Sanders, social worker shooting voted top Vermont stories

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MONTPELIER — Bernie Sanders' presidential aspirations were the No. 1 story of 2015 in Vermont, as voted by journalists working for Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters.

Coming in second in the AP's annual ranking of the top 10 stories in the state was the arrest of Jody Herring on charges she shot to death three relatives in Berlin and social worker Lara Sobel in Barre.

Sanders, a 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist, surprised many with the size of the crowds he drew and the apparent resonance of his message about leveling the playing field between the super-rich and the rest of American society.

Vermonters preparing for a summer weekend in early August were shocked, meanwhile, by a rampage in which police say Herring, 40, of Barre, shot three female relatives she blamed for reporting her to the state Department for Children and Families, and then Sobel, whom Herring blamed for taking her daughter away from her. Among the reactions: DCF's Barre offices were moved to a building deemed safer amid talk of a need to strengthen security in and around public buildings statewide. Herring is being held while awaiting trial.

Third place went to the arrest of Sen. Norm McAllister, who awaits trial while denying charges that he committed sex crimes against three women, one of whom, now 20, served as his intern at the Statehouse. The Senate Rules Committee voted 3-2 on Dec. 16 to recommend that McAllister be suspended from the Senate while his criminal case is pending. The full Senate is expected to vote Jan. 6.

Gov. Peter Shumlin's decision not to seek a fourth two-year term in 2016 was ranked fourth. That announcement followed his near-defeat by a much lesser-known political newcomer, Republican Scott Milne, in 2014, and the announcement of "the greatest disappointment of (his) political life" that he wouldn't achieve a universal, state-run health care system. The announcement set off an unusually early start to the campaign by his would-be replacements, of which there are now four.

Others in the top 10 were:

5. Passage of a law creating incentives for Vermont's numerous and often tiny school districts to merge with their neighbors. The Essex Junction, Essex Town and Westford school districts were the first to join in November; others were drafting plans.

6. IBM's Vermont plant, for decades an economic linchpin of the state and for years the subject of stories about a shrinking workforce and worried speculation it might close, was taken over by GlobalFoundries in July, along with other IBM properties. By September, the new owner was announcing plans to shrink its U.S. workforce further.

7. Vermont continued to struggle with opiate addiction, as drug abuse by parents was seen as a cause of a surge in demand for child-protection services.

8. Vermont Gas Systems, which once hoped to build pipelines from its base in northwestern Vermont as far as Rutland and Ticonderoga, N.Y., saw new troubles — including loud public protests — for its bid to extend its system even as far as Middlebury.

9. A Senate committee drafted legislation to legalize marijuana in Vermont, paving the way for a debate on the issue in 2016.

10 (tie). Comprehensive legislation aimed at cleaning the state's waterways, and the work begun to implement it; and the achievement of key milestones despite continuing problems at the Vermont Health Connect insurance exchange.


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