2010 - In the political arena, change came to Vt. lawmaker line-up

Posted
Friday January 14, 2011

BENNINGTON -- New were laws passed, a respected local lawmaker was defeated by a political newcomer and a governor's final year in office wound down as a mad scramble ensued to replace him. It was a bustling year in politics.

Rep. Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., R-Bennington, made waves in January when he came out against relicensing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vermont. The plant's owners are seeking a 20-year license extension beyond it's scheduled shutdown in 2012. Krawczyk, the outgoing vice chairman of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he could not trust Entergy, the plant's owner, or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the plant, which has seen a spate of misfortunes recently, including leaks of radioactive material.

Krawczyk then set out to pass a decommissioning bill to hold Entergy accountable for the cost of cleaning up the plant site after it shuts down. Despite a bipartisan effort, the bill failed to make it through the Legislature.

The state Senate threw a wrench into Entergy's relicensing plan when it voted against allowing the Public Service Board to make a decision on whether the nuclear plant should continue operations. Bennington County Sens. Dick Sears and Robert Hartwell, both Democrats, voted against continued operation.

Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was involved in several high-profile legislative issues. He made headlines when he decided against taking up a fetal homicide bill that stemmed from an accident in Bennington in which two fetuses were killed. The victim, Patricia Blair, was upset with Sears' decision that she chose to run for one of Bennington County's two Senate seats.

Sears also ushered through a restructuring of the state's judiciary system. The sweeping legislation reduced the state's probate courts to five districts, and requires new judges to be lawyers. Assistant judges, known as side judges, who often preside over small claims and traffic cases, saw their roles diminished under the changes.

The Legislature passed legislation making it illegal to text or e-mail while driving, making the Vermont the 27th state to do so.

Republican Gov. James Douglas signed his final piece of legislation into law in early June. The final bill, dealing with renewable energy, capped more than 750 laws and charter changes signed by Douglas during an eight year tenure as governor. Douglas announced in the fall of 2009 that he would not seek a fifth term.

The close of the legislative session brought about a mad scramble among Democrats for a shot at replacing Douglas. Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz and state Sen. Doug Racine, a former lieutenant governor, were the early favorites because of their early candidacies. But former state Sen. Matt Dunne and Senate president Pro Tem Peter Shumlin ran strong campaigns, leading to a razor-thin primary victory that Shumlin. State Sen. Susan Bartlett never gained much traction in her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Meanwhile, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie was unopposed for the GOP nomination.

Shumlin and Dubie squared off in a tense, and often bitter, general election campaign. Dubie hammered Shumlin for being "ethically challenged," and battered Shumlin's plan to save state funds by keeping convicts out of jail. Dubie said the plan was dangerous, and would release "child pornographers" and "drug dealers."

The negative tone of the campaign may have helped Shumlin, however, who again won a narrow victory. Although neither Shumlin nor Dubie secured 50 percent of the vote, throwing the final decision to the Legislature according to state statute, Dubie conceded the race and called for his supporters to work with the incoming Shumlin administration.

The election brought a big change in Bennington, too. Krawczyk was defeated in Bennington's 2-1 district by Brian Campion, a Democrat. Campion had launched his aggressive campaign in February, and spent about $10,000 in his effort to secure one of the district's two seats. Other local House members managed to hold their seats, many unchallenged.

Blair, who sought a Senate seat after fetal homicide legislation fizzled in the Legislature, was unable to knock Sears or Hartwell. Another GOP challenger, Gerald Woodard, fared no better.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com


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