washington Central

EAST MONTPELIER — The Washington Central School Board has launched what will be an ongoing conversation about school governance, and members have agreed that school administrators need to be active participants in that process.

A night that ended in division over whether to maintain membership in the Vermont School Boards Association began with consensus involving the importance of evaluating how best to run a recently merged pre-K-12 school district, as well as the role the district’s leadership team should play in that effort.

Though board members acknowledged it would have been tempting to defer discussion of a reading assignment that was part of a crowded agenda; they agreed that would be a mistake to do so.

They also agreed as they plow through the book “Equity, From the Boardroom to the Classroom: Transforming Districts Into Professional Learning Organizations”, they need to hear regularly from the people responsible for running their six schools. Everyone agreed on that point.

On that point everyone – from board members to building principals – agreed.

It isn’t a forever commitment, but for the foreseeable future the leadership team will attend the board’s biweekly meetings as it weighs a shift to the professional learning organization model outlined in the book they’re all reading.

Though some board members were concerned that might be asking too much of administrators, they were told not to worry about it.

Cat Fair, principal of Calais Elementary School, said she doesn’t relish more meetings, but said she is eager to participate in a conversation about collaboration and how to re-align a previously fragmented network of schools into one consolidated system.

“I feel like it’s important if we’re establishing a relationship that crosses five towns and … seven buildings that we meet every two weeks if you’re going to meet every two weeks,” she said as other administrators nodded their heads.

Aaron Boynton, principal of Berlin Elementary School, echoed that assessment, saying “We are building this together,” Boynton said, thanking board members for valuing administrative input in a process that will involve building trust. It is a conversation that could result in changes – some more subtle than others – said Alicia Lyford, principal of East Montpelier Elementary School. She said school staff will want to be briefed.

“If we weren’t here we would be out of the loop, as well and that leaves a lot of people out of the loop,” Lyford said, suggesting communication will be a crucial part of making any meaningful change.

Board members welcomed that response.

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear you guys say that,” School Director Jonas Eno-Van Fleet said. School Director Chris McVeigh said it was also helpful.

“We’re establishing a new entity and I think by not having administrators here … we’re just sliding back into the the old way of doing things,” he said.

Chairman Scott Thompson opened the discussion, by suggesting the board leave it to Interim Superintendent Debra Taylor to determine whether administrators who answer to her must attend board meetings.

Taylor said administrators had discussed the issue at a recent retreat and agreed their participation in helping stand up a pre-K-12 school district that includes elementary schools in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester as well as U-32 Middle and High School.

“As long as we’re continuing to develop a governance structure the … information our administrators can provide first hand is very valuable,” she said.

It was earlier in the meeting when board members and administrators huddled in small groups to discuss the fist two chapters of a book they’re scheduled to talk about twice a month through December.

A mix of optimism and excitement colored most of those conversations and the agenda item that was almost postponed for a second straight time.

School Director Flor Diaz-Smith made sure it wasn’t.

Though Diaz-Smith acknowledged the meeting was behind schedule she argued deferring the discussion again was unacceptable.

“I think this is the work we need to be doing,” she said.

Roughly 30 minutes later board members Chris McVeigh and Vera Frazier said they were on the same page.

While it would have been easy, McVeigh said postponing what he described as a productive conversation would have been a mistake and Frazier said figuring out how to run the merged school system was crucial.

“This is an important part of what we need to do as a board,” Frazier said. “We need to take the time.”

In other business, board members approved the purchase of $22,420 in playground equipment for Rumney Memorial School in Middlesex and authorized their finance committee to finalize the purchase of a tractor for Rumney after bids are received.

The board also appointed a three-member policy committee and has yet to resolve a lingering question about the scheduling of its annual meeting.

Ironing out that wrinkle may require a special school district meeting, because voters set Town Meeting Day as the date for the annual meeting, which is a town meeting style forum where the district’s moderator, clerk and treasurer are elected and frequently serves as a budget information meeting.

The district’s budget will be voted by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, creating a conflict for clerks, who, barring change in the date, would have to squeeze in an annual meeting, which would likely be held at U-32 before the polls open in their communities.

The board agreed to consult with clerks before determining how best to proceed.


Attorneys talk jury selection for Caballero trial

BARRE — No motions are expected to be filed, a jury questionnaire will soon be submitted, and all that’s left to do is pick a jury for Jayveon Caballero’s trial for the murder charge he faces.

Caballero, 31, of Barre, has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Markus Austin in Montpelier in January 2017. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in August 2018, and is being held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

According to court records, a witness told police Austin was shot around 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 22, 2017, in the parking lot outside his 191 Barre Street apartment in Montpelier. Austin died from a 9 mm gunshot wound to the chest, according to police and court records.

Police said the shooting followed a fight in Barre the previous evening, when witnesses said Austin hit Caballero’s girlfriend, who required medical treatment as a result. Officials said Caballero waited outside Austin’s apartment before Austin was shot.

Police said Caballero then fled to Florida, where he was arrested in May 2017 and brought back to Vermont.

The trial is set for November. A hearing was held Friday in Washington County criminal court where attorneys discussed any remaining issues before the trial.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Anderson said she had a jury questionnaire nearly ready to file. The jury pool will first come to the courthouse Oct. 2, where they will be given the questionnaire asking them things such as how familiar they are with the case. Potential jurors who don’t complete the questionnaire that day will be allowed to take it home to finish and mailed back to the court by Oct. 9.

