• The Gang of Four
    Vermont Press Bureau | May 16,2010
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    MONTPELIER – Just who or what is the mysterious "Gang of 4?"

    According to State Auditor Tom Salmon – who spent last week telling a respected political reporter to "f — k off" and threatening to run against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2012 – they are four Vermonters determined to ruin him.

    In an e-mail to the Burlington Free Press' editorial page editor – an e-mail that Salmon later forwarded to the Vermont Press Bureau – the Republican auditor identifies the members of this gang as Seven Days columnist Shay Totten, bloggers Philip Baurth and Jon Odum and teacher union spokes-man Darren Allen.

    "My exchange with Shay Totten was a message to the gang of 4 (Totten, Odum, Baruth, D Allen) and whoever their candidate is — that if they try and waste taxpayer resources with personal and political requests from our office- I am going to call them on it," Salmon wrote.

    Totten is the columnist who famously was told by Salmon to "f — k off." Odum is the creator of the liberal Green Mountain Daily blog, Baruth is the blogger behind Vermont Daily Briefing and a state Senate candidate from Chittenden County and Allen is the former chief of the Vermont Press Bureau, now working for the local chapter of the National Education Association.

    "The fact that I speak out when I think something is wrong- or stir things up- makes me more of a target then the other statewide office holders," Salmon wrote to his staff on Tuesday in an e-mail he also forwarded to the Press Bureau. "I did not enter politics to have a cushy job and coast along."

    After reading Salmon's e-mails, we had a lot of questions about Salmon's version of former President Bush's "axis of evil." Where did this gang meet to plot the downfall of Salmon? Is there a secret headquarters? Handshake? Maybe a code?

    "Look, son, as a member of Tom Salmon's "Gang of 4," I must inform you that the contents of our meetings, our secret codes, our elaborate handshakes and all other related accouterments are highly sensitive and confidential," Allen wrote to us in an e-mail.

    Odum responded to the news with a gusty laugh.

    "I love the conspiracy reflex," he wrote. "Shay and I don't even get along. Darren and I used to hit each other with blog sticks back when he was a reporter. With this group, there have been plenty of times where the 'secret handshake' could just as easily have been a middle finger."

    On a more serious note, Allen said he was scratching his head at his inclusion in the "Gang of 4."

    "Hell, I haven't been a reporter for nearly four years now," Allen said. "But it's encouraging to know that one of the highest elected officials in Vermont believes that I, a humble communications director for a labor union, am some sort of threat."

    The Vermont Press Bureau did not hear back from Baruth, although we expect to see his designation as an enemy of Salmon to appear in campaign literature soon.

    No nukes

    Vermont Yankee wasn't the only nuclear power plant having trouble finding legislative support this year.

    According to a report from the Hastings Group, an organization opposed to nuclear power, nuclear power companies lobbied in eight states in 2010 for new laws making it easier to build new plants, such as pushing to repeal a moratorium on new nuclear power construction in Illinois.

    In 2009, the industry fought unsuccessfully for new laws in five states. This comes at a time when President Obama has pushed for new nuclear power plants as part of a national energy renaissance.

    "Even as some in Congress would lavish tens of billions of dollars – and even unlimited – loan guarantees on the embattled nuclear power industry, state lawmakers in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia and Wisconsin said a firm 'no' this year to more nuclear power," the group said.

    Press release battles

    It was an odd week in political press releases.

    First Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie trashed the legislative budget deal in a statement an hour after he appeared at a press conference with kind words for the plan.

    And then Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, put out a press release praising the passage of S.88, the health care bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Racine, one of his opponents in the primary. The press release made no mention of Racine.

    And then Paul Beaudry – the conservative talk show host running in the Republican primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Peter Welch – accused political opponents of slashing his car's tire while he was on a Waterbury radio show.

    Meanwhile, the gubernatorial campaigns of Democrats Matt Dune and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz got in a heated back-and-forth over Dunne's call for candidates to release their full personal financial information.

    Capitol Beat is a weekly column by the Vermont Press Bureau, the Statehouse office of the Times Argus and the Rutland Herald.
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