Douglas holds forums on top issues

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(Host) The Republican Party and Governor Douglas’s campaign organization are helping to promote the governor’s series of forums on top issues.

Douglas says the goal is to hear from the people on whether lawmakers are addressing important issues.

But Democrats say he’s unnecessarily politicized the process.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The governor calls them “accountability forums.” He’s making a series of road trips around Vermont to pressure the democratically controlled legislature to move more quickly on his agenda.

(Douglas) “This is an opportunity for Vermonters to tell me and through me tell the Legislature and other policy makers what their priorities are.”

(Dillon) Douglas announced the sessions at his news conference last week. Since then, the state Republican Party and Douglas’s campaign organization have turned up the publicity machine.

One email from the campaign encourages people to “show the Legislature that Vermonters are demanding action” on taxes, home ownership, higher education and telecommunications.

Middlebury College Political Science Professor Eric Davis says he sees nothing wrong with governor using his influence to rally public opinion on the Legislature.

(Davis) “The part of it that I would raise a question about is, is this a Republican Party event? Is this a Douglas campaign committee event, or is this an official event being organized and sponsored by the office of the governor? Because from the point of view of the people who are attending I think it’s also important to know whether it’s an official event or a partisan event.”

(Dillon) Douglas says the forums are sponsored by the state, not the party. He says it’s not unusual for the party or his campaign to notify the public about events.

(Douglas) “I want to be sure as many Vermonters as possible know about the forums and have a chance to participate.”

(Dillon) But Ian Carleton, the chairman of the Democratic Party, says the governor seems to be in permanent campaign mode. He questions whether this marks the governor’s early start to the 2008 elections.

(Carleton) “If in fact the Republican Party and more troublingly Jim Douglas’s campaign apparatus is supplying the outreach for these forums then I assume that Jim Douglas will be paying for these forums with campaign funds rather than tax dollars.”

(Dillon) Douglas say’s he’s not satisfied with the progress of the Legislature on a number of his initiatives, including one to provide universal cell phone coverage statewide by 2010.

The governor was talking on his cell phone, and, as if on cue, the phone faded and he had a “can you hear me now” moment.

(Douglas) “So these are (crackle crackle) important issues from the Legislature, and I need to know how people feel about them “

(Dillon) Douglas plans six forums. The first three are in Lyndonville, Springfield and Rutland.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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