Dan Sedon, the attorney representing Caballero, said he and the state can go through the questionnaire and come up with a list of people they don’t want to be on the jury based on their answers. The remaining potential jurors will then be interviewed Nov. 6 and the trial is expected to start as soon as the jury is picked. Anderson said the state’s case will take about seven days to present.

Judge Mary L. Morrissey asked the two sides whether they were planning on filing and motions between now and then. They said they did not. The next court date will be Oct. 28 for a pretrial conference.


Buyout proposed for Maple Corner Store

CALAIS — The landmark Maple Corner Country Store and Whammy Bar in Maple Corner has been up for sale for the past two years, without any takers.

Concerned the business might close without a buyer, loyal customers and friends have banded together to organize a shareholder buyout of the store from owners Artie and Nancy Toulis.

The Maple Corner Store Committee has set a deadline of Nov. 1 to close on the purchase of the business for $450,000.

Two public meetings to discuss the shareholder buyout will be held at the Maple Corner Community Center today (Saturday), at 5 p.m., and during the fall foliage festival on Sunday, Oct. 6, at 5:30 p.m.

The Toulises bought the classic country store from Bob and Diane Cleary in summer 2007. Since then, it has remained a popular pit stop and social center for locals.

It is where local children board the school bus, people make a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and a place to find both groceries and a selection of wines. It also offers a more extensive range of home-cooking style foods, including freshly made pizza and sandwiches and the bar features “pub grub.”

The Whammy Bar opened in October 2012 as a small, intimate pub and live music venue in the back of the store. It became an immediate hit with locals and visitors alike. It has been described as the “Cheers of Calais, where everybody knows your name.”

The store also generates income from a rural post office on-site, and there is a second-floor, two-bedroom apartment with loft space and a large deck overlooking a waterfall and stream.

News of the sale, for $490,000, first emerged in a posting by the Toulises on the Calais Front Porch Forum website in July 2017. The Toulises said they also posted it on the store’s website and Facebook page, but did not engage a Realtor to help sell the business.

More recently, customers and friends were worried the Toulises might close the store when no buyers emerged. Members of the store committee said an appraiser said the building still had value if it were converted into apartments.

The first thoughts of staging a shareholder buyout of the business came during a conversation in the store a year ago between local residents Anne Marie Shea and Chris Miller. Shea has worked in the store for more than a decade. Miller is a renowned artist in granite and wood, whose most recent creation was the new Ceres statue atop the golden dome at the State House.

“The seed of this was just neighbors just sitting in the store, chatting,” Shea said.

Discussion led to the formation of the Maple Corner Country Store Committee and the formation of a C corporation, a legal structure for a corporation in which the owners, or shareholders, are taxed separately from the entity.

“We are taking donations but also selling shares to Vermont residents that can become owners of the future Maple Corner Community Store,” said Rob Lamb, the committee’s secretary who drew up the shareholder business plan. “In addition to sustaining an essential community asset, shareholders will get to participate in the governance of the store and, based on our financial projections, may receive an initial small dividend after three to five years of growth and capital improvement expenses. “

Board members said the purchase price for the corporation would be $375,000, plus closing costs, buying out the inventory and the cost of a septic upgrade, bringing the total cost of funds needed to $450,000. The board has already raised $250,000.

“People can make a taxable donation or just a donation to us through the Maple Corner Community Center, and non-Vermont residents can still contribute, and some have,” Clark said. “We also have several people that have invested in the $10,000 and up range. Some of our bigger contributors have expressed that it’s incredibly important to them that we keep this as a store.”

“People who invest have an equal vote and equal voice, as much as anybody else,” Miller noted. “The other thing about owning shares is you are an owner and you have an equity share in the business.”

“A share buys you a vote for who is on the board and the board runs the business,” Shea said. “They hire the general manager who runs the business on a daily basis, but the board makes the big decisions.”

The board would also appoint committees that are assigned to different tasks to manage The Whammy Bar, food and wine offerings in the store and the bar, and work on future expansion plans for the business.

Miller noted the urgency to act after the closure of other country stores in Woodbury and North Montpelier, and a restructuring of the East Calais Store.

“The mon-and-pop model just doesn’t work anymore and community ownership is much more stable,” Miller said, adding that ownership would encourage purchases at the store.

“The store is what keeps me in this community, otherwise it’s just another town,” said Shea said. “People support each other, take care of each other, look out for each other.”

Fellow board member Elizabeth O’Casey said the store was an important social center, particularly for young people, in a digital era. Keeping the store and music venue open was important to reduce rural isolation, she added.

“It’s a really important anchor,” she said.

Another board member, Jamie Moorby, noted many of the of the children growing up in the community would work at the store as their first job.

Visitors to the store Friday supported a shareholder buyout.

“I’m really excited about keeping the store open and about the community coming together to do it,” said Barbara McAndrew. “I think it allows the incredibly important hub that the store is to continue and to keep everybody’s stake in it.”

Andrew Tripp, of Montpelier, added: “These stores are a vanishing entity. In these rural communities, you have the school and if you’re lucky enough to have a store, that makes a town a town in this day and age. It would definitely diminish the quality of life if it were to disappear.”

“I think without the store that you would lose a lot of community,” Nancy Toulis said. “It’s where people come and they chat every day. Community is priceless.”

“We’ve said all along that the most important thing at the store isn’t the stuff in it,” said Artie Toulis. “Every single day there’s something that happens that is not about the store and if that was gone it would be a tremendous loss.”




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