2013 Year in Review: Politics - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

2013 Year in Review: Politics

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2013 marked the start of Governor Peter Shumlin's second term in office.  He made education and childcare his top priorities.

But the legislature, controlled by the governor's own party, rejected many of his proposals. Ideas like redirecting a portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to child care subsidies met with strong opposition. "This is a cornerstone for low-income, working Vermonters and we want to see it preserved and protected," said Christopher Curtis with Vermont Legal Aid.

Lawmakers did raise the statewide property tax to meet rising costs in Vermont schools.  The legislature also hiked gasoline taxes to patch a whole in the transportation budget.  "We have a bill Vermonters can afford, yet maintain our bridges and highways," said Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle County).

But a broader attempt at tax reform stalled when the governor clashed with legislative leaders about whether the changes were revenue neutral.
"We disagree, the administration and legislature, okay, that's fine, so we move on and if it was something we felt was necessary to be accomplished this year, we would have done that," said Sen. John Campbell (D-President Pro Tem).

The thorny debate over the right to die returned to the State House in 2013. After much passionate debate and political maneuvering, lawmakers sent a bill to the governor allowing doctors to prescribe medication to end the lives of terminally ill patients.
"We have conversations about difficult issues where we disagree, and we have those conversations with good judgement, fairness and inclusiveness," said Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Another major change in social policy came with the decriminalization of marijuana possession. Lawmakers agreed to replace criminal penalties for small amounts of pot with civil fines similar to a speeding ticket. Advocates of full legalization saw this bill as a first step. "Going forward I believe we need a comprehensive regulation, taxation, legalization, education policy," said Rep. Tom Burditt (R-Rutland).

Advocates of stricter gun laws introduced a variety of proposals in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. "Guns are not the problem and taking them away from good people will not fix the problem,"  said Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans County).

But in the face of strong opposition from gun supporters not a single bill moved forward.

Vermonters used their collective political voice on other topics this year. Groups demonstrated in opposition to pipelines carrying tar sands oil and natural gas.

The debate over bringing F-35 fighter jets to Vermont also hit a fever pitch. "It's critical to the airport and to the economics that surround it -- it's critical to the businesses," said Vt. National Guard Commander Maj. General Steven Cray.

"It's outside the limits for human health to have these planes be here," said F-35 opponent James Leas.

F-35 opponents accused Senator Patrick Leahy of using his influence to get the Air Force to "fudge" the process in Vermont's favor, something Leahy denied.

Vermont's senior senator was in the spotlight in Washington on several occasions in 2013 when his judiciary committee delved into gun control legislation, government surveillance programs and immigration reform. "I've got to admit in all my years there, I cannot think of a time I was so emotional on the floor," Sen. Leahy said.

Leahy's immigration bill passed the Senate but has yet to be taken up in the house.

Senator Bernie Sanders also made national headlines in 2013 by floating the idea he might run for president. He says he'll only consider it if no other candidates address issues like the growing gap in income equality. "I worry very much that those issues are not being discussed. You hear many Republicans talking about that? Not too many Democrats are talking about it as well," Sen. Sanders said.

Howard Dean also raised speculation that he may run for president again after making speeches in the early caucus and primary states -- Iowa and New Hampshire.

Some Vermonters got a close up look at another possible presidential candidate. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke at a closed-door Republican fundraiser in December.

Vermont's GOP also made a leadership change. After a disastrous 2012 election, a moderate faction sought a new direction. "As your chair I will work diligently to bring our varying views together on the core issues that define our party," said GOP Party Chair David Sunderland.

Governor Peter Shumlin's political star continues to shine nationally with his re-election to a second term as chair of the Democratic Governor's Association.
But Shumlin's reputation at home took a hit over a land deal. Critics accused the savvy businessman of taking advantage of his neighbor when he bought the man's home and property for well-below it's fair assessed value. Weeks later, Shumlin reversed the deal. "I recognize that as Governor I'm Governor every single day -- that's the lesson for me," Shumlin said. "And obviously I regret getting involved in what was a very difficult situation."

The governor and his administration ended 2013 under fire for the failed roll-out of the state's new health care exchange. Shumlin initially called the glitches in the online system a "nothing burger." "Obviously the speed of the site continues to not be where we want it to be," said Vt. Commissioner of Health Access Mark Larson.

But when problems persisted, the governor was forced to offer an extension, and Vermont Health Connect won't be fully implemented until three months into 2014.

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