Gregg: Vermonters Sound Off 

Results from the annual Town Meeting Day Survey conducted for the past 43 years by state Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Montpelier, were released this week and showed Vermonters to be pro-wind but against nuclear power, keen on hemp and pot, and against higher taxes but in favor of expanding the bottle deposit bill.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the so-called Doyle Poll showed that only 33 percent favor an increase in the gas tax to pay for roads and bridges, while 56 percent were opposed and 11 percent undecided.

“It’s not that people are against roads and bridges, but there’s a real mood in the state against (higher) taxes,” said Doyle, who tends to ask questions about issues tied to legislation in the Statehouse. “It’s an anti-tax, anti-new program feeling in the state.”

Some 46 percent said they supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, compared to 47 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.

At the same time, a whopping 76 percent said they thought the 5-cent deposit on bottles, which basically now affects carbonated beverages, should be expanded to include all bottled beverages.

The venerable Doyle Poll isn’t scientific, but has been closely watched over the years as a solid barometer of voter sentiment. This year, almost 14,000 respondents from 163 cites and towns across Vermont filled in the surveys, which are often taken to Town Meetings by state lawmakers of all parties.

Among other questions, 46 percent of respondents said they support state efforts to shut down the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, while 41 percent were opposed; at the same time, only 35 percent of respondents said they favor a three-year moratorium on wind turbines on ridgelines, while 52 percent want them to go forward.

In terms of law enforcement, 56 percent said they believe “Vermont trained law enforcement personnel” should be permitted to use Tasers, while 25 percent oppose use of the stun guns. This question after a Taser fired by a Vermont state police trooper was blamed for the death of a Thetford man last summer. As for the decriminalization of marijuana, 61 percent feel people shouldn’t face criminal charges for possessing small amounts of pot, while 31 percent oppose decriminalization.

And 51 percent feel growing hemp, which is used for rope and clothing, among other uses, would “be an asset to Vermont’s economy,” while 27 percent were opposed and 22 percent were undecided.

But what might be most indicative is the question that wasn’t asked — Doyle didn’t include any questions about an assault weapons ban or other gun control measures, a major issue at several Upper Valley Town Meetings, and legislatures around the country, following the massacre in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

(You’ll recall that a February poll by the Castleton Institute at Castleton State College found that 61 percent of respondents in that Vermont poll favored banning further sale of assault weapons and 54 percent wanted to make owning an assault rifle illegal.) But Doyle said the gun issue also involves such issues as the capacity of magazines and how to deal with the mentally ill.

“You can’t pick out one issue in the gun debate. There are several subsets,” Doyle said. “It’s a bigger package then just assault weapons, and there wasn’t really a bill in front of us.”

Technically true, given that Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, a liberal University of Vermont professor from Burlington, pulled a bill that would have banned assault weapons at the start of the session when it became apparent even fellow Democrats feared angering politically active gun owners.

But what’s also true is that Doyle, who is almost a state treasure at this point, didn’t ask the question on everybody’s mind — how do Vermonters really feel about assault weapons after Sandy Hook?

Maybe it’s because Montpelier doesn’t want to know the answer.

Shumlin in the News

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat who is now chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, is clearly looking forward to gaining a national profile.

Shumlin appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program Tuesday to cheerlead for Obamacare, saying, “We’re doing great things with the money. We’re insuring Vermonters.”

Shumlin, who made his mark as Senate president pro tempore, where he pushed for passage of gay marriage in Vermont, also told a bit of a whopper on MSNBC when he described himself thusly: “I’m a small business person, I came to the governor’s office as a business person, not a politician.”

In other news, Shumlin’s office yesterday issued a statement confirming that he and his wife, Deb, who had been separated for several years, finalized their divorce last month in Windham County Family Court.

“Even though divorce is a sad occasion, Deb and I will be forever blessed by many extraordinary years together and two remarkable daughters. No parents could ask for a greater gift than Olivia and Becca, and Deb and I are grateful that we remain friends and will continue to share our strong family. We make this statement in light of my public office, but Deb and I will have no further comment on this private issue,” Shumlin said in the statement.