Douglas letter raps gay marriage


Tuesday, September 18
BRATTLEBORO -- "There is never a dull moment in Vermont politics! You best be sitting down for this story."

So begins a fundraising letter Gov. Jim Douglas sent last month to roughly 3,000 supporters asking for help raising $75,000 for his re-election campaign.

Douglas relates to the reader how just after successfully vetoing a climate change bill "that would have raised taxes and created a brand new bureaucracy," the Legislature is at it again.

In bold-faced, underlined type, Douglas writes, "the Democratic leadership has decided to launch a nine-month public campaign on gay marriage, despite the fact that Vermont has already achieved equality under the law."

The letter -- and its focus on a commission charged with gauging public sentiment on civil unions -- has some saying the governor is using cynical and divisive tactics to fill his campaign coffers.

"I was disappointed because when the bill first came out, the governor said he really didn't want to take the issue up because he thought it was divisive," said Beth Robinson, executive director of Vermont Freedom to Marry. "Given the governor's concern about divisiveness, I was disappointed to see that in his fundraising letter, he's taking the lead in creating divisiveness."

The 11-member Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection was created over the summer at the direction of House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. The group, which held its first organizational meeting in August, plans to convene public meetings throughout the state and report back to the Legislature next April with its findings.

Douglas contends in the letter that the commission is a distraction from his efforts to make the state affordable and part of "a far-left agenda that is not in line with the real needs of working Vermont families."

But Symington said Monday, "This is part of a pattern of the governor's consistently misrepresenting the work of the Legislature. It's taking an issue about minority civil rights and looking for an opportunity to create divisions and way overstating what Sen. Shumlin and I have done."

Rather than spending time debating the politically thorny issue in the Legislature, Symington said, the very purpose of creating the commission is to allow the public to weigh in on it outside of the Statehouse.

Symington and Shumlin have both said that the Legislature will not take action on the issue in 2008.

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That has left some critics of the governor questioning why -- 14 months before election day and without any opponents in sight -- he has honed in on the issue.

"It comes as no surprise that Gov. Douglas is demagogueing this issue in an effort to raise money for his own election," said Vermont Democratic Party chairman Ian Carleton. "This simply confirms what we know already, which is Gov. Douglas is in a constant state of campaigning."

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said he had not seen the letter and referred questions about its origin to the governor's 2006 campaign manager, Denise Casey.

According to Casey, the drafting of the letter was "a team effort" with S.C.M. Associates -- a Republican direct mail and telemarketing firm based out of Jaffrey, N.H.

"I work with the company and we write it -- sort of go back and forth," Casey said.

"The letter points out that this is yet another example of distractions from the issues that Vermonters want their elected officials to focus on," Casey said. "The governor's focused on bringing attention away from these distractions and toward the issues Vermonters are asking their legislators to tackle."

Tom Little, a Republican former House member who serves as chairman of the commission, said he is not surprised that either side would try to make political hay from the issue.

"I suspect that those on the left side of the spectrum may use this issue and this commission as an opportunity to raise money in support of the issue, and those who oppose it may use it to raise money to oppose it," he said. "There's a rich Vermont tradition of doing that."

Little was instrumental in guiding legislation through the House in 2000 that made Vermont the first state in the nation to offer civil unions to same-sex couples. Brattleboro played host to the first civil union ceremony that year with Town Clerk Annette Cappy officiating.

"It's a divisive issue, but the commission isn't going to be writing legislation, nor will it be making a recommendation on the ultimate question of what the Legislature should do with respect to civil unions and gay marriage," he said.

For her part, Robinson said she does not want to criticize the governor's letter too much, as she hopes to eventually persuade him to join in her organization's push for granting same sex marriage recognition in the state.

"I hope and expect that as this conversation unfolds around the state, the governor's going to turn around. He's going to realize that the tone he makes in that letter may have made sense in 2000, but it is out of step in 2007," she said.


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