Pete Hirschfeld

Recent Posts

House Dems to get 7-4 edge on health care committee with reassigment of Republican

The balance of power in the House Committee on Health Care will shift in favor of Democrats next year when House Speaker Shap Smith drops a Republican from the 11-person panel and replaces him with a member of the ruling party. Gone from the committee, Smith said late Friday evening, is Rep. John Mitchell, a Republican from Fairfax now headed to the House Committee on Education. Replacing him is incoming Democratic Rep. Kathy Hoyt, appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin earlier this year to replace the seat vacated by Margaret Cheney. House Speaker Shap Smith said the move is designed to make way for a newly minted lawmaker whose “breadth and depth of experience are critically important as we move forward with health care reform.” House Minority Leader Don Turner, however, said the shake up amounts to partisan maneuvering designed to undermine the influence of the GOP as the Democratic supermajority prepares to face tough questions over the troubled roll out of the new health insurance exchange. Continue Reading →

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In speech at GOP fundraiser, Christie offers self up as “blueprint” for Republican resurgence

“Candidates matter.” That was the message from the Republican governor of New Jersey Wednesday night as he regaled nearly 700 members of the Vermont GOP with the story of his own unlikely rise to prominence in a state where politics tend to run the same shade of blue as in Vermont. “Here’s our message: candidates matter. Candidates matter more than money. Candidates matter more than data mining… Candidates matter more than TV commercials and they matter more than mail pieces and they matter more than those incredibly annoying automated phone calls. Continue Reading →

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Documents spotlight state’s escalating fight with exchange contractor

In a sternly worded letter to a top executive at the technology firm hired to build Vermont’s new health insurance exchange, the Shumlin administration late last month served notice that it plans to withhold more than $5 million in payments as a result of CGI’s “failure” to meet key deadlines. The Nov. 21 correspondence represents the first formal move by the state to impose the “liquidated damages” that CGI Technologies and Solutions could face for missing at least four “critical milestones.” Larson_letter1

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And it comes as the state seeks new bargaining power over the company on which it’s relying to fix the problems that will otherwise prevent Vermont from having a fully functioning exchange. “What we’re focused on now is making sure we exercise the rights we have under the contract … and making sure Vermonters get what they were promised,” Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, said in a phone interview Tuesday. Continue Reading →

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Peter Shumlin, Shap Smith react swiftly, severely to Larson apology

In an unprecedented public dressing-down of a sitting member of his executive cabinet, Peter Shumlin today said he’s “tremendously disappointed” in a commissioner who withheld information lawmakers about a security breach on the new health insurance website. House Speaker Shap Smith, meanwhile, said the incident will undermine Mark Larson’s ability to work with the legislative branch on the massive health care reform efforts that Larson’s department is spearheading. To see Larson’s apology, and statements in full from Shumlin and Smith, click on the document links below. “I take this incident extremely seriously. It is unacceptable to be anything less than fully cooperative and transparent with Vermonters and their elected representatives in the Legislature,” Shumlin said in a written statement issued earlier this morning.  “The legislators in Montpelier represent the Vermonters we are all elected to serve, and they have a right to have their questions answered fully. Continue Reading →

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Klein ready to contemplate partial deregulation of electric utilities

The chairman of the House’s top energy committee says it might be time to bring competition back to Vermont’s electricity market. Rep. Tony Klein, an East Montpelier Democrat, said Tuesday that he’ll entertain a proposal to partially deregulate the state’s utility market, and allow the state’s largest corporate consumers of electricity to negotiate with power dealers outside their service territory. The proposal comes as large electricity customers bemoan the cost of power than can account for as much as 20 percent of their operating expenses. “I want to talk about creating a program, a model program, where some of the larger industries can benefit from a deregulated power market for some of their power needs,” Klein said while attending an annual meeting of the Associated Industries of Vermont. “It would be a big deal, but it’s something to think about, because the world is changing.” Continue Reading →

