Look ahead, Vermont: Primary season begins in earnest

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While this column is intended to set the table for the week ahead in Montpelier, there's some unfinished business to take care of on S. 219, one of the police reform bills crafted by the Legislature over the past few weeks.

At press time Friday, the House had passed its version of the bill, which included an important change in the provision making police use of a prohibited head and neck restraint, such as a chokehold, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The key change? The House version included a "sunset clause," which automatically repeals the prohibited restraint provision as of July 1, 2021. It was added as a means of making sure the Legislature continues to address systemic racism and police use of force issues next term.

The state Senate had not weighed in on the House's changes when we went to press. But those House changes resulted in House-Senate negotiations that extended into Friday evening before an agreement was reached.

Introducing the bill to the House caucus was state Rep. Nader Hashim, a former Vermont State Police officer who is stepping down from his Windham-4 seat at the end of the term.

Hashim warned his colleagues that laws guiding police behavior are only as good as the officers who are hired, and the cultures of their departments.

"A police department can have most progressive rules, but if they hire a person whose priority is to commit violence that person will find a way to commit violence," Hashim said. "If a police department hires a person who genuinely wants to help their community and protect and preserve life, that is the product you will see."

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"We should be proud to hold our members of law enforcement to a high standard," he added. "It is not an offense to the badge to expect those who wear it to perform their duties with utmost integrity and in a fair and impartial manner and protect and preserve life."

Now, S. 219 and the rest of the Legislature's late-term efforts are headed to Gov. Phil Scott's desk. It takes time for counsel to review bills once they're sent to the Governor's office, so action by Scott might not come immediately.

There's also the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed by the state Senate last week, and $600 million worth of spending from Vermont's $1.25 billion CARES Act allocation of federal COVID-19 relief.

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The race is on: Speaking of politics, the Legislature's adjournment until August unofficially kicks off Vermont's primary campaign season. The primary will be held on Tuesday. Aug. 11, and there are contested primary races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and Auditor of Accounts. You'll find links to lists of all the candidates at the Secretary of State's voter resources pages (it downloads as a spreadsheet).

Southern Vermont figures in every statewide race:

- For Governor, Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn is running against current Lt. Governor David Zuckerman and former Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe for the Democratic nomination, along with Ralph Corbo of Wallingford. John Klar is challenging two-term incumbent Gov. Phil Scott on the Republican side, as are Emily Peyton of Putney, Douglas Cavett of Milton and Bernard Peters of Irasburg. Cris Ericson and Boots Wardinski are seeking the Progressive nomination.

- Peyton and H. Brooke Paige are both running to be the GOP nominee for Attorney General. You might recall Paige as the fellow who ran for and won six GOP statewide primaries in 2018. Ericson is also running for the office as a Progressive, along with the Democratic incumbent, T.J. Donovan.

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- For Lt. Governor, it might be easier to make a list of Vermonters who aren't running. On the Democratic side, Molly Gray, who has family ties to Windham County, and Newfane activist Brenda Siegel are candidates for the Democratic nomination along with state Senators Timothy Ashe, the body's president pro tem, and Debbie Ingram, both of Chittenden County. Among Republicans, Meg Hansen of Manchester is running against Peter Milne, Dana Colson, Jim Hogue and Dwayne Tucker.

- There's a Democratic primary for Auditor of Accounts, as state Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan of Dorset has challenged the incumbent, Doug Hoffer. There's no Republican in the race, but Ericson is also seeking the office as a Progressive.

Money, money, money: Wednesday brings an important deadline for candidates: the first major finance reporting date for county, legislative and statewide candidates, political action committees and parties. It's one of two reporting dates before the primary, with the second coming on August 1.

To be sure, money isn't the only factor in campaign success or failure. But sources of campaign funding can tell voters a lot about who is supporting a candidate, and why.

Want to register to vote? Visit the Secretary of State's elections page.

Greg Sukiennik is Vermont Statehouse Editor for New England Newspapers Inc. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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