May 30th, 2010

BREAKING: Fifth Annual Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit Scheduled For July 17, 2010, North Beach, Burlington, Vermont

by Philip Baruth

Nature has Her own inscrutable patterns and cycles. Ask the landlocked salmon, who mysteriously manages to swim upstream for hundreds of miles, there to spawn and finally, of course, to wind up on a bed of chipped ice at Hannafords. Okay, so maybe don’t ask the landlocked salmon.


But candidates and journalists and bloggers and campaign volunteers and online politics junkies have a cycle of their own: each year they return to the Hamburger Summit, where they eat grilled meat and thrash out the thorniest political issues of the day. This year marks the fifth anniversary of this venerable tradition.

The Sign

And we’ll be back on Burlington’s North Beach, under the vast and spreading Tree of Knowledge we’ve all come to know so well. Mark the date now, and begin inter-family negotiations to make it happen: July 17, 1-5 in the afternoon. That would be roughly five weeks before Primary Day. Sweet.

the crowd, huddled

If past experience is any guide, the weather will be gorgeous, the sun hot, the shade cool, the food delectable, and the crowd ready to take any political conversation well beyond its logical endpoint. More details as they emerge.

May 28th, 2010

Shots From The Trail: Biz Expo Edition

by Philip Baruth

We’ve talked a lot of about jobs this cycle, how to incubate small business, how to retain and attract larger employers. And if those are conversations you’re going to continue to have, then it’s good every once in a while, and humbling, to spend a few hours in a room packed with business people, people with a clear-eyed view of the VT economy, clear-eyed because in many cases it’s so clearly hobbling them.

Photos courtesy of Erik Filkorn.

But not all, and not even the majority. Many new companies working the green energy dollar, and clearly carving productive new niches for themselves. Ditto for those engaged in wiring up the state, bringing fiber the last mile to those without.

Had a long, intricate talk about universal broadband with the folks at Waitsfield Telecom, for instance, and came away thinking that Kurt Gruendling just may be the smartest and fastest-talking visionary I’ve ever run across. The sort of conversation that makes you question half of your long-held assumptions within the first 6 minutes, and therefore the absolute best sort of conversation to have.

And I ran into my old friend Wayne Turiansky, an attendee of the Hamburger Summit from way back, whose company Amalgamated Culture Works also supplied the first t-shirts the campaign ever purchased. And those t-shirts have held up under some punishing volunteer clean-up events.

Best moment of the day?

Talking with a very well-dressed and polished executive-type who, in the course of five minutes conversation, let slip that she’s also a member of the Green Mountain Derby Dames, and her brawling identity is “Queen Defeat-Yah.”

At the Vermont Business and Industry Expo, it turns out, things are not always as they seem.

Which is just the way we like it.

May 24th, 2010

News On The State of the Senate Race

by Philip Baruth

If you’ve been following Shay Totten’s column or Vermont Buzz or our main campaign website,, then this will come as old news: two of the candidates in the State Senate race have dropped out in recent weeks, and then endorsed this campaign. Mike Yantachka of Charlotte and Ralph Montefusco of Burlington, each for different reasons, decided against filing a formal petition to run for the Senate.

Ralph, right, with Peter Welch.

And while that does clear the field somewhat, it also takes away two excellent candidates for whom I have a great deal of respect, two guys I’d have been proud to serve with in the Senate. Ralph has always championed workers’ rights, and continues to fight on those issues in his current job.

Mike Yantachka at his kick-off.

But it’s still my hope that I can serve with Mike Yantachka in the Legislature, in that he’s shifted his focus to the House race out in Charlotte.

Apart from being a very nice person generally, Mike combines impressive people skills with a talent for budgets and numbers, two skillsets that rarely go hand in hand. He made things happen as Chair of the Chittenden County Democrats, and I look forward to watching him light a fire in the House.

That’s the beauty of this race. Since no one is running head-to-head, and a half dozen people wind up winners, it’s easy to stay friends. But it helps a lot when the candidates are true stand-up guys.

Thanks again, Ralph and Mike.

May 24th, 2010

Additional Bonus Double-Plus-Good News From Yankee: SR-90 Now In The House!

by Philip Baruth

Funny how you get distracted: you take a few days to go talk to voters out in Richmond, and by the time you get back to your desk, another highly lethal radioactive material has been discovered at the plume excavation down at Vermont Yankee. This time it’s Strontium-90, which causes leukemia, mostly in young children whose teeth and bones are still rapidly adding calcium. Fortunately, the SR-90 was found in the soil, not in the groundwater, and as we all know “water” and “soil” almost never interact, in spite of the fact that the word “groundwater” would seem to be made up of the words “ground” and “water.” Good news. Nothing to see here.

May 19th, 2010

Shots From The Trail: A Special One-Year Anniversary Edition From Richmond

by Philip Baruth

Everyone knows that Vermont is the last best place in America, and pretty much every few days here you get the feeling, skirting the lake or dropping out of a mountain pass on 89, that you’re exactly, precisely where you should be. But every once in a while, during this State Senate campaign, I also simultaneously get the sense that I’m in the exact right part of the County for that particular moment in time. It was like that last night, in Richmond. A certain magic to things.

All photos by Kathy FitzGerald.

The idea was to read from The Brothers Boswell, which just came out in paperback, at the excellent Richmond Free Library. There’s a public space there as high and holy as a chapel, and it makes whatever you read seem more noble somehow. Of course, it helps if people actually turn out, which they did and for which you have to love them.

But there was another reason to celebrate: it was the one-year anniversary of this State Senate campaign. That’s right. Believe it or not, I filed last year on May 18, 2009. And so a party was in order.

And it happens that Richmond has the coolest bakery on the contemporary American scene: On The Rise.

Now, is it fair to say that one bakery is in fact “cooler” than another bakery, when in fact all bakeries are magical and cool by definition, producing food, as they do, out of non-food?

Yes, it is.

Key thing about a bakery is that they have cakes there, and if you give the owners some money, you can eat these cakes. It should be noted that Erik Filkorn, who helped organize the night and is ordinarily right in every circumstance, initially argued against a cake. It would be too late for cake, he maintained.

But in this Erik Filkorn was Wrong. We needed that cake, because the frosting was some sort of maple sour cream, and it all but called out our names when we hit the door.

And a good portion of the crew from the reading flowed over to the bakery, as well as a chunk of folks who joined us there. Some people who’ve worked on the campaign since the beginning, and some we were meeting for the first time.

Great people, the kind of people who, if you give them a beer and some good music and company, will start talking about mass transit and health insurance reform and forget about time altogether.

Until we closed out the place, and they started banging on mixing bowls in the back to let us know, in the polite semaphor of bakers, that it was time to leave. But a wonderful night, in the right town, in the right County, in the right state and country.

And with exactly the right cake. Take another look at the photo below. We destroyed that thing, and licked the platter.

Literally. A delicious end to a very good year, and thank you again to all of those of you out there who have helped this campaign along, if only by wishing us well.

May 13th, 2010

McCain Mans Up, Demands “Danged” Fence

by Philip Baruth

Look, we had a lot of fun with John McCain back during the 2008 election cycle. Which was okay, then: he was still a powerful Senator, with a 45% chance of winning the White House. But it’s 2010 now, and the man is confused, and sad and rudderless, and VDB won’t stand for any jokes about his latest political ad, foregrounding the word “danged.” We especially can’t countenance any humor at the expense of the line, “The plan’s perfect . . . it’ll work this time.” Because laughing would be Wrong. Especially wrong because steely border commando Senator John McCain is One of Us, rather than one of them, dorky baseball cap or no.