Republican Lt. Brian Dubie’s campaign is working hard to portray Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, as a politician who is soft on crime.
At a press conference a week ago Monday, Dubie alleged that Shumlin’s plan to cut $40 million from the Department of Corrections budget is “reckless” and will result in the release of child pornographers and drug dealers.
Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon told the press that Shumlin’s proposal could put murderers and rapists on the streets. He said 20 percent of nonviolent offenders who are released from jail commit violent crimes. Those crimes, he said, could include rape and murder.
Shortly after the press conference, the Dubie campaign launched negative ads and 75,000 robotic calls to Vermont households assailing the state senator’s plan.
The campaign attacks also include a recent lapse in probity: At a debate in Bennington, Dubie held up what he said was a list of offenders who would be released if Shumlin is elected governor. The “list” was actually an explanation of Vermont’s criminal statutes.
Lauzon’s remarks at the presser
So, what’s all the fuss about?
Shumlin says he wants to offer substance abuse programs and mental health counseling for nonviolent offenders as a way of keeping low-level criminals, such as pot smokers and people who write bad checks, out of jail. These nonviolent, convicted criminals would be “transitioned” out of the prison system over time, after they have served their sentences, according to Shumlin. (UPDATE: Under Vermont law, any crime involving the sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, is defined as a violent offense.)
Shumlin says his plan will reduce Corrections spending by $40 million over a four-year period. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, recently told VTdigger.org that “justice reinvestment” programs would cost $15 million to $20 million. (The Corrections budget has doubled from $70 million to $140 million over the last decade, according to figures from the department.)
Andy Pallito, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, is already looking to save $5.4 million through the Challenges for Change government restructuring plan. He said those savings have been hard to come by, and he has said it wouldn’t be possible to find significant savings without closing at least one prison facility in Vermont.
The Dubie campaign’s attacks reached full throttle at the Bennington debate last Thursday night when the lieutenant governor brandished what he said was a list of 780 offenders who would be released under Shumlin’s plan. For several minutes, he talked about the “individuals on that list,” and specifically cited child pornographers and drug dealers that appeared among the offenders he said the department had identified.
Here is what Dubie said:
I called the commissioner of corrections and I said, could you give me a list of who the 780 inmates that the judges of Vermont, the judges and our entire corrections system made a judgment that they need to be incarcerated? Not me, not my opponent, the judges who work for you. These are the 780 individuals that are on that list. On this list, there are people who deal with pornography with children, there are drug dealers, there’s a comprehensive list of who these people are. That’s what my ad says; that’s what the list is.
The only trouble is, Pallito didn’t give Dubie a “list” of 780 offenders.
Paul Tencher, coordinated campaign manager for the Vermont Democratic Party asked Pallito in an e-mail if he had given Dubie a list of prisoners. In his response, Pallito wrote that he sent Dubie a memo to lawmakers from the last legislative session that cites statutory definitions for violent and nonviolent criminals — not a list of 780 inmates that Dubie has said would be released under Shumlin’s proposal. The message was forwarded to VTdigger.org and the Bennington Banner.
Corry Bliss, Dubie’s campaign manager, acknowledged the lieutenant governor’s lapse but refused to speak with VTdigger.org on Sunday night. Bliss told Bennington Banner reporter Neal Goswami on Friday: “The lieutenant governor misspoke, but he has had several conversations with the commissioner about who the 780 non-violent offenders are.” Pallito didn’t return calls for comment.
Watch the video clip of Dubie with the “list” at the Bennington debate.
(Editor’s note: This video was posted on youtube by the Vermont Democratic Party.)
“No way to balance the budget”
The Dubie campaign placed 75,000 robotic calls Monday featuring Mayor Lauzon warning that “putting 800 non-violent criminals into our neighborhoods is no way to balance the budget.”
In the pre-recorded call, Lauzon cites a quote from Steve Howard, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who told Seven Days he isn’t in “100 percent” agreement with Shumlin’s plan to cut $40 million from Corrections.
“The No. 1 job of government is to keep Vermonters safe,” Lauzon says. “Peter Shumlin’s plan to cut $40 million from the state corrections budget by releasing nearly 800 non-violent criminals is simply dangerous. Peter Shumlin’s plan is so reckless that even members of his own party are criticizing it.”
Howard, who lives in Rutland City between a drug treatment house and a residence for inmates who are under the supervision of probation and parole, said Dubie is “using ugly, Karl Rove”-style tactics to distract voters from his record as lieutenant governor. “I think that’s despicable, and I think Vermonters see through.”
“Peter Shumlin is trying to get control of the No. 2 budget buster in our state,” Howard said. “Brian Dubie is using George Bush-style tactics to scare people.”
Howard said he wouldn’t support cutting $40 million from the Corrections budget “no matter who proposed it.”
“My understanding is, that’s not what (Shumlin’s) proposing,” Howard said. “This is an area where we have to have greater public investment in order to save money. If we make these investments (transitional housing, mental health substance abuse counseling), then we’ll see $40 million eventually in savings.”
UPDATE: Thom Lauzon’s comments were clarified, and video from the presser was added 6:15 a.m. Wed., Sept. 29.