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John Gregg: Website Fail

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration this week announced that the health care exchange website it has spent tens of millions of dollars to construct has been shut down “temporarily” to “complete ongoing operational, technical, performance and security improvements necessary for a well-functioning customer experience.”

Translation: This thing doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, and we better shut it down now before Republican Scott Milne starts wrapping it around my neck at a gubernatorial debate.

Given that this is an election season, Milne, a travel executive from Pomfret, naturally pounced.

“It keeps getting worse for Vermonters,” Milne said in a release. “The catastrophic failure of Vermont Health Connect is putting Vermonters at risk.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott was more restrained, but also made the point, saying he wants the health care exchange to work, but that the shutdown of the ab ysmal website was “both appropriate and long overdue.”

“As I have said many times over the last year, it’s my belief we should transition to the much simpler and fully functional federal exchange that 27 other states have successfully used, and that seven more are working with in partnership with the government. New Hampshire is an example of a state that chose to go with the federal exchange, at a total cost of $8 million. Here in Vermont, we’ve spent upwards of $70 million on a system which has created very real problems for thousands of Vermonters,” Scott said.

Shumlin, a two-term Democrat, on Wednesday tried to change the subject, releasing the first television ad of his campaign, which featured Vermonters touting his work to help the state recover from Tropical Storm Irene, combat heroin addiction and make college more affordable.

But basic problems on his watch remain unresolved, including spotty cellphone coverage, school property taxes that are increasing significantly in many towns, and no clear indication how Shumlin would pay for a single-payer health care system, even though he was legally required to unveil such a plan long ago.

It’s not just Vermont Health Connect that is running into glitches.

Lebanon Backing

A well-known Upper Valley small business executive is touting the record of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in her re-election campaign against former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. Jeff Hastings, a former Olympic ski jumper who is now owner of Pro-Cut International in West Lebanon, this week appeared in a campaign news release highlighting Shaheen’s support of 2010 legislation that gave tax breaks and credits to small businesses.

“Small business owners here in New Hampshire know that Jeanne Shaheen is a senator they can count on,” Hastings said in a release issued by the Shaheen campaign. “Her support for the Small Business Jobs Act is helping local businesses like mine export New Hampshire products throughout the world and expand our customer base. Jeanne Shaheen understands that when local businesses are stronger, our local economy is stronger. We need to keep her in the Senate.”

Brown and 37 other Republicans opposed the measure amid concerns about excessive spending in Washington.

Briefly Noted

∎ U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent mulling a run for president, raised his political profile in a key caucus state. Sanders campaigned in Iowa this past weekend, making several stops to highlight his progressive agenda.

In Des Moines on Sunday, Sanders railed against “the billionaire class” and said the vast majority of low-wage American workers don’t bother to vote, a situation he wants to change.

“They’ve given up on the political process,” Sanders said, according to the Des Moines Register. “The people who are the future of America are not going to vote. The people who are hurting the most economically are turned off, so they don’t vote.”

Sanders also made a taped appearance Sunday on Meet the Press, where the pundit class quickly dismissed his chances, though indicated he could gain Democratic atten tion against a more establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton.

“Bernie’s not going anywhere. But Bernie’s message, in a Democratic primary, in this kind of turbulence is going to be powerful,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

∎ High school-age girls who want to learn about government service and advocacy are being invited to apply for a “Girls Rock the Capitol” internship program in Montpelier and Concord. The legislative internship is led by the Girl Scouts and will have female legislators serve as mentors. No Scouting experience required. Call 888-474-9686 x4142 or email Nicole Nolan at for more information.

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