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June 14th, 2006

Underdog and the anti-establishment candidate

In the Republican primary race for Vermont’s lone U.S. Congressional seat, state Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, is happy to be tilting against windmills as the underdog candidate and the anti-establishment candidate.

“Being the non-establishment candidate is not a bad place to be,� Shepard said in a Monday interview with the Addison Independent. “Establishment candidates don’t stir the pot and they don’t ruffle feathers. I’m not doing this to be part of a club.�

That style of populist bravado potentially has appeal in a region enamored with the independent ethos that has long characterized the Green Mountain State. And Shepard’s background fits his rhetoric. He’s a fifth or sixth generation Vermonter, born and raised on a small dairy farm, learned his hard-work ethic from his growing up a farmer’s son, and his moral values were home grown as well. He graduated from Hartford High School in 1978 with little interest in a college education, but having learned how to wire a house with his dad at a young age, he had an affinity for electrical sciences and got his journeyman electrician’s license in 1982. He stumbled into higher electronics, then took an interest in computers and ended up graduating from the University of Florida in 1986 with a electrical engineering degree and received a Master of Engineering degree following work at MIT and RPI. (See story, Page 1A.) In short, Shepard has a populist pedigree, but has leveraged his natural talent and home education into a lucrative electrical engineering business, which he formed several years ago and runs as an independent business. He’s married with four kids.

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Welch’s challenge to the GOP

In his radio address to the nation this past Saturday, Vermont Sen. Peter Welch laid out the Democrats response in this election year on the war in Iraq: In short, President Bush, his administration and this Republican Congress have been irresponsible and accountability can only be restored by electing a Democratic House and/or Senate in November.

Unless we have a change in power in Congress in 2006, Welch said at the Addison Independent offices last Friday afternoon, none of the big questions facing the nation really matter because the Republican-led Congress has not exercised its role to oversee the executive branch and has instead rubber-stamped most of what the White House has dished out — including cover-ups and gross mismanagement of the war effort.

Welch, who was chosen to deliver the response to the president’s weekly radio address, couldn’t be more on target.

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April 24th

When lies are propaganda

Of all the regrettable outcomes in the election of 2004, the fact that Congress has become ever more protective of the bumbling moves of the Bush administration will turn out to be one of the gravest errors in the Bush era. With deliberate intent, Congress — rather than pursuing the facts important to the formulation of policy — continues to allow the administration to classify documents and to deny worthy investigations that might contradict this administration’s claims, assumptions and purported facts. Without good information, however, the nation continues a downward slide with serious consequences.

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The state gas tax and the shameful politics of fear

In the statewide political battle surrounding a tax hike on gasoline, the Republicans picked the easier side in the debate — affordability — while the House Democrats have to defend a more complex position: that the tax is a better mechanism to raise needed revenue for a host of reasons, none of which can be boiled down into a politically palatable sound bite.

But take a moment to inspect the issue. The first question is: Is the additional revenue the proposed gas tax would raise really needed?

The Vermont House approved a bill that would raise gasoline taxes by 4 cents per gallon (to 24 cents) and by 6 cents per gallon on diesel fuel (to 32 cents per gallon). The increased taxes would generate $26 million that would be used to leverage more than $100 million in federal highway funds — a bump in transportation funding approved by the U.S. Congress and Bush in this era of burgeoning deficits. (If you don’t raise the needed state match, you lose out on the federal dole.)

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April 17th

Escaping DeLay's putrid bite

The story of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s fall from power to disgraced politician who had to pull out of his own House race for fear of embarrassment is a simple story of greed and power. What’s amazing is that DeLay was able to hide his lust and his scheming, underhanded immoral ways under the guise of promoting “moral values.� Christians conservatives, in particular, who bought into DeLay’s temple of misbegotten rhetoric need to carefully review how they were misled, lied to and taken advantage of, if they are to avoid future deceptions by politicians who have no qualms about lying to their constituents.

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Are scholarships as "vital" to state as Douglas claims?

Gov. James Douglas created a stir late last week by suggesting he would veto the state budget if the Legislature does not include his college scholarship proposal. The governor says the 15 year, $175 million program is “vital to the state’s economic future.� Where’s the proof to back up such a claim? There isn’t any.

Rather, the governor has a hunch that his program might keep a few Vermont high school graduates from moving out of state to attend college and, perhaps, they would then settle down and raise a family in Vermont. The program would pay up to 1,000 students a maximum of $5,000 a year to attend college in Vermont. What the state gets for its money is a three-year obligation from the student to work in the state after they graduate.

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Bloggers to the forefront of misinformation campaign

The public should note with alarm a recent tactic by the Bush administration to distort the conclusion by American intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons of mass destruction and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the March 2003 invasion.

The method chosen by the Bush team, and conservative Republican colleagues in Congress, was to push for putting 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents on the Web so anyone and everyone can play “intelligence analyst� and second-guess American intelligence officials.

We’re certainly supportive of this administration putting pertinent government information on the Web for all to review. Critics of the administration’s energy policy would love to see the volumes of information that came out of the closed-door meetings with oil executives and Vice-President Dick Cheney. We’d also like to see the complete file on the Valerie Plume case, not to mention more complete documentation of corporate corruption that has plagued private contractors in Iraq as well as during the Hurricane Katrina clean-up; and hundreds of other instances. We’re all for such openness.

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AP's reputation on the line

When the state’s congressional delegation, joined by Gov. James Douglas, files a protest to a private company for dismissing a long-time employee, the average reader should be interested. We can’t recall another time in Vermont’s history that it’s happened, which makes the outrage and disappointment expressed by Gov. Douglas and Sens. Patrick Leahy, James Jeffords, and Rep. Bernie Sanders, all the more poignant.

The protest is over the sudden dismissal of Chris Graff. A familiar face on Vermont Public Television’s “Vermont This Week,� Graff not only worked as the Associated Press’ bureau chief for the past 27 years, but he has been one of the state’s most prominent and well-respected journalists — as the managing editor of a staff of fine reporters, as a keen observer of state politics and history, and as a moderator of numerous political debates and public forums. He has become, as one editor recently wrote, an institution in Vermont.

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