VT Democrats Unhappy With New Washington Lobbyist

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(Host) Vermont has a new Washington lobbyist and some Democrats aren’t happy about it.

The chairman of the state party says there was no competitive bidding for the work and there should have been.

But the governor’s administration says someone with experience was needed quickly to protect Vermont’s interests in the capital.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) The Bush administration has dealt Vermont a few setbacks over recent months.

From health care to special education, new regulations from Washington threaten to cost Vermont tens of millions of dollars.

So Governor Jim Douglas decided he needed some help in Washington.

He hired a lobbying firm, which will be paid up to 70-thousand dollars over six months.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs explains:

(Gibbs) The issue was the rapid and immediate changes in various regulatory policy that affect many Vermonters – those who receive Medicaid, for example, and many children with special needs – and the need to react to them in a coordinated way with all the other nation’s governors.

(Sneyd) So lobbyists Craig Pattee and Joe Jaso were hired.

Ian Carleton sees at least two problems with that approach. Carleton is chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party.

He says if a lobbyist was going to be hired, the job should have been put out to bid. And, he says, the lobbying firm that got the job shouldn’t be one deeply tied to the Republican Party.

(Carleton) I am not begrudging necessarily the decision of the Douglas administration to look to a Washington lobbyist. What I am questioning is who the governor chose and how the governor made that decision.

(Sneyd) Carleton produced emails released as part of the Enron scandal to show one of the lobbyists helped to raise money from Enron executives for causes championed by former House majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Congressman Peter Welch also represents Vermont’s interests in Washington.

He declined to be drawn into the political bickering between his own party chairman and the governor’s administration.

But he says he understands the need for a Washington lobbyist.

(Welch) As I understand it, the governor’s concern – and this is a legitimate concern – is some of the Bush cuts are going to translate into higher expenses for us here in Vermont, could hit us in property taxes, and they’re really trying to figure out what’s going on. So I have to defer to the governor’s judgment on whether that’ll be helpful to him.

(Sneyd) Gibbs says if the governor decides to renew the lobbying contract after six months, other firms will have a chance to bid on it.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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