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Sunderland elected chairman of GOP, promises to “change the way we do business”

Escalating discord within the Vermont Republican Party came to a head Saturday in Montpelier, where the organization’s state committee rebuked current leadership by selecting a new chairman who promises “to rebuild.” Former Rutland Town Rep. David Sunderland won a decisive victory over John MacGovern on a platform that hews to the fiscal issues – taxes, health care and spending – on which he said all Republicans can agree. The race between Sunderland and MacGovern was in many ways a proxy war between two factions that have been battling for nearly a year now. And it represents a win for a bloc of disaffected Republicans who faulted outgoing chairman Jack Lindley for his allegiance to a Republican National Committee whose social conservatism, they said, repelled the centrists that swing elections Vermont. “At this critical, pivotal moment in our party’s history, we have a unique opportunity to change,” Sunderland told the nearly 200 GOP diehards crowded into the Elks Club in Montpelier. Continue Reading →

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Snelling apologizes to Lisman, but says he believes CFV founder’s gubernatorial hopes are real

Hours after alleging publicly that Campaign for Vermont founder Bruce Lisman has his eyes on governor’s seat, Mark Snelling apologized to the former Wall Street executive for the “mistake.” In an email to Lisman Thursday night, Snelling wrote:

Bruce,

I owe you an apology. I was doing an interview and I was trying to make a point about future elections and the dynamics of the various parties and how they can interact along with possible third parties. To make my point, I spoke about your organization and made statements about which I have no first-hand knowledge. It was a discussion where CFV was a tangent and I should not have gone down that tangent. Continue Reading →

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With new appointment, women outnumber men in House Democratic caucus

For the first time in the history of the state, women will outnumber their male counterparts in a major-party caucus of the Legislature. Gov. Peter Shumlin Friday announced that he’ll appoint Marjorie Ryerson, of Randolph Village, to the House seat formerly held by Rep. Larry Townsend, a Democrat who passed away after an illness earlier this year. Ryerson, a 40-year-old selectboard member who is a poet, writer and editor, according to an administration release, beat out two other candidates forwarded to Shumlin by the local Democratic committee. “It was a difficult choice because there were three exceptional candidates,” Shumlin said in a release. “I am excited to make this appointment and I look forward to working with Marjorie in the upcoming legislative session. Continue Reading →

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Mark Snelling says Bruce Lisman eying governor’s seat; Lisman’s people say “not true”

Bruce Lisman has dismissed as groundless the frequent speculation in the media about his political ambitions. But Mark Snelling says the founder of Campaign for Vermont is far more interested in running for governor than he’s let on publicly. According to Snelling, a longtime member of the Vermont GOP who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010 and now serves as the party’s treasurer, Lisman in recent weeks gave serious thought to a 2014 bid against Peter Shumlin. “The reality is that within the last eight weeks, Bruce Lisman has considered running for governor,” Snelling said today. “He’s had a budget put in front of him, saying that it would cost $3.2 million to run for governor. Continue Reading →

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In September report, Shumlin administration told of “critical” problems with insurance exchange

Acknowledging the severity of the technological glitches in Vermont’s new health insurance website, Gov. Peter Shumlin Thursday issued a surprise announcement extending the deadline by which residents will have to enroll for policies in the new marketplace. But key members of the administration have known since at least the middle of September of defects in Vermont Health Connect, some of which, they were told by outside consultants, were potentially substantial enough to derail the enrollment timeline. In a 192-slide Power Point presentation, conducted on Sept. 11 and 12 and prepared at the behest of the federal government, managers at the Department of Vermont Health Access detailed a range of “risks” in the online marketplace, and presented “workarounds,” “mitigation” plans, and “contingencies.” The so-called “Operational Readiness Review” also includes a presentation from Gartner, Inc., a Connecticut-based tech consultant hired to review the website. Continue Reading →